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What is prospecting?

Prospecting is the initial stage of the sales process. It is the activity of turning a prospect (a target who may not know who you are) into an opportunity. Once you have an opportunity, you can then turn them into a customer.

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Prospecting 101 | What are the aims of prospecting? | Who does prospecting? | Where does prospecting sit in the sales process? | What’s the difference between prospecting and lead generation? | Phone prospecting | Email prospecting | Social prospecting | Tips for better prospecting | Prospecting metrics | Prospecting with tech | Cognism's prospecting playbook | The world’s best prospecting solution


Prospecting 101: the concept explained in 90 seconds

Press ▶️ to watch Cognism's prospecting explainer video.

What are the aims of prospecting?

Sales reps prospect by communicating with potential customers, which can be done in a variety of ways. The 3 aims of prospecting are: 

  1. To start a conversation.
  2. To qualify the prospect in or out. 
  3. To position your product as a solution to their problem.

The term ‘prospecting’ refers to prospectors during the gold rush, sifting through the rocks looking for signs of gold. The principle in B2B sales is exactly the same.

Who does prospecting?

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 prospects 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.

Where does prospecting sit in the sales process?

In most organisations, prospecting sits at the very start of the sales process. What varies is that sometimes SDRs prospect warm leads (people who have already engaged with your brand), while at other times they will be making contact for the first time – often via cold calls.

The B2B marketing function is also an essential part of the prospecting process. They make content that warms up leads and introduces them to the brand. This means that SDRs may find it easier to start a conversation.

What's the difference between prospecting and lead generation?

The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

Prospecting takes place on a one-to-one basis – such as when an SDR makes a call or sends an email.

Lead generation is a one-to-many approach, with a focus on the longer term. Examples of lead gen include writing a blog or making a YouTube video to attract leads to your brand.

Lead gen and prospecting work well in tandem, as SDRs will find it easy to convert warmer leads into opportunities.

Phone prospecting

Don’t listen to anyone who says cold calling doesn’t work in 2021. Cold calling is still a fast and effective method of prospecting. With the right skills, 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 your personality – “the human touch”. You can also have a conversation (rather than a sales pitch) where you ask questions, listen to the answers and follow up.

Email prospecting

Emails are a fast and cost-effective way to reach out to prospects.

It only takes a second to send an email and once you have a template that works, you can prospect at scale. However, an email is usually a precursor to a phone call to add a more personal touch.

A useful email prospecting approach 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.

Social prospecting

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 about the noise.

Many SDRs find success by recording short videos for their prospects, which they send through LinkedIn. This allows you to inject a bit of personality into the process and use information you find about your prospects on LinkedIn to add personalisation.

Tips for better prospecting

Whatever method of prospecting you choose, do it right. Here are Cognism’s three tips for prospecting success:

Do your research

Find out as much as you can about your prospect before you make contact. LinkedIn is ideal for this, as all the information you could ever need is all there on one screen. Look for ways you can make a connection with your prospect, over and above trying to sell to them.

Get personal

In B2B, personalisation is the key to delighting most prospects. Use what you discover during your research phase to develop an outreach that’s personalised to each prospect. By all means, use cold calling scripts and email templates - but don’t stick to them rigidly. Tailor your approach every time. Be human, don’t be a sales-bot!

Ask questions

When calling a prospect, don’t try to reel off everything you can about your product. Instead, ask questions about the challenges your prospect is facing right now. Listen actively to their answers and connect the dots to position your product as the answer.

Prospecting metrics

Every organisation will focus on slightly different metrics for SDRs, but here are some ways you can measure your outbound team’s 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.

Prospecting tech

There are hundreds of prospecting tools you can use to help you improve results. Software like Cognism allows you to create comprehensive 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. If you don’t, your SDRs may waste time trying to reach people who left the company years ago. Poor quality data can drastically affect your team’s performance; make sure you conduct thorough research when seeking a B2B data provider.

Cognism's prospecting playbook

Optimise your outbound and perfect your prospecting with Cognism's eBook - featuring guidance on cold calling, emailing, social selling, cadences and lots more! Click 👇 to get your copy.


The world's best prospecting solution

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