How to Build the Ultimate Sales Prospect List

sales prospect listIf you’ve worked in sales for any length of time, you know your success is dependent on the quality of your prospect lists. Think about it- you might be the most skilled salesperson at your company, but if you’re reaching out to the wrong people, your sales skills will have no impact on their desire to purchase your product.

Although sales is a numbers game, most professionals caution against casting a wide net in the hopes of catching a sale. Instead, modern sales professionals find success by creating and reaching out to hyper-targeted lists made up of only the most qualified prospects.

Of course, identifying the right people and the best way to reach them is no simple feat. It not only requires a deep understanding of products and services but also an extreme familiarity with one’s customer base and access to the right tools and information.

Whether you’re new to sales prospecting or you’re a sales veteran, there’s something in today’s article for you. We offer our best tips and tricks for creating the ultimate sales prospect list. Let’s get into it!

Step One: Understand Your Offering

Before you can identify who your best prospects are, you must first understand what you’re selling.

Now, as we all know, sales organizations often have lengthy on-boarding processes. But to be a truly exceptional sales rep, knowledge of your offering must surpass the basics and dive deeper into specific use cases, feature sets, and complicated success stories.

Not only will increasing your product knowledge improve your ability to pinpoint qualified prospects, but it will also help you close more deals, answer difficult questions, speak confidently on calls, and more. In fact, Dillard’s discovered every hour its associates spent on product training increased their sales rate by 5% (source).

Start this process by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What problem is your product designed to alleviate? If your product solves more than one problem, which seems to be the most important?
  • Is there something about your product that causes you to lose deals? Or, is there something that typically helps you close difficult deals?
  • Could you explain how to use your product to your grandparents? To a young child? Without having it in front of you?
  • What would a valuable customer say is the most frustrating part of your product or service? The most helpful?
  • Would you be comfortable using the product you’re selling in your day-to-day life?

If you can’t answer these questions, seek the advice of a superior, a product expert, or a peer. After all, the more you know about your products and services, the easier your job will be.

Step Two: Understand Your Buyer

This next point seems just as obvious as the previous, but bear with us! Just as you need to understand your product and the role it plays in the market, you also need to understand your buyers and the factors that drive them to make purchases. This information will allow you to narrow down your prospect pool even further.

We often discuss the value of tools like buyer personas and ideal customer profiles as vehicles through which sales professionals can better understand their buyers. But, for the purpose of creating a sales prospect list, we recommend taking a fresh look at your best customers rather than relying on outdated profiles created by your marketing team for new hires.

There are multiple ways to conduct prospect and customer research– manual data analysis, market intelligence tools, customer surveys, etc. No matter which method you choose, there are certain data points you must pay close attention to.

These data points range from the simple and obvious:

  • Industry: Do your best customers work within a certain industry or set of industries?
  • Company size: Do your best customers come from companies of a similar size?
  • Job title: Are your buyers typically managers? Senior managers? C-Level employees?
  • Revenue: How much money do your customers typically earn in any given year? Is there a certain threshold your best customers pass?

To the slightly more obscure:

  • Biggest challenges and pain points: What problem do they use your product to solve? Are there other pain points they experience?
  • Important success metrics and goals: How do they measure success? What goals are they trying to achieve with your product? What goals have they already achieved with your product?
  • Product likes and dislikes: What do your customers like the most about your product? What do they dislike? What are their must-haves when it comes to new purchases?
  • Technographics: What tools do they already use? Do they use tools or platforms that integrate with your products? Do they use a competitor’s product?
  • Engagement preferences: Do your best buyers prefer to engage with companies by phone, email, social media, in person? Is there a particular time your customers are most often available? How many times does it typically take your customers to engage with sales outreach?
  • Communication styles: How do your customers talk about the industry? The market? Your product? Do they use a casual tone or a more formal tone? Do they prefer more technical conversations or do they want you to lose the industry jargon?

To the downright granular:

  • Key motivations and buying triggers: What makes this person or company purchase new products? Is there an event or set of events that typically signals their readiness to purchase?  
  • Customer Lifetime Value: How valuable is each of your customers? How much money do they contribute over their lifetime tenure with your company? How does their value correspond with their industry, company size, etc?
  • Referral potential: What types of customers have the most referral potential? How much business does your average customer refer?
  • Product use: What determines a customer’s likelihood of making bigger purchases, expanding their feature set, or being upsold on another offer?
  • Advocacy: Are there any factors correlated with the probability of a customer becoming a brand advocate?
  • Brand value: Do your best customers lend credibility to your company because of their brand value? How does this added value impact your ability to make more sales?

As you research your customers, it’s important to notice common characteristics between them. These characteristics will help guide your efforts to create a highly targeted prospect list.

Step Three: Organize Your Intel

At this point in the process, you have two data sets. One contains important information about your products and services and the other contains important information about your ideal prospects and best customers. Now, it’s time to merge them into the beginnings of your B2B prospect list.

To do so, ask yourself one question: Who? Who is my product made for? Or, to phrase it a different way, who needs my product? Using the information gathered thus far, you must figure out the answer. Your final result may look something like this:

Company:

Medium-sized businesses in the manufacturing, shipping, and logistics industries that make more than $10 mil in revenue annually.

Buyer:

The initial inquiry is typically made by someone in a management position, but a senior manager or higher-level employee often has the final say. This buyer often struggles to manage multiple technologies at once to streamline information regarding, payment, audits, route planning, and carriers. Their success is based on efficiency and eliminating bottlenecks in the process and is measured in time and expense. These individuals are busy and straightforward. They prefer communicating by phone and they often want to get right to the point. So, skip the small talk.

Motivators:

Your best customers often make large purchases after several critical trigger events. Important trigger events include the implementation of new industry regulations or any breaking news of high-profile security breaches. This indicates they value legal compliance and safety above all else. As you release new features and products that improve efficiency, mitigate risk, and heighten security, your best customers have no issue spending more money with you.

Added value:

Although the customers who spend the most money with you are certainly valuable, the customers with the highest lifetime value are often smaller businesses who spend less money– but who advocate for your brand online and recommend your products to their peers.

Now, even after you’ve narrowed down your research into a digestible list of target characteristics and features, you still have more work to do. Up until now, we’ve only talked in hypotheticals. But, simply knowing what types of people and companies to target will only get you so far. In order to build the ultimate sales prospect list, you must identify the real companies and buyers who fit the mold you’ve created. We show you how to do this, next!

Step Four: Identify Your Key Players and Accounts

Now that you’ve gathered and analyzed your data, you have a good idea of what you’re looking for in a potential prospect. But, where does the search begin? We recommend a combination of the following channels, outlets, and tools for the most comprehensive prospect list:

Social media:

It’s no secret, social media has infiltrated most aspects of the modern world. Platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram are no longer reserved for your daughter’s selfies or live Twitter updates of the latest drama unfolding on The Bachelor. In fact, each of these platforms has proven to be a viable business tool. Therefore, if you don’t use social media as part of your sales prospecting efforts, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

To identify qualified sales prospects on social media, consider each platform’s search functionality. Some platforms will play a more obvious role than others. Take LinkedIn for example: A B2B sales professional can conduct searches based on criteria like job title, company size, department, etc.

But with other platforms, you’ll have to get more creative. Let’s look at Twitter: On Twitter, users can monitor brand mentions, keywords, and hashtags. To find qualified prospects, monitor words and phrases associated with the pain points your product solves. Or, keep tabs on mentions of your competitors. As you spend more time within each platform you’ll discover quick and easy search functionality to incorporate into your prospecting efforts.

Google Alerts:

Similar to the Twitter example above, we recommend using Google Alerts to receive notifications about important trigger events, brand mentions, industry news and more.

Let’s look at a quick example. A corporate compliance training company rolls out a new course in preparation for an upcoming change in privacy legislation.  After setting a Google Alert for that particular law, a sales rep with the company receives a notification that Company ABC was recently fined for not complying with the regulation.

This not only prompts him to reach out to Company ABC to pitch his new compliance course, but he also looks up and reaches out to Company ABC’s biggest competitors who will undoubtedly be scrambling to protect themselves from similar fines.

Job listings:

Online job boards like Glassdoor and Indeed can provide valuable insight into a company’s priorities. Think about it– if a company suddenly posts an inordinate amount of digital marketing positions, this may indicate a shift happening in their organization. And, if you’re in the business of selling marketing technology, this hiring shift tells you they might be primed to invest in marketing tools.

Historical customer and prospect data:

As a sales professional, you already know that buying decisions can change on a whim– sometimes without rhyme or reason. Maybe the person spearheading a specific project took a new job. Maybe organizational priorities shifted. Or maybe, your contact went on vacation and forgot to follow up. Whatever the reason may be, a lost deal is rarely ever lost for good.

For this reason, we recommend combing through your historical customer and prospect data to identify deals that fell through for seemingly no reason. Just as priorities and circumstances can shift for the worse, they can also shift in your favor.  We say, follow up with incomplete deals, former customers, and long lost prospects.

Existing customer and prospect data:

An easy and effective way to add new contacts to your prospect list is to ask existing customers for referrals. We’ll let these statistics speak for themselves (source):

  • 84% of buyers now kick off their buying process with a referral.
  • 9 in 10 buying decisions are made with peer recommendations.
  • 92% of buyers trust referrals from people they know.
  • About 47% of top performers ask for referrals consistently, versus only 26% of non-top performers.
  • After a positive experience, 83% of customers would be happy to provide a referral. But salespeople aren’t asking — just 29% of customers end up giving a referral.

Referrals aren’t just limited to customers either. Have you ever had a deal fall through despite building a great rapport with the prospect? Even though you don’t always secure the deal, that doesn’t always mean your efforts were a waste of time. Prospects are often happy to recommend the names of colleagues or connections who might have a need for your product. So remember, next time you’re on a customer call, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral!

Sales intelligence and data providers:

Modern B2B data providers offer a host of advanced search capabilities- allowing you to enter your prospect criteria to generate a list of qualified prospects. These tools range from simple to advance, pricey to inexpensive. Check out the following content to learn more about selecting the right data provider for your needs:

This category of tools also offers something others on this list don’t– and that’s contact information. A sales professional can use social media, set Google Alerts, and skim job listings to compile the ultimate prospect list. But, without the necessary contact information, these efforts will prove to be futile.

If we could only choose one tool to use for sales prospecting, we would undoubtedly pick a sales intelligence platform. But, having said that, it’s critical to use a variety of channels to gather prospect information and verify your data. After all, the best sales prospect list contains information from multiple sources.

Step Five: Prioritize Dynamic Data

Now that you have a list of names and companies in front of you, your job is done, right? Wrong. In our era of digital information, there is no such thing as static data. What we mean here is this: Your prospect list will never be set in stone. People change jobs, companies are bought and sold, and products regularly evolve and expand to new markets.

This constant state of change causes the average sales prospect list to decay quickly. Ultimately, decay can render your list unreliable in a matter of months, weeks, or even days. If your sales data can’t keep up, neither will your sales team.

For this reason, businesses must make dynamic data a top priority. Don’t believe us? Consider these statistics:

  • 40% of business objectives fail due to inaccurate data (source).
  • Bad data costs U.S. businesses more than $611 billion each year. (source)
  • Companies reported that lead generation (80%), marketing (66%), finance (30%) and customer relationships (54%) were the business processes most affected by dirty data (source).

Since we’ve already covered this topic extensively, we won’t waste our time repeating ourselves. Simply check out our recent blog post to learn more: Dynamic Data: Why Businesses Must Abandon Static Data.

Key Takeaways about Building the Ultimate Sales Prospect List

There’s no exact formula to guide you through the process of creating your sales prospect list. Instead, sales professionals must understand their customers, their products, and the different channels needed to build a prospect list. For more information about sales prospecting, check out one of the following articles:

Or, contact ZoomInfo to learn more about our leading sales intelligence solutions. In addition to our extensive business database, our platform has the ability to automate critical data maintenance processes, alert you to important changes in your data, and deliver timely updates about the contacts and companies you care about most.