Sales prospecting, according to some, is becoming redundant with the advent of inbound marketing. Nothing could be further from the truth.
OK, so in a perfect world the marketing department supplies a steady procession of high quality, inbound leads, sufficient for the entire sales team to bust target, right?
All of us in sales realise that leads from marketing should be treated as a bonus. B2B sales prospecting is difficult and can be a cold and lonely business. Pay no attention to those ‘researchers’ that see something new and shiny and extrapolate it to the extinction of sales professionals in the near future (see Forrester’s research blog for an illustration). Your business needs professionals to maximise the value of sales and that’s us, the B2B sales pros. And the only way we’ll hit target is to make our own leads; yes, sales prospecting is still a necessity now and will be forever.
So, in an age of digital information and social media, how can we best go about sales prospecting? Here are my favourite four B2B sales prospecting methods, and the best thing about them is that they are free, easily available and make you look like a superstar.
KNOW YOUR TARGET MARKET #1: PRIORITISE ACCOUNTS
Look at your universe of possible new business, as defined by your industry sector, geography, responsibility, etc. Chances are there going to be a lot of them, so if you’re going to put any kind of systematic sales prospecting programme together, you’ll need to break the list down. I tend to use a ranking system. Group A, the top ranked accounts are my ‘top 30’ targets. I find that this is a workable number to concentrate on. If 30 is too many to start with, try 25. How accounts get into the top 30 is up to you; try to put some logic into it. Maybe they’re closer, maybe you have some established contacts there. Maybe you suspect they’re in the market for what you sell. Your Top 30 the ones that are going to get the most attention.
The next group of maybe 50 accounts are the Group B ones that you’re going to try and keep in touch with on a regular basis. You’re going to keep them warm. Prioritise between accounts in this group for as some drop out of the Top 30, you’ll need to replace them from Group B.
The remainder are Group C. I try to treat these as practice accounts for trying new approaches. If you run a split (or A/B) test on new emails or other communications, do it with this group first. Don’t alienate them, they could be in line promotion sometime soon, too.
Make sure you have a field on your CRM system that allows you to identify which group each account is in, and their rank within it.
2. KNOW YOUR TARGET MARKET #2: PROFILE THEM IN DEPTH
Now, focusing on your Top 30 accounts, you should look to generate quality customer profiles for each of them. Start by identifying what your perfect customer is like. What information do you need to obtain?
The easy stuff is the first place to start; company size, turnover, headcount, industry sector/specialisms, location(s). Also, what does their website look like? This is all pretty basic stuff and rather dry.
- Without you and your products in there, what are they using? (ie which of your competitors, if any, are in there right now?
- Is there a contract in place for your competitor there, are you locked out for a period (and how long?). Maybe it’s group B account if you can’t get in for years.
- What technology do they use?
- Who are their closest competition? And are you supplying them?
- What kind of social presence do they have? Which are their favoured channels?
- Does anyone in your company have a known contact in these organisations that could be a first access point?
Building a profile can be time-consuming, so try to focus on issues pertinent to doing business with the prospect.
3. SOCIAL LISTENING TO PERSONALISE YOUR APPROACH
Now we add some personality and character to the profiles by looking at their various communications. These may be press releases, press coverage, tweets, posts etc. Look for what’s important to your customer and what’s a priority for them right now.
- Executive quotes, priorities and values;
- New staff members;
- Promotions and marketing activity;
- Product launches;
- New office openings;
- Client wins;
- M&A activity;
- Awards and recognition.
The reason you’re trying to add personality to the profiles is that the messaging you create for these targets will need to be personalised for them. They are important to you, so just throwing a few template emails and newsletters at them is not going to work, you’ll get lost in the clutter.
Next you need to identify the key players within these companies, the people you’re going to be selling to. You can find directors’ names from their website usually but you’ll need to look further afield for key managers:
- Press releases and newsletters
Here are some great sources for social media listening:
- Google Alerts – this a great way to get news as it happens or in daily/weekly digest summaries. Set alerts for each of your Top30 targets.
- Twitter – just follow your targets and key trade journalists
- Owler – gives good summaries of over 15m global businesses, funding announcements, lists of their competitors etc.
- Companies House Beta site – for UK registered companies only, provides accounts, directors names and major shareholdings – you used to have to pay for this data but it’s free now.
- Feedly – picks up blogs on your chosen subjects – available as an app, too
So, once you’ve set up these feeds, mostly they just send you pertinent information, some of which will be useful to you. You can use it as prompts to initiate contact or as research for the bigger picture.
4. BUILD ‘BRAND ME’ TO GAIN CREDIBILITY IN YOUR SECTOR
According to LinkedIn’s research (and yes, they have a point to prove…) if you’re recognised as a thought leader and add valuable insights to the sector, you’re 5 times more likely to get the business than if you’re not. Social buyers are undoubtedly out there, so you need to invest in yourself and career and join in.
While we’re not all going to become instant thought-leaders, you can still contribute to discussions, groups etc. by listening to what others are saying and then pushing that out to your contacts. Twitter and LinkedIn are obviously good vehicles here. Use Feedly and the other sources above to source good content for sharing. Once you get to see what others are writing, you’ll soon get into the swing of blogging yourself and, hopefully, being shared by others.
Once you’ve made contact with a prospect, you can push relevant information (don’t over-do it) to them directly as a means of keeping in touch in a non-pushy way.
Try to schedule some time to curate your social listening and Brand-Me building. It’s a valid and productive use of your time, although you shouldn’t expect instant results. If you can’t get to it during the day, try an hour in the evening to catch up. An hour a day should do it, once you’re in the swing of it. And none of this will cost you a penny.