Selling is a game of numbers and deadlines, and one way to meet ambitious goals is through efficient sales prospecting. Deciding which clients to contact, when to contact them, or how to approach them can make a considerable difference. Being efficient and having adequate processes is critical.
In sales prospecting, efficiency means adopting the right processes to ultimately save time and labor. The longer it takes to make a sale, the more it will cost. For that reason, it’s important to invest the appropriate resources at the right steps of the selling process. Sales prospecting is a time-consuming operation, but it’s also one that can lead to key savings of both time and money, as well as revenue increases.
In this article, we will review the definition of sales prospecting and discuss tips and techniques to adopt better sales prospecting methods.
If you want to learn more about Sales Enablement, read our guide: What is Sales Enablement?
What is sales prospecting?
Simply put, sales prospecting is the process of identifying potential sales prospects and engaging with them to get them to become paying clients. It means doing the research or going through any necessary steps to find companies interested in purchasing the product or services offered.
Finding 100 potential clients is not difficult. And neither is sending them each an email presenting your product and offering to meet to explain them further. But what is this achieving if those 100 contacts have virtually no chance of materializing into sales?
Finding and engaging with 100 companies who are actually likely to become paying clients is a whole other story. That’s where sales prospecting comes into play. Knowing which companies to engage with comes through doing the right research and asking the right questions.
With this research, you can identify your prospects, companies that match one or more buyer personas you should have created, or leads, those who did initial research into your content. The difference between your leads and prospects is not necessarily relevant. They both have the potential of being interested in your product and of becoming paying clients.
Sales prospecting starts with research
The first step of sales prospecting is research. Quality research is crucial because the better the investigation, the more likely the prospects of becoming paying clients. It can save significant time down the line. For this reason, this step should not be rushed and should certainly never be skipped. Inadequate research or no research can lead to engaging with companies that are not interested in the product.
You should document the research results, ideally in a customer relationship management (CRM) software. It makes it easy for anyone within a company to access the information and update it in real-time. Most companies use this kind of tool.
In terms of the research objectives, any information can help determine if a company is actually a prospect and whether it’s worth engaging with it. Appropriate research is about asking the right questions to get the right answers. Here are a few examples of elements you could explore to get excellent insights.
Does the company know your product?
This is a great way to start. You could know this if they signed up for a newsletter, if they mentioned your product in a blog, or if they follow your social media. If they already know the product, you have a headstart as you don’t have to start from scratch.
You can find out why the prospect researched your product and what they are trying to gain from it. That gives you hints into how to engage with them, which materials to send over, and how to structure the sales dialogue. You essentially skip the initial “getting to know one another” phase and go straight to showing how you bring value.
What are the company’s objectives?
Knowing a company’s general or specific objectives is another advantage that can help you structure your pitch. It would provide an easy way to align your product with the prospect’s objectives to show them why they should use your product. Goals and objectives drive many companies, and they will be more receptive if they can have a way to meet them.
Are there any barriers to purchasing the product?
Existing barriers could hinder your sales process and even dictate your final decision. Try to find as much information as possible around obstacles, especially those that can’t be surmounted. They include:
- the product costs more than the company is willing to spend, and you can’t bring your price down enough
- the length of implementation does not suit the company
- the company lacks the necessary tools to take on the product and is unwilling to get them
- the company already has significant changes coming up and is reluctant to add more at the moment
If one or more barriers cannot be surmounted, then perhaps pursuing the prospect is not the most efficient idea. An insurmountable obstacle would indicate there are virtually no chances the prospect will sign. It’s better to move on to another one for now.
Can the product provide value?
If you can provide value, you should definitely pursue the prospect. The prospect will be even more likely to be interested if you can prove you have experience in the sector and can help them grow or gain efficiency. Of course, you should tailor your sales dialogue in line with the value you can provide for the prospect and how you will help them move forward.
If you’re unsure you will bring value, think carefully about the necessity of pursuing this case. Landing this contract may be interesting financially, but it may also be a case where you would sell a product and then not be able to provide additional value or guide your client. You might then need expensive ways to accommodate them or even risk losing them altogether when they realize the product can’t adapt to them.
In some cases, it might not make sense to onboard a client because their business and your product are not a good fit. The sales process continues after the sale itself, and if the fit is not right, the partnership will not develop in a mutually profitable way.
Who is the decision-maker or who has influence?
You should know who to contact before engaging a prospect. It’s better to contact a decision-maker directly as your communication will reach your target. If you can’t reach them directly, try their assistants or colleagues with influence.
This saves time and gives better odds of success. Contacting someone not involved in the decision-making process can delay the process, and the recipient might decide not to share the information or transfer the email.
How does sales prospecting work?
There are 2 general ways to do sales prospecting: outbound and inbound prospecting. Outbound prospecting means cold calling or emailing, so without having any prior knowledge of the company’s intention or interest. Inbound prospecting on the other hand means reaching out to clients who have already shown some kind of interest or curiosity for your product.
Inbound prospecting is more efficient because the target is already aware of the product and is interested, to some extent. It has better odds of leading to a sale. Indeed, a Baylor University study showed that 7,5 hours of cold calling will usually lead to only 1 meeting.
An easy way of knowing how a company reacts with a product is through email tracking tools that allow you to know how the prospect responds to your emails, links shared, or materials attached.
In today’s world, where info is available quickly, inbound prospecting is better geared for success. Over half of companies rely on word-of-mouth, their network, or social media. Cold calling can be useless if the targets already have their minds made up. Thorough research would save the trouble of trying to engage with an unreceptive company.
Classify your prospects to know who to contact
Once the research is done, it’s time to put the prospects on a list. The most effective approach is to classify the prospects by their odds of becoming paying clients. That way, you contact the most likely candidates first and then move your way down the list to the ones that are less likely to become clients. It’s easy to do with a CRM tool.
There are several ways to make your list. You could identify and score key factors (for example the quality of the persona fit, your contacts at the company, the company’s budget, company fit, the ability to provide value) and assign a weight to each factor. By multiplying the score by the weight and adding them all, each company will get a final score that will give a ranking. The higher the score, the more interesting the prospect.
Through that research and ranking, you will know which prospects to pursue more actively.
Determine how to communicate with each prospect
There’s a right way to communicate with each prospect. Generic emails and communications are simply not effective in sales prospecting. They look like you are reusing content and are not going above and beyond to specifically address your prospects’ needs.
During the research phase – or during an additional research session if needed -, you can go through the client’s website, blog posts, social media, or any other material to determine what matters to them and their primary objectives. It can help you know who they are, what they want, when they want it, and their mission. With that information, you will be able to write tailored communications and connect with them on a deeper level.
It might help you anticipate barriers they could bring up. That way, you can address them in your message. You can also highlight your key differentiators, setting you aside from your competitors and showing you are more prepared to meet the prospect’s needs. Structure your message around those key points: your capacity to help the prospect overcome potential barriers and your ability to meet their needs.
With this strategy, the sales dialogue will be personalized, and the client will be more attracted to a message that is geared directly to them.
Open the lines of communication
Now that you have a tailored message to share, it’s time to prepare the contact, whether through phone or email. Choose the method that fits better with the client or your abilities. With email, you can use very effective sales tracking tools to know how your prospects interact with what you send them, including what they read and how much time they spend reading.
Remember that for this initial contact, clients will like a professional message that is relevant and direct. It should give them the key information they need, what they need to think about the product and leave a good impression.
A professional-looking document, sales deck, or message will always have an immediate impact. Use a professional but friendly tone and don’t patronize the prospects. Your objective is to get the conversation going and guide them towards a solution that will help them succeed. The sales contract will come later in the process
Tips for writing an effective sales prospecting email
We provided information on how to write sales emails in another article, but here is a quick reminder
- Subject line: it has to grab attention and make the prospect want to read the email
- Personal connection: show you did some research and that you’re not a robot
- Grab their interest: in the first paragraph, tell them why you’re writing to them and how they can benefit from working with you
- Make the conversation continue: you can do this by asking a question, setting a meeting, or any other way that will make your prospect have to answer you
Tips for making a compelling sales prospecting call
The strategy is roughly the same for a call, but you can have a more natural conversation and ask questions.
- Personal connection: show you did some research and know about the client. You can discuss personal or non-product-related matters, but be mindful of whether or not the prospect wants to get personal.
- Discuss their issues: your ultimate objective with this call is not to make money; it’s to understand your prospect’s issues and show how you can fix them. You want to develop a successful partnership that will ultimately deliver you a loyal client. You can also take advantage to get to know their business and their reality better.
- Book a follow-up meeting: be proactive and try to continue the conversation by booking a separate call or better yet, a session where you can expand on your product with a professional sales deck.
Sales prospecting evolves with the market
You will learn plenty of information throughout this process, both on your prospects and your sales prospecting strategy. It’s vital to take notes and use them to improve your process. Remember your research questions for the initial research phase? Update them if you notice that you need specific information or that your prospects respond more to certain elements.
Sales prospecting has to follow the trends of the market and the needs of your prospects. By having an up-to-date process that is always as good as it can be, you will be able to know your clients better, know what they want, and learn how to present it to them. That will allow you to engage more efficiently with your prospects – and likely convert them into happy paying customers!