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Dig Out Prospects from Your Own Files

I’ve recommended several techniques over the past months for gaining short-term business in a tough economy. Here’s another possible source, which may just surprise you.

Most of us have files (hard copy or electronic) which we keep around because of professional responsibility, legal requirements, or just plain sloth. They may be stored in the bank safety deposit box if electronic, or in metal files cabinets, or in the back of the closet. Some will be clients, some prospects, some random correspondence which transpired. Many of the people involved may be on your data bank, but many may not. Some you will know intimately, and others you won’t remember, no matter how hard you try.

As a rule (consult your attorney and financial advisor), you can throw out most files safely after five years. I transfer client files to electronic media if they aren’t already in that format, and put them in the vault every year. I go through any hard copy files, extract anything worth saving (e.g., overhead slides, publicity pieces) and then toss them.

My suggestion to you is to combine an overall cleanup with some mining for prospects.

Before you consolidate, save, and discard, review every hard copy and electronic file. Break it up into manageable segments over a week or two, so the task doesn’t drive you crazy. Review them with these criteria in mind:

Top Priorities:

  • Past clients, with whom you haven’t corresponded or spoken for six months or more.
  • Past prospects who received a proposal and whom you visited, but with whom you weren’t able to secure the business.

Medium Priorities:

  • Past prospects which never reached the proposal stage but within which you met the economic buyer.
  • Non-prospects who are influential recommenders or publicity sources, such as media people, trade association officers, etc.

Low Priorities:

  • Recommenders and other non-buyers with whom you corresponded or spoke.
  • Leads which you pursued but never developed into discussions at the time.

Assemble these prospects into a list you can organize and manage (or into your contact management system). Then decide how you’ll reengage each one. The probability is that you have scores of these, and some of you will actually have hundreds. Therefore, the probability of reestablishing connections with some percentage of them is rather good.

I would suggest the following battle plan: For the high priorities, make a phone call. Be honest in your intent to reestablish the relationship and pursue a meeting. For the medium priorities, consider an email. If they respond to the email, then call. For low priorities, send a hard copy letter to the last contact you have for them. You may get an updated address to improve your records, but you may also get a response that merits a call.

Some of you may be thinking that this requires a lot of work, and you’re right. But we are in the marketing business, and this is a marketing opportunity that costs your virtually nothing, can be done at your leisure (but should be done with discipline and care), and doesn’t require you to leave the office.

There are people out there who legitimately wanted to do business with you but were prevented at the time; others who have lost your contact information; and still others who can use your help but simply don’t know you’re still there.

When you reach out to these former contacts, here’s a final suggestion: Don’t solely pursue potential work with them. Ask them, in your letters, email, or phone conversations, if they know of anyone whom you should be contacting. Even if you gain only a handful of referrals, that’s a handful you didn’t have before.