This past weekend, I went to Lowe’s to pick up a few items for our lawn and the place was a madhouse. There were people literally everywhere, pushing and jostling for position. It was like watching “Supermarket Sweep,” the game show where people have five minutes to fill their shopping carts.

Fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, shovels, gloves, stones and lots more—all purchased in hope of making the cover of a garden magazine or being the envy of neighbors. All these people were spending time and money to create a façade of beauty that might last only a few weeks or months.

How does this apply to sales? I recently wrote about the need to provoke in a marketplace that’s yielding less. I’ve seen companies react to stagnant decision-making processes with aggressive and sweeping prospecting tactics. They’re inundating markets with desperate and suffocating approaches.

Your prospects and customers are being over-seeded, over-watered and over-fertilized every day by your competition—and maybe even by you. For truly lasting beauty, the process of cultivating your garden vision takes patience and time.

This comparison isn’t too far of a stretch in today’s marketplace. Whether you’re making your first introduction attempt, or are caught in perpetual post-proposal follow-up, or are just trying to stay in the game, the following ideas will help you build credibility and cultivate a full and beautiful garden in your prospect pipeline.

  1. Work the prospects you know you can help. Select clients that are in similar situations to clients you’ve already helped. This approach that will manifest confidence in your words and actions. Pre-select the types of companies you want to cultivate in your pipeline, just as you would select the right plants for your geographic zone.
  2. Transparency is the rule. Reach out to your prospects by e-mail and explain your process—and intentions—for trying to connect with them. Use different approaches (fertilizers) to connect with and nourish your pipeline. Explain what they’ll receive and when they’ll receive it – whether it’s a video, e-mail, phone call or something else.
  3. Choose the right tools. Videos, e-newsletters, blogs—all have their own particular strengths and uses.
    • Video: A very powerful tool for opening new doors. It allows prospects to view and share your story at their discretion. The best approach is to share a customer success story. The video should be no longer than two or three minutes. Video is best used to initiate and cultivate introductions.
    • E-newsletters: Great for prospects you’ve already cultivated, but aren’t quite ripe enough to pick. It keeps your ability to impact their businesses at the forefront and helps you develop credibility. E-newsletters can be used to qualify prospect interest and keep relevant material in front of them. They’re especially effective because you control the distribution.
    • Blogs: An easy way to share expertise continuously and consistently without overdoing it. A blog gives allows your prospects control of the information flow. They subscribe if they’re really interested in what you have to say.
  4. Respect prospects’ time and privacy. Remember, if you send an e-mail introduction, video or e-newsletter, there’s always the possibility you’re showing up in mailboxes uninvited. Let prospects know that you won’t abuse this privilege and let them choose whether they want to receive more information. The only thing worse than not watering a plant is drowning it.
  5. Be methodical with your efforts to connect. Make sure your touch points are well-timed and evenly dispersed. Make your initial contact attempt (by e-mail, video or phone) and then limit correspondence to bi-weekly or monthly.
  6. Make it about them, not you. Regardless of the tools and platforms, you use to connect with prospects and customers, make the content about them. Use their language and stay away from the self-serving accolades.

Cultivating is a process. There’s a fine line between growing a beautiful and bountiful garden and overworking the soil. Prospecting isn’t any different. Let your competitors hammer away at the market while you remain focused, consistent and transparent.

Just as in gardening, there comes a point in prospecting when you need to step back and let nature take its course. Your market will be abundant if you allow it to be.