How to Prospect Like a Baker: What Grandma Taught Me About Succeeding in Sales

When it comes to landing new customers, any salesperson will tell you that closing sales never seems to go as quickly as we want or expect. Well, let me do my part to help speed things up for you by giving you a prospecting recipe to start grabbing new customers as fast as possible (especially if you’re strapped for time).

Find your “One Thing”

I am a huge fan of the “One Thing” philosophy. In the movie, “City Slickers,” the wizened old cowboy, Curly, asks Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, if he knows the secret of life. Without waiting for a response, Curly answers his own question by saying, “This,” and holding up a single finger representing “one thing.” What’s the one thing, you ask? So does Mitch. “That’s what you’ve got to figure out,” says Curly. The idea of “the one thing” has become so popular that it’s referred to as “Curly’s Law.”

As I have trained sales reps and leaders for more than three decades, I would often remark that whatever it was they were selling, they always had to have an extra “one thing” – something that could never be copied or claimed by the competition. There was just one thing they could bring to any sale that no one else on the planet could deliver – themselves and their unique value. This became a version of the One Thing that I referred to as One Thing Plus One.

In 2001, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan wrote the #1 bestseller, “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.” It’s a book about simplifying, focusing, prioritizing and working on – you guessed it – one thing. And like most great adventures and worthy quests in life, it begins with a question: “What’s the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

And for those of us in sales, that one thing is quite simply, “prospect.” We all know it. We all plan to do it. Top producers actually do it. Consistently. But this article isn’t about trying to convince you that prospecting is that one thing. You either get that or you don’t. Hopefully you do, and your competitors don’t. More importantly, hopefully you actually do it!

The big idea in this article is not the general power of “the one thing.” It’s the power of one thing in particular: recipes. Recipes that deliver success.

Create a recipe

Imagine you are getting ready to bake a cake to take to a friend’s birthday party. I know, Costco already sells them; just play along. There are some minimum expectations for the cake. Certainly, it needs to resemble what you set out to create and it better be edible. It’s supposed to look like something, taste like something, feed a certain number of people, etc. Now, it’s one thing if this is just for fun, but it’s a much more serious endeavor if somebody is shelling out coin for your labors.

Stay with me on this whole baking thing. Let’s take a quick look at where you might start. Sure, you could just rummage through the cupboards and grab whatever was at hand. Turn the oven up to whatever and hope for the best. By the way, that’s a more common prospecting strategy than most of us would like to admit.

But if we want the minimum viable product – an edible cake – there’s probably some planning that needs to be done. Certain ingredients are called for, there are steps to follow, there is a timeframe and yes, the more complex the cake, the more skill and knowledge some of those steps will take to perform correctly. Sure, grandma may have appeared to be winging it, but she had baked hundreds of cakes and she had a secret ingredient (love) that always seemed to make things turn out just right. When it comes to prospecting, you aren’t grandma.

The point is, even professionals at the top of their game follow a recipe. Why? Because recipes:

  • Reduce wasted time or resources
  • Eliminate guesswork
  • Reduce frustration
  • Create a framework to revise and improve upon
  • Produce a predictable outcome

I know, I know, we aren’t baking cakes here. Our outcome is a lot more important (no disrespect to grandma). We are prospecting for new customers who will generate revenue that creates profits that drive commissions – commissions that send little Johnny to the private school so he can become the next world-famous infectious disease expert, or at least get him out of grandma’s basement before he’s 40.

Whether baking cakes or making sales, the right recipe combined with the right amount of time and practice delivers a predictable and highly satisfying outcome.

Recipes are nothing more than a list of ingredients plus steps and checklists that, when followed, produce the desired outcome. If the result is less than optimal we go back and ask ourselves if we had the right ingredients (a checklist of items needed). If the ingredients are all correct, did we do all of the steps (again, a checklist of activities). If everything can be checked off, are we following the technique correctly?

A quick side rant here: Because everybody is suddenly an expert, it appears that all of the popular sales pundits are focused on the technique without thought as to whether all of the ingredients were in place and the sequence of steps followed.

As an example, there is a bright new shiny Sales Prospecting Hack that suddenly becomes popular and goes viral. Everybody runs out and starts following this wise new teaching. Some succeed, most do not. Why? Because some try it for a day and then quit prospecting. Others put the technique into the process (the steps) of their ongoing prospecting.

Hint: Prospecting is something winners do every day.

There are other benefits to creating recipes with their ingredients and steps in the form of checklists.

Eliminate stress during high-pressure situations. Example: Do you have a list of replies to the five most common responses to setting up a meeting? Where is that list? When was the last time you practiced it?

Eliminate procrastination. Example: “I know I need to prospect today. Let’s see, I can probably wedge it in between my call at 2 and the one at 3:30.” That isn’t going to happen. How about, “Time to prospect … hmmm … who should I call today?”

Increase confidence. I know who to call/reach out to and what to say. Upon completion of that call, depending on the three outcomes, I have the necessary assets ready to send. GO TIME!

Now, you and I probably sell different things to different people with different values in different markets so our ingredients and steps will be a bit different, but here are eight things that must be in your prospecting recipe:

Assessment One: Moments of Truth

  • Do you have prospecting goals?
  • Was the goal set by you or your manager?
  • Are your prospecting goals activity-based or outcome-based?
  • Are the activities supporting your prospecting goals scheduled on your calendar?

Assessment Two: Moments of Truth

  • Are you exceeding your sales goals?
  • If so, are those results related to prospecting or something else?
  • If you have prospecting goals, are you hitting them?
  • Why or why not?
  • Are the goals effective? Do they create the outcome (increased sales) you desire?

Assessment Three: Moments of Truth

  • Do you believe that prospecting is necessary?
  • Do your calendar and priorities reflect this?
  • If not, why not?
  • What needs to change?

Start Prospecting Every Day

  • Commit to two hours a day, EVERY day for outbound prospecting
  • Block this time out on your calendar
  • Have a daily contingency plan

Create Your Ingredient List

  • Weekly outbound contact list
  • Compelling introductory statement centered around the prospect’s needs and desires
  • In-person or phone version for live contact
  • Voicemail version
  • Email follow up for the intro statement
  • Appropriate CTA for each interaction
  • Know the next logical step for each interaction
  • Documented in CRM
  • List of the five most frequent objections/stalls to your request and effective response
  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • LinkedIn bio
  • Calendar
  • Willingness to put in the work

Progression Path

  • List of logical steps a buyer takes when considering what you offer
  • Sales process that is in alignment with how your customers actually buy
  • Cadence of activities (phone calls, emails, social postings, etc.)

Review Process

  • Time on calendar for weekly review of activities and outcomes
  • Revise activities as needed
  • Determine skill or knowledge gaps
  • Test
  • Be willing to experiment and revise (one variable at a time!)

Get Some Help

  • Interview salespeople achieving the success you desire
  • Get some books
  • Get some coaching
  • Get accountability

Once you understand the facts about prospecting hacks (recipe) to get more customers you can move forward with confidence – and going through this simple checklist is a great start for any salesperson! But as you can see, this really is just the tip of the iceberg.

By the way, if you’re a salesperson and you’re serious about prospecting hacks to get more customers and you really want to grab more customers using your own recipe, why not get with a few other reps and come up with your own?

I’ll wrap this up with a fun fact: my great grandmother’s last name was Baker. That’s what happened at Ellis Island back in the day. So, I guess you could say that recipes are in my blood. Just don’t ask me to bake a cake.

is executive vice president of InkCycle Inc. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience. He is an active member of the imaging industry as an author, trainer and speaker. Contact him at