On the surface, the task of sales prospecting can look very simple.
It’s a relatively straightforward process of continuously finding potential customers to fill your sales pipeline at every stage. However, as any salesperson and marketer worth their salt knows, there is so much more to sales prospecting than meets the eye.
Despite its apparent simplicity, sales prospecting can be the one factor that makes or breaks a sales cycle. It doesn’t matter if you have a team full of rockstar sales reps if the people they’re selling to are all unqualified leads who will never be a good fit for your company.
This is where having a strong sales prospecting plan comes in.
Having a well-documented sales prospecting plan allows you to equip your sales team with an efficient and highly scalable, process that empowers them to target high-quality prospects. Without one, you’re relying on individual sales reps to produce prospects—often of varying quality and value—which can sometimes be a waste of time.
Now, let’s look at how you can create your own sales prospecting plan in five steps—and supercharge your sales team:
Step 1 - Identify your ideal customer.
According to Richardson’s 2018 Selling Challenges Study, the top two prospecting challenges facing sales professionals today are “Creating a targeted prospecting strategy,” closely followed by “Getting to the right stakeholder.”
Just like how it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a llama and an alpaca unless you know what you’re looking for, you can’t expect your sales reps to locate high-quality prospects if they don’t know what one even looks like.
Problems like these are the reason why it's not good to have too many sitting in your sales pipeline, and why you should find ways to avoid wasting time on unproductive prospecting.
The key to creating any effective prospecting strategy lies in understanding who your ideal customer is.
That means creating a shortlist of key demographics that all your ideal customers share: everything from the size of the company, the industry, to even their geographical location. Take the time to create a profile of your ideal customer (someone who needs exactly what it is you’re offering and is ready to buy it).
Make sure to go beyond the demographics and note any insights you have about what drives their purchasing decisions, their personality, and even what an average day looks like for them:
From there it’s a matter of making sure that every member of your sales team knows exactly what kind of prospect they should be approaching and the best way to locate them.
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Step 2 - Set your goals.
While it’s easy to see prospecting as nothing more than a numbers game where the sole goal is to continuously feed the beast that is the sales funnel, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that attempting any strategy, let alone prospecting, without a firm goal in mind will doom you to fail.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” - Peter Drucker
In order to improve, you need to know what you’re measuring yourself up against and be able to understand what success looks like. By setting a prospecting target for your sales team, you’re giving them an easy way to understand the amount of time and effort they should be devoting to prospecting.
When it comes to setting a goal for prospecting (and even sales goals in general), it’s best to start with your sales targets and work backward.
For example, let’s say an average sales rep is tasked with closing 20 new deals a month. After reviewing past data, you find out that you have a closing ratio of five to one, as in a sales rep is able to close one out every five qualified prospects. That means your sale reps need to be connecting with 100 qualified prospects a month.
You can even take it a step further by figuring out other statistics like the conversion rate for your different prospecting channels such as cold-calling and email outreach. By doing this, you can understand how many calls or emails you need to send a day in order to hit your sales targets.
Once you have a set goal and target in place, take advantage of a CRM tool to help your sales team stay on track.
This is a very basic example but you can see how having a prospecting goal can be beneficial to a sales team. Not only does it give them a target they can work towards, but it’ll also help them recognize opportunities for improvement.
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Step 3 - Develop your script.
Ever tried to go grocery shopping without a shopping list?
You leave the house filled with confidence. But, inevitably, you end up standing in aisle seven desperately trying to remember that one thing you promised your partner you’d get.
Trying to sell to a prospect without a script is kind of like that. In a world where saying the wrong word or phrase can kill a deal, a strong script ensures that your sales reps will always be saying the right thing to each and every prospect that comes their way.
While some sales reps avoid using scripts and templates out of fear of coming off as being robotic or less authentic, scripts can be incredibly useful. When developed correctly, a proper sales script can make you more efficient, save you time, and give you a framework that can be continuously optimized for stronger conversion rates.
The simple act of equipping a sales team with a series of scripts and emails templates will naturally make every sales rep feel more prepared and confident, as well as alleviate many of the pressures typically associated with prospecting.
And a well-done script allows sales reps to focus more on actually listening to what a prospect has to say and tailoring the conversation to their individual needs instead of worrying about remembering what to say next.
Start developing your own sales script by first going back to the ideal customer profile you created. Identify the most common objections and challenges to your sales pitch, the key points and questions you should mention in the sales pitch, and the best way to drive a prospect further down the sales funnel. (More funnel management tips here.)
Step 4 - Create a qualification checklist.
Even if a prospect looks good at first glance, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be a good fit for the business. An integral part of any sales prospecting plan is its ability to help qualify a prospect before you get in touch them.
The reason why this is so important is twofold:
- It saves sales professionals from wasting time and effort on speaking with people who will never be a customer.
- It allows salespeople an opportunity to conduct research into a prospect and personalize their approach as much as possible.
Ensure that your sales team is completing this step by giving them a simple qualification checklist to fill out. Here are some straightforward and efficient tasks that you can include in your own checklist to help you get started:
Are they in the right demographic?
Find out what demographics a prospect is part of and see if they match up with your ideal customer profile. One very easy way to do this is through checking the prospect’s LinkedIn profile.
Just checking the “About” tab on their LinkedIn profile will immediately provide you with important information like the size of the company, what industry it’s in, and what they specialize in.
At a quick glance, you’ll be able to tell if a prospect is a good fit for your business or not.
What’s the latest?
Don’t forget to visit a prospect’s website as well, particularly their blog.
Look out for any industry-related news or updates that they’ve published and see what kind of content they’re producing to get a sense of what they and their audience are interested in. Google them and see if they’ve been mentioned in any third-party publications and why.
This will allow you to gain some more insight about your prospect which in turn will help you to tailor your sales pitch. You might even be able to define a trigger event that’ll be the perfect ice-breaker for you.
Don’t forget social media.
These days everyone is on social media, making your prospect’s social media channel a valuable resource for finding out more information about them.
For example, LinkedIn will let a sales rep know if they have any mutual connections with a prospect that could facilitate an introduction. You can even use Twitter’s Advanced Search feature to see if a prospect has ever mentioned any keywords or phrases related to your offering.
Step 5 - Leverage automation where you can.
A large part of why salespeople hate prospecting is that it’s usually a very time-consuming (and mind-numbing) process. So much of it is just manual data entry, and many sales reps are still relying on the old-school method of using an Excel spreadsheet to track and manage their accounts.
Save your sales team from highly inefficient and ineffective prospecting by leveraging the power of automation.
At its most basic level, a CRM should be able to help your sales reps reduce the amount of time spent on manual data entry by automatically pulling in important contact details and information related to a prospect.
From there, your CRM keeps your sales reps more organized by allowing them to keep track of each individual prospect without having to constantly switch between different applications.
You can take it even further by having your salespeople use their CRM to prioritize and focus on high-quality prospects—which helps if your CRM can help score leads and automate extensive processes. For example, your CRM could make it easier for your team to stay in touch with prospects by sending out follow-up emails on a sales rep’s behalf.
The whole point of creating a sales prospecting plan is to help your sales team become more efficient and productive. By taking advantage of a CRM, you can replace most of the time-intensive work that’s typically associated with prospecting.
What’s your “perfect” sales prospecting strategy?
By following all of the steps outlined above, you and your business will be well on your way to creating a far more streamlined and effective prospecting plan.
Keep in mind though that this is just the beginning of a powerful prospecting strategy and by no means the end. It’s up to you to continue experimenting and iterating on your initial plan until you find the process that’s perfect for you and your sales team.