The Definitive Prospecting Guide for Sales Management to Grow Pipeline
Prospecting to generate sales leads is one of the most important jobs of the modern sales professional. In fact, if you ask any sales leader what their teams struggle with the most (and I have), they would say it’s prospecting, especially now that virtual selling is the norm.
Actually, we asked this question to our LinkedIn network at two different points in time and here are the results of the polls.
In June 2020, 59% of sellers said the hardest part of selling was prospecting.
In April 2021, the percentage of sellers who said prospecting is the hardest part of the sales cycle increased to 68.5 %.
So, why is prospecting is the most challenging part of the sales process? Here are a few reasons:
- Your potential customer is incredibly busy and distracted — there is such an overload of information out there that their brains automatically filter out any kind of sales pitch (unless they are actively shopping for your solution).
- Most sales messaging today sounds the same (just look at your inbox or InMail), as sellers are using the same lines and tricks as everybody else.
- The sheer amount of competition is mind-numbing and buyers have so many options to choose from that your solution may now be considered a commodity.
How can your sales reps stand out from the crowd and start building their sales pipeline? You need prospecting techniques that will actually work with the modern buyer. And this is what this prospecting guide is all about.
What is Prospecting?
Prospecting is the process of starting sales conversations. In other words, the sales prospecting definition would be finding, engaging, and connecting with potential customers who may be a good fit for your business, in order to help them solve a business problem and convert them into paying customers.
Prospecting in sales is crucial because without sales conversations the rest of the process won’t begin. They say nothing happens until someone sells something. I say, however, that nothing happens until a sales rep leads a prospect to a sales conversation.After reading this, I understand nothing happens until a #SalesRep leads a #prospect to a #sales conversation. Great article, strategies, tools, and techniques to convert prospects into customers! 👏🏼 Click To Tweet
This can be daunting for a novice or experienced sales rep charged with hitting a quota monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly.
When it comes to prospecting several questions come to mind of the sales leader:
- Where do my reps start?
- How can they find, engage and connect with people who actually need the products or services they are selling?
- What medium is the best channel to engage with today’s modern buyers?
Sales Prospecting Techniques
Success, in my experience, will rely heavily on the approach a salesperson uses. Old school prospecting like cold calling may still work at times but it’s a numbers game (it takes about 8 calls to get someone to pick up the phone and that’s just one touchpoint). For that reason, we teach sellers in our LinkedIn training to subscribe to omnichannel prospecting for the best sales success while prospecting.
So, what is omnichannel prospecting? It means using every sales strategy, every tool and every channel to engage and connect with prospects. Why? Because buyers respond to sales outreach on different mediums differently.
Here’s one example with my three executive leaders. One prefers for me to send text messages, the other prefers a phone call and the other prefers engagement on social media.
In all cases, however, the goal is to turn every online engagement into an offline conversation regardless of the medium by which a buyer and seller engage with each other.
We call it the C2C or converting a connection to a conversation. This is one of the principal lessons we teach on how to start a conversation on our Selling with LinkedIn course.
In a remote selling environment, omnichannel prospecting is even more important. Here’s some data about what’s happened since March 2020:
This means that we need to be prospecting across all available channels.#Sellers have to prospect across all channels, marketing emails, virtual events, sales calls, and ads! Great prospecting guide in this article for #SalesReps to stand out from the crowd and build their sales pipeline with the… Click To Tweet
How to Do Prospecting Right
Even if you’re old school, and you LOVE the telephone and cold calling, your team still needs a digital presence. As sales leaders, it’s our job to ensure our sellers learn how to prospect like a boss and with the least amount of friction.
Whether they’re communicating with their connections online or not, customers are searching for information online (ever heard of Google?), asking their peers in social forums, engaging on social media, and consuming videos at least weekly.
In fact, I discuss the four cardinal attributes of today’s digital-centric buyer in another article. These four ingredients for modern sales success must be considered when teaching your sellers how to prospect and develop the prospecting sales plan.
You also must consider that when your sellers extend outreach approximately 62% of their decision-maker buyers will look at your seller’s profiles. They’re also likely to be deciding if they want to take their calls, schedule a meeting with them, or turn down their request based on their LinkedIn Profiles.
We must ask ourselves, are our sellers missing prospecting opportunities by not having a strong digital sales presence?
Learning how to prospect for sales, by creating new conversations, thus growing the sales pipeline means implementing a digital sales plan in addition to leveraging traditional methodologies. It also includes teaching our sellers to leverage correctly, all of the remote sales tools available to us for an omnichannel approach to prospecting.
Lead Generation versus Sales Prospecting
What is the difference between lead generation and sales prospecting?
While leads are people who have shown some or a lot of interest in your company, either by visiting your website, downloading an ebook or subscribing to your newsletter, a sales prospect is a target lead and must be someone who matches your buyer persona and is most likely to buy from you.
Lead generation is a marketing activity that attracts people to your company and gathers data in the hopes of turning those leads into sales-ready prospects, also known as a sales-qualified lead or SQL. This is a one-to-many approach, where there is not a conversation yet, but only engagement with inbound marketing assets such as blog posts, videos, whitepapers, case studies, social media posts, and the like.
Lead generation is something that happens at the top of the sales funnel.
Sales prospecting, on the other hand, is generally a one-to-one approach conducted by the sales team and both have the same objective — create a qualified lead by trying to engage with a qualified prospect.
Sales prospecting has a very targeted approach. For example, at Vengreso we expect the Marketing team to produce 40% of all sales leads through general marketing efforts (inbound, SEO, paid, demand generation, PPC, etc.). The other 60% comes from our sales team.
Each month, the RVP of Sales at Vengreso, develops a set of top 10 accounts they are targeting, plus a set of top 30 mid-market and low end enterprise accounts that their Market Development Managers will target to book appointments for them. This is done monthly and the sole focus each month is to penetrate each of those accounts. It’s a hyper-focused prospecting plan which bridges together the traditional outreach with the digital sales strategy and outreach.
Sales Prospecting Template
At Vengreso, we have developed a comprehensive sales prospecting template and cadence. It is totally integrated into our marketing workflows and sales CRM for all inbound sales qualified leads and for target outbound prospecting.
For example, in order to begin a sales cadence we built sales work queues within the CRM. These queues live within the CRM. Each day a seller opens the CRM and begins working each queue and all “open” tasks due for that day. This allows the sales prospector to focus on one single type of task at a time albeit targeting different buyers.
Having a seller focus for 30 minutes (example only) on phone calling, then social engagement, then creating videos messages, etc., allows the best use of a sales prospectors time, focus and attention. They aren’t bouncing around from a call then to an email then to a video message then to a social engagement.
The category queues we have created, will be used for assigning tasks associated with the cadence to the rep in some cases by automation workflow for both inbound and/or outbound target accounts and buyers.
The sales prospecting template, queue or categories we built are:
- Connection Request
- Evangelist Referral
- Digital Sales Assessment
- Direct Mail
- LinkedIn Welcome Message
- LinkedIn Voice Message
- Lost Deal Follow Up
- Mutual Intro Request
- Social Touch
- Text MSG
- Video MSG
The next question is how do we use these sales categories for developing sales cadences for the most effective prospecting?
The Right Sales Cadence
Sales cadences are difficult to develop, but with research, tweaking and testing, leaders can find something that will help deliver sales results. Triggering a sales cadence is done one of two ways. The rep can trigger a workflow within the CRM to build a set of tasks associated with either inbound or outbound or, if it’s an inbound lead, it will be automatically built for them via workflows set up between our marketing automation or sales CRM and sales engagement tools like Salesloft, Xant, Outreach, or VanillaSoft.
For Vengreso, each step in the cadences of our sales prospecting template and plan is tied to one of the queues listed in the section above.
Check out this podcast episode where I talk about the Dos and Don’ts of modern sales prospecting and learn more about how modern sellers can establish a basic sales cadence like the ones below and use it effectively to reach more buyers.
Sales Cadence and Sequence Example – INBOUND
Below is an example of our Vengreso sales cadence or sales sequence for inbound sales qualified leads. We manage this all through automation workflows but sellers are still required to actually bring personalization within each step of the sales sequence.
Sales Cadence and Sequence Example – OUTBOUND
Below is an example of our Vengreso sales cadence or sales sequence for outbound sales targeted leads. Again, we manage this all through automation workflows but sellers are still absolutely required to bring the hyper-personalization to each step of the sales sequence.
Now that you understand the functional nature of how to build out the cadence to support sellers, let’s deep dive into some of the elements you read about in the cadence.
Elements of Effective Sales Prospecting Strategies
Successful prospecting in the modern sales environment is about much more than finding contacts and using cold calling scripts to make calls.
Effective prospecting in the digital era from a sales engagement standpoint must always include at least four, but for best results all of these elements:
- Gift Marketing
- Direct Mail
- Social Selling
- Video for Sales
- Digital Referral
We call this the omnichannel approach to sales prospecting.
Before I dive into a few of these, let’s look at some eye-opening data:
- Less than 3% of people respond to cold emails.
- 75% of buyers look at a salesperson’s LinkedIn profile after they reach out initially (LinkedIn, State of Sales 2020).
- When a company’s sales force has at least a 25% social selling adoption rate, their win rate increases to 41% but contrast that with when a company’s sales force has at least a 75% social selling adoption rate, that win rate goes up to 61% (CSO Insights 2018)
Why is that data important when considering effective prospecting strategies?
Because it reveals to us that much of what we’ve done successfully in the past isn’t working with the same level of effectiveness – AND that new modern selling approaches, like social selling, or sales video are gaining significant traction.This fantastic sales prospecting guide includes new modern selling approaches, like #SocialSelling and #SalesVideo 👏🏼 a MUST for #ModernSellers. Click To Tweet
1. Prospecting through Social Selling
Social selling has a very specific purpose: it’s just like any other channel that you’d use to find, engage and connect with buyers. However, it’s a distinct advantage over some other sales prospecting channels like the cold call is you can use creative ways to reach prospects and warm them up before trying to call, email or personalize a LinkedIn connection request.
We all know the uncomfortable feeling of reaching out to a prospect entirely cold. It’s no fun and it’s not nearly as effective as it once was either. Statistics show us that only 3% of cold calls are successful.
I believe that cold calling is not dead, but that it is dying – at least in the form we’ve practiced for so long. It’s still part of a good sales cadence for prospecting, but we have to use it differently these days. As an example, it is not the first line of defense for Vengreso sellers when reaching out to connect with a buyer. It’s way more effective when an omnichannel approach has already been utilized to warm up the prospect. That includes social media, personalized video, text messaging, AI, and other tools. In fact, learning how to warm up your prospects via social to take the call is one of the key points we cover in our best social selling tips blog.
At Vengreso, we firmly believe that social selling coaching can make a great difference in your team’s prospecting efforts. That’s why our virtual sales training programs focus on developing these skills. Our LinkedIn training program teaches sellers how to leverage these platforms to start more sales conversations.
2. Prospecting with Sales Video
According to a Forbes report, after watching a video, 65% of senior executives visit a vendor’s website, and 53% conduct a search to get more information. Prospecting with video is one of the most effective ways to start sales conversations in a remote selling environment. In fact, my favorite thing to teach is how sellers can use video for sales.
Why? Because second to an in-person meeting, video is the best way to connect with potential buyers. Through video, prospective customers can see the seller’s facial expressions and body language, hear the tone of their voice and look into their eyes — things that are important to build rapport and develop trust. This is all part of the relationship selling process that we must do today as virtual sellers.
Your sellers can send personalized video messages to their prospecting lists via email using platforms like OneMob or HippoVideo. These videos will help them stand out from all the text-based messages that fill people’s inboxes and get ignored all the time.
They can also post video messages on LinkedIn and share them with prospects to showcase their products or services. That way, they are doing prospecting on LinkedIn in a simple way.
This prospecting strategy doesn’t come naturally, though. Before sending out video messages, sales reps must learn how to be engaging, authentic, purposeful in their words, and concise on camera. That’s why we created the Selling with Video for Teams virtual sales training.
Check out more information by clicking on the image below.
3. Hyper-personalization in sales prospecting
One of the prospecting challenges I mentioned above is that potential customers are closed off to sales reps because most sales messaging sounds and reads the same. Sales pitches are usually recycled templates that are sent automatically without regard for the receiver.
That’s why hyper-personalized messages will make all the difference in the world when prospecting. More than just addressing the person by name and title (which sales professionals should always do, of course), a hyper-personalized prospecting message will include actual pain points the buyer is facing, will refer to relevant news or events related to the prospect’s company, and much more.
In fact, personalization is the first step in our own 3-step sales methodology used for prospecting called The PVC Sales Methodology. Check out the video below to learn how to craft the perfect sales prospecting message.
Teach your team to approach prospecting like any other social interaction. Going straight for a sale or focusing on how great your product is, usually provokes a negative response and thereby creates a zero-sum gain on sales engagement.
Getting to know potential buyers through open conversation doesn’t just help increase initial responses. It also builds trust as prospects get to know your salesperson and gives your sellers the chance to learn more about their lead.
This means getting a better understanding of their business situation, goals, and obstacles your company can help with BEFORE engaging with the buyer. It also means building a picture of who they are and how to connect with them.
Noting and remembering off-topic details like languages, hobbies, and interests (generally gathered through social) shows prospects they aren’t just a number to your salesperson.
Although this just sounds like small talk, an off-topic conversation helps your sales team build a better understanding of who they are speaking to. It can also reveal shared interests that connect leads to a salesperson, such as following the same sports team.That's right! Hyper-personalized messages will make the difference when prospecting. More than just addressing the person by name and title, use the actual pain points the buyer is facing. Great article! Click To Tweet
Trending Tips for Sales Prospecting
Here are some of my top sales techniques for B2B sales teams:
- Learn as much as you can about your B2B buyer and their industry.
- What are their pain points?
- Who is the decision-maker that your sellers should connect with?
- A good rule of thumb when it comes to researching your sales prospects is to know their business like you were going to buy it. Don’t get caught off guard, take the time to do an appropriate amount of research so you can set yourself up for success.
- Warm-up any cold email or cold call with previous interactions through social media.
- Empower your sellers with sales enablement content, such as case studies, video presentations, testimonials, and blogs. Your website must be a resource for the sales team.
- Leverage LinkedIn by turning each rep’s LinkedIn Profile into a sales asset.
- Resurrect dead leads with these sales prospecting methods to bring buyers back from the dark.
- One way to ensure that your sales prospecting stays sharp is to make sure you and your team maintain a peak performance mindset. The heart of a peak performance mindset is about getting in touch with your goals and dreams and practicing healthy self-talk.
- Manage your time effectively. Sales leaders need to become experts at time management and self-discipline. Don’t let your smartphone or even negative news about clients infiltrate your dedicated time to your sales prospecting efforts.
Listen to this podcast episode where I talk with sales expert John Barrows about how to succeed in your lead generation and sales prospecting efforts in the new normal.
The Importance of Research
The automated lead qualification gives reps an idea of whom to focus attention on, but not enough information to know how to approach them.
Teach your modern selling team to research contacts thoroughly to understand their business and company goals and the individual they contact.
LinkedIn and other social media profiles can provide useful information to connect with potential buyers, better understand their current priorities and perspectives, and find common interests to break the ice.
For example, train sellers to be on the lookout for:
- New hires, promotions, and mergers: These can be signs that their business is moving in a new direction or expanding their operation, showing the challenges they will be facing.
- Recent trade events: Knowing what a lead was showcasing at a recent trade event can tell a lot about a company’s current focus and where your services might fit into that.
- Industry news: If a prospect has shared their thoughts on the latest industry news, this not only tells you their perspective but also provides a great way to open the conversation by engaging with their opinion.
This kind of information is precious, but it isn’t available for everyone. This is where well-researched buyer personas can help you tailor your approach with less information about an individual.
Now, let me give you a sales prospecting tip about your competition.
Researching the competition isn’t just about showing prospects that sales pros understand the industry and know what is available. It can also be key to showing why a lead should care what your rep has to say. If a salesperson knows how your company stacks up against the rest, they can pinpoint the key differences and benefits that matter to each lead’s situation.
This research can provide information you can capitalize on.
For example, paying attention to a competitor’s product lineup also tells you what they are not offering, so your team can focus on those missing features or services when talking to prospects that could use them. This also helps you identify demographics that aren’t getting what they really need from competing services.
Teach your sales reps these four prospecting tactics:
1. Develop Thought Leadership
Thought leadership is essential to create trust and brand awareness and positioning. Each sales rep in your team can and should become skillful at sharing and creating valuable content relevant to their prospect’s needs and pain points, thus positioning themselves as credible sources for their target buyers.
Make sure that your team has access to high-quality sales collateral and social sharing tools.
- Sales enablement and marketing should provide targeted content for the sales team to share.
- Your team should have access to an employee advocacy tool to amplify the reach of your company’s social media publications to their own networks.
- Sellers should create their own video messages answering common questions prospects have and post them on social media or sending them in their prospecting emails or InMail messages.
Creating valuable content offering tips and insights doesn’t just attract new leads, it also provides assets your salespeople can share. Linking to a blog post or video addressing issues and solutions show your business is already thinking about the problems contacts are facing. Your sales team needs content collaboration tools to create and share this kind of content for easy access and use.
You could say that thought leadership is like inbound prospecting. Instead of reaching out directly to them (that is, outbound prospecting), sellers are attracting leads with the content they share.
Increasing your sellers’ credibility also means educating them about your competitors and your own business. Understanding the available options helps them highlight the differences and unique benefits your company offers.
Social proof is another powerful tool to establish the credibility of your company. Content that is focused on your past customers and what they have achieved with your help can convince leads to discuss their own business issues with your sales team.
A well-organized resource for customer reviews, case studies, and testimonials is invaluable in finding the perfect success story for each individual or buyer persona. For example, 92% of marketers are more likely to buy after reading a trusted review.
Just as sellers research each of their prospects, at the same time, those individuals will research your team. Maintaining their online profiles is vital to ensuring that research increases prospects’ trust in your sellers.
Everything they find on a seller’s LinkedIn profile and public social media pages should affirm their expertise in your industry. Besides managing their profile pages, active involvement in an industry discussion makes it easier for potential buyers to find valuable content during their research.
2. Ask for Referrals and Introductions
Referral selling is one of my favorite tactics to reach my ideal customer. According to HubSpot, 84% of B2B decision-makers kick off their buying processes with referrals. That’s why cold calling is less effective than a social selling program that includes digital referral tactics.
At Vengreso we have perfected a 2-step digital referral process, leveraging mutual connections on LinkedIn. Check out this video, where I explain step-by-step how to ask for a referral on LinkedIn.
3. Present a Strong Value Proposition
In my experience, most sales reps cannot articulate their company’s value proposition in one sentence. They ramble about product features and benefits without pointing out the actual problem that their solution solves.
Take the time to train your sellers on how to communicate a strong value proposition during their prospecting calls or emails. I teach my sellers to include Vengreso’s value proposition upfront in our sales messaging: “Vengreso helps sales leaders train their sellers to create more sales conversations so they can grow their pipeline.”
If a sales leader such as yourself hears this, they immediately think:
- Do I need my sellers to create more sales conversations?
- Do I need to build a bigger sales pipeline?
If the answer is yes to either or both, then a leader keeps listening.
The advantage of a strong value proposition is that the prospects can qualify or disqualify themselves immediately, recognizing whether they actually have the problem the seller is promising to solve.
This will save both the buyer and the seller time, making it easier to decide whether to continue the conversation or not.
4. Use Strategic Prospecting
Not all sales opportunities are equal. Some are more likely to close than others.
So, how do you identify the best opportunities? Through strategic prospecting.
Basically, you must develop a sales prospecting process for your team to identify, qualify, and prioritize sales opportunities. Each seller in your team must know and apply predetermined criteria to divide prospects into those most likely to become clients and those less likely to purchase.
The actual criteria will vary depending on the industry and the characteristics of the sales cycle and the ideal customer profile, but you should at least track the prospect’s past engagement and buying intent signals during the prospecting activity. Check out our article on sales forecasting for some ideas on how to predict which prospects are more likely to buy.
5. Follow up Relentlessly
Follow-up is a vital part of sales prospecting. Your sales teams need the tools to schedule their next contact and ensure no conversation slips through the cracks. Sending 6 or 7 emails to a prospect can triple reply rates compared to sending just 1 or 2, so it is important to schedule consistent follow-up messages.
That doesn’t mean sellers should pester their contacts, however. An effort should always be made to accommodate their contact preferences, so your team needs the tools to unify conversations across email, text, and instant messaging apps as needed. For example, texting software to display conversations with clients as chats will make it easier to track and refer to texts.WOW! Now I appreciate the importance of the follow-up when sales prospecting. #sellers must schedule consistent follow-up messages. Thank you for this fantastic article. Click To Tweet
Sales Prospecting Tools
Studies show that 47% of salespeople spend 4 hours a week on data entry.
This time is a waste of their talents and training. Repetitive tasks like data entry and early lead qualification don’t require your reps’ sales skills, so the time spent on these should be minimized.
With the right sales tools, many of these tasks can be automated to let your team apply their time and skills where they are needed most.
Sales prospecting tools help sellers automate repetitive tasks to save time, engage and deliver the right messages to prospects. For example, while salespeople should always personalize their opening message to prospects as much as possible, a resource of proven templates to serve as a foundation can save a lot of time without compromising uniqueness.
FlyMSG, along with our social selling training programs address many of the challenges modern sellers face when prospecting digitally.
Get started with our free text expander tool so your team can save time and focus on creating more sales conversations. See what FlyMSG can do in the short video below.
Sales Prospecting is a Key Skill to Develop
Sales prospecting is all about building relationships. Sellers need to focus on developing a better understanding of the prospect’s needs while growing their trust. These skills need to be focused on the right leads, however. Qualifying leads effectively to decide the right approach and reduce the time spent on unskilled tasks like data entry goes a long way to ensuring your team’s time is spent where it has the most significant impact.
Teaching these sales prospecting techniques to your team will improve their ability to connect and communicate with potential buyers, creating more successful sellers as a result.