It might not be as exciting as closing a sale, but, for small businesses, building sales prospecting into your regular routine is crucial. By continually working on prospecting, you can help protect against the kind of sales lulls that can spell trouble for a small business.
The good news? Through our work with thousands of businesses that use RingCentral in their sales process, we’ve learned a lot about modern buyers. (Turns out, they tend to be more comfortable shopping and researching online for themselves—which can actually make sales prospecting easier for you… as long as you’re proactive.)
One key to modern sales prospecting that isn’t talked about quite enough is the growing need to take it online with digital prospecting activities that put you in front of your ideal customer before they begin to research solutions. And don’t think digital sale prospecting is just for B2B sales either—all kinds of small businesses can benefit from the prospecting tactics we’ll cover later.
Speaking of which, here’s a roadmap of what we’re about to cover, in case you want to skip ahead:
- What exactly is sales prospecting?
- 11 digital sales prospecting tactics
- Build the foundation: customer avatars and using the right sales prospecting tools
- Become a thought leader: how to create and share content so you’re seen as a resource
- Connect with leads and prospects: how to communicate with prospects once they opt-in
- Build your pipeline: techniques to always be meeting new prospects
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What is sales prospecting?
Before we dive into the how, let’s be clear on the what. Sales prospecting is the first step of the sales process, when you identify prospects and begin communicating with them to determine whether they have potential to convert to customers.
Sales prospecting, also called business prospecting, lead prospecting, or customer prospecting, is all about keeping your pipeline full so that you always have prospects at different phases of the sales process. The idea here is that ideally, you’ll always have prospects ready to close.
For small businesses, it’s especially important to incorporate strategic prospecting skills into your daily routine so that there is always another sale coming down the line.
The modern sales prospecting process looks a little different than it used to because the modern buyer has changed. Buyers are newly savvy—and willing to do a lot of online research to determine the best solution for their problem. That means your sales prospecting techniques are less about cold calling and more about ending up on their radar during the research process.
In short, sales prospecting has gone digital.
This also means that modern sales prospecting requires more cross-company collaboration. Since marketing shares the role of delivering warm leads to your sales department, prospecting is really a shared task between these departments. Plus, support and even product development can get involved if leads reach out through a support forum or request a certain feature in their research process.
But just because prospecting is the job of the whole company doesn’t mean sales reps can slack—it’s as important as ever to connect with fresh leads to explore their needs and introduce them to your solution early on.
11 digital sales prospecting tactics
Okay, enough theory, let’s dive into actual tactics that will help you perfect your sales prospecting strategy.
We’ve organized our tactics into a sales prospecting process that should be easy to visualize, implement, and fit into the rest of your sales strategy:
- First, build a foundation by getting to know your ideal customers and assembling the tools you need to succeed.
- Next, work to integrate into your field, be known as a thought leader (either as a company or as an individual) and become a resource that prospects will come to for advice.
- Then, connect with prospects after they request a demo or sales call.
- Finally, continually build your sales pipeline.
Along the way, we’ll share three stories of real businesses who used some of these sales prospecting tactics, so you can see them in action.
Build the foundation for successful sales prospecting
Before you dive into prospecting, you need to build a foundation for success. There are two kinds of tools at your disposal: the work you do to create your customer avatar or ideal user persona, and software tools to speed up the process.
1. Create a prospect avatar
You’ve probably heard the advice that you should create an “ideal customer” or “customer avatar.” But if you’re creating an avatar that isn’t based in reality, it probably won’t be as effective as possible for you.
Instead of creating a generic customer avatar for sales prospecting, be super specific about who your actual customers are (and who you want them to be). Look through your CRM and your notes. Find the customers that have been the most profitable, the longest-term customers, or who have purchased from you multiple times.
It’s up to you—this is about creating your ideal prospect avatar, based on the parameters you set. If dollar value is important to you regardless of time commitment, examine the biggest spenders. But you can also take a more dynamic approach, weighing dollar value versus number of sales calls to find the customers who made the most efficient use of your time.
If you’ve had a bad experience working with some more challenging customers, you might consider who was easy to work with, converted quickly, or didn’t require too much hand-holding during the setup process.
Once you’ve found some ideal customer examples, you can start examining common threads between them. Where did they come from? What convinced them to convert? Most importantly, what problem did you solve for them? Use these questions to construct an ideal prospect avatar.
2. Use sales prospecting tools
The best thing about going digital with your sales prospecting is the ability to use software to keep track of where leads are in the pipeline, stay organized, and measure effectiveness.
The foundation of any sales software stack is always going to be a good CRM. The right CRM keeps you organized and gives you a place to keep track of crucial information about prospects.
The next important tool for prospecting? A communications tool.
You may associate prospecting with calling, which is probably still the most popular forum for sales communications. But, more and more, people appreciate the option to communicate with businesses in the same variety of ways that they communicate with, well, everyone else.
That means it’s a good idea to offer your sales reps the option of calling, messaging, emailing, and even texting prospects. Now, here’s the key: try to find a tool that does all of these things (or at least, a few of them) instead of paying for multiple tools that only do one thing. Not only does this save you money, it also saves your team time because they won’t have to keep toggling between apps and windows.
For example, with RingCentral, you have all of these communication options at your disposal—and all in one place.
It also offers the flexibility to let your reps work from home if needed. Because it’s a cloud-based solution, that means salespeople can make calls from anywhere in the world using either their computer or their cell phone. That’s the kind of flexibility that results in super-efficient sales prospecting.
And if you want to go one step further and really optimize your sales prospecting tools for success, make sure that the tools and apps you choose can communicate with each other. For instance, RingCentral integrates with all of the most popular CRMs, creating a powerhouse software stack that centers your prospecting activity in one hub.
As we mentioned already, prospecting isn’t just on the sales team anymore, so internal communications can be just as important as outbound communications. With RingCentral, you get the best of both worlds:
Prospecting success story: Using technology to simplify the sales process
Goosehead Insurance, a nationwide insurance broker that shops on behalf of their clients to find the best policies at the best rates, learned firsthand how crucial the right technology is for their sales team.
When their phone system started holding them back, they looked for a better option and found RingCentral. Before, their sales reps would have to forward calls to their personal phones in order to get work done on the road—which really limited their flexibility.
Plus, without an integration between their phone system and CRM, they’d have to look up phone numbers in their CRM and manually dial. At the end of a call, they’d have to copy their notes back into their CRM.
Once they switched to a sales software stack that included RingCentral and Salesforce, everything started working seamlessly, no matter where reps were working from.
Now, with a single click, reps can automatically update prospect’s call histories—saving them a couple hours a day in tasks they once did manually. That’s more time to prospect and more time to meet their sales goals.
Become a thought leader to grease the wheels
Once you’ve got your foundation built with a solid prospect avatar and the right technology, you can start taking daily actions to become a resource in your industry. That’s why it’s crucial to know what problem you solve for your ideal prospect, so you can end up on their radar when they start looking for solutions.
And what’s the best way to get your name and your company in front of them when they start looking for solutions? By positioning your company or yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Think of it as greasing the wheels for your prospecting team and making their job easier down the road. (It’s a lot easier to have a conversation with a prospect if they’ve seen your webinars or listened to your podcasts as opposed to a prospect who’s coming in cold.)
3. Create and share content
Content is key to being seen as a thought leader and therefore is step one to digital sales prospecting. By creating and sharing content that targets your ideal prospect, you can build trust and educate at the same time.
Then, when they do go to make a purchase, they’ll already be aware of your company or you as an individual, and they’ll be more likely to convert.
Here’s an example of how to do this on LinkedIn. Chris runs an agency that targets B2B businesses that need help with revenue and growth marketing. These leaders tend to be LinkedIn power users, so he uses this channel to share his expertise—his posts regularly get hundreds of likes and comments, which according to him have translated into high-quality leads:
To get started creating content, look back at your CRM and find the common questions, sales objections, and problems that your ideal prospects come to you with.
Think through your prospect avatar to brainstorm topics that are relevant to them, but not necessarily directly related to your company.
Then, get to work creating content. You can start a blog, contribute to your company’s blog, write guest posts for industry blogs or magazines, and even consider speaking at conferences in your industry (which you can then share videos of).
4. Be a resource where people are asking questions
Being a resource is another way to familiarize leads with your name and your company before they even land on your site.
Start by finding the places where your prospects and people in your industry go to discuss industry news, hash out problems, or ask questions. That might be a local Facebook group or app like Nextdoor, or it could be an industry forum or LinkedIn page.
Just about every question you can think of has been asked on Quora. Use it as a resource!
Don’t just pop in and start talking about your company—take the time to listen to what’s being discussed and figure out who’s asking what. By listening first, you’ll be able to see what kind of answers get the best responses and learn the tone that people in that group respond well to.
When it comes time to offer advice, aim to be genuinely helpful more than to sell, sell, sell. You can mention your product or that you work at X company to bolster your authority, but try to answer questions and provide advice sincerely.
If you have a company blog post that directly answers their question, you can share it. Just remember, at this point, it’s all about building awareness.
5. Be active on social media
You may have heard that some salespeople have found success using social media and wondered how exactly they accomplished that. The key is to see social media not just as a forum for life updates and travel photos, but as a place to continue building your reputation as a thought leader.
You don’t need to try to use every single social media platform for sales prospecting—instead, return to your ideal prospect and determine which platforms they spend time on.
Sharing is the name of the game on social media. Be sure to share posts from your company blog, articles from other industry blogs and publications, and relevant news articles. When you do share links from other sites, be sure to tag the writer or company and use industry hashtags to give your post greater reach.
Add a sentence or two of your own commentary in addition to the link to start reinforcing that you’re a thought leader in your field. Eventually, you might even start sharing posts that are more of your personal commentary and less about sharing content.
Connect with prospects directly
Eventually, after you’ve established yourself as a thought leader, you’ll naturally direct traffic to your blog and website—traffic that hopefully requests more information about your product.
Once someone has converted from cold traffic into a warm prospect, use these methods to connect with them directly and move the sales process forward.
6. Connect with your prospects on different channels
As we already mentioned, the most common way that you’ll connect with prospects is on the phone. Surprisingly, people still respond well to phone calls, especially in a B2B context.
But, if you want to go a little further than most toward setting your prospects at ease, you can get in touch in multiple ways.
For instance, you can offer an option on your opt-in form for how a prospect would prefer to be reached: via email, phone call, or even text message. Or, you can include a chat widget right on your site to address pre-sales questions quickly and easily.
If you’re aiming for a digital sales prospecting experience, offering options besides phone calls is a great way to tailor the experience and satisfy phone-averse prospects.
Prospecting success story: texting to increase lead engagement
Does it sound a little far-fetched that your prospects really want to communicate with your sales reps via text? Triumph Motorcycles, one of the fastest-growing motorcycle brands in the US, was skeptical, too.
According to Operations Manager Brandon Keller, they hadn’t even thought to offer the option until they started considering a switch to RingCentral. “It wasn’t until we started talking with RingCentral that we realized how much we could also benefit from additional services built into the system like SMS, electronic fax, online meetings, a mobile app, and other communication services,” he said.
But they gave it a try, giving their lead engagement reps the chance to try business texting. The result?
“When we started using the RingCentral SMS tool to text consumers, we doubled our engagement rates over what they’d been when our reps were making phone calls,” Keller said.
Plus, SMS messaging isn’t only more engaging for their prospects, but it’s more efficient for their reps as well because they can have conversations with multiple prospects at the same time:
Between the engagement rates and the time savings, it’s been a real game changer for getting more prospects in their sales pipeline.
7. Be human
There’s a lot of debate out there about the importance of scripts when it comes to sales calls, and we’re not here to take a side. Not because we don’t have an opinion on it, but because there are specific scenarios where scripts are useful (when you have lots of customers asking the same questions), and others when they’re not (when your customers tend to have more complex and technical questions about your product).
Whether you like to wing it or you rely on a tried-and-true script, don’t forget to be human.
As the sales process moves more and more online, it’s easy to underestimate the value of human connection. Stand out among the crowd by making it clear that you aren’t a robot by communicating naturally.
Take the time to connect with a prospect and listen to them before diving into a sales pitch. Small talk might seem outdated, but it helps to start the conversation off on the right foot and helps all parties relax.
Even if you are reading (or texting) from a script, try relaxing the language or ad libbing a little to sound more natural.
Additionally, don’t forget your newfound position as a thought leader just because you’ve got a prospect in your pipeline.
Continue to share resources as you move a lead through the sales process. From educational blog posts tailored to their needs, to case studies from others in their industry, tailor the resources you share with them to show that you’re listening.
By continuing to be a resource and being personable, you’ll drive home the trust factor that makes a lead convert.
8. Test and change your sales call tactics
Finally, whether it takes one interaction or ten, don’t think your work is done when you have a successful sales call. The beauty of online selling is that it makes it easy to examine your work to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
Start by examining the effectiveness of your thought leadership efforts by using your analytics tools to figure out where your website traffic is coming from. You can even include a “How did you hear about us?” survey question when a prospect opts-in to a sales call to understand what’s working.
After you close a deal—or even when you don’t—you can always ask for feedback. Follow up with your new customer a few days or weeks later to see what they liked about the sales process.
If you use RingCentral, you can also examine your reports to see how many touchpoints you had with prospects, how they communicated, how long you spent on the phone with them, and other sales KPIs.
When you see emerging patterns of what works (and what doesn’t) for your prospects, change your process slightly, test the new version, and examine the results. Over time, you’ll be able to hone your process and optimize for success.
Prospecting success story: learning from successful sales
Canadian point-of-sale company TouchBistro took this tactic to the next level by including Gong.io in their sales software stack and connecting it to RingCentral through our open API.
By switching on RingCentral’s call recording feature and sending the call database to Gong, a conversation analytics tool, they were able to identify patterns and strategies that their top salespeople used to close more deals.
They fed hundreds of thousands of calls, emails, and texts through Gong, which analyzed the content of calls at different stages of the sales process and identified what worked about the calls that were successful.
“The most striking difference was the order in which the reps presented our software, hardware, and services during their Solution Presentation,” said Vice President of Sales Paul Snelson.
Based on what they learned, TouchBistro developed a framework of best practices that they shared with the company’s reps and through one-on-one coaching.
In the end, it meant a 10% increase in close rates and 12% boost in lead-to-opportunity rates. That’s a big shift empowered by digital selling.
Build your pipeline of prospects
Whether you close the deal you’re working or not, the job of sales prospecting is never done. You should always be looking for ways to fill your pipeline, so you can continue moving leads through your sales process, closing deals, and reaching your goals.
9. Ask for referrals
When you think of the small businesses you interact with as a customer—maybe it’s your chiropractor, a contractor for a home improvement project, or a store you frequent in your neighborhood—how many of them would you be willing to refer a friend to? Barring a bad experience, probably most of them. But how many have you actually referred someone to?
Most of us would be happy to send referrals to our favorite small businesses, but we just don’t think of it on our own.
Even though it might seem straightforward, just asking for a referral can be the key to building your pipeline. After all, your customers probably know plenty of people just like them.
The best way to get referrals is to ask for them and build that into your regular sales process. A few days or weeks after making a sale, set a notification in your CRM or calendar to remind you to follow up with your new customer. (It’s also just a customer service best practice.) Check in, see how they’re doing, and ask if they know any friends who might also be able to use your product or service.
Of course, if they do end up sending someone your way, be sure to follow up quickly and deliver excellent service. In some ways, your customer put their reputation on the line by endorsing your company, so be sure to respect the trust they placed in you.
Worried that your customer didn’t have a good enough experience with your company to send a friend to you? Use it as a customer service opportunity to make it up to them, learn what went wrong—or sincerely apologize.
10. Attend industry events
It’s true, industry events are generally not a “digital” sales prospecting tactic (although thanks to COVID-19, many are certainly becoming digital)—but the follow-up you do afterward certainly can be.
When you’re selecting and attending industry events to attend, remember the foundation you already built. Consider your prospect avatar first—who is your ideal prospect and what are the kinds of events they might be attending?
(While you’ll certainly learn a lot at a sales conference, if you’re trying to use an event as a sales prospecting tactic, you’ll need to consider the events your prospects would attend, not necessarily the ones you’d normally go to.)
You can actually use the community you’ve already formed on social media and online forums to figure out the kinds of events your prospects generally attend.
Once you’re there, don’t fall into hard-selling mode. The value in attending an industry event can be so much greater than trying to find people to sell to—you can make valuable industry connections, get ideas for the kinds of events your company might want to speak at or sponsor later, and more.
Just think beyond selling. Make genuine connections with people, answer their questions, and find opportunities to connect people who should know each other.
11. Be a connector
Speaking of connections, being a natural connector can be a great way to build your circle—and your pipeline.
When you meet someone new, whether through online networking, socially, or at an event, try to consider who they should know. Who could help their business? Who might be hiring in their industry? Who works in a similar field and might be interested in networking?
Just be sure to check in with both parties before introducing them to be sure they’re interested in meeting.
You probably know more people than you think—start checking in with them more consistently so you can have a good idea of who they’d like to meet. Plus, by getting in the habit of connecting people, you’ll naturally grow your network as well.
But how does networking relate to sales prospecting?
Well, if you’re a connector, people will naturally want to connect you with others. You’ve shown that you value networking, and they might feel like they owe you one.
(And even if it doesn’t work that directly, we think it’s good sales karma anyway.)
Have your online sales prospecting strategy ready
As a small business, you know the importance of constantly maintaining a pipeline of prospects to keep sales moving and cash flowing. Sales prospecting is the first step of your entire sales funnel, so it’s important to start out strong.
When you take your sales prospecting tactics online, you take the first step in optimizing your entire sales process for the digital age. As customers become more comfortable with online research, placing yourself right in their (digital) path is the best way to build your reputation and showcase your thought leadership.
Originally published Jul 01, 2020, updated Sep 08, 2021