What Is Sales Prospecting? Strategies, Tips, & Templates to Turn Prospects into Customers
Tired of sending cold emails and getting nowhere? Does the idea of cold calling complete strangers make you queasy? It's time to revolutionize your sales approach with a strategic approach to sales prospecting.
You’ve come to the right place. In this guide, I’ll show you exactly how we’ve perfected our sales prospecting process and grew our business from just three co-founders in an apartment, to a successful company with nearly 100 (really cool) people from around the world and millions in monthly recurring revenue.
By the time you finish, you’ll be equipped with all the essential tools and strategies to identify high-quality leads, nurture relationships, and ultimately close more deals.
What Is Sales Prospecting?
This definition makes prospecting sound so simple, right? You already know it's not that easy. While the concept of sales prospecting is pretty straightforward, it’s much more nuanced and individualized in practice.
You can’t afford to chase after every potential customer—you need to find the people who are a perfect fit for your business and put the right amount of effort into converting them into customers or clients.
Done right, the proper sales prospecting techniques will generate a consistent stream of new opportunities in your sales pipeline that steadily convert into customers.
Do it poorly, and you’ll be stuck in an endless loop of following up and losing deals at the end of the funnel. Not my idea of fun.
What’s the Difference Between a Sales Prospect and a Lead?
Simply put, leads come first, prospects come second.
A sales lead has the potential to become a customer, but hasn’t been properly qualified yet. They might show interest by visiting your website, filling out a form, or signing up for a free trial. Or, you might have a list of leads you’ve developed from B2B databases and other sources, based on the criteria you’ve set.
A sales prospect is someone who has made it through your qualification process. You or your sales reps have spoken to them directly, maybe done a discovery call, and they’re ready to move to the next stage in your sales process.
Think of it like a plate of nachos—a lead is like having chips, queso, lettuce, salsa, and meat on your counter. It has the potential to become something amazing, but it's not quite there yet. When you put that deliciousness together on one plate, it becomes a prospect and is ready to be delivered to your stomach—or your sales team.
A sales prospect who’s been qualified is much more likely to convert to a paying customer. If you have a sales development team working on these leads, it’s now time for them to pass the prospect to an account executive to close the sale.
The Sales Prospecting Process: 5 Basic Steps You Need to Follow
Without a clear process, implementing even the most efficient sales prospecting techniques can quickly become time-consuming and weigh your salespeople down. And that, nobody really wants.
By working in boxes of time devoted to deep work on a single task, you’ll speed up your process (and your sales cycles).
Here are the basic steps involved in prospecting:
Step 1. Gather New Leads
At this point, you’ve already developed a lead generation strategy. An inbound lead gen process might include generating awareness through social media, paid ads, or blog content optimized for search. Then, you give those people a way to show their interest—maybe by filling out a form on your website, starting a free trial, or contacting your sales team.
You might also use outbound lead generation, gathering new leads to contact from B2B sales databases or other sales prospecting tools like LinkedIn.
Once this is done, the first stage of your prospecting process begins.
No matter where you’ve collected these new leads, they all need to end up in the same place—your CRM.
During this step in the sales prospecting process, it’s your job to make sure these leads are getting into your CRM with all the right information at the ready, including:
- Prospect names
- Contact information
- Pain points
- Any interest they’ve already shown
Once that information is ready, it’s time for the next step.
Step 2. Qualify Leads Through Research
Qualifying your new leads is done in two stages—first, by researching everything you can about the company online, and second, by speaking directly with them.
Let’s start with research. Here’s a neat bit of info: 82 percent of sales reps who exceeded quota said they always do research before reaching out to prospects. And 62 percent of that group said they have ramped up their research significantly. What does that tell us? Research matters. (At least if you want to hit your quota!)
So, where can you find all of these gold nuggets of information? Using prospecting tools and B2B data providers.
The kind of information you’re looking for depends on your ideal customer profile and how you define a valuable potential customer, but could include:
- Roles and responsibilities of individuals at the company
- Contact data
- Company size
- Organization charts
- Company’s target market
- Technographic data
- Company events or changes
For example, let’s say you sell HR software, and your main customer base is companies with at least 50 to 200 employees and a dedicated people ops team. You might start by researching firmographic information on the list of leads you’ve collected—using LinkedIn Sales Navigator or Crunchbase, you can see how many employees each company has. You can also check the roles of the employees to see if there is a team dedicated to HR that fits your ideal customer profile.
Through this research, you’ll probably find some of the leads you collect aren’t a good fit. They don’t match your customer profile, and wouldn’t benefit from your product. Weed those leads out from the start, and then you can move on to the next step.
Step 3. Outreach and Discovery
This is my favorite part of the prospecting process—when you actually get to start talking to prospects. With the preliminary qualifications out of the way, it’s time to dig deeper. This is the stage where you’ll start cold calling and sending emails to the right prospects that fit your buyer persona.
Talking to these people directly gives you insights you’ll never find just by doing research online. By asking the right discovery questions, you’ll learn:
- The challenges and pain points they’re looking to solve
- Their buyer process
- Other decision-makers who need to be convinced
- How urgently they need a solution
- Whether or not they have the budget and authority to make a purchase now
Of course, you’re not just interrogating them—your goal is to help them solve their problems or reach their goals using your product or service. So, part of this stage in the sales prospecting process is to help them see why they should be interested in what you’re selling.
You can even use discovery questions to accomplish both goals—get information that’s vital to your sales process while convincing them that your product is the solution they need. Here are some questions that will help you show the value of your solution:
- How much money would you be saving if you could solve this problem?
- What’s the main metric your team uses to track success? If you found the right solution, what would you expect the effect to be on that metric?
- If you don’t find a solution to this problem, what will your [department/process] look like in six months?
Step 4. Educate Prospects on Your Product
While the “official” sales pitch may come later in the process, prospecting is also the time to educate new leads about your product and how it can benefit them.
As you discover more about their needs, you’ll learn exactly how to position your product as the solution to the problems that are weighing on them right now. You’ll know which features to highlight, which benefits matter most to them, and how to support them in their journey.
On the flipside, this may also be the moment when you realize your product isn’t the right fit for them. As you talk about their must-haves and wants, you both could come to the conclusion that this isn’t the right fit.
Don’t sweat it—finding out whether or not a prospect is a good fit for you is actually the goal of prospecting. If you come to the mutual decision to part ways before things get too far, you’ll save everyone a lot of time. Plus, you’ll allow yourself to focus on new prospects that will really benefit from working with you.
Step 5. Move into the Next Stages of Your Sales Process
That’s it—your sales prospecting process has reached its end!
From here, you’ll end with a clear CTA to move on to the next stages in your sales process. This might include setting up a product demo with more decision-makers, meeting with other stakeholders, responding to objections, negotiating a deal, and finally, getting that deal signed, sealed, and delivered!
Remember, the stages I’ve listed above are only a general guide to the sales prospecting process. If you’re a B2C business dealing directly with consumers, this process will likely be a lot shorter, and the steps may all be combined into one phone call or a couple of emails. Or, if you’re working with enterprise customers, this process may take longer.
The main goal—make sure that people who move past the prospecting stage in your sales process are people who are truly interested in your product or service and have the potential to see real benefits from it.
6 Sales Prospecting Techniques to Increase Close Rates
Prospecting can quickly become a vast sea of different methods & techniques, all with their own set of best practices.
Let's explore some of the most common types of prospecting to inspire you on how to channel your efforts.
1. Cold Calling
Yeah, I know. This is probably your least favorite part of selling. I used to feel the same way. But it’s one of the most important outbound prospecting activities you can do.
Why? Because no other type of prospecting gets you that real-time response like cold calling does.
Ready to build new customer relationships with cold calling? Here are some tips:
- Use a cold calling script: The goal is to establish relatable context and motivate prospects to keep talking to you. Check out these cold call examples for inspiration.
- Start with a compelling opening line: Start with your full name and where you’re calling from, give a one-sentence explanation of why you’re calling, give your 30-second pitch, and then ask for permission to continue.
- Improve your tonality: Stop running through your pitch when you hear “Hello.” Instead, work to improve your tonality on sales calls, speak slowly and clearly, and use body language to sound more confident. (Yes, body language matters even if the prospects can’t see you!)
2. Cold Email Outreach
Cold emailing is the next most popular (and effective) method for sales professionals to contact new leads. Sending cold emails to potential customers is less intrusive than cold calling, and can be much more convenient.
Plus, using sales tools like Close, you can set up automated outreach with a sending schedule that you choose.
Here are some of our top tips for using cold emailing as part of your sales prospecting strategy:
- Personalize your prospecting email templates: Research is essential before reaching out to new leads. But if you want to personalize your outreach to many leads at once, make sure your emails are relevant to that customer profile.
- Make your subject lines count: Being direct, relevant, and personalized is a great foundation. You can also try using subject lines that focus on the prospect’s needs and pain points, build real urgency, or ask a question that piques their interest.
- Keep following up: Follow-up emails are essential for prospecting. Using Workflows in Close, you can create email sequences to go out at the right time to get the most bang for your buck.
3. Social Media Prospecting
Social selling involves using social media networks to connect with potential customers while they’re still in the early stages of the buying process.
Social selling comes to life through sharing relevant content, commenting on posts, and sending direct messages to potential buyers. Social media prospecting requires a strong understanding of social media platforms and the ability to create engaging content.
Networks like LinkedIn are key for both sellers and buyers: in fact, data shows that 42 percent of the prospects you reach out to will head to your LinkedIn profile to check you out.
Want to use social media for prospecting? Here’s how to get started:
- Align with your marketing team: Salespeople—your marketing team is probably cooking up some cool stuff. By keeping in the loop on upcoming blog posts, resources, etc., you’ll always have a fresh store of ideas to post on LinkedIn that align with your brand voice.
- Research both the individuals and the companies you’re selling to: LinkedIn is a wealth of information. Connect with potential customers and learn what they care about from their posts. Then, you’ll have a much better starting point when you reach out.
- Optimize your profile for selling: Include a professional profile picture and a cover image that showcases the company you work for. Use your headline as a catchy way to show customers what you can do for them (not just your job title).
Referrals are one of the most powerful forms of prospecting. This involves asking existing customers to refer mutual connections from their pool of friends, family, colleagues, or former co-workers to your business. And this works—according to one study, 84 percent of B2B buyers start the purchase process with a referral.
Referrals often lead to the most qualified prospect conversations because they come with a high level of trust and credibility that gets passed directly on to you.
Here are some of our favorite tips for prospecting with referrals:
- Reach out proactively to your most successful customers: Don’t wait for referrals to come to you—one of the best ways to get high-quality referrals is to make a list of the customers seeing the most ROI from your product, and asking them directly for referrals.
- Ask for an intro, not a sale: Don’t put pressure on your existing customers. You’re not asking them to sell your product for you, all you’re asking for is an introduction to someone who might benefit from your product or service.
- Set up a dedicated referral program: Some customers may recommend you just based on their love for your product—others need some incentive. With a well-developed referral program, you can get the best of both worlds.
Sales networking is all about authentically building relationships with your potential customers. This is true whether it’s through in-person events, webinars, or social media interactions on sites like LinkedIn and the platform previously known as Twitter.
According to research by LinkedIn, 53 percent of top-performing sales reps said they significantly expanded their network on LinkedIn last year, and they’re much more likely to use LinkedIn to write articles or share content from their companies.
Before you rush out and sign up for every networking event in town, or try to connect with as many people as possible, here are some of our top tips for networking success:
- Build your communication skills: Successful networking—whether online or offline—requires you to be a fantastic communicator and a good relationship-builder. Working on these sales skills is essential.
- Stop trying to sell immediately: Networking is a long-term strategy, not a quick win. If you’re building up your network for prospecting, do it from a place of genuine interest in other people.
6. Paid Advertising
This is definitely a less traditional way to prospect, but it can be very effective. If you have the budget to run ads, use them to develop interest in your product or service, and even see whether new leads are good potential customers.
- Develop clear messaging that speaks to your target audience: When your message is ultra-specific to the type of customers you want, more high-quality prospects will come through the sales funnel.
- Retarget existing leads: For example, use retargeting ads to reach out to website visitors or social media followers who haven’t taken any buying intent actions yet.
There are so many different sales prospecting methods, we're just scratching the surface here. The key for you is to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and choose the strategies that fit those best. Then, you'll be well-positioned to generate a steady stream of new qualified leads.
6 Sales Prospecting Tips to Close More Deals
Your time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it on people who will never make a purchase decision. I get it.
Once you have that prospect list ready to go, here are the best sales prospecting tips and techniques you can use to make the most out of your efforts and close deals faster than ever.
1. Block Time for Prospecting, Outreach & Cold Calling
The fastest way to get distracted is by constantly switching tasks. If you spend 15 minutes looking at your lead list, 20 minutes researching a new prospect, 30 minutes calling them, only to go back to the beginning again… you’ll be wasting time decluttering your mind and switching from one task to another.
Here’s what to do instead: Create time blocks for specific tasks.
James Urie, Sr. Partnerships Manager at Close, talks about it like this: “Block your calendar for sales activities in a way that works for your brain. Do one activity at a time. This eliminates distraction and gets you into that flow state.”
Here’s how to do it:
- Note down everything you need to do that day. You might even create scheduled blocks in your calendar for certain prospecting activities
- Make sure you have the B2B sales tools you need at the ready. For example, if you’re getting ready to cold call, make sure you’ve got your tool for dialing and your sales script ready.
2. Use the Right Qualification Framework
Qualification is the difference between talking to every new lead that walks in the (metaphorical) door, and focusing your efforts and attention on the leads that are more likely to close. There are plenty of qualification frameworks you can build off of, including BANT, MEDDIC, and other fun acronyms. But it’s up to you to decide which criteria are most important for your ideal customers.
The goal at this stage is to qualify their needs for their specific use cases and to make sure there’s a mutual fit for the prospect to become a happy customer. The last thing you want is to set prospects up for failure by selling your product to them before they’re ready for it.
Here are four key areas you’ll want to focus on to create your own qualification framework and stop closing bad-fit customers:
- Customer profile: How well does the sales prospect match your ideal customer profile? How big is the company? What industry are they in? Does their ideal use case fit how your product should be used? Which tools have they tried in the past? If your prospect’s answers don’t match that of an ideal customer, it may be worth recommending an alternative solution.
- Needs: What are this prospect's specific pain points? What are the needs of the individual, the team, and the company? Make it your mission to confirm which specific results your prospect wants to achieve. The better you’re able to illustrate realistic positive outcomes at all levels, the stronger their case for choosing to buy.
- Decision-making process: How does your prospect’s organization make decisions? When do they plan to buy? While smaller companies can make a purchasing decision in a month or less, bigger companies can take up to 12 months—or longer. If you need to close new business deals in three months or less in order to make your unit economics work, that sales prospect is no longer a good fit for you.
- Competition: Who are you competing against for the sale? Are they evaluating your solution vs. building their own solution right now? What are the criteria they’ll base their purchasing decision on? If you can gather clear answers to all of these questions, you'll have a great idea of whether or not your sales prospect is fully qualified.
Our advice? Create a simple, one-page document that lists all the crucial questions you want to ask or the information you want to elicit.
3. Prioritize Best-Fit Prospects
Once you’ve asked your qualifying questions, you should have two clear buckets of leads—those who’ve been disqualified as not a good fit and those who may be qualified sales prospects.
Prioritizing the order in which you start conversations will help you avoid chatting with lukewarm prospects while your hottest leads grow cold. This is where lead scoring comes into play—using buying intent and customer data to find the leads that are feeling hot-hot-hot (as opposed to those who are not-not-not.)
The most effective way to create a basic lead scoring system is by using data from your past leads—especially those who’ve become customers—to assign value to your existing ones.
- Which qualities of your existing customers contributed most to their purchasing?
- Which of these characterizations do your customers share in common?
- What do your leads that rarely convert share in common with each other?
In some cases, it’ll be obvious that a contact needs to be elevated to the top of your prospect list (like if they’ve viewed your pricing page multiple times, frequently open and click on your sales emails, or have downloaded a particular resource from your website).
Other factors like team size, annual revenue, and referral source may also play into how you score your leads and, subsequently, how quickly your sales team reaches out.
4. Structure Your Outreach with AIDA
If you’re looking for an effective structure for your prospecting outreach, look no further than AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Here’s how you can use this to create a clear, highly-motivating structure for your outreach:
- Capture their (A)ttention: When emailing your prospects, start with a catchy subject line. On the phone, offer an enthusiastic and personalized greeting once your contact picks up. Begin your outreach with a captivating subject line using Close's Email Subject Line Generator. Make your prospects curious and eager to engage right from the start!
- Turn that attention into (I)nterest: The "main body" of your email or phone call should transition into your sales pitch. Ask an intriguing question or bring up your prospect’s pain point. Then, immediately describe how you can help your prospect alleviate it.
- Create (D)esire with added value: Adding value is critical in any sort of sales communication. Offer your prospect a free demo or sales guide to help them in their work, and if they accept, give it up freely. This gets your prospect more familiar with your product and gives you an opportunity for follow-up later.
- End with a single call to (A)ction: Whether on the phone or via email, always include one of two calls to action: either ask for your next meeting, or ask the prospect to buy. Need guidance for making those asks? Check out our guide on How to Close a Deal.
5. Use Multichannel Outreach
Persistence is the name of the game in sales prospecting.
Whether it’s a prospecting email or short phone call, committing to ambitious activity goals for the number of conversations you start or follow up with each day will be the backbone of a strong sales pipeline for the days, weeks, and months to come.
Focus on varying your sales cadence to include a variety of phone calls, email messages, and even SMS messages. There are pros and cons to each medium, and mixing up your outreach can help you get a hold of your prospects in the format of their choice.
- Phone calls are great for building relationships & establishing a more personal connection between you and your prospect (and for verifying they're indeed a match for your buyer persona).
- Emails are a visual medium that allow prospects to take their time to fully consume your message and identify how your product can meet their needs. It also gives them time to consider your offer, research your product, and respond with sincere interest.
- SMS messages offer the benefits of both emails and phone calls. Most prospects keep their phones on them at all times, and SMS messages are usually read in the moment—or perhaps just moments later. Short message lengths and the ability to chat back and forth provide a personal feel, like a phone call.
Pro Tip: Ready to add multi-channel outreach to your prospecting strategy? Try Workflows in Close to build outreach sequences with automatic triggers. Phone, email, & SMS functionality built-in—we’ve got it all. Try it now.
Looking to level up your email outreach game? Take these cold email templates and learn how to write your own high-converting emails. And be sure to try our free AI-powered cold email generator to get instant cold email drafts.
6. Follow Up Until You Get a No
My follow-up philosophy is simple: I keep following up until I get a response.
That said, nobody wants to be that annoying sales rep who keeps popping up like a new COVID variant (too soon?).
Once you’ve gotten some kind of interest signal from a prospect, you can keep following up over time until they give you a clear yes or no. The best way to do this:
- Keep if brief and upbeat
- Use your subject line to show why this should be important to them
- Use automation to do this in bulk
Another way you can use follow-ups for prospecting is by continuing to reach out to deals you’ve lost. If you’ve built a decent rapport with your POC, you can keep in touch over time to see if their situation has changed and they’re ready to close the deal. (This is especially true if the deciding factor was budget or timing, things that are highly subject to change.)
Build Your Most Effective Sales Prospecting Strategy
Doing prospecting right takes time and effort, but all of that will pay off in the end with new business.
Of course, your prospecting efforts will only succeed with the right tools. With prospecting tools you can build automation for your outreach, dial faster, improve conversion rates, and use integrations to keep it all centralized in one place.
Naturally, we’re fanatics about employing the right CRM in your sales organization—that’s why we decided to build Close to help every small business and startup increase their sales productivity.
Aside from the obvious benefits of using a CRM for prospecting activities like scaling your email outreach, keeping a close eye on every deal in your pipeline, and creating automated email and calling Workflows—employing the right CRM for the stage your business is in today can unlock massive productivity gains for your team.
Try it out for 14 days for free—we won’t even ask for your credit card.