prospecting for distributors

Tips on Better Prospecting For Promotional Products Counselors

Prospecting is one of the dreaded yet most necessary ways to generate new business in any industry. As for the Promotional Products market, it’s the way both small and large distributors fill their pipeline. Charity Gibson, President & CEO of Green Banana Promotions—one of the queens of social media in the promo world and most engaging conversation starters—recently polled distributors online about how they prospect. She asked them to share HOW they decided who to prospect and WHERE they find their clients and potential clients.

Cold Calling

The answers were as different as their personalities. Branding counselor Gail Strumpf Cheney of Connecticut uses her powers of observation and good old fashioned cold calling. She says, “When I am on the road and see a truck drive by, I write down the company and make cold calls.” Like many other respondents, she also does a lot of research on LinkedIn as a primary resource.

Mary Szumski of Creative Studio Promotions in Michigan believes in cold calling at places where she loves their logo. She explains, “I tell them that! It starts the conversation with the gatekeeper and sometimes gets you into the door faster to the decision makers. Everyone likes to hear that you love their logo, and be ready to tell them why you like it.”

Illinois Promotional Counselor Andrew Dial likens his cold calling success to fishing, “You never know what you are going to catch when you throw that line out. And just because you don’t get a response today doesn’t mean they won’t look you up in a few months.” Although he lives in a rural area where most towns are 500-20,000 people, he attacks prospecting the old fashioned way. “I just got in the car and started driving. I would just go into a business as I came across them. Between cold calls and referrals, I have built up a client list of around 300 in 6 years.”

When asked what he said when he dropped by, he offered, “I ask for the marketing person or HR. I then explain that we are a family business and what we do. I keep it short and low pressure but always leave personal information and literature.”

Niche Industries

31-year industry veteran Angie Gallo likes to cold call as well, and focuses on her favorite industries. “Although Credit Unions are my favorite industry, the buyers are hard to reach. But small businesses like auto body shops, lumber companies… they DO get on the phone. .. I often just go to Yellow Pages and type in “Credit Unions” in a particular state, print and call. Most times they have a Marketing or Human Resources department. Credit Unions buy a lot, they are diversified in their buying, they pay their bills (most are Federal) and they participate in many events (which they buy for.)”

She encourages casting a wide net. “Let’s not forget ALL businesses use promo products.” Kelsey Hufnagel of MR Promotions & Apparel agrees. “Absolutely everyone that comes across my path is a prospect. At the rink, the pitch, the ball diamond. Breakfast networking meetings. Local Women Entrepreneur events. Local BNI group. Local chamber. I am a hunter. I don’t stop until I find the right person to talk to.” She then explained her process, “Knowing my community and my province, what my strengths are, and who my warm/hot market is. That’s where I begin and branch out from there.” She also works with a mentor to identify specific industries for marketing campaigns.

Knowing Your Ideal Client

It’s also important to know where NOT to look, advises Tim Ahrens of Minnesota. He suggests targeting companies of like sizes for better synergy. “I spent a fair bit of time playing at a table that wasn’t really exactly right for us. One of my local contractors told me “You have to choose your customers. I’ve heard much similar advice since. I bet a lot of small distributors can relate to this. I find that the key to adding good clients is being very available to make art and presentations and process orders extremely quickly. An influx, not even an extremely huge one, can overwhelm us. There’s so much business out there compared to our size that process efficiency becomes very important.”

Zach Barna of Boompromo in Arizona also believes in knowing who your ideal client is and targeting the marketing teams of those businesses. “This also requires turning away prospects that don’t fit our ideal client requirements. We’ve never turned away more business than we have this year and it’s been the biggest revenue and profit year in our 11 years in business.”

How does he do this? “I dedicate a block of time each week to adding to the list. I’ll take a few of our favorite clients and find out who their biggest competitors are. From there I will dive deeper into those companies to see if they have similar pains to our client. If so, I’ll aim for that pain in the way we reach out. It’s not a massive list. I only add a few at a time. Aim small. The running list only has about 50-60 prospects on it.”

Social Media

Social media is how others like Charles Wilson of Absolute Printing Solutions in Alabama are prospecting, understanding how he feels being the target of supplier phone calls. “As a small business owner I absolutely despise sales calls, especially with all of the spam calls nowadays. I don’t even like suppliers to call me, just send me a message as I am going 90 to nothing every day…and it’s a lot easier to check my emails when I get a chance.”
He focuses on a fitness industry niche, managing a large Facebook book group he started to generate additional business. However, he also pinpoints other industries using targeted online ads. “If I need to focus on other industries I will do some research, figure out what product has the largest ROI. Then I would put my target audience together and push out some Facebook ads.”

Direct Mail

He also believes in traditional mailings as well, using the EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) targeted advertising service from the US Postal Service.


Distributor Johanna Gottleib relies on published lists like Crain’s Book of Lists for companies winning best places to work or cool office spaces. “You have to keep your eyes open at all times!”

LinkedIn is Tops

NY Branding pro Bill McCormick of Team Creative Connections LLC uses a blend of low and high tech methods for his prospecting. “I target medium to large-sized corporations in the finance, health and tech fields. When in my geographic territories, I take pictures of signs in corporate parks and then research them online and check who they have in the ‘marketing’ function on LinkedIn.” McCormick so strongly advocates LinkedIn as a tool, that he teaches seminars on how to use it effectively – and they are consistently some of the best attended sessions. As many surveyed rely on LinkedIn as a primary lead generation starter or research tool, California’s John King of PromoKing Promotional Agency even endorses the premium version of LinkedIn called Sales Navigator to uncover the marketing contacts at companies.

Mary Ellen SokalskiMary Ellen Sokalski, MAS, MASI
The Scarlet Marketeer (267) 844-2311