October 20, 2023
Filling the sales funnel with high-quality leads can be challenging even for an experienced sales team. In today’s competitive landscape, finding the ideal customer before it is too late is especially hard.
Old ways, although still prominent, are less potent than they used to be. In this article, we will look at new and effective sales prospecting techniques that utilize data insights for prospecting success.
Strategic sales prospecting
Successful sales prospecting requires preparing a strategy in advance and supporting it with data. It all begins with understanding the meaning and goals of prospecting.
What is sales prospecting?
Sales prospecting is the sum of techniques, practices, and steps taken by sales reps when searching for potential customers. More precisely, as part of prospecting efforts, marketing and sales teams engage in generating and qualifying new leads.
The goal of prospecting is to identify high-quality leads, nurture their interest until they become prospects, and arrange a sales meeting.
As the name will tell you, prospecting creates sales prospects. A prospect and a lead are two related marketing concepts that are often used interchangeably. However, when developing prospecting strategies, it may be convenient to distinguish between the two terms.
Sales lead vs. sales prospect
The key differences between sales leads and sales prospects are as follows:
- A sales lead is someone you have at least some reason to believe might be interested in your product. This might be someone who has shown some interest in the company, for example, by browsing the webpage or subscribing to a newsletter. Or it could be a contact number you have acquired for someone in your target audience.
- A sales prospect is a more qualified lead. This is a person or a company you have done research on and identified as someone who might truly benefit from the product. It also can be a sales lead with whom you have established communication and used it to nurture them into becoming a prospect.
Thus, the main difference between the two concepts is their level of engagement and how much you know about them.
When you understand the lead’s needs and know that your offering addresses them well, you can move the lead further along the sales funnel and consider it a prospect.
Making prospecting efforts a success
Sales prospecting is a team effort that requires both soft skills and hard analytics to be successful. Here are some tips that will improve the results reached by your sales reps:
- Utilize marketing automation. Automating your marketing campaigns can greatly boost lead generation efficiency. Marketing automation refers to the usage of software tools to automatically perform marketing tasks, such as sending out promotional e-mails. It also involves automatically collecting performance data for analysis.
- Collect sales data from diverse sources. Various types of sales data relevant to lead nurturing and prospecting are generated every minute. All of them can improve your assessment of potential buyers and make better decisions at every point of the sales pipeline. Make use of public web data sources to boost your sales intelligence.
- Align your sales and marketing efforts. Make sure that everyone is on the same page when preparing and communicating sales prospecting strategy. Integrating marketing automation tools, customer relationship management (CRM), and other platforms different teams might use is also crucial for successful cooperation.
- Constantly reassess your sales pipeline and sales goals. Use performance data analytics to draw insights on what works and what does not in your approach. Assess your data sources and providers, the methods you use, your lead scoring metrics, and all other aspects of your process.
- Analyze your competitors. Looking at what sales prospecting methods are utilized by your main competitors will help enrich your own prospecting efforts. Additionally, you will be better positioned strategically with this kind of competitive intelligence.
Constantly reviewing your prospecting performance will allow you to make the necessary adjustments to improve your process and results.
The sales process and the prospecting process
Sales prospecting is the first step of a methodic selling process. The 7 steps of the sales process are:
- Sales prospecting,
- Preparation or pre-approach,
- Handling the objections,
Each step is crucial for generating new business. Here, we concentrate on the step that initiates it all – prospecting.
Sales prospecting itself is a layered procedure and can be divided into multiple steps. Although different firms might put their own spin on it, usually, the sales prospecting process will involve variations of the following stages.
- Defining what you are looking for. To find your ideal customer, you need to know what they look like. Thus, prospecting will usually start with product, marketing, and sales teams cooperating on creating an ideal customer profile (ICP). Equipped with ICP, marketers are better able to create targeted and effective campaigns.
- Lead generation. The second stage is getting some leads into your sales funnel. Leads can be generated in various ways, from attracting them with broad marketing campaigns to buying lead lists from B2B data providers.
- Prospect research. Data collection and analysis usually start at the very beginning as part of the efforts to create an ideal customer profile (ICP). It intensifies in the prospect research stage as this is where you find out more about the prospects to accurately distribute the attention of your sales reps.
- Scoring and ranking. With enough data, you are able to score and rank your prospects. Knowing where each one stands helps distribute resources and organize adequate modes of engagement to nurture them and move further down the sales funnel.
- Evaluation and adjustments. Further engaging with the prospects, sales personnel can evaluate if their initial scoring is accurate as compared to the actual prospect quality. After this, they are able to improve their system, change metrics, decide on new data sources, and make other adjustments for better prospecting results.
Companies will break down these steps of the prospecting process into smaller stages and actions to be taken according to their needs.
Sales prospecting techniques
There are many ways to get sales leads, kickstarting the sales cycle.
Some prospecting techniques have been around for decades, while others are newly developed together with the technologies that make them possible.
Below are some well-known and effective sales prospecting techniques.
Making a cold call is never pleasant. However, sometimes cold prospects that your research shows to have great potential value will not engage with you themselves, and you are left with no other choice.
Calling is especially important when dealing with C-level and VP buyers, as they prefer phone calls to other methods of contacting. Thus, it is likely that sales reps will not escape this practice any time soon. It might, however, be made more pleasant by having a good script prepared and improved based on results.
Of course, when dealing with individual prospects, sticking to the script is not always an option. Even if it is, that does not necessarily make it the best approach.
Top-performing salespeople tend to make potential customers stay on the call for longer by addressing their specific pain points. When talking with such a sales rep, prospects ask more questions and talk slower. Thus, buyers accept meetings when they feel that the salesperson is actually talking to them rather than running the script.
Much like cold calling, cold emailing still has its place among the top sales prospecting techniques. Unlike it, however, this is something most salespeople are far happier to do.
The advantages are many. First, you can reuse the same template, changing only the names and adapting details to be relevant to the customer. Secondly, you will never find yourself on the spot where you have to answer immediately to something unexpected. Finally, you can automate a lot of it, and unlike automated cold calls, emails will not feel impersonal.
The good news is that being contacted by email is often more convenient for the customer as well. You do not interrupt their day, and they do not feel pressured into anything, having time to think over your offer.
There is, of course, a downside, too. For most people, it is easier to ignore an email than a phone call or abruptly hang up in the middle of a conversation. Additionally, emails might never even be seen by the prospect due to going straight to spam or getting lost in flooded mailboxes.
In order to avoid being marked as spam, it is crucial that your email does not sound like an outright promotion. Do not use exaggerated language or commercial clichés in the subject line or the header of the email. Even when following a template, personalize it to show knowledge about the buyer’s company.
Warm calling is, of course, always better than making cold calls or otherwise contacting the prospect out of the blue. It means that the buyer has already expressed interest in your product or had initial contact with you, for example, on social media. Or maybe they have sent you a request for a quote. In this case, a sales rep immediately feels more confident, which can do wonders for conversion rates.
It also means that the right steps have already been taken before. Warm calling is among the sales prospecting techniques that build on previous successful outreach. Thus, to have a chance to make a warm call, you have to do the initial work right.
Other than that, warm calling still requires preparation. Even more so, in fact, because after building rapport with you, the prospect rightfully expects that you will hold them in higher regard than the general target market.
When doing warm calls, it is essential to dive deeper into the pain points of the potential customer, demonstrate a level of knowledge about the prospect’s company, and have a clear value proposition. Rightly done warm calls might deepen your rapport and even lead straight to arranging sales meetings.
Referrals from satisfied customers
Who is a better advocate for your services than someone who has experienced the full benefits? Long-time paying customers and business partners are among your top prospecting assets.
Utilize them not only for testimonials on your website but also to refer them to their partners and connections. It is likely that their professional network is full of similar companies that would be just as valuable clients for you.
You can motivate your existing customers to refer you to new businesses by offering discounts. Think about your own network, as it might be possible that you can offer to refer them to your partners on a quid pro quo basis.
Being referred by a trusted business professional already builds your credibility with the new prospect. In addition to that, you can use the referring party as an information source to get to know a bit more about the lead. Be sure to find out the reasons why your customer thinks that the referred party might be interested in your services.
Building on this, a warm call or even a meeting arranged by your mutual connection can go a long way. Due to this reason, getting a referral has always been and still is one of the best sales prospecting methods.
Becoming a thought leader
Thought leadership in the industry will attract the right people to your business. Being recognized as a thought leader means more than being someone who is knowledgeable about what is going on in the target market.
It is being seen as someone who generates and shares new ideas, driving the said market to the future. Such recognition builds trust beyond most other sales prospecting methods.
Becoming a thought leader, however, requires time and effort. Having a company that specializes in something might make you a professional, but there are many professionals in all fields. You have to stand out, which requires a very well-crafted public relations strategy.
Constantly publish relevant content, including articles on high-level industry websites and maybe even scientific journals. Make sure to cover all the relevant keywords associated with your industry.
Having that said, becoming a thought leader requires prioritizing quality over quantity. Invest in high-quality content written by professional writers who understand your product and the market. Take your time to research the topics and find new angles that have not been covered by competitors. Or, if they have, see if you can offer better, more nuanced, and novel coverage.
Draw from experience to provide examples. After all, you are a professional, and your day-to-day cases might be what helps you stand out. It is also important to get your top executives, decision-makers, and tech professionals out in the open. People trust companies more when they can immediately align a human face and name with them.
Thus, try to get on-topic interviews published in industry magazines. And make sure that all important breakthroughs and product developments are well-covered by the media. Also, organize industry events, conferences, and round-tables, both online and offline. The more important people you can host at your offices, the more likely you will be seen as a trusted thought leader.
Attending networking events
Aside from organizing your own industry events, actively seek them out to attend. This will not boost other sales prospecting techniques, like becoming a thought leader, but will directly help find new connections.
Networking events are designed for people to connect thus, everybody is there looking to form mutually beneficial partnerships. Make the most out of it by talking to all kinds of professionals.
The goal is not only to find potential customers, let alone sell anything immediately. Simply creating new contacts can lead to great things in the future. Some people you meet will refer you to someone else, and others might have a product that can actually boost your sales productivity.
Come prepared for the event. See if you can find out who else is attending. There might be people that you especially need to meet. Think through what you can say about your company that demonstrates value but does not come off as selling. Have your contacts prepared, either in the form of a tangible business card or as a QR code on your smartphone.
Multiple sales prospecting methods are built on social media marketing and engagement. Having business profiles on all major platforms is a must in this digital era. But for them to work as sales prospecting channels, they have to be active and well-managed.
LinkedIn is the top platform for B2B companies to conduct sales prospecting. Being a profession-oriented social network, it is made for people to connect over professional matters. Therefore, it is crucial to keep your LinkedIn profile active with product updates, events, and other content that would make people come back to check what is new with you.
Direct messaging a potential client on LinkedIn is also more acceptable than on any other social media platform. However, it is best used with warm prospects that you know are great for your product and after trigger events. Messaging someone just because they have become a connection might be offputting, especially if you have very limited knowledge about them.
Maintaining a presence on social media platforms that are not directly oriented to business is also crucial. Whether Twitter’s rebranding to X will work or not, the platform that people got used to regularly going for news will not immediately lose its branding value for other businesses.
Platforms like this provide opportunities to answer questions and get multiple potential customers engaged all at once. They are also often the fastest way someone will be updated upon developments in your company. Additionally, you can join relevant groups and further network with professionals who make purchasing decisions for their companies.
A good social media sales prospecting strategy should make use of video content. Videos are engaging, allow showcasing the product, and help build brand identity. Watching your videos means that prospects are spending more time with your brand than just scrolling through a post.
Account-based marketing (ABM)
Account-based marketing is a sales and marketing technique that involves both teams working together to target high-value prospects with personalized messaging. It stands out from other sales prospecting techniques by its focus on the accounts that provide the most potential value and the highest degree of personalization.
This method requires extensive prospect research to recognize the prospects that fit the ideal customer profile best and market to them effectively. Additionally, it might require a larger pool of resources to make sure that account prioritization does not mean neglecting other prospects.
Therefore, account-based marketing is often more available to bigger businesses or small businesses in very specific niches.
Dedicating resources to particularly important accounts allows for preparing better service plans for them. This might become a long-standing partnership that pays dividends through further referrals and reputational benefits.
Offering free resources
Free samples and trials have been around since the dawn of commerce. Giving a taste of your product and letting others try a limited version of your service can be enough to win over customers.
Additionally, you can build a reputation and prospect for sales leads by publishing white papers, datasets, and the results of your market research. Other sales prospecting techniques, for example, networking, will help here. The more people in the industry you know, the better you are able to conduct surveys and research.
Ask potential customers to fill out a form when offering free resources. The greater the value of the resource, the more willing people will be to give their contact details and other information. This means hitting two birds with one stone. You will have a way of contacting the prospect, and the quality of your resource will warm them up.
Buying lead lists
Some might think that simply buying leads does not count as one of the sales prospecting techniques.
Nevertheless, there is art to it as well. You have to do your research and know who you are buying from. Finding bad, overused, or even fake lead lists online to buy cheap will not cut it.
First, you will need all the preparatory work done, from creating the ICP to investigating the market of reputable lead providers.
The providers might be able to offer you custom lead lists and provide data on your prospects. Thus, knowing and being able to clearly communicate to your provider what you are looking for will help you make the most out of it.
After receiving the leads, you can evaluate them and give feedback to your provider. Therefore, like with other sales prospecting methods, there is potential for constant improvement and fine-tuning.
Old vs. new sales prospecting
Some of the aforementioned sales prospecting techniques are more of an older way to do things. The others reflect how the way of doing things has changed. For example, although cold contacting is still used, warm calls are prioritized. At the same time, in-person networking had to give a lion’s share to connecting online and video conferences.
Other differences between the old and the new approach to sales prospecting give prominence to data and personalization, as highlighted in the table below. There is no surprise there, as 62% of customers claim that they would not stay loyal to a brand if it stopped delivering personalized content.
|The old sales prospecting||The new sales prospecting|
|Interruptive and unsolicited approach. Sales reps would contact the potential buyers without their previous consent as exemplified by making a cold call. Permission or introduction would not be sought out before reaching out to the customer||Seeking out an introduction or a trigger event before contacting a prospect. Sales professionals prioritize warm contacting, often asking permission to talk about what they are selling before going at it.|
|Limited in data usage and metrics tracking. Naturally, before the technology was there, sales personnel was not able to get their hand on as much information as now. Even available data was not used to the fullest, giving preference to gut feeling.||Data-driven. Tracking multiple metrics and doing new research for all prospecting sessions is a must. Sales departments utilize all the data they can get their hands on.|
|Impersonal, prioritizing mass marketing. Playing the numbers game to reach as many prospects as possible with the same message.||Highly-personalized. Prioritizing targeted marketing. The emphasis is on reaching the target audience with personalized messages.|
|Manual research. Salespeople had very limited technology, often having to manually do their own research in directories and business listings.||Automated marketing and administrative tasks related to sales. Widespread usage of sales tools, such as CRM systems, to store and analyze data.|
|Short-term focus. The “always be closing” mantra underscored the importance of making transactions as soon as possible, paying little attention to the development of relationships.||Long-term focus. Building lasting relationships is prioritized over making deals fast. The buying process might take longer, but the customer’s lifetime value also rises.|
|Hard selling. Sales professionals talk about product features overtly, aiming to talk the prospect into buying.||Soft-selling. Value is demonstrated before making any over attempts to sell. Salespeople will offer free consultations, and marketing will build trust by demonstrating freely-shared knowledge.|
|Print media, sales letters, and door-to-door calls were the prime sales prospecting methods.||Digital media, emails, sharing content, or connecting on social media takes primacy.|
Inbound vs. outbound prospecting
Another pivotal difference between the old and the new approaches to sales prospecting comes from the rise of inbound prospecting.
The difference between outbound and inbound prospecting deserves a closer look as it pervades many of the sales prospecting methods named above.
Outbound prospecting means that the salesperson is initializing contact with the potential customer. It is behind all cold contacting-based sales prospecting methods.
Before having the wide outreach capabilities provided by social media, sales had to rely on outbound prospecting mostly. Thus, sales approaches had to be more aggressive and interruptive. The sales agent would proactively contact a more or less cold lead and try to sell the product based on its features.
Outbound prospecting is still prominent in our times. However, data insights available today allow us to know more about the prospect when contacting them for the first time.
This means that the approach does not need to be as product-centric. Even after initiating the contact, salespeople can focus on building rapport with the potential buyer and learning more about their pain points.
Inbound prospecting means that the prospect is the one who first contacts the sales to know more about the product. It is based on all the aforementioned sales prospecting techniques that prioritize putting yourself out there, creating content, and having a strong media presence.
This type of prospecting is enabled by contemporary technologies that allow companies to reach audiences on a scale rather than privately contacting leads. The goal is to demonstrate the value of your product and the trustworthiness of your brand so that the right people contact you themselves.
This method is hailed for its many benefits. When the potential client contacts you themselves, you have the upper hand and do not have to worry about annoying them. Additionally, the prospect will already know something about your product and believe that it might be an option for them. Thus, you have a mutual goal of uncovering how you can help them the most.
Finally, this type of outreach effort boosts efficiency by dedicating resources to widespread outreach rather than seeking out individual leads. With this approach, you can make the most of marketing automation and data-driven content creation.
Effective sales prospecting techniques have gone through an evolution along with the development of data analytics and communication technology. Today’s sales prospecting is more data-driven, highly personalized, and aims at long-term value rather than quick profit.
Whatever methods you prefer, sales prospecting is one of the most important procedures for your company. Constant evaluation and improvement, although important all the way along the sales ladder, is what makes or breaks a company when it comes to prospecting.
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