You might be asking yourself: ‘what does prospecting mean?’ Well, the goal of B2B prospecting is to find potential customers and move them into your sales funnel. To prospect effectively, your sales reps need to qualify new leads, start conversations and nurture relationships with the goal of moving them through the sales pipeline and ultimately closing the deal.
But finding the ideal prospect is a complicated and time-consuming process, particularly for startups. According to our State of Sales 2020-2021 Report, lead generation was a greater challenge in 2020 than it was in 2019, with almost two-thirds (64%) of sales professionals spending most of their days prospecting in 2020. Almost 40% of the respondents note that they aren’t using sales technology and automation tools to make the lead qualification process more efficient, thus spending a large portion of their workday prospecting and qualifying leads.
Conversely, sales reps that do use lead generation tools and sales intelligence are 12 percentage points% more likely to consider themselves successful at sales and 14 percentage points% more likely to hit their annual sales targets.
An effective B2B sales prospecting process, aided by sales technology, can help you streamline your prospecting efforts so that you can focus on selling and landing new business.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of prospecting methods, share how to define the ideal prospect, give tips on how to improve your team’s lead generation process and explore nine ways to find and connect with prospective clients.
Table of contents
Define the ideal prospect
What does prospecting mean exactly? The definition of prospecting in business is to search for new customers. Therefore it’s the first and most critical step in the sales process and sets up every other phase for success. That’s why it’s so critical to define your target market and target audience before prospecting in sales begins. By creating a set of criteria to look for, you can save valuable time that would otherwise be wasted on unqualified leads that fall outside of your ideal customer profile.
Typically, a qualified sales prospect sees the value in the product or service you offer, has the budget to pay for what you’re selling and can make key purchase decisions.
As your sales prospectors define your ideal customer profile, it’s important to differentiate between those who desire your product versus those who have an intent to purchase. Someone who wants what you offer doesn’t automatically mean they’re a qualified lead.
To start defining your ideal prospect, dive into your customer relationship management platform (CRM) and review your historical customer data. Identify patterns from the answers to these 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?
By finding commonalities in these answers, you’ll begin to paint a picture of who you serve, their top priorities, buying habits and patterns that can inform your team’s prospecting strategy. The more information you have, the better. Even details like company headcount, industry, job title and daily work tools can all inform the prospecting process.
Calculate your total addressable market (TAM)
Beyond defining your ideal prospect, you need to determine your revenue opportunity in relation to your product or service. Finding a few ideal prospects is great, but you need to ensure that there are enough prospects to generate a demand that brings in good revenue and profits for your business.
Calculating your total addressable market (TAM) helps you to estimate your market share, revenue and growth potential within your specific target market. The number that you’re left with after calculating the TAM is your market share.
You can further split your TAM result into SAM (Serviceable Addressable Market) and SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market).
- SAM helps you to determine the specific portion of your TAM that is the perfect fit for your product or service
- SOM helps you to determine the size of that SAM segment that you can realistically and successfully sell to
Your ideal prospects live within your SOM, but each metric is critical to keep track of in case you introduce new products or services, or scale your sales organization in a way that broadens your reach.
To calculate TAM, you need to work out how many people have a need for your business. As a new business, you could look at the number of paying customers that your competitors have via public and commercial content and resources. However, this information could prove inaccurate and neglects the fact that your ideal prospects may display different buying behaviors than your competitor’s audience.
Instead, the best way to calculate TAM is to identify the number of potential organizations in your target market that you can actually sell to and then multiply that by your average lifetime order value (LTV). If you don’t have any customers yet, forecast the LTV based on what you project an average future customer would spend.
As an existing business, take the data from your current pricing and usage and apply it to a larger customer base with data that you find from competitor businesses that operate in your target market. This will give you incredibly accurate predictions and a solid sense of who makes up your total addressable market.
Ways to improve your B2B sales prospecting process
Although prospecting is only one phase in the sales process, it has several steps within it. After defining and researching your ideal buyer, the next stages of prospecting can begin.
Combine quantitative CRM data with qualitative insights
Listen to qualitative stories from your customer-facing and marketing teams and cross-check that information with data in your sales CRM to begin painting a vivid picture of what kind of prospects turn into leads.
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.
Combining these insights can improve your sales prospecting techniques, giving you a better idea of who you’re targeting as well as what messaging you should use for outreach.
Prioritize your prospects
Prioritizing can help your sales reps to focus on prospects who are most likely to move through the funnel and become customers. The more thorough you are in defining and ranking your ideal prospects by level of interest, intent, and budget, the less time and energy you’ll waste panning through contacts that will inevitably go cold.
Create some key criteria for how to prioritize the leads on your prospect list and have your reps focus on one type of client at a time. It’ll vary by industry, but here’s an example of what a high and low priority category could look like.
- Exact match to ideal prospect criteria
- Is a decision-maker or has high-influence
- Has clear challenge that aligns with business products or services
- Frequent website or social media interaction
- Low match to ideal prospect criteria
- Not a decision-maker or has low-influence
- Unclear business challenges
- Low website or social media interaction
By using lead management software, you can create a lead-scoring process that automatically scores and prioritizes leads for your reps. This makes it easy for them to use their time more effectively, ensure consistent follow-ups and earn a higher return-on-investment on their time and effort.
Research potential connection points for outreach
Now that your reps know who they plan to reach out to, they need to gather more information on their specific potential prospects. By looking for potential connection points, they can personalize their sales cadence and outreach to create a more memorable first message.
Here are a few tips on what information your sales reps should look for as potential connection points.
Mutual connections: Check to see if there are any mutual connections that could help spark a conversation. This could include shared friends, alumni, or association members.
Trigger events: Review if the prospect has recently done a trigger event, such as liking a social media post, engaging with your Chatbot or visiting the website services page. Additional information like the search term they used or the topic of the post could inform the first message.
Insights or interests: Visit their social media profiles for insights on their interests or challenges.
Personalize the first contact
The first outreach should be brief and focus on helping to solve a specific problem by offering a specific solution. Refer to the information and connection points uncovered in the research process, such as something that the individual or the business is working on, and tie that back to your solution. This helps to ensure that the message is highly relevant and captivating.
Prioritize starting a meaningful conversation rather than jumping directly into trying to land a meeting. The messaging should add value and serve the prospect where possible, so you can feel out if both parties could potentially benefit from working together.
The best cold emails and cold calls follow a winning formula. If you want your prospect to open and actually read your email, or stay on the phone line, make sure to lead with your goal, focus on your prospect’s pain points, ask open-ended questions, include social proof and listen with intent. More on this with examples in a later section.
Nurture and build relationships
Make sure your team has the latest sales collateral on hand to share with their prospects such as a pre-recorded demo, price sheets and other helpful information. Use sales enablement to empower your team to reach peak effectiveness. Your reps can also indirectly stay connected by social selling, such as sharing relevant social media posts or articles related to the prospect’s interests.
According to research by ValueSelling Associates, 54% of initial meetings require more than five touchpoints to set up and fewer than half (46%) of initial meetings are booked with five or fewer touchpoints. This means that your team’s ability to consistently follow up is key to their success.
Three methods to source top quality leads
To find potential buyers, you’ll need reliable lead sources. These are directories, websites and other tools that can provide accurate prospect data.
The data you collect must be used in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which means that prospect data must only be collected and used for legitimate business interests and that you must remove any prospects from your database who no longer wish to be contacted as soon as requested.
With that in mind, let’s explore four methods to source your ideal prospects.
When a company is recruiting for a specific role, it’s a good indication that they’re looking to invest more time and energy in that area. For example, someone hiring for a new Head of Marketing is likely to be evaluating new technologies, products and services to support that role.
By searching job boards like Indeed, Idealist, and Monster you can search for listings that match your buyer persona job titles. Once you find the role, you can take one of two approaches:
- Reach out to the person who will manage that position
- Once a listing is no longer public, and the role has been filled, reach out to the person who got the job
Industry publications and associations
Trade events and industry associations are both great opportunities to find prospects that fit your ideal profile.
Most industry associations list members or member companies on their websites. These directories can be a great source for potential prospects. Business publications also often have partner organizations, contributors, or other listings that could include potential prospects.
To find these publications and associations, run a quick google search for “top [industry] association”. You’ll likely get results for associations and organizations nationwide.
A GDPR-compliant prospecting tool
While the above methods are effective, collecting and evaluating prospects by hand can be time-consuming. To speed up the process, use an effective prospecting CRM tool.
For example, Prospector from Pipedrive allows you to collect high-quality prospect data based on criteria such as job title, company size, location and industry, all without leaving your CRM. With it, your sales reps can easily grab contact information, write and send a new personalized email, and create and automate follow up tasks with a few simple clicks.
Our Prospector feature is designed to be used in full compliance with GDPR and other international data regulations. Prospector fetches only the data that match your chosen criteria, allowing you to operate within the legitimate interests that you have defined.
Learn more about GDPR and other international data regulations in our article on B2B Data Protection Rules and Regulations 2021.
How is B2B outbound marketing impacted by GDPR?
It’s important to note that there are different data requirements for B2B companies under GDPR. Consent is often mentioned as a legal basis for processing data but it is not the only one. This matters because GDPR was not created to prevent B2B marketing, rather it’s a sense check to help prospects avoid bad actors and give them the opportunity to opt out of receiving messages if they so desire.
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.
If B2B companies are able to demonstrate legitimate interest with their outreach efforts, then gaining consent is not required. Therefore, it’s key that you have a clear and specific benefit in mind when processing data. That said, 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 that can demonstrate legitimate interest, direct marketing to corporate email addresses is allowed without consent as long as you give your prospect the ability to opt out of further communication.
GDPR also makes it mandatory for companies to complete a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) to identify and minimize the privacy risks of new technology, projects or policies. This legal document sets out the purpose of a business, the scope of its data processing activities and the legality of its conduct. It helps you stay within the requirements of the law by checking that the interests you pursue are balanced against any impact on others’ rights and freedoms.
How does GDPR affect B2B outbound marketing to European markets?
Regarding B2B outbound marketing to European markets, B2B companies must follow the guidance of their local regulatory body (e.g., ICO in the UK) to ensure GDPR compliance.
If a salesperson or marketer attempts to cold email or cold call an employee of a company by using their personal details (such as their personal gmail address), the personal data protection requirements set out in GDPR and its national implementations will be triggered. This means that if your reps would like to contact a specific prospect using personal details, your company must have a legal basis for contacting that employee in that way.
Article 6 of GDPR lists the legal bases that allow a company to process an individual’s personal data. These include (although the last two aren’t as relevant for B2B sales and marketing):
- If an individual concerned has provided their consent
- If it is necessary for the purposes of a contract with the individual
- If the company can show a legitimate interest for the particular processing activity
- 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
For more information, see our B2B Outbound Marketing Guide for European markets.
10 great ways to reach qualified prospects
Beyond understanding “What does prospecting mean?”, it's important to learn how to categorize your prospecting activities. This way, your prospecting process is streamlined, efficient and organized. Qualified prospects can be categorized in two ways: inbound and outbound prospecting.
Inbound prospecting in sales is connecting with a lead who previously expressed interest in your company. This could include website visitors, someone who signed up for your email list, or someone who followed you on social media.
Outbound prospecting in sales means that your reps need to source new prospects, connect with them and build relationships that may lead to sales. Outbound sales prospecting requires your reps to use many different communication channels to find and qualify leads that will turn into prospects.
The nine ways we’ll dive into below are primarily focused on outbound prospecting.
1. Email prospecting
Many B2B sales teams rely heavily on emailing prospects because it has several functionality advantages over other communication methods.
An email can visually lay out key information that your prospect needs in a way that phone calls cannot. It also creates a record that can be effortlessly forwarded to a decision-maker. As emails are asynchronous, they also allow the prospect to consider the offer on their own schedule and take the necessary time to research your product and company.
When writing a cold email, your reps should aim to make the email as personalized and relevant to the prospect as possible. Personalized emails have a better chance of capturing the prospect’s attention and starting a dialogue.
SaaS company Woodpecker sent over 20M cold emails over the span of 2 years and found that personalized emails were opened 17% of the time in comparison to just 7% for emails without personalization. Personalization shows that you care, adds a unique spin to your messaging and helps you avoid falling into the spam void.
Here are some cold email writing best practices to follow.
- Include the prospect’s name in the subject line: Personalizing email subject lines can increase open rates by 50%.
- Use short paragraphs and sentences to keep the email quick and easy to read: Nearly half of all emails are read on mobile devices, so it’s important to keep the message short and simple.
- Only include one call-to-action button and message in the email.
Here’s an example of a B2B cold email template:
My name is [your name] with [your company name].
I came across [lead’s company name] on G2, and I was super impressed by your customer reviews.
We help companies like yours in [industry] free up time increase revenue by [%]. I wanted to learn what [industry] tools you’re currently using and discuss how you could make some changes to get the same revenue results for your business.
Are you available for a brief call next week?
To send effective prospecting emails that elicit high open and response rates, it’s best to create a drip campaign that sends email sequences to your prospects at ideal times based on their actions. Sales tools and lead generation software can help you automate your email campaigns and ensure consistent touchpoints.
In addition, by using email prospecting tools, you can ensure that you’re in compliance with GDPR and other international data regulations. Failing to follow GDPR regulations can result in a loss of trust and credibility with your customers and a significant fine.
2. Cold calling
Getting a B2B prospect on the phone can help your reps to deliver a more human touch. By being able to hear their voice and gauge their reaction, sales reps can build a deeper connection with a prospect.
Phone calls have a few key advantages over email. For example, they may grab a prospect’s attention more quickly and easily than a cold email. Because the rapport is happening live (instead of over the course of several emails), phone calls have the potential to accelerate the time it takes to close a deal because trust is more quickly established.
The initial moments of the call are when your reps can create a great first impression and encourage the prospect to stay on the phone. Here are two examples of effective ways to start a cold call:
1. Hi, this is [rep name] from [company name]. How are you? We’re specialists in solutions that can help you [solve prospect challenge or pain point]. Is that something you’d like to hear more about?
2. Hi [prospect name], [mutual contact] and I are seeing great results with [client company’s]s [product or service] at the moment. When we talked about who else could benefit, your name came up.
Of course, sales objections may come up for a variety of reasons. Teach your reps to be prepared for them and train them on how to overcome common objections so that they can persevere in the face of rejection.
Outside of cold emails and phone calls, there’s a whole world of B2B prospecting techniques that focus on social media networks, outreach and social selling. A Statista report shows that 67% of B2B businesses use Twitter as a digital marketing tool.
Twitter’s advanced search feature can help you locate prospects that are interested in your company’s products or services. Unlike other social media, you can search for keywords, exact phrases, or exclude certain words from your search. You can also look to high-intent hashtags that may reflect an interest in your company’s area of expertise.
LinkedIn is viewed by many as the preeminent professional social media network. It’s a great place to leverage social selling to connect with potential prospects. Your reps can use it to search for prospects who fit certain criteria, including company size, location, job title and more.
In addition, LinkedIn groups can provide a great way to start value-based conversations with prospective customers. For example, if someone asks a question that relates to your company, your rep can send them a private message that offers support and resources. It’s a great way to build trust and rapport with potential clients.
Here are some tips for social selling on LinkedIn:
- Create a consistent professional brand: Ensure your reps all have professional headshots and standardized bios and profiles that send a clear and unified brand message.
- Share industry insights: According to LinkedIn, over 62% of B2B buyers respond to salespeople that connect with relevant insights and opportunities. By showing that they’re up-to-date, reps can position themselves as industry leaders.
- Engage with others: By spending time engaging with others content, leaving meaningful comments, and starting new conversations, your reps can become seen as helpful experts worth connecting with.
Like LinkedIn, Facebook Groups can be an effective social media tool for finding prospects that share similar needs or characteristics. Join groups that relate to your industry, but also be sure to follow the group rules so you aren’t removed. To use Facebook for prospecting, ensure your reps’ profiles are polished and professional with a personal touch.
Hosting informational webinars is great for engaging potential prospects. By choosing a topic that relates to a common pain point faced by your clients, you can ensure that you’re attracting qualified prospects.
The webinar should create meaningful value for the prospect by educating or informing them on a pain point or problem of theirs. The best webinar formats for B2B include product demos, content marketing, or training on certain topics. If a prospect is watching the webinar live, this also means you can engage with them in real -time.
Webinars also offer great data that can support the sales prospecting process. In addition to registration data such as name, job title or company name, many webinars can also offer behavioral data. This would include insights on how engaged or attentive your prospect was during the webinar and help your reps prioritize who to reach out to.
Here are some best practices to follow:
Have a repeatable workflow for promoting your webinar to prospects.
Ensure that there are clear visuals and great sound quality.
Allow prospects to watch a replay. On average, 60% of people will miss the live webinar, and then 25% of the total registration list will watch the replay. Ensure that you’re still able to gather insights on their registration and engagement.
Ask for feedback so you know how to improve the webinar for the future.
Webinars do take time, effort and expertise to run effectively, but they can be a great tool for helping prospects identify their problems and develop an interest in your produce or solution. Your reps can follow up with emails or phone calls to webinar attendees to keep the rapport going and eventually set up a sales pitch.
7. Client referral
Once you’ve completed work with a client, it’s worth checking back in and asking for referrals. Your clients are likely to know people in similar industries that may need your services. In addition, client referrals add instant credibility to your company when reaching out to potential prospects.
If a client is willing to refer you to their contacts, it can make a big difference to your sales development. 84% of B2B decision-makers start the buying process with a referral. In addition, referrals tend to close faster and have a higher lifetime value.
8. Direct mail
Direct mail is effective, but it’s not a fit for every company. Mass mailing brochures or postcards can be expensive but it can also be the special gesture you need to reach customers who prefer a personal touch.
If you decide to use direct mail, combine this method with another sales prospecting method including webinars, emails, or cold calling. Once a prospect triggers a high-intent action (like attending a webinar, or discussing a certain topic via email), it may be worth following up with direct mail.
9. Regardless of the method, follow up
Whichever of these methods you choose, remember that success is in the follow-up. Make sure your sales reps have a repeatable and consistent process for following up with potential leads.
10. Use tools and technology
There are plenty of lead generation and B2B sales prospecting tools available to salespeople and marketers, which can be used alongside the classic techniques mentioned above.
For example, there are tools like Pipedrive’s smart contact data feature, which finds publicly available information on leads you add to Pipedrive with just one click, letting you save time and effort.
There are also larger tools, designed to find you relevant, original leads, such as Prospector, part of LeadBooster, which is detailed in the section below.
B2C and B2B prospecting tools
As mentioned right at the start of this article, almost 40% of salespeople aren’t using tools and technology for lead generation and prospecting. Those that do, however, find it easier to find leads and target accounts.
You can use technology to further qualify the leads you have, automatically engage potential leads and uncover information on leads who approach you through certain channels.
In fact, there are many ways technology can power up your lead generation process, so how do you find the right B2C or B2B prospecting tool for the job?
A toolset like LeadBooster is ideal for B2B business prospecting.
LeadBooster is a Pipedrive add-on that includes four features:
Prospector. Finds outbound leads from a database of 400 million profiles and 10 million companies based on your ideal customer profile. Use credits to reveal verified emails, direct phone numbers and social profiles of your most desired matches.
Chatbot. Automatically engage with people on your website and save qualified visitors as leads. Easily customize the look of your Chatbot, the questions it asks and how it replies.
Live Chat. Get notifications when a human connection is needed. Available reps can seamlessly take over conversations started by a Chatbot from anywhere, including their mobile device.
Web Forms. Give your inbound leads an easy and reliable way to share their contact information with you. Share or embed highly customizable and easy-to-build forms on your website and let the leads roll in.
You can read more about the best sales prospecting tools for B2B and B2C in our article on LeadBooster.
What about visitors to your website who aren’t engaging with Chatbot or Web Forms? Our Web Visitors add-on is a B2B prospecting tool that uncovers information about organizations that land on your site’s pages.
There are many lead generation tools and Chrome extensions available, just make sure that they are compliant with the rules and regulations before using them.
Although B2B prospecting has a reputation for being one of the most difficult stages of the sales process, any mixture of the above-mentioned strategies will help your efforts. Experiment with a variety of methods and processes and see which one works best for your sales team. Ultimately, you’ll need to create an efficient workflow to see results.
When you have a strong process coupled with a world-class lead discovery and management tool, you can ensure your team follows the key steps they need to close more deals.
For more guidance on GDPR specifically, read our articles on GDPR compliance in sales and staying compliant with GDPR while cold calling.