Every sales team has a love-hate relationship with prospecting.
In the gold rush days, thousands of gold prospectors took shots at riverbeds and drylands, hoping to strike gold. Well, sales prospecting is the same — trying to search for potential customers among hoards of unqualified leads.
And yes, it’s just as difficult as it sounds.
In fact, 42% of sales reps consider prospecting to be the most challenging part of the sales process, but it’s also the most crucial.
Keep reading to learn how following a systemized approach will simplify and streamline your B2B sales prospecting and allow you to nurture your leads along your sales pipeline more effectively.
What Is Sales Prospecting?
Typically, most users will need to come across a brand multiple times before even considering becoming a lead. This is especially true in B2B.
Furthermore, not all leads are created equal. Some will only fill out a form to snag a free lead magnet, but couldn’t actually afford your services. Others might be much readier to buy due to opportune timing.
Sales prospecting is the process of turning these unqualified leads into sales prospects (also called qualified leads), by applying lead qualification and nurturing techniques.
In B2B sales prospecting, you carefully navigate your list of leads and narrow it down to only the leads who match your ideal customer profile. Then, you reach out to them in order to further determine their likelihood to convert to actual customers, as part of a process called lead qualification.
These leads are then carefully nurtured to guide them along your sales pipeline, with the final goal of turning them into customers.
The Step-by-Step Guide to B2B Sales Prospecting
Sales prospecting should always follow a strong lead generation campaign, but can also be used to nurture leads who get in touch on social media, through your contact form, or in your referral program.
When you’re creating lead magnets, remember to keep them directly relevant to your target audience.
If you’re hosting a contest on social media designed to generate leads, don’t just offer a cash giveaway, which everyone wants and will result in a lot of sign-ups that are difficult to sort through; instead, focus on something only your customers would want. In our case, this could be some coveted email verification credits.
The better your leads are, the easier sales prospecting will be. Let’s take a look at the 6 steps you’ll follow during that process.
1. Do Your Research
Before you do anything and reach out to your leads, you need to do your research.
It’s essential to understand who your audience is, a key factor of which is understanding who the key decision-maker in the buying process will be.
This is particularly important for B2B businesses, where the person using your product or service may not necessarily be the decision-maker who has the authority to make the purchase.
Even in medium-sized companies, for example, it won’t be the customer service representatives getting to choose the CRM system; it’ll be, a mid or high-level manager or marketing executive, if not someone even higher up in the company.
Valentin Wallyn, CEO of email-finding tool Findymail, gives a hint at how you might approach this:
2. Understand your decision maker’s pain points
To do this, you’ll need to consider how different audience niches are each using your product. Someone using social media software to schedule their own social posts, for example, is going to be very different from an agency of social practitioners using it to manage their clients’ social en-masse. This will influence how you’re selling to them.
Break your ideal customers down into different buyer personas who all fit into specific niches, and look at how they’re using your product or service and what value they’re getting from it.
Let’s look at the social media example. You might have customers who fit into three distinct buyer personas:
Small businesses use your software to save themselves time by scheduling posting in advance and streamlining the engagement management process. It may be the business owner or an assistant handling this, but likely not someone dedicated specifically to social. They’ll typically sign up for the basic plan because it’s most cost-effective, and they don’t need any bells and whistles. The decision-maker may be the one using the product here, or it could be the business owner.
Large businesses with dedicated social teams are using the tools to strategically map out their content and make working as a team easier. They make heavy use of analytics because they’re more data-focused, and can’t live without the collaboration features like assigning each other tasks or customers. There will likely be a Head of Social or a Chief Marketing Officer making the buying decision here.
Social media agencies who are using your software at an enterprise-grade level (and enterprise-grade pricing) to manage multiple platforms for dozens of different clients. They want every feature you have to offer with unlimited support and a number of profiles. They’ll easily drop significantly more on a monthly subscription because this is crucial to the functioning of their entire business. With something this important, the agency’s founder and key executives will be the ones to make the decision.
3. Qualify & Prioritize Your Leads
After you understand who your customers are — and who the key decision-maker is — you’ll need to qualify and prioritize your leads.
This starts by understanding how you need to qualify leads, and what information you need to do so. You might ask questions like the following to get the info you need:
How big is your company?
How do you think you’ll use our product?
What is your approximate budget or target price range to stay in?
What’s the business problem you’re trying to fix, and why are you choosing to fix it now?
Have any solutions for you ever not worked in the past? Why?
How soon do you need a solution in place? What kind of timeline are we working with?
As you’re asking these questions, assess whether the potential customer belongs to a business that fits into your target audience. Are they the right size? Do they belong to the right industry, and do they actually have a need and a budget for a product or service like yours?
Not every customer is a fit for every business, and a key part of B2B sales prospecting is identifying those who do align with what you can offer. If you only want to work with nonprofits, or e-commerce businesses, or enterprise-grade companies, it’s ok to narrow that down.
During this process, prioritize leads. You want to put the most effort into those who seem like they’re most ready to get started and most likely to convert. These will typically be the prospects who most closely align with your buyer personas and who seem to be ready to move forward (and have the budget to do so).
You never want to really write anyone off, but you do want to invest more time where it’s likely to pay off.
4. Leverage The Right Channels for Outreach
Once you have a lead’s information, you can use several different channels to get in touch with them and nurture them closer towards conversion. Each one has its own best uses and pros and cons associated with them, so consider the following when choosing which you’d like to use:
Email. Cold email is one of the best channels for B2B sales prospecting. It allows people to get back to you when it’s convenient for them, increasing the likelihood that they’ll do so, which may be why 73% of millennials prefer that business communications happen through email. The downside is that some clients may not necessarily want to answer a long list of questions through email.
Phone. You can rely on cold-calling in an attempt to generate leads, but it’s really not the most attractive lead gen option out there. Instead, it’s best used with a scheduled appointment with a lead to qualify them further. People are happy to answer questions on a call and elaborate more than they would if they’re responding to an email or message on mobile.
Ad campaigns. You can always use PPC campaigns like Facebook Ads, Linkedin Ads, and Google’s Display Ads to create tailored content specifically for leads who haven’t converted yet. Consider running ads that encourage users to sign up for a free consultation call or to send you a message, as this will help you get in touch with users to qualify them directly.
Social outreach. If someone seems to be responding to your content on social, you can always reach out directly through a private message. This is particularly effective on LinkedIn, where people are already in a professional mindset. The instant chat communication feature can work in your favor, and for best results, have a dedicated account specialist reach out from their personal page instead of a Company Page.
No matter what, do research on each individual client that you’re reaching out to; LinkedIn and the company’s own website can be useful for this. It will allow you to personalize your messaging and qualification process accordingly, and the more relevant they are, the more likely you are to be successful.
5. Educate Your Prospects
Educating prospects about what you can offer them is a natural part of the B2B sales prospecting journey.
During this stage, you’ll want to fill them in on the product and what it can offer them.
You don’t want to just list features; you want to explain how the product or service can benefit them specifically, demonstrating how it fits their specific needs and how it can solve their individual problems. This is why researching and qualifying leads early on is so important; it makes this part of the process much more effective.
Let’s say, for example, that you have a graphic design agency and are trying to find out if a potential client is a good match.
You go over how the extensive approval, design, and revision processes guarantee that they’re happy with every logo and graphic they pay for, but that it means you all can’t offer turnaround any sooner than a week. This should appeal to your target client instead of turning them away because they need massive amounts of content within two-day turnarounds.
At this stage, you really want to offer value and present it accordingly, instead of just aggressively selling. The B2B buying process takes longer and shouldn’t be rushed.
Keep in mind that as you’re talking to the prospect, you want to adapt to what they’re saying instead of just acting like you’re reading off a script. This allows you to personalize your explanations further.
6. Know Which Objections to Overcome
During this process, you want to show the potential client that you’re a good fit for them, too. Overcoming objections is a natural part of this, and there are two common objections that you’ll likely run into: budget and time.
Can you realistically overcome either of these potential objections for clients that you want to work with? Can you offer rush fees for faster work, and if so, how quickly can you turn a project around and how high are the fees? Could you offer discounts for bulk work or perks like payment upfront?
It helps to know what you’re willing to do before you ever head into negotiations so that you don’t make a hasty judgment that you’ll regret later. It’s also useful to come up with a list of potential objections that leads may have specific to your business or industry before getting in touch and have any solutions or answers ready to go.
7. Follow Up & Stay In Touch
Plenty of prospects won’t be ready to purchase right away, even after you’ve qualified them, educated them about your product or service, and possibly even offered them packages tailored to their specific needs.
That’s okay; as we mentioned earlier, the consideration and research stages in the buying process take longer in B2B decisions.
What you don’t want to do, however, is let things just fall between the cracks. Out of sight, out of mind, and you don’t want to be either.
Regularly following up will help you stay relevant and in consideration, particularly with hot, high-value leads that align with your target personas. Unless they specifically say that they’re no longer interested, that they went with a different option, or that they don’t want you to contact them further, you’re clear for an additional follow-up to stay in touch.
When following up with leads, consider these best practices:
Use email. Emails are the best options for following up because they’re not disruptive and they allow people to respond in their own time.
Keep follow-ups short and to the point, and always thank the prospect for their time. This is all you need to stay relevant.
Provide information about relevant sales, promotions, or special events. This could help people convert, so whether you’re running a promotion where half of the profits are donated to charity or you’re offering exclusive holiday consulting discounts, reach out to let people know.
Share valuable information that isn’t just about sales. Have a webinar coming up, or hosting some sort of event that you think the client would find valuable? Or maybe you published an enormous whitepaper with a ton of data that could help shape some factor of their business. Let them know.
Always let them know you’re an email or a phone call away. If they have questions, you’re there. This lets them know that the door is open without being too aggressive with sales tactics.
B2B Sales Prospecting Tools
Sales prospecting is undeniably a long process and it can be a lot to keep up with, especially with so many moving parts. The following tools can help you streamline the process and improve your results:
LinkedIn Sales Navigator: This tool allows you to actually find potential leads on LinkedIn and then reach out through the platform. As you’re communicating with leads, all of that information integrates with the CRM of your choice.
Wiza.co: Create email lists from LinkedIn that are full of verified email addresses of the exact people you want to reach out to. You can search for people with certain job titles, for example, and get a list of names that fit the bill so you can get in touch through email and enter them into your CRM.
Hatchbuck: This tool is an excellent one for sales automation, which can simplify prospecting significantly. This CRM software is incredible for helping you keep detailed track of each lead and prospect to better nurture your relationship with them as they shift towards becoming customers.
Sales prospecting is an essential part of qualifying and converting leads into clients in B2B, so it’s not something that you want to neglect.
Having dedicated account managers or teams whose sole focus is on building relationships with potential clients will help you increase your client base significantly, and having the right tools at hand can make that even easier.
Remember to follow the six steps detailed above, and there won’t be any cracks for leads to fall through on their way to becoming clients.