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Learn what sales prospecting is, and how business development professionals can go to market using outreach strategies that deliver business results.

What Is Sales Prospecting?

B2B sales prospecting is a stage of the sales process that involves looking for potential buyers, customers, or clients, and then nurturing those relationships as a way to convert them into new business. The ultimate goal is to guide your prospects through the sales funnel until they eventually make a purchase.


Sales Prospecting In The Age Of Buyer Empowerment

There’s no way around it—a full pipeline is essential to every business. And the only way to achieve this is through regular and effective sales prospecting. But ‘regular, consistent outreach alone isn’t enough. For exceptional results from sales prospecting, business development professionals must strategically attack their total addressable market with intrinsic understanding of the companies they are trying to engage.

… Why?

Recent digital transformation has shifted the B2B landscape by ushering in the era of buyer empowerment. With more access to user reviews, analyst opinion, and industry research, decision makers are more informed than ever while navigating what is now known as the “buyer’s journey.” Complicating matters for sales teams, tracking a “typical” buyer’s journey can seem like a fool’s errand. From business goals to the challenges that stand in their way, every prospect is unique.

So, how do high-performing sales organizations meet prospective buyers along the journey at the perfect time?



How To Prospect: Step By Step

While every sales process is unique, there are central, universal elements that high-growth organizations use to tactically engage qualified buyers.

1. Understand your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

The root of unproductive B2B sales prospecting is a lack of understanding. Spray and pray tactics won’t resonate with even the most qualified prospects. If you don’t understand your target audience—their interests, pain points, and buying triggers—how are you supposed to sell to them? To put it simply, without a deep understanding of your target audience, your sales efforts will fail.

Although buyer personas are typically considered marketing territory, they’re also critical to the prospecting process. Consider the following statistics:

  • Companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are 4 times as likely to use personas for demand generation compared to those who missed lead and revenue goals.
  • 93% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals report segmenting their database by persona.
  • 56% of companies have created higher quality leads using buyer personas.
  • 36% of companies have created shorter sales cycles using personas.
  • 24% of companies gained more leads using buyer personas.

If your sales and marketing departments haven’t already sat down to create buyer personas, this should be step number one. Consider the different types of people who have the most success with your product. Who are they? Why do they buy? How do they move through the sales funnel? Once you’ve done your homework you gain greater insight into how they would actually benefit from your product, making it far easier to sell to them.

2. Qualify Prospects

While identifying customer personas is important, your work doesn’t stop there. Qualifying, more than anything, is simply figuring out how likely someone is to buy your product. When it comes to B2B sales, this step becomes a little tricky because there is more than one person calling the shots when it comes to actually making a purchasing decision.

In fact, the average size of a B2B buying committee is nearly seven (source).

And keep in mind, these decision makers will most likely be from different departments. Therefore, understanding the pain points of all key stakeholders, decision makers, and influencers is imperative to guiding them through the funnel. For example, an IT person won’t care about the same thing as the CFO, so qualifying will require a different message about the business value a solution provides.

3. Stay Connected to your Buyers

The name of the game is maintaining relationships. Even after you’ve perfected your sales pitch and contacted all the right people, you’re still going to be rejected. And while rejection always hurts, don’t give up on the prospects that tell you “no.”  Instead, develop a prospecting strategy to nurture these prospects until they become ready to buy.

The key to building a lasting relationship with a prospect is to understand why they said “no” in the first place. Many times, “no” really means “not yet.” Take the time to understand what the hesitation is or why your product isn’t necessarily a good fit. Then develop a nurture cadence to maintain your relationship with this prospect. Aim to be helpful, rather than pushy.

Even better, use marketing and sales intelligence to stay connected to what’s happening at target accounts. And staying connected doesn’t just mean having accurate contact information to periodically reach out, it’s so much more: funding rounds, product launches, executive leadership changes, added or dropped technographics, and other real-time account intelligence can help inform when — and how — to follow up with buyers.

Digitcom case study: ZoomInfo increased meetings set by 85%

Frequently Asked Questions

A roundup of common question on sales prospecting strategy, techniques, and best practices.


What are the best tools for sales prospecting?

While an array of tools are available to aid prospecting efforts, popular reviews site G2.com defines Sales Intelligence software as the definitive solution for sales efficiency and effectiveness:

“Sales intelligence software provides salespeople with contact data and insights that can be used to better identify sales opportunities and facilitate the overall sales process. In other words, sales intelligence solutions educate you on industry-specific talking points for every contact and industry before you communicate with them. It eliminates the previously manual process of locating the relevant insights you need while verifying them for accuracy and giving you a complete overview of every prospect.”


[Continue reading] What is Sales Intelligence?


What is cold calling in sales?

Cold calling is the old tried and true form of marketing for salespeople. Once you have a list of prospects to call — it’s time to reach out. If you’ve had no previous communication with a prospect before you call them, it’s considered a cold call.

Cold calling is a sales technique that has withstood the test of time — though not because it is necessarily well loved by those who use it. However, those who hate it are probably the ones who don’t know how to do it effectively, and therefore find little success in their outreach efforts. And as it happens, success with cold calling is not easily attained. In fact, cold calling without a referral results in about a 1-3% success rate, whereas with a referral that number jumps up to 40% (source).


[Looking for more?] Explore ZoomInfo’s guide to cold calling.


What are the biggest pain points for salespeople?

Prospecting is a race against the clock, and productivity is the name of the game. Successful prospecting is a result of efficiency and effectiveness, and if you’re missing even one of these things, don’t expect to get much out of your prospecting efforts. One without the other is like a yin without a yang.

Efficiency

Efficiency involves having enough time to make all the calls you need to in a given day/week/month/etc. Yet salespeople often find themselves having to spend a lot of time on non-selling activities such as research or data entry, and not enough on prospecting.

While it may not be the most exciting part of your day (more than 40% of salespeople say it’s the most challenging part of the sales process (source), it’s the only way to actively fill your pipeline. And a full pipeline leads to more conversions and better win rates. All that is to say, it’s a necessary evil.

Effectiveness

When we talk about effectiveness, we’re talking about knowing who to call, the best time to call, and having the information necessary to reach out in a meaningful, personalized way. In other words, you’re a disruption to a decision maker’s day—so you better make it worth their while.

Think about it this way: You could have all the time in the world to prospect throughout your day. Yet if you know nothing about the people you’re trying to sell to, or call them at the busiest time of their day so that they have no time to talk, your success rate will be less than adequate.


How do you build a sales prospect list?

Everyone knows that the success of your sales strategy is dependent on the quality of your sales prospect list. Think about it — if the best salesperson in the office is continually reaching out to the wrong people, their skills ultimately have no impact. Fortunately there are a set of steps you can take to ensure that your prospect list has both quantity and quality.

1. Know your product inside and out:

As an excellent sales rep, you have to know more than just the basics of your company’s product — you should know the specific uses and even the most complicated success stories. Increasing your product knowledge will improve your ability to identify qualified prospects as well as give you the knowledge necessary to answer any complex and difficult questions they might have.

2. Know your customers:

Understanding what makes people want to buy things is just as important as understanding the product you’re trying to sell them. Because B2B sales reps typically have to sell one product to multiple decision makers, this process becomes slightly more complex. However there are a host of tools to conduct customer research that look at a wide range of data points you can find here: How to Build the Ultimate Sales Prospect List.

3. Determine who needs your product:

Now that you know the details of what you’re selling as well as the people who are most likely to be your customers, you can begin to synthesize your data to pinpoint exactly who would benefit from your product. At this point in the process you should be able to determine the company, buyer, motivator, and added value to create a well-rounded idea of any given buyer journey.

4. Find your contacts:

Now you can actually start building your prospect list. But where should you start your search? You can turn to things like social media, Google Alerts, job listings, customer data, and sales intelligence software to search for people who meet the characteristics of your ideal buyer.

5. Keep developing your list:

There is no such thing as static data when it comes to prospecting. People are constantly changing jobs and new companies are popping up all the time. Data decay can make your prospecting list unreliable and therefore ineffective. In fact, 40% of business objectives fail because of inaccurate data. Make sure that your prospect list is constantly refreshed and up to date.


Does ZoomInfo support sales prospecting?

ZoomInfo is a leading sales and marketing intelligence solution that provides business development teams advanced company insights, buying signals and essential contact data you can’t find anywhere else.

The platform’s differentiator begins and ends with best-in-class proprietary contact, company, and intent data that helps sales professionals continuously identify and connect with the right prospects at high-value target accounts.

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About the author

Reyna LaRiccia

Reyna LaRiccia is a Content Marketing Specialist at ZoomInfo, the leading B2B contact database and sales intelligence solution.

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