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How to Use Prospecting to Pack Your Pipeline Full of Value

June 26, 2020

prospecting

The health of your business' sales pipeline is everything. 

From moving deals along smoothly to picking out dead leads, managing every single opportunity that goes through your sales process is a big job, accompanied with plenty of potential issues. However, the real problem arises when sales reps don’t have enough qualified opportunities to work with.

The only way to avoid this productivity killer is by implementing a sales prospecting strategy.

Sales prospecting is the first step in the sales process in which reps use outreach methods to identify potential customers. These prospects are people that fit your ideal customer profile and are likely to buy your solution.

The purpose of prospecting is to fuel your sales pipeline and provide reps with valuable opportunities to help them close deals. Once your company’s conversion rate is taken into account, the initial number of prospects that enter the pipeline will diminish, so it’s important to identify as many potential customers as possible.

However, you don’t want to fill your pipeline with just anybody. One of the most crucial parts of sales prospecting is knowing who to reach out to.

To equip your sales reps with actual opportunities, you need to start by targeting the right buyers. It’s a lot more beneficial for businesses to have a short list of qualified potential buyers than a long list of people who have no need for their solution.

Prospect vs. lead

Because they both represent a person before they become a customer, leads and prospects are often confused for one another. Let’s get everything in order before we continue.

A prospect is a person, or even a business, who fits a seller’s ideal customer profile but has not yet expressed any interest in buying their solution. A lead, on the other hand, is someone that might have shown interest in your business, but is not yet considered a qualified buyer.

It’s all about whether or not the person is qualified. If someone is fit to buy your solution, you can consider them a prospect or a prospective buyer. However, if you haven’t yet determined if they are a suitable candidate to become a customer, they keep the status of a lead.

The best way to go about explaining the difference between a lead and a prospect is by going through the sales pipeline.

At the start of the sales process, a rep is presented with a certain number of leads. These leads are people who have given their contact information to the business in one way or another, such as subscribing to a newsletter or attending an event.

With that lead’s contact information, a rep will reach out and undergo the lead qualification process in which they ask questions that will help determine whether or not that person has a good chance of becoming a customer.

If the lead doesn’t fit the ideal customer persona, they are considered a dead lead and are no longer pursued. However, if they fit the criteria, they become a prospect.

prospect vs lead

Sales prospecting techniques

Sales prospecting requires making contact with that list of leads to determine if they would be a good candidate for buying your business’ solution. There are a couple of common techniques that reps will implement as they go through the sales prospecting process.

Before we go into what they are, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t limit your business to just one. Implementing all of these techniques will only open more channels of communication with potential customers.

Cold calling

Cold calling is a prospecting activity in which reps reach out to potential customers using the phone. Before the phone call, the rep and prospect have not had any contact with each other. During the cold call, reps will ask questions that will help them determine if the person should be considered a prospect or a dead lead.

Businesses use cold calling because it is fast and controllable. Once an effective script is found, every rep can use it moving forward.

Cold emailing

Similar to cold calling, cold emailing is when a rep reaches out to someone with which they have had no previous contact. This time, it happens over email. These emails are also often scripted. All the rep has to do is personalize it a little bit, and it can be sent on its way.

Sometimes businesses will even implement a cold email series, where the different emails request varying information regarding a prospect’s buying ability and status.

Note: It’s important to point out that prospecting is not selling. Yes, it’s a part of the selling process, but the goal of prospecting is not to make a sale. It’s to find a list of people who are likely to become a customer. While you can add a personal touch to the conversation to avoid sounding robotic, prospecting doesn’t require the personalization that selling does.

Social media

We live in the age of social media, and it’s a missed opportunity for businesses that aren’t using it for their prospecting efforts. Social prospecting is when businesses use their various social media platforms to find and interact with prospects.

This technique is simply a different play on prospecting. In traditional prospecting, someone might use their email to download an asset you offer on your site. With that email, you would reach out to them with a call or email. Social prospecting finds its leads and their contact information from their list of followers, and the outreach is done within those various platforms. 

How to prospect for sales

Along with every other phase of the sales process, prospecting requires strategy. Again, you don’t want to fill your sales pipeline with just anyone.

To see the results you want at the end of your sales process (number of deals closed-won), you’re going to want to start with as many valuable prospects as possible. Here’s how to make it happen.

1. Create a customer profile

The first step of prospecting is creating an ideal customer profile. In this stage, you need to ask yourself, and eventually determine, what type of person is most likely to buy my solution? The answer to this question will guide you in the later stages of the prospecting process.

To create a profile for your ideal customer, start by looking at who you’re already doing business with. Who are your top five customers? Who are your most profitable customers?

With those groups in mind, pick out features that they all have in common. Pay special attention to their job title, industry, and pain points they use your solution to alleviate. These topics will all likely come up as you reach out to new prospects.

2. Do research

The second step in any effective prospecting strategy is research.

In this stage, sales reps, BDRs, SDRs, or whomever does your prospecting, will hope to accomplish one primary goal - to determine if this prospect is worth pursuing if, on paper, they seem like someone ready to buy your business’ solution. While this will require some conversing with the prospect, plenty can be done beforehand as well.

Using the criteria set based on your ideal customer persona to research your prospects, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself.

Can this prospect’s business benefit from our solution?
Take a look at the prospect’s business. Is it the same size of other businesses you typically sell to? Would your solution help them with their line of work? If yes, would that relationship be sustainable?

For example, if you often sell to businesses that have more than 1,000 employees, and a prospect only has 250, it might not be a good fit.

Who are the key stakeholders?
Identify influencers and decision-makers within the prospect’s business by picking out every person that could possibly have an impact on the sale. Influencers don’t necessarily have the authority to make a buying decision, but they can still offer input regarding whether or not they think your solution is a good fit.

All of the power lies in the hands of the decision-makers as they have the authority to buy. Look at the prospect’s organizational chart and take notes on who falls into those two categories.

Is there anything keeping them from buying?
Budget limitations and time constraints are common objections presented by prospects. Do your best to gain an understanding of the prospect’s bandwidth and whether or not they are in the market for a new product or service.

Are they aware of your business/offering?
Because there are plenty of ways to gather a lead’s contact information, there are going to be some that are familiar with your business, and others that have never even heard of it. As you research, separate the customers that deliberately gave their information from those that didn’t.

Don’t underestimate the power of solid preliminary research. When asked how sales reps can add the most value for prospects during their initial conversation, 69% of respondents claimed it was research data relevant to their business.

3. Prioritize the leads

With all of that new information uncovered from the research stage, it’s hard to not just dive in and start doing copious amounts of outreach in an attempt to make as many sales as possible. However, a smart sales team would resist that temptation and take the time to prioritize their leads.

Using the answers to the questions you asked yourself above, create different levels of prioritization and place prospects accordingly. This way, you can place more importance on the customers that are most likely to buy your solution and provide your business with the most instant value.

As you move on with prospecting, the goal is to tackle one level at a time starting with those that are the most likely to buy.

For example, if a prospect’s business can clearly benefit from your solution, their key stakeholders and influencers are reachable, and they interact with your business’ social media, they should be placed in the most prioritized group.

On the other hand, if another prospect is handling a PR disaster, has no idea you exist, and is half the size of businesses you typically sell to, put them at the bottom of the list.

4. Prep the outreach

So you have your prioritized list of prospects ready to go. Still, it would be a mistake to jump right into the outreach without preparing a bit more. This round of preparation refers to the outreach itself, not the list of prospects.

Before you do your outreach, you need to find a way to personalize the conversation between you and the prospect. The more customized the outreach, the more prospects will feel a connection to your business, and the more likely they will be to move further down your sales funnel.

A good way to get to know your prospects before doing outreach is by checking out their blog, social media accounts, and any page on their website that has personal information. What are they publishing? What type of content are they posting? What information do they reveal about themselves?

With that, you can then find a logical reason to connect with them. Is there a connection you have in common? How did you “stumble upon” their business? Was there something on their website that caught your attention? Use the answers to these questions to prep your outreach and boost your confidence before reaching out.

5. Do the outreach

Finally, it’s time to do the actual outreach to your prospects. The most important thing to remember as you reach out to your prospects is how your solution applies to their role, business, and industry.

The conversation might stray, and that’s alright - don’t forget to be a human as you speak to prospects. However, if you ever feel the conversation struggling, always bring it back to that main idea: how can my solution help this particular person?

Moving forward, it’s time to pick an outreach method from the techniques listed above. Be strategic about this. Don’t just pick one at random. Your outreach prep should have guided you in the direction you should take with the first outreach touchpoint.

If your prospect is super present on social media, maybe that’s the best place to make contact. Or if the business is more traditional, a phone call or email should do it. There are pros and cons to each outreach method, so choose wisely.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you do your primary outreach:

  • Make it personal: You did all that work to make the outreach as personal as possible. Put it to good use.
  • Stay relevant: No offense, but your prospect is busy and doesn’t want to hear about anything other than how you can help their business resolve a pain point. Stay focused on that main idea.
  • Don't be robotic: Nobody wants to have a conversation with a robot. Especially in the middle of their work day. Remember to act like a human. Ask them how they’re doing and actually listen to their response so you can add the element of personal conversation.
  • Remember you aren’t selling: Don’t forget - as you prospect, your job is not to sell anything. The purpose of prospecting is to determine whether or not this person is worth pursuing. Keep it casual and don’t get too pushy.
  • Take notes: You can’t expect yourself to remember every single detail of your conversation with the prospect, and you don’t want to forget anything that might be important. Take meticulous notes while also staying present within the conversation. 

6. Review

Lastly, with the notes you took during your conversation with the prospect, evaluate how many boxes they checked in terms of aligning with your ideal customer persona.

You can then do another round of prioritization based on how much value they can offer your business. This will help you manage prospects as the touchpoints continue.

This last step is also a great opportunity to review how the prospecting process went. If you walk away from the conversation without much insight into whether or not this prospect is a good fit for your business’ solution, look back and find out where things went wrong. Ask yourself how well you uncovered their challenges, defined some goals for moving forward, and understood their readiness to buy.

Undergoing this internal review process will only make your future prospecting efforts stronger.

Sales prospecting tips

Sales prospecting is the first step you take in growing your business and its customer base. And even if you abide by the sales prospecting strategy described above, there are still a few more things you can do to make it as worthwhile as possible.

Don't sell

Let’s say it again for the people in the back: prospecting is not selling. So don’t turn a prospecting call into a sales pitch. That’s not the point here.

The purpose of prospecting is to create a solid and well-prioritized list of opportunities that sales reps can capitalize on. It might be hard to resist, but don’t get too ahead of yourself and turn the qualifying questions into a product demo.

“Once trust has been built through honest communication and quality content, we can talk business.”

Jonathan Aufray
CEO of Growth Hackers

Take the time

Because it isn’t directly focused on the action of closing a deal, prospecting can sometimes be thrown to the wayside. Make sure you dedicate time to prospecting. Not only will it help you weed out unpromising leads, but it’ll also establish the beginning of a relationship with your prospect.

There will always be opportunities to work on something that might seem more important than prospecting, but neglecting it will only hurt your sales pipeline.

Use a script

While you’ll want a touch of personalization when you reach out to prospects, there is nothing wrong with using a script. Conversations are known to deviate, and if you lose track of the discussion, referring to a script can be a big help in redirecting it in the right direction.

Be social 

Social media not only allows you to learn more about your prospects by what they are posting, but it also opens up at least one more channel for communicating with them. Take advantage of those channels wherever you can.

“... use social platforms to actually listen to what your customers are saying and then offer up strategic insights as appropriate.”

Josh Dhaliwal
Head of Sales at iPresent

Follow up regularly

Your prospects are busy people, and after they hang up the phone or finish reading your email, it might be a while before they even think about your business again. Make sure to create a follow up schedule that reminds prospects you exist, but doesn’t make them wish you would stop reaching out altogether.

Stay up to date

Businesses and the markets from which they buy solutions are constantly changing. As demand and buyer behavior change, your business must evolve your strategies to sell to them as effectively as possible.

Staying up to date also includes making sure that all information you gather when speaking with prospects is collected, organized, and tracked in a CRM tool.

It’s possible that your sales development representatives do the prospecting and then pass opportunities along to reps. It’s also possible that even if the same roles are handling prospecting and sales pitches, they might forget details from the initial conversations. Don’t lose track of valuable data and make sure to store everything in a CRM.

Sell slowly but surely

When given the contact information of a lead, it’s hard to resist the temptation to just call or email them right away. However, while you want to feel the satisfaction of making a sale as much and as soon as possible, good things take time.

As you approach the overall selling strategy of your business, make sure prospecting has a seat at the table. It might add another tedious step, but it will only more efficiently fuel your pipeline.

Once you have your prospecting strategy down, make sure to update it in your sales playbook.

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