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Sales prospect: How to define and attract ideal leads to improve your sales process

Sales prospect

Do you find attracting sales prospects a particularly difficult task? You’re not alone, many sales professionals find themselves in the same position.

Prospecting is intimidating and time-consuming. People new to sales quickly learn the importance of honing their ability to handle dismissals, overcome sales objections and generate genuine leads. Figuring out how to prospect quality leads, however, takes time and experience.

The good news is that most people appreciate the outreach process and are willing to listen to what salespeople have to say. Statistics show that only 2% of prospects want to avoid talking to sellers during their buying journey.

That said, if you want to be heard you need to target ideal sales prospects, and the first step is figuring out how to define your ideal lead as well as decipher a prospect vs. lead. Once you generate a pipeline full of optimal prospects and shed unqualified leads you can build a successful, repeatable process that gives you and your sales organization an edge over the competition.

Let’s dive into how to define your ideal prospect and six techniques you can use to attract them into your pipeline.

Table of Contents

  1. Sales prospect definition
  2. How to prospect for sales
  3. How to define your ideal sales prospect
  4. How to qualify leads and turn them into prospects
  5. Six sales prospecting techniques to attract your ideal customer

Sales prospect definition

Any prospecting definition should begin with this question: Do you understand the difference between the prospect vs. lead definitions?

The single biggest difference between a sales prospect and a sales lead is the level of engagement they’ve had with your service or product.

A prospect has shown interest in your product, has demonstrated an intent to make a purchase and is open to communicating with you further to find out more about your solution.

A lead is someone who has entered your company’s nurturing process but is yet to show interest beyond opening your emails and reading your content. They haven’t engaged further or reached out to see how your company can help them more.

sales prospect vs leads


Leads still have a place in your sales funnel, but if we’re talking about how valuable they are compared to prospects, it’s a no-brainer. Leads sit at the top of your sales funnel, but because a prospect has already shown an interest in your product or a need for your solution, they can easily move to the middle of the funnel.

Closing prospects is a lot easier as you know they’re interested in what you’re selling and are already potential buyers. Prospects are ready to be pitched and sold to. For a lead to become a prospect, they must show more interest than just interacting with your content or signing up for your email newsletter. They must have had first contact or some kind of interaction with a sales rep, whether that’s done by a member of your sales team reaching out through email or making a phone call.


How to prospect for sales

Successful sales prospecting is all about taking advantage of channels available to you and leveraging them as effectively as possible. Here are some of the channels you can prospect on and how to prospect on them.

  • Use social media: Social media is a great resource for salespeople looking to qualify leads. You can use it to increase your personal presence in your industry, engage with potential customers, research potential prospects, identify decision makers and even contact them. (Read more about using LinkedIn in particular later in the article.)

  • Use sales prospecting tools: There are a number of tools available to salespeople who want to automate parts of their lead generation and prospecting. Try Prospect.io, which helps you find emails and contact potential customers.

  • Network online and offline: Attend trade shows and conferences or host online events like webinars, then ask your customers and clients to help you get in touch with other businesses who might benefit from your service. Always keep business cards handy in case someone presents a sale opportunity.

  • Use email marketing and direct mail as part of your marketing strategy: Create a newsletter with thought-leadership content and send it out to leads. Send personalized emails in order to get them interested.

  • Generate referrals: Reward customers who bring prospects to your company, set up partnership deals and marketing campaigns with brand advocates who promote your business and get testimonials and case studies from happy customers.

  • Make your website a prospecting tool: With the right content and call-to-actions, you can get leads to share their contact information and drive prospects to sign up for your newsletter. With Chatbot, part of our LeadBooster add-on, you can use your website to capture leads and prospects and deliver them to your salespeople.

  • Pick up the phone: Cold calling may not be the hot sales technique anymore, but if you call a qualified lead at the right time, with the right script, you are more likely to turn them into a qualified prospect.

Before you start your prospecting efforts, however, you need to work out who to target.

Four Steps to Finding the Right Leads Fast

Make instant improvements to your lead qualification process with this four-step guide full of actionable sales advice.

How to define your ideal sales prospect

Not all prospects are created equal. An ideal prospect falls into one (or several) of these categories:

  • Your product meets the prospect’s needs

  • Your team’s sales cycle aligns with the prospect’s purchasing behavior and buying process

  • Your pricing strategy fits in with the prospect’s budget

Analyze your data

How do you go about finding what this ideal prospect looks like? Take a look at your data and identify traits your existing customers have in common.

As a starting point, review your in-house metrics and talk to your sales reps about what deals they’ve had the most success with. Analyze the data and meet with your sales team to discuss the following details for better sales prospecting:

  • Who are your best customers (not just the ones who spend the most money, but those who love what you do)?

  • Where did you find your best customers?

  • What position does the decision maker hold at the companies you sell to?

  • Which industry is your best target based on your historical metrics? For example, if you’re selling a SaaS solution, what industry have you found the most success in? Look at what industries have the highest conversion rates, along with the shortest sales cycles.

  • What is your ideal customer’s company size?

  • What are some of the common factors that your best customers share?
    • Business size

    • Employee numbers

    • Geographical location

    • Industry

    • Target market

    • Tech stack

    • Budget

  • What is your USP? How does your product solve your customer’s needs better than your competitors? And who are the type of customers who share this pain point?

  • Out of your current customers, who brings your company the highest amount of revenue? Is there a pattern?

  • What are the purchase decisions that your best customers have? What does their sales cycle look like?

Understand your prospects

Once you sort through all of your historical data and cross-check it with insights from your reps, your ideal prospect will become clearer.

Dive a little deeper to understand how you can interact with them in future communications:

  • Who are your ideal prospects’ target customers?

  • What are the biggest pain points in their industry right now?

  • What social channels, organizations or charities are they most active in?

  • What blogs do they read? What publications are they featured and interested in?

  • Who are their biggest competitors and what sets them apart?

You now have a clear picture of what your ideal prospect looks like, and how you can communicate with them to show you’re the best solution for their problems.

Pro-tip: Use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Pipedrive to simplify this process, save time and automate admin tasks. Check out Pipedrive's feature that allows sales teams to map their ideal customer profile.

Using the platform, you can bring up your entire sales funnel and check how many deals your team has won and lost. Having this data in front of you will help identify why certain opportunities fall by the wayside.

It also helps sales reps to easily identify where they should be focusing their efforts, meaning they spend less time analyzing data and more time selling.


How to qualify leads and turn them into prospects

Every sales team has its own qualifying process, but some outshine others. If you know how to correctly define leads, your sales team will spend less amount of time chasing dead ends and cold leads, which helps to streamline your sales process.

Here are a couple of ways you can make sure your team’s only spending their time on marketing qualified leads (MQLs) or sales qualified leads (SQLs), the two types of leads that have been vetted by your marketing and sales teams.

1. Pick out leads on a surface level

An MQL may have downloaded an ebook, subscribed to your emails, visited a store and become intrigued or been referred by a friend. There are many ways that leads can find your business through your marketing efforts.

Reaching out is a great way to further qualify leads into SQLs and prioritize those that are most likely to become prospects. This may not work for every business, but it’s worth testing to see if you have success.

So, how can you reach out?

Offer to call them

Giving SQLs the option of talking with you is one of the easiest ways to gauge how interested they are in your product.

If they’re up for the call, that’s already a strong sign that they’re moving their way down your sales funnel. If they don’t get back to you or are resistant to the idea, it’s likely they have a low buying temperature and you should continue to nurture them, without pushing too hard.

Not sure how to start the conversation? Read our cold calling guide, with 25 scripts to help you find the right thing to say.

Figure out what they want

If the lead does take you up on your call, it doesn’t automatically make them a prospect. View the call as a chance to figure out what their need or problem is, where their company is at, and if they’re at a stage where they’re looking to purchase.

If you feel on the initial call that your product isn’t a good fit, or they don’t have the budget right now, then keep them as a lead. Their situation may change down the line, and it’s well worth contacting them at a later date.

Paint a picture of your solution

If a prospect is actively open to a demo of your product or service, and they've made it clear that they're looking to purchase, then it's time to show them how you can solve their problem.

Paint a picture of the solution your product will be able to offer. Conducting research on the lead before the call will allow you to customize your solution to their problem and get them excited when you follow up.

Read our sales follow-up email article for guides and templates to help you craft the right message when you follow up on your prospect.

Pipedrive has a wealth of email templates that are easy to download and simple to use. Whether it’s to re-open channels, send follow-ups or circulate helpful materials to assist in a close, automating email sends but infusing your personal touch is a great way to stay top-of-mind.

Turn Maybe Into Yes With These Killer Follow Up Email Templates

These customizable follow up email templates will help you boost your chances of breaking through to your busiest prospects.

2. Build a targeted prospect list

Depending on the size of your company, you may have hundreds of new leads entering your sales pipeline every month.

The best way to manage them is by building a targeted prospect or account list.

Not only does this increase your chances of finding your ideal prospect, but it also saves you time by avoiding leads that weren’t that interested in your product to start with.

Is your sales team experiencing unsuccessful calls using leads in your funnel? Have your reps been struggling with low open and response rates to their emails? If the answer to these questions is yes, then your sales process needs optimizing.

A target prospect list will help increase your chances of success. Here’s a quick list of questions to run through before you attempt to make contact with a lead:

  1. Does this lead align with your ideal prospect persona?

  2. Is the lead in a field that your company is able to help?

  3. How big is the company?

  4. Is this a senior decision maker?

  5. Are they already using a product like yours (i.e. from one of your competitor’s solutions)?

  6. Will your product be a good fit for their problem?

  7. Have they made any buying signals? For example, have they looked at your product’s pricing page?

  8. Are they a new business? Do they have a budget to afford your product?

By answering these questions, you don’t have to spend too much time preparing for a call. For instance, if a lead doesn’t have the budget or purchasing power, it’s unlikely they’re a good fit.

Not sure whether your lead is looking at your product’s pricing page? Try LeadBooster, which includes Chatbot, Live Chat and more.


sales prospect techniques

Six sales prospecting techniques to attract your ideal customer

You’ve identified your ideal prospect and you know how you’re going to qualify them.

Now, it’s time to fill your sales funnel. Let’s look at six proven sales prospecting methods to attract and close more of your ideal customers.

Technique 1: Get social

Building and maintaining a social selling strategy is a great way to engage with prospects.

Customers rarely buy products the first time they see them. They’re likely tracking your product over a range of social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn (and others, depending on your industry).

Use these social media channels to help guide prospects to your product as a solution to their problem. Answer their questions and share case studies that demonstrate your product as the right solution.

Technique 2: Hunt for prospects in their own backyard

If you’ve perfected prospect definition and you know what your ideal prospect looks like, why not try digital door knocking?

We’re talking about connecting with them in their own backyard. For instance, if your ideal prospects are B2B companies selling financial services, find out where they’re hanging out online. This includes the blogs they’re reading, questions they’re asking on platforms like Quora and how they’re using LinkedIn to connect with peers.

Crunchbase Pro has a feature that allows you to build a list of leads based on their industry, funding round and location. Once you’ve created a list, narrow it down by following the prospect checklist you created earlier. You can integrate Pipedrive with Crunchbase using AeroLeads.

Technique 3: Put your prospect marketing on autopilot

Marketing automation is one of the fastest ways that sales teams can nurture their customers without manually sending emails every day.

Linking up marketing automation using a CRM tool like Pipedrive can help supercharge your lead nurturing and make sure your emails are landing in the right person’s inbox, at the right time. Building a sequence of automated emails will keep your leads engaged and your brand at the top of their minds.

Sending these emails on autopilot (or even on Autopilot) to leads who have shown buying intent is one of the best ways to keep them warm. But to rank those leads, you may need a bit of help.


Edit email template


For example, in your CRM, you can use lead scoring to automatically measure how qualified a lead is. The higher the score, the more confident you can be investing your time in that lead. If your marketing has been put on autopilot, however, it makes nurturing this promising lead a whole lot easier.

A tool like SalesWings can automatically score leads based on how they’ve interacted with your website, forms and videos. Some companies also prefer to set up their own lead scoring system based on their ideal buyer personas.

Don’t miss out on using powerful automation tools to nurture leads into new prospects.

Technique 4: Keep a closer eye on a lead’s buying signals

How closely are you following a lead’s buying signals? Are you tracking their email opens or what pages they’re visiting on your website?

If not, you’re missing out on important selling opportunities.

Buying signals are simply actions triggered by a lead. For example, if they click on a “free demo” CTA, or they’re repeatedly visiting your pricing page, they’re giving off strong buying signals.

A buying signal might be something that has happened in the lead’s own company. For example, if they reach the next stage in their funding cycle, or are hiring several new employees at once, it might be time to revisit them as a potential prospect.

Using a tool like Vainu, you can automatically track your lead’s buying signals and filter the information back into your CRM.

By tracking buying signals as they happen, you can make sure you’re getting to the lead first to offer up your product as a problem-solver.

Technique 5: Headhunt the decision maker (and avoid gatekeepers)

Company gatekeepers are one of the biggest time-sucks for a sales rep.

However, in the age of social media, getting the contact details of a company’s decision maker isn’t the arduous task it used to be.

If you’ve found a company that matches up with your ideal prospect definition, and you know the name of a key decision maker, this is even easier. Simply use a tool like Pipedrive’s Smart Contact Data feature to find out even more about your lead, their company and their position.

Start off by looking back at your ideal prospect’s role. If it's the CFO, for example, then try finding this person at the target company first.

First stop? LinkedIn, of course. Using their Sales Navigator for Chrome extension, you can filter out specific roles in a company until you find the employee that fits your ideal prospect title.

Once you’ve found the person you want to connect with, match up their name with your email database search from earlier, and you’re one step closer to potentially making a sale.

Technique 6: Don’t underestimate the power of a follow-up

Nurturing a lead is one of the best ways to convert them into a paying customer.

If you reach out to a lead and it’s clear that they’re not thinking about buying, that’s fine, but don’t forget about them. Make a note in your CRM to send them a follow-up email in the next quarter to see how things are going.

Don’t send a generic “just checking in” email either. Add some value and entice them to open it. You could send a blog post relevant to their job or pain points they’ve raised in previous discussions, or a recent case study from your company about how you helped a company like theirs.

If your follow-up emails trigger a buying signal, the lead may be ready to embark on their buying journey after all.

Building relationships keeps you at the front of their mind, which is the goal for this prospecting technique. After all, they’re going to need to solve their problem at some stage, whether it’s next month or next year. If you show them that you’re still willing to help them when they’re ready, then you’re already a step ahead of your competitors.


Final thoughts

Once you’ve built an effective sales prospecting process, the sales game becomes much easier.

Stop wasting valuable time and resources following up with dead ends and unqualified leads who only want a free ebook. Put your time and effort into defining your ideal sales prospect instead.

This requires some analysis of your historical data to identify common traits among your best customers. But once you’ve built this persona, it’s easier to measure leads and weed out those who may not be a good fit.

Defining and attracting your ideal sales prospect requires some groundwork, but the extra effort will pay off. Your sales quota (and your company’s bottom line) will thank you for it.

Catch more hot leads before they bounce

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