The Ultimate Guide to Sales Prospecting

How does your sales crew approach their prospecting? For over 40% of sales professionals, it’s the most challenging part of the sales process. Even worse, prospecting has only become more challenging over time. Potential buyers are often inundated with hundreds of promotional emails on any given day. That’s why roughly 1 out of every 5 sales emails are opened, let alone further considered. Cold calls have fared a similar fate. From 2007 to 2013, the average number of cold calls required to reach a new prospect jumped from 3.68 to 8. On a day-to-day basis, these numbers can demoralize sales associates who are actively seeking out new prospects, especially if you are operating without a well-defined strategy. Between navigating multiple communication channels and individual conversations—all at different points on the funnel—to the research required to discover and tap into the right audiences, prospecting occupies a significant portion of the workweek. Couple the time, energy, and resources necessary with low conversion rates, and it’s not surprising that prospecting can generate significant levels of burnout across your department. Here’s the encouraging part: sales prospecting is as challenging as it is methodical. It’s an exact science—meaning that both success and employee engagement derive from the same tried-and-verified sales strategies. This is particularly true in the age of digital commerce, where technology has impacted customer behavior, business innovation, and—naturally—the sales process. This guide includes strategies that are foundational to successful prospecting, as well as some best practices for organizations looking to integrate these tactics into their existing sales methodology and grow their business.

1. Develop a Strategy-Driven Toolset

Just as today’s customers have a wide array of digital platforms at their disposal—social media, emailing, mobile apps, web surveys, site chatbots, and more—your sales team should utilize a comprehensive set of digital tools and technologies to maximize individual productivity levels and optimize your conversion potential. In fact, high-performing sales teams have been reported to use 3 times the amount of technology when compared to sales departments that have historically underperformed. The key is to find the right combination of tools to fully leverage the potential of your human workforce—which can make even smaller teams with fewer resources a well-oiled sales prospecting machine. Here are a few specific examples of technologies that you can include in your toolbox to increase sales intelligence and work on a larger scale. Great communication is vital to sourcing new sales opportunities, especially during the initial conversations between sales reps and prospective buyers. Counterintuitively, the most significant barrier to successful communication with potential customers is that there is an oversaturation of it, with a large number of voices and channels entering the mix. Over half of all companies operating today use at least 8 channels to engage with customers, meaning that your sales teams may spend an inordinate amount of time managing each of their prospecting channels. With messages coming from so many angles, consumers—who are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day—are inclined to ignore the next sales pitch that comes their way unless they are personally invested in the proposal. This requires sales teams to engineer new, creative alternatives for prospect communication that pique customer interest and help your organization stand out against competitors. Some companies that have struggled with traditional sales prospecting approaches—namely emailing and phone calls—have found their solution through web-based video conferencing. Compared to other digital communications, video chats offer a more humanized experience for buyers and allow sales teams to be fully persuasive, leveraging the tone of their voice, body language, and screen sharing during presentations. Another common pain point that technology helps address is in the procurement and management of sales analytics. This year, every person on the planet is projected to create 1.7 megabytes of digital information each second. For sales teams, data at this scale becomes a double-edged sword. While businesses will have a nearly limitless reservoir of customer insights to drive their strategy, massive quantities of data also make you highly liable to mistakes like relying on low-quality CRM data. The solution to a better relationship with your analytics relies on tools for sales forecasting. Forecasting integrations help automate the data-capture process by working in tandem with your inbox and customer relationship management software. The software relies on historical data points to help you optimize your sales process today and influence your decisions for success down the line with future prospecting campaigns.

2. Research, Research, Research

At the heart of prospect qualification lies your ability to effectively research. The process of understanding the individuals or businesses you might want to conduct business with is essential to identifying the right target audiences, validating your outreach messaging, and increasing the speed of your conversions for the maximum return on your work hours. Working with the “smarter, not harder,” mentality is particularly relevant when 50% of sales time is misspent on ineffective lead generation. Researching sales prospects before you call, chat, or email them begins with looking into the company itself. Online company databases that house hard-to-find information on private institutions are a great place to start, as they help prospectors locate and qualify their leads without devoting an entire day to research. As you begin to uncover information on these organizations, you should keep these questions in the back of your mind:
  • What are the values, missions, and goals that drive their business?
  • How large is the company, and how many people does it employ?
  • What types of products or services do they provide, and how does your sales proposition align with those offerings?
Understand, too, the organization’s competitive landscape:
  • How is this business performing compared to others on the playing field?
  • Why are they or are they not dominating the market share?
  • Is this company already partnered with one of your competitors, and what can you provide them to make the switch worth it?
The research phase of prospecting is also when you’ll want to prioritize your leads based on relevance and conversion likelihood. Searching for new deals requires sales team members to wear a number of hats—including researching, qualifying, outreaching, maintaining dialogue, following up, and closing the deal. Prioritization is the most effective method to avoid the at-times overwhelming nature of the job. If you have sales reps who struggle to convert their research into an actionable process, have them focus on mapping prioritization to your customer personas. Customer or buyer personas are fictitious personalities that embody the traits, behaviors, and demographics of a large portion of your audience. The leads that most align with your ideal personas are consequently the ones most likely to convert—and the ones that you should prioritize.

3. Remain Consistent and Adaptable

Too often, businesses consider consistency and adaptability at opposite ends of the same spectrum, when in reality both are required to create an operations strategy that is both repeatable and dynamic. To understand the value of consistency during sales prospecting, let’s examine this article by Salesforce, which highlights the typical day-to-day work of a sales professional. Of the 280 sales reps, leaders, and management surveyed, the largest percentage (36%) said the first thing they do every day is check their email. 46% believe that Tuesday is the best day of the week to connect with new potential buyers. Both of these numbers emphasize the role that consistency plays in a long, successful career in sales. Applying the same philosophy during prospecting, specifically, makes the process manageable and measurable. Create a weekly schedule that breaks down the number of hours you will dedicate to researching, cold calling, and emailing. Start each day by cleaning up your inbox and voicemail to capture any new leads that may have responded outside of business hours. Count the number of responses you receive—positive and negative—and track them on a weekly and monthly basis. Remain vigilant on your follow-up messages. Find what times of the day yield the best response rates and concentrate your outreach efforts within that time frame. At the same time, consistency should never compromise your ability to customize, curate, and adapt your approach on a case-by-case basis. Adaptability has everything to do with personalization—what makes one customer differ from another, and how you can shape your messaging to target these unique selling points. Some professionals argue that the personalized pitch is instrumental to modern sales tactics and the best way to secure customers who are unfamiliar with your company. Over 90% of shoppers are likely to purchase from brands that recognize them and provide relevant suggestions for future sales. Similarly, 70% of millennial shoppers are frustrated with companies that send them irrelevant marketing messages. For sales teams, an adaptable approach that considers customers at an individual level will help you win over these frustrated customers and promote loyalty for the years to come.

Final Thoughts 

The art of sales prospecting is not an easy one to master, particularly in these volatile times when so much of the business landscape is constant in its change. But by enforcing your sales process with a concrete plan of action, you’ll not only weather the storm but come out far ahead of your competition. How has your sales team found success during prospecting? If you are a leader, what tactics do you employ to boost motivation and engagement for those you oversee?

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