Smart, Easy Ways to Find Customers Need to find sales prospects, but don't know where to start? Use these easy prospecting tips for finding the right people in your target market.

By Tom Hopkins

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For too many people in business, prospecting for clients is like fishing with only a string and a pole. They know if they throw something out there, they'll draw attention. What they don't understand is that you must first be at the right fishing hole. And, second, that you have to use bait that the fish you're trying to catch like.

Let's address the right fishing hole first. Answer this question: Who is your ideal client? You should be able to list at least five criteria of your ideal client without even blinking an eye.

The answers might be something like this:

  1. Between the ages of 25 and 35
  2. Married
  3. Living within five miles of my retail location
  4. Has school-aged children
  5. Drives at least 30 miles per week

If you can't list at least five characteristics of the people who you need to reach, your business isn't going very far very fast. To get your answer quickly, consider your top three existing clients. What do they have in common? The answer to that question will get you started.

Then, start picturing your clients. Are they grandmas? Businesspeople? Teenagers? Start thinking about them as categories of clients. You just might have a service that teens enjoy, but who invests the money in it? Grandma, mom and dad. So you'll need more than one marketing strategy to make sales, won't you?

Next, you need to know how to reach these people.

If you sell to soccer moms, where will you find them besides soccer fields? Your list might look like this: grocery stores, gas stations, quick-stop stores, car washes, sporting goods stores. You can advertise on the bulletin board at the local car wash or grocery store--preferably ones that are close to soccer or baseball fields. Even better, sponsor a local kids' team. The parents feel obligated to use the services of those who help pay for uniforms, equipment, programs and the various fees involved in children's sports.

If you sell to those who earn very high incomes, where will they be found? Country clubs? The marina? Nice restaurants? Where should you advertise? Where they'll be found, of course. Okay, it might not be feasible to advertise at the country club, but you can certainly advertise in publications that'll be found there. Advertise where the other companies of your caliber advertise. Check to see if you can invest in the mailing list of everyone who docks a boat at the local marina. Mailing lists are often available if you ask at the right place.

No matter who your future product purchasers are, you can get the names of new ones from existing clients. All you need to do is ask. Don't ask if they know anyone, ask: "What other parents of the soccer players might have a need for new tires?" "Who do you most enjoy playing golf with at the country club, Mr. Stevens?"

Or, even better, offer existing clients special discounts or bonuses for sending in new clients. I'm sure you've heard or seen advertising where existing clients are offered a 10% discount or free car wash for sending in three new clients. They're given coupons with codes on them to hand out to others. You don't have to go crazy with this costing you money. You might offer a free $5 Starbucks gift card or a coupon worth a discount on the service of a neighboring business. Chances are that the neighboring business will reciprocate on your behalf. The key to bonuses is offering something good enough that the client will think is worth their while to find others to send your way, even if it's just in a passing conversation.

Once you wrap your mind around the information covered here, you'll know where to find the best fishing holes and what bait to use!

Wavy Line

Tom Hopkins is world-renowned as "the builder of sales champions." For the past 30 years, he's provided superior sales training through his company, Tom Hopkins International.

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