How would you describe your current sales prospecting plan? Is it an old-school numbers game, or are you working with a strategic sales prospecting plan? In the not-too-distant past, the general perception of the sales field was the more cold calls salespeople could make, the easier it would be to rise to the top of the leaderboard. But nowadays, mention cold-calling in a roomful of salespeople and you’re bound to get a chorus of groans and eyerolls.
This is because it’s a lot more fun to close sales than to spend time filling up the sales pipeline with new prospects. Prospecting can be a frustrating part of the sales process. It takes up a lot of time and it often involves a lot of fear and rejection. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
An effective sales prospecting plan takes the fear factor out of prospecting activities, because sales teams have a distinct step-by-step plan to follow that delivers results. The phone is still a good sales tool for bringing in new business. It’s still an essential part of your sales prospecting plan. Today, there are many more digital tools available for both phone and other communication channels. The intent behind all of them is to help you improve your sales prospecting plan. We’re going to walk you through some of the tools, as well as 10 best practices for improving your sales prospecting plan overall.
What Is a Sales Prospecting Plan?
In simple terms, a sales prospecting plan is a specific plan for sales teams that outlines the process of identifying the prospects or decision-makers who are most likely to become potential customers. Sales prospecting is therefore the first step in the sales process.
The best prospects have common characteristics that fit your ideal customer profile (ICP). Finding the ideal prospect and getting their contact information is an important part of the sales cycle.
Qualifying leads is another important part of the sales prospecting plan. Simply put, qualifying prospects refers to affirming that an individual or a company is not only a good fit as a potential customer, but they’ve also expressed interest in your products or services. The rest of your sales strategy plan goes much smoother when you have a sales pipeline that’s full of qualified leads like this.
A sales prospecting plan begins when sales reps pursue an outreach program to generate interest in the company’s products and services. Prospecting usually involves outbound calls, but sales reps also nurture prospects using emails, SMS messages, social media, or other communication channels.
The Goal of Sales Prospecting
What’s the main goal of the prospecting process? A strong sales pipeline feeds lots of leads into your sales funnel, where the initial sales reps or other sales professionals continue nurturing the leads until they reach the bottom of the sales funnel.
Numbers still count in the sales prospecting process, but not in the same way they used to. The focus today is more on qualified leads – so quality, over quantity.
For example, a couple of new sales roles have emerged that focus intently on building prospect lists:
Sales development reps (SDRs)
Business development reps (BDRs)
A greater commitment to qualifying leads means that other sales professionals can fine-tune their part of the sales process with the goal of closing a greater percentage of leads, achieving higher sales volumes and values, and hitting other sales goals. What’s more, you’ll be able to more accurately predict your ROI.
Technology has given the sales field some new tools that benefit multiple parts of the sales process. Many companies are finding that the best way to leverage new sales tools is to separate sales duties into different roles that focus more intently on specific parts of the sales process in this way, so the use of digital tools can be optimized for each role.
Overall, a well-documented sales prospecting plan equips all sales team members with the exact tools they need to work efficiently and get measurable results.
How to Know If Your Sales Prospecting is Failing You
An old Benjamin Franklin quote says, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That’s a sentiment that has many applications, and it applies just as well to sales prospecting. For example, a strong lead generation strategy won’t do you any good if your salespeople can’t plug in their workflows and convert those leads into customers.
Your salespeople could be doing everything right — calling, emailing, following up, asking for referrals — and still not getting results. When this happens, it can leave you scratching your head and wondering why.
It’s common for various problems to creep up during the prospecting process. At times, it can even seem like sales reps have more pain points than potential buyers!
So, what do you do when your sales numbers take a nose-dive? The first step in diagnosing the problem is to analyze your sales prospecting process and see if that’s where the breakdown is taking place.
To help you figure out exactly where your prospecting efforts could be failing you, we’ve put together a list of the common culprits.
7 Warnings Signs Your Sales Prospecting Isn’t Working
Your sales reps are spending too much time on manual data entry. Are your sales reps still using paper lead sheets and spreadsheets to track the status of leads? Are they reading, sorting, and writing things down more than they’re interacting with prospects on the phone or via other communication channels?
Your conversion rate is too low. Are your sales reps complaining that they have plenty of leads, but despite multiple efforts and selling strategies, none of them are converting?
You don’t have sales and marketing alignment. The scripts and tools sales agents are using don’t seem to match the company’s marketing efforts.
Your sales reps are using the shoot-in-the-dark strategy. They don’t really seem to know who the target audience is. They don’t know the size of the company, industry, common pain points, company life cycle, or other details that would help lead them to a conversion.
Certain sales reps bring in very few or no referrals at all.
Your sales reps are constantly switching between sales activities. They prospect for one lead, nurture the next, make a presentation to another, and try to close a few others. This is a less efficient approach than blocking off specific times for different sales activities.
Your sales reps are struggling with identifying prospects’ pain points and uncovering the problems that your products or services can solve. Some sales professionals refer to this as the “so what” test.
How to Write a Sales Prospecting Plan
Sales strategies have evolved in recent years, largely due to the evolution in the buyer journey. With the rise of the internet, buyers are doing a little prospecting of their own before they respond to companies that are reaching out to them. Your sales prospecting tools will allow you to strike when the iron is hot, whether prospects are actively looking for your products or services or not.
We’ll help you get started writing a sales prospecting plan that takes this new customer journey into account with the five following steps:
Develop an ideal customer profile (ICP).
Your main client base shares many of the same needs and problems. That also means that they share a lot of other characteristics. Take some time to take stock of who your current customers are, and it will also tell you a lot about what your future customers want, too.
Are they in the same industry? What are the company sizes? Are most of them located in a specific geographical location? What factors drive their purchasing decisions? Develop a distinct ideal customer profile and make sure that all members of your sales teams understand which prospects will most likely convert, and why.
Set goals for sales prospecting.
Zig Ziglar once said, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” But to set goals, you first have to ask yourself what success looks like. This is an important step, because your goals will tell your sales reps how much time and effort they should be spending on each prospect.
Here’s where digitalization gives you a huge advantage. With cloud calling software, you get dashboard analytics that give you metrics and KPIs to give you objective data to measure your goals. This is a goal that is “properly set”.
Create a qualification checklist.
Refer back to your ICP and establish a template with the most common characteristics shared by your ideal customers. The more boxes sales reps can tick off on the checklist during the sales prospecting phase will give them an idea of which prospects will be most likely to convert . This will save them from wasting time and effort on prospects that aren’t likely to convert.
A qualification checklist serves an additional purpose, as well. It provides handy data that sales reps can use during phone calls to personalize the conversation, a tactic which gets them off to a great start in creating a good customer experience.
Craft sales scripts for prospecting.
Fast-talking telemarketers developed a bad reputation for rambling on using lengthy sales scripts. To avoid turning prospects off from the get-go, craft sales scripts in a way that allows sales reps to use the ICP and personalize calls. Train them how to break up the pitch naturally by listening more and making note of the prospect’s needs and pain points.
Pro Tip: Social selling is also quite effective in today’s market. Your prospects are generally pretty active on social media platforms, like Facebook and LinkedIn. These platforms, along with their company blog or website, give your sales reps lots of good talking points to use in the sales pitch, so consider taking the time to do some background research when pre-qualifying leads during the sales prospecting process.
Automate repetitive steps.
Prospecting involves a lot of repetitive steps, and that’s a double-edged sword for sales reps. Data entry is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean that your sales reps need to spend hours and hours getting it done.
Cloud calling software automatically records and organizes key customer data without sales reps having to write things down or type data into the record. The right sales software applications bring your CRM, voice calling software, lead scoring app, and other business tools together for a single source of data. To take things a step further, automated email templates streamline the process of sending out follow-up emails to keep prospects engaged.
Overall, a well-developed sales prospecting plan will help your sales teams become more efficient by eliminating sales tasks that frustrate them and take time away from other, more important activities.
Refining Your Outbound Sales Strategy
With your sales prospecting strategy defined, you have a basic outline to refine your outbound sales strategy. Next steps is breaking it down into distinct, smaller activities and time frames. Accomplish this by working backwards from your sales targets.
Let’s look at some examples of best sales prospecting strategies:
Set a reasonable amount of time for sales reps to spend on prospecting — something in the neighborhood of around 2 hours every day.
Take the average number of deals your sales reps should be closing every month and use past data to determine your closing ratio, or how many prospects it takes to contact before getting a conversion. If your goal is 20 new deals a month and your closing ratio is 5:1, your sales reps should be able to convert 1 out of every 5 leads. Simple math shows that you’ll therefore need to contact 100 qualified prospects every month to generate the 20 conversions needed to hit your sales target.
To drill activities down a bit further, you can use the same formula for figuring out the conversion rate for specific sales activities, like outbound calling and email outreach.
Your CRM system helps to keep sales reps informed about where prospects are in the sales funnel. Voice calling features, like click-to-dial and power dialing, also help sales reps make more calls in a shorter period, making it easier to hit sales targets.
Test your email campaigns using different subject lines and introductions to see which get the most results.
LinkedIn has a highly effective tool, called Sales Navigator, that allows you to set up custom filters to help build a targeted list of qualified leads.
For the best results, keep refining your sales prospecting activities as you glean more information about what’s working and what’s not.
10 Sales Prospecting Plan Best Practices
Let’s put it all together with 10 effective and inspiring sales prospecting plan best practices:
1) Create a detailed ICP of your target customers and write it down
The top 10% of your best customers should be used as a benchmark for developing a checklist of specific characteristics to guide your sales prospecting plan.
2) Create personalized phone and email scripts
Every time a sales rep speaks with a client, it’s a chance to gather and record more information about them. Use their names in conversation to build a rapport. Then, interject details naturally with topics like the latest news within their industry, the weather, or even past conversations about their pets (you can get this information from past call records).
3) Update your tech stack
Use digital tools, like a cloud-based phone system and sales software, to eliminate manual data entry and repetitive tasks.
For example, Aircall has a robust offering of voice features for salespeople like call routing, call extensions, shared contacts and inboxes, and power dialer. You also get call recording and call whispering to assist with sales training. Aircall also works seamlessly with popular sales CRM programs and other sales software programs.
4) Allocate a specified time for sales prospecting every day
It can be morning, afternoon, or mix it up a bit: test times to see which work best in terms of generating conversions. Leverage call metrics, like the number of calls sales reps are making, the number of emails being sent, the average amount of time spent on calls, etc., to affirm that sales reps are making efficient use of their time.
5) Test your phone and email scripts to see which are getting the best results
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your subject lines and messaging. Test your CTAs, the wording of your value proposition, and other variables. Determine whether prospects respond better to action-oriented CTAs or softer, relationship-building strategies, and leverage that information to your advantage.
6) Focus more heavily on the quality of leads rather than the number of leads sales development reps are producing
When it comes to sales prospecting, more isn’t always better. Build your prospecting pipeline with target customers that your closing sales reps have a good chance of converting.
7) Identify the customer’s needs and pain points at the earliest opportunity
Many of your target customers will have similar problems, but don’t assume. Ask them what their needs are and use scripts to highlight how your products or services can be useful in meeting those needs. Subsequent interactions are when it’s time to dive deeper into what sets your company apart from the competition.
8) Break down sales roles
Use digital tools to set up dedicated sales roles. Now sales reps can effectively manage tasks like generating leads, qualifying leads, nurturing leads, and converting leads.
9) Use templates for sales scripts and automation as part of your sales prospecting playbook
Create templates that incorporate your company’s value proposition. Include the information which prospects are most interested in. Then fill in specific information for each client. This saves a lot of time spent writing different versions of phone scripts and email campaigns.
10) Avoid the hard sell on social media
Social media is primarily a place where people socialize online. Use social selling as a way to start earning trust and building relationships, not hard selling. Save your pitch for the time when prospects are ready for it.
The painstaking days of dialing for dollars are a relic of the past. Digitalization and personalization are key when setting up your sales prospecting plan and continually working to improve it.
There are an infinite number of ways to experiment and refine your sales prospecting techniques. With every change, trial, or error you make, there’s an opportunity to learn how to prospect more effectively.
Published on September 22, 2023.