Before you can close deals, you've got to keep your sales pipeline full. Discover the keys to effective prospecting to deliver optimal results.
March 13, 2023
Before a sale ever occurs, you’ve got to identify and target the best prospects for your goods or services. Prospecting sales targets is a never-ending process to keep your sales pipeline full and build a sales engine to power growth.
While prospecting is crucial, it’s not one of most salespeople’s favorite things to do. Four out of ten sales teams say prospecting is the single most challenging part of the sales process.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to prospect for sales and how mastering this process will improve your performance and drive more prospects into your sales pipeline.
Sales prospecting is the work sales reps do to identify potential customers to grow your sales funnel and add to your customer base.
Today, much of sales prospecting is done online, doing research using marketing automation to find customers that fit your product or service profile and then engaging them and nurturing them throughout the customer journey. Once qualified, sales teams are activated to work deals and close sales. Let's look at some sales prospecting tips that'll help you figure out the perfect sales pitch!
When learning how to prospect in sales, it’s important to understand the sales prospecting process. While you will find multiple variations online, there are four general stages of the sales prospecting process.
Leads can come from anywhere. They are a combination of inbound leads, such as someone that fills out a form on your website or contacts you after reading a blog, or outbound leads, such as cold calling or email outreach.
Once a prospect is identified, they become a marketing-qualified lead (MQL). However, before you invest too much time and effort, you want to turn them into a sales-qualified lead (SQL). Marketing and sales team use a variety of tools to identify SQLs, including lead scoring and behavioral analytics, but every SQL needs to satisfy specific criteria, such as the BANT system:
When all of these elements are present, they become sales-qualified leads, ready for activation.
Throughout the buyer’s journey, marketing and sales teams need to stay in touch with prospects and nurture them. This helps establish brand recognition, build trust, and define specific use cases for your products or services.
Most importantly, nurturing turns prospects into opportunities.
At the right time in the buyer’s journey, sales teams will identify the right solutions and turn opportunities into conversions.
While the sales process has remained largely unchanged over the years, the practice of sales prospecting has changed significantly due to technological advances. Online tools and technology have put buyers firmly in control of the sales process.
In years past, it was all about volume. Make enough cold calls and send out enough emails and you would uncover enough prospects to keep your sales pipeline full. While there is still a place for this type of outreach, it’s crucial to use your time wisely and target the best-potential prospects.
Today, customers are spending just 5% of their time interacting with company sales teams as part of the B2B buying journey. They’re doing their own research online before ever committing to engage. This means they will likely dodge phone calls or ignore emails without a compelling reason to act.
At the same time, how businesses are buying has changed as well. B2B sales now include buying groups of six to 10 decision-makers, each gathering information separately. The information gathering doesn’t occur linearly anymore either. Prospects don’t move downward through the sales funnel but instead loop through various stages throughout the process.
All of this makes finding, qualifying, nurturing, and closing prospects more complex than ever.
So, given this background, how do you find new sales prospects and use your time wisely? It starts with defining what constitutes a sales prospect for your organization.
Leads can come from a variety of places, but you want to make sure they at least meet your minimum criteria before pursuing them.
Different companies will use different criteria to define prospects. For example, a company that targets enterprise-level companies would be wasting time prospecting small businesses. You should spend time thinking about who are your best prospects and look for ways to identify prospects that align with what you’re selling.
A good place to start is to examine your current customer base and look for commonalities. Then, create buyer personas. Personas can include details such as:
This can help you frame up an idea of who the right prospect is, to help guide your marketing and sales efforts.
This exercise alone can significantly improve your outbound marketing. By identifying and targeting decision-makers that fit your buyer persona, research shows that email open rates increase by two to five times, clickthrough rates increase by 14%, and conversion rates improve by 10%.
It can be easy to spend all of your effort on hot prospects to close deals, but doing so can leave your pipeline empty for the future. Finding prospects takes commitment and consistency. As such, you need to schedule time every week to prospect and find new leads.
Top sales rep spend an average of six hours each week researching prospects. Putting it on your to-do list isn’t good enough these days. You need to schedule and set aside time where you can tune out distractions and focus on prospecting. Either block out a half day or spend an hour or more every day where prospecting is your top priority.
Some salespeople prefer to do all of their prospecting at once while others prefer to parcel it out over time. It’s not important how you break up your prospecting time but you must commit and follow through.
If you have a company in mind, check to see if you can sign up to get their newsletters or blogs. This can be a great resource for information, new hires, or product launches that may trigger an outreach. Following companies on LinkedIn or other social media platforms can also help.
You can also sign up to receive industry press releases or use Google Alerts, which lets you monitor the internet for new content that relates to companies or industries. It will automatically deliver relevant information that you can use to prospect, plus it’s free.
Generic outreach rarely works anymore. Before you make an initial contact, you need to do at least some minimal research to make sure it’s worth your time to connect. Fortunately, there is plenty of information available about people and their companies online.
You can research prospects quickly by looking on:
Checking a company’s available job listings can often uncover specific roles they are trying to fill or challenges they are looking to solve, and your products or services may be good solutions. Reviewing a prospect’s annual report and looking under the section in the 10-K filing designated as risk factors can also uncover needs.
Knowing just a little bit about a prospect can turn a cold call into a warm call or make the difference in how to structure an email to get results.
Not all prospects are equal. Even with basic research, you may uncover different levels of potential customers that deserve different levels of activity. It’s helpful to sort prospects into categories from low to high and plan your time accordingly.
You may also have a connection or uncover one with a little digging, such as a common acquaintance. Most likely, your top prospects will have also had some engagement with your website or social media accounts so they are familiar with your brand.
Mid-level prospects may have had some interaction with your brand or at least be aware of who you are and what you do.
Low-quality prospects also may not be familiar with your brand or have no previous engagement with your company.
We live in an omnichannel world where people use multiple communication channels and not everyone communicates the same way. Some people connect via email, texts, or social media. Others would prefer phone calls or direct mail.
Until you get to know a prospect, you may not know how they prefer to communicate. So, the best strategy is to vary your approach and find out what works best.
Whichever channel you choose, it’s important that you customize your outreach based on the channel.
More than 333 billion emails are zipping across the globe every day. Some studies show that the average businessperson receives about 120 daily. So, you must put some effort into your email if you want them to get any attention amid the daily clutter.
This means crafting:
Consider setting up triggers or reminders to follow up on emails on a regular cadence until you connect or prospects opt-out.
If you’re lucky enough to get a prospect on the phone, respect their time. Quickly establish rapport and explain the reason for your call based on your initial research. Highlight any potential pain points and how your solution can help. Gauge initial interest and try to schedule a time for a more in-depth conversation.
While you want to have a plan for each call, avoid reading from a script. You want to create a dialogue with a prospect.
More likely, you’ll wind up in voicemail, so you should have a rough template you can use to get your point across succinctly.
Texting can cut through email clutter, but it’s also a bit risky. Many people see their smartphones as private and texting them without first making a connection and getting attention can be problematic. You need to make sure prospects have first opted-in to receive texts, which can make first-time prospecting a bad idea for texting.
When you do text, make a short, professional, and personal. Generic texts get ignored.
While you can (and should) use your social media as a lead magnet to attract potential prospects, you can also use social media for proactive prospecting. LinkedIn, for example, lets you sort and find people by company, industry, or profession. You can send personalized messages in the same way you can send emails, but without all the clutter.
Nearly half of all salespeople never make even a single follow-up attempt. You can immediately set yourself apart from the rest by following up on our contacts. How critical is this? Six out of 10 customers report saying no to a sales inquiry before saying yes — even to an initial conversation or contact. Less than 12% of salespeople make it past those no’s.
When someone reaches out to you or your company, respond as quickly as possible. A fast response can stop a prospect from heading to your competitor.
When someone does ask a question or send an inquiry, they are demonstrating a level of interest. Responding to a lead within five minutes, for example, has been shown to improve engagement by nine times. Salespeople that responded to prospects within an hour are 60 times more likely to engage qualified leads than those that wait 24 hours or longer.
A great source of prospects is to talk to your customers. Not only can you strengthen relationships by staying in touch but you can uncover new opportunities in several ways:
Nearly two-thirds of the average company’s revenue comes from its existing customers, who are more likely to make additional purchases and spend more than new customers. So, your existing customers make good prospects as well.
At the same time, satisfied customers are a good source of referrals. Ask if there are others they know who can benefit from your products and services as they have. If they give you a reference, you can use this information to help get an introduction or set yourself apart from other salespeople. A referral is a tacit endorsement of your company and you as a salesperson. This can go a long way toward building trust with a new prospect.
It’s important to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing. When they introduce a new product or approach, evaluate how this might impact your prospects. If your competitors launch a new marketing campaign, you should be able to speak confidently about it and how your product or service is superior when engaging with prospects.
In addition to everything your sales team is doing manually, marketing and sales tools can help manage and automate parts of the process. Lead and prospecting software can automate much of the lead collection process and deliver email sequences using lead scoring and qualifying.
Today’s marketing automation can tie in with customer relationship management (CRM) tools to find, nurture, and stay in touch with clients. The best marketing automation can leverage predictive analytics and behavioral data across every touchpoint in the buyer journey. This will deliver relevant content to generate leads and move prospects through the stages of the sales funnel.
Using built-in tools, you can segment prospects and ensure you deliver the optimal messaging to get results. A/B testing and multivariate testing within systems can feed AI and machine learning to provide better results over time.
Rather than using a shotgun approach to your lead generation and prospecting, many of today’s most successful marketers are using more of a laser-like focus with account-based marketing (ABM).
ABM targets high-value prospects with a robust approach to key individuals within an organization such as influencer buyers and buying groups. Strategies might include the following.
For sales teams, prospecting never stops. Your process must be consistent with a strategic approach to be effective. These tips can help you improve your prospecting and make better connections, leading to more qualified leads. Looking for more support? Visit The Sales Connection today to optimize your sales prospecting approach.
Kayvon has over two decades of experience working with high-level closers and perfecting his sales methodologies. He has earned the title of Canada’s #1 pharmaceutical sales representative and continues to share his expertise as a keynote speaker and through his multi-million-dollar coaching program.
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