Sales prospecting is the first step in the sales cycle, and perhaps the most important one.
During the prospecting stages, sales reps aim to identify qualified prospects – often before they’ve actually picked up the phone.
So what steps should you take during the prospecting stage?
- Creating and using an ideal customer profile (ICP)
- Identifying potential leads
- Initial qualification
As prospecting often happens before any contact with potential leads, it can be tempting to cut corners at this stage – but following best practices is key.
Why? Properly qualifying prospects will save you a huge amount of time down the line.
Don’t be that sales rep who wastes hours building relationships with prospects who are never going to buy. Spend time making sure your prospects are qualified, and convincing them to sign on the dotted line will become a lot easier.
5 Prospecting Mistakes to Avoid
Prospecting is a tricky business – and mistakes are inevitable.
The most important thing is to learn from where you’ve gone wrong, and to pass these insights onto your sales team.
Here are five of the most common prospecting mistakes to avoid.
1. Failing to Identify Qualified Leads
If you don’t have a clearly defined target market, you might as well skip the prospecting stage altogether – there’s no way to properly identify qualified leads without one.
And if you skip the prospecting stage, you’re going to see fewer sales at the bottom of your pipeline.
Defining your target market in order to qualify leads doesn’t have to be a long and arduous process. Using the ICP framework is a simple way of ensuring that your mind stays focused on the right sort of prospects.
Ultimately, defining your ICP is all about making sure that you target the best prospects for your business, in turn giving you the best opportunities to make profitable sales.
So what should your ICP look like?
Unlike personas, the best ICPs focus on demographic attributes, such as:
- Company size
- Technological maturity levels
However, in order to properly qualify prospects, it’s also important to take behavioral or intent attributes into account, such as:
- How many times a prospect has visited your website in the last month
- Which conferences or events they attend
- Whether the company has entered into a sales cycle with a competitor
- Whether the company has churned off of a competitor
Put your ICP at the heart of your prospecting process and you’ll never waste time on an unqualified lead again.
2. Not Leveraging Networks for Referrals
Referrals are a sales reps’ best friend; failing to leverage your network for referrals could mean you’re passing up on easy sales.
Most referrals deliver high quality leads right to your door. These leads are primed, interested, and they already have trust in you and your organization to solve their problem or get them where they need to be.
This means you can spend less time prospecting and be more certain of qualification. Plus, you’ll already know the lead is interested in buying as you’re going into your first interaction.
Despite the fact that simply asking for referrals can significantly boost the size of your existing network, some sales reps may feel awkward about asking existing clients for referrals – or simply not know how to go about it in an effective way.
Remember: you don’t have to ask every existing customer for referrals. Instead, start by asking your advocates – existing customers that you have a great relationship with, who will be more than happy to help you out and talk you up.
It’s also important to get the timing right according to Jack Wilson, head of sales at Right Inbox. The best time to ask for a referral is always when you have demonstrated value to the client. Don’t ask new customers, or those who have recently complained.
Use the tools at your disposal as well. LinkedIn is an incredible tool for following up on referrals. Take a look at these connection request best practices and templates before you dive in.
3. Not Following Up After Initial Communication
If you fail to follow up after your initial communication with a prospect, you’ve got an interested party waiting around wondering what happened to you. And they won’t wait forever.
As well as being inconvenient for the prospect, your lack of communication signals to them that you’re not all that interested in this business relationship. They may also assume that if they go ahead with the purchase, the customer service they can expect from you and your organization will be poor.
None of these things bode well for a future sale.
So you don’t have time for a meeting in the next two weeks. It’s not the end of the world. Schedule the meeting for when you do have time, and maintain communication in the meantime to keep them interested.
4. Misaligned Marketing and Sales Functions
Organizations that achieve prospecting success tend to have one thing in common: closely aligned marketing and sales functions.
As our approaches to marketing and sales have become more technical, the two functions have become more closely intertwined, with marketing supporting sales throughout the sales funnel.
Achieving alignment should boost sales success, with the teams operating in unison in order to attract ideal customers and encourage them towards that all-important conversion moment. However, when marketing and sales are misaligned, it can end up harming the customer journey.
These days, consumers – whether B2B or B2C – are extremely attuned to marketing messages. If your organization’s salespeople represent the brand in one way, while your marketing output represents it in a totally different way, leads will find it jarring and you will lose trust.
Ensuring that marketing and sales are aligned within your business doesn’t have to be a huge challenge: you simply need to get leaders in both functions on the same page.
This means that leaders from both marketing and sales should be included in meetings and discussions surrounding:
- Defining qualified leads
- Establishing communication flow
- Implementing prospecting activities
Treat your sales and marketing leaders almost as one, and you’ll be on your way towards alignment.
5. Failure to Learn from Mistakes
Accepting that you’ve made a mistake can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when – like most sales reps – you pride yourself on what you do.
Yet making mistakes is one of the most important things sales reps can do. Sure, in the short term you might fail to close an important deal or miss out on an opportunity that’s staring you in the face.
But learning from these mistakes is exactly how the top tier of salespeople got to be so awesome at what they do.
So instead of avoiding accountability for the mistake or attempting to sweep it under the rug, dissect what happened and exactly where you went wrong. Analyze which of your sales techniques are working, and which are failing you time and time again – and then make the necessary adjustments to your approach.
Take this a step further and make analysis a staple of your sales process. Before each client interaction, spend a few minutes discussing the event.
So there you have it. When prospecting, properly qualify your leads, expand your networks through referrals, always follow up, and ensure that your sales and marketing functions are aligned.
Religiously following these guidelines will take your prospecting – and therefore your sales – to the next level.
Perhaps most importantly, however, always be willing to learn from your mistakes, and take action to ensure analysis is a regular part of your sales process. That’s how good salespeople become great.
Post By Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures & co-founder Mailshake. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.