The end of the year traditionally is a time for retrospection and inspiration. That"s particularly true for me because this month marks the completion of my fifth year as a ProSales columnist. After re-reading my columns, I wondered: What stands out? Here are my five favorite tips from the past five years.

Rick Davis Prospect First. In April 2004, a time of great abundance in our industry, I wrote about the importance of prospecting. We were riding high on the wave of a market that was starting up to 2 million homes annually. Lumber was trading high, and builders were clamoring for product. There seemed little need for prospecting efforts.

But the subsequent downturn reminds us that it is always time to prospect. It is obvious in today"s market that prospecting is a key to success. The job of sales, first and foremost, is to find new business regardless of market conditions. Nearly everyone agrees that prospecting in times of abundance would have made more opportunities in today"s scarce market. Do not make this mistake again.

Plant Seeds. In August 2007, I shared with you the concept of "planting seeds." I had grown weary of referring to salespeople as hunters because that concept is transactional and focuses on short-term results. Moreover, it fails to mirror reality: In our industry, we don"t close deals, we open relationships. You don"t want a single purchase from a builder; you want all of his business forever.

An LBM dealer I work with in the Midwest recently closed a deal for 150 houses of lumber based on a relationship with a superintendent who had not purchased from the dealer in six years. We discovered the superintendent had a very favorable impression of one salesperson in the organization. So six years after the superintendent had been a client for another builder, the owner of the LBM dealer connected his salesperson with the superintendent. We got the deal from a seed that had been planted six years earlier.

Work your Rolodex and keep in touch. You never know which seeds will bear fruit.

Second Place. In December 2006, I wrote about the most powerful concept I share in my seminars and consulting arrangements: Most builders choose a new supplier when something goes wrong. Thus, the key to success is to be the first person they think of when trouble arrives.

The previous deal I described occurred because the superintendent had been through a series of bad experiences with a competing LBM dealer. It wasn"t enough that we planted a seed; we also continued to nurture the relationship and position ourselves in second place, waiting for the opportunity to arise. Second place is not the first loser, it is the next winner.

Pick up the Phone. I said in April 2006 to keep in touch and make contacts. I would add to this to use e-mail and regular mail to introduce yourself to potential new clients. The key is to start the ball rolling. This tip was part of a larger picture of information accumulation. Know your market and ask questions. The phone is a great way to start any relationship.

American Idyll. In December 2007, I suggested that Sales Leaders should not yield to the dark times of our industry. Since then, the economy has degenerated considerably. But the negative news need not give way to pessimism and fear. If you want to train your body for good health, you work out. If you want to train your brain, you imbue it with positive thoughts. Take time to count your blessings, and train your mind to think positive thoughts daily.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders, Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409. E-mail: [email protected]