What Is Sales Prospecting? [Techniques & Expert Tips]
If you think prospecting is about non-stop cold calling, followed by a semi-personalized email campaign, and then, some more cold calling, you are wrong.
The art of prospecting is continually disrupted with new techniques and technology. It puts sales reps in a position to be more successful and save time.
Read on if you’re rethinking your prospecting process or you’re planning it from scratch.
In this article, we’re sharing how to learn more about your prospects and earn more business.
What is prospecting in sales and marketing?
It's a simple definition—
Sales prospecting is the process of identifying and communicating with potential customers to generate new business. Sales reps prospect by finding and engaging with targets (qualified leads) to decide whether to move them through the sales funnel.
Sales prospecting takes place on a one-to-one basis through outbound activities. For example, when a sales development representative (SDR) makes a cold call, sends an email, or a direct message via LinkedIn. Prospecting in B2B marketing involves tasks such as pay-per-click ads, content marketing, or newsletter.
Prospecting is usually a short-term approach that aims at:
- Starting a conversation
- Qualifying the prospect in or out
- Positioning your product as a solution to their problem
It’s easier to understand ‘prospecting’ meaning in sales if we go back in history and recall prospectors during the gold rush. Their job was sifting through the rocks looking for signs of gold. The principle in B2B sales is exactly the same.
Watch our explainer video below about what sales prospecting is.
What is a prospect, then?
In short, a prospect is synonymous with a prospective customer. But it doesn’t mean any contact on your mailing list!
We can define prospects as qualified contacts who can enter the sales process because they meet certain criteria outlined in your company's ideal customer profile. For example, if you sell cyber security services to SMBs, your prospect is a manager in a small or medium organization who can afford your solution and can make the purchasing decision.
What is a good prospect, then?
To answer that, let’s can get a lot more granular about prospect definition and differentiate between marketing and sales prospects—
Marketing prospects are people who can become leads. They are potential customers who haven’t confirmed their interest in your product or service. For example, they’ve only signed up for your email list.
On the other hand, sales prospects are lower in the sales funnel because they have shown their intention to buy. They are ready to discuss the details of your solution with sales development reps. They are usually considered good prospects because they are aware of the need and more willing to communicate with sales reps.
At this point, you may be interested in discovering the difference between prospects and leads and learning about lead scoring models to increase conversion rates.
How can you improve business prospecting process?
This is no longer a question if tech can aid the sales prospecting process but in what ways.
Even though no software can ever replace the value of a personalized approach in sales prospecting, there are tens of prospecting tools you can use to automate the process. They let you cut down repetitive and tedious tasks to focus on closing more deals.
The best ones available help you gather accurate information about your potential buyers, qualify them, engage them in meaningful ways, and even schedule meetings.
For example, sales prospecting software like Cognism allows you to create comprehensive prospect lists that match your ideal customer profile, so your SDRs can call the right people at the right time.
When you’re building lists of targets to cold call or email, you need the most detailed and up-to-date data. Otherwise, your SDRs may waste time trying to reach people who left the company years ago. Poor quality prospecting data can drastically affect your team’s performance so make sure you conduct thorough research when seeking a B2B data provider.
Why is strategic prospecting so important?
A prospecting strategy is vital not only to ensure the return on your time and investment but also to align sales and marketing.
Firstly, a strategic approach to prospecting helps sales fill in the pipeline with high-quality opportunities, which in turn helps marketers increase their conversion rates.
Secondly, the insights sales gets from engaging with the right prospects on the right channels, informs marketing on what topics and types of content are relevant to your ideal audience.
Lastly, prospecting strategies shorten selling cycles and help create effective marketing campaigns that attract more of your potential buyers to enter the B2B marketing funnel.
What are the different types of sales prospecting?
Effective prospecting campaigns can vary by type of business and industry. For example, SDRs sometimes prospect warm leads, that is people who have already engaged with your brand somehow. While at other companies, they contact B2B sales prospects for the first time—often via cold calls.
But there are some common ways in which you can find new prospects. If they sound too familiar, scroll down for expert prospecting strategies.
1. On the phone
Don’t listen to anyone who says cold calling doesn’t work anymore. It is still a fast and effective sales prospecting technique, As many as 69% of customers accept cold calls! It’s a huge opportunity for your business if done right.
With the right skills and a direct phone number, an SDR can start a conversation with a prospect and link their product to the prospect’s pain point in just a few minutes.
Where cold calling has an advantage over email is you get to show more of “the human touch”. You can also have a meaningful conversation over the phone (rather than a sales pitch). You ask questions, listen to the answers, and follow up.
2. Via email
Sending sales emails is fast and one of the most cost-effective prospecting ideas. Once you have an email template that works, you can prospect at scale. It can also be a precursor to a phone call to add a more personal touch.
A useful email prospecting idea is to create email sequences that run your prospect through your product's benefits, as opposed to features. You can use software like Cognism Prospector to set up sequences that also monitor responses on the back end.
3. On social channels
In B2B, all your leads are on LinkedIn. It’s simple to fire off direct messages on LinkedIn to try and make a connection, although it can be hard to rise above the noise.
Many SDRs find success with these LinkedIn messaging templates or by recording short videos for their prospects, which they send through LinkedIn. Incorporating video prospecting allows you to inject a bit of personality into the process and use information you find about your prospects on LinkedIn to add personalization.
💡 Learn to deal with challenges involved in virtual prospecting with intent data.
What are sales prospecting techniques?
In most organizations, prospecting sits at the very start of the sales process. But they can build prospecting processes differently. Whether you’re creating a new prospecting plan or your current strategy needs updating, here are 10 actionable sales prospecting techniques for creating a successful process.
1. Define the ideal customer profile (ICP)
You may be surprised how many sales leaders don’t create a profile of their ideal target audience. And yet—
ICP informs whether the person you are trying to reach is likely to buy your product or not!
You can start defining an ideal customer based on their location, company size, and budget. And then refine the profile every quarter once you learn more about your prospects.
Once you know who fits your total addressable market, it will be easy to focus your prospecting techniques on the right targets to save time and money. Targeted ICP usually means better-qualified sales leads and higher conversion rates.
2. Do your research
Finding out as much as you can about your prospect before you make contact is a crucial step in the strategic prospecting process. You need to be sure the person you’re targeting is a good fit for your product or service.
LinkedIn is ideal for this. All the information you could ever need is all there on one screen. Evaluate it to make sure the prospect meets the criteria in your ICP. For example, you can check if they are already using your competitor.
Don’t forget to look for ways you can make a connection with your prospect, over and above trying to sell to them.
3. Understand the company’s internal structure
This is one of the key prospecting tactics in B2B prospecting that is often overlooked. To increase your chances of closing the deal, you will have to reach out to people in different layers of the company. It is useful to understand who is who and who reports to who.
You can start prospecting to juniors and middle management to better understand the company's pain points. It will help you tailor your sales pitch when you speak to decision-makers at the top of the company's ladder. This prospecting tactic is used in enterprise selling but may as well be used when prospecting to SMBs.
4. Define your goals before reaching out
Having a clear sales goal before starting prospecting in business helps you prepare steps to achieve it. The goal doesn’t always have to be closing a deal, it can be booking a meeting or scheduling a sales demo.
For example, if you’re reaching out to a cold prospect (someone who has never heard of your company), your aim may be to build a relationship with them. Potential customers want to be sure that the company they are doing business with is trustworthy. They tend to trust organizations they have established a good relationship with.
5. Find out prospects’ pain points
During a discovery call, it’s important to ask the right questions to gather information about the prospect's needs. Focus on learning what they are struggling with and what is going well for them. You may ask if any metrics are fluctuating and what effect it has on the team's performance.
When calling a business prospect, don’t try to reel off everything you can about your product. Instead, listen actively to their answers and connect the dots to position your product as the answer.
Thanks to sales prospecting methods like this, you can highlight the benefits of your product rather than its generic features without sounding too pushy.
6. Take advantage of sales triggers
Sales triggers are events that create an opening for contact with prospects, such as a prospect’s promotion, a new round of funding, mergers, etc. The trick is to identify them! But once you do, you can engage prospects better and ensure higher conversion rates down the funnel.
So, how to prospect using sales triggers?
Well, you can track them manually but it will be time-consuming. It’s better to use technology to do it for you. Our flagship tool, Prospector, has many event-based triggers built into its platform.
7. Build your personal brand
Here’s a great prospecting idea—
Your potential buyers visit all types of social media channels, so if you’re not present there, you’re losing out. It doesn’t replace other B2B sales prospecting activities but complements them. As many as 82% of customers say they look up vendors on lead sources like LinkedIn before even replying to their outreach.
You start by creating a social media profile and engaging with your connections or followers. When you share valuable content with them, you increase your brand awareness. People start to trust your expertise and become eager to hear your recommendations.
8. Get support from all departments
When prospecting to large organizations, you will need to get a lot more strategic. You may need to speak to different people in different departments, e.g. RevOps, sales, and legal. The trick is to get them approved of your product before you demonstrate it.
Use what you discover during your research phase to develop an outreach that’s personalized to each team. By all means, use cold calling scripts and email templates but don’t stick to them rigidly. Tailor your approach every time so that it is relevant.
9. Be active
Prepare that not every conversation with prospects will have a desirable result for you. According to Gartner’s research, it may take 18 dials to connect with the buyer! That’s why you should have as many conversations as possible. There is no shortage of information you can discover. From the main decision-makers to the tools they are currently using, to what issues they have with them.
It is especially important if you’re reaching out to enterprises. The best prospecting strategy, in that case, is to contact junior employees en masse. All you need is to get one or two of them to respond.
10. Evaluate your results
This is a crucial step in the sales prospecting process because it tells you which tactics give you the best results. You will be able to focus on those that are the most profitable and find areas for improvement.
Analyzing results helps you understand what makes prospects convert and redefine your ICP quarterly. You can also evaluate every interaction with prospective customers and think of what went right, and what went wrong.
Top tips for targeted prospecting
Even if you use the best prospecting techniques and strategies, you may find the process challenging. Some of the biggest prospecting issues sales reps face are lack of time, connecting with the wrong people, and not enough research to personalize pitches.
Here are some of the best practices in sales prospecting for getting more hot leads:
1. Start small
Many sales professionals start with a large list of prospects, dwindling it down to a small list of actual buyers. But one of the best sales prospecting tips you will ever hear is to start with smaller lists of better-qualified prospects. Armed with accurate B2B data, you can create lists of potential buyers.
So instead of a list of 1,000 prospects that generate only 30 buyers, have a list of 300 people and have 200 of them make the purchase.
2. Follow up with relevant content
When some sales fall through it could be due to the type of content you’re sending. Sales prospecting best practice is to tailor business proposals to the recipient. It means addressing your customers’ pain points right in the intro to hook them up. You can also create a prospecting cadence to better maximize engagement and hit targets.
Listen to Cognism's Senior BDM Saif Khan who introduces the ultimate B2B prospecting cadence to find out more.
3. Know when to stop pursuing prospects
This might not sound like the best sales prospecting tip at first. Some sales reps still consider disqualifying prospects a step back. But it is a breakthrough. If you notice that a prospect isn’t a good fit, you will be able to focus your attention on opportunities that have better potential to convert.
It doesn’t mean just walking away from a prospective customer when they haven’t replied to your email—that’s another reason for a prospecting cadence! Prospecting also means setting criteria for not pursuing a lead. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
4. Update ICP every quarter
Sometimes, sales prospecting is not working because you don’t update your ideal customer profile. For example, you may identify SMBs as your potential buyers. With time, however, it may turn out that solopreneurs bring more value to your business.
The best way to improve prospecting is to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data. You may for example calculate customer lifetime value or speak to the customer support team. They know exactly who is actually purchasing and which customers are most loyal to your product or service.
5. Plan your calls
Planning your calls is important for two reasons. Firstly, it helps you better engage the decision-maker. Secondly, it reduces any anxiety you may feel before you pick up the phone. You can use a cold calling script if you don’t have much experience in prospecting.
Planning what you’re going to say is easier if you assume the prospects you’re calling have similar goals and challenges as your existing customers. To make better assumptions about your prospective buyers, you can join industry associations, sign up for their newsletters, and join their LinkedIn groups.
Who does prospecting in sales?
In most SaaS sales teams, prospecting is carried out by Sales Development Reps (SDRs), sometimes called Business Development Reps (BDRs).
SDRs are often the newest members of the sales team, building their skills and experience before becoming Business Development Managers (BDMs, also called Account Executives or AEs), who negotiate with prospective clients and close deals.
SDRs typically communicate with hundreds of prospects every day, ensuring that the leads that move to the next stage of the process meet the following criteria:
- Budget—they have the money to buy
- Authority—they are the proper decision-maker
- Need—they have a problem that the product can solve
- Time—they are looking to make a purchasing decision quickly
SDRs handle objections daily, cold prospecting may be tedious and it requires a lot of multitasking. So to ensure a successful career in sales prospecting, reps need a certain skill set. Watch the video below to learn more about prospecting skills and training.
How to measure their success?
Every organization will focus on slightly different sales prospecting metrics for SDRs, but here are some ways you can measure your outbound prospecting success:
- Activity metrics—dials per day, emails per day, time on the phone.
- Result-based metrics—number of Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) generated, number of AE meetings booked, number of meetings booked that take place.
Cognism's outbound prospecting plays
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