Ah, the elusive prospect. You know they're out there in need of your service or product, but it can be tough to uncover them at the right time in their search. So how do you find them ? And once you find them, what the heck do you do with them? Just poke 'em with a stick?
First of all, that's a veritable "no" to the stick thing. And fortunately, there are a handful of tools available to help you identify prospective customers and find out what topics and content are most interesting to them.
I've compiled a starter list of some of the prospecting tools I've used most often in my career -- some free, some paid -- along with some tips on how to address prospects in a helpful, prospect-focused, inbound way.
HubSpot’s Prospect Report
I’m going to start out with HubSpot’s Prospect Report here because it’s probably the most thorough tool on the list, though it does require a HubSpot subscription. The Prospects Report does a nice job of giving you a sense of not only where your prospects come from, but also what they’re interested in and what contacts you have in common. That way, the first call you make to them doesn’t have to be so cold.
The Prospects Report works by showing you the company name or IP address associated with any website visitor you have. You won’t get the names of people until they opt-in by deciding to contact you or filling out a form on your website, but the nice thing is, the Prospects Report gives you a sneak peak of what they may be interested in.
In the example below, for instance, you can see that the company had two unknown visitors from West Nottinghamshire College -- the second line item in the image below. We also know that those visitors came to the site looking for "e-commerce statistics."
When we dig in a little more, we can learn more about that visit, including the specific content viewed, how recently it occurred, and whether or not you have other contacts at that same location.
While all of this does serve to make us feel a bit like Sherlock Holmes or Columbo (childhood ambition #7 ... check), the larger win here is that when that prospect from West Nottinghamshire College does decide to reach out or convert, we already have a starting point for the conversation. We have a sense of what might matter to them, and can get them quickly to the most relevant material. Learn more about the Prospects Report .
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect: Some people use the Prospects Report as a way to make informed first calls into a potential lead’s office. Others wait for the prospect to turn into a lead on his or her own and then leverage the past information from their prospect days to inform future communications and discussions. A final tactic I’d suggest is to use your prospect data to help inform the content you create. If a prospect from a good company is interested in ecommerce statistics, I’d use that as a jumping off point for an in-depth blog on ecommerce. Once interest has been shown, don’t let that opportunity run dry.
Twitter and LinkedIn Search
Not all purchase research happens on your website. In fact, according to Google and CEB research , a lead conducts 57% of the research they’re going to do before ever talking to a sales rep. That’s where social search tools become really handy. You can use the search feature on almost every social media site to find people talking about your company or focus area at any given moment. Here’s how it works on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Twitter actually has an incredibly precise advanced search tool. For any search, you can narrow down to exact phrase or location (something that’s especially helpful for local businesses interested in finding people who need their services). What’s even cooler, though, is that you can tell Twitter to try to find you tweets with the right tone to them. You can search for only questions, positive comments, or negative comments. It’s not flawless, but for a free tool it’s pretty great.
In the example below, I'm searching for people who have asked a question about HubSpot versus any other marketing tool. I use the exact phrase "HubSpot vs. " and leave a space for the competitor. Then I specify that I’m looking for tweets with question marks in it. The result is about a dozen different people who have very recently sought advice on their software purchase decision.
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect on LinkedIn: My guess is that these people are not looking for a sales rep to jump down their throats. (Is anybody? Ever?) They’re looking for help and advice from a third party. So while it’s never a bad idea to answer them and offer help, you should also think about retweeting their question out to your followers. Odds are you’ve got some friendly customers in the group who might be able to give their perspectives.
At the free level, LinkedIn's search function isn’t quite as advanced as Twitter's, though I’ve heard rave reviews of the search ability at the premium levels . At the free level, you can search for people and status updates across LinkedIn using keywords and company mentions. To do so, change the search box dropdown to "Updates" and include a keyword that matters to your business, or choose Groups and find collections of people interested in similar topics.
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect on Twitter: Like Twitter, this shouldn’t be a race to the closing bell. If you find someone asking a question, step up and give them helpful information. If you find a group that’s relevant to your company, join it and engage in the conversation. Don’t just broadcast your content or website. (For HubSpot customers, here’s some info on how to post to LinkedIn Groups in a more scalable way.)
Facebook Social Graph
When my HubSpot colleagues and I first started diving into Facebook Social Graph, we were awed (Actual photo evidence of state-of-HubSpot-awe below). We of course started with the silly searches: "People who work at HubSpot who like unicorns," and "People who work at Facebook and like Twitter." But that gave way to more professional searches. "Marketers who live in Boston and like inbound marketing," for example. Doing so enabled us to get a sense of some of the potential prospects out there and their other interests.
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect: Write a blog post and ask people to tell you what they’d do with this information in the comments. #KiddingNotKidding. Actually, I asked my colleague Lia Cefalu (<< follow her she’s wicked smaht ) who’s in the center of the social graph stalking photo above how she would use this for business and she advised the following: Businesses can use social graph to find people interested in key topics, then subscribe to their news feeds. You don’t have to be Facebook friends with someone to subscribe to their feed. Subscribe to their news feeds, and comment.
We're big fans of HootSuite, who offers both a free and a paid version. We actually have an integration with them that pulls your HubSpot Lead and Keyword data directly into your HootSuite view. Their monitoring allows you to keep a steady stream of people mentioning certain keywords or your company name. This allows you to find prospective leads in a similar way to the Twitter or LinkedIn monitoring above, but you can see the full gamut across channels, saving you some time.
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect: At the paid level, you can assign tweets to members of your team for follow-up. If you notice someone mentioning your company or asking for advice for something you can help with, quickly assign that request to the person on your team best able to address it. Again, this is the time for helpful responses, not promotions or sales.
For the right company, Quora is a great way to find people interested in the service or product you provide. Quora is a question and answer forum that was created to help people get answers from people with first-hand experience. Questions on Quora range from travel to nonprofits to software and beyond. While some topic areas are more fruitful than others, it's worth spending some time there to see if questions are being asked about your industry. In the example below, I've tapped into the topic on Inbound Marketing. You can see right off the bat there are questions about inbound marketing software, in particular -- pretty good place for me to be then, right? What's great about Quora is you can subscribe to get email alerts on certain topics as new questions arise, so you'll always be notified when a future prospect is seeking information.
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect: If you have a direct answer to their question, you can certainly chime in with some resources and link them back to your site for further reading. Another option is to use Quora's "Ask to Answer" functionality to ask someone in your network with first-hand experience to respond.
Google Alerts are less precise than some of the other tools we've explored, but do work to help you find people talking about certain topics. Google Alerts will bring in mentions from multiple channels -- you could unearth blog articles, questions for Q&A forums, reviews, or other content.
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect: The biggest challenge with Google Alerts will be weaning down the fire hose to show you just the most important mentions of your keyword or company -- and it takes work to get the phrasing just right. You also may ask an intern or volunteer to keep an eye on the alerts feed and elevate anything that seems like a promising interaction. When it comes to prospecting, Google Alerts isn't my favorite, but it can help you capture mentions of your company and keywords on a wider range of channels so you can figure out where to spend your prospecting time.
I started with a HubSpot tool, I'll end with one too. Within HubSpot Social Media , for any piece of content that you've shared to Facebook or Twitter, you can see a breakdown of not only how many clicks it earned, but who clicked on them. What I especially like is that HubSpot separates out those interactions into two sections: 1) People who are already in your contact database as leads or customers ("Engaged Contacts") and 2) People who aren't yet known to you ("Interactions"). For the people who aren't yet known to your database, also known as your prospects (yay!), you get a quick preview of who they are and, in the case of Twitter, how many followers they have. Here are some examples of this:
What to Do When You Find a New Prospect: The first thing to note is the piece of content that got these new prospects to click. What topic were they interested in? What channel was it on? In the case of Twitter, you can follow your new prospects right then and there within HubSpot, without even opening up Twitter's interface. If they've retweeted your content, you can reply to them to start off the relationship right.
So there you have it -- a starter list of tools to help you identify and engage new prospects for your business. The one theme that I hope was evident throughout is that even though you have all these tools available to you, it's important you're using them in responsible and helpful ways. Don't rush to talking about your company or selling your product or service. Make yourself an asset to the person, and see if your company is a fit later on.
I'd love to grow this list. What other tools have you used successfully to help you find prospects?
Image credit: Tom Newby Photography