Panning for E-Gold

By Lain Ehmann

Even if you’ve got a lead generation program that’s feeding you halfway decent leads, prospecting should never be far from your mind. And Ron Cowan, president of The Cowan Group LLC in Austin, Tex. has developed a way to use the Web to generate those most elusive of prospects – small-to-medium-sized companies.

Cowan’s process begins with what he calls “trigger event prospecting.” The idea is that by identifying the trigger events that make your customers buy, “you can strategically prepare sales situations that have those dynamics,” he explains. For example, say you provide executive relocation services. By identifying organizations that have recently reorganized, merged, expanded into a new territory, or built a new campus, you have a set of ideal prospects.

Cowan has identified 28 trigger events, including company growth, compliance, process change, and related purchase. “It doesn’t matter what you’re selling,” he says. “You could be selling uniforms. You could be selling trucks. You could be selling software.”

The information you’re searching for exists in press releases, association news sites, lists, and legal filings, as well as on news and information sites and private sites, says Cowan. “We can find all this information and use it to create a picture of a better prospect.” The challenge is how to access it. “We’ve got all these documents out there, but salespeople don’t know how to search them,” he says.

The key, says Cowan, is to become more sophisticated in how you search the Web. Go beyond the usual suspects of major newspapers and news portals, as papers like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal are unlikely to run pieces about a 50-person business relocating from Idaho to Indianapolis. Instead, head straight for the source – AP wire reports, press releases, and corporate Web sites. Cowan also says that synonyms for key words are very important; for instance, if you’re looking for plant shutdowns, you may also search for “manufacturer layoffs” or “factory closings.”

To bone up on your search skills, you can take the do-it-yourself route and jump right in and get your feet wet, learning as you go. Or you can work with a consultant like Cowan, or take one of a number of Web research-related classes that are offered through local community colleges and extension programs. Whatever path you take, Cowan says, “You can cover a lot more ground on the Web than you can by physically reading newspapers.”

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