The Plumber Who Taught Me Prospecting

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Since starting this series on prospecting, I’ve received a lot of questions from readers, and also some great tips.

Thank you!

As I said in my last Marketing Memo, prospecting is simply the process of introducing yourself to people who have a likelihood – and that’s key – of being interested in your services. There are many ways you can do that. You can make a call, send an email, use social media, get introduced somehow, meet at a networking event, etc.

One email I received yesterday asked, “I’m using email as my main prospecting method. How many emails should I send each week?”

I understand why she asked that. But her question concerned me a little. It implied that, when you get right down to it, prospecting is really just a numbers game. If you make enough calls, send enough emails, or reel off your elevator speech to enough people at a conference – you’ll eventually land some clients.

But that’s not what prospecting is really about.

So what is prospecting really about?

Well, the best way to answer that is to tell you a story – a short fable, actually – that I often use in my articles and workshops. It goes like this…

A plumber knocks on your door one evening asking if you need any plumbing work done. It’s obvious that he’s canvassing the neighborhood trying to drum up some business. You politely say, “Sorry, I don’t need a plumber.” So he hands you his flyer and goes on his way.

A flyer you barely look at and eventually toss into the kitchen recycling bin.

A few weeks later, another plumber knocks at your door. But he takes a completely different approach. Instead of pitching his services within five seconds of saying hello, he instead offers you a free booklet: “5 Ways to Lower Your Hot Water Heating Bill… Without Turning Down The Heat!” You say, “Yes, thank you!” and take the booklet. You can hardly wait to read it.

Then, a couple of weeks later, you receive a thank you card from that plumber, with a note offering to answer any questions you might have about the booklet and hot water heating. Wasn’t that nice of him?

Then, a couple of weeks after that, you receive a friendly letter from that plumber, with a 20% discount coupon for “Emergency After Hours Service”, should you ever need it. Also included is a fridge magnet with his 24-hour emergency number. That magnet goes on your fridge door, right next to the Thank You card!

See what’s happening in that story? That plumber is positioning himself as a helpful, friendly expert. Someone you’re getting to know. Someone you’re getting to like. Someone you’re probably going to call when you have a need.

That’s prospecting.

And it’s not about numbers. It’s about relationships. You’re initiating and building relationships with people today, who may be able to do business with you someday. That “someday” may be this week, next month, or later in the year. It doesn’t matter. The more relationships you build with prospects, the more clients you’ll attract. It’s that simple.

So when prospecting, don’t count calls or emails. Instead, ask yourself, “How many relationships with potential clients have I initiated this week?”

That’s the real measure of prospecting success.

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  1. Steve,

    Copywriter Sean McCool here.

    Good analogy. Here is a way to add a little nitrous to your prospecting idea. It’s something I used in my own Handyman business before I became a copywriter with great results. It allowed me to make $50 an hour as a handyman and allowed me to consistently keep my hours at about 30 hours per week instead of 60 hours at $25 or less like most handymen were charging. (I thought that was good back then) It’s called clover-leafing.

    Let’s take your plumber example.

    Joe Plumber has just wrapped up for the day at Carrie Customer’s house. He’s fixed her problem and she’s happy. So, before heading home, He decides he’ll takes 15 minutes to get his next customer. Here’s how:

    Joe goes next door and says to Patti Prospect, “Hi I’m Carrie’s plumber. I just finished a job next door at Carrie’s house and just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Joe plumber and I’ve put together a free report [INSERT YOUR PROSPECTING SEQUENCE ABOVE HERE]

    Joe then repeats the process with Pam Prospect on the other side of Carrie and Paul Prospect across the street – thereby creating a cloverleaf pattern.

    So now, instead of an expert who is still unknown, you are an implied referral from Carrie Customer. This assumes you do good work and all that.

    What I found in the Handyman world and even in copywriting, is that one of those three contacts will stop you on the spot and book you for work thanks to social proof of Carrie customer already trusting and hiring you.

    So how do you apply this to an online and non-neighborhood world?

    It’s little tougher than just going next door but that’s where niches can come into play. Simply go to customers like your current customer and say, I just finished a project for ABC company (a name in their industry they should know) and I wanted to give you a free report on _____.

    A little more work to uncover the “neighbors” but the implied referral is extremely powerful.

    Just a thought.

    Have a great day,

    Sean McCool

  2. Steve, that was a great analogy. After a few hiccups, I’m starting to focus on building a freelance copywriting service, again. I can sympathize with the question you received from that woman. I’m wondering if the online version would be to have an opt-in for a free report and then set up an auto-responder to email a person two weeks later to ask how they enjoyed the report? (Or eBook, white paper, etc.)

    At any rate, you gave me great food for thought!

    And Sean McCool? (cute name, Thanks for your suggestions! Again, an online version may be to send a client a special offer if they recommend you to five of their friends. I’m going to give that one more thought. I do quite a bit of “sharing” on Facebook and Twitter. Why not with the services I like? :-)

  3. Steve,

    Last year, I made a modest investment that’s about to pay off big.

    The investment?

    Your course on how to build a freelance copywriting business.

    That course included a few sessions on how to prospect with emails, warm calls, and social media.

    I used your strategies to reach out to prospects; the quality and quantity of response is even better than you predicted.

    One prospect who replied to my email is the marketing director for a multi-billion-dollar money managing firm.

    This past week, he had a white paper project he wanted to talk to me about.

    “We regularly use copywriters,” he said. “Send me your pricing list again . . . I have several of your emails in my business development folder . . . Wait, here’s your pricing list. How does it work?”

    The prospecting emails in his folder were those you taught me how to write.

    The pricing list he referred to was created in your “How to Price, Quote, and Win B2B Writing Projects” class.

    I explained to him how the ballpark price worked and asked him if it would be helpful for me to firm up a project quote that day. No, the ballpark price would do for now.

    “There’s a management meeting next week. I’ll present this project [with the ballpark price] . . . . Stay in touch with me over the next 2 weeks,” he said. “If it’s approved, we’ll move forward.”

    A snippet from a conversation with but one of several leads. Every lead has replied to a prospecting email or phone call inspired by your class.

    Your practically painless prospecting approach gets a lot of high-level response.

    And your other courses add even more value. You taught me from start to finish not only how to land clients but also how to write the B2B projects themselves.

    More updates to come . . . and thanks again for the extraordinary value.

    Les Ballard


    • Wow. I’m glad to hear that my programs have been so helpful for you. Thanks for sharing this feedback. It means a lot to me, Les!

  4. Hey Steve,
    Great timing for re reading your article this morning. I have been selectively sending out emails and getting mixed results. I’m on Facebook and have a few hundred contacts. What runs through my head is a weed whacking analogy we used when in outside sales.

    Going over the same section over and over never gets the whole yard done. Going back and forth and back and forth may hack down the overgrowth, but you end up staying stuck in the same place. A big sweeping motion moves you through and forward.

    In any kind of sales, prospecting is only as good as your qualification process. If you send out 10 emails or even print letters to highly qualified prospects, you stand a much better chance of success than if you send out a mailer to everyone in your address book.

    Sure, you might get a few nibbles with the quantity numbers game. You might. And you might get to feed your family for a month. But in any economy, it pays well to target your marketing. The spaghetti approach of throwing your marketing to the wall and seeing what sticks will burn you out fast if you don’t get quick and lasting results.

    Nancy Lamb

    • I wholeheartedly agree, Nancy. Qualification is the key. As a solo professional, you don’t have the time anyway to reach out to anyone and everyone. You have to be picky. The upside is, by being selective about who you attempt to reach, and making sure they have a high-likelihood of being interested in your service (aka “qualified”), you get much better results. In addition, prospecting becomes easier to because your getting a better reception, and you’re actually prospecting to fewer people.

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