Sales Prospecting: What Does “Prospecting” Actually Mean?

Sales prospecting is one of the most important aspects of an organization, let alone a sales process.

All companies (startups especially) have to fill their pipeline with good leads in order to acquire customers. There are several ways to find people who may want to buy:

  • Inbound Marketing (Content marketing, SEO)
  • Referrals (Colleagues of current customers)
  • Networking (People you meet and rub elbows with)
  • Outbound Sales Prospecting (The subject of our post today)

There are setbacks to each of these methods. Getting around these hold-ups is part of growing a business.

Inbound takes time and effort on the front end.

Referrals may not be plentiful enough to grow your business.

Networking doesn’t mean you’ll meet the right people.

Outbound means hitting the proverbial pavement and finding lead data from scratch.

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Motivated yet?

Don’t worry. We (obviously) feel strongly about the potential of developing, qualifying, and closing B2B outbound leads.

It’s this passion that has led us to write a series of posts on sales definitions. In this one, we’ll define the term “sales prospecting”, talk about the process, define who should be doing it, and how to best get around the time-consuming process of lead generation.

The goal is to teach you what sales prospecting is and the best way to do it.

That way you can do what makes you money—talking to people who actually want to buy.

 

Let’s Start With Some Definitions

sales prospecting

Sales Prospecting: The act of recruiting or seeking out new customers for a business. Prospecting is a common role of a salesperson. It is associated with a goal of increasing the customer base of the company and generating new revenue streams. (source: Reference.com)

It’s important to note that the term “prospecting” and a “prospect” mean two different things in the sales world.

A prospect is a lead in the pipeline that is likely going to make a decision. Click To Tweet

Meaning that this lead is close to being qualified for an appointment with a closer, making them a prospect. We have a whole post on this topic here.

So, What Does Prospecting Mean Again?

In the sense of prospecting, it’s just like a gold miner. You are sitting by the river, checking mounds of dirt for a few specks of gold.

You are trying to create new leads. Maybe researching a new market, or digging deeper into the same sectors.

The point is, you’re starting with a clean slate.

When you start a sales prospecting session, you have no leads nor contact data. When you’re finished with that session, you have leads and contact data.

Networking is not prospecting.” — Mark Hunter

 

Who Should Be Doing Sales Prospecting?

what is sales prospecting?

There are several stages in the life of a company, but really there are just a few different roles that will handle the crucial process of outbound lead prospecting.

  • Owner/Founder: In the early startup stages, founders will likely handle the outbound lead gen. There are ways of automating the entire process (like ours), making it much easier. We’re talking the earliest time of your company. The one where you do the coding/creating/packing, pay the bills, and handle the sales.
  • Sales Rep: Some companies may have a stage where they have sales people that handle the entire process from generation to close. This isn’t a preferred method, but it may be unavoidable for your organization.
  • BDRs: If you really want a healthy sales team, it should have both sales and business development reps. SDRs will handle mostly inbound leads (the other ways of getting leads we talked about earlier). BDRs will strictly be for finding and qualifying leads in an outbound setting.

If you can afford to hire a person specifically to find and qualify outbound leads, we encourage you to do so.

When trained and focused, these reps can enter into new markets that will likely bring in more referrals and inbound leads in the future. While they may not set as many appointments as an SDR, the ground they open up can grow your company for years to come.

 

What Do Prospectors Do Exactly?

Now that we’ve given you the technical definition and who should be in charge, we’ll share some details into the process and what the prospector will need.

Extensive Knowledge of the Product

sales prospecting definition

Yes, everyone should know the product(s) well.

But there is a real possibility that those who prospect have to know how to use your product better than even closers. If you are supposed to think about who else can use the product, sometimes you’ll have to think out of the box.

An intimate knowledge of the product will go a long way to finding those customers that aren’t finding your brand.

Extensive Knowledge of Your Ideal User/Client

sales prospecting

  • What roles really love your products?
  • Who are your happiest customers?
  • What industries are they in?
  • How about the average revenue of these companies?

Yep. These sound like the questions you ask when you’re developing a buyer persona.

Prospectors can use your personas to quickly profile potential leads and contacts in different industries.

Make a product that helps HR reps in manufacturing? Great!

BDRs want to try and sell it to HR folks in restaurants, or government, and even more manufacturers.

They can use the data of those who love your stuff (and the ones your company loves back) to deconstruct and find new contacts.

Crazily Good Research Skills

what is sales prospecting?

Prospectors have to dig, right?

It’s the same thing here. But instead of getting in a river, it’s on government websites, social media, lead gen software, or countless other sources.

The intricacies of lead gen aren’t all covered here, but there are three broad areas that are essential for sales prospecting.

sales prospecting

Researching Firmographics

We touched on this earlier, but firmographics are a playground for good prospectors.

Finding new industries and then narrowing down brands by this data to find potential contacts are the entry level of the process.

This is where the buyer personas you currently employ can be handy. Prospectors can look at several things here including:

  • Industry: Finding other whole sectors and sub-sectors that can use the product to their benefit.
  • Number of Employees: If this seems to be an important indicator of those who buy, then it should be considered when sales prospecting.
  • Geographic Data: Where companies are located can have an impact. Seasonality can be an issue too. Certain times of the year can be busier/slower for industries and roles.
  • Revenue: Small fish may not be able to afford your stuff and big fish may have a custom solution. Prospectors are like Goldilocks and find those that are just right (see what we did there.. prospector, Goldilocks).
  • Sales Cycle: Is a target industry bogged down by red tape and bureaucracy? These are the questions prospectors ask.

With these types of data (and more), your reps will be able to generate a great list of brands.

But the work is just getting started at this point.

Researching Companies

Now that you have that fancy list—it’s time to find out more about them.

Reps will be sleuthing out their current solution, finding out where each individual stands on issues that pertain to your product.

They’ll also be looking into the industry and becoming a relative expert on all things that potential contacts will care about.

Depending on who is doing the work, you may even develop a valuable resource to help with the cold outreach you’ll be doing later on. You know, something that merges the interests of interested parties while merging the offer of your product and the pains that it solves.

Researching Contacts

You can't cold email without the contact's address and you can't cold call without their number. Click To Tweet

This makes researching your contact data the last, but indispensable part of research before you begin contacting these new leads. This has historically been the worst part of lead gen.

Finding those who make decisions within the protected borders of assistants and gate keepers has made the end of many-a-prospector.

While it still sucks getting told “no” so often, software has made finding B2B contact intel so much easier—it doesn’t make sense to do it manually anymore.

 

How Often Should You Be Prospecting for Leads?

sales prospecting definition

Reps who prospect on at least a weekly basis have been proven to hit quota more often than those who don’t prospect regularly.

Pipelines and funnels are meant to hold a constant stream and those organizations and sales teams that balance lead acquisition and lead nurturing grow faster than others.

If it’s not in the routine, you’ll end up in a “feast and famine” scenario. Too many people to talk to for a few months and then—crickets panic!

Now that you have a good idea on the what, who and how of sales prospecting…

You should be using LeadFuze to automate the entire sales prospecting process! 🙂

Check it out if you’d like to avoid (or get out of) the feast and famine cycle.

How often do you (or your team) perform sales prospecting activities?

Want to get people to respond to your cold email outreach? Grab this guide which gives you 10 cold email tips you need to be using!