If you’re in sales — there are only a few things that sting more than a dropped lead or leads that churn too early. The very people that signed up for the product or entertained your outreach in the beginning, only to change directions and priorities later on — are counterproductive to your sales process. They drain too much of your time and leak value from your sales pipeline that could have otherwise materialized with other leads you needed to prioritize. Sounds familiar? You’re not alone. Sales prospecting is tricky and often leaves the best salespeople exhausted and confused. Especially so for outbound sales, where sales teams need to both generate and qualify leads as part of the prospecting process. In fact, a survey done by HubSpot shows that prospecting is the most difficult part of the sales cycle. If you’re one of those who are struggling, fret not as we’ll explore what exactly it is and some tips to help you get better at sales prospecting! Contents What is sales prospecting? 7 habits you should have for better sales prospecting 1. Know your ideal customers 2. Get familiar with the bad customers 3. Grow and nurture your network 4. Keep refining your prospecting questionnaire 5. Stay updated on your target market 6. Reduce lead turnaround time 7. Re-engage disqualified leads Invest in your leads and build lasting relationships What is sales prospecting? Sales prospecting is the process of finding qualified leads who you can later pitch and nurture for selling your product. In outbound sales, prospecting makes for the first stage of the sales process — where sales development reps (SDRs) fill up the funnel with prospects. The 7 main stages of a sales cycle The 7 main stages of a sales cycle. Once this funnel is filled up, the sales team then works towards converting these leads into sales opportunities through qualification and nurturing frameworks. In other words, Sales prospecting is a combination of sales-driven lead generation and qualification, which outputs high-converting, sales-ready leads for the team to convert. Based on how it’s set up, the prospecting stage in the sales process can make or break the sales performance of a product. Even if conversions between the two funnel stages are high, irrelevant leads that go down the cycle would end up not purchasing from you. As a result, your sales yield will take a hit, and revenue targets won’t be met. Don’t let that happen to you. Follow these best practices and habits throughout your sales prospecting process so you don’t have to deal with low-intent leads and ensure you can close more sales consistently. 7 habits you should have for better sales prospecting 1. Know your ideal customers Before you go out looking for potential customers — if you don’t know who, or what you’re looking for, you’ll end up with low-intent leads. To find leads that have better chances at converting into paying customers, you’ll have to qualify them based on your ideal customer’s characteristics. Ideal customers for your product are the ones that stay with you the longest, pay you the most, and derive the most value from your product. Get to know such existing customers more meaningfully, so you can profile them. Conduct interviews, online surveys, and ask questions that help you understand them better. Later on, the data you collect through this exercise will help you qualify your potential customers and leads better, which in turn will improve your bottom-funnel conversions. Before you begin sales prospecting the next time, consider implementing a feedback system that will collect statistical data to demonstrate the importance of client feedback. 2. Get familiar with the bad customers Just like how we classified ideal customers, there’s also a segment of customers you should almost always say “No” to. True customer-centricity prioritizes how to increase profits from your best customers, find more like them, and avoid over-investing in the rest. Bad customers are the ones that take too long to close if they ever do, demand or expect too much out of you, churn early, and increase your overheads. These customers add to your product’s operating expenses, instead of working the other way around. By leaving out such prospects early on in the sales cycle and avoiding them, you can focus on ones that are a closer fit to your ideal customers and generate more value. You’ll also build a larger pool of ideal users among your customers which will add to profitability in the long term. Like we did for ideal customers, check for patterns among the history of customers you’ve failed to close or churned too early and disqualify them accordingly. The goal is to avoid nurturing leads that don’t add incremental value to your pipeline (and sales revenue) and remove them from your sales process early on. 3. Grow and nurture your network Trust plays a really important role in sales — especially so while dealing with B2B products and services that come with larger ticket sizes. Leads can often drop off based on their comfort levels and familiarity with you and your organization. Marketers and salespeople aren’t deemed as trustworthy. Source: HubSpot Marketers and salespeople aren’t deemed as trustworthy. Source: HubSpot Salespeople and marketers are some of the least trusted professionals, and this can impact your ability to form connections and close leads. Having a large network helps you counter this by extending your influence among your audience in the network. The more people know or hear of you, the more likely they are to recommend or talk about you — making it easier for you to sell to them or their references. Participate in niche groups and communities within social platforms like Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, and Slack relevant to your product and market. Actively engage with members in such communities, and stay active on your personal channels (Twitter, Linkedin, Quora) as well. This will help you build your own personal brand, which will come in handy while prospecting for new customers and closing deals in your pipeline. 4. Keep refining your prospecting questionnaire When qualifying new leads and prospects, SDRs often use the same questionnaire that’s been used for quite a while — never having changed or tweaked it. Over a period of time, the persona of your leads and prospects changes based on a variety of factors. These can include new kinds of leads coming in from older marketing channels, new competitors popping up, and more. Asking the same old qualifying questions wouldn’t help you qualify them up to the same standards as before in such cases. Keep your qualification questions open-ended — this will help you derive more insights and data from different kinds of prospects. Look out for trends, and depending on the characteristics of your new leads, tweak your qualification criteria. Keep a check on funnel-wide metrics, maintain ticket sizes, and qualify leads that are more likely to convert given their needs. Watering down your qualification criteria and hoping to close more leads wouldn’t work out. So, be in tune with your newly generated leads, so you can keep up with the evolving needs of your potential customers, and qualify them accordingly. 5. Stay updated on your target market Keeping a pulse on events and trends within your target market is equally important. There’ll be times when a new alternative to your product or service comes up, or certain regulations or events make your product incompatible or less valuable. A competitor might have tweaked their pricing or one of their marketing channels might start overpowering yours. These events might occur without notice, and unless you act quickly, you’re likely to lose out on sales and existing customers. Apart from this, your new leads will also gain ground to negotiate on, which you might want to prepare yourself against. In such cases, you can conduct a market research survey from time to time. It will provide you with real-time data that will assist you in keeping up to date with your target market, and competitors. With this knowledge, you can mold your offering and serve your customers better. Another way is to join communities and professional networks where your potential customers are active participants. Keep up with discussions around their businesses, and the problems they’re facing on a daily basis. This will help you stay in the loop with new developments in your target market, so you can switch up your sales strategies and tactics to avoid losing any ground. 6. Reduce lead turnaround time Letting go of leads can be tough, especially if they’re difficult to come by. But nurturing the wrong leads and having them stuck in one stage of the sales process for too long can hurt your sales numbers more than you’d imagine. When prospective customers register or sign up with you, their intent to buy decays with every passing minute unless their expectations are met in time. According to a Salesforce report, 83% of customers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company. When their expectations aren’t met, you’ll often find it difficult to nurture them. This will result in your team nurturing leads that might have already made up their mind and moved on with an alternative. Make it a point to get back to your newly generated lead as soon as possible to qualify and nurture them, if needed. Only let your ideal customers stay in the sales pipeline and pass on the rest to re-engage them later. Have turnaround times (TATs) set for your leads, right from the time they sign up with you. This will allow you to qualify a lead within a limited time frame, by responding to them sooner, and converting them earlier in the cycle. Shorter turnarounds also free up more time on your end to nurture more leads and generate more sales revenue. 7. Re-engage disqualified leads A good chunk of leads you generate either wouldn’t be a good fit for your product or lack the intent or authority to make a buying decision. Such leads aren’t going to convert in the short term, however, this doesn’t mean you should leave or abandon them. They did show interest in your product at some point, which is worth materializing into a longer-term relationship. Even with a lower yield, conversions from that pool of leads will have a higher impact on growth since there’s no marketing effort invested in them. Nurture such leads, even though they might not convert in the near term. Enroll them into automated email sequences, and set up check-in calls when your SDRs have the extra bandwidth. Keep them updated on your products, and if they’re still in the market for a solution other than yours — recommend them alternatives. This will help you establish a long-term relationship with your leads based on trust, which might later materialize in the form of a referral or big-ticket purchase. Invest in your leads and build lasting relationships With customers’ contacts readily available for sales reps to use for outreach, low-effort sales communication has become the norm today. This is why differentiating your sales outreach is crucial. Collect as much information as you can about your customers and get to know them better. Narrow down your qualification criteria — only let high-quality leads into your sales pipeline. Once they’re in — spend as much time as you need to understand their problems and help them solve them, instead of the conventional approach of “pitching” your product. This will help you build solid working relationships with your potential customers, making your sales prospecting and outreach efforts much more efficient. A quicker, more efficient sales prospecting process is not just good for you — it also saves your customers’ time and helps them make effortless buying decisions, rewarding everyone involved.