Back in the day, banging on doors at the local industrial park was a surefire way to get lobby meetings. The tools of the trade were the Yellow Pages, a sales script, and a good pair of shoes. You could cold-call because the hunted actually answered the phone. Unconventional methods of lead generation included tailing competitors’ trucks and rummaging through garbage bins late at night.

That era is long gone. Today, phoning a prospect and asking to “steal” a few minutes so you can learn a little more about his business is tantamount to sales suicide. Still, one rule of selling has not changed: The amount of business you close will never be greater than the amount of new prospects you need to generate. So, how do sales professionals keep the prospect pipeline flowing?

Look under your nose: Wowing old customers has never been more important for getting new customers. Customers have loads of contacts inside and outside the office just waiting to be tapped. Instead of making cold calls and chasing low-probable returns, recognize that the best sales leads are the ones staring you right in the face. You just have to earn them.

A fresh handshake: Social media is not a prospecting tool; it’s a networking tool. Networking is about gathering contacts, information, and opportunities. It’s also about sharing ideas with like-minded people—namely, customers with freight.

LinkedIn is the most effective online networking tool available right now. It’s today’s handshake; it allows you to build on existing relationships and establish credibility with people you have never met. You can communicate and engage with decision-makers during “off” hours, saving prime-time hours for face-to-face time.

Say something: Every sales rep should develop a personal, content-driven lead-generation program. By “content” I mean good ideas. Create and participate in industry chat rooms. Write a blog. Source and distribute timely magazine articles. Build credibility in the transportation community by sharing your insights with customers, suppliers, and, yes, even your competitors.

Don’t overlook your personal interests. Sharing what you’re passionate about in your free time could spark a conversation that turns into business. I bet there are a lot of guys in your Corvette club who have freight to move.

Fix your rep online: Referrals, handshakes, and having something to say are all ways to build your reputation as a salesperson, raise your profile as a freight expert, and make you “findable.”

If a prospect types your name into Google and likes what he sees, he’ll take the next step and call. The trouble is, too many salespeople have holes in their online reputation. Their LinkedIn profiles are inaccurate and incomplete; they follow porno starlets on Twitter; and they look hammered in every Facebook picture. Your virtual public image is your personal brand. If you have a spotty online image, you’ll never know how many opportunities you’re losing.

Generating sales leads today takes creativity, imagination and hard work. It’s also more fun than it used to be. Prime your pump with referrals, a solid online reputation, and something credible to say. It doesn’t even have to be about freight. Wouldn’t you rather be writing a blog on Corvettes than sifting through a garbage bin?