If you work in B2B sales, you'll know how tough prospecting is.
Finding time to qualify leads and then piquing their interest is time-consuming, not to mention costly. You need to quickly sift through those businesses that are a poor fit or not interested, in order to find leads worth pursuing. And even then, the results can be unpredictable.
In fact, 34% of sales reps say that prospecting and qualifying leads is one of their biggest challenges.
Most reps would rather be doing what they do best, and stick to selling.
The problem is that without a strong prospecting strategy, selling becomes harder. You’ll be wasting your time pitching to poor-fit leads who don’t need your solution, can’t afford it or won’t make profitable customers.
This blog takes you through the entire B2B prospecting process, providing eight strategies to make prospecting more effective and efficient.
What is prospecting?
First, let’s clearly define prospecting and provide an overview for those unfamiliar with it.
Prospecting is the first stage of the sales process. It’s about contacting leads to:
- Qualify-out poor-fit prospects or those with little or no buying intent.
- Create interest in your solution.
- Arrange a sales meeting.
The aim is to qualify each prospect quickly so that you can arrange the sales call or meeting. Most of the actual selling is then done during that meeting.
Because of this, prospecting is often performed by a more junior sales rep, often called sales development representatives (also known as SDRs). Senior sales professionals handle the actual meetings.
Good lead generation and prospecting systems make this process more successful and efficient. If you target good-fit prospects in the first place, then you will be more successful and book more sales meetings, increasing efficiency.
Before listing some good sales prospecting tips, let’s look at some general strategies to make your prospecting efforts more efficient.
- Prospect regularly
Assuming that your team handles the entire sales process, then it’s a good idea to spend between 30–40% of your week on prospecting.
Try to spread this time out across the week to avoid burning out, and schedule it in your diary so it gets prioritised.
- Outsource prospecting
If you do prospecting and sales, you can easily become more efficient by hiring an SDR. However, paying this person’s wages will increase your overheads. An increasingly popular solution is outsourcing sales prospecting to a call centre.
You’ll pay a low fee, and the call centre will have the resources to get through hundreds of calls daily, allowing you to focus on selling to qualified leads.
- Let data prospect for you
Outsourcing is more efficient than prospecting yourself, but you’ll still pay someone to do an inefficient task. The best way to make sales prospecting more productive is to target leads you know are a good fit.
That’s where data comes in.
You can use a business database to create lists of potential customers that precisely match your ideal customer profile (ICP). This gives you a much higher success rate and means you can spend more time selling to the right companies.
7 tips for a better sales prospecting process
Here’s how you can improve your sales prospecting at every stage of the process:
1) Create accurate ICPs
An ideal customer profile (ICP) is a series of characteristics that describe the kind of customer that is most profitable to your business and that you can best serve.
An ICP is developed using data about your real-world customers. The most effective ICPs are incredibly detailed and use stats like:
- Their number of employees.
Our own database provides over 140 filters that can be used to create an accurate picture of your ICP. You can then use this as a basis for creating prospect lists (more on that later).
Clearly understanding your ICP is critical to the success of your sales and marketing efforts across your business:
- Marketing can target the right businesses and produce high-quality leads to pass on to sales.
- Sales can quickly disqualify poor fit leads and focus efforts on companies with the highest potential profit.
- Customer success teams can use it to prioritise which accounts they focus on.
- Product development teams can create new features and functions based on the needs of their best customers.
2) Generate great leads
According to HubSpot, 20% of reps say the improved lead quality is the most significant benefit of sales and marketing alignment. It's clear that having this alignment is critical.
And if you’ve got step one right, then you’ve taken a big step towards achieving alignment: both departments have a clear view of your ICP.
As mentioned above, this allows marketing to fill the top of the sales funnel and pass on better-quality leads to sales. Not only will this allow them to book more calls, but they'll also be able to do it quicker.
3) Create compelling content
Before contacting new prospects, you’ll need to ensure you’re armed with high-quality sales and marketing content to support you.
It’s important to ensure that the content you create is valuable and relevant to your customers. It needs to show that you understand their challenges and highlight how your solution and experience will help overcome them.
Let’s say you provide customer relationship management (CRM) software that helps small real estate companies scale their sales. You could create:
- A case study explaining how you helped one brokerage 10x their sales in just one year.
- A guide to improving real estate lead generation and sales.
- A blog with tips for finding sales during an economic downturn.
Content shouldn’t just be focused on sales prospecting. You should have a full strategy encompassing each stage of the customer lifecycle—and all of it should be interconnected.
In fact, According to the Content Marketing Institute, 62% of successful B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.
4) Call lists
Next, it’s time to create a list of sales prospects that fit your ICP, so that you can get in touch with them. Doing this manually can be incredibly time-consuming, which is why most sales teams buy databases.
But buying data from an external source can be problematic. Static databases begin to go out of date the moment you buy them; it doesn’t take long before the data is unreliable.
Some common issues are:
- If a company’s situation has changed, then it may no longer fit your ICP.
- If directors have moved on, you may struggle to get in touch with the right prospects.
- If the business has moved or changed its number, you might not be able to speak to anyone at all.
- Your sales team will waste huge amounts of time making dead-end calls and having to update your CRM with the correct information.
- Your reputation will suffer, and your sales team will become frustrated because you are working with out-of-date information.
The best solution is to use a business database that is automatically updated in real-time. For example, Red Flag Alert has data on 320 million businesses. This receives more than one million daily updates from over 200 official sources worldwide.
Our customers can feed this data directly into their CRM, meaning they always work with the latest company information.
5) Do your research
Before you contact prospects, make sure you research each one. Try to ascertain:
- What the biggest challenges are that the business might be facing?
- What would help overcome those challenges?
- How your product can help to achieve this.
Once again, business databases can be useful here. For example, if you sell insurance and see that a prospect’s asset value has recently increased, there’s a good chance that it has purchased new premises or machinery. They may seek to insure these new assets or get a better deal on their existing policy.
You can contact the prospect with an offer before any of your competitors do, making it more likely that you’ll win their business. Remember, your research may disqualify the prospect. You can contact them to confirm this or disregard them and move on to the next prospect.
Take time to think about your message to the prospect. This shouldn’t focus on your product’s features and functions.
Why? Because B2B buyers usually research your product before they contact you. This means they already know your offering and services quite well.
In this situation, buyers need to understand how your solution’s features and functions will help overcome their business challenges.
Think about your research and use this to hypothesise the challenges you think the company might be facing. This can encourage the prospect to give you more information about their problems.
This information is vital for two reasons:
1) It builds credibility with the prospect. According to Salesforce, 85% of B2B buyers are more likely to buy from sellers who understand their business goals.
2) It gives you the information you need to connect your solution’s features with customers’ challenges.
7) Make contact
Finally! It’s time to make contact with your prospect. The best approach depends on several factors, including your business, industry, solution and more.
The main options are:
- Cold calling.
- Social selling.
Let’s look at each in detail.
Cold calling has a bad reputation, but it is an effective outbound prospecting technique. Businesses that don’t use cold calling experience 42% less growth than those that do.
Why is cold calling one of the most useful sales prospecting techniques? Because it allows you to:
- Tell prospects about your company or solution.
- Have a more personal, one-on-one conversation.
- Answer customer questions in real time.
- Thoroughly evaluate the quality of the lead and understand whether they are a good fit.
One of the reasons cold calling is so effective for B2B sales is that you’re not trying to make a sale. You’re simply trying to qualify the prospect and get them to commit to a sales meeting, thereby starting your sales cycle.
This involves having conversations, asking questions and building a relationship—having a direct conversation is one of the best ways to do these things.
There are many tried and true sales prospecting techniques that remain surprisingly effective. As explained above, cold calling is one of them. Email marketing is another.
According to Campaign Monitor, email marketing offers an ROI of 44:1, and it’s also 40x more effective at acquiring new customers than Twitter and Facebook.
Email sales prospecting offers a range of benefits, including:
- It’s easy to send hundreds or even thousands of emails simultaneously.
- You can contact multiple decision-makers from a single business in one go.
- You can use it to send prospects useful content regularly. This builds your credibility and presents you as a helpful source of information.
The downside of email is that you can’t ask too many questions or ask for detailed answers. If you do, the prospect is likely to ignore your email because it is too much effort to respond.
Sending good sales emails is a science, so it’s worth learning how to do it properly, but some basic tips are:
- Personalise your messages to each decision maker—don’t just send a generic message to all contacts.
- Create a compelling subject line that makes the recipient want to open the email.
- Use good quality data—this ensures that no messages are wasted in non-active inboxes.
Inbound sales prospecting is when you use content marketing with search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques to attract ideal customers. Potential customers will engage with your content because it solves a problem they have. If they like your content, they will sign up for a demo, free trial or more content.
When they do, they will be asked to fill in a form that asks them qualifier questions. This means your customers are partially self-qualified. The downside of this approach is that you can’t really have a detailed conversation with the prospect until they have signed up.
Inbound marketing also reflects the way that modern prospects engage with businesses. According to Marketing Profs, 94% of B2B buyers will research online before finalising a purchase. The Corporate Executive Board found that 77% of B2B purchasers won’t speak to sales reps until they have done their own research.
Social media is great for sales prospecting because it allows you to engage with audiences and groups of people who are interested in your industry.
The downside of social selling is it takes time. You can’t jump straight into a sales pitch—people will see that you are only interested in sales. You need to build relationships and credibility with online communities first.
But if you achieve this, then the rewards are great. You’ll be able to have relatively in-depth conversations with the people who need your solution. You’ll be able to learn about their challenges and prospect them effectively.
LinkedIn is particularly useful for B2B sales as it lets you directly contact and build relationships with decision-makers who might normally be unreachable.
Some tips for B2B sales prospecting on social media include:
- Add value: Spend time providing useful content and insight to groups and conversations where you can add value. Answer people's questions and engage with others.
- Personalise contact: When contacting potential customers, don’t send out the same generic message to everyone. Makes sure the message is personalised to that individual’s business challenges.
Help your sales reps prospect with Red Flag Alert B2B prospector
Red Flag Alert’s business database has detailed, up-to-date information on more than 300 million companies worldwide.
Our B2B Prospector tool makes the sales prospecting process quick and easy. It allows you to segment the market and precisely target businesses that match your ICP.
You can create sales lists of these contacts and feed them directly to your CRM, giving your sales team a constant flow of leads who are highly likely to buy. Get in touch with us today to find out more from one of our data experts.