Prospecting is one of the most labour-intensive aspects of the sales process, but it’s also a crucial sales activity that all reps should be doing to ensure they meet their targets each month. Time and targets are constant concerns for people in sales; it can feel like there’s not enough time in the day to generate the numbers they need to hit targets. Effective prospecting can help salespeople proactively and productively identify opportunities to help them hit their quotas. In this blog post, we’ll be looking at some best practices for identifying, prioritizing and connecting with potential customers to accelerate the sales process.
What is prospecting?
Prospecting is the process of identifying potential customers or prospects. The term refers to “prospectors,” or the people who sift through creek beds and rock formations looking for gold and other mineral deposits. Today’s salespeople are doing just that, sifting through social platforms, websites, databases and lists of contacts to find potential customers who might be interested in their products and services.
One of the challenges with prospecting is that it’s part of a larger demand generation responsibility shared by an organization’s Sales and Marketing team. Neither Sales nor Marketing should be responsible for finding and attracting 100% of new customers. Instead, this should be a joint initiative with clear guidelines on who is responsible for what.
An internal service level agreement (SLA) can be useful tool for specifying how many leads or prospects each team is responsible for generating, how and when they should engage with potential customers and clear timelines and targets. Here are some examples of terms you could include in your SLA:
- Marketing is responsible for 70% of demand generation (leads) and Sales is responsible for 30% (prospects)
- Sales will follow-up with leads assigned to them within 24 hours
- The target win/loss ratio for Sales is 1:5 which means for every five deals closed, one will be closed won
- Sales will reassign leads back to Marketing if they follow-up with a lead and do not hear anything back within 30 days
- When Sales reassigns leads back to Marketing (people who may not be ready to purchase just yet), Marketing will nurture them on an ongoing basis
The Difference Between Leads and Prospects
Before we look at how to go about prospecting, we should note the difference between two terms used to define potential customers: leads and prospects. You’ll often hear leads referred to in marketing and prospects referred to in sales.
Leads are potential customers who’ve expressed interest in a business, solution or service based on their behaviour. They may have visited the company website, subscribed to the blog, followed the company on social media or downloaded a digital resource. Your Marketing team is responsible for generating leads, tracking them and, when appropriate, passing them to Sales.
Prospects are also potential customers, but they haven’t expressed direct interest in your company or product. They may have had limited engagement, but they wouldn’t be considered a lead. A prospect is a potential customer who could become a qualified opportunity based on how they align with your buyer personas. Your Sales team is responsible for identifying these potential customers based on information about your target audience and proactively reaching out.
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with leads or prospects, your goal is the same: you want to connect with possible buyers and nurture them until they’re ready to purchase.
What do you need for effective prospecting?
There are two key pieces of information that you need to go out and effectively identify prospects. The first is a clear understanding of your value proposition. What are the unique benefits of your solution? Competitive differentiators should be a key part of your talk track, which means you should have at least a cursory understanding of the different feature sets of your competitors’ solutions. Knowing how to position your product in relation to the larger market will help prospects understand the value of what you have to offer.
Your buyer personas are the second piece of information you should have at your disposal when prospecting. Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer based on actual research and some educated assumptions. They tell a story about your ideal customers, including information like age, location, salary, education as well as more job-specific details like their goals, challenges and watering holes (where they go for information). Knowing who your ideal customers are will help you narrow down your search and craft compelling introductory messages that anticipate their pain points and demonstrate how you can help solve them.
Prospecting in 2018 and Beyond
Educating prospects on how your solution can help address their challenges is an important part of the sales process. A recent study by Forrester showed that 60% of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep as their primary source of information; 68% prefer to do their own research online; and 62% say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list based solely on digital content (Source).
The new normal for Sales means B2B buyers are less motivated to pick up the phone or send an email to speak with a salesperson. Today’s digital buyer is more informed than ever and more inclined to make decisions based on their own research as opposed to insights a sales rep can provide.
This is why traditional transactional sales may no longer be the most effective way to sell solutions like managed print services. Your sales strategy needs to take these figures into consideration. A consultative approach that involves asking questions and building trust will help you and your Sales team better identify your prospects’ problems, demonstrate how your solution can help and sell them on the value of MPS.
Prospecting Best Practices
Here are some sales tips for you and your team to consider when reviewing your sales strategy and developing a plan for prospecting:
- Use all the tools available to you to identify potential customers. Sales and marketing professionals are expected to go where their customers are and increasingly, that place is online. Use all the sites and platforms at your disposal to search for prospects. Your buyer persona’s watering holes will provide you with a starting point. Consider social media sites (consult with your Marketing team to identify and follow popular hashtags in your space and see who’s posting), comment sections on blogs and websites, industry events as well as popular organizations and associations in your industry.
- Research your prospect. Knowing your target audience is important but so is having specific knowledge of each prospect. Who are they? What company do they work at and what are their responsibilities? This will help you identify potential challenges and show how your solution can help them. What do they like to talk about? Check out their social profiles and see what topics interest them. You may be able to use this information when crafting your personalized introduction.
- Develop a compelling, individualized first message. Whether you’re calling someone, leaving a voicemail, reaching out on social media or sending an email, you should have a personalized message that provides a compelling reason for your prospect to respond. We all know how busy everyone is, so brevity is important. Your introduction should be concise, clear and engaging so people know why you’re reaching out, what you have to offer and what the value is to them.
- Be flexible, but follow-up. Always, always, always follow-up. Between meetings, emails and phone calls, there’s a lot of noise you have to contend with to capture your prospect’s attention. You don’t want to harangue them, but gently remind them that you’re available whenever they are. Working around their schedule gives you the best chances of scheduling a follow-up call.
- Qualify and prioritize. Once you’ve had the opportunity to speak with your prospect, use the conversation to guide your next steps. Be sure to ask qualifying questions that enable you to determine if they match your target audience and gauge their interest. This information will help your effectively prioritize the opportunities in your funnel to help you meet your sales targets.
Although it can be very time-consuming, effective prospecting can provide Sales with significant opportunities. From building brand awareness to closing deals, prospecting can contribute to an organization’s revenue and create market noise. It’s a crucial part of the sales process that can be simplified by implementing some best practices.
For more information on prospecting, download our free MPS Sales Toolkit! It includes our tips for drafting an effective introductory message as well as our qualifying scorecard to determine how warm or cold a potential customers is.