Welcome to "The Pipeline" — a weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
Before you ever pick up the phone for prospecting, you have to determine whether the person you’re calling fits your ideal prospect profile. That starts with you understanding your company‘s value offering like the back of your hand. Selling a product you don’t truly believe in is a challenge — and if you don't understand your own company, your prospects will pick up on that.
But understanding and being able to succinctly explain your business‘s value proposition aren’t enough. There's another side to the equation — understanding your prospects. You need to have a pulse on their backgrounds and what makes them tick.
You have to gather quite a bit of information to determine whether a prospect fits your buyer persona. To help you get there, I‘ve compiled this list of key, guiding questions I use to get a sense of a prospect’s viability. Let's take a look.
7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Call a New Prospect
1. How senior is your prospect?
I despise over-generalizations, but when you’re dealing with prospects you don't know, you need to make some assumptions — that way, you’re prepared to handle their objections effectively.
I find that senior executives tend to be very set in their ways — as they've likely successfully navigated the business world for years. On the other hand, junior employees are often more receptive to new technologies, strategies, and ideas.
You also have to make sure you’re speaking to someone with the authority necessary to legitimately consider your product. Don’t waste time engaging someone who can’t at least advance the sales process in some way.
I prefer a top-down approach to prospecting. Even if a C-level executive won’t agree to a call with you, a warm handoff to someone on their team is gold.
Also, take the prospect’s familiarity with their industry and level of education into consideration. Understanding how educated your prospect is gives you a better sense of how you should address them. For example, I wouldn’t advise calling Dr. Robert Sacamano “Bob.”
2. Who do they typically report to?
Determine if you’ll have to get both your prospect's and your prospect‘s manager’s approval early on. Engaging all relevant stakeholders from the beginning of the sales process is critical.
If you can’t determine this information on your own, do a little digging once you get your prospect on the phone. Here are two questions that reveal all the stakeholders:
- “It sounds like you’re an ideal fit for our product. Who else would need to be involved in evaluating our solution?”
- “We typically schedule a consultative team conversation to get all stakeholders on the same page. Do you have access to your colleagues’ calendars?”
Questions like those allow you to get a better sense of your prospect‘s decision-making authority without potentially offending them by undermining their position. Again, you don’t want to expend too much energy on a prospect who doesn't have the final say on purchases.
3. Do they manage their budget?
Be sure to find out who controls budget at a prospect's company. If your contact doesn’t control the purse strings, you need to leverage your relationship to loop in the key decision-makers that do.
4. Are you selling directly to your prospect or trying to get your foot in the door?
Never pick up the phone until you’ve established your goal. If you’re speaking directly to the decision-maker, you’ll want to position yourself differently than if you’re warming up an influencer or champion. Get clear on who you’re talking to and what you hope to get out of the relationship before you kick off the conversation.
5. Can your prospect act as an internal champion for you?
An internal champion is someone at a target account who strongly believes in your offering and will help you navigate the inner workings of their company’s decision-making process. It goes without saying that having a champion in your corner is incredibly valuable to a salesperson.
But to establish this kind of relationship, you’ll need to show an internal champion what they can get out of providing you with internal information. Will your product make their job easier, help them get promoted, save the company money, drive efficiencies, or offer some other kind of personal value?
Before picking up the phone, ask yourself this question: “Why would this person take time out of their busy day to speak to me?” If you can’t think of a concrete reason or benefit, formulate one before engaging.
6. How long has your prospect held their position?
I’ve noticed business leaders new to their roles — whether through an internal promotion or external hire — are far more likely to implement a new solution or strategy, compared to executives that have held their positions for several years.
I find that new executives are usually looking to make a splash, and maintaining the status quo won’t get them the satisfaction or prestige they’re seeking. Of course, this behavior depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. Take note of the trends you observe among your target buyers.
7. Are they respected internally? Do they have pull?
The downside of talking with a relatively new and open-minded employee is that they may have little or no influence within the organization yet. And a prospect with no pull won’t get you very far in the sales process.
Strive to strike a balance between receptiveness and authority. Once you find a contact who falls into that sweet spot, add them to your target account list and continue to educate them until they’re willing to connect.
Every company has a different value proposition and targets different prospects. But no matter what, you must understand the background of your prospects, learn their hot buttons, and discover what incentivizes them to make decisions.
While you’ll discover some of this information through talking to your contact, you should also research them with these questions in mind before you reach for the phone. This way, you can tailor your conversation in a way that will best resonate with your prospect and drive the sale toward a close.