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Prioritize Your Prospect List for More Sales

Brian Jud 

 It is easy to create or buy a list of prospective buyers for your titles. But any list is comprised only of suspects, names of people who might fit the description of those in your target audience. You will waste time and money if you initially treat each as having the same need and desire to purchase your books. But by using a simple technique, you can remove those with no interest in buying your products and devote your marketing attention to contacting those with a higher likelihood of buying. 

 In this process, potential buyers are ranked according to various criteria that you define. They begin as suspects, simply names on a list. Then as you qualify them according to their fit with your criteria, they are either removed from your list, or become prospects. Once they buy, they become customers. 

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   There are two steps to qualifying and prioritizing your suspects. This system recognizes that some people take longer to make decisions than others, have different reasons for buying, or may be at varying levels of familiarity with you and your titles.

Step One: Qualify

 Assuming that you have a list of “suspects,” begin by removing those that will probably not buy your books. Organize the remaining prospects in categories that make it easier to contact each. Do this by evaluating each prospect against a list of buying criteria, such as these: 

1) By size of opportunity. Some people may buy one book at a time, while others have the potential for buying books in large quantities. The latter group involves the most lucrative sales, so these buyers would make good prospects. For example, niche bookstores online may display your title on their website and purchase from you as sales are made. Orders will come in for a book at a time until sales warrant stocking larger quantities. On the other hand, a company buying your books to use as a premium may purchase thousands at a time. For the time being, remove those who will buy one at a time so you can focus on those who can place large orders.

2) By the people involved in the decision. There are two groups of people involved in many book-buying decisions, particularly in special-sales situations. First are the people who actually make the purchasing decisions; and second are those who influence them. Typically, you must reach both in order to complete a large sale. Make a separate list of buyers and influencers at those firms that may buy in large quantities

3) By your familiarity with the market. You probably know more about selling to various potential markets than you do about others. Some, such as libraries and airport stores, mirror the traditional distribution channels with which you are familiar, so you are likely to enter these networks more quickly. Arrange your prospects into groups accessible by similar distribution channels. 

4) By benefit (to them). People buy for their reasons, not yours. And they all have different reasons for doing so. For instance, book buyers in supermarkets seek quick inventory turns on limited shelf space; bookstores buyers look for increased traffic through their stores; newspaper editors want greater subscriptions and readership. Classify prospects by similar needs.  

5) By means of communication. Some people prefer to be contacted by telephone and others by email; some by direct mail, some by fax, and others by personal visit. Find out how people want to learn about new titles, and group them accordingly. This will streamline your marketing activities while accommodating their wishes. 

6) By their awareness of your topic. People move through a series of stages before buying a book. First they are unaware that it exists. Then, once they learn about it, they may not understand its benefit to them. After a series of exposures to your message they may (or may not) decide to buy it. Unfortunately, people are at various points along this continuum at any given point.  

   Categorize people by their knowledge of your topic. For example, members in the National Association of Sales Professionals ( will be familiar with the potential benefits from your book on selling skills, and probably ready to buy more quickly. 

7) By their ability to buy for others. You could sell one of your children’s books to each of hundreds of daycare centers. Or, you could sell hundreds of books to one buyer at Kindercare. Which strategy do you think would be more profitable? Seek those who can purchase and receive books, and then re-distribute them to others. 

Step Two: Prioritize

 Once you have organized your suspects into lists of prospective buyers, rank them in the order in which you will contact them. For example, not all of those who are aware of your topic are equally interested in, or qualified for buying your books. Prioritize them according to a priority system that might look something like this:

    A priority. These are your top prospects. They are most likely to purchase your books, have a short buying cycle, or could possibly order in large quantities. You might also include those with a long buying cycle, so you can “work” those while stimulating short-run revenue among other prospects.

    B priority. Potential customers who may buy a smaller quantity of books, or have less need for – or are unaware of — your title. These people could be lucrative buyers if you market to them appropriately. 

    C priority. These prospects may have no budget now, but “call me in six months.” Or, they may have recently purchased a quantity of similar books. Remember that C prospects may turn into A-priority people in the future. If they have no need for your title, remove them from your list. 

 Now it is time to begin contacting your prospects and converting them into customers. Focus on one target market and direct your attention to it. Call, email, fax or send people information about how your books can benefit them.  

 Spend time every day with A and B prospects. Work frequently with the As to close the sale. Explain your topic to the Bs, persuading them to increase their order size or get them to buy more quickly. Revisit your C list periodically to remind them that you will be around when they are ready to buy. Contact them periodically to keep your name before them.  

 Use your contact-management software to keep good records of each prospect, and immediately plan when your next contact will occur. Continue to follow up until you receive a positive or negative answer. If the answer is positive, send the requested information or a sample of one of your books. Then follow up again. If the answer is negative, add the respondent’s name to a list of C prospects to contact again in three, six or nine months. 

 Use this system to organize your selling time and prioritize your contacts. Eventually, you will be more effective and efficient, increasing your sales and profits.  

Brian Jud is author of Beyond the Bookstore (a Publishers Weekly book) and The Marketing Planning CD-ROM describing new ways to sell more books profitably to special-sales buyers. He is also the author of the new series of printed booklets published by R. R. Bowker with Proven Tips for Publishing Success. Brian is editor of the Book Marketing Matters special-sales newsletter, and creator of the Special-Sales Profit Center used by R. R. Bowker to sell other publishers’ books to special markets. Contact Brian at P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT  06001; (800) 562-4357; or visit