What is Sales Prospecting?

Sales prospecting is the process of identifying and sourcing additional new business revenue. It’s a core part of the sales role and can be applied to either new business or existing clients (cross-sell, upsell).

Typically, prospecting is made up of cold-outreach with a sales rep positioning a specific value proposition or CTA in front of a customer. 

What channels are most effective for prospecting?

Top salespeople don’t rely on just one method for reaching out to potential customers. They use a strategy known as multi-touch, multi-channel engagement, which means they connect with prospects through several different avenues, increasing their chances that the prospect sees their message and engages. 

Think about it: Prospects are busy people. Sending one email and hoping it grabs their attention is a long shot—it’s likely to get lost in a crowded inbox. Plus, since you don’t have a relationship with the prospect yet, you don’t know their preferred communication style. You might be emailing someone who primarily responds on LinkedIn.

The most common channels for prospecting include:

  • Email
  • Phone
  • LinkedIn

But there are many other options, such as:

  • Video
  • Instant messaging (e.g., WhatsApp)
  • Events
  • Direct Mail

The choice of channels, their frequency, and the order in which they’re used can vary widely. This variation is influenced by factors like your industry, the type of customers you want to attract, and personal preferences of the sales representative.

Building a prospecting strategy

1. Define your audience

An effective prospecting strategy always starts with understanding your audience and identifying how your product or service addresses their pain points. 

While your solution may fit several groups, there are usually one or a few Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) where it truly resonates. Try to understand the ICP in infinite detail considering factors like industry, company size, geography, seniority and segment. 

2. Build your sales cadence

Use your understanding of the ICP and build a repeatable sales cadence. Your cadence should consist of multiple touch points, spread over multiple days. Cadencing best practices says a 12 step cadence over 21 days is usually most effective, although this is only a suggestion based on averages and you should continue to test what works best for your audience and industry.

3. Identify prospects

Use various tools and databases to find potential customers that match your ICP. Platforms like LinkedIn, industry directories, and CRM tools can be invaluable for gathering information.

4. Execute your strategy

Most sales teams rely on a mix of technology, automation and manual outreach when prospecting. Cadence automation tools such as Outreach and Salesloft help make execution more efficient, they can keep track of where each prospect is in the cadence, alert you to take action and even complete certain tasks on your behalf.

5. Qualify prospect and close deals

Once your sales cadence generates interest, the goal is to convert that interest into revenue. This process differs widely from company to company and based on the role of the seller. Typically, Business Development Representatives (BDRs) handle initial qualification before passing leads to Account Executives (AEs) or Field Sales Representatives (FSRs) and a common framework for qualification is BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time).

Prospecting best practices

Systematize your outreach

Whilst the gold standard would be to write a unique message for each prospect, it’s not realistic for most sales teams who need to reach hundreds, or thousands, of potential customers efficiently. Most sales teams need to systematize outreach, which saves them time and provides them with valuable data to refine and optimize messaging. 

Use messaging insights to improve your cadence

Every customer engagement offers insights to improve your outreach. Don’t be led to believe the first version needs to be perfect. The initial version of your cadence is based on assumptions, but each message sent provides feedback for improvements. Focus first on increasing your email open rates by optimizing subject lines. Use A/B testing to determine which variants perform best and apply these findings to refine your cadence continuously. Once you have effective subject lines, move into optimizing your main email body and your CTAs.

Cadence structure

Here are some best practices for structuring your cadence, based on extensive B2B SaaS prospecting, the themes should apply to other types of B2B sales.

  • 12 Steps Over 21 Days: A good cadence includes 12 touch points spread over three weeks.
  • Engagement Handling: If a prospect engages with any step in the cadence, you remove them from your cadence and continue to address their specific needs manually. I.e. if the customer responds showing interest, you want to answer their questions directly rather than sending subsequent cadence steps.
  • Initial Email (Day 0): Start with a short email (50-75 words) that presents value as early as possible.
  • Day 3 Multi-Step Approach: Call the prospect first; if there’s no answer, send a LinkedIn connection request followed by a “bump email”. A bump email replies to your initial Day 0 message with a brief follow-up, such as, “Hi [First_Name], I wanted to follow up on my previous email…”. This bump email should be no more than 30 words.
  • LinkedIn Messages: Include at least one LinkedIn InMail or message in your cadence.
  • Short Emails: Keep emails under 100 words to capture attention quickly. Get to the point, the attention of your prospects is precious, don’t waste it.
  • Concise Subject Lines: Aim for subject lines between 3-5 words to ensure they are effective across all devices. People are reading emails on a spectrum of devices, you want your message to be just as compelling if read on desktop, mobile or smartwatch.
  • Simple Formatting: Avoid heavy formatting, complex HTML designs, and excessive images to keep your messages clean and easy to read.

Use Personalization

Customers want to feel special, so whilst you know your cadence is templatized, they should not. The most effective way to grab their attention is through personalization, and against common belief adding their name is not personalization. True personalization goes beyond using their name; it involves referencing relevant case studies, mentioning insights about their company, or getting referrals from their peers.

Include a Call to Action (CTA)

Every step in your cadence should have a clear and relevant CTA. In the back of your mind should be the question ‘why am I sending this message? and what do I expect?’. The most effective CTAs vary depending on your product and target audience but can include actions like “book a meeting,” “speak to an expert,” “121 consultation,” “proof of concept,” or “try now.”

Nurture Leads

Sales is about building relationships. Imagine a sales rep starting a conversation with, “Hi, my name is X. We’ve never spoken, but I’d like you to spend $2 million with us.” That’s not effective, but worse, it’s an awful customer experience. Sales 101, people buy from people. 

Not all prospects are ready to buy immediately, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the future. Nurture these leads by checking in periodically. Create a separate follow-up cadence that reaches out every few months, sharing updates about product improvements and valuable industry insights.

Focus your prospecting efforts on customers who are ‘in-market’

“In-market” customers are those actively looking for a solution—they know they have a problem and are currently searching for a fix. These are your ideal prospects, they’re much further down the funnel, and your conversation can be centered more around why your product is the best solution rather than trying to make them see they have an issue. There are a number of ways to identify in-market customers but the most commonly used approaches include using intent data (both 1st and 3rd party), responding to changing market conditions and industry events, and aligning your outreach with known renewal dates of their current products.

Check out this article to learn more about intent data, and which providers are most effective:

Use a mix of media to address any concerns

In B2B sales, the ideal buying experience addresses potential customer hesitations proactively. Your sales cadence should be designed to tackle as many concerns as possible:

  • “I want to see social proof” – Most buyers are not early adopters. They want to know that choosing your product is a safe decision. Provide customer stories and case studies to demonstrate your product’s reliability and success.
  • “I want an expert opinion” – Customers are skeptical of self-reported statistics like “90% of buyers prefer our product.” Gain credibility by using third-party validations from sources like Forrester, Gartner, or Nielsen.
  • “I want to try it first” – Many prospects want hands-on experience with a product before committing. Offer solutions like booking a demo, arranging a proof of concept (POC), or creating self-serve demo environments using tools like INSERT NAME

Make sure your email tone matches the persona

I imagine you speak with your friends differently than you speak with your parents? And you most definitely speak differently with your parents than you do your boss! You’ll use different vocabulary, speak in a different tone and most definitely discuss different topics. The same applies when prospecting and it goes back to understanding your ICP. 

Make sure to tailor your communication style to your audience. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Junior Practitioners: When reaching out to someone early in their career, you might start with a casual “Hey [first name]”.
  • Senior Executives: For a C-suite contact, a more formal “Hi [first name]” is appropriate.
  • Cultural Considerations: In some cultures, like in Germany, it’s customary to be more formal. You would use gender-specific language and address them by their last name, such as “Hallo Herr [last name]” (Hello Mr. [Last Name]).

Align with Buying Group methodology

Disclaimer: This approach is particularly relevant for large enterprise SaaS sales and may not apply to SMB, self-serve sign-ups, or single license deals.

Don’t be fooled, when someone claims, “I’m the decision maker; no one else is needed for this deal” they are either inflating their own importance or unaware of their company’s buying process. The reality is that people make purchasing decisions as a group, not as individuals.

Imagine you’re looking to buy new sales software. Your first step, once you recognize the problem you’re trying to solve, would likely be to search for suitable suppliers. You might start with a Google search, but you’d probably also ask colleagues for recommendations. When you find a promising product, you’ll want to test it out and get a proof of concept (POC). You’ll likely involve your peers to evaluate it as well, especially if they are the ones who will use the tool. If everything goes well with the POC, you might then approach procurement for contract negotiations or an engineering team to discuss implementation. Throughout this process, you’re seeking opinions and validation from others to ensure you’re making the right decision and gaining organizational buy-in for the change. Everyone you involve in this process is part of your Buying Group.

As a salesperson, your goal should be to engage and gain the agreement of all members of the Buying Group. They need to collectively agree that your solution is the best fit and you want to have as much control and influence over that buying decision as possible. When prospecting into accounts, anticipate the existence of Buying Groups. Engage with multiple stakeholders across the organization, educate them about your solution, and influence their decision-making process to position yourself as the preferred choice.

Metrics to measure prospecting success

Prospects Engaged

A count of the number of prospects engaged through your cadence or sales playbook.

Active Prospects

A count of prospects that are currently active in the cadence, excluding those who have converted, been disqualified, or completed the cadence.

Open Rates

Measure the percentage of email recipients who open your emails. Improvements in open rate can be driven by optimizing subject lines.

Reply Rates

Calculate the percentage of prospects who respond to your messages. This applies to emails, LinkedIn, and voicemails. Improvements in reply rate can be driven by nearly all parts of the message, including subject, message, tone, style and CTA.

Positive Replies

The percentage of messages that receive a positive response, such as “Yes, I’m interested.” A negative response would be something like, “This solution isn’t for me.”

Connection Rates

The percentage of calls that successfully connect, meaning the prospect answers the phone.

Meetings Booked

Track the number or percentage of prospects who book a meeting with you.

Opportunity Creation

The number or percentage of prospects who are successfully qualified and turn into opportunities.

Closed Deals

The number or percentage of prospects who ultimately convert into revenue.

Account to Opportunity (ATO)

Calculate the ratio of accounts that convert into opportunities. This is crucial when engaging multiple prospects within the same company. For example, if you engage five people from one account and one of them turns into an opportunity, your ATO is 100%. 1 opportunity created / 1 account engaged = 100% ATO.

Average Touches

Track the average number of touch-points (steps) per prospect. Research suggests that the ideal number of steps when prospecting is 12.

If you want to learn more about prospecting, we have more articles that can help:

Prospecting FAQs

1. What are the best tools for B2B prospecting?

The best tools for B2B prospecting include a variety of CRM systems and integrations. Some of the top tools are:

  • Surfe: This tool integrates LinkedIn with CRMs like Salesforce, HubSpot, Pipedrive, and Copper, allowing seamless addition of LinkedIn contacts to your CRM, and ensuring the data is up-to-date with automatic updates from LinkedIn​​​​​​​​​​​​.
  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator: Ideal for finding highly qualified leads with advanced search criteria, and with tools like Surfe, you can export contacts directly to your CRM​​.
  • Apollo, RocketReach, Dropcontact, and Hunter: These are email finder tools that Surfe utilizes in its intelligent email finder cascade to ensure high email find rates and validated contact information​​​​.

2. What are the most common objections when prospecting?

Common objections when prospecting include:

  • Budget constraints: Prospects may say they don’t have the budget for your solution.
  • Timing issues: They might claim it’s not the right time for them to make a purchase.
  • Lack of need: Some prospects may not see the need for your product or service.
  • Satisfaction with current provider: They may be happy with their current provider and see no reason to switch.
  • Authority: The person you’re speaking to might not have the authority to make the purchase decision.

3. How do I identify relevant prospects?

To identify relevant prospects, you should:

  • Define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP): This involves understanding the characteristics of your best customers, including industry, company size, geography, and decision-maker roles.
  • Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator: Utilize advanced search filters to find prospects that match your ICP.
  • Utilize CRM tools: Tools like Surfe can help you integrate LinkedIn with your CRM to maintain up-to-date data and streamline the prospecting process.
  • Employ Intent Data: Use intent data to find prospects who are actively searching for solutions like yours​​​​​​.

4. Where can I source accurate B2B prospect contact data?

Accurate B2B prospect contact data can be sourced from:

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn Sales Navigator provides extensive professional data that can be exported to your CRM using tools like Surfe​​.
  • Surfe’s Intelligent Email Finder: This tool integrates with LinkedIn and uses databases like Apollo, RocketReach, Dropcontact, and Hunter to find and validate email addresses​​​​.
  • CRM Data Enrichment Tools: Tools like Surfe not only help export contacts from LinkedIn but also enrich them with validated professional email addresses and other contact information​​​​​​​​​​.