7 Steps to Sales Prospecting for Beginners

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You’ve got the product, the service, the website and the socials. It was all hard work, but now is not the time to lean back and wait for customers to come to you. It’s time to go out in the world and find clients.

🚀Read: Customer Experience Guide: How to Put your Customers First? 🚀

Now, not everyone will be in your target group. And you don’t want to waste time, resources or energy on reaching out to people who will never be your customers. You’ll want to channel all of that energy on valuable prospects.

The Fine Art of Sales Prospecting

Sales is an art, but one that can be learned. And good sales is not just a bright smile and smooth talk. It’s what happens before that, picking out the targets, that defines the success of a good sales person.

It’s about finding out who and where your potential customers are. About finding out what they need and how you can convince them that you have that. Sounds hard? It doesn’t need to be. In this blog, we’re going to go over the basics of sales prospecting and give you the seven steps you can easily take to get started.

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What is Sales Prospecting?

Sales prospecting is the process of identifying potential customers to reach out to generate new business. The ultimate goal is to create a database of prospects your sales team can reach out to in a fitting way. 

You’re going to research what criteria your potential customers have to meet. And you will analyze how you can contact these people best. We call these people prospects, and here are some general criteria they should meet:

  • Fall in your target group
  • Have the means to buy what you’re selling
  • Make purchase decisions

Three times a yes? Then they go into your prospect database.

Is Sales Prospecting the Same as Lead Generation?

Not quite. While you are identifying potential customers with the goal of generating new business in both cases, lead generation and sales prospecting differ in a few ways.

First of all, sales prospecting is quicker, while lead generation is a more long-term plan. With sales prospecting, you instantly make a move on your prospect, with a first contact and sales pitches. With lead generation, you build a relationship for a while, without trying to make a sale. For instance, with a bunch of newsletters. The sales funnel is longer for lead generation.

Then the approach to the sales prospecting versus lead generation. In the first case, you will speak to people one on one, for example with cold calling. In lead generation, people can be approached a bunch at a time, for instance through content marketing.

Which of the two is right for you, completely depends on the kind of business you’re in and the clients you are dealing with. 

Read How Can Marketing Automation Make Your Business More Profitable?

Different Kinds of Prospects

Even though your prospects all match the same list of criteria, they are not the same. It’s important to define in which of the following categories each individual prospect belongs:

  • Cold prospect: someone who hasn’t shown any interest in your product/service. They might not even be aware of your existence.
  • Warm prospect: someone who has shown some interest in the type of product or service you’re selling.
  • Hot prospect: someone who really wants to buy your product or service.

Knowing what stage your prospect is in will help you with a strategy going into the conversation. Offering a cold prospect a discount straight away when they don’t even know your product won’t do much good, but on warm prospects it might work. Meanwhile, you’d be losing money on hot prospects who would buy at the standard price.

Sales Prospecting in 7 Steps

Step 1: Define Your Target Persona

Apart from the criteria mentioned earlier, it can be helpful to create a buyers’ persona to get to know your future customers better. 

This will not only help you define who you can reach out to, but in what way and with what information. In this persona, include information like:

  • Demographic information
  • Favorite (social) media channels
  • Pain points and struggles
  • Educational level
  • Goals 

Read Buyer Persona

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Picture 2. Target persona

Step 2: Research

Now you have a picture of what your prospects look like, it’s time to find the actual human equivalent of them. But how does one do that?

There are different sources for that. The better you get to know your prospects, the easier it gets to use the right sources. 

LinkedIn is great if you know their possible job titles. Trade shows work great if there’s a relevant one to your field. But you can also use social media and customer referrals to identify your prospects. 

One thing to keep in mind here is that you make sure that the people you find, are the actual decision makers or at least important influencers in the household or business they’re buying for.

Step 3: Prioritize the List

You’ll create a list of candidates that you will reach out to later. Do make sure that you’re keeping up with GDPR compliance when creating any kind of list with data from your prospects.

Once the list is complete, you’ll categorize all the prospects from cold to hot, and prioritize the ones you should reach out to first. 

Read How to Create a Value Ladder to Maintain Clients

Step 4: Pick Your Strategy

The way you reach out to your prospects should be based on their persona; what channels would they like you to use? When picking a strategy, choose their viewpoint over your own convenience. Yes, e-mailing might be easier than calling, but we’re going for effective, not easy.

We distinguish two types of prospecting techniques: inbound and outbound. Take a look at some of the strategies that there are and take your pick on the best one for your situation.

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Picture 3. Picking a corresponding sales strategy is crucial

Outbound Sales Prospecting:

Outbound simply means that you will be reaching out to the potential customers. Some techniques for this are:

  • Cold calling: yes, good old picking up the phone and delivering a sales pitch. It is reasonably outdated, but in some markets still very much relevant and effective.
  • Social spamming: as people are becoming more hesitant to pick up the phone when they don’t know the number, sales reps have moved to social media. With this tactic, they’ll simply shoot you a message there.
  • Drop-in: a bold move! With drop-ins, you simply go to your prospect and have a face-to-face interaction. 

Inbound Prospecting:

With inbound prospecting, you lure the customers in. That’s right: they come to you! Don’t be fooled though, getting them to that point is hard work, and you will have to set up a solid CRM to keep track of everyone. 

One of the most effective inbound prospecting strategies nowadays is social selling, and social media is the place to be for this. Simply put, you get to know your prospects via their social channels, and make a connection. You don’t simply jump in with a sales pitch. 

The benefit of social selling is that when you reach out, you’ll have a much more tailored message than you would with cold calling. Key is to make sure your own profile shows you are a trustworthy expert in your field. So write articles, engage with posts and be up to date!

Read Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: Which Is Better?

Plan Ahead

Especially when working with a team, it’s good to make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to strategy and tactics. Create a plan beforehand, using a project charter template, to make sure everybody knows the script and your prospects’ customer journey is a smooth ride.

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Picture 4. Arrange a plan with your team

Step 4: First Contact

Whether you go inbound or outbound, cold calling or warm emailing, the first contact should never be just about you—even if it’s a quick sales pitch. Here are some things to keep in mind when first reaching out to your potential customer.

  • Make it personal: show your prospect that you understand what they are looking for and what their pain points are. Talk about the problems they are having and only then mention how you could solve this. 
  • Help, don’t sell: this is a big one to keep in mind. Don’t approach a conversation as ‘how can I sell this product’, but ‘how can I help this person?’. Your prospect will notice the difference, trust us.
  • Be human: whether it’s over the phone, in person or online, show your human side! People don’t buy from computers (or robot-like people), we buy from other people. Also remember that you are speaking to another person, even if it’s a B2B sale you’re trying to make. Keep it light and make the other person feel comfortable.

Step 5: Build Relationships

If your prospect didn’t buy on the spot or first try, it doesn’t mean you should just move on to the next one. If you feel there could be a match, try scheduling a follow up or dig deeper to understand their pain points

It helps to record the exchange between the sales rep and prospect, if you can do this in a GDPR-compliant way. This can be valuable information for the future to see how you can help other prospects better.

Step 7: Analyze and Adapt

Don’t expect to get it right the first time, and even if you do—there’s always room for improvement. Take a look at the goals you set and the results you booked over the last few months and analyze it. 

This will help you become better and better at sales prospecting and selling. Collect it all in one place using a report maker and create documents and guidelines for your sales employees, so you’re all on the same page. 

Read 9 Key Technologies That Enable Customer Data Analysis

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Picture 5. Analysis helps you become better

Ready? Set. Sell!

Getting started with sales prospecting can seem like a daunting task, but after that first sale you’ll create momentum and will sharpen your techniques with each call or message.

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7 Steps to Sales Prospecting for Beginners was last modified: March 2nd, 2021 by Martina Pranjic
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