Pretty much every business requires sales to stay afloat. Whether it’s merchandise, SaaS subscriptions, or other services, businesses need to sell their products and services to keep profits rolling in.
To do that, they need to find customers — and that’s where sales prospecting comes in. Here, we’ll go over what sales prospecting is and how you can use it to keep your business prosperous.
What Is Sales Prospecting?
Sales prospecting is the process of actively finding new customers that you can sell to, typically by reaching out to leads and attempting to make a connection.
Unlike lead generation and general marketing, sales prospecting typically occurs on a one-to-one basis: that means one sales rep reaches out to one lead at a time and makes a personal connection. Lead generation and marketing, on the other hand, generally attempt to reach large swaths of people at once.
Prospecting is usually carried out by sales development reps (SDRs) and business development reps (BDRs). While other parts of the sales process are concerned with closing on a sale, prospecting focuses on filling up a sales pipeline with qualified leads that account executives can then close on.
What’s the Difference Between Prospects and Leads?
The difference between prospects and leads can be a bit ambiguous, and not everyone agrees as to what separates them. That said, prospects are generally considered to be contacts that have expressed interest or engaged with your brand, while leads have not.
For example, if you found an email for a decision-maker at a company using an email finder tool, then that person is generally considered a lead: they haven’t engaged with you at all. Similarly, if someone filled out an email list signup form, they’d also typically be considered a lead.
However, a prospect is usually a lead who has also engaged with your brand in some way, perhaps by having an exchange over email. On the other hand, some businesses classify prospects as anyone who fits your buyer persona, so the differences can get pretty murky and unclear.
The 5 Steps in the Sales Prospecting Process
Although sales prospecting strategies vary, the overall process typically stays pretty much the same. The steps are:
The first step in any sales prospecting process is to research your leads. Usually, this includes qualifying them by asking yourself questions like:
- How well does this lead match our ideal buyer persona?
- Do we service their geographic location?
- What similar products are they currently using? Are they using a competitor’s product?
- Have they expressed any interest in becoming a customer in the past?
Once you’ve qualified your leads, you can start to prioritize and score them so that you can spend more time on the leads you think are most likely to become customers. You don’t need to forget about the lower-quality leads, but you can better understand where they fit into your pipeline this way.
2. Reach Out
Once you know who you’re selling to, it’s time to make the connection. You may choose to do this via email, phone, social media, or any other communication channel. Typically, your goal at this stage is to schedule a meeting.
If you’re reaching out via email, you can use tools like Right Inbox to save time with your outreach. Right Inbox allows you to save your emails as templates, so if you send out the same email to dozens of leads, you won’t have to write it from scratch every time — save it as a template and load it each time you send out an email. Then, just make changes and personalize it as needed.
If you lock down a meeting with your prospect, you’ll enter the next phase of the process. Here, your goal is to feel out the lead, understand what their needs are, and educate them on what your company can offer.
It’s important to note that you should also be trying to learn whether your lead is actually a fit, not just trying to pressure them into a sale. Selling your product to someone who doesn’t need it can end up being a bad look.
4. Follow Up
Sales don’t always happen during the first meeting. In fact, sales typically require several touch points before they go through, and customers often say no at first.
As a result, following up is of the utmost importance. You can manage your follow-ups manually, but modern sales and communication tools can help increase your efficiency by automating them for you.
Right Inbox, for example, allows you to pre-plan a sequence of emails that will automatically send as long as your lead doesn’t reply. Once you get a response, the sequence is canceled so that a sales rep can take over. Plus, it can also send you reminders, so even if you don’t use the automation features, it can help you stay on top of your follow-ups.
Although closing the sale isn’t necessarily part of the sales prospecting process, it is the ultimate goal. Whether you do it yourself or you hand it off to an account executive, this is where it leads to.
Why Is Sales Prospecting Important?
Now that we’ve got a general idea of what sales prospecting is, let’s take a look at why it’s important.
It Develops a Lineup of Potential Customers
Almost every business (with the exception of hedge funds and the like) depends on making sales to survive. And to make sales, you need to have customers.
Sales prospecting is focused entirely on putting together a pipeline of potential customers so that you can make the sales you need. While it’s possible to make sales without prospecting, actively going out and looking for customers gives you more opportunities and helps you develop connections.
It Helps You Understand Your Competition
Sales prospecting is all about connecting with potential customers and engaging them in conversations to qualify and, eventually, convert them.
However, sales aren’t the only benefits that come out of those discussions. In fact, even a conversation that goes poorly can provide great utility: your prospect might tell you what they like about your competitors or why they chose them over you.
This type of feedback straight from the horse’s mouth is invaluable, as it can tell you how you should redirect your efforts to win back the customers you’re losing to your competition.
It Helps Build a Stronger Relationship With Customers
The modern world can feel like a very disconnected and isolating place. Despite how pervasive social media is, in many ways, our society is less social than ever.
Given that cultural background, the direct human interactions that you make with customers as a sales prospector can go a long way towards building a stronger relationship with your customer base. Plus, it can help you better understand them, gather more data to qualify them with, and build a more profitable sales team.
4 Sales Prospecting Tips to Use in 2021
Once you’ve got your sales prospecting process laid out, here are four tips you can use to help you improve upon it.
1. Focus on Building Relationships
Even though closing deals is the ultimate goal, focusing on that can end up making you overly pushy, which isn’t ideal. Instead, concentrate on building strong relationships. When you have that in place, sales will naturally come out of your connections as long as you play your cards right.
2. Use Social Media to Your Advantage
One of the most important parts of sales is building trust — people are always more likely to buy from someone they believe. To create that sense of confidence, you can prove yourself to be a knowledgeable authority in your industry by answering questions and posting on social media sites, like Quora.
3. Understand Your Personas
Sales is an inherently social endeavor. To succeed, you’ll need to know how to act and react when dealing with different types of people. To prepare, study your buyer personas and make flexible game plans on how to approach each one.
4. Leverage Your Network
Most of the time, salespeople aren’t starting out from scratch, even if it may feel like it. When you begin prospecting, make sure you don’t overlook your network — you may have the perfect lead just waiting for you on your LinkedIn.
Sales prospecting is one of the first steps in the sales process. Its primary goal is to fill up your sales pipeline and ultimately make sales, but it can also strengthen customer relationships and help you understand your competition.
Tools like Right Inbox can save email templates, provide follow-up reminders, and automate email sequences, which can make you more efficient in your sales prospecting efforts.