How a 40 Year Old Start-up Builds a Prospect List

Doug Barth prospect list expertOften the best answers are found from within.   This is particularly true with mature organizations.  Somewhere, someone has faced the same challenges you have, has built that prospect list before, and has some very usable answers.  Let me begin with a tale.


I cannot name the company, or even make direct reference to their issue, for fear of my readers figuring out whom I’m talking about.  So let me rely on analogy.  Let’s say there’s a company that’s been selling to zoos.  For 40 years.  Some zoos go out of business, some new zoos are launched every year, but for the most part, there aren’t many of them.  Let’s say there are about ten in every state or province, so about 700 zoos in N. America.  That’s it.


Let’s say the company sells a feeding trough for giraffes.  A mechanism that you fill low and extend it high.  Now when such a company was birthed, it had to go get funding.  What was one of the first questions they heard?  “How many zoos are there in N. America?”  Seems logical, right?  If no giraffes, no deal.


Got the set-up?  Last week we came across a company that – to stick with the analogy – in 40 years still hadn’t identified the 700 zoos in North America.  Here we are, a company that builds lists, and we were kind of floored.  “How did they get funding?” we wondered.  “How did they do marketing for 40 years?” we asked.


While we haven’t gotten to the bottom of this trough, we can make some assumptions.  First, they probably DO have the list of zoos.  They probably have many copies of that list.  If you could collectively suck information from the organization’s laptops, you’d probably also find the names of all the zookeepers and giraffe handlers, too – the prospect list!  It’s just that this information isn’t easily found.  And THAT actually makes sense.  It’s really sensitive information.  A competitor would leapfrog ahead if it, too, had access to that list.


And speaking of leapfrogging, it’s not unlikely that some disgruntled salesperson somewhere took the zoo list with him or her when lured away by a competitor years ago (perhaps, an automatic lion cage cleaning device).  Or someone has the list but doesn’t want to share it out of a sense that keeping it enhances their job security.  Or they’re embarrassed to admit that they lost it when their hard drive crashed.


The point is this: my first inclination was to throw up my hands, call CNN, and report that this company was crazy.  Then it struck me.  Does MY company have a single place where all employees can find out prospect list, i.e. the list of our target accounts?  How many in my company even know how many companies are in our target market?  Finally, how should one of my employees find this list?  They should ask me.  Most times someone has been down this road before.  But human nature compels the individual to discover answers for him/herself.  There’s the sense of discovery, the pride of figuring out a solution, etc.  But just like the lost driver who feels too uncomfortable and embarrassed to pull over and ask directions, often the answers to many questions are found in the institution itself.  Defer to the wise folks who came before you.   Save your company money and ask around. You may not get the comprehensive prospect list you need but you’ll likely get a really good head start.