From the December 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Thinking "out of the box" may seem clichéd, but it's a good image to keep in mind when you think about prospecting. If your current approach to finding leads isn't working for you, it's probably time to get a little creative. After all, prospecting is more than simply making a phone call and asking to speak with the decision-maker. Here are three "out of the box" prospecting methods that have worked for me:

1. Build a qualified priority list. Recently, when I began marketing a new product, one of my first steps was to research the marketplace. I went to every retail store I could find that sold similar products and talked to the store managers. I asked, "Which company sells most creatively to you? Which one really moves product off the shelf and has a quality product people like?" I checked out product packaging; got names, phone numbers and websites; and did more research, legwork and homework. Only then was I able to call the president of a company directly and prospect from a much higher and more knowledgeable level.

2. Create synergy to double the opportunity from a single effort. Everything is relative--the key is to be able to recognize how things relate. As readers of this column know, I wear many different business hats. I market products, but I'm also an agent for authors and entertainers. Recently, I've made many media contacts while trying to connect a nationally known comedian to radio and TV. At the same time, I'm using these contacts to try to get PR on radio and TV for my product. Even though my product and the comedian are not related, I can use my prospecting skills for both at the same time.

3. Sell from the bottom up. Create demand for your product whenever you can. I sell my product to a company, which in turn sells the product to distributors, who then sell to consumers. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to get the distributors, who may not see an immediate demand, enthusiastic about a particular product. So instead of relying on the distributors to sell my product, I get the demand going. I prospect to companies capable of buying large numbers of my product and then have them call the distributor directly to make the purchase. The distributor sees the demand and therefore puts a greater effort into selling my product. Everybody wins.

These three methods work for me. Your job is to create unusual ways of prospecting that work for your own style, environment and industry. Prospecting out of the box means exploring new ways to generate business, trying things that haven't been tried before, and finding new paths that will lead you to greater success than you ever imagined.