Professional recognition can pay dividends in more ways than one. For the recipient, it’s an acknowledgement of business success, talents and accomplishments. For their peers, it’s an example to learn from. For those of us in business development, it’s a reason to reach out – but only if we do it right.

Have you been named to a list? You get these emails saying, “Congratulations on being named (insert accolade here)! I’d like to book a meeting with you to sell you this thing …” Is there anything worse?

Let me tell you how to do this better. At the very least, No. 1 should be personalizing the message to include the recipient’s name and something unique to them so it doesn’t feel like spam – as much – and No. 2, explain how your offering can complement their achievement to make it relevant.

Do you want to go a step further? There are several things you can do to make recognition programs a better prospecting tool.

Leverage the networking opportunity: Be where the winners are. Are they being honored at a ceremony or event? Be there! Use the gathering to network and build relationships. Pro tip: Arm yourself with a great question for the winners to get them talking.

Tailor your solutions: Recognition programs typically include quite a bit of data on the recipients and why they earned their honors. Spend time researching the specific challenges that the award-winning companies face. This might be something they all have in common or something unique to each of them. Be prepared to pivot – naturally! – in conversation to demonstrate how your product or service can address these issues and contribute to their ongoing success.

Follow up with connections that have gone quiet: Use award announcements as a reason to follow up with prospects you’ve previously engaged with. Congratulate them on their achievements without asking for something. If they really did just forget about you or got too busy, they’ll take the opportunity to re-engage with you.

Create content: Position yourself as a thought leader by sharing insights and analysis of recognition lists within your industry and the people and companies they celebrate. It’s a great way to attract attention from those seeking expertise and guidance in their decision-making process – and it will draw new business your way.

Gain new industry insights: Award lists are a great resource to scrutinize for new insights into emerging trends, areas of innovation and segments that may be in decline. Are the winners doing something different? Are they moving toward similar business models or following similar trends? Are they moving away from others? Award lists also give you something to benchmark your own performance against.

Last month saw the launch of the 2024 PPAI 100, our industry’s most audacious and insightful recognition program. Whether your company made the list or not, it represents an opportunity that you can leverage for your own business. It contains data points you won’t find anywhere else in promo – like three-year growth rates instead of just sales – and it shows you what companies care about and invest in – sustainability, innovation, their employees, etc.

PPAI 100 is a valuable resource for those of us in the promo business. It brings together numerous industry trends and data points we can use to align our efforts. This year, PPAI 100 recognized 200 promotional merchandise businesses, but everyone in our industry benefits.

Davis is PPAI’s director of sales and professional development.