A beginner’s guide to sales prospecting

For businesses to find success, they need to understand and actively hunt sales. In this article, Katie Deverill, operations manager at Company Check, offers some prospecting tips for businesses.

Prospecting is an essential part of an efficient sales process. In the traditional sense of the word, prospecting meant sifting through silt and dirt for nuggets of gold and other precious materials. Now, in the world 21st century business, we’re sifting through piles of leads to find the ones that are most likely to turn into paying customers.

Effective prospecting sits between lead generation and sales pitching as the glue that holds the two together. It is most important for businesses who pursue a smaller number of high value customers (especially in B2B sales), though its principles can be applied to broader sales strategies.

Finding the right tools

A prospector searching for gold needs to be prepared. They have to have the right tools and they need to know exactly what gold looks and feels like. In the same way, salespeople need to have the tools to gather data on their leads and they need to be able to identify what qualifies a lead as a genuine prospect.

For B2B businesses, your tools include social media profiles, like LinkedIn, that can tell you how big a company is, how old it is and what they’re objectives might be, and financial data from a site like Company Check that will give you an idea of the financial stability of the business. Less specific data is also available, such as that which you can obtain from Google Analytics (this is useful for seeing trends, but less helpful in evaluating a specific business).

Recognising the gold

All the data you gather and the research you carry out into your leads won’t help you unless you know what a good prospect looks like. This is where you should make use of demographic and psychographic insights from your best existing customers. Demographics tell you who is already buying your products or services (in terms of location, industry and the job roles of the people you deal with) and psychographics tell you why those businesses or people buy from you (telling you things like motivations and objectives).

By taking these insights from your best existing customers, you can use them as a reference point for the data you have from your leads to see which ones fit the bill. It is much more likely that these leads will turn into customers than the rest.

What’s the point?

Once upon a time, many people made a living out of gold. Now, many more people make a living out of sales. Good prospecting will allow you to spend more time on worthwhile leads, increasing your chances of success and cutting down hours wasted on pointless endeavours. More sales means more money for your business and less wasted time means a better ROI on each salesperson’s efforts.

From prospecting to pitching

Gold is always going to be valuable, but turning a good prospect into a customer takes a little more work. The prospecting process, however, sets you up for success. Before pitching to a potential customer, you know that they are in a position to benefit from your product or service.

As sales techniques have developed over the 20th century and into the 21st, the impetus to build trust with prospective customers has been combined with the need to show them how your product or service works for them. Good prospecting allows you to start the pitching process in a strong position. By demonstrating a good level of knowledge about a prospect’s business, you will be indicating to them that your pitch is thoughtful and meaningful, as opposed to a bog-standard email pitch that has been blasted out to hundreds of people around the country.

The insight that you have gained into their business’s needs will allow you to formulate genuine, persuasive reasons for why they should be interested in what you’re selling. This can inform a Challenger approach, whereby the salesperson is ready to deal with any objection that the customer could have, pushing back rationally but convincingly when they raise doubts, or a more conventional customer-centric approach that shows genuine concern for the customer’s needs.

Integrating sales and marketing

Account-based marketing is becoming more and more common for businesses who are targeting particular prospects. This is where marketing techniques are tailored specifically for each prospect, rather than trying to capture as much attention as possible. There is a clear overlap with the sales process and sharing the knowledge and the rationale behind the prospecting process will enable greater integration between the two teams.

As salespeople pitch over email, phone or in person, the marketing team can be following up with targeted ads, blog posts or social media posts that reflect and reinforce the messages that the sales team has been communicating. This means that, in the time between your conversations with representatives from the prospect business, those people will still be seeing consistent messages that subtly work to persuade them of what you’ve been communicating.

The end goal of all of this, both the sales-focused prospecting process and the wider integration between sales and marketing, is to increase the efficiency of employees and the ROI of the team as a whole. Good prospecting enables you to stop scrabbling around in the dirt and find those nuggets of gold that will make you real money.

Katie Deverill is operations manager at Company Check

See also: What to consider when building a sales team as a small business

A guide to more effective sales prospecting

Getting your foot in the door with a sales prospect is often the hardest part. Here, Steve Shergold, founder and managing director of Blufeather, presents a guide to getting in front of the right people for the sales pitch.

In the many years that I have chaired or been part of sales meetings, one of the most common comments I hear is, ‘Once I get in front of a prospect I know I can win the business, but the problem is how I get in front of them in the first place’.

Unless you are very lucky and you hit the right prospect at the right time, there is no easy answer to this problem, however if you plan and adopt a thorough account entry strategy you will get in front of more prospects that you want to get in front of, more often.

The first step to getting that initial foot in the door is good prospect profiling. This is easy to do, but in my experience many SMEs either don’t do it at all, or don’t do it well enough. Therefore they spend a lot of time trying to set up meetings with prospects that at best are a tough sale or worst will never buy. It sounds obvious, but you need to start with defining which prospects are most likely to buy your product or service.

To achieve this you need to ask yourself four key questions

1. Who do we want to sell to (your ideal prospect list)?

Criteria might include size of company, average sales value, your core competence closely matches their need (eg target the type of customers you already have experience with), who is the most likely prospect to help us make target (revenue or GP?)

2. Why do we want to work with them?

Reason might include strong track record within your target sector, product or service set matches prospect’s needs, they buy on value not price.

3. What do we have that they want?

A proven value proposition that delivers measurable business benefits.

4. Why would this company work with us?

We have a strong track record supported by case studies and reference sites.

Once you have completed this exercise you will have a list of prospects that have a need for your product, can afford it, would want to work with a company of your size and profile and most importantly a list of potential customers to whom you can offer real value.

Create value propositions that your prospects understand

The next step is to create value propositions, not only specific to the prospect and their business, but also to the individual or individuals who you are targeting within that organisation. For example, what the finance director sees as value will be quite different from the technical director. When creating value propositions, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, ‘if I was the finance director of this company what would be the best thing that our product/service could deliver?’ and then write out that proposition, not once, but five times, with a different angle each time.

Preparing the profiled prospect list and accompanying value propositions will give you real confidence when you call, knowing that you will be talking to the right prospect with a genuine win/win proposition. The reason you develop at least five value propositions for each prospect is so you can build value in the prospect’s mind, using email or leaving messages when you call. Research has shown that sales executives that make five or more calls to a prospect and leave value-based messages, as opposed to leaving messages about their company or products achieve 80 per cent more meetings than those who only attempt four or less.

Related: How do SMEs take the leap and scale with sales?

Focus your marketing budgets where it matters

SMEs have a limited marketing budget and all too often this budget is wasted trying to market to too wide an audience. Hence, another reason for doing your homework and spending time on profiling and developing value propositions is that any marketing activity you commission should focus on your target prospects and no one else. This then makes marketing decisions easy. Ask the question, ‘Does the marketing opportunity communicate my value proposition to my most wanted prospects?’ If the answer is no then don’t do it.

To become really successful in developing your sales and long-term sales pipeline you need to apply discipline and rigour to your prospecting and profiling. By building value on the basis of your prospect’s individual needs you will see amazing results, not only in terms of the number of meetings you create but also your closure rate will also improve considerably. Remember it’s quality not quantity. It’s better to focus on attending ten carefully qualified meetings that result in five new customers, rather than attend 50 poorly qualified meetings that result in a couple of lucky sales.

Further reading on selling to customers

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Freddie Halvorson

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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