The guide to sales prospecting for small business in 2023

The guide to sales prospecting for small business in 2023

In his 2015 book "Fanatical Prospecting," world-famous sales expert and speaker Jeb Blount wrote that "there is no easy button in sales." He further clarifies that "prospecting is hard, emotionally draining work."

Every salesperson, marketer, and business owner knows that both statements are true — no matter how large or small their company is.

Research from Sales Insights Lab shows that only 24.3% of salespeople surpassed their quota last year, and meeting that quota is only getting harder with COVID-19. Sixty-one percent of salespeople consider selling harder today than five years ago, and strategies that were once "tried and true" are now ineffective.

That brings us to a crucial question: how do you prospect successfully in 2022?

That's what this article is all about. Read on, and we'll teach you the basics of sales prospecting, how to prospect step-by-step, and four new sales prospecting trends to embrace this year.

What is sales prospecting?

Before we dive into the world of sales, let's define some key terms. "Sales prospecting" describes the process of searching for, identifying, and contacting new potential customers for a brand.

Sales prospecting aims to channel leads through the sales funnel (sometimes called the "sales pipeline" or "sales cycle") by consulting with them as an industry expert. There are four steps to the sales funnel. The easiest way to remember these is to think about how leads feel in each phase:

  • Awareness = "what is it?"
  • Interest = "I'm interested. Tell me more."
  • Desire (or "decision") = "I want it. What does it cost?"
  • Action = "Can I buy it?"
    You can apply sales prospecting techniques to Business-to-Consumer (B2C) selling, Business-to-Government (B2G), and Business-to-Business (B2B) selling. This article will focus on the latter two.

Calling all agents! Discover the secrets of effective real estate prospecting in our latest article.

Prospect vs. lead

"Prospects" and "leads" are not the same, though they sound very similar.

A "lead" is a potential customer who has shown an interest in your brand, products, or services. For example, they may have visited your website, signed up for your email marketing list, attended a webinar, or asked questions at a trade show.

A lead becomes a "prospect" once you have established that they meet these criteria:

  • They fit into your target audience
  • They have the ability to make a purchase (the funds, knowledge, time, etc.)
  • They have the authority to make a purchase (including the "go ahead" from management)

If you are looking to separate a lead from a prospect, ask yourself: "could they realistically make a purchase now or soon?" If "yes," they are a prospect.

Why sales prospecting is vital in 2023

The RAIN Group Center for Sales Research recently surveyed 488 buyers and 489 sellers across 25 industries. The research focused on separating top sales representatives from regular representatives, and the results show why sales prospecting is crucial for business success.

While only 27% of regular salespeople met or exceeded their individual sales aspirations last year, 47% of top salespeople did. These top performers all had one thing in common: they prioritized sales prospecting activities.

Take meetings as an example. Top performers held 2.7 times more sales meetings and invested heavily in adding ideas, insights, and value to meetings. Researchers say this resulted in "fuller pipelines and more sales."

Other research shows a similar pattern.

Sales Insights Labs found that while 19% of sales performers rely on cold pitching to make sales, only 7% of top performers use this strategy. Instead, top performers consult with prospects, give them advice, and help them solve problems.

Additionally, 47% of top salespeople regularly ask existing customers to refer them to new prospects, while only 26% of non-top performers do the same.
The message here is clear: well-planned sales prospecting activities are more effective in converting customers, making sales, and raising revenue than simply presenting your sales pitch to people and hoping for the best.

How to prospect step-by-step

Sales prospecting isn't something you find yourself doing absentmindedly. It's a practice you need to integrate into your workflow daily and hone over time. So, to help you do that, here's how to prospect step-by-step:

Step 1. Research potential prospects

Not everyone is a qualified prospect. When Sales Insights Labs asked salespeople how many leads were a "good fit," 71.4% responded that less than half of their leads turned into prospects.

There's a takeaway here: not everyone is a qualified lead, so naturally, you need to research your potential prospects carefully.

One of the easiest ways to sort leads from prospects is using an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). An ICP is a fictional representation of your prospects. It includes:

  • The size of their organization
  • Their job
  • Challenges, pain points, and motivations
  • Goals
  • Location
  • Industry and niche
    To build a profile, create a list of your best customers and find common attributes. Then, download the "Ideal Customer Profile Kit" and add these attributes into the template.

Step 2. Prioritize key prospects

Now that you know who to sell to, it's time to find some leads. Lead generation is industry-specific, so you'll need to use subjective tactics to attract leads. However, here are some ideas you could try:

  • Trade shows
  • Industry events
  • Website marketing
  • Social media
  • Sales intelligence tools
  • Referrals

Once you've got a list of leads, prioritize them with lead scoring so you can focus your attention on those that are most likely to convert. To conduct lead scoring, gather:

  • Explicit data (data you get from the lead)
  • Implicit data (data you find about the lead's company and professional background)
  • Behavioral data (data you gather by watching how the lead acts)

Then, use this data to estimate the leads' purchase intent signals and assign a lead score. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software can help with this.

Note: If you'd like more detail on lead scoring, please read "Lead Scoring is the Solution."

Step 3. Build a pitch

Next, you need to create a sales pitch. A sales pitch is an engaged conversation where you introduce your offering to leads. Good sales pitches include these elements:

  • An opening question
  • A hook to engage the lead
  • A description of the lead's problem
  • The solution
  • An introduction to the offering
  • The offering's benefits
  • Proof
  • A Call-To-Action (CTA)

A well-crafted pitch is powerful, but you don't need to rely on words alone. Many skilled salespeople produce materials leads can refer to with questions, queries, or simply for more information.

These materials can make or break a sale — so they are worth the investment. Here are some ideas of materials any salesperson can easily create:

  • Downloadable presentations
  • Cheatsheets
  • Digital brochures
  • Infographics
  • eBooks
  • Pre-recorded video presentations

Step 4. Make contact

Making contact is arguably the most critical part of sales prospecting. As we know many people view salespeople as pushy, untrustworthy, and annoying, it's also the point in the sales process where you will face the most resistance.

Try these tips to overcome that resistance and make a genuine connection:

  • Research your prospect carefully
  • Listen to your prospect
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Offer assistance and advice when asked
  • Keep the conversation friendly and casual

And most importantly, personalize your pitch to your prospect. Close CRM can help with personalization, as it allows you to customize email outreach quickly and easily so you can maximize the number of leads you reach.

Step 5. Evaluate your approach

Finally, spend time evaluating your sales process to improve your technique. Look for:

  • Challenges that threatened each sale
  • How effectively your leads fit into your ICP
  • Areas of improvement in your sales pitches
  • Things that worked well
  • How well you built customer relationships
  • What other members of your sales team would have done differently
    Additionally, scrutinize how you positioned your offering. Product positioning informs how customers see your offering, including the problems it solves, its benefits, and how it compares to the competition. Ask yourself, "did I give the prospect a clear picture of (offering)?"

Now that you've reached this point in the article, you know how to prospect effectively. Prospecting can be a very creative process, so to help you innovate how you sell, here are four sales trends you can embrace in 2023:

1. Leveraging explainer videos

Video marketing and sales prospecting are a pairing you would be wise to leverage.
According to market research on 813 buyers and marketers from Wyzowl, 96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn about a product or service. Explainer videos (or "how-to videos") show the viewer how to use your product or service for a set purpose.

We can explain the persuasive power of these videos best through an example, so let's look at Airbnb's Youtube channel. Airbnb produces explainer videos for hosts that are considering listing on Airbnb.

One of these series, Airbnb Host Tips, features videos like "How to Take Great Listing Photos" or "How to Set Up a Successful Listing." Another, Airbnb Host Stories, shows viewers the value of Airbnb through the stories of current hosts.

AirBnB's explainer videos are one of the best sales prospecting tools they could use to draw leads. Why?

  • They attract attention through search engine results
  • They teach leads the basics of Airbnb quickly and effectively
  • They engage potential customers with storytelling
  • Each video links leads to more content in Airbnb's sales funnel

Of course, as explainer videos are very production-heavy, many salespeople may prefer a less-curated form of video. Try downloading webinar software and hosting a webinar conference themed around your offering if that's you.

Airbnb uses webinars too — see "Strong Inside and Out With Allyson Felix '' from Airbnb's Olympian and Paralympian Airbnb Online Experiences webinars.

2. Sales automation for monotonous tasks

Though many salespeople fear automation will put them out of work, automating parts of your workflow will help, not hurt you.

You can automate many things as a salesperson, including entering data into your CRM, prospect list building, appointment scheduling, email marketing, and data reporting. Automating these monotonous tasks can help you:

  • Reduce the number of errors you make
  • Spend more time on revenue-producing tasks (like sales calls)
  • Reduce your screen time without compromising the quality of your work
  • Analyze data on your sales processes so you can improve

You only need to look at the example below to see the value of workflow automation. In this example, Brianna has used Close to create a follow-up email to a prospect in seconds.

Brianna isn't the only salesperson using such automation. In North America, 64% of sales and account management staff use automation for prospecting.

3. Networking

Data from Sales Insights Labs shows that 66.7% of the salespeople they studied only chased 250 or fewer leads last year. Just 15% of salespeople chased over 1,000. And, most damningly, 77.3% of salespeople get at least one-quarter of their leads from their employer or sales team.

This data tells us something important that can help you get ahead in sales: most salespeople don't take the initiative to network, and if you do, you'll stand out and build a wider lead pool.

You don't need to be a big business with a large budget to build a network. According to "Networking Like a Pro" authors Dr. Ivan Misner and Brian Hilliard, small and medium-sized businesses can network through:

  • Local business associations
  • Service clubs
  • Nonprofit groups
  • Local events
  • Charity work
  • Business events at local universities
  • Industry events and webinars

Alternatively, learn how to network on Instagram and use your brand's social media presence to meet prospects.

Social Media Examiner is a brand that's big on business networking on social media. Social Media Examiner engages with other companies through their annual conference "Social Media Marketing World," private LinkedIn groups, Twitter chat rooms, and Slack channels.

Social Media Examiner also starts a Facebook group for every conference.

4. Referrals

Though we tend to focus on trends with hype like TikTok marketing or cold calling with Artificial Intelligence (AI), many successful sales teams get fantastic results through more traditional sales prospecting methods.

Referrals are one of these methods.

While only 24% of people trust banner ads, 92% trust recommendations from associates. Referred prospects are more loyal and bring in profit margins 25% higher than other sales prospects. So, it's no wonder that Shopify calls word-of-mouth marketing "our best form of advertising," and Matthew Stinchcomb from Etsy attributed 90% of the company's growth to referrals.

There are many ways salespeople can leverage referrals marketing  to find new leads. The easiest way is simply to ask.

At this suggestion, many sales teams suggest that asking for referrals may annoy prospects as they probably get them frequently. However, data from Sales Insights Labs shows that only 18.6% of salespeople ask every prospect for a referral. The vast majority ask "rarely."

Alternatively, you could set up a referral program like Quip if you are a small business owner. Quip gives each paying customer $5 in store credit for every new customer they refer. The new customer also gets rewarded, so it's a win-win situation.

Building a successful referral program is reasonably straightforward. You only need a few materials to start, including a reward, software to run the program, a referral agreement, and marketing for your program.

Referral programs are very flexible — be as creative as you like, or keep it simple. The choice is yours.

Improve your sales prospecting process in 2023

The last few years have been turbulent for many salespeople. People, governments, and companies have changed how they invest in new products and services. Subsequently, the art of prospecting has changed.

Follow these steps to prospect successfully in 2023:

  1. Research sales prospects carefully
  2. Prioritize prospects
  3. Customize your pitches to the prospect's pain points
  4. Make contact
  5. Evaluate and adjust your approach

And, of course, don't forget to get creative and embrace trends like video marketing, networking, referrals, and sales automation.

About the author: Mark Quadros is a SaaS content marketer that helps brands create and distribute rad content.  On a similar note, Mark loves content and contributes to several authoritative blogs like HubSpot, CoSchedule, Foundr, etc. Connect with him via LinkedIn or Twitter.