Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
That’s the sound of the countdown that begins each day of every week of every month. It’s the one aspect of sales that just never changes.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
Sell, sell, sell.
As we’ve all experienced, sales essentially boils down to two things:
And those two things often go hand-in-hand. While we (or our team) are racing to hit quota against that clock, though, we can save time and maximize our numbers by investing in the right processes, activities, and skills.
Truth is, sales is changing -- quickly. As the sales conversations grows even more buyer-focused, sales reps have begun developing his or her own hack, own technique, own process.
That’s where this guide comes in. In this growing sales landscape, we’ll outline the various processes and key strategies for prospecting -- the phase of selling that often consumes the most time and energy (and is the most crucial to get right).
What Is Prospecting?
Prospecting: The process of searching for potential customers, clients, or buyers in order to develop new business. The end goal is to move prospects through the sales funnel until they eventually convert into revenue-generating customers.
What's the difference between leads and prospects?
Leads: Potential customers who have expressed interest in our company or services through behaviors like visiting our website, subscribing to a blog, or downloading an ebook.
Prospects: Leads become prospects if they are qualified as potential customers, meaning that they align with the persona of our target buyer. A prospect may also be classified as a potential customer who has limited or no interaction with our company, but they would not be considered a lead.
Leads or prospects, the end goal is the same: Nurture potential customers until they buy our product or service. Here is what the funnel looks like:
Goal: Determine quality of lead
Goal: Get to a connect
Goal: Schedule next meeting
Goal: Evaluate and qualify needs
Goal: Turn Opportunities Into Customers
Sales Prospecting Techniques
As the sales environment matures, we’re seeing a shift from the former method of prospecting (outbound) to one that is much more buyer-centric (inbound).
Here’s the big difference in the two methodologies:
Cold calling: Unsolicited calls to sell a product or service
Social spamming: Unsolicited social media messages to sell a product or service
The Process: Research takes longer without any prior history with a contact. Less context for us when we’re ready to reach out to establish a connection.
Example: “Hi John, I wanted to reach out to you because I’ve worked with companies similar to yours in the past."
Warm emailing: Warm emails to explore a relationship with a lead who has already expressed familiarity with your product or service
Social selling: Using social media to explore a relationship with a lead who has already expressed familiarity with your product or service; sales reps can provide value to prospects on social media by answering their questions and introducing them to useful content
The Process: Research process is shorter as we already have their contact information and interaction history. Provides us with context about the prospect’s interests or prior behavior, allowing us to develop more personalized outreach.
Example: “Hi John, I’m reaching out because I noticed you were looking at our e-book on improving sales productivity.”
Our Recommendation: Inbound Prospecting
Our world is now characterized by infinite information, whenever we want.
Before we make a purchase decision, 60% of us rely on word-of-mouth, friends, and social media; 49% on customer references; 47% on analyst reports and recommendations; and 44% on media articles
Before a salesperson even has a chance to contact a prospect, he or she is already 57% of the way through the sales process. Yet, salespeople are still cold calling as if buyers have no awareness. Experienced salespeople can expect to spend 7.5 hours of cold calling to get ONE qualified appointment, according to a Baylor University study.
It’s time companies and sales reps start paying attention to buyers, leveraging their context, and understanding who they are and what they need.
It’s time they adopt inbound sales.
Companies that use inbound sales techniques are better positioned for success in this new realm of buyer awareness. In fact, 64% of teams that use inbound selling reach their quotas as opposed to 49% of sales teams who use outbound sales. IBM even increased their sales by 400% after implementing their inbound sales program.
Now, let’s look at specific frameworks and techniques for how we can adopt an inbound approach to prospecting.
A Guide to Prospecting
50% of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting.
We don’t want you to fall into that sales statistic.
That’s why we recommend the inbound way and put together a basic framework that applies to all sales processes. But with a twist.
As we mentioned earlier, we understand that everyone has their own approach. So we’ve also weaved in personal prospecting tips and tricks from the best salespeople we know. Pick and play with whatever works best for your own sales hustle.
Step 1: Research
This is by far the most important aspect of prospecting. We must ensure that we’re qualifying our prospects in order to improve our chances of providing value to them or their business.
In this stage of prospecting, we’re looking to accomplish a few goals:
- Determine if the prospect is workable
- Qualify and begin prioritizing prospects
- Find opportunities to develop a connection through personalization, rapport building, and trust development
Here are some important qualifying dimensions to evaluate if a prospect has a high probability of becoming a customer:
This type of qualification is based solely on demographics. Does the prospect fall within my territory? Do we sell in their industry? Does it fit our buyer persona?
Say our target market consists of small to medium-sized businesses with anywhere from 100 to 1,000 employees. We should eliminate any potential customers outside of these criteria.
Diving deeper, our product or service will naturally provide higher value to a particular profile within that target market. For example, medium-sized businesses consisting of a larger team. Those customers are also more likely to upgrade to a higher tier of our product, providing more lifetime value as a customer.
Successful first touch strategies often incorporate both approaches to take advantage of the pros and minimize the cons.
But, how do we leave a voicemail or send an email that prospects want to respond to? Let’s dive into the dos and don’ts of each communication method below:
The Warm Email
If we’re looking to send a first-touch email that gets opened, there are some essentials that we must include:
- Engaging subject line: The subject line has to pique the prospect’s interest while avoiding cliché hooks.
- Personal opening line: We should begin our cold email by saying something about them, not about us. After all, this process is about finding the prospect’s pain points and determining a way to add value to their business or processes.
- Creating a connection: Now we have to make the connection. In our opening, they learn why we’re reaching out to them, but now they need to know why they should care about what we do.
- Clear call-to-action: Suggest a concrete time to connect or ask a close-ended question to make it clear that the ball is in their court. Try using one of these lines: “Do you have ten minutes to catch up tomorrow?” or “Are you available for a 30 minute call on Tuesday between 9-11 a.m.?”
The Prospecting Call
If we decide to call a prospect, whether in conjunction with an email or not, we can follow this basic structure for the call:
- Establish rapport: We shouldn’t shy away from personal conversations, like asking how a prospect’s weekend was or what team they’re rooting for in the game tonight. These intimate touches help us develop a more meaningful relationship with prospects and enhance our likeability which, hopefully, means a prospect will be more likely to buy from us.
- Leverage pain points: Dive into their pain points during the call. By the end of the conversation, we should know all of their primary business challenges and the underlying causes associated with them. Once we have an understanding of these key issues, we can better position our product or services to solve them.
- Create curiosity: Ask questions about their business. Ask more than tell. This conversation is about them and understanding their needs and problems. The less we talk about our business and product, the more our prospect will be interested to hear the final pitch.
- Wrap it up: Find a calendar time between 24-48 hours after discovery call to book a follow-up meeting. Try this line: “Would you have 30 minutes to follow up this week? My colleague, John, will join us -- he’s an expert in X, Y, Z. My calendar’s open, what works best for you?”
Step 5: Iterate
Keep notes throughout this process to assess what activities generated value for the prospecting process and which wasted time.
After each contact with a prospect, we should assess how well we think we:
- Uncovered challenges
- Helped create well-defined goals
- Confirmed availability of budget
- Understand decision-making process
- Determined consequences of inaction
- Identified potential results of success
This self-reflection will help us improve our calling techniques in the future.
Finally, to boost our prospecting productivity through each of these stages, we can utilize the following sales prospecting tools.
Sales Prospecting Tools
We can use Twitter to get an idea of what our prospect finds important. By showing them support through a retweet or favorite, or even engaging them in conversation, we can show them that we have their interests, challenges, and needs in mind. Because we’ve already opened the relationship through a personal medium like Twitter, we’ll have a greater window of opportunity to adjust our pitch.
How to use it: To inform the sales process. Use Twitter’s Advanced search to quickly sift through a prospect’s feed and find what’s important. For example, if we see that a prospect posted a question about our product, it’s a perfect opportunity to respond.
HubSpot’s free CRM allows users to keep track of sales activity and source new prospects.
How to use it: Surface warm prospects who have already visited our website. Store contacts and companies, track deals, and easily manage tasks such as follow ups and meetings.
Connects the web apps we use to automate tedious tasks.
How to use it: Create a “Zap” to automatically send a text message whenever we receive a new email. Or, automatically create a new lead in Salesforce when we get an email submission on our blog.
Use email tracking to know when prospects open emails, click on links, or open attachments. HubSpot Sales also provides us with detailed contact information right in our inbox and it allows us to schedule emails to be sent at a time when we know our prospect will be most likely to open them.
How to use it: If we see that a prospect is viewing an email we sent two weeks ago, we can follow up with information related to what they’re viewing, or email them to set up another meeting.
This provides us with a feed on the company’s recent updates to help discover industry news, marketing campaigns, events, product launches, and recently published content.
How to use it: We can reference these updates as trigger events to engage our prospects in real conversations.
Google Alerts allows us to track web mentions on a company’s name, product, competitors, or industry trends.
How to use it: Customize alerts to send real-time, daily, weekly, or monthly updates on whichever keywords are relevant to our prospects. We can use these to tailor our outreach.
Datanyze tracks competing technology providers and informs us of companies who have started or stopped using their solution.
How to use it: Connect with prospects after they stop using a competitor’s product to catch them while they’re on the market for a better offering.
This is an extension for Chrome and Firefox that lets us keep track of local or foreign time zones in our status bar.
How to use it: Manage time zones and never miss a meeting due to a misunderstanding between PST, EST, CT, etc.
Stay organized and efficient by taking notes in Evernote which syncs notes through their mobile, desktop and web apps.
How to use it: Use this tool while on an exploratory prospecting call to keep track of pain points, company details, and action items.