B2B Sales Prospecting Guide
Noel Hooban 29th January 2018
What if you could fill your B2B sales pipeline with nothing but the best potential clients?
Filling your sales pipeline is the core goal of B2B sales prospecting. By using the right prospecting tools and techniques, you can give yourself better odds at landing new accounts and driving revenue.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about prospecting. From the term definitions to the best methods of prospecting in sales, we will cover it all. Read on to unlock the considerable benefits that smart prospecting strategies can bring to your business.
- What Is Prospecting?
- Lead Prospecting vs. Sales Prospecting [jump here]
- Why Lead Prospecting Matters [jump here]
- How to Start Prospecting: Tools and Tips You Can Start Using Today [jump here]
- Importance of following up with your prospects [jump here]
- Building Your B2B Prospecting Database [jump here]
- Is Your Prospecting Database “Up To Scratch”? [jump here]
What Is Prospecting?
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: the definition.
Unlike other terms in the B2B marketing world, there is some confusion about what exactly “B2B prospecting” means. The confusion is largely born out of the fact that the terms “prospect” and “lead” are often used interchangeably. As a result, many people assume that B2B prospecting is just another term for lead creation.
Prospecting is just the first part of lead generation. Think of it this way: leads are clients or customers who have expressed some level of interest in your brand, your product, or your service. Prospects, meanwhile, are potential clients who have not yet expressed interest in your brand. In most cases, these prospects fit your buyer persona or target market like a glove. They just haven’t had any touchpoints with you or your business yet. In fact, prospects might not even know your brand exists!
Prospecting, then, is the process of building a list of prospects with the goal of turning them into leads. Ultimately, you want your prospects to move through the sales pipeline and convert into customers. When you invest in prospecting, you are investing in the development of new business opportunities.
B2B prospecting is about finding high-potential contacts that may benefit from your product or service. Capitalizing on this potential is a powerful way for B2B companies to generate revenue.
Lead Prospecting vs. Sales Prospecting
A big source of confusion around the definition of B2B prospecting is that there are strictly two types. There’s sales prospecting; and lead prospecting. These two terms do not mean the same thing and should not be used as such.
Lead prospecting is about finding potential clients that have not expressed interest in your brand yet. These clients may well buy your product or service if you court them. First, you need to research them, make the first contact, and start building a relationship. Lead prospecting is a pre-qualification process, where you determine which companies have potential and which don’t.
Sales prospecting, meanwhile, is the process of qualifying existing leads. Just because a company passes the pre-qualification process doesn’t mean it is a qualified lead. The company might have existing contracts that preclude it from buying your product or service. Or, the business might have other financial priorities and no money to spend on what you are selling. Sales prospecting is about taking existing prospects and leads and defining which ones are most likely to buy your product.
Why Lead Prospecting Matters
For this guide, we are talking about lead prospecting. It is an oft-ignored part of the B2B sales process, but an essential one. After all, you can’t get to the lead prospecting stage without first filling the pipeline with prospects.
Here are three reasons why lead prospecting is helpful to the success of your B2B enterprise:
1. It keeps a steady stream of leads coming into your sales funnel
Ideally, as your company grows and evolves, you will establish numerous client accounts that deliver consistent revenue. Even with well-established accounts in place, no B2B firm can rest on its laurels. You need to be constantly on the lookout for new potential sources of revenue. B2B marketers, particularly those working in very specific market niches, sometimes assume there aren’t any potential clients they haven’t approached yet. This belief is a fallacy. Every day, there are new startups coming into your niche. There are always organizations expanding into your market or your geographic radius. Clients who have opted to buy from you in the past are starting to look for the solutions you provide. Lead prospecting is about rounding up these potential sources of revenue and shooting them into your sales funnel.
2. It improves the quality of the leads you are using
Part of what’s so terrific about lead prospecting is that it acts as a screening stage for your leads. One of the daunting parts of B2B marketing is that you have all these businesses in your industry that you could target. Lead prospecting cuts down the field by only bringing high-potential clients into your funnel. You may find as you contact these prospects that some are duds. However, by filling your pipeline with companies that fit into your target niche and buyer personas, you give your marketers and sales staff better leads to work with. Better leads mean more conversions, and more conversions mean more money.
3. It identifies and develops new business opportunities
Every business is looking for the next thing: the next step, client, innovation, and the next big moneymaker. This constant focus on what is “next” can be daunting and overwhelming. Lead prospecting is a consistent and low-stress way to keep an eye on the future of your company while still focusing on what’s happening now. Your prospects may pan out or they may not, but at least you have a stream of new business opportunities to explore and develop.
How to Start Prospecting: Tools and Tips You Can Start Using Today
We get it: the entire concept of lead prospecting sounds a little amorphous. Sure, it makes sense to pre-qualify leads and to keep your sales funnel packed. The big question is, how can you start applying these strategies to your campaign? How do you take the theoretical benefits of B2B prospecting and make them practical? Here are three power strategies to help you get started:
The scenario: You are working with a company in your niche, and the relationship is developing strongly. The client is clearly happy with the product or service you have provided and is seeing big benefits from it.
The tip: The moment you think your client has reached peak satisfaction with your product or service, ask for a referral. You might know a lot about your industry or market, but your client may know things you don’t. They are out there in the trenches every day, collaborating, competing, and relating with dozens of other brands that you’d love to land. Asking a satisfied client for referrals is a terrific way to capture these new prospects. In some cases, you might get a list of companies to contact. In other cases, your client might reach out to a few other companies and connect you directly. Either way, these referrals are terrific ways to add new prospects to your funnel. Don’t worry about alienating current clients, either. Anyone in business is going to understand your drive to develop new leads.
2. Social Media
The scenario: Social media can be beneficial in several scenarios, both as a tool for lead generation and as a sales prospecting technique. Perhaps you are trying to identify new prospects, generate inbound leads, or establish your brand as one that companies will recognize when you start reaching out. Maybe you have a prospect that you are trying to qualify as a lead or move toward conversion.
The tip: Treat LinkedIn like your best friend. For B2B companies, LinkedIn is the social network. Simply being more active on LinkedIn can boost your brand profile and draw likely inbound prospects and leads to you. Post frequently, sharing your own content as well as industry articles you find interesting. Join groups related to your market niche or the products/services you offer. Search for companies that fit your buyer persona and scour their profiles for information. All these strategies can help you identify new prospects for your funnel. Even once you move on to sales prospecting and lead nourishment, LinkedIn continues to be useful. Follow your prospects, monitor their posts and updates, and try to learn more about them. For everything from lead qualification to pitch strategy, LinkedIn is a goldmine of useful information.
The scenario: Maybe you are just getting started in a new market and know very little about the companies you will be targeting. Perhaps you are prospecting for the first time in a while, and the landscape of your industry has changed. In any case, it’s time to do some homework. Research may sound boring or basic, but it is the single most important lead prospecting tool.
The tip: Hit Google and start searching. You know your target industry and your target market, and you know your preferred buyer persona. Start searching these terms in Google, along with county, state, or city names that relate to your geographic radius. Right away, you should start finding likely clients. As you learn more, you can start cutting out unviable prospects and focus on those with the most potential. For instance, looking at demographics and firmographics can tell you whether a company really fits your niche. You might serve companies from a few different markets, but be more familiar with one market than the others. You should prioritize the prospects in this market because they will probably be easier for you to pitch and convert.
This exploratory sensibility should carry over to your sales prospecting. You can find out a lot about a potential client before ever contacting them, which is helpful for lead prospecting. However, there are key pieces of information you probably won’t learn until you make the first contact. These details include organizational goals and plans, specific pain points, timeline/intent to buy, and budget. Your sales prospecting team can use these tidbits to qualify leads further and eliminate prospects that aren’t workable. For leads that do qualify, the information can be used later for ABM.
Importance of following up with your prospects
I remember it like it was yesterday. His presentation was incredible. The product he was selling was genuinely useful and exciting. I wrote my name and all my contact information down as an interested party and took his business card. After leaving the shopping centre, there was a small lingering interest in the product – I even mentioned it to my partner and said I’d probably get hold of the man in the morning. By the next morning, life distracted me and I forgot to call… and so did he.
Several months later, I discovered the business card in the bottom of my handbag; I struggled to place it for a few moments, then remembered, oh, yes, it was for that product, the one that went on sale in the shops a few weeks ago and I bought one. Silly man, if he’d just called, I would have bought it there and then for a higher price than I ended up paying retail – it was just that useful.
I see this happen in sales all the time. Whether it’s a retail product, a corporate service or a technical product suite, the salespeople come and give stellar presentations, really stir up interest in their product or service. They leave the potential client to consider their options and then simply don’t call or email back. Interest wanes, or day-to-day work distracts the client and by the time someone else comes along with a similar product or service, they’re ready to buy – just not from the original person.
Following up is probably the most important element of the entire sales process.
Yes, it’s vital to know tour product, do a good presentation, answer all the questions correctly and build a relationship, but if you don’t follow up, the chances are incredibly good that you will lose sales.
But why is that? Simply put, your product or service is not the client’s number one priority – selling their own is. They are busy trying to make their own businesses work, and while your service might help them do that, there are other people who provide similar enough services and products to help them. People may enjoy your presentation but they won’t spend the next several weeks thinking of nothing else and will forget you before moving on to the next service or product provider.
So how often should you follow up?
At least three times is a good rule of thumb. The first follow-up should be a friendly email thanking them for their time and including a (very brief) recap of your product or service. If they had any questions you were unable to answer at the presentation, now is the time to answer them. This first communication should go out within twenty-four hours of your meeting.
The second communication’s timing can be tricky; it helps to establish a time-frame at the end of your initial meeting, though.
Top tip: don’t ask them when you should call, tell them when you will call – always take control of the situation! Before the scheduled call, send your second communication – and email reminding them that you will be calling them tomorrow and that if they have any further questions before then, they are welcome to call or email you.
The third communication should be the follow-up call to find out their decision.
Of course, this follow-up doesn’t only go for sales meetings, it goes for the original prospecting as well. Once you have sent out your prospecting emails, sales letters, flyers, whatever, make a point of sending the second communication, or making a phone call, to find out whether they are interested in finding out more, or even just making a purchase right away. Following up happens at every step of the sales process and will make the difference between success and failure in sales.
Building Your B2B Prospecting Database
As you research prospects, qualify them, and work toward turning them into leads, you need a place to store all that B2B data you’re accumulating. Maintaining a prospecting database is a must.
Your prospecting lists should be full of information. Contact details, job titles of key influencers or decision-makers, firmographics, technographics, and geographic locations are just the starting point. As you learn more, you will want to add information about pain points, intent to buy, and prospect priority. Slowly, you can build this document from a prospecting mail list into the master document for all your client interactions. Your lead prospecting and sales teams can then consult this database repeatedly, as can your sales representatives.
You can build your B2B prospecting database from scratch if you like. Following some of the strategies listed above—such as scouring LinkedIn or spending some concentrated time on Google—is a clever way to start. You can also consider buying a prospecting mail list. Buying a B2B database from a reputed data vendor gives you a head start on the lead prospecting process. You’ll already have a list of companies, so you will be free to start researching, pre-qualifying, and prioritizing them.
At Leadiro, we are a company that sells prospecting databases. By letting you search and filter contacts based on location, industry, and other facts, we make it easy to build a prospect list quickly. You can then export this data to get started on prospecting or to combine our data with your pre-existing list. Armed with detailed and up-to-date data, you will be ready to start prioritizing prospects and get moving on lead generation.
Is Your Prospecting Database “Up To Scratch”?
If your business is involved in B2B marketing then you know how useful a prospecting database of potential customers is to you. However, it is vital that the database of prospects has accurate and meaningful information so that your sales staff are maximising every opportunity. If it is not, sales become harder to achieve and that can lead to an unhappy workforce that could affect the profitability of your business that you have no doubt worked hard to build.
So, let’s have a look at some of the things you need to consider to ensure that your database is as up to date as possible;
Why review the database?
Quite simply, to make sure that all the information is accurate. For instance, are the phone number, e-mail address, text number and postal address up to date? This enables you to use different ways of contacting a prospect. You know how beneficial it is to contact a named, decision maker in the business you are prospecting so their name and title also need to be up to date.
Many prospecting databases have duplicate contact details so this needs to be cleaned up.
How often do you review your database?
You would not be the first business owner to admit that your staff have been working from the same, un-altered prospecting list for the past couple of years.
However, it is important that the prospecting database is reviewed and updated periodically depending upon how frequently the database is used to prospect. Of course, this is not a particularly exciting task but nevertheless, it is an important one and will prove beneficial for everyone connected with your business. Remember, the more frequently this is done the easier it becomes each time.
Quality over quantity?
Much as it is lovely to have a prospecting database of thousands in front of you, the reality is that only a small percentage of them will be quality prospects that could lead to profitable sales. There is no point in having the contact details for a business that would have no interest in what your business is selling. Working from a poor quality prospecting database is not good for your sales staff who will become disheartened with the long list of refusals they receive. Far better to work from a database that has a high percentage of quality prospects.
Keep records of communications with prospects
If you speak with a prospect or exchange e-mails and, let’s say, agree to contact them again in 6 months time make sure that you have a diary system in place to ensure they are contacted at the allotted date. Make a brief note of what was discussed as this helps foster the relationship with a prospect when you refer back to the contents of that conversation during your next contact with them.
You must ensure that you comply with the requirements of the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS) as well as the Data Protection Act. Don’t make calls to prospects that are registered with the CTPS or you could face a fine of up to £500,000. You need to have a system in place to ensure those prospects are not contacted.
Of course, there is an excellent alternative to doing some of the above things and that is to purchase a prospecting b2b database from a reputable provider. In this way, you will have a quality, compliant, current and hygiene list saving your business a considerable amount of time and help increase your sales and profitability.
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Head of Sales and Customer Support – Noel heads up Leadiro’s global online sales and support function from our Portlaoise office. Noel sets the vision for Leadiro’s online community of sales and marketing professionals and enjoys keeping up to date with the latest sales techniques.