For centuries, prospecting meant searching for new gold deposits in rivers and rocks. Now it’s just as commonly used to refer to sales teams searching for figurative gold deposits in the form of new customers for their business. It is an important process for B2B sales teams to master, yet many businesses still don’t use prospecting effectively, if at all.
Prospecting in sales incorporates key parts of the process of identifying potential customers. It differs from lead generation in that prospecting means discerning whether or not a lead or new target fits the target audience of the business or product, thereby narrowing down targets and leads to a group of businesses who can be confidently labelled as potential customers. Not all leads will become prospects, and not all prospects will start out as leads.
Why are we talking about a research-led approach?
While it may be possible to generate leads without much research, effective prospecting must have research at its core or it will not translate into successful sales. The entire sales process should be underpinned by research, allowing you not only to find promising prospects, but to reach out to them in a way that is personal and relevant, and to make sure that you are selling them a product or service that they are going to want to buy.
There are many benefits to a consciously research-led approach, but there are two that stand out:
- Increased efficiency and sales ratio
- Enhanced ability to sell a product that prospects want to buy
These two benefits are linked in that they are both tied to the core idea that research ensures that you are pitching your products or services to the right clients. Thoroughly researching prospects stops you wasting time on multiple calls that don’t lead anywhere, allowing you to focus your energy on more promising avenues. It also informs the timing of your outreach and the way that you engage the prospects.
In this blog post, we’ll look in more detail about research as a foundation in the process of identifying prospects, and then how it can help in moving those prospects down the sales funnel.
Building a target audience (and finding companies that fit it)
To start building your target audience, think about the two main objections that prospects may have when considering whether to buy your products or services: time and money. Prospects will lose interest if they don’t have the time to implement a new product, undergo training, or engage with your service, and it’ll be a non-starter if they can’t afford it.
Have a good idea of the amount of time and money that prospects would need to invest in your products or services. Your target audience should be made up of companies that can afford the time and money that you have identified. Ideally, some time would already have been spent on these considerations in the development of your products – you wouldn’t want to get to this stage and find that only a handful of companies fit your profile!
Once you have your target audience, you want to start building lists of businesses that fit those parameters – these are your prospects. A good place to start is with Company Check; its various membership plans give you all the business data and credit reports you need to make an informative decision about whether to pursue a potential customer or not. Financial data is essential at this stage of the process, allowing you to identify companies with the money to spend and growing companies that you should look at fostering relationships with.
It is harder to identify which companies have the time for your offering, but there are some trends that will apply. Generally, the larger the company is, the more time they can give you. They have more staff and more people available. By contrast, a small company whose employees are all working the equivalent of three roles to make sure they can launch their software solution on time might not be overly interested in a product that takes hours of training to use.
Monitor prospect behaviour however you can
Once you have identified prospects, you need to be looking for the best ways to reach out to them. Some of your prospects will already be leads who have expressed an interest in your own business, and with these businesses it is a case of maintaining that relationship and making sure you understand their needs as well as you can to keep them engaged.
For those companies who you’ll be cold calling or emailing, you need to do a bit more research. Ideally, you want to identify their specific needs, or ‘pain points’, and the best time to get in touch with them.
There are a number of ways to identify pain points. You can start by skimming their blog posts and Twitter feeds to see if any problems occur. As most companies won’t want to broadcast their problems, you might have to read between the lines here and use your experience of working with similar companies to see where the pain points might be. Even if this approach doesn’t reveal any obvious pain points, it should still give you a lot of insight into the areas that the company is most focused on.
Another way of identifying needs is to look at any new initiatives, products, services, or hiring campaigns that the company is running. All of these would indicate areas of investment or areas that the company is looking to grow, and if your offering can coincide with any of these, that’s your reason to contact them and the angle you can take in your outreach.
Once you have identified the pain points or areas of focus, you need to make sure that you reach out to the prospect at a convenient time. For example, you probably don’t want to offer advertising services when a company has just rolled out a new social media campaign – they won’t have much time on their hands, and they will want to see how the campaign does before looking at anything new.
Instead, keep an eye out for events that might make them more willing to look at something new, or even a recent visit to your site. These events give you a reason to start a conversation with a prospect at an opportune time, increasing your chances of successfully closing a sale. A lot of times, it will probably be fine to contact a prospect with no particular thought behind the timings, but there will be cases where careful planning can make a big difference, and in those cases you’ll be happy that you did the research.
Track your own progress
A research and data-led approach is only half complete if it is solely focused on the prospects themselves. To make a truly great sales strategy, the whole sales team need to be aware of everything that’s going on internally as well. The best way to do this is to use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to keep track of all of your customers and prospects, including all of the data you have for them and a record of all contact history.
CRM systems can be improved by the addition of further data. The Company Check API is one tool that can be used, allowing you to see up-to-date financial information for all customers and prospects, and there are other APIs that can be used to give you different kinds of data depending on what it is that you need. Your CRM software should give your sales team all of the information they could possibly need at every stage of the research-led sales process.
Evaluate and improve
An advantage of having all this data and doing all this research that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the potential that it gives you to continually improve your own sales process. There are variables that can be changed and improved at every stage of the process, from the initial building of the audience through to the phone calls you have with a prospect who’s on the fence.
If you can see all of the data for the prospects that you’ve used to build your list, or the contact history with any prospect, whether that communication was positive or negative, you can identify what worked well and what didn’t. If you apply a critical but constructive approach to all aspects of your strategy, you should quickly start to see ways that your sales team can improve, and that can only be a good thing. Research is key to good prospecting and sales, but it’s how you go on using that data that could really set your business apart.