A colleague and I were talking this week about the greatest value that a sales professional brings to a company. Is it the ability to prospect for new client, or is it the ability to close a deal?

Both are extremely important, and neither is terribly easy. That’s why we typically don’t put limits on the income a sales professional can make. We want to incentivize them to keep working hard on a difficult-but-crucial activity that literally is the lifeblood of companies.

My colleague and I agreed that prospecting is more difficult than closing deals and therefore more important. Interestingly, most companies see that differently than we do. Companies tend to compensate good closers more than they compensate good prospectors. But I find it much easier to recruit a strong closer than a good prospector. A prospector manufactures a client out of thin air. Without the prospector, there’s nobody to close.

Given the importance of prospecting, and how difficult it is to do it right, let’s look at some of the best practices top producers use to identify opportunities hidden in the abyss and drag them into the light of day.

Top producers consider prospecting to be an activity driven by their annual goals and business plans. They are highly goal-oriented and monitor progress throughout the year. They always want to be ahead of the game.

Elite prospectors are obsessed with prospecting and do it every day. They are constantly wondering, “Who else is out there that could become my client?” They prospect when times are good because they know that a rainy day will eventually come. They fight through worry and discouragement and keep prospecting during economic downturns because they know better days lie ahead and they want to be ready for future opportunity. They even prospect when mediocre sales reps would claim they are too busy to prospect.

Top producers dig deep into their professional souls and conquer the temptation to procrastinate. They know that perfectionism is the “little brother” of procrastination, so they don’t wait for things to be perfect.

You’ve probably fallen into this trap before, by the way. You keep putting off picking up the phone until you’ve accomplished “just one more thing.” Well, top producers know they will NEVER be 100 percent ready, so they jump in and just get the job done. As the legendary Army General George S. Patton once said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

The best prospectors are organized in both their personal and professional lives. They have a system of good habits allowing them to keep the little things in line, freeing them up to spend their time on big things.

They are “opportunity detectives.” A financial services CEO once told me that sales professionals should listen to their clients with the same intensity that a homicide detective listens to a murder suspect. Deep, active and fully-present listening is necessary to uncover hidden business opportunities. Most people only casually listen to prospects, causing them to miss subtle cues that could lead to millions of dollars in business.

Finally, great prospectors have an “accountability mindset.” They are accountable to themselves, their clients and their colleagues.

If you have an accountability mindset, you live your life according to three words: responsibility, authority and accountability. You are responsible for your own world, and fortunately, you have the authority to carry out your responsibilities. But with that authority comes accountability for your decisions and actions.

In other words, truly successful people graciously take credit for their successes and accept blame for their mistakes. In practical prospecting terms, this means they don’t make excuses, such as “Nobody answers the phone these days.” They don’t waste time worrying, “What if that person doesn’t want to talk to me?” They don’t complain, “Nobody will make a decision these days!”

Jeff Beals helps you find better prospects, close more deals and capture greater market share. He is an international award-winning author, sought-after keynote speaker, and accomplished sales consultant. He delivers compelling speeches and sales-training workshops worldwide. He has spoken in 5 countries and 41 states. A frequent media guest, Jeff has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.