The strength and success of any business will ultimately lie in their product or service. But even if a business had the world’s greatest product or the finest service, it’s not going to do anyone any good without customers who will buy and use the product. Which means that every company is burdened with the responsibility of selling their product/service.
Okay, we might be exaggerating a bit with terms like “burden” and all.
Still, ultimately, it is up to the business to sell their product and convince people to buy it. A critical part of this sales process is sales prospecting.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what sales prospecting is, how it works, and most importantly, how to do it well. We’ll go over the skills and techniques involved and even a few tools that anyone can use to find success with their sales prospecting process.
As always, let’s start with the basics:
In simple terms, sales prospecting is the process of finding potential customers.
There are a number of moving parts involved in your overall sales process and customer acquisition. You have your inbound marketing, networking, and customer referrals, and more. But sales prospecting is perhaps the most important one of them all, as it is the very building block of your sales process.
During the sales prospecting process, you’ll be creating new business by searching for potential customers, clients, or buyers — also known as ‘prospects’ — for the products or services that your business sells. The ultimate goal of any sales prospector is to move these prospects through the sales funnel and convert them into revenue-generating customers.
The most common form of sales prospecting is outbound selling — cold emailing and cold calling. But in recent times, there has been a rise in the popularity of inbound prospecting, where you reach out to leads who have expressed awareness of or interest in your business. More often than not, sales prospecting can and will also involve nurturing old leads that have now grown cold.
As anyone who has done sales prospecting will tell you, the core of any effective prospecting process is identifying customers who are a good fit for your business. This means finding leads and prospects who actually have a need for your product or service in order to resolve their problems or pain points. These are the prospects who will give your company valuable business over a long period of time. While we will explore the qualities of the right customers elsewhere, the way to get them involves asking the right questions to all your leads and prospects.
Seeing as how “leads” and “prospects” are terms that we will be using quite a bit throughout this article, it’s important to note the differences between the two. While they are quite similar, they are not anywhere near the same.
So, our next question is:
A sales prospect is a lead that has been qualified.
So, leads come first, go through a process, get qualified and become a sales prospect. A sales prospect will then convert into a paying customer.
If we’re to break it down a little further and take a detailed look at it, leads are potential customers who have expressed interest in your products or services. They can have done this via visiting your website, reading your blog article, or liking a social media post. Once these leads have been qualified, they become sales prospects.
You do have to remember that while leads and prospects differ by definition, it doesn’t mean your goals with the two are different. In fact, you are aiming for the same thing with both groups. What’s that? Nurture and guide them until they buy your product or service.
After all, if we aren’t selling our products, what are we even doing?
While we are speaking of the differences between leads and sales prospects, it would also be worth your time to consider the difference between lead generation activities and sales prospecting activities.
Lead generation is a process that is typically driven more by marketing. Most lead generation activities start from a marketing campaign that is designed to attract potential customers. It represents both inbound and outbound efforts to find and secure leads who have expressed an interest in your product or service.
Almost all sales prospecting activities start once you have secured leads. All sales prospecting activities are directed towards converting your existing leads into paying customers. These activities include outbound calling and emailing leads and are typically conducted by salespeople.
At this point, it is worth considering just who the people involved in sales prospecting activities are.
While it is true that in most cases, it is the salespeople who are involved in sales prospecting, it’s not always true. Ultimately, just who exactly is responsible for sales prospecting will depend on a business’ size, stage, and budget. There are three common, possible groups of people:
The thing about most new businesses — that is, startups — is that they usually won’t have a seperate sales team. In these cases, the owners/founders of the business will have to take care of everything. Marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, sales prospecting… Everything.
In the next stage, with small/growing companies, the people in charge of sales prospecting tend to be sales reps. These individuals are expected to be the jack-of-all-trades of the sales department and know the whole process inside out. In these cases, these sales reps will handle everything from lead generation to signing the deal. While this is quite easy on a business’s budget, they will be trading off efficiency for it.
Any big, profitable business needs a specialized sales team if it wants to continue its path of success. One key component of a specialized sales team is the sales development representative or SDR. SDRs are dedicated to finding and qualifying leads. That’s all they do. Their one and only goal is to ensure that your business has a reliable stream of new potential customers to focus their selling efforts on.
No matter who is in charge of the sales prospecting activities, they all need to have three key characteristics.
Let’s take a closer look at these three characteristics and why they’re important.
It goes without saying anyone working at any business needs to know what they’re selling — whether it’s a product or a service. But this characteristic is especially important in people who are prospecting because they need to be able to identify people who can benefit from the product they sell.
To be an excellent sales prospector, it’s not enough to just know the core features. You must be intimately aware of all of the product/service’s strengths and weaknesses. This includes all potential uses, hidden features and upcoming features. This knowledge will enable you to truly sell their product to a qualified lead and convert them into a paying customer.
Just as it is important that a sales prospector needs to know what they’re selling, they also need to know who they are selling to. Knowing a potential customer’s needs and wants, pain points and problems means that you will be able to adapt your tactics to showcase how your product can help with the prospect’s problems or fulfill their needs.
Further, knowing what kind of customers need your product will also allow you to find new customers with ease. You will be able to pick out important details like which positions within a customer’s company are most likely to want your product, which industries have a growing need for your solution, and more.
In addition to helping out with identifying common factors between your customers, research skills will also have other uses for sales prospectors. A lot of the sales prospecting process involves research. You need to dig through websites, lead generation software, social media platforms, and a wide variety of other sources for customer data and information.
If you don’t know where to find the right information to get you started, you’ve already failed. A skilled sales prospector should be able to find customer data — buying history, business size, location, and industry — and use it to identify new potential leads to act on.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the basics, it’s time we dived into actual methods involved in sales prospecting.
As we’ve already mentioned, outbound prospecting is the more traditional form of sales prospecting. This process involves creating a list of businesses and personnel in those businesses that you think will have some use for the product/service you’re selling, and calling those prospects to introduce them to your business and the product/service you’re selling.
Cold calling is a classic sales activity that involves making unsolicited contact with potential leads. You literally just pick up the phone and call someone who you’ve never contacted before. All in an effort to sell your product or your service.
Similar to cold calling, cold emailing is sending unsolicited emails to potential leads. An effective sales email has the ability to capture the recipient’s attention in the subject line and opening sentence. If done right, you can use cold emailing to easily highlight the value your prospect can gain from the product/service you offer.
This is a relatively recent addition to sales prospecting strategies. With social media gaining prominence, more and more companies are realizing its potential use as more than a marketing tool. With the right social media platform — depending on your client base, of course — you can reach out to and communicate with potential prospects using social media.
Inbound prospecting takes an approach where you reach out to people who engage with your company. Anyone who visits your website, likes your Facebook post, shares your YouTube video, downloads your ebook — basically, anyone who interacts with your company in any way is fair game.
Much like cold calling is a thing, so is warm calling. What’s the difference between the two? Here, the call is not so unsolicited as it is when you are cold calling. Otherwise, your goal and the process is much the same.
When a lead has already interacted with your business and expressed an interest, you can use warm emailing. In most cases, this interest will be in the form of them signing up to be on your mailing list or giving you their email address in return for something like an ebook. With warm emailing, you take the data they’ve given you and use it to send them a carefully crafted email.
This involves using social media and directly interacting with prospects. With 76% of buyers ready to talk to someone who can provide them what they want, social selling has quite a high success rate. Much like warm emails, you can introduce yourself, learn about the specific needs of the prospect and then help them in their journey to becoming a paying customer. Whether you use Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn doesn’t matter. What does is that you pay attention to the customer and their needs.
Whether you use the outbound approach or the inbound approach, ultimately, you still need to nurture your prospects. Most prospects will require multiple interactions, several follow-ups, and many emails before they convert into a purchasing customer. So no matter who is doing the prospecting or what method they use, they should also take care to keep up communication and tend to their prospects. This process can involve email campaigns, phone calls, targeted offers and more.
Prospect nurturing is especially important when you are selling a product or service that is complex, has a relatively high price tag, or a long sales cycle.
There is nothing wrong with either of the sales prospecting approaches. Ultimately, it would be up to an individual business and it’s needs. But if you ask us, we take the stance that inbound prospecting should be prioritized. You should still continue outbound prospecting — cold calling, cold emailing and all that — but the main focus should be on inbound prospecting.
Think about it.
Whatever we’re buying, more often than not, we’ve already heard of it. Word-of-mouth from friends, colleagues, or peers. Social media is also a thing. We look at customer reviews, articles on the news and elsewhere, and industry reports and recommendations. All of this before we ever do anything to buy a product.
All of this means that before a salesperson ever has a chance to even consider prospecting, they are already part way through the sales process. We’re making the jobs easier for them. In this age of widespread awareness, cold calling is almost redundant. In fact, a study from Baylor University shows that experienced salespeople can expect to spend 7.5 hours of cold calling to get just one qualified appointment.
Outbound prospecting has a place in today’s world, sure. If your product is niche or you want to expand your reach, you’re going to have to do some cold calling and cold emailing. But otherwise, it’s time that businesses turned their focus more to inbound prospecting.
You might be great at sales prospecting or you might be a newbie. Or maybe you are an industry veteran just refreshing your memory. Whatever it is, it doesn’t hurt to learn some possible tips that can help your sales prospecting process become easier and more successful.
Remember how we said research skills are important?
This is where you put those skills into work. Do proper research on any and all of your prospects. Take them one by one. Look at their histories, who they have partnered with, what business decisions they make, what kind of investments, who is funding them — any and every bit of information you can find.
Every little piece of data can be useful later on. Every little piece of information helps make your approach more personalized to the buyer.
In a Harvard Business Review article entitled The End of Solution Sales, the authors float the idea that selling is not necessarily always about how useful your product/service can be to the prospect. Instead, the article argues, that a business’ sales performance is dependent on how it can find the right people and guide them to buying. The article also states that any sales professional should be able to identify points where a potential customer can be guided toward a sale. This is only possible if you’ve done the research and know your targets well.
You can always cast a wide net and hope for the best, but it won’t always work. You should make sure that you have created an ideal customer profile. If you’ve just started out, you’re going to have to build a profile more or less out of nothing. Or rather, based on who you want your customers to be like.
But if you’ve been in business for a while, this profile should be an amalgamation of your top ten customers or so. Look at their common traits like size of the company, location, who the decision makers are, how much they spend, type of product purchased, and compiled them into a profile.
When you get a potential lead, compare them to this ideal profile. This way, you can prioritize companies that are more likely to buy from you. The more targeted you can be when you are prospecting, the more chances you have of converting prospects into paying customers.
Sending emails is of course a large part of sales prospecting — inbound or outbound. The thing, however, is that you need to send well-crafted emails that are guaranteed to get replies.
There are of course outlines and templates you can use, depending on the situation, but this is something you’ll need to get the hand of by actual practice. Send a few emails based on outlines or templates, see the response, adjust, and so on.
You aren’t going to get positive results 100% of the time, but the better your email is, the more successful you’ll find yourself being in your sales prospecting activities.
This is a given, especially when you are starting out. If you are clever about using customer referrals, you can decrease your customer acquisition cost and at the same time, find more qualified leads without expending much effort on your part.
Whatever your method of sales prospecting is — email, phone, social media, or perhaps in-person — make a habit of asking for referrals after you make a successful sale. This is the best time for it. Why? The customer has just made a new purchase that they’re happy about and they’re all the more likely to respond more positively to your referral request.
This is perhaps one of the most important tips for sales prospecting. We know you’re running a business and are trying to make money, but never forget that whoever you are prospecting with is also a person. And as such, they will respond better to being treated like a person.
What do we mean?
If you’ve done your research, you should know the ins and outs of the business. If you’ve done good research, you might even know things about the person you’re dealing with. Use this information to connect with them on a personal level. Business talk is great and all, but actual conversation has a ton of great value. We don’t mean to waste your prospect’s time on talking about the weather and current global politics (of course, this depends on the individual prospect and what they respond well to) but rather, don’t make the whole conversation be about the business.
Show your prospects that you understand their needs, pain points, and goals. Empathize with them. If you can get a personal ‘in’ with a prospect on your first interaction, they’re more likely to respond better to you. They’ll listen to your pitch, see how your product/service can help them, and actually make the purchase.
Also, you might end up making a good friend or a peer. Who knows?
You are going to be calling a lot. That’s for certain. But that doesn’t mean you call any company at any time, willy nilly. Your research should have given you opening hours for each business you’re going to be contacting.
Reach out to them during those hours.
If a potential prospect is in a different country — which can be the case if you’re selling software or a service on an international level — remember the time zone differences. You might be otherwise busy during those times, but that’s going to have to be put aside if you want to succeed in your business efforts.
A 2017 CallHippo study has the best data on this subject. Best day of the week to call? Wednesday, when everyone is settled into their work week. Best time to call a prospect? Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.. The second best time? Between 11:00 a.m and 12:00 p.m..
Following up is one of the two super-secret secrets to succeeding in sales prospecting. According to a Velocify study, the optimal number of call attempts is six and 95% of all converted leads are reached by the sixth call attempt. 80% of all sales require five follow-ups, at the very least, to close but 44% of sales reps give up after just one rejection.
What does this mean? If you’re not following up with your prospects at least five times (or more) after your initial contact, you’re literally impeding your own success. Check your list of contacts, see how many times you’ve contacted each of them, and if you haven’t followed up enough… do it.
If follow-up is one half of the super-secret secret of sales prospecting success, what is the other half? Making it a daily habit.
You need to realize that the job of a sales prospector is never done. You need to work every day on your prospecting activities. You need to keep your pipeline full of valid leads, ready to be qualified. That means that you need to be actively cold calling, cold emailing, social selling, and doing every other sales prospecting activity there is. Every day.
It doesn’t matter if you have a hundred leads and you don’t need anymore. 99 of those leads could turn out to be useless. (Probably not, but who knows?) So make daily prospecting a habit and keep at it.
Sales prospecting is key to your business and your success at it depends entirely on the quality of leads you have. One of the best tools to get leads — verified ones at that — is to use OneMoreLead. With a database of over 40+ million 100% verified B2B prospects to search from and contact, you are bound to find the perfect match for your product or service, no matter your industry.
We take the policy that sales prospecting should not be a difficult and complex process. With OneMoreLead, you can make it an easy, straightforward experience and cut down the time you have to invest in sales prospecting. Use the tips above and combine with OneMoreLead and you will find yourself right on the path to success.