FINDING leads to convert into sales is probably the most daunting part of a sales job. Good-quality leads are known as prospects, and they are what make sales possible.

Clearly, prospects are more than just a fancy pipe-dream of every stressed-out sales executive.

In fact, top sales professionals know to avoid wasting precious time and effort chasing leads that ultimately prove to be invalid.

Here is a four-step checklist to quickly and efficiently weed out dead-end leads and create a strong list of quality prospects:

1. Know who among your target audience will buy, and who won’t

To achieve the best results, you must learn to differentiate clearly between “suspects”, “prospects” and “customers”.

* A suspect is defined as someone who you think may have a need for your product.

n A prospect is someone who may buy from you. A suspect turns into a prospect if he signals:

(1) a need or desire for your product,

(2) the money and/or decision-making power to make a purchase, and

(3) willingness to meet you to discuss a possible transaction.

* A customer is someone who has bought from you. Keep in mind that a customer may also have a need for other products you offer, and so becomes a prospect for these other items.

Prospecting, then, means to screen suspects into “prospects” or “non-prospects”.

By doing so, you then become certain about who on your list deserves your priority, moving on to the next stage of the sales process with the “prospects” group.

2. Refine your list further

To maximise your results, refine your list further to save time and effort.

In doing so, keep in mind that you want to zero in on the top-priority targets. Therefore, focus on need, clout or authority and willingness to purchase.

Strike out all suspects who:

* have already obtained a similar product from a competitor; they would not have the need or want for your product in this case.

* do not have the budget to buy from you due to impending insolvency, troubled finances or a freeze in spending. The exception is if your products are meant to help struggling companies.

3. Perform your initial prospecting

Having weeded out the dead-ends, your list now contains only good-quality suspects.

Follow these steps to help you start mining:

* Start by calculating how many suspects you need to convert to prospects to meet your sales quota. Work out how long it will take to convert the target number of suspects (determined above) into prospects.

For example, if cold-calling 10 suspects results in one prospect, and you need 30 prospects to make quota, then you need to cold-call 300 suspects.

Assuming you spend two minutes on each cold call, you will need to spend a total of 10 hours cold-calling to reach your target number of suspects.

* Create a conversational script to use during a cold call to check whether your suspect has the need, budget and purchasing power.

* Cold calling can be daunting and demands the best from you. Take the time and space to prepare yourself for victory.

* You need to reach your goal of calling your target number of prospects. No ands, ifs or buts. So make certain that you are not disturbed. Then make your calls.

Remember that this part of the sales process is about prospecting, not selling, so resist the temptation to rattle off the benefits of your product.

But if the suspect brings up the desire to purchase, seize the opportunity to close the sale.

At the end of your prospect-calling, you will have a list of prospects that will allow you to meet your quota.

4. Power tips for prospecting

Use the following tips to accelerate and improve the efficiency of the prospecting process described in Steps 2 and 3 above.

* Work from the highest-quality suspect list you can find. The likelihood of a higher conversion rate from suspect to prospect increases with the amount of pre-qualification done. A list populated with referrals from existing customers is the best suspect list.

* Watch your timing. Motivation and attitude play a huge part in the quality of the cold calls you make. Being sensitive to the best time for cold calling makes the process more productive for both you and your suspect.

* Close at all costs! When you become more effective at closing and selling, you won’t need to generate as many prospects to meet your quota.

If you fail to pay attention to your ability to close the sale, your competitors will benefit from the priming effect your sales efforts have created.

Always remember that a prospect is ready and willing to buy from someone. Let that someone be you.