A Quick Guide to B2B Prospecting

b2b prospecting


  1. Define your ideal prospect
  2. Finding your total addressable market (TAM)
  3. Understand what motivates your buyers
  4. Finding rich lead sources
  5. Sourcing accurate prospect data (while remaining GDPR compliant)

Sales teams rely on inbound leads to hit their quota. To speed things up and fill the sales pipeline, top performers take a proactive approach, often by using the right prospecting tools and techniques to identify the best sales opportunities.

But this process can be time-consuming. According to our State of Sales 2019-2020 Report, a third of people believe that prospecting and lead generation are the most challenging sales activities.

In this guide, we’ll show you a process to identify and source your ideal prospect. You’ll also learn a more efficient method of collecting target account and contact data, without the need for menial data entry tasks.

Define your ideal prospect

It’s important to differentiate between the desire for a product and purchase intent. Just because someone wants what you offer, doesn’t mean they’re a qualified sales lead.

Before setting out to find prospects, it’s critical to define as many of their characteristics as possible. This means understanding their pain-points and the way they buy when looking for your solution, as well as collecting behavioral data.

Start with your historical customer data. Dive into your CRM to find answers to the following questions:

  • Which customers have the highest order value?
  • Which industries/personas have the highest conversion rates?
  • Which of those have the shortest sales cycles?
  • Which attributes do they have in common?

These attributes can include company headcount, industry, job title and even the tools they use.

Use your CRM to track won deals and extract customer data to answer the questions above and look for common characteristics.

While using data during this process is critical, don’t forget to encourage your customer-facing teams to share their experiences. They talk to your customers every day and can provide qualitative insights that data can’t.

For example, after holding a brainstorming session you may find that your reps unanimously agree that certain job roles get the most value from your product. Not only can you cross-reference this insight with your CRM data, but use it to tie key features to specific pain-points.

Finally, don’t forget the power of customer development. Within your existing customer base, you’ll find a large number of advocates for your product (and brand). These are the people who love what you do and get the most value from what you offer.

Get on the phone and find out where in the sales cycle they had their first “aha” moment. This is the point that they knew you’d be the perfect solution to their problems and doing business with you was an integral step towards progression or enhancement.

Start by asking broad questions and then dig deeper. For example, “why did you decide to buy from us?” may prompt general answers, but their responses will shed insights into their intent. A general answer to this question may be, “I was curious about how I could [insert problem/pain point that needs to be fixed/enhanced]”. While this answer does not specifically explain why they decided to buy from you or what motivated them to land on your page, it does explain the intent behind their search. 

From there, a deeper follow-up question could be, “How did our product or service seem like it could help to fix [problem/pain point]?” Eventually, you can ask very specific questions such as, “What specifically led you to believe our product or service could fix [problem/pain point] better than anything else on the market?” From that final answer, you’ll understand exactly what sets you apart from the crowd, in your customer’s eyes.

Finding your total addressable market (TAM)

You might be starting a new company, product line or simply looking to capture more buyers. Whatever your sales and growth goals are, you must understand the opportunity available to you by calculating your total addressable market (TAM).

TAM is used to measure the amount of demand (or potential demand) for your products or services. It can also help you calculate the revenue potential for a range of products within a specific market.

For most companies, it’s impossible to capture an entire market. Use TAM to estimate the market share your organization can attract and convert into buyers.

A common method to calculate TAM is counting the number of customers your competitors have. You can find this data in public and commercial resources such as trend reports, market statistics, industry statistics, industry content and more. Some of this data will be free if conducted by a public source such as the government, whereas other data from private groups may require payment to access. This data can then be multiplied by the average amount of revenue a customer generates to give you a true sense of opportunity in that market.

However, this approach has some flaws. For example, collecting accurate data on your competitor’s customer base is hard and often inaccurate. It also does not take into account how your product or service may unlock an untapped opportunity in your unique segment of buyers: one that sparks a behavioral change distinct from what your competitors have experienced within their existing customer base.

A better approach is to start with the ideal prospect criteria we covered in the previous section. Use your target company criteria to identify the number of potential organizations in a market you can sell to. Then, multiply that by your average lifetime order value (LTV).

Let’s say you’re selling enterprise software services to other B2B software companies with a headcount greater than 500. Using data from LinkedIn, we find that there are over 10,000 accounts that fit this profile.

As you’re selling high-end software, you know the LTV of your customers is $40,000. Assuming there are exactly 10,000 target accounts, multiplied by $40,000 gives us a TAM value of $400,000,000.

You’ll only ever capture a small percentage of this market. However, it still gives you confidence that this market is still worth entering. It’s not too low, nor is it over a billion dollars, which would indicate a highly competitive market.

b2b prospecting tool

Understand what motivates your buyers

In order to attract the prospects you identify, you must first understand what makes them tick. In other words, why would they buy from you?

This insight will make or break your prospecting activity. Get it right, and you can craft compelling messaging, demonstrate that you understand your prospects, and inspire them to hit “reply” and book for an appointment.

There are several ways you can collect this insight. The first is to expand on your customer development efforts. When interviewing customers for shared characteristics, ask them about the value they get from your product.

Here are some sample questions you can use to gather qualitative insights from your customers (using Pipedrive as an example):

  1. How has your day-to-day changed since using Pipedrive?
  2. If Pipedrive were to no longer exist, what would you do?
  3. When evaluating different CRMs, why did you choose Pipedrive?
  4. Were there any dealbreakers that may have caused you not to invest in Pipedrive?
  5. Which Pipedrive features do you use most?

Dig into their responses to uncover the true pain-points and motivations behind them. Go a layer deeper until you find the true “reason why.” For example, a response to question one above might be:

“Pipedrive has allowed me to automate more administrative tasks and focus more on developing my reps’ skills.”

A follow up to this response could be “How many hours were you spending on administrative tasks a day?”, which may generate a response like this:

“I spent three hours in the morning on those tasks. Since they’re no longer on my plate, I now have time to help my reps develop their skills.”

If we wanted to go one level deeper, we could ask about the results and outcomes they have achieved from this extra time.

This gives us the following insights to use in our prospecting efforts:

  1. Pipedrive can save you X hours a month on administrative sales tasks
  2. Pipedrive allows you to spend more time training and developing your sales reps
  3. Using Pipedrive leads to an X% increase in closed-won rates

Identifying these motivations, benefits and outcomes are critical for reaching out to prospects. It not only shows you why they should start a conversation with you, but shows that you truly understand their needs.

Positioning your message this way makes a strong first impression. You’re not relying on features or technical abilities to engage your prospects. As a result, they’re more likely to respond to your outreach, cold calls and messages.

Finding rich lead sources

Now we know what your ideal prospect looks like and how to get their attention. The next step is to find them.

To do this, you need reliable lead sources. These are directories, websites and tools that provide accurate lead data for your ideal prospects.

Most importantly, you must comply with GDPR and other international data regulations when collecting and using data. This means informing the data subjects, defining your legitimate interests, as well as removing any prospects who no longer wish to be contacted from your database as soon as it’s requested.

With that in mind, let’s explore four methods to source your ideal prospects.

Method 1: Job boards

When a company is recruiting for a specific role, it’s usually a strong indicator that they’re heavily investing in that function.

For example, someone hiring for a new Head of Marketing is likely to be evaluating new technologies, products and services. They might even be looking for new ways of working within their marketing teams.

Use job boards like Monster, Indeed and LinkedIn to search for listings that fit your buyer persona job roles. Once identified, use one of two approaches:

  1. Reach out to the person who will manage that role. For example, a Chief Marketing Officer could be in charge of hiring and managing a new Head of Marketing.
  2. Keep an eye on each job posting. Once a listing is no longer public, and the role has been fulfilled, reach out to the person who got the job.

Method 2: Industry publications and associations

Many industry associations list member companies on their website. These “directories” act as a great source of potential prospects. The same goes for business publications.

These can be found with a simple Google search. For example, the string “top marketing associations” yields results such as the American Marketing Association (AMA) and the American Advertising Federation (AAF).

You can also search for terms like “top SEO companies” to find directories and blog posts that list potential targets. This presents results like the “Best SEO Companies & Services”, a list of top SEO companies ranked by market presence, clients, experience and reviews. Here are the search results in Clutch.

Method 3: Strategic partnerships

Partnering with other organizations, while a more indirect approach, can be a great source of new leads. Not only do they have access to an existing audience, but trust has already been established.

There are several partnership approaches you can use for your lead generation efforts, including:

  1. Co-branded content: Work together to create a blog post, ebook, or another piece of content. Both organizations promote it to their audiences to maximize attention.

  2. Product partnerships: For example, a SaaS company could build integrations with other software providers to attract existing customers and create additional value.

  3. Promotions: Create an exclusive offer for another organization’s customers. This can include discounts, extended free trials or additional bonuses that are exclusive to your partner’s audience.

Method 4: Prospector from Pipedrive

While the above methods are effective, collecting prospects can be time-consuming. To help you automate and streamline your activity, we created Prospector; a lead generation tool that allows you to collect high-quality prospect data.

For example, you may be targeting software companies with a company headcount of 201+ employees. By setting these criteria within Pipedrive, we see the following results:

This allows you to identify your ideal prospects without leaving your CRM. You can then click an organization to uncover more information about them, such as location, year founded and estimated revenue.

Sourcing accurate prospect data (while remaining GDPR compliant)

Once you’ve identified your target accounts, you’ll need to find the right contacts to reach out to. Much like the lead sources above, there are several ways you can go about doing this.

For many sales reps, LinkedIn is the first port of call. For example, if you’re looking to find a relevant Marketing Manager at Cisco (of which there are many), you’d simply head to the company LinkedIn page and enter the job title in the search bar.

While LinkedIn is a great place to identify contacts within a target organization, it’s the first step in a lengthy process. First, you must find the right person, and then manually find their email address and other contact details.

Sourcing the right email address can be a game of chance. You can use tools that identify email addresses based on name and domain name, but you still have to source that information and manually enter it into a spreadsheet.

Even then, many email sourcing tools provide their best guess. To ensure you have the right email address, an additional validation step is required.

With Prospector, this data is sourced right from within Pipedrive. Find new prospects and their contact information using filters based on your ideal criteria:

Not only do you have more granular filters at your fingertips, you can also identify the right organizations and contacts from within your CRM.

For example, in the results below, you can identify leads within a specific organization based on specific people criteria:

Saved leads are accessible from the Leads Inbox within Pipedrive. From here, you can add your lead as a new deal in your pipeline, take notes or schedule follow-up activities.

What about GDPR?

Prospector is designed to be used in full compliance with GDPR. Prospector allows you to accurately define which data you want to obtain in line with the legitimate interests that you have defined. Learn more about GDPR and other international data regulations in our article.

How does GDPR impact B2B outbound marketing?

One important thing to consider is that GDPR wasn’t designed to hamper B2B outbound marketing. It doesn’t signal the end of building email lists, sending cold emails or making cold calls. Distinctions have been made between business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B). There are different data requirements for B2B companies under GDPR.

While GDPR still applies to B2B, the rule of gaining consent to process data is not always required. Article 6(1)(f) of GDPR states that: 

1.Processing shall be lawful only if and to the extent that at least one of the following applies: 

(f) processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the controller or by a third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require protection of personal data, in particular where the data subject is a child.

Therefore, if B2B companies are able to demonstrate legitimate interest, then gaining consent from data subjects is not required. The concept of legitimate interest is not defined in GDPR and can take many forms. However, it’s worthwhile for any organization working B2B to have in mind a clear and specific benefit when processing data.

How should B2B organizations maintain compliance under GDPR?

It’s important to stress that while consent is not required in legitimate interest cases, opt-outs must still be provided. According to Article 139 of the ICO’s Direct Marketing Guidance, “individuals have a right to opt out of receiving marketing at any time.” So for B2B companies, direct marketing to corporate email addresses is allowed without consent (since this is a legitimate interest for a business), as long as the data subject has the ability to opt-out of further communication.

GDPR also makes it mandatory for B2B companies to complete a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). The objective of a PIA is to identify and minimize the privacy risks of new technology, projects or policies. It is a comprehensive legal document that sets out the purpose of a business, the scope of its data processing activities, and the legality of its conduct. It also measures the data processing against the three tests: legitimate interest, the necessity of the processing, and whether it impacts on fundamental rights or freedoms.

PIAs are essential for any B2B organization working with data, as they provide another layer of legal and reputational protection.

What are the rules for B2B outbound marketing to European markets?

One thing to bear in mind is that cold emailing and cold calling are mostly regulated by the applicable national telecommunication laws of the host country. To ensure GDPR compliance, B2B companies must follow the guidance of their local regulatory body (e.g., ICO in the UK).

If a salesperson or marketer attempts to contact a specific employee of a company by using his/her personal details, the personal data protection requirements set out in the General Data Protection Directive (GDPR) and its national implementations will be triggered. A salesperson or marketer who would like to contact a specific employee rather than a company has to have a legal basis for contacting him/her. 

Article 6 of GDPR specifies an exhaustive list of the legal bases that allow a company to process an individual’s personal data:

  • If an individual concerned has provided his/her consent.
  • If there is a contractual obligation.
  • If there is a legal obligation under EU or national legislation.
  • If the processing is carried out in the public interest under EU or national legislation.

In order to provide clarity for salespeople and marketers working in B2B, see this full guide to the outbound marketing requirements for all major European markets, including direct email and telephone marketing.

Final thoughts

Prospecting is one of the most important activities salespeople can execute. It supplements the leads provided by marketing while allowing reps to approach their ideal customers.

There are plenty of lead sources to find your ideal prospects. Once you’ve found the right contacts to reach out to, use efficient processes and technologies to make data collection as easy as possible.

A special thanks to the Cognism team for their expertise in the creation of this guide. For more guidance on GDPR, read our articles on GDPR compliance in sales and staying compliant with GDPR while cold calling.

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