Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on October 30, 2023
Sales Prospecting Techniques
What is Sales Prospecting?
Why is Sales Prospecting Important?
10 Sales Prospecting Techniques
If you’re a new business or operate in a niche market, you might find yourself struggling to fill your sales funnel with qualified prospects. Beyond sitting around and hoping new customers will stumble upon your website or social media pages and reach out to you, how can you take a proactive approach and find new customers?
If your sales team has been struggling with that question, don’t worry. This guide will go through 10 foolproof sales prospecting techniques to help you creatively find new qualified prospects while breathing some new life into your sales funnel.
Sales prospecting is when salespeople research and nurture potential customers on an individual basis.
As opposed to one-to-many lead generation strategies, sales prospecting can be more useful to businesses that operate in smaller markets with fewer customers, where qualified leads are few and far between. The personal attention also increases each prospect’s time to close.
Ten techniques for improving your business’s sales prospecting efforts including leveraging social media, creating buyer personas, researching the leads before reaching out, sending warm emails, making warm calls, attending industry events, leveraging your network, using referral marketing, hosting an event, and having great sales enablement material.
What is Sales Prospecting?
Sales prospecting is the word for when a sales representative takes the initiative to search for potential customers and interacts with them on a one-on-one basis in hopes of making an eventual sale.
This can be through a myriad of methods such as phone calls, emails, door-to-door visits, or online methods – basically, any way you can contact a customer.
You might’ve heard that sales prospecting results in potential customers called leads, prospects, or even opportunities. So what’s the difference between a lead, a prospect, and an opportunity? Simply put, it’s a step-by-step process. Potential customers start off as leads, become prospects if the sales team determines they’re a good fit for the product, develop into an opportunity when they express an interest in your product, and finally graduate into full-fledged customers.
Because sales prospecting methods usually involve some sort of research on the sales rep’s part to ensure the potential customer is a good fit for the business, the incoming potential customer is usually called a prospect. Hence, the term “sales prospecting.”
Why is Sales Prospecting Important?
Every business needs customers to survive, so sales prospecting campaigns that find and nurture potential customers are, of course, an essential function for your business operations. Because sales prospecting focuses on one-on-one interactions, sales prospects who interact with sales reps usually also feel a higher degree of customer satisfaction with their purchasing journey and tend to purchase faster than they would’ve without any personal attention from a sales rep.
You might think it’s enough to simply implement lead generation strategies aimed at hundreds of potential customers at once and hope that at least one of them bites. But as with all throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-hope-something-sticks methods, this could waste quite a lot of money with not a single lead to show for it.
That being said, let’s dive right into 10 concrete sales prospecting techniques and tips to help fill your sales funnel. Whether you’re brand new to sales prospecting or are hoping to breathe fresh life into your prospecting tactics, there’s bound to be at least one suggestion suited to your business.
1. Leverage Social Media
Let’s get the most obvious technique out of the way. If you haven’t already, social media is an outstanding source of potential clients for your business. It’s estimated that 4.9 billion people —more than half the world’s population— use social media, so promoting and advertising your business is the best way to reach a wide audience of potential customers.
Build your network and reach out to potential leads on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and X (formerly Twitter) to find new customers for your business. It’s best not to copy and paste messages word-for-word, lest you be mistaken for a bot. Instead, as you research a lead’s social media profile, be sure to add personal details of what attracted you to them as a potential customer, or highlight any mutual connection or shared interests to get a foot in the door.
Next up is to create buyer personas for your products, or semi-fictional personifications of your ideal customer profile. For example, if you sold sneakers, your buyer persona could be a 35-year-old man named Steven who works as a financial advisor, has low-arch size 10 feet, runs as a hobby, and wants to be one of the first 50 people to finish in an upcoming marathon.
Beyond simple lead qualification questions, buyer personas help sales reps qualify potential customers faster because it gives them a better idea of the ideal personalities they should look for as they converse with potential leads. Sales reps are always told to build a personal connection with their leads, so building buyer personas helps reps qualify leads while building those connections.
Back to our example, while it may be difficult to quickly and naturally identify whether a lead has a budget of over $150 for your sneakers, once the rep gets a friendly conversation started, it would be easy to compare the lead to Steven, and determine if the lead is within the ideal customer age range, or has a similar ambition in running.
3. Always Research Before Reaching Out
In a survey of the top-performing sales professionals, more than three-quarters (76%) said that they “always” perform research before reaching out to prospects, as opposed to just 47% of other sellers. Another study of top sellers reported that they spent an average of six hours per week researching their prospects.
Though cold calling and cold emailing are popular—where you contact leads with nothing but a name— any customer would tell you that being contacted by a stranger with a cookie-cutter sales pitch is quite annoying. Instead, sales reps should research their leads before making warm calls and emails, tailoring their sales pitch to each prospect. The more research a sales rep conducts, the more pain points or potential conversation points they might uncover, boosting their chances of success.
Some places you could leverage to research your sales prospects are social media, your company’s CRM, the person’s company website, and related customers in the same industry. If you’re a B2B company targeting a purchasing officer at a buying company, you should also look into the company’s current activities and trends in the industry to learn if the company is facing struggles or not.
4. Send Warm Emails
In a survey by LinkedIn, the top three methods buyers said they wanted sellers to use to contact them were through email (66%), live in-person events (35%), and social networking sites (34%). So, on top of being inexpensive, email is conclusively the best way to reach out and make a good impression on a majority of buyers.
When starting your email campaign, it’s best to keep your messages short and sweet, and focus on building a rapport with clients rather than trying to close a sale in the first email. And as we mentioned in the previous tip, it’s best to research your prospect before sending them a warm, rapport-building, and hand-crafted messages, rather than sending a copy-and-pasted email that will get you fast-tracked to the spam folder.
5. Make Warm Calls
On the other hand, for manager or executive-level prospects, a personal phone call might be a more intimate way to reach your prospect and show them the respect their position demands. In fact, over half (57%) of C-level buyers prefer to be contacted by phone, according to Crunchbase.
Even more so than with an email campaign, in a cold calling campaign, it is absolutely essential that you do your research ahead of time and already have a good sense of who you’re calling and what their pain points are. Your prospects are busy people who don’t want to waste their valuable time answering basic questions about themselves to a random sales rep. If you do your research ahead of time and already have a solid understanding of the prospect’s pain points, you can immediately jump into the meat of your offering, saving everyone the time and stress of the get-to-know-you phase.
However, unlike emails where you can carefully craft each response, your warm calls happen in real-time. That means reps must be sure they know how to overcome cold calling objections and draw out a prospect’s thoughts with ease and grace. To that end, it’s best to follow the optimal talk-to-listen ratio for successful cold calls, which is 55% of the sales representatives talking to 45% listening to the prospect, according to sales software company Gong.
6. Attend Industry Events
Industry events could be a hotspot to find unseen leads that aren’t very active online and make a memorable first impression, especially if you’re looking for B2B buyers. Some examples of industry events include trade shows, conferences, dinner parties, seminars, expos, and retreats. Of course, the most important thing is that the audiences at these events match your customer profile.
Beyond simply attending the event to rub elbows with fellow participants, you may also consider hosting a booth or speaking at the event itself, which will give you a chance to showcase your expertise and invite conversation from others in the industry.
7. Leverage Your Network
In the course of your business career, you’ve likely made a few friends and connections along the way: maybe a trusted supplier, another business owner, or fellow professionals. These people make up your professional network. Tapping into these connections and asking for referrals could reveal new potential prospects you wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else.
Even if your contact doesn’t have a referral they can recommend right away, just letting them know you’re looking for new customers could plant the suggestion in their head for later. Then, when another person asks them for a recommendation, you’ll be the first business that springs to mind.
8. Utilize Referral Marketing
Referral marketing is when your existing customers recommend your business to their friends, family, and networks. While satisfied customers will usually be glad to refer your brand to their networks, you could encourage them to promote you further by starting a referral program that offers perks and discounts for every referral brought in. This strategy encourages you to support different communication channels where customers can leave reviews, and ask for referrals at the end of every sale.
Referral marketing is so effective because it works off the social proof principle, where people unsure of a decision will trust the opinion and decisions of other people. In practice, this means that when considering a purchase, 82% of Americans say they seek recommendations from friends and family. If you can be the first name that comes to the mind of the referrer, you’ve just as good as won a new prospect.
9. Host An Event
Hosting an event such as a webinar, giveaway, talkshow, or interview series, establishes your credibility and reputation in the industry, which improves your chances in the long run. More importantly, if you require an RSVP or ask attendants to leave their names and email addresses, you’ll automatically get a list of qualified prospects who are interested in what your business has to offer!
If you’re looking for B2C prospects, you could consider collaborating with another business to run a joint event and promote to the partner business’s audience. Or, as we mentioned earlier, you could seek a spot on a panel at an industry event for B2B prospecting.
10. Have Great Sales Enablement Material
Rather than a discrete sales prospecting technique, this last one is more of a general tip for B2B sales organizations to help make their prospecting campaigns more successful.
When asked what content influenced them to accept a meeting or connect with a sales rep, buyers responded that the content most appealing to them was primary research data relevant to their business (69%), descriptions of the provider’s capabilities (67%), and content customized to their specific situation (67%). This content is known as sales enablement material, and, as seen above, plays an integral part in convincing prospects to move further down the sales process.
However, according to Prezentor, almost all (95%) of sales professionals say that they don’t have enough valuable sales enablement materials to give to prospects. So, as your business tries out all of the other prospecting techniques we mentioned above, be sure to arm your sales representatives with ample sales enablement material so they can make the most out of each sales opportunity they find.
It may be a bit difficult to find the names and contact details of potential customers in an era where everyone seems hidden online, but sales prospecting still remains an effective way for salespeople to find new customers for their products. If you’re new to sales prospecting, hopefully these 10 techniques have given you all the know-how you need to start off on the right foot for your sales prospecting campaign, preparing you to draw in more customers than ever before.
What’s the difference between lead generation and sales prospecting?
Though lead generation and sales prospecting both attract new customers for your business, they do so using different methodologies and on different time scales.
Lead generation is a marketing activity that uses widespread advertising or promotional campaigns to promote the brand and attract several customers at once. For example, think of a mass-email campaign or an online ad. Once these processes are set up, leads usually trickle in over time, and it’s likely that only a handful become customers.
On the other hand, prospecting is a sales activity where a salesperson personally identifies, researches, and nurtures a potential customer from beginning to end using personal conversations over email, phone, or in person. Leads from sales prospecting methods usually close faster.
As such, when a business implements one or the other will depend on its own situation; companies should focus on sales prospecting if they’re financially struggling and need a few sure sales quickly. But once the company has stabilized, it can spend a little more time developing lead generation campaigns that will create a passive source of leads over time.
What should I do if the prospect can’t purchase?
If you reach out to a sales prospect and they can’t go forward with the sales process for whatever reason, that’s okay. Thank them for their time, put a pin in their file, and contact them intermittently to see if their situation changes. You could also ask the ex-prospect for referrals or recommendations regarding people they know who might be in the market for what you have to offer.
What are some tools I could use to help my sales prospecting campaign?
Some tools you could use to help your sales prospecting efforts are CRM platforms such as HubSpot CRM, Salesforce CRM, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which will allow you to take detailed notes on each lead and manage their sales journey. Another tool you could use to help you find leads is LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which taps directly into LinkedIn to source and promote to qualified prospects.