Sales Prospecting: What Is It and How To Do It Well - Clarity Stack Blog

Posted on 2 Sep 2022

9 minutes

Sales Prospecting: What Is It and How To Do It Well

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Sales prospecting is one of the most under-appreciated elements of a sales strategy as it’s actually the place that the whole campaign begins, or fails.

Finding prospects, or potential customers, is a lengthy process which requires plenty of research and a keen eye for detail.

The sales profession is a misunderstood one in many ways with those who have never worked in the sector convinced that it’s just a case of picking up the phone and cold-calling people, and the only skill you need is the ability to bounce back from rejection. This couldn’t be further from the truth as all sales professionals will testify. There are so many elements involved in a good sales strategy and everyone needs to be able to adapt their style according to the campaign and even on a prospect-by-prospect basis.

So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. We’ve written a lot before about prospecting, but believe it’s still something that a lot of people don’t fully understand or appreciate, so we’re going to go into detail about the process and how to do it so you can improve your sales skills and overall strategy for more effective campaigns.

What is sales prospecting?

So let’s start at the beginning. Sales prospecting is the process of identifying opportunities to go into a pipeline that can then be pursued in the coming days, weeks or even months. A prospect is also a potential customer and should always be viewed as such, but the key word there is ‘potential’ as not everyone is immediately interested in the product or service you’re looking to sell them. 

Every prospect is a potential sale so your ability to nurture leads is crucial as is your ability to listen as well as sell. Genuinely hearing what your prospect is saying in your conversation will help you to finetune your prospecting strategy with this particular prospect so you can adapt your tone, style and approach accordingly. You might need a softer, more long-term approach for some than you will for others, but during this process you will also find out whether someone is a genuine prospect or someone who will never be interested in actually buying. 

It’s this qualification process that you learn along the way, understanding the needs of your prospects and when someone is worth the time pursuing or whether you’re best to bring your relationship to an amicable conclusion. After all, you don’t want to spend time engaging with someone who simply isn’t interested or who doesn’t have the money - or decision-making power - to invest; when you could spend that time discussing your options with someone who does.

What’s the prospecting process?

In essence there is a four-step process to prospecting and how long that process takes depends on each and every engagement. It’s impossible to say that you can get someone successfully into and out of your pipeline in a specific time frame, so you need to be prepared to invest plenty of time and effort into your conversations.

The first stage in the process is sourcing your leads, and this is predominantly associated with your marketing team. The campaigns that they send out are targeted at specific audiences and utilise a variety of different channels including email marketing, paid social media campaigns, videos, podcasts and webinars.

Qualification is the second stage in the process, and is where the lead is handed over from the marketing team to the sales team. This is done either through a CRM system where a lead is entered and allocated to a sales person using an automation, or where a form is completed and a sales person is assigned. It’s then their responsibility to assess the lead and decide whether it’s one to pursue or someone with an ulterior motive such as to benefit from a promotion (like a free piece of content) without actually signing up for a subscription. 

This qualification process often takes a few days or even weeks as you reach out by email or phone and then wait for a response. If you don’t get a reply then you should attempt a follow-up call or email, or even a connection on platforms like LinkedIn, before you mark that lead as lost and move on. 

However, if that person responds or is happy for a conversation then you can usually get a good feel for their intentions and the likelihood of them converting there and then before you qualify them as a prospect or lost. 

Your qualification process should focus on key areas such as the customer profile and whether or not they’re the type of person or business you want to work with, if they’re in an industry you can service and if the contact is actually a decision maker or not. You don’t want to waste time showing someone with no power a demo, only to get shunned in a few weeks or to have to go through it all again with someone who can decide.

The third stage is when a prospect becomes an opportunity, someone who is genuinely interested in buying and wishes to hold further conversations even if they’re not ready or able to invest there and then. As mentioned earlier, some prospects take months to get over the line and that could be because they need sign-off from other departments or managers, or perhaps because they’re waiting for new budgets before they can spend any more on particular services. 

Then the final stage in the process is actually getting the person to convert, or call it a day as a closed but lost lead. After a number of back and forth conversations, perhaps even more than one demo of the product or a free trial, the person will either decide that the time is now right for them to convert or say thanks, but no thanks. 

So how do I prospect properly?

The prospecting process itself might only feature four key steps, but if you’re to do it effectively you need to use a variety of different methods and channels. 

  • Utilise professional social media networks

Platforms like LinkedIn are a great place to build professional relationships with people in decision-making positions in the businesses you want to work with. You have the ability to ‘follow’ people, and even comment on their professional posts as well as actually connecting with them, which then allows you to send direct messages to them. Having built a rapport makes it easier to have one-to-one conversations and to go into detail on pain points or topical debates. 

  • Identify different methods of communication

A few years ago everyone was easily accessible by email, but anyone in a decision-making position within a business finds their inbox packed full of communications from internal sources, customers or clients and then marketers trying to promote a service. As such it’s crucial that you find a way to get your message seen or your voice heard, so it might be the case that you have to get in touch through email, phone or social media - or even a combination of the three. 

At Clarity Stack one of the features that we offer as part of our subscription is access to fully GDPR and CCPA compliant contact information for individuals so that you have direct lines to their desk, their work email address and social channels so you can export this information into a prospecting list and find the method that works for you. At present our database is filled with more than 10 million contacts and this is only going to get larger, so you’re sure to find a way to reach your perfect prospect.

  • Use account-based marketing

Account-based marketing, or ABM, is a relatively new process but one that takes a much more personalised approach to outreach and prospecting. Taking the time to research the person you’re speaking to is far more likely to have an impact than a blanket “Hi, I see that you like coffee and jazz music, me too, want to try our free demo?” 

Instead, take the time to read up on some of the content they’ve published or book yourself onto their latest webinar, perhaps even download their podcast so you can feel as though you really do know the person and have something that you can discuss in detail. Being able to quote something they said in a podcast or a funny moment from their recent webinar will show them that you’ve given them your time and they are much more likely to reciprocate by giving you theirs. 

Sure, it’s way more time-consuming, but the data suggests that it’s far more effective, too.

  • Refer to your CRM system

This might not be the first time that someone in your business has reached out to a particular prospect or lead, so refer to any existing notes in your customer relationship management (CRM) system for help.

If there have been previous conversations then your team should have left notes on how that discussion went, copies of previous emails and other potentially useful information that could benefit your engagement this time around. You might also find that they want nothing to do with your business for whatever reason or simply don’t have the budget to spend and are therefore a very cold lead that you can leave well alone.

  • Keep the conversation going

Once you start your conversation, keep it moving in the way that you want it to. Listening is vitally important to help shape your whole approach as we mentioned previously, but it’s important that you steer the conversation towards a natural close - whether that’s a sale, or an end in discussions. 

If you offer or are asked to share a document or presentation, make sure that you follow-up on it and what else the person might need. 

You should also keep asking questions to ensure that the person and their business are a good fit for you - you don’t want a nightmare client on your hands after a few weeks!

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