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The techniques, tools and pitfalls of sales prospecting

Sales teams across the globe work tirelessly day in day out to bring in new clients.

Done right, sales prospecting can significantly improve the success rate of generating warm leads. Done wrong, and you run the risk of impacting your business’ reputation, as well as wasting valuable time and energy.

What is sales prospecting?

Put simply, sales prospecting is the process of researching and communicating with potential customers, converting them into a warm lead and passing them onto the sales team to take from there. Despite its name, sales prospecting remains an entirely separate task from the day-to-day sales function. Instead it works to pinpoint whether or not a prospect is right for your company and begins that all-important communication between your business and theirs.

With a view to transform your prospect into a fully-fledged customer, this process can be tricky to refine and ultimately requires the right set of skills to not only identify an opportunity, but to approach them in the correct way.

The techniques

Research

The golden rule for every successful sales prospector is to do your research, and do it thoroughly. Not every business will want or need your services, and not every business will be the right fit for you, so you should first construct a description of the ‘ideal client’ (e.g. industry, customers, size, decision maker, pain points, etc.) which will form as the basis of your research. Once you have identified the companies you would like to approach, look for a highlight such as a recent award win or news piece that you can bring into the conversation. This attention to detail shows you’ve taken the time to get to know and understand their business and what they’re about.

Those at the top of their game generate 2.7x more conversions than others according to research, so speak to your top performers, explore their skills and make sure they’re working in a happy and supportive environment.

Plan your time

Consistency is key when it comes to sales prospecting and, for those of us that don’t have a dedicated team, setting aside time in your diary each day to focus on this will ultimately result in not only more leads but increased confidence in your prospecting skills.

Referrals

Like you would recommend a friend to a restaurant, a referral from a trusted business contact is much more likely to succeed. When you have built a great rapport with a company and a sale has been made, this is a fantastic opportunity to politely ask for a recommendation to any contacts they may know for which your services could add value.

Choose your approach

Now comes the tricky part: making that initial contact. Research has found that 8 out of 10 prospects prefer to communicate via email, but this shouldn’t rule out phone calls or social media. As you build a business relationship with one another, you will begin to identify their preferred method of communication. Bulk emails are unlikely to garner a response, so keep it relevant and explore their business and the challenges they’re facing.

The tools

Content

Sharing relevant, quality content with prospects has the power to draw real interest to your business. With any piece of content, make sure to showcase your expertize, and bring to light any challenges and issues that a prospect may not have considered, of which your business has the perfect solution for.

Social media

Social media is a powerful tool in the arsenal of every sales prospector. It gives you the opportunity to build brand awareness, interact with a wider audience and share the valuable content that you have worked so hard to create. Social interaction from prospects can also provide invaluable information on how to prioritize your communication. If they are interacting on social platforms already, then they are likely to be interested and receptive.

A script

Cold calling hasn’t got great connotations but, when done right, it can be an extremely effective prospecting tool. And for those less confident in their phone skills, a script or checklist can ensure you get all of your information across. Research has found that a prospect will decide whether to continue with a conversation within the first 5 to 10 minutes during a cold call, and therefore a plan of action will help you keep your prospect engaged from the offset. A script should not however be used word for word, but simply as a guide to help you get back on track if needed. Practice makes perfect, so try practicing with your script out loud so it flows like a natural conversation.

The pitfalls

Selling

We’ll say it once, we’ll say it a hundred times; sales prospecting is not a platform for selling, it’s about research, getting to know a company and building a great rapport. Sales prospecting should only be used to establish a relationship, so don’t use ‘salesy’ language and always aim to add value where possible (e.g. sending useful content or carrying out a free audit).

Not doing your research

Research plays a vital, if not one of the most important roles in sales prospecting. This stage is where you determine whether a company is the right fit for you, as well as learning more about their business and what benefits you can offer.

Failing to actively listen

At the end of the day, you’re reaching out to a prospect and interrupting their day. This means, more than ever, that your conversation must add value. Active listening takes practice, it involves taking notes, replying with helpful responses, asking further questions, summarizing your conversation and making a good impression overall.

The art of sales prospecting takes time. But when done right, it can significantly increase the number of leads you pass on to your sales team.

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