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

Personal prospecting should be done all the time. Wherever sales people go, they should always be looking for good prospects.

Never forget existing clients. There is as much or even more business to be gained from them as there is from prospecting for new buyers.

Ask clients for referrals to friends, family and colleagues. At the same time, find out if they have a need for a new vehicle as well. Follow up with clients to build and keep relationships and to get referrals.

Virtually every place a salesperson goes is a good place to prospect:

  • Social settings: picnics, parties, family gatherings, political get-togethers.
  • Events: sports, holidays, graduations, reunions.
  • Meetings and activities: civic groups, religious organizations, Scouts, health clubs.
  • Neighborhood: stores, coffee shops, malls, airports — anywhere you can meet people.

Think about the people you see and talk to regularly. Each of them knows at least one person, who knows one person, who… You get the point. If you start the ball rolling by asking five friends to ask five friends, to ask five friends, the prospecting tree will only continue to grow.

The list is endless. Most likely the people you encounter in these places will share an interest, which provides a common ground for conversation.

As you talk, get to know more about their interests, their hot buttons and other information that you can relate to your product or service. This gives you an ability to offer them something they are interested in.

Choose the right words to capture a prospect's interest. Don't turn them off. For example, an effective introductory question is, “What type of car are you driving?” Without fail, this will provide an answer and start a conversation.

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.” Give them your business card, offer to introduce them to your service department, show them what's new and get an opportunity to deliver a vehicle and ask for a referral.

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. Offer to help with any transportation need. Then be ready to do so.

Always get the referral. Tell prospects to keep you in mind for friends, colleagues, or family members. On average, for every one person you engage, you have the potential to influence close to 250 individuals.

Turn incoming phone calls into prospecting opportunities Be sure to: Give your name. Get theirs. Create a sense of urgency. Try to make the appointment

Always have something to offer. Find hot buttons and talk about how you and your products can meet needs.

Prospecting is an important part of any successful sales strategy. With careful planning, it will no longer evoke dread, but deliver results. Understand the starting point, develop a plan, and make a commitment of time devoted to achieving the goal.

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

Richard F. Libin, author of “Who Stopped the Sale?” (www.whostoppedthesale.com) is president of Automotive Profit Builders, a firm with more than 42 years experience working with sales and service on customer satisfaction and maximizing gross profits through personnel development and technology. He is at rlibin@apb.cc and 508-626-9200.

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