What It Takes to Master Sales Prospecting: Process, Tips, and Tools

Cassy Aite
July 20, 2022
What It Takes to Master Sales Prospecting: Process, Tips, and Tools

The only way your sales team can meet their sales quotas is when they have enough prospects to work with. These prospects can’t be just anyone; they need to be individuals with an active interest in your offering.

Sales prospecting simplifies identifying these quality prospects and communicating with them to turn them into paying customers. It involves using various tools and techniques—cold calling, trade shows, and directories—to seek out potential customers. 

The stakes are high, and prospecting is the most effective way to turn the odds in your favor. The only problem? 40% of salespeople find sales prospecting the most challenging part of the sales process.

That’s where this Hoppier sales guide comes in. Read on as we explain sales prospecting and how to do it right to help your sales team crush their quotas and book more meetings.

What is sales prospecting?

The better your prospecting, the more deals you can close

Prospecting is the process of finding new customers who fit your ideal customer profile (ICP) and, therefore, most likely to buy your product or service. 

With better prospecting, you can add more prospects to your sales funnel easily and more efficiently. Here’s how you can put it into practice:

  1. Your sales team gets a clear understanding of your company’s ideal customer.
  2. They use sales prospecting processes, systems, and data to identify prospects that best fit this definition.
  3. They then focus their resources and efforts to contact and nurture them, making them a paying customer.

It's critical to understand the difference between a lead and a prospect.

A lead is anyone who has expressed interest in your offerings by perhaps visiting your website, requesting a quote, or signing up for your newsletter. A prospect is a qualified sales opportunity (QSO)—someone who fits your target buyer persona.

We can say all prospects are leads, but all leads aren’t prospects. 

Prospecting focuses on qualifying leads, making them sales prospects, followed by advancing them through the sales funnel. While leads and prospects are categorized and prioritized differently, the end goal is to nurture them until they convert into paying customers.

Why is sales prospecting important?

The more effective your prospecting, the more opportunities you’ll have to close deals. After all, you won’t win over many customers if you don’t have qualified leads to contact.

According to a RAIN group study, sales reps who prospected well got 52 sales meetings per 100 target contacts, while others got only 19 meetings. What’s more, nearly 50% of the top performers met or exceeded their individual sales quotas, compared to 27% of the other reps.

Top-performing sales reps always prioritize prospecting

Here are a few reasons why sales prospecting is worth your time: 

  • Fills your sales pipeline with quality leads
  • Helps win your prospects’ trust
  • Boosts productivity leads to better outcomes
  • Uncovers competitive insights to outperform your competition

Even from the customer’s perspective, sales prospecting is desirable. The same study showed over 70% of buyers want to hear from sellers early in the sales process.

The different sales prospecting methods

Clearly, you need to get your prospecting in order for long-term success.

Use a plethora of ways to approach prospects and convert them into revenue-generating customers like:

Social media

Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are excellent social selling tools. LinkedIn prospecting, in particular, is super effective for B2B sales outreach. 

Here, you can:

  • Send messages to people on social media platforms
  • Answer questions your leads may have
  • Participate in social media discussions

Besides prospecting, you can also use social media channels to build your personal brand as an expert salesperson. This will make it easier for you to win your prospect's trust and close more deals.

Cold calling

Cold calling involves reaching out to people who haven’t explicitly expressed interest in your offering. 

While this is an age-old sales perspective, it can feel intrusive. Case in point: Less than 2% of cold calls manage to score sales meetings with a cold prospect.

Cold emails

You send cold emails to people you don’t have prior relationships with to try and convert them into customers. But compared to cold calls, they’re less intrusive. 

You can also personalize your cold emails to make them more effective. The average response to a personalized cold email is 15-25%, too.

Warm emails

Warm emails are a popular inbound marketing technique that involves sending emails to people who have expressed interest in your offering by doing a specific activity like signing up for your mailing list or referral program. 

These individuals are more likely to find your emails useful, improving your chances of converting them.

The 5 steps of a successful sales prospecting process

Before we discuss the prospecting process, understand it's a time-consuming activity. It needs patience and willingness to learn and isn’t something you master in a few days.

To set you up for success, we’ve created a five-step rundown below:

Step 1: Research and qualify leads

The main idea behind prospecting is to determine the quality of your leads and gauge whether they are strong potential sales prospects.

The first step to ensure this is research. 

Do a quick internal qualification check to ensure your leads tick the most common qualities of your target audience. Create a list of qualification questions to refer to before communicating with leads.

The following are some qualification questions you can use:

  • Does this lead match your ideal customer profile?
  • Do they live in the geographic areas your company services?
  • What’s the size of their organization (annual turnover, number of employees, number of customers)?
  • What's the size of the relevant department you’re selling to?
  • Is their industry a good fit for your product or service?
  • How long have they been operating?
  • Have they already expressed interest in buying your product?
  • Do they use a competitive product? If yes, which one?
  • How well do you think their use case aligns with the way your product should be used?
  • What would make them a bad fit for your product?

Figuring out the answers to these questions involves a bit of research. But it’ll also provide you with the most relevant data concerning your leads, helping you personalize your outreach and get better results.

You can also better prioritize your outreach efforts, allowing you to highlight leads to immediately connect with and rule out those that don’t fit your criteria.

Here’s a more detailed look at how this will work.

Research

What are your leads trying to tell you about their business?

Try to collect the most reliable source of information, data, and insights. Do your business development reps have the needed information to adequately qualify your sales prospects? Are you capturing the right data points when your leads sign up on your website?

Ensure both your inbound and outbound lead generation efforts help you acquire the answers you need. 

Prioritize (Lead Scoring)

When prioritizing your leads, you need two clear buckets: one who you have disqualified as unsuitable and another who may be qualified sales opportunities.

In some cases, it’ll be obvious a sales prospect needs to be moved to the top of your list. Other times, you need to take extra steps and score them.

Lead scoring involves ranking prospects and advancing your highest-value leads—those most likely to close—through your sales process. You’ll need data from your past clients, especially ones that converted, to create a lead scoring system and assign value to your existing ones.

  • Which qualities of your customers facilitated their purchasing decision?
  • Which characterizations do your customers share in common?
  • What do your leads that don’t or rarely convert have in common with each other? 

After analyzing historical data from both groups, decide which attributes should be weighed heavily (and assigned value) based on how likely those characteristics are to suggest they would be a good fit for your offering.

Prioritize the order in which you want to reach out and start conversations with leads. Otherwise, your hottest leads will grow cold and choose a competitive product while you spend time chatting with lukewarm prospects.

Step 2: Identify the key decision-maker

You don't want to waste time prospecting and speaking with low-level managers who cannot make purchasing decisions. But finding and connecting with the right decision-maker at your prospect‘s organization after qualifying them is easier said than done.

Think about which role your typical decision-maker holds. Try to identify any insights you can to support your scoring.

If you don’t have enough experience to understand the types of roles your ideal decision-makers hold, think about your product’s end-users (the person who is most likely to champion the purchase) and make your best guess based on the product’s price point.

Here’s what we mean—if your product costs less than, say, $100 a month, any motivated member of the right team may initiate the purchase themselves without seeking approval from higher management. 

Contrarily, if you’re selling a longer-term engagement or a pricier product, you’ll likely need to connect with someone higher up the command chain.

Once you identify your ideal decision-maker, you’ll need their names and email addresses to reach out to them. LinkedIn and its Sales Navigator are excellent tools to do this. 

Using LinkedIn‘s advanced filtering capabilities, enter a specific role title in the search bar to narrow down results and display people in those roles (or similar positions) at different companies. 

Here’s an example of what looking up marketing directors in, say, New York would look like:

LinkedIn is the most popular prospecting tool

For extra precaution, use tools like Hunter.io and RocketReach to check whether your prospect’s email address is valid and easy to track down from their databases.

That said, it’s also fine to start conversations with someone who isn’t a decision-maker at your prospect organization. Just be sure to quickly breach the subject of involving someone else on the team to make a final decision. 

Don't forget to touch base with your prospects through LinkedIn or other social media channels to vary your outreach approach within your sales cadence.

Step 3: Schedule a meeting

Sales prospecting is all about persistence. 

Whether it’s on the phone or over email, you need to dedicate yourself to ambitious activity goals for the number of qualified prospects you reach out to and follow up with. This will ultimately become the backbone of a strong sales pipeline for months to come. 

Based on your offering’s value and lead score, the immediate goal of your initial outreach could be to quickly ask for a sale for low-priced offers, build a relationship, or schedule a meeting to evaluate the next steps together. 

Remember, your main objective is to follow up with every qualified sales prospect until you get a clear yes or no on the deal. The idea is to always seek clear answers, even if it’s a no.

Another important factor here is to provide upfront value to outshine your rivals.

Think of how to stand out from the dozens of other sales reps that land in your decision-makers' inbox each day. You need to make a good first impression, and the best way to do that is to provide value before opening up a line of communication with them.

Lean into your company’s core competencies and consider how your sales prospects' would likely get value—what really matters to them. 

  • Can you feature it in your company’s blog?
  • Do you have a referral that will help them get more business?
  • Is there a mutually beneficial partnership or joint marketing effort you can start with?

Go beyond a “recommendation-style” email that simply pitches your product as a solution. Start a conversation by letting decision-makers know about something useful you did for them instead of jumping straight into selling. 

This will significantly improve your chances of building a meaningful client relationship.

Step 4: Qualify your prospect’s needs

Don’t close bad-fit sales prospects—prospects that don’t need your product. It’s negative for your customers and business.

Make it your responsibility to bring in only those customers who will genuinely benefit from using your product or service and are ready to start doing that today. 

Once you make contact with your sales prospect, take a final pass at qualifying their needs for their individual use cases and ensure there’s a mutual fit for the prospect to become a (satisfied) paying customer. 

Considering times are changing, the qualification process needs to be more hands-on and in-depth to ensure a back-and-forth conversation. 

The following are four key areas to focus on when finalizing your qualifying questions:

Customer profile

  • How well does the sales prospect match your ideal customer profile?
  • What industry are they in and how big is their company? 
  • Where are they located? 
  • Does your product or service solve their pain point? Have they tried out any similar tools in the past?

Needs

  • What are your prospect’s specific needs?
  • What are the names of the individual, the team, and the company?
  • Do they want to reach a certain revenue goal? Or do they have any other objective?
  • What can you do to fulfill their wants and needs?

Decision-making process

  • How does your prospect make decisions?
  • How many people and departments are involved?
  • What does their typical buying process look like?
  • How long does it take to buy a product?
  • When do they plan to buy?

Note: The bigger your prospect’s company, the longer their purchasing cycle and the more stakeholders are going to be involved in the decision-making process.

Competition

  • Who are you competing against for the sale?
  • Are there any other vendors the prospect has worked with in the past?
  • Are they evaluating your solution? Or are they building their own solution right now?
  • What are the criteria they’ll be basing their purchasing decision on?

Step 5: Address objections and close the sale

Tackle client objectives confidently to close more deals

Did you know that 80% of sales prospects say ‘No’ four times before finally agreeing on a deal? Unfortunately, 92% of sales reps give up on a sales prospect after hearing four “No’s.”

That’s a lot of missed opportunities.

Of course, not every prospect will turn their ‘No‘ to a ‘Yes.‘ But sales is often a long game, meaning there’s no reason a fully qualified prospect wouldn’t buy from you if they have a need.

When addressing your prospect’s objections, you’ll have to field a few tough questions—objections about your product’s limitations, protest about your pricing, and common sales objections. Think:

  • Your product is too expensive
  • I don’t have the time to do this right now
  • The implementation looks too complex for my team

Improvising and answering your prospect’s objections without a clear foundation makes it heavily dependent on your mental state. This isn’t a viable practice to make a habit of. 

If your prospect expresses interest in your product, don’t push back on the pricing immediately. Instead, respond with strategic answers that give you more room to convince. 

Prepare for every major sales objection that came up with deals won and lost over the years. Think of concise and clear-cut answers to a list of common objections. You can also get feedback from team members and work together to make your answers stronger.

If you get an initial ‘No,’ follow up with the question like: “I understand. What can we do to get you ready to buy?“

Using statements like these shows your sales prospects you’re confident in your offer and that you want to work with them on getting to where a ‘Yes’ makes more sense for both parties. What’s more, any under-the-surface objections will immediately come to the surface to be dealt with.

7 best sales prospecting tools

Sales prospecting is a critical sales activity

Here, we’ve listed some of the most effective sales prospecting tools you can use independently or in tandem with each other. When choosing, consider the tools you currently use when prospecting to identify your needs and gaps.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the world’s largest B2B networking site, so it’s perfect for sales prospecting. Look up a prospect on the platform to quickly learn what the position entails, the background, and their general likes and dislikes.

You can also use LinkedIn Company Directory to learn more about a prospect's business. Check out your prospect’s company page to know more about new product launches, marketing campaigns, and other developments. 

HubSpot 

HubSpot simplifies tracking sales activity and sourcing new prospects. It’s the ultimate tool to manage the sales pipeline, automatically log rep activity, store contact information in one location, and chat with them in real-time. 

Use it to warm prospects across all touchpoints. Send personalized emails to nurture them into paying customers. You can also measure the success of your email templates to enhance your prospecting efforts.

Twitter

Twitter is another great sales prospecting tool that will help you understand what prospects find important. The fact that you can also engage with them and show support through a retweet or favorite helps warm up cold leads.

What’s more, as you would have already opened the relationship through Twitter, you’ll have a greater window of opportunity to adjust your sales pitch for maximum effect.

Hemingway App

Prospecting also involves a lot of effective written communication. If you’re struggling to keep emails short and concise, try the Hemingway App.

It highlights lengthy sentences that can be cut short, suggests simpler alternatives to complex words, and assigns a readability score to help you create an impactful copy.

Hunter

Hunter is an email look up tool that lets you find the right email address of a person (or a group of individuals). Furthermore, you can draft your cold email campaigns and schedule follow-ups from your Gmail account directly on the platform, automating your sales outreach.

Use the Domain Research feature to find emails of people working for your prospect company. Email Finder will be more suitable to identify emails for specific individuals. You can also use the Author Finder feature to discover the email address of any article‘s author by simply entering the article URL into the search box.

Calendly

Scheduling appointments is a surprisingly time-consuming ordeal that leaves reps with reduced time to focus on more important sales activities.

Calendly makes it easier for involved parties to find timings that work for everyone involved without the hassle. Set your available times and send out a link to prospects. Once they choose a slot that works for them, the tool will automatically extend invites with links to the meeting.

Hoppier

Hoppier isn’t your typical sales prospecting tool—but it’s something you can leverage to entice prospects into booking a meeting and reducing no-shows. 

Use Hoppier cards to reduce no-shows

These smart digital Visa cards enable prospects to order from millions of local and global vendors and get refreshments directly delivered to the prospect’s doorstep before attending a lunch or a coffee meeting with you.

Click here to experience the convenience of Hoppier yourself.

5 sales prospecting tips to try

In this section, we’ll list a few additional sales prospecting tips you can apply to get your prospecting house in order. 

Don't underestimate the power of solid research

It’s surprising how many sales leaders undervalue the power of research. Don’t be like them.

Find out as much as you can about your prospect before making contact. Ensure the person you target is a good fit for your offering and meets your brand’s ICP. You can use the tools we listed above for this purpose. While you’re at it, prioritize looking for opportunities to make a connection with your prospect over trying to sell to them.

Reach out to your existing network

Did you know 73% of executives prefer to work with salespeople referred by known ones? 

Customers want to work with referred sales reps

Make your network work for you and get you more business. You’ve already built a strong relationship with the prospect and demonstrated how your offering can add real value for them, so why not ask them to refer you to their friends and colleagues?

Follow up consistently

Your first prospecting email or call will get your foot in the door. But if you want to convert your prospect into a revenue-generating customer, you must follow up on all your communications.

Reach out to your prospects consistently to see if they have any questions for you or if they need additional help. Taking this small initiative will significantly improve your sales conversion rates.

At the same time, you should also know when to stop. If your prospect isn’t interested in what you have to offer, respect their decision and move on. Focus your time and resources on someone else with more potential.

Build your personal brand

If you don’t have a social media presence, you are losing out. Over 82% of customers look up vendors on lead platforms (think: LinkedIn) before even replying to sales emails.

To start, create a social media profile and regularly engage with your connections of followers. Share valuable (and relevant) content to increase awareness. Once people start to trust your expertise, they will be eager to try your recommendations.

Holding amazing virtual events is another excellent tactic to share your expertise with your followers.

Identify improvement opportunities

An important aspect of sales prospecting is reviewing your efforts to see how they affected your sales strategy. This means looking for improvement opportunities to streamline prospecting steps and get better results.

Also, reach out to your prospects for feedback. Encourage them to share their honest opinions about what you got right and what you didn’t. Learning from your mistakes and leveraging your strengths will ultimately make you master the art of effective sales prospecting.

Effective prospecting means more sales

Expecting quality leads to fall into your lap is just wishful thinking. You have to take action if you want to boost your company's sales and revenue. 

Research suggests that 81.6% of top-performing sales reps spend at least four hours every day on sales-related activities. Block a consistent time in your calendar to prospect each day and steer your company towards success.

You’ve got this.

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