Prospecting, In The Future Tense

By Aaron Paitich


We use a lot of hockey references around here, mostly because we love the game, but also because we partner with several hockey associations and governing bodies to produce magazines (both print and digital) along with other supporting content. So here goes…

In hockey, as in a lot of sports, you pass the puck NOT to where a teammate is, but to where that teammate is going to be. Depending upon the distance between you and your teammate and how fast they’re skating, the target (where you need to send the puck) can range from 5-25 feet ahead of the skater’s current position. That’s a substantial gap, and when that principle is applied to business prospecting, the target can appear to be miles, or years ahead.

This particular metaphor comes from the new, visionary CEO of a major theater organization of which I serve on a board. It resonated with me on multiple levels, especially because it’s tied to prospecting clients for the future. To be clear, we aren’t talking about aliens from Planet-X; we’re talking about businesses, organizations, or individuals whom we desire to connect with and eventually become partners. In the theater’s sense, we’re talking about putting butts in seats.

Backing up for a moment, I read a book in the mid-1990’s for a class in graduate school called Thinking in The Future Tense, by Jennifer James. In the book, James shared example after example of companies that stagnated because they failed to predict, and adapt to the future. They didn’t evolve, or overcome old thinking. In other words, they failed to pass the puck ahead of their target’s current position.

Our theater CEO uses this metaphor not only to instill a culture of critical thinking, but more importantly, to prospect in the future tense. Where are the prospects going to be? That is The Question.

Then what?

First, you need to figure out where the prospects are right now. What are their interests? And what would it take to get them engaged (in our case, come to the theater)? This particular theater is old school, classy, and sophisticated. It’s ornate, but not stuffy or pretentious. It’s where parents go, and grandparents went, but it doesn’t exactly scream “MILLENIAL!” So, how do we pass the puck to them?

We have 29 post-secondary institutions in the Twin Cities. We want to reach their students, but they are way out across the red line (that’s a long distance to pass, in hockey speak). Like typical students, they probably have little discretionary income. Every last dime is invested in tuition, boxes of macaroni-n-cheese, and beer. But just because they don’t have money now, doesn’t mean they won’t later, and we want to cultivate the next generation of theater-goers, not just fill seats for this weekend’s show.

Should we give tickets away? Maybe. Do we invite them to free concerts, or “underground” pop-up parties with local craft beer? Yeah, probably. How about hosting karaoke, talent, or video game nights on a $20M stage? That sounds like a winner, too.

As you prospect, you need to know your target, where they are, and how you are going to connect with them. Ask yourself, are you passing the puck in front of, or behind your prospects? And, are you incentivizing them enough to engage with you? Make them call for that pass.

Prospecting in the future tense is also about sending the right message. Once you’re connected, you need to provide valuable and relevant content that continues to create interest, replenishes the sales funnel, and ultimately turns them into lifelong brand loyalists.

To score goals in hockey, you have to move steadily up the ice. The same is true for prospecting. You have to get your head up, analyze the distance away from your target, size-up the opposition in your way, and then decide the type of pass you are going to make (soft, hard, saucer, off the boards), and fire it ahead of the skater. If you miss on any one of these, your team will be shut out, and you’ll be left with a classy, yes, but empty theater.