Sales Prospecting in 2019: What You Need to Know

Get more out of your CRM.

Learn about all the tasks a CRM can take off your plate with this free guide.

Sales Tactics : 13 min read

Sales Prospecting in 2019: What You Need to Know

Sales prospecting is one of the most important parts of your sales process. Without the right prospects, your salespeople are going to have a tough time meeting their sales quotas.

But despite this, prospecting is often overlooked. When you’re focused on generating more leads and closing more deals, you might not think about the crucial step that comes between the two. And that’s a big mistake.

Do you want to help your salespeople work as efficiently as possible?

Read on to find out:

  • what is sales prospecting,
  • how you can improve the process at your company

We’ll start with the basics.

What is sales prospecting?

Put simply, sales prospecting is the process of figuring out if a lead is likely to buy from you. If they are, you can pass them to your sales team. If not, you don’t have to waste your time.

You can think of prospecting as a sort of filter in your sales funnel. Before leads get to your sales team, they need to pass through the filter. It helps your sales team spend their time where it’s most effective.

Businesses go about sales prospecting in different ways, and we’ll talk about them shortly. There’s no right way to do it, and you can even prospect at slightly different stages of your sales funnel. In the end, it’s all about providing the highest-quality leads for your sales team.

There’s an important distinction between sales prospecting and lead generation.

If you read about sales prospecting online, you’ll sometimes find that people get it confused with lead generation.

Lead generation is the process of filling the top of your sales funnel; creating a list of people who might be interested in buying a product or service like yours. But they only might be interested. Just because someone downloaded your ebook or signed up for your email newsletter doesn’t mean that they’re likely to buy from you.

Prospecting serves as the filter that removes the people who aren’t likely to buy from you.

You may also use the intermediate step of qualifying. Once you’ve created a large list of leads, you can qualify those who are interested in buying a product or service like yours. That narrows down the list, and you can then prospect those leads to find out who’s likely to buy from you.

If you don’t have a huge list of leads, you might skip qualifying and go right to prospecting.

Pro-tip

🚀 your prospecting

Learn about 5 ways that sales teams can prospect more effectively in this webinar.

How are inbound and outbound sales prospecting different?

You’ve heard about inbound marketing, or using content and other marketing materials to draw leads to your company. But did you know that prospecting can be inbound, too?

Inbound sales prospecting helps you determine which leads to pass on to your sales team more efficiently. Instead of calling them up, going through your prospecting sheet, and determining whether they’re a good sales candidate, let your leads take care of the issue for you.

Lead generation forms are a great example. When a visitor downloads an ebook or another resource from your site, you might ask them a few questions about their company size, budget, and industry. You can use the answers to those questions to create a lead score (which we’ll talk about in a moment).

Here's an example of a lead gen form on Facebook:

lead gen form example
With the right information, you can almost fully automate your prospecting.

But there’s still a place for outbound prospecting, too. Not every lead fills out a lead gen form. Some of them come from databases or other sources. Or you might only have a small amount of information.

In these cases, outbound prospecting is the way to go. Your sales development team gets in touch with a lead via phone or email to ask a series of questions. Depending on the answer to those questions, the lead will be passed on to your sales team or moved out of the funnel.

Modern prospecting takes advantage of inbound methods as often as possible. These methods are more efficient, remove much of the personal judgment required, and let you run a smaller sales development team. If you’re not using inbound methods for prospecting, you’re not being as efficient as you could be.

But there’s always going to be a need for outbound, too.

What are warm + cold sales prospecting?

How much do you know about the lead that you’re prospecting? Have they demonstrated an interest in buying from your company, or do they not know much about you yet?

The answer to these questions determines whether your prospecting is warm or cold. Cold prospecting is a lot like cold calling; the recipient doesn’t know that it’s coming, and they’ve expressed little (if any) interest in becoming a customer.

Warm prospecting will get you better results. In sales, you can expect around a 2% success rate for cold calls. You can boost that number to 30% or more by warming up the lead with an email or a referral.

You’ll get similar results in cold prospecting by using these cold calling tactics. It can be difficult to get in touch with people who aren’t expecting to be contacted. They might not answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize, or trash salesy emails without reading them.

If they expect to hear from you, on the other hand, you’ll get better results. Whenever possible, warm up your leads before you start the prospecting process.

Lead scoring

Many companies assign a score to each lead indicating how likely they are to become a customer. This is called lead scoring, and it can make your prospecting much more efficient.

Let’s take a look at an example from Wishpond:

sales lead scoring example
Higher lead scores indicate that a salesperson should pursue the lead sooner rather than later.

Before lead scoring technology, you’d have to get all of this information by getting in touch with the lead. But today’s tools let you combine inbound prospecting with lead scoring to get lots of information on leads before you even make the first call.

An effective inbound prospecting workflow that includes lead scoring not only makes your prospecting more efficient, but can also help your salespeople to focus on leads with higher lead scores.

Fortunately, much of this process can be automated with the right tools (which we’ll discuss below).

Start the sales prospecting process with research.

Effective prospecting requires that you know your lead. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to tailor your prospecting communications to find the information you need.

And in some cases, you may find out that the lead isn’t a prospect at all, saving you from having to make a call or write an email.

But what kind of information should you collect during prospecting? The list is nearly endless:

  • For example, you probably know to read up on the lead and their company on LinkedIn for B2B prospecting. You can find information on their current and past jobs, their experiences, interests, and groups.
  • You might already be checking out leads on Twitter, where they could be sharing the professional issues they’re interested in.
  • Have you ever checked out a lead on Quora?
  • Or accessed the company’s financial reports filed with the SEC?
  • You might even use information from Facebook to create a social connection.

These types of information and more are available with just a few clicks. Look for mentions of the company in the news to compliment the lead on a recent success (or find another personal tidbit that’s useful in making a connection).

Pro-tip: If you're in tech, check AngelList for information on funding rounds to see which companies are growing.

There are more sources of information about leads and companies than you could possibly take advantage of. So what do you do?

Focus on your lead scoring framework. Find the information that helps you determine whether or not a potential buyer is a good bet for your company.

Once you’ve done that, go above and beyond to find a connection or learn something about your lead that other prospectors won’t take the time to discover. That will help you stand out from the other companies trying to sell to them.

Here are some sales prospecting techniques to try:

So how do you actually do prospecting? Again, there’s no right or wrong way—whatever works best for your company is the right way to do it. Adjusting to the needs and preferences of your customers should be a top priority.

Here are a few prospecting methods and their pros and cons :

Phone

One of the most common questions you’ll find about prospecting is whether you should call or email first. And many people suggest emailing. But there’s something to be said for an old-fashioned phone call, too.

Phone calls cut through the clutter—businesspeople get a huge number of emails every day day, and a personal call stands out from the mess of text. Even a cold call can get great results if you use good calling practices.

Make your calls stand out from emails by providing a level of human interaction and connection.

But there are also disadvantages to calling. Many leads won’t answer your calls. And leaving several voicemails isn’t going to endear you to your leads.

You also can’t use templates and automation like you can with email, so it’s a larger investment of time.

Balance calling with other methods of communication if you want to take full advantage of its potential effectiveness.

Email

As the business world’s foremost method of communication, it makes sense that you’d prospect via email. Of course, you can always combine emailing with more traditional prospecting calls: leading with an email can warm up a lead before getting them on the phone.

Keep your emails short and get right to the point. Don’t beat around the bush or pretend that you’re just reaching out to connect. Prospects see through that and won’t be impressed.

In most cases, the goal of your emails will be to set up a meeting or a phone call. Keep that in mind when composing your prospecting emails.

Social media

Many businesspeople use social media for professional purposes, making social prospecting a mainstay for salespeople. Unfortunately, it’s also developed a reputation for spammy, unsolicited sales messages.

Because of that, if you’re going to do social prospecting, make sure you do it well.

Like phone prospecting, your best bet is to warm up the lead and make a connection. Social media is all about making connections, so this should come easily to anyone who’s used social for professional purposes in the past.

Above all, remember that social media is for conversations, not pitches. If prospecting happens organically, great. But don’t force it.

It’s also a good idea to tailor your approach to the network. Etiquette on LinkedIn is different from best practices on Twitter. Understanding the difference is crucial to social prospecting success.

Chatbots

2019 is the year of the chatbot. Services like Intercom and Drift let companies create automated sequences that qualify leads and pass them directly to salespeople.

In essence, chatbots perform the same function as lead generation forms. They get visitors to answer a series of simple questions that determine whether they’d be a good fit for your product or service:

chatbot example
Drift's chatbot

Chatbots are more complicated than simple forms, though. And a poorly written chatbot can have negative consequences for engagement. If you follow best practices for writing your chatbot scripts, though, they can be a great way to automate some of your prospecting process (as well as other tactics).

Direct mail

You might think that direct mail prospecting is completely dead, but you’d be wrong. If you think a phone call cuts through inbox clutter, wait until you try sending a handwritten letter.

Like email, the key here is brevity. A single page is the most you should send if you’re going with a prospecting letter. And using a 4” x 6” card is even better—include just enough information to get your prospect’s attention and convince them to get on a call with you.

If you’re interested in doing something different, be sure to check out our guide to The Long-Lost Art of Sales Prospecting Letters.

In-person

If phone calls add a personal touch to prospecting, talking in person takes it to the next level. Of course, you probably won’t show up at someone’s office with a sales pitch. In-person prospecting often takes place at events like conferences and meetups.

If you’ve been to one of these events, you probably know that you get pitched all day. So take a cue from social media and make a point to be conversational. Chat with people about what they’ve enjoyed about the event. Ask questions about their business. Work your prospecting questions in so it doesn’t feel like an interrogation.

In fact, here are a few conference networking tips:

Referrals

The easiest way to prospect your leads is to have someone else do it. And that’s why referrals are so valuable. If someone refers a customer to you, they’ve helped you take prospecting off your list of tasks.

Of course, actually getting referrals isn’t easy. You have to be proactive in telling people to refer their friends, family, or colleagues. You might offer some sort of referral bonus. As with most methods of prospecting, it depends on your customers and what works for them.

But remember: you’re not likely to get many referrals without asking for them. So make sure your customers know that you value referrals.

Use sales prospecting tools to your advantage.

A discussion of sales prospecting tools could fill dozens of pages. We’ll keep it to a brief overview here.

The main function of any sales prospecting tool should be to keep track of your leads and communications. The entry for each lead should contain contact information, lead scores, an interaction history, and any upcoming tasks like follow-up calls or meetings.

The tool should also make it easy to communicate—if you can write emails, store templates, or even chat via the tool, you’ll find it easier to keep track of every interaction you have with a lead. That’s crucial for prospecting together as a team without annoying your prospect with repeat questions, building on previous conversations, and getting the right information.

The main tool in your arsenal for sales prospecting is your customer relationship management software (CRM). Modern CRMs have almost everything you need to manage your prospecting process—you can store contacts, reach out to them, and track your interactions all at once:

Copper, for example, lives in your Gmail inbox and automatically pulls all contact and relationship activity for you.

In short, it’s your home base for prospecting. Not every CRM is built with prospecting in mind, but most can at least be rigged up to track the most important information.

You might also pair your CRM with other tools, like lead databases, lead management software, lead scoring tools, and marketing automation software to manage the entire process. What’s key is that your leads have a consistent flow from one end of the sales funnel to the other.

Other tools can help, too. For example, you might set up a Google alert for news related to your product or service and use that information to qualify leads. Let’s say you’re a tax solutions provider. You might set up an alert for information on changing tax codes. When you see that a city or state has made changes to their tax requirements, you can reach out to potential clients in that area, and you already have something to talk about.

Social monitoring tools can serve the same purpose. In 2019, alerts and notifications are getting a lot smarter. Taking advantage of them to get in touch with the right people at the right time will give you a leg up on your competitors.

If you’re on the hunt for software to make prospecting easier, check out our list of 12 sales prospecting tools to help you work smarter.

Make sure to document your prospecting workflow.

No matter which tools you use, it’s important to have a well-documented process that details how a lead moves through your funnel.

Do you have a sales development team that goes through the prospecting process and then hands off leads to the sales team? Or do your salespeople do their own prospecting?

How does data get from one app to the other? Whose responsibility is it to give the customer’s details to the implementation team if that’s necessary?

Especially when you’re establishing your prospecting workflow, people might not know the answers to these questions. That causes problems because that’s when handoffs get missed, information gets misplaced, and prospects don’t get qualified.

That’s why it’s important to have clear documentation that lays out the prospecting process. Have a flowchart that shows everyone involved who’s responsible for which piece. Use templates for communications to make sure the right information gets collected.

If your CRM doesn’t support the creation of flowcharts and templates, use an app like Trello or Asana to set up your workflow.

Sales prospecting is crucial for high-performing sales teams.

Sales prospecting might not be something you think about very often. But making the process more effective helps your salespeople do their jobs better. And that’s good for business.

If you’re just starting to prospect, begin with the basics. Develop a plan, document your workflow, and create templates wherever you can. Set up a CRM that keeps detailed records of your interactions with clients. It might take more time now, but it will save you many hours in the long run.