You can’t have a sales funnel without leads.

While we often talk about client retention being the big money maker for your business, there’s no denying the importance of maintaining a steady stream of new prospects. Sales is an ever-changing enterprise, and this has been particularly true in 2020. To succeed with your goals, it’s crucial that you use all of the tools you have at your disposal to capture new leads and nurture them into customers. And sales prospecting is a big part of that.

More than 40 percent of sales professionals cite prospecting as the most challenging part of their job, even more so than closing deals (36 percent) and qualifying leads (22 percent). But because at least 50 percent of your prospects aren’t going to turn into customers, it’s crucial that you’re constantly working to bring new prospects into the fold.

There’s a lot depending on getting sales prospecting right. So what’s it all about? Here’s a quick guide to sales prospecting to get you started, including the key tactics you need to know to excel at it.

What is Sales Prospecting?

Sales prospecting refers to any action that you take with the specific goal of finding new potential customers for your product or service. More so, it’s about finding the most qualified prospects, setting your sights on the people and businesses who are most likely to benefit and engage with what you’re selling.

It’s probably not a big surprise then that so many sales reps consider prospecting to be their biggest hurdle. After all, you can’t qualify a lead — and you certainly can’t close a deal — until you’ve prospected someone in the first place.

Lead vs. Qualified Lead vs. Prospect vs. Customer

As an individual moves through the funnel, their designation changes — and so does the best way to engage with them. While there is some overlap between the primary designations, here are some of the main variances that set them apart.

A potential buyer starts as a lead, which is an individual who is a potential customer for your brand and who has expressed some degree of interest in your product or service. This can be something direct like reaching out for more information, but is more often through things like visiting your blog, signing up for your email newsletter, or following you on social media.

A qualified lead is someone who has taken their expression of interest up a notch, perhaps by signing up for a demo or engaging in some back-and-forth with your sales team. If all goes well, they become a prospect, which is a type of lead who is most likely to close. In addition to giving key signs of interest in moving forward, prospects align with your customer persona and target audience, and they’re ready (or almost ready) to make a decision.

If all works out, a prospect turns into a customer or someone who has gone on to seal the deal with a purchase. However, you could still consider a customer as a prospect since they’re a highly qualified lead who you could sell to again.

How to Qualify Leads

Being able to qualify leads is a necessity for prospecting since it helps you decide who’s really worth your efforts and attention.

To do it, start by considering what stage of the buyer’s journey an individual is in. The majority of leads are hanging out in the awareness stage, while more qualified leads are in the consideration stage. Prospects are in the decision stage and just need to be nurtured to pull the trigger on a sale.

There are also a number of qualifying characteristics to consider. Does your lead align with your buyer personas in terms of:

  • Region
  • Industry
  • Job title
  • Company size
  • Company budget

The more of these characteristics you can check off, the more qualified a lead is. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to compare a lead’s demographics against existing buyer personas as you decide whether or not they’re likely to become a prospect.

If you are using marketing automation software (which we highly recommend), qualifying your leads is super easy because it’s done automatically. Using software, like BenchmarkONE, you can segment and tag your leads based on qualifying factors, so you can send more personalized drip campaigns that will move them through the funnel. 

Prospecting Tactics

There are two primary methods of prospecting: outbound and inbound.

Outbound sales are initiated by you, rather than the potential buyer — think cold outreach, targeted marketing and ads, guest contributed content, and various networking tactics. Essentially, it’s about casting as wide of a net as you can, qualifying the “fish” that you catch, and nurturing them to a sale.

Inbound sales are initiated by leads themselves, particularly those who are past the awareness stage and ready for consideration or decision. The key to attracting inbound leads is to have outbound content that leads back to your website, as well as implement an SEO strategy that gets your site to populate in search results. It’s also important that your website has high-quality content that keeps visitors engaged and interested in signing up for your email outreach. 

Effective sales prospecting requires a bit of both tactics combined with properly qualifying the leads that come in. The better you get at it, the easier time you’ll have figuring out who your best leads are, and, by default, the easier time you’ll have meeting your sales goals.