Bruce Webster

I still hear the voice of industry expert and author Bill Stiles in his book, “Sales Styles by Stiles,” repeating, “Nothing happens in wholesale distribution until a sale is made.”

Nothing could be truer and Bill’s words have made an imprint in my mind forever. There is no invoicing, shipping/receiving or inventory turn analysis until you sell something.

“The resale of inventory” as Dr. Workman from Texas A& M University referred to the core of your business is as simple as it is wise. Advice resonated with a focus. “Turn inventory with gross profit in mind,” F.W. Webb’s John Pope would tell his sales team as far back as the 1980s. 

Collectively, all these statements made my career focus on sales prospecting.  Sales prospecting has been around since the Industrial Revolution when salespeople chased smokestacks from the landscape. It is the necessary pipeline of keeping a steady flow of new sales rolling into your company.

Consider the execution of selling your valuable wares at the highest profit margin possible to new customers because old customers get pricing considerations. Consider further that your marketing strategy dictates the unveiling of new business as the lifeblood of company growth.

Every salesperson in any industry must dedicate time to prospecting. If not, statistical attrition will eventually win out, leaving you with an empty basket of customers. Being in upper management, it’s easy to forget how we scratched, searched and used our imagination to carve out a sales territory. Today, it’s basically the same. So, how do we find new customers?

There are basically three ways to integrate a flow of fresh prospects from available data. Internal data, external data and technological data give you a well-rounded, diversified pool of data resources.


Internal data

Lying inside the four walls of your company are several free sources of prospects. Aging reports, which are customers who used to buy from you and no longer do, are easy to examine. They are in a file cabinet or can be easily accessed from your software.

They are unqualified and require some purging so make sure you include a telephone number for basic telemarketing. The human behavior factor is this: they bought from you at one time and probably still are buying from others. Denied credit applications do not mean there’s no business there. It’s merely on a cash basis. Why not stimulate cash sales? Cash is still king! Forgotten registration cards from events provide another source of leads. Don’t ignore a property manager who signed up for the 2009 open house. He’s probably a profitable account for your business.


External sources

There is a scientific device called data mining that allows you to do list researching. In the business-to- business realm, it’s referred to as the outside purchase of a standard industrial units list of prospects in a given area. What type of business profile have you targeted?  Depending on your method of contact, the data can be purchased as an email list complete with extended zip codes.

Before we move forward with a purchased list, let’s strategize how we want to utilize this data. Do we want to limit the prospect based on employee size? Do we desire a CEO name or owner because now is the time to think through the execution of reaching the prospect as it dictates purchasing criteria? Let’s synchronize the list with a mailer and a follow-up email blast. The email can be trailed by a QR code that opens up a product line card. It’s a nice way to prospect by phone after they’ve been softened with direct mail.

Geographic customer prospecting simply is stretching your delivery truck to service customers in an outlying area. Maybe you’ve neglected an outlying area of your market by design or accident and want to prospect there. Simply add them to the prospecting zip-code search.


Technological sources

It’s obvious to most that getting a simple email address is now a learned habit. Using the email blast provides a low-cost way to perform prospecting. The chore is getting new emails of prospects you don’t have. These can be purchased or earned.

QR code scanning can capture prospects when their scan siphons into your new data file. Social media can be a great source from arms such as Twitter and others, but their qualifications, as in quality of names, are unknown. Twitter seems to be the most viable source of all the social media choices for data. A sales manager can “wash” the list, dropping nontrade prospects that don’t warrant constant sales attention.

Twitter earned $47.6 million from selling its data to companies that analyze data. Social-data firms spot trends that would take a long time for astute marketers to see on their own. Most of the social companies pull data from a range of sources such as Yahoo and Yelp. Twitter, because of its real-time data, is the industry giant.

According to a late 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, a direct benefit to you can be focusing on women purchasers in a certain zip code. Keywords picked up by Twitter can designate emotions that are appearing in their chat. Women in a chosen zip code can be monitored by a sentiment score of motion and how that subset measures it. Turning that information into showroom sales could dictate remodeling trends and product-specific choices.

Geographic expansion, more trade shows, leads from manufacturers and inheriting prospect lists from a co-worker never hurt, but are classified as Tier 2 in efficiency. There is tremendous efficiency in “sales common sense.” The next time you see new dirt at a construction site, stop and investigate. It’s fun to ask probing questions, schmooze around and get leads. Quickly follow up those hot leads because an out-of-town contractor may be leaving shortly. His business is gold.


The process: The ABCs

We began this journey accumulating data from different sources, qualifying the leads, visiting them for an evaluation and subsequently adding them to our “A, B or C” call system to target their potential. There’s not much pixie dust here. Take hard work, ambition and tenacity, and toss in a sprinkle of professionalism and you’ll add customers.

Maybe you started in January with a first touch by email and then months later wrote some new business. The process remains the same. People buy for value and from people they like. Buyers always will do what’s best for them so shine with the process of turning a green lead into profit. The business has been going somewhere. Why not to you? Why not start now?


Author bio: Bruce Webster is president of a 20-year-old full-service marketing, sales and public relations firm. His long tenure in the PHCP industry includes being employed by manufacturers and wholesalers. He can be reached at 352/735-1747 or