Learn how to define and master Sales Prospecting.

Sales prospecting includes an array of tasks ranging from compiling lists of contact information, to building a social media presence. Whether you’re collecting opt-in emails or sending out email campaigns, being intentional in your prospecting is key.

Basically, the idea of sales prospecting is to build a rich source of contacts for your sales team and processes. Depending on the complexity of your sales pipeline, you may go straight to direct contact. Alternatively, many sales teams use a series of sales processes that identify their prospects as cold, warm, or hot before they go to Sales.

With today’s tools, sales prospecting is a very important process that helps identifies needs, niches, and previously overlooked markets. Salespeople who skip this step may find themselves prospecting in the same overworked markets that every other company is working.

Large companies may have teams of people that focus entirely on identifying markets and demographics, and then digitally capturing thousands of leads, which are then passed on to Sales. However, in small companies this is a process you need to learn and perform by yourself. Even as a sales rep for a larger company, understanding sales prospecting can help you evaluate the quality of the leads you are getting to gain an edge over your competition, both within and outside the company.

Sales Statistics Show Greater Performance With Smart Sales Prospecting

According to Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group, 50% of salespeople do no sales prospecting at all.

And yet, check out these amazing statistics from OpenView Labs:

    • The first viable vendor to reach a decision maker has an average 74% close ratio
    • 50% of buyers choose the vendor that responds first
  • Leads responded to within 5 minutes are 100x more likely to be qualified

When you’re vying for that edge, these statistics show the necessity of discovering untapped segments.

The National Sales Executive Association says that only 10% of salespeople make more than 3 attempts at contacting prospects, but that a whopping 80% of sales depend on 5 to 20 contact attempts.

Persistence is important! In today’s digitally churning world, speed is critical too. Getting back to prospects quickly is key to either closing the deal or enticing them deeper into the sales pipeline.

The phone is still the number one way that most salespeople get appointments or close deals, but that doesn’t mean it’s the preferred method for customers and clients. You’ll have greater success if you mix it up and reach out to prospects through a variety of methods like email and social media as well.

Marketing Sherpa, in its 2013 Email Marketing Handbook, found that 46% of companies polled said that email was an important factor in nurturing prospects.

According to Forbes, 78% of salespeople using social media outsell their peers. The same study reported that social media users were 23% more successful than their non-social media peers.

Why You Should Be Running a Sales Prospecting Process

It’s a common trap to keep fishing in the same pond, even when it’s been fished out. In today’s ocean, you need sonar and intelligence.

Many large companies have separate teams for inbound lead generation, and pre-qualified leads are handed over to Sales. Franchises and some industry associations also provide leads to participating companies. Nevertheless, prospecting is an often neglected step in the sales process.

Relying on canned lists of industry leads means you’re likely just reaching prospects that have already been contacted before by other companies.

While it may seem tedious at first, good prospecting will teach you to think outside the box. Once you experience success by identifying a niche that resonates with your brand, you’ll be sparked to find other inspired matches.

Another reason to do your own prospecting is that it gives you the opportunity to create custom messages for very small, targeted groups. John Doerr at the Rain Selling Blog says, “The foundation that underpins sales prospecting success is the strength of your list and the precision of your targeting.”

Many companies rely on referrals to keep sales coming in, but since most businesses experience a 10% customer attrition rate (lost business) every year. You’d have to be pretty assertive about getting referrals in order to cover lost business and grow your customer base at the same time. A few good prospecting exercises, however, could give your sales team the extra boost they need to bring you significant gains.

Prospecting Techniques and Tactics

Sales prospecting is often equated with cold calling, but it’s equally useful to identify demographic niches that respond to email, video, and social media.

Prospecting can also include the steps of repeated contact and qualifying leads, helping to relieve Sales of the burden of wading through contact information. It often takes multiple contacts before a prospect will respond and become a potential lead.

In social media, it may depend on the time of day that the message was delivered. Some prospects prefer to access social media only from work, or only from home. So it pays to build a rotation of messages all set to release at different times. Time zones are also a factor.

Email also has its challenges. A/B testing is an important factor in success. You should experiment with different subject lines, graphics, and click-throughs, as well as scheduling. It may take 4-5 attempts or more before a prospect responds and becomes an active lead.

Jill Konrath, the author of SNAP selling, highly recommends getting specific when you’re identifying niche markets. Jill’s advice: “focus, focus, focus.”

“Focus on certain types of customers. For example, put together a campaign and go after law firms. Or, think about what the school districts might need. Or how about mid-sized manufacturing firms. The more focused you are, the better your message resonates.”

Specialized messaging shows the prospect that you understand their needs. They know they won’t be talking to sales reps who are also marketing the same product to widely divergent businesses. Also, by hitting on some of their problems in the initial contact email or message, you’re more likely to get a response. The prospect is going to think, “Oh, that’s right, I do have that problem!”

Prospecting is a Science, Not an Art

If you’re determined to meet your sales goals, you should schedule prospecting regularly. Some experts advise prospecting daily, but it can take a block of time to run data and do research. Weekly may work better—just set aside a block of time, say 4 hours per week. Put it on your calendar and do it religiously.

At the very least, commit to a prospecting plan. Don’t start a campaign and stop halfway through, or get distracted by a new prospecting opportunity. You should create a “possibilities” list and then acquire those lists and niche market data. After that, you should have a template “to-do” list and calendar to keep each prospecting campaign on track. If you don’t have a lot of time to devote to prospecting, you might want to confine yourself to running one prospecting campaign at a time, start-to-finish. As you gain confidence, or if you have the time to devote to prospecting, you can stagger campaigns and juggle more than one prospecting project at a time.

Tools for Efficient Prospecting

Tools for prospecting should include more than a computer churn of available data. The best tools include competitive and cutting edge presentation-building capabilities. Insights on response ratios, productivity, and performance are also important.

Some of these tools may include geo-local dialers, voicemail automation and tracking, email templates and tracking, and more.

Ideally, you should be able to identify and set the KPI’s (key performance indicators) that you want to hit in both prospecting and sales. This requires tools that give you a platform for doing so without having to write them down on index cards or maintain a spreadsheet.

Acquiring Quality Contacts

You should also be able to get information that allows you to quickly identify decision makers at companies. Finding company demographics will let you intelligently sort and prioritize prospects by any number of factors. To name a few: sales, production, employees, and territory are great ways to segment company contacts.

You can get around using industry lists or lead generators by offering valuable content in exchange for some basic information. When people access the content, they’re pre-qualifying themselves as significantly interested in what you have to offer. By offering truly helpful information (as opposed to a blatant sales pitch) you can track responses and pre-filter prospects into likely leads.

Another idea is to outsource prospecting. Posting jobs on freelancer sites like Upwork and Odesk, can return competitive bids for all kinds of lists, at rates far below what most lead companies offer. You can request company names, contact information, number of employees, and other details to your own custom specifications. In general  you should expect at least an 8-10% error rate, but the savings may more than offset that.

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Prospecting is all about cultivating possibilities & opportunities. Review your company’s sales process and make sure that you’re using a combination of all the tools available in order to boost your company’s growth and sales potential.