5 steps to sales prospecting (for higher quality leads) in 2021
When I first began selling, nervous doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt about sales prospecting.
Picking up the phone to cold call leads that didn’t know who I was, to pitch them on why they should hand over their hard-earned money in exchange for my product, was enough to make my stomach turn in my early days of sales prospecting.
But as with all things in selling... enough practice, the right training, guidance and a willingness to learn & experiment will help you push past the nerves and build a habit of regularly executing on the critical actions throughout your sales process. Your approach to sales prospecting should be no different.
Now, before we dive into our step-by-step approach to revamping your sales prospecting efforts, let’s cover a few key questions we’ve long fielded from readers when it comes to sales prospecting…
What exactly is sales prospecting?
Sales prospecting is the process of searching for prospective customers or clients from your pool of leads, with the goal of identifying qualified potential buyers that can move through your sales process and convert into paying customers for your business.
Sounds pretty simple, right? While the concept of sales prospecting is pretty straightforward, it’s much more nuanced (and individualized) in practice.
What’s the difference between a lead and a sales prospect?
Leads come first, sales prospects second.
Put simply, a sales prospect is a qualified lead.
While a lead is less likely to convert than a sales prospect, once that lead makes it through qualification during your sales process, they can then become a sales prospect—with a higher likelihood of converting into becoming a paying customer. Here’s a visual to illustrate:
How about the difference between lead generation efforts and sales prospecting activities?
We’ve established that by definition, lead generation comes before interacting with sales prospects (since a sales prospect is a qualified lead).
Lead generation, typically a process that’s driven more by marketing, represents both inbound and outbound efforts to gather leads—potential customers—who’ve expressed interest in your product or services through actions like visiting your website, subscribing to blog content, joining a course or downloading an eBook.
Progressing naturally, sales prospecting activities tend to be much more warm than lead generation, and are directed toward efforts that are intended to convert your existing leads into paying customers. Sales prospecting activities include outbound calling and emailing to your leads, with hopes of nurturing them into becoming buyers.
Looking for the perfect tools to manage leads and convert more prospects into customers? Try Close free for 14 days.
To help navigate this ultimate guide to sales prospecting for higher quality leads, we’ve included a hyperlinked menu—so that you can quickly click and jump down to the section of this guide that’s most relevant to where you’re at today in your sales prospecting.
Without further delay, let’s get into it our ultimate guide to sales prospecting!
1. Research, qualify and prioritize your leads.
At this stage in your prospect research, the ultimate goal is to determine the quality of your leads—and gauge (on an individual basis) whether or not they appear to be a strong potential sales prospect that’s worthy of your time and effort to proceed with attempting to close the sale.
Step number one in the research phase, is doing a quick internal qualification check to make sure your leads tick all the major boxes of criteria you’ve set (as a sales team) to identify the most common qualities of strong potential buyers.
Important note: Run through these qualification questions before reaching out and starting conversations with your leads, in order to better prioritize your outreach efforts—some you’ll want to quickly connect with, and others you’ll immediately rule out.
10 quick qualification questions you need to answer right away.
- How well does this lead match your ideal customer profile?
- Are they in one of the key geographic areas you service?
- What’s the size of their organization? (Revenue, # of customers, # of employees)
- What’s the size of the relevant department you’re selling to?
- Are they in an industry that’s a good fit for using your product or service?
- Are they currently using a competitor product? If so, which one?
- Have they already expressed an interest in buying your product?
- Does their use case align with the way your product should be used?
- How long have they been in business?
- What would automatically make them a bad fit for your product?
Answering these questions—quickly and to the best of your ability—about your leads will force you into doing a bit of research, and will make doubly sure you’re capturing the most relevant data during your lead generation efforts (or inbound sign up process) moving forward.
Researching your leads.
Often the most reliable source of information, data and insights about your leads will come from, well… your leads themselves. What are they already telling you about their business?
Are you capturing the right data points on your leads when they sign up on your website? Are your business development reps gathering the information you need in order to adequately qualify your sales prospects? First and foremost, make sure both your inbound and outbound lead generation efforts are aligned with providing the answers you need.
Inevitably though, there will be gaps in your research—no matter how successful your lead generation campaigns are at collecting the right information.
To fill those holes, utilize technographic research tools like Datanyze to identify any competitive products your lead may be using. Leverage platforms like Crunchbase and AngelList to pick up key data points on company size, funding rounds and investors.
For even more (free & affordable) products and services you’ll want to employ during your sales prospecting efforts, check out all of the other tools we recommend at the end of this guide.
Prioritizing (and lead scoring).
After running through your list of quick qualification 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.
Now, because your time is limited, it’s incredibly important to prioritize the order in which you reach out and start conversations with leads. Otherwise, you can spin your wheels chatting with lukewarm prospects while your hottest leads grow cold and choose a competitor product.
In some cases, it’ll be obvious that a sales prospect needs to be elevated to the top of your list—if they’ve made it through your first round of qualification, have viewed your pricing page twice and have clearly already expressed interest in wanting to buy.
That’s where lead scoring comes into play, with the goal of ranking prospects and advancing your highest-value leads (and most likely to close) quickest through your sales process.
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 customers contributed most to them purchasing?
- Which of these characterizations do your customers share in common?
- What do your leads that rarely convert share in common with each other?
Then once you've taken a look at the historical data from both of these groups, you can decide which attributes should be weighted heavily (and assigned value) based on how likely those characteristics are to suggest they’d be a good fit for becoming a customer.
Here at Close, we automatically place a higher lead score on new trials that sign up from one of our top five countries where we’ve historically acquired the highest number of ideal customers. Other factors like team size, annual revenue and referral source also play into how a lead is scored—and how quickly our sales team subsequently reaches out.
You’ll also want to incorporate a lead’s implicit behavior through their activities like:
- Viewing the pricing page on your website
- Downloading a particular eBook from your blog
- Opening or clicking on a sales emails (and the number of opens or clicks)
Your ability to properly score leads will directly impact the close rates for your sales team—when you spend more time on only your best leads, that’ll generate more conversions.
2. Identify the key decision-maker.
Yeah, I know… this isn’t your first rodeo.
It seems obvious that you don’t want to waste your valuable sales prospecting time on conversations with low-level managers that won’t be able to make an ultimate purchasing decision on your product.
However, it’s often easier said than done finding and connecting with the right decision maker at your prospect’s organization after you’ve qualified the company.
If the lead came inbound to your website and filled out a form or started a trial, that’s a strong positive signal that the individual who signed up could be your decision-maker, but not necessarily. Historically, what role does your typical decision-maker hold? Take a look at the trends to identify any insights you can to help support your prioritization.
And when you don’t yet have enough experience to point toward the types of roles your ideal decision-makers hold within prospect organizations, think about the end user of your product (the person who’s likely most motivated to champion the purchase) and make your best guess based on your product’s price point.
If the expense is less than say $100/mo to your prospect, any motivated member of the right team may be able to initiate the purchase themselves without going through levels of management approval. On the other hand, if you’re selling a longer-term engagement or higher-priced product, you’ll likely need to move up the chain of command to a director or department head for ultimate sign off on a pricier deal.
Either way, once you’ve identified the role your ideal decision-maker holds at your sales prospect’s company—it’s time to put your research cap back on.
My favorite (free) tools for finding the name and email address of a sales prospect is a simple combination: LinkedIn and their Sales Navigator for Chrome extension.
Thanks to to LinkedIn’s advanced filtering capabilities, you can enter a specific role title in the search bar, select to display only people with that (or similar) positions, and further narrow results by seeing only people with those roles at specific companies.
Here’s an example of viewing marketing directors at Google:
Once you’ve identified the person you want to start a conversation with, it’s time to track down their email address.
But when the email search tools falls short, turn to the free Sales Navigator for Chrome extension. Once installed, it’ll add a new sidebar inside of your Gmail account that looks like this:
Now, when you type in a suspected email address for someone you want to reach out to, and hover your mouse over it, the Sales Navigator sidebar will populate a bunch of information about the person right there in your inbox—if this email address is at all connected to their LinkedIn account.
If the sidebar appears and pulls in what looks to be the right person's photo and description, you've got the right email address.
Cycle through testing the most popular email formats and verifying with Sales Navigator.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll get their email address in less than thirty seconds of this cycle and it'll be in one of the above formats.
If you’re not able to verify their email address with this method, find them on Twitter to see if they have contact information (or chase a link to their website from either Twitter or LinkedIn that might have their contact info).
As a fallback method I use when Sales Navigator doesn't populate the right information, I'll hover my cursor over their email address and see if they've connected a Google Plus account to the address. If they do, it'll look like this right here:
When all of these methods of finding your prospect’s email address don’t produce results, move onto the next best point of contact that has a likelihood of being a possible decision-maker in the name of keeping the ball rolling quickly.
And while it’s also fine to start your conversation with a sales prospect who isn’t a decision-maker in their organization, you’ll want to quickly breach the subject of involving someone else on their team who may need to join the conversation in order to make a final decision.
Don't forget that touching base with your prospects through LinkedIn or other social channels they're active on, can be a great way to vary your outreach approach within your sales cadence.
3. Reach out and schedule a meeting.
Persistence is the name of the game in sales prospecting.
Whether it’s over email or on the phone, committing to ambitious activity goals for the number of qualified prospects you start conversations (and follow up) with each day, will be the backbone of a strong pipeline for the days, weeks and months to come.
And depending upon the value of the product or service you’re selling and the lead’s score, the immediate goal of your initial outreach could be to do anything from quickly ask for the sale (lower priced offer), to building a relationship, establishing a need or asking to schedule a meeting and evaluate next steps together.
Either way, your #1 objective is to follow up with every qualified sales prospect until there’s a clear yes or no on the deal.
Dealing in maybe’s will lead to the eventual demise of your business. Always seek clear answers and learn to love the no, since it’s a hell of a lot better than ambiguity.
Providing upfront value as a means of standing out.
Most of all when sales prospecting, it’s your job to think about how you can stand out from the dozens of other salespeople showing up in your decision-maker’s inbox or on the phone each week.
You’ve only got one shot at making a first impression—and that relatively cold email template your prospect’s seen 13 different variations of this week isn’t exactly going to instill confidence in your abilities to deliver a useful product.
Download your free copy of Cold Email Hacks here to learn how to send emails that turn prospects into customers.
So, how can you best provide value to your decision-making sales prospect before opening up a line of communication with them? Well, in my experience selling products and services in the four to five-figure range, a personalized touch can go a long way.
Leaning into your (and your company’s) core competencies, think about some of the ways your sales prospect would likely want to receive value—what’s important to them?
- Can you get them featured in a story you’re writing your company’s blog?
- Do you have a referral you could send their way to help drive them more business?
- How about a mutually beneficial partnership or joint marketing effort to start with?
Strive to look beyond just a “recommendation” styled email that can conveniently be solved by purchasing your solution; people who’ve been in business long enough to become a decision maker will see straight through that tactic.
On the flip side, when your conversation starts by letting them know about a cool thing you just did for them, rather than jumping straight into selling, your chances of building a meaningful relationship go up significantly.
Scaling your outreach to sales prospects.
If you’re managing a decent volume of sales prospects, then it’s crucial to employ the right tools to help make sure conversations don’t fall through the cracks, and that you’re not missing out on potentially lucrative deals because you’re not sending enough emails or making enough calls each day.
We built our email sequences feature here at Close to specifically solve for this challenge—our own sales reps were getting more inbound leads than they could follow up with each week, so we launched a feature to help automate your sales emails.
In just a few clicks, you can enroll your leads in an automated drip series of natural looking emails that’ll be delivered (from your actual email account) to your sales prospects over the course of days or even weeks—designed to encourage them to hit reply and keep the conversation going with you one-on-one.
4. Educate and fully qualify your prospect’s needs.
At one point or another, we've all probably been sold something we didn’t really need (or necessarily want all that much) and lived to regret the purchase.
Well, at least I have… In fact, I can still remember the name of the salesperson that pitched me hard on implementing an advanced marketing automation suite of tools, despite not actually being a good sales prospect for that company.
At the time, my blog was still in its infancy with practically zero readers, hardly any subscribers and only a couple of paying customers. The last thing I needed, was to automate a bunch of marketing processes I hadn’t even learned, built out, tested or optimized with my slowly growing community.
Yet still, that didn’t stop this talented salesperson from getting me excited about all the possibilities I’d unlock with their ($250/mo) tools. And as a result of being gullible enough, I was convinced I had to have this marketing automation software. Then, I churned after just 3 months—the minimum contract period I’d committed to.
Don’t close bad-fit sales prospects. It’s negative for customers and your business.
It’s your job to take responsibility for bringing in only customers that’ll benefit from using your product (or service)—and are ready to start doing that today.
So now that you’ve made contact with your sales prospect, the goal at this stage is to take a final pass at truly qualifying their needs for their specific use cases, and to make sure there’s a mutual fit for the prospect to become a happy customer.
This time however, the qualification process is much more hands on, in-depth and should be based on a back and forth conversation, rather than your initial upfront research (the former of which can often be informed by a number of assumptions about the prospect).
Whether you’re having a discovery call with your sales prospect over the phone (remember, Close has intelligent built-in calling), through video conferencing software like Zoom, or in-person at their office, it’s crucial to prepare in advance and come to the table with a clear set of objectives you want to accomplish on the call.
Working backwards from what it’ll take to close the sale, what are the key questions you still need answered (or verified) in order to validate that your sales prospect is indeed a good-fit customer?
There are four key areas you want to focus on with your qualifying questions.
How well does the sales prospect match your ideal customer profile? How big is the company? What industry are they in? Where are they located? Does their ideal use case fit how your product should be used? Which tools have they tried in the past? What kind of ecosystem are they playing in?
For example, when we’re qualifying sales prospects for CRM, we ask how many leads they usually have in their pipeline. If it's less than 100 a year, we recommend not buying our software and instead just using a CRM spreadsheet or similar scaled back (free) solution.
What are this prospect's specific needs? Is it about reaching a certain revenue goal? What are the needs of the individual, the team, and the company?
Believe it or not, B2B sales is fundamentally no different to what’s happening in a B2C sales setting—at the end of the day, you're selling to people, not companies. It stands to reason that you have to know how to fulfill their wants and needs.
Make it your mission to confirm with your sales prospect, which specific results they want to achieve (that can be directly impacted by employing your product or service). Beyond that, how will those results affect them individually, their team and their company?
The better you’re able to illustrate realistic positive outcomes at all levels, the stronger their case for choosing to buy.
How does your prospect’s organization make decisions? How many people are involved? Which departments are involved? What's their typical buying process like? How much time does it takes them to buy a product? When do they plan to buy?
The larger the company, the longer their purchasing cycle often is, and the more stakeholders are typically involved in the decision-making process.
For example, some companies have a 12 month (or even longer) purchasing process. If you need to close 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.
Who are you competing against for the sale? Which other vendors have they worked with in the past? 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 or not.
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. Grab our B2B qualifying questions and get started today.
Qualification is all about asking questions and eliciting the right information from your sales prospect. Get started by downloading our free list of the 42 most important B2B qualifying questions.
5. Address objections and close the sale.
Did you know that 80% of sales prospects report saying “no” four times before they get to a “yes,” on a deal?
Couple that with the fact that 92% of salespeople report giving up on a sales prospect after hearing four “no’s,” and we’ve got a lot of missed opportunities sitting on the table—just because reps aren’t asking early and often enough for the sale.
To be clear, these statistics don’t mean every one of your sales prospects is just four “no’s” away from turning into a “yes,” but the point is that sales is often a long game, but once you’ve fully qualified a prospect, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t buy.
Addressing (and overcoming) your prospect’s objections.
More often than not during your call with a qualified sales prospect, you’re going to field some tough questions—objections about the limitations of a particular product feature, protest about your pricing, and any number of other common sales objections.
You need to show up prepared, with readily available answers to the most common objections your prospects typically bring up, like:
- I don’t have the time to do this right now
- Implementation will be too complex or difficult for our team
- Your product is too expensive
- Please just email me more information
- And other more industry-specific challenges or questions
When you improvise and try to answer your prospect’s objections on-the-fly without a clear foundation, the quality of your answer will depend heavily upon your mental state in the moment—which isn’t a practice you want to make a habit of.
If you’re on a call with a sales prospect, and they clearly express interest in your product, but push back immediately on the pricing as being too far above their budget, you could respond with an answer like:
- “I understand. You know what, I actually had two other customers like you recently who were unsure about the price at first. But what they found was… ”
- "Oh really? If you don’t mind me asking, how are you coming to the conclusion that the product is too expensive?"
- "Is the price point a cash flow issue, or a budget issue?"
- “Let’s explore some creative strategies for fitting this into your budget.”
- "Ok, I understand. Is there a part of the product you don't need that we might be able to carve out in order to work on the price a little bit?"
Each of these answers you could give to the general objection of “high” pricing, will seek to uncover different underlying reasons for that objection coming up in the first place. You’ll be able to address some of these underlying factors, while others you may not.
Still, it’s your job to prepare for meeting every major sales objection that’s come up with deals you’ve both won and lost over the years.
Build a list of these common objections, write down concise answers to each of them, get feedback from the rest of your team until they feel strong enough to walk into any meeting with a sales prospect, and you’ll be well on your way to winning more deals.
Then all that’s left is… asking for the sale.
As Steli so often shares when delivering talks and trainings around the world, “The biggest mistake salespeople and founders often make, is not asking for the sale.”
This is natural. Even those who’ve been selling for years, often wait too long to ask for the sale. And for that reason, many of us miss out on opportunities to close more deals.
While it’s tempting to avoid any possibility of rejection, this often translates into waiting until we feel there’s a guaranteed yes, before proposing the question of whether or not your sales prospect is ready to buy.
The right time to ask for the close is, before you think they’re ready.
If you’ve done a good job of fully qualifying your sales prospect, meeting their biggest objections and still believe they’d be a good fit for becoming a customer, then you need to ask for the sale if they haven’t already done so.
Now, this often catches even the most qualified (and excited) sales prospects off guard, so brace yourself for an initial “no.” However, they likely won’t have a crystal clear reason not to buy when they’re already convinced of the value your product will provide them.
To kick start that conversation, you could say something like, “It seems like you’re are a great fit. I’ve shown you how our product can solve your problems. Are you ready to buy?”
If you get an initial “no,” then follow up with the question, “Ok, then what’s the process we would need to go through in order to get you ready to buy?”
This approach shows your sales prospect that you’re confident in your offer, and clearly shows that you want to work with them on getting to where a “yes” makes sense for both parties involved. Plus, any under-the-surface objections they were still hiding will immediately come to the surface, to be dealt with once and for all.
Bonus: 7 game-changing sales prospecting tools to accelerate your your qualification efforts
To further increase your speed to lead qualification (and prospect management process), consider employing these incredibly useful tools at various different stages of your sales prospecting journey.
1. A CRM that matches your needs.
Naturally, we’re fanatics about employing the right CRM in your sales organization—that’s why we decided to build Close (with the goal of helping every SMB and startup double their sales productivity).
And aside from the obvious benefits of using a CRM for things like scaling your email outreach beyond what you’re able to type and send in Gmail, keeping a close pulse on every deal in your pipeline, and setting follow up reminders—employing the right CRM for the stage your business is in today, can unlock massive productivity gains for your team.
Before deciding on which CRM is best for your company, take a hard look at your existing sales process… Which activities do your reps perform on a daily basis? Are they sending a high volume of emails, or making calls all day? How many leads are being managed at a given time? How much can you afford to allocate to a CRM today?
What really sets Close apart from the rest is the intense focus on sales productivity—that is, doing everything we possibly can to gear the product around helping salespeople to sell more products.
Here’s what makes Close different from other CRMs on the market:
- Built-in calling means your sales reps never need to leave Close to make calls, log notes, update the lead status and set follow up reminders (with as few clicks as possible) all while still on a call. Our calling software is also packed with automated and predictive dialing, which eliminates the need to ever manually dial numbers again, and dramatically cuts down the amount of time they’ll spend listening to dial tones, voicemails or answering services.
- Automated email sequences can be customized across team-wide or private email templates to automatically deliver a series of nurturing emails designed to warm your leads up and encourage a reply to your outreach efforts—at scale without all the manual back & forth. This’ll help you qualify more leads in less time.
- Simple and robust reporting with a constant eye toward tracking your team’s most important metrics and insights to help move the needle on closing more deals. Our sole purpose as a company is to empower your team to close more sales—and our reporting, focused on starting from a pipeline level view, has the ability to zoom down and review the details of an individual deal, monitor sales rep performance and spot potential soft spots within your sales process.
That being said, we know that we’re not the only CRM on the market, and there’s an entire ecosystem of products out there that may be a better fit for you to leverage, with varying feature sets designed to achieve different specific goals.
- Salesforce: Great for enterprise-level organizations that need tons of features, complex integrations and functionality (and have the budget to support that).
- Copper: Very useful as a limited CRM for email-focused sales organizations that overlays on top of Gmail and works seamlessly with all products in the G Suite.
- HubSpot: Primarily used for contact and pipeline management, HubSpot’s CRM functionality can be a good (no-frills) starting point if your company already uses HubSpot’s marketing automation tool suite.
For more advice on how to choose the right CRM for your unique needs (yes, even if that means not using Close), check out our guide to choosing the best CRM for your small business.
As we covered above in the researching section of this sales prospecting guide, LinkedIn and their Sales Navigator Chrome extension can be massively useful free tools when it comes to researching your prospects, learning who the company’s key decision-makers are in your target department and for gathering more general details about a company to help further qualify the prospect.
Hailed as the leading technographics provider, Datanyze helps (primarily B2B companies) apply their unique technology platform to help identify the different tools, products and online services a company is currently using, thus enabling you to better target the right prospects. On top of technographics, Datanyze also packs powerful data enrichment and predictive analytics tools to help learn more about every lead that enters your pipeline.
This platform is widely recognized as the premier destination for discovering industry trends, investments, and news about literally hundreds of thousands of public (and private) companies from around the world. It’s a one-stop shop for gathering key up-to-date details about a company’s size whether you’re selling to startups, Fortune 500s or anything in-between.
Originally launched in 2010, AngelList began as just an online introduction board for tech startups that needed funding. Since then, it’s grown to become a very powerful website for learning more about startups and investors—including the ability to quickly see which roles companies are currently hiring for (often a leading indicator of potential upcoming changes in the company’s tech stack, signaling a selling opportunity).
Quickly scanning through a prospect’s Twitter stream will give you an idea of the topics they clearly care about, an idea of their communication style, and you can get a jump-start on building the relationship by engaging with them beforehand more casually. On a more granular level, you can even utilize Twitter’s advanced search feature to sift through all of their public tweets to see if they’ve ever mentioned our brand or asked a question about a competitor product.
Datafox is company intelligence platform that helps you find and prioritize your target companies (with the goal of sourcing more qualified opportunities). Their database is built on 219,000+ hours of data science engineering and an army of white-glove analysts who’ve worked hard to help you set and forget your CRM data management (i.e. automatic updates to lead, contact, and account-level data in real-time), so that you can focus on selling based on what’s happening today.
And that's a wrap!
Still have sales prospecting questions?
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