Prospecting is nearly a lost art. Sales people rely on dealers to bring in nearly all traffic, and dealers, through marketing, should provide approximately 30 first-time customers to each salesperson monthly.

However, the salesperson must also bring in a minimum of 10, qualified first-time customers through prospecting. This creates a pool of 40 first-timers. The salesperson should also bring back a percentage of “be-backs.”

By combining the be-backs and prospects, the potential to close increases without raising marketing expenses.

Mastering the art of prospecting builds a solid base of clients, delivers a steady stream of referrals, and leads to higher closing ratio — nearly 60% or better.

Benefiting from prospecting's powerful potential requires an unwavering commitment from managers.

The sales manager teaches, trains, and becomes a role model. He or she explains how to prospect, demonstrates in the field and coaches telephone prospecting.

In the early days, sales managers would take five or six sales people into the community. They would go to a local donut shop, talk to the customers and leave, knowing that everyone there knew who they were, what they did and why they should keep their contact information. Then they went next door.

It may sound old-fashioned in today's multi-media world. But personal communication builds relationships and is most effective as a first step.

Prospecting has four primary results:

  • Making an appointment for an immediate sale.
  • Getting referrals to active prospects.
  • Creating a file of future prospects.
  • Establishing a qualified prospect locator — a bird dog.

Successful prospectors know that, while there are many approaches, the best methods are in person, telephone, written communication, e-mail or instant messaging.

While each is important, this article addresses creating a file of future prospects through personal contact. That means any prospecting in which a salesperson comes face-to-face with the prospect.

Personal prospecting should be done every waking minute of the day. Wherever the salesperson goes, he or she should always be looking for a good prospect. Here's a brief list of potential places to find prospects:

  1. Social settings: picnics, parties, family gatherings, yard sales.
  2. Events: sports, holidays, graduations, reunions.
  3. Organizations: civic groups, religious organizations, Scouts, health clubs.
  4. Neighborhood: stores, coffee shops, parking lots, malls, airports.

The list is endless. Choose the right words to capture a prospect's interest instead of turning them off. An effective introductory question is, “What type of car are you driving?” Without fail, this will provide an answer and start a conversation. Then do this:

  1. Listen. Everyone likes to tell stories about cars. Get them talking. By asking what vehicle they own, you might find someone who has a five-year old car and is ready to trade up. Or someone may answer: “I drive a lemon that's in the shop for the umpteenth time.” Soon, you give them your business card, offer to introduce them to your service department, show them what's new, get an opportunity to deliver a vehicle or ask for a referral.
  2. Tell people what you do in broad terms. “I am in the transportation business.” Even if you work for a single-point dealership, you can offer any type of transportation because every dealership sells pre-owned cars, and every dealer knows other dealers they can deal with.
  3. Always get the referral. Tell prospects to keep you in mind for friends or family. Offer to help with any transportation need, and be ready to do so.

There is no better time to revive the lost art of prospecting. It will keep sales people busy with leads and referrals all year.

Richard F. Libin is president of Automotive Profit Builders Inc., a dealership consulting firm specializing in customer satisfaction and maximizing profits. He is at rlibin@apb.cc and 508-626-9200.