6 Standout Sales Prospecting Techniques (And How to Get Them Started)

Rob Danna
Rob Danna

Sales person talking on the phone

Sales prospecting is changing—but not in the ways you might think. Due to expanded connectivity and widely available information, informed customers have more power than ever before. That's why the customer experience is the most important aspect of any deal.

Fifty-one percent of sales leaders are focused on increasing customer retention through deeper relationships. They are nearly as focused on customer retention as sales prospecting (56% focused on growing leads/new customers). Top sales teams care just as much about creating long-lasting customers through memorable experiences as they do about making the sale.

Knowing this, what are some of the best techniques for landing strong prospects? We outlined our top 6 sales prospecting tactics and how best to implement them into your sales strategy.

1. Sales Prospecting is Ongoing, Not a One-Off Event

Prospecting needs to be a priority. Be consistent, and set aside a block of time each day for prospecting. You should be prospecting just as much on the first day of the month or quarter as the last. On average, salespeople made far more calls in the last month of the quarter than the first two. And the success rate of those “eleventh hour” calls were usually lower than any other month. Since sales prospecting isn't often considered a particularly "fun" activity, scheduling time each day will go a long way to ensure this activity is a regular occurrence. Prospecting is rarely a quick fix— it takes an average of 18 calls to actually connect with a buyer—so the purpose of continuous cultivation is to build a relationship with a prospect—something some salespeople find difficult when the initial contact is negative.

Do you find prospecting to be the most difficult part of your job? You’re not alone. More than 40% of salespeople say this is the most challenging part of the sales process, followed by closing (36%) and qualifying (22%).

How to get started: It’s all about putting in the time. Transform yourself as a thought leader and subject matter expert. Start a blog, write guest articles, speak at seminars and conferences, and share valuable content on social media. Videos about product features are most popular, followed by how-tos and professional reviews. Be active on social networks like LinkedIn—join groups, post relevant content (emphasize relevancy over frequency), reply to discussions or questions—be vocal. Also, publish content through syndicated sites. It’s important to be where the prospects are looking and at the events they’re attending. Send InMails via LinkedIn and consider buying a Sales Navigator License from LinkedIn and use it every day—it will literally tell you when and why to call certain prospects. Mastering all of this takes time, so put prospecting hours on the calendar and stick to your self-given appointments, just as you would a visit to the gym. By doing this, prospecting becomes ‘structured’ time versus something we’ll do when we get around to it. Routine work expands to fill time and we never are about to get around to anything which is unstructured.

2. Quality Over Quantity Leads

A bunch of leads might sound great, but if they aren't going anywhere, what do you really have? That's why a few high-quality prospects who are engaged and passionate about the industry are stronger. Developing quality leads takes a lot of time and effort, but your sales team will see the value of choosing quality over quantity, especially when they see a surge in their close rate. Weeding out low-quality leads will increase productivity, speed up completion of your sales cycle and reduce inefficiencies within your sales pipeline—all of which improves your bottom line. When your sales reps are able to recognize that quality leads are more lucrative, they will start to trust the sales pipeline process and focus increasingly on sales-ready prospects.

How to get started: Analyze your ideal client profile. Look at your case studies. Identify the top prospects for your products or services. Look for disrupted industries or “rising stars” (small companies on the rise). Ask prospect if this project is budgeted (low-quality leads typically have no budget for your solutions). If no budget is established it’ll probably take 1 of 3 touches to convince them your solution is worth buying into: 1) A friend tells your prospect to listen/buy; 2) Your prospect’s competition is doing/using it successfully; or 3)You provide hard data in order to facilitate a decision.

3. Warm Up Your Cold Calls

You've probably heard or read that cold calling is dead. Many sales professionals don’t like to cold call, so they want this to be true. It’s not. The phone is essential for prospecting, especially when you are selling to C-level and VP buyers. And once you’re on the call, talk about the client—but balance it with useful information you possess. (Almost 6 in 10 buyers want to discuss pricing on the first call; and more than half of prospects want to see how the product works on the first call.) You have to give something in order to get something.

Consider a technique of trend, solution and proof. Point out a relevant trend/issue/problem—preferably something the prospect doesn’t even know they’re facing (Ex: “the biggest challenge will be in three years when talent shortage is at peak…”), then throw out a few possible solutions or recommendations (“our clients are preparing for this by transforming their cultures to be more inclusive…”), and then prove it (“we’ve done this for leaders in retail, franchise, manufacturing but our healthcare division has seen the largest uptick in business, which is why I’m calling you.”).

The worst call is the “Tell me what keeps you up at night” or “Where is your pain?” call—today’s prospectors need to know these answers before they even pick up the phone.

How to get started: When calling, preparation is key, so consider using a script—you don't want to be caught off guard. Research is a must prior to the call—you can increase your chances of a warmer reception by familiarizing the prospect with your name or your company before you make your first call. Social media is a great way to achieve this: get introduced by a shared connection, or interact with them on social media about a piece of content the buyer shared. Try the 3-in-3 method: have 3 relevant topics to discuss within 3 minutes. For example: 1) “I saw your recent entrance into the IoT market…” 2) “I loved your quote in Reseller News..” 3) “It really fits your new company mission of transforming infrastructer to enable sustainable futures…”

4. Marketing Automation Is Your Best Friend

Marketing automation is the seller’s answer to the new buyer’s journey. Complementing any solid prospecting strategy are automation tools to nuture prospects and share thought-leadership.

Tools that link content distribution, customer relationship management (CRM) and social are critical to getting the right message at the right time to the right people. These tools, combined with your website, help to convert stragglers into sales. Prospects coming through a nurturing campaign tend to have faster pipeline velocity (a way to measure exactly how you are succeeding in getting your prospects from one end of the funnel to the other)—typically when they accumulate a high lead-score (calculated from their interactions and behaviors with your content) they are ready to buy—now it’s time to sell. 

Without marketing automation you are shooting without aim. Close ratios tend to be higher for leads that are nurtured over time and when you are viewed as a thought leader.

How to get started: Adopt an integrated approach to generating, nurturing and converting leads into customers by automating various marketing techniques and processes to optimize the marketing-sales pipeline. Gather all of your contacts, import everyone into your marketing automation software and segment each group with criteria that’s important for your business. Prioritize based on highest needs, identify the goal of your conversion points and create marketing assets that can generate interest during every stage of the buying process.

5. Ask For Referrals

The life of a salesman—it’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times. Make the most of the best—when things are going well, when the quarterly business review (QBR) is all smiles—and ask for a referral, a testimonial, a quote or a case study.

Referrals are one of the most powerful sales prospecting techniques—prospects love hearing from peers before they commit, so provide peer reviews by asking clients for social proof. (One of my favorite speakers/mentors always asks for social proof via quick video testimonial.) Find contacts in the prospect's company and ask for referrals. Make new contacts and do the same. Get introduced through your connections and efforts.

Another great method is to transform your QBR into a RR—Relationship Review. This is not only a mandatory part of our sales process but when RRs are done right, they become part of our competitive advantage. 

How to get started: Be referrable. Focus on your ideal clients. Tap into your networks in a proactive way. Create an email template to have on-hand and ready to use each time you make a sale. By putting a referral system into place now, you are more likely to receive lead-boosting referrals throughout the year. 

6. Use Incentives, Recognition and Love

Whether they come from your vice president or yourself, be sure to reward yourself for this hard work. We already know that incentives and recognition can impact all types of behavior modifications and use them regularly: Rewards for number of leads closed, pipeline velocity, getting prospects to visit headquarters, posts/blogs/publishing, attending conferences, etc.

Sales is mostly made of rejection and embarrassment—and as leaders, we provide empathy. A sales leader that has put in their own prospecting hours will lead the best. Be there for your team members for recognition, encouragement and motivation after a long week of strike outs, just as you would a strong week of success. Great leaders are able to show the path out of any valley. A leader must also provide the right work environment for prospecting—give your sales team a sense of belonging; a place that emphasizes fitness of mind and body; diverse thoughts and people; a place they can connect their individual purpose to the mission of the company—a place they can thrive.

How to get started: Inspire employees by recognizing their successes. A strategic sales incentive program by ITA Group allows you to do both while generating the short- and long-term results that ensure the future success of your business. Employee recognition should grow organically and become reciprocal, encouraging staff to recognize, respect and support each other's hard work. 

The Rest Is Up to You

Even though sales prospecting is experiencing change, there are still solid techniques that can be implemented today to attract prospects and boost your sales. Follow the tips above to help your sales team get the most out of their prospecting time.

Rob Danna

Rob Danna

With a 25-year background in technology and sales management, Rob brings real-world performance improvement solutions to hundreds of large companies. As Vice President of Sales and Marketing at ITA Group, he prides himself by staying on the front lines of performance improvement technology and innovation.