What is sales prospecting?
Prospects are possible customers, and prospecting is finding possible customers. Sales reps use prospecting to expand the size of their potential customer base. They’ll reach out to leads (potential sales contacts) and nurture them into “opportunities” (leads who have been warmed up over time). There are various sales prospecting techniques, from making calls to sending direct mail, attending networking events, and connecting on social platforms like LinkedIn.
The stages of the sales prospecting process.
The sales process goes from cold leads to warm opportunities to red hot deals. Prospecting is what happens in between:
FROM LEADS →
TO OPPORTUNITIES →
Sales and marketing source leads.
Leads are unqualified prospects. Leads can come from marketing (think a webinar that requires a form fill) or sales (think cold outreach).
Sales qualifies leads into prospects
Sales gets to know leads and decides whether they’re a good fit for the product. If they are, the lead is “qualified” to become a prospect.
Sales nurtures prospects into opportunities.
As sales makes prospects more interested in the sale, these prospects become “opportunities” who are more and more likely to buy.
Sales closes opportunities into deals.
In the end, after many conversations, there will be two kinds of opportunities: “closed-lost” (boo) or “closed-won” (yay!).
How do I find new sales prospects?
We could talk about all the different platforms out there, but let’s be real. “When it comes to sourcing prospects online, LinkedIn is the biggest game in town,” says Stephanie Svanfeldt, a strategic account executive at Salesforce. Here are tips to get going:
- Follow the prospect before you connect.
Unless you’re sending InMail, which is a sponsored message, you’ll need to get connected with prospects before you can message them on LinkedIn. Start by following them. From there, you can begin to comment on, like, and share their status updates and work your way into their world. If they think you’re providing value, they’ll be more likely to respond to a connection request.
- Find them in groups.
Joining a group where your prospect is active can give you a shortcut to getting connected. Look for the groups they belong to on their profile and see if there’s one that also makes sense to join. Then you can chime in on the group’s posts. Even if you can’t respond to them directly, they might get email alerts about the best comments left in the group, which is a great way to end up directly in their inbox.
- Hype them up.
Everyone wants to go viral. Follow the prospect’s activity and help drum up engagement. This is a great way to show that you’re interested in your prospect’s ideas. You can also look at the information they highlight on their profile — like courses, presentations, and thought leadership — and “endorse” them for skills that matter most to them.
How has the sales prospect changed?
Prospecting used to be a volume play. Salespeople could make 200 calls a day and send out blasts of emails and know that enough of them would stick to be worth it.
Cold outreach is still an important piece of the puzzle, but sales development representatives (SDRs) and sales reps will need to balance broad quantity outreach with targeted quality outreach. Here’s why:
The new prospect isn’t waiting by the phone like they used to.
Prospects are spread out across digital platforms — mainly LinkedIn, but also Twitter, Facebook, and messaging apps — and they have strong opinions about where they like to communicate.
The new prospect is flooded with more messages than ever.
Our inboxes have never been more crowded. First, in a trend The Economist calls, “It could have been an email,” meetings are getting shorter — by 20%, according to this Harvard Business School study. Conversations that used to happen in meetings are happening in emails instead.