No More “Spray and Pray”: A Step-by-Step Guide to Effective Targeted Sales Prospecting

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Ali Powell
Ali Powell



target prospecting

Some salespeople view prospecting as a numbers game. They reason that the more emails they send and calls they make, the more conversations they will have, and the more customers they will eventually sign. So instead of spending time customizing and personalizing their outreach for each individual prospect, they mass blast generic emails, and follow the exact same script on every single call.

There are two glaring problems with this, however. First and foremost, this is a terrible experience for prospects -- and this is never excusable in sales. Second, this results in a ton of wasted time in the sales process. Why not reallocate the time spent sending hundreds of emails and making hundreds of calls to random strangers to researching and identifying the people who actually stand the highest chance of becoming happy customers? I would argue that this process is a much better use of your time. As sales reps we only have so much time in a day, so spend it wisely by setting yourself up for better at-bats.

Everyone talks about account-based selling, but no one talks about account-based prospecting. But to be able to sell in a more targeted way, you also must change the way you prospect.

Salespeople, it’s time to work smarter, not harder. By moving away from “spray and pray” and embracing a targeted prospecting process, you will get better responses and see better results with better fit companies.

Not to mention that your company will benefit thanks to you contacting, connecting with, and ultimately closing good-fit customers primed for long-term retention. That’s growing your business the smart way -- not just the fast way. Growth is important for any company, but keep in mind the fact that some (hopefully most) of your calls and meetings today will ultimately turn into closed-won business. Think about what would happen if the companies you're talking to became customers. Would they be successful? Does it make sense to prospect the company?

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started with targeted sales prospecting, broken out into three handy checklists.

The Research Phase

Before you can even source companies to prospect, you first have to take the steps to figure out what kinds of prospects are happy with your product once they become customers. Being a great sales rep today is not just about hitting quota by bringing on every and any company you can. It is about bringing on new customers who will likely be the happiest they could be with your product based on your sales process.

Figure out what current happy customers look like. This way, you can target new prospects with similar characteristics who would likely be happy customers if you were to end up selling to them.

Here's what you can do to get started:

  • Talk to your customer service and support teams. Customer service people talk to customers -- both happy and unhappy -- all day long. Pick their brains to uncover similarities among satisfied customers. What makes your customers happy? Who is happiest with your product and why? Buddying up with customer service can be especially helpful if you are new to your company or selling into a new industry, and aren’t as familiar with your ideal fit buyer. 
  • Interview happy customers. Ask happy customers what in particular they like about your product, and take note of features that deliver the most value for them. Try to spot trends in your conversations. In addition, take this opportunity to ask about how well the sales process gels with the actual customer experience. Did they know what to expect when they became a customer, or were they relatively unprepared?
  • Determine what type of prospects you’re best at selling to. Think about what types of buyers you’ve had the most success selling to in the past. For instance, if you come from a manufacturing background and notice that manufacturing customers tend to be happy users of your product, consider making prospecting into the manufacturing vertical your personal specialty. At HubSpot, I have always focused on B2B tech and SaaS companies in the Silicon Valley area. I learned early on to focus on a vertical to do well. Focusing on one or a few verticals will allow you to get really darn good at selling to those kinds of companies and people.
  • Create a persona (or several). Finally, create a persona for each type of buyer you plan on targeting, based on your research. You will create targeted emails, sequences, and other types of messaging using these personas.

The Connection Phase

Now you know who you want to target, it’s time to identify prospects who fit the criteria and reach out in a smart, research-driven way. Here are a few steps to keep in mind at this stage:

  • Define and track trigger events. In your research, you likely heard happy customers reference a few key trigger events time and again -- they got a new job, their company was acquired, the organization opened a new location, etc. List out the trigger events that make your ideal buyer more likely to buy, and track them for each account you’re working in Google Alerts or in another way. In addition, find out what kinds of triggers make your product or service particularly timely and helpful to prospects. There should always be a reason or reasons that you are reaching out. If you don’t have research and reasons to reach out you should back up and find some.
  • Monitor activity. Keep up with the company’s and contact's activity on social media. An interesting tweet or LinkedIn post is great fodder to base a customized prospecting email on. Note any outreach-worthy behavior in your CRM with the date so you don’t forget what happened when. Use alerts tools to make your life easier.
  • Answer two questions for each account: "Why am I working the company?" and "What do I think I can help them with?" If you can’t come up with a solid answer to both questions, shelve the prospect or do more research. But if you do have answers, write them out in your CRM so you can reference them quickly on a call or in an email. 
  • Send customized emails and make personalized calls. Make the meat of your message a timely, relevant reason why you’re contacting the person now -- for instance, a trigger event or interesting social media post. You’ve chosen to target this account for a reason; make this clear to your recipient. All your research on the front-end identifying good fit prospects goes to waste if you send a bland, generic message. Commit to taking the time to personalize every single sales interaction.

The Continuous Improvement Stage

By using the two checklists above, you can transform your prospecting process to be much more efficient, buyer-friendly, and productive. But you’re not done -- you must continuously improve and refine your sales process over time. Here’s how.

  • Train your sales development rep. If you work in conjunction with an SDR, train this person in targeted prospecting and coach them to ensure they can effectively execute the process. Explain why researching and targeting good fit buyers is a smart approach. I have weekly one-on-one meetings with the SDR I work in which we discuss a few accounts she is targeting. We go over strategy for each account, why she is reaching out, and why she thinks we can help. Finally, I provide coaching and tips to improve her process.
  • Commit to identifying a certain number of accounts a week. Just because you’re not spraying and praying doesn’t mean you should move away from activity-based goals entirely. Keep your activity high by defining a number and sticking to it. Separate your target accounts from inbound leads or leads sourced in other ways by marking them as such in your CRM. 
  • Learn as you go. Despite your best efforts to identify companies that will benefit from your product or service, you’re not going to sell every account you decide to work. Take notes on why certain prospects didn’t buy, and log these notes in your CRM. Then, use them to refine your prospecting process, optimizing it little by little.

Salespeople need to put the buyer first, over themselves and their goals -- always. The spray and pray approach to prospecting is the exact opposite of putting the buyer first.

Targeted prospecting is better for both buyers and salespeople. Buyers win in this kind of prospecting because you reach them at good times when they are more likely to see value in your service or product. Salespeople benefit because they have a strategic and proven method to reach out instead of just hoping something comes from random spraying and praying.

Editor's note: Ali Powell is an inbound marketing specialist at HubSpot. Join the Women in Sales Slack channel to connect with like-minded ladies in sales here.

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