Do you remember building a house out of LEGOs? What about a house of cards?
I think we all know which one is easier (and more fun).
Sales prospecting builds the foundation of your entire sales organization — if it’s effective. Like the materials you use to build a house, the techniques and processes you use for sales prospecting will impact the entire structure — either for better or for worse.
Prospecting takes time, and getting replies to your outbound efforts is just as much of an art as a science. These compound challenges lead sales reps and newly appointed VPs alike dive into questions like:
- Is there such a thing as ‘best practices’ in sales prospecting?
- What are the most promising sales prospecting techniques?
- How do you establish a sales prospecting process?
Prospecting is a numbers game, but it doesn’t have to be a slog. Here are a few ways to spice things up and improve your metrics in the process.
What is B2B Sales Prospecting?
Sales prospecting is the first stage of the sales process. Before sales reps start talking to potential customers, they first need to source these leads. Sales prospecting is the process of searching for and making contact with decision makers that fit an ideal customer profile (ICP).
- Leads: Decision makers from a target market that fit your ICP. Initially the targets of cold calling and cold emails.
- Prospects: Decision makers who have expressed interest in your product or service, ready for a demo or discovery call.
Sales prospecting is not the only way to get prospects for your company — inbound sales and marketing efforts play a big role in demand generation these days. But sales prospecting expands demand gen by using cold outreach to turn leads into prospects.
The goal of sales prospecting is to turn leads (decision makers that fit your definition of an ideal customer profile) into prospects (engaged with initial sales outreach and ready for further conversation).
Sales prospecting is usually the responsibility of Sales Development Reps (SDRs) or Business Development Reps (BDRs) to fill the pipeline for the rest of the sales organization.
The sales prospecting process is typically split into specific stages:
- Lead generation: Sourcing leads from LinkedIn Sales Navigator or a database, tracking down contact information for outreach.
- Lead Qualification: With an initial cold call or email, xDRs qualify leads by interest, budget, authority and other factors.
- Opportunity: If a lead matches a company’s ICP expresses interest, the xDR will pass them on as a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). As the conversation continues, the lead becomes a prospect.
4 Sales Prospecting Stats to Set the Scene
Sales prospecting is straightforward in principle but hard and creative work in practice. These statistics show just how challenging sales prospecting is in B2B.
- Nearly 40 percent of sales leaders say that lead generation optimization is a top priority for revenue goals. Clearly effective sales prospecting is a work in progress at many organizations.
- Two thirds of salespeople reached out to fewer than 250 leads in the past year. Just 15 percent reached out to over 1000 prospects.
- Just 13 percent of customers think a sales person understands their needs. Showing a personalized understanding of a prospect’s needs from the first cold email is difficult.
- Sales reps have less than 10 minutes to prove they have something valuable to offer prospects. And that’s after you get them to answer your call or respond to your email.
5 Common Sales Prospecting Techniques
Most salespeople utilize a combination of these five sales prospecting techniques.
- Cold calls: Still the most popular sales prospecting technique, some xDRs will make 100+ cold calls each day.
- Cold email: Not as direct as a phone call, but easier to scale. Sales teams create personalized email templates sent to thousands of leads at once.
- Referrals: Plenty of customers are willing to give referrals, but only around 10 percent of sales reps ask for them.
- Event Prospecting: Organic (but new) sales conversations from in-person and digital events and networking groups.
- Social selling: Using a personal brand on Twitter or LinkedIn to connect with decision makers on industry topics.
Other techniques include direct mail, warm calling and follow up with marketing qualified leads.
Because they’re the most common and the most scalable, we focus on cold calls and cold email here. But having these sales prospecting techniques in place doesn’t mean your lead generation is the most effective it can be. Why should you revisit your sales prospecting process?
Sales Prospecting Needs Your Attention Now
Remember that foundation analogy? Let’s switch it up a bit.
The quality of your sales prospecting efforts will affect everything downstream:
- If you don’t match your leads to your ICP, you’ll lose more opportunities.
- If you don’t make sales prospecting consistent, you’ll end up with an empty pipeline.
- If your messaging isn’t crystal clear, you risk wasting time in follow up conversations.
All of these hiccups in the sales process will affect your company’s revenue numbers — sometimes in small ways and sometimes in big ways. It’s why the Gong team says bad quarters start with five words: I’ll coast for a while. If you coast with prospecting when your pipeline is full, you’ll end up with an empty pipeline in no time at all.
They call it a sales funnel for a reason; you’re always going to end up with fewer leads than you had in the previous stage. But starting out with 5,000 high quality leads can give you the same results as starting out with 10,000 low quality leads. The only difference is the work you put in before your AE or sales director ever jumps on a Zoom call.
Better sales prospecting now means more opportunities down the line.
7 Sales Prospecting Techniques That Will Improve Your Process — And Your Numbers
You know the phrase work smarter, not harder?
Sales prospecting takes an incredible amount of work.
Sales Development Reps put in long hours of cold calls, CRM notes and emails. That time can either be productive or unproductive. Unfortunately, it’s often unproductive sales activity that eats up the most time. Nearly two thirds of sales reps’ time is spent on “non-revenue generating activities”, with only 35 percent of working hours dedicated to actual selling.
How can we reverse those numbers?
We don’t have a silver bullet, but we do have a handful of prospecting tips that have worked well for our team. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice? Hard work combined with smart strategies and processes will improve your sales prospecting efforts in no time.
#1: Make a Consistent Process That Works for You
Prospecting doesn’t usually come easy to anyone.
It’s repetitive, somewhat awkward (at least at first) and benefits from the law of large numbers. If you expect to survive (let alone succeed) in sales prospecting, you should set up a sustainable prospecting process.
Across the board, sales prospecting should always be:
- Consistent: You can’t expect to send a handful of emails and be done with it. Set aside time every single day for sales prospecting and stick to it. Choose a handful of activity metrics (calls made, emails sent) to hold yourself to and build up from there.
- Strategic: Gone are the days of ‘spray and pray’ prospecting. An up-to-date sales stack will let you segment your target audience, send cold emails at scale, track responses and integrate with your CRM.
- Personal: Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.
Other than these elements, you can get creative with sales prospecting. It’s a flexible process. If you want to dedicate mornings to email and afternoons to calls, go for it. If you batch your work by setting up all of your email campaigns at the same time every week, more power to you.
The key to keeping the pipeline full is to make sales prospecting consistent, work strategically and maintain a personal touch.
#2: Keep Your Ideal Customer Profile Crystal Clear
This isn’t exactly a sales prospecting technique. But it is 100% part of the prospecting process.
One of the most important factors for sales momentum is to make sure you’re targeting — and reaching — the right people. Start with your ideal customer profile (ICP): what your ideal customer looks like, why they need your product and how they make tech decisions.
Yes, sales prospecting is a numbers game. But that doesn’t mean you should target anyone and everyone in the industry you’re selling into. After volume, effective prospecting is about generating the right leads.
The majority of salespeople report that 50% of the leads they contact are not a good fit for the business. Is it any surprise that just 25% of salespeople meet their quota?
Generating thousands of leads won’t earn you brownie points. Sending leads that convert will stand out. Instead of casting the net wide, work a handful of steps into your sales prospecting workflow to match your outreach to your ICP:
- Use filters on LinkedIn Sales Navigator to narrow down your lists. You shouldn’t try to reach out to all the Director of Marketing roles in California. Instead, narrow your lists down by industry, company size, experience and other factors relevant to your solution.
- Look at the entire account, not just the lead. Even outside account-based marketing, taking a step back to look at the whole company is beneficial. You’ll get insight into their growth and the best person you should get in contact with (it may vary account to account).
- Adapt your messaging to qualify leads. Templates have a place in sales prospecting. But if you’re sacrificing a personalized value prop if favor of sending at scale you’re likely missing out on opportunities. More on messaging below.
If your company doesn’t have a written ICP, create an ad hoc version for yourself. Look at your most active users or highest value customers — the top 10% should suffice. Dive into what they have in common: industry, seniority, business challenges, location and how they use your product. Distill these commonalities into a working ICP for your sales prospecting process.
#3: Automate Your Process Whenever Possible
Sending an email or leaving a voicemail doesn’t take long, right?
Not exactly. The seconds that you spend confirming a meeting or sending a follow up email add up when you’re sending thousands of emails every single week. Sales process automation directly reduces the amount of time spend on repetitive or administrative tasks
These days, CRM integration, mail merge and activity reports should be a given. But here are a few other ways you can introduce automation into your sales prospecting:
- New lead alerts. With LinkedIn Sales Navigator, quickly set up custom searches (i.e. “Director of Marketing in California at an IT company with 200+ employees”). Then set up alerts for that search — daily, weekly or monthly. Sales Nav will send you an update with all the leads added to that search, and you’ll have a fresh list of leads without having to lift a finger.
- Hands-off follow up. Start by streamlining how leads respond to you. At the very least, include a link to your calendar to save time on both ends. Better yet, extend your follow up automatically by scheduling out emails a few days, a few weeks and a few months into the future. Most sales reps will set up their cold emails with a single follow up. In contrast, most sales take 5 or more follow ups after the initial contact. As you progress through the sequence, remove the pitch and focus instead on being helpful (“Here’s an article I thought you’d find valuable”).
#4: Focus on the Message — It Matters
Sure, you have your playbook and sales process. But neither should limit you to only using the script every single time. Your playbook should define your value prop, how to handle objections and how to talk about pricing. The personal touch is up to you.
If you’re making cold calls, change up the way you greet leads and the way you introduce yourself. Take a mental note on which is received better. If you’re sending cold emails instead of making cold calls, get creative with your copy to improve your cold email response rate.
- Mention something personal to their role. If they’re new to the job, congratulate them. If they have a technical role, ask them their biggest challenge. If their company is in the news, mention it.
- Go crazy with your subject lines. At least until you test out what works (see below). “Quick question”, “Sales Nav?” and “What do you think?” have all worked for us.
- Edit yourself. Sales isn’t marketing, but good copy still matters. Instead of sending off your first email draft, sit on it for a day and ask yourself how you can make it snappier.
#5: Test, Test and Test Again
Using the same, tired old template just isn’t going to work anymore.
As you get creative with your messaging (see above), start testing out what works. You don’t even have to limit it to version 1 and version 2. Test your CTAs, your subject lines, which variables you include, when you drop your value prop, even the way you sign off. (Yes, we’ve had leads respond to cold emails just to compliment the way we sign off.)
Some questions to consider:
- Which subject lines get you the highest open rate? Are they descriptive, succinct, personalized or direct? Should you include the company name?
- Does an more demanding, action-oriented CTA (“Can we set up a quick 15-minute call?”) work better than an open-ended, interest-oriented CTA (“Interested in hearing more?”)?
- Which elements of your value prop lead to the most favorable responses?
- For 2020 and beyond, do emails that mention COVID-19 get higher or lower engagement?
#6: Put a Face — or Voice — to Your Outbound Efforts
If you typically run with cold emails, you don’t have to limit yourself to the written word. If you call dozens of leads every day, you don’t have to stop there.
Only in very rare cases is a sales org best served by only sending out cold emails or only making cold calls. Mix it up instead. Even at its lowest tier of leads, Outreach recommends 6 emails and an additional call over the course of 20 days. For marquee accounts, they recommend 20 emails, 12 calls and 10 LinkedIn touches over the course of 90 days. While the volume is nothing to sneeze at, it’s the alternative forms of contact that will likely make the biggest difference.
Even better, start sending videos within your follow up emails and LinkedIn Connection requests. If your supervisor OKs it, try out a sales video tool like Vidyard or Biteable to create short, personalized videos to insert directly into your outbound messages. The personal touch will almost always get you more responses.
`#7: Build Your Social Presence
Email and phone calls are not the only two channels for effective sales prospecting. Using LinkedIn directly — especially when targeting high value accounts — is a great way to amplify your prospecting efforts.
Even if you’re not actively ‘social selling’, it always helps to be a friendly, helpful presence on LinkedIn or Twitter. It builds a foundation of trust for when a lead becomes a prospect and starts talking to you.
To actively work social selling into your sales prospecting process, consider these ideas:
- Save your pitch. Don’t try going for the hard sell on LinkedIn (or Twitter, for that matter). When you send a Connection request, make it about the relationship rather than the product.
- Consider the long term. Warming a lead up on social media doesn’t mean sending a Connection request and then immediately following up with an email focused on your value prop. Take your time. For high value leads, ‘follow’ them on LinkedIn first and engage with their content. Only after you’ve established the baseline should you turn the conversation.
- Keep the conversation for email. InMail gets crowded and forgotten about. After taking your time to engage on social media, send your intro email (or follow up, if you’ve already connected) via email. Just export your leads from LinkedIn to reach them via email.
Improve Your Sales Prospecting Process in 7 Hours — Today
Oof, that was a lot of sales-prospecting-this-and-sales-prospecting-that in one go. If you skimmed through this post to the end, we don’t blame you.
Here are five things you can do today to set yourself up for sales prospecting success.
1. Nail down (or review) your ideal customer profile. In writing.
Time: 2 hours
2. Schedule out at least 2 hours of prospecting time every day for the next month. Something you can stick to.
Time: 30 minutes