Prospecting is the foundation of B2B sales strategies. Or at least, it should be. Many businesses aren’t prospecting as well as they could be, if at all.
Research-led sales prospecting is a highly targeted, measurable way of identifying businesses for your salespeople to approach. It is important to realise that prospecting is not lead generation.
While prospecting can provide a framework that the sales team can use to qualify leads that come in (as we’ll explore), it is otherwise a distinct activity wholly concerned with finding and approaching the businesses that make up your target audience.
Why is research-led prospecting so important?
The prospecting process has to be research-led for it to give your business any reasonable return on investment.
A well-researched approach allows you to find prospects who are worth reaching out to and gives you an idea of what messages they’re likely to be receptive to. As such, prospecting done well will increase your sales team’s efficiency and ensure that they are selling a product that their prospects want to buy.
Those benefits are natural consequences of the overall goal of a research-led approach: to pitch your products to people that want to buy them.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But remember that other ‘scattergun’ approaches often involve pitching products to businesses who don’t need them or who aren’t in a position to buy them.
This kind of pitch is a waste of time – there is no chance of a sale, however talented your rep is.
Research is helpful at every stage of the sales process, from identifying an initial list of prospects to understanding the precise messages that will nudge them closer to a deal. However, it is important to bear in mind that the level of detail I’m talking about is not suitable for all businesses.
The businesses that will benefit the most from a data-led prospecting approach are those that sell high value products and solutions to other businesses and for whom forming a relationship with clients is important.
These are businesses that want to invest as much time as possible into meaningful prospect and client interactions and avoid wasting time on lost causes.
Start with a strong list
The research-led approach is never more important than when you’re building a list of prospects. Though this may seem daunting, there are two main things that you need to find out:
- Does the prospect have enough time to understand your product and implement it?
- Does the prospect have enough money to afford the product?
Thankfully, you can get a good grasp of both of these factors before you invest a lot of time into the prospect relationship.
Once you know how much time and money the product will require, you can start qualifying prospects according to those criteria. This is where the data-led approach overlaps with lead generation – you can use these criteria to determine which leads are worth following up.
Any company that you think of as a potential customer should be researched before you go any further.
Basic company information is filed at Companies House, and for deeper insight there are online databases that will give you detailed financial and credit information. This is the best way to get a basic sense of whether or not the business is able to afford your product.
How much time they have is harder to gauge. Often you won’t know for sure until to try speaking to someone at the company. That said, doing some digging into the company can give you a lot of insight. Look to see if they are;
- In the middle of rolling out a new product or service?
- Running any big marketing campaigns?
- Had a change of leadership in a relevant position recently?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, it’s likely that the prospect isn’t ready for your sales pitch at the moment.
This doesn’t mean you can never reach out to them, but it might mean holding off for a month or two.
Building on initial data
Your research shouldn’t stop with the creation of a prospect list. Where prospects are leads who have already expressed an interest, the next stage is easier, but it’s essential to be prepared if you’re cold calling or emailing.
You need to take the time to identify specific needs and to tailor your pitch accordingly.
Identifying needs can be hard and almost impossible to quantify but it’s nevertheless a research-led activity.
Paying attention to blogs and Twitter feeds helps to build a general idea of what the businesses are concerned with over a period of time, though often you’ll have to read between the lines to work out any actual problems they have.
This part of the process could also involve looking at what target businesses are not doing. Finding a lack of activity in an area that your product relates to could indicate that there is a genuine need for your offering.
The key is to match your sales pitches to the information that this phase of research gives you. If you stick a generic pitch based on the simple facts that the prospect has the time and money for the product, you’ll have wasted a lot of time.
Researching problem areas gives you the chance to demonstrate the genuine need that prospects have for your product, and helps your reps to connect with prospects more quickly.
These areas of research can be as time-consuming and labour-intensive as you want them to be. The more effort you put into them the more fruitful they have the potential to be, but it’s important to find a balance between your research and actual sales activity.
Iteration and improvement
A subtle but important advantage of using more research and data to refine your prospecting and sales process is that you have more information to learn from going forward.
Using a good CRM system to track your prospect data and interactions will be a big help on this front.
Implementing a research-led approach is not about making a one-time change to the way you go about prospecting, though it undoubtedly starts with a shift in perspective. Rather, it involves going through that shift in perspective, then continuously refining your prospecting process to make it more and more efficient.
There is no catch-all advice for how to do this, because every sales team is going to be selling a different product to different companies, but all are capable of improving.
Questions to ask could include:
- Is the financial data we’re looking at giving us an accurate enough picture of who can afford our products?
- Are we correctly understanding the factors that mean our target audience has more/less time to implement a new product?
- Are our initial calls/emails communicating targeted messages?
- Are we using our CRM system to record data and communications as effectively as we could be?
Above all, your research-led approach itself should not be above scrutiny. With regular evaluation of your sales teams’ processes you can increase efficiency and productivity of your research efforts.
About the author
This article was written by Katie Deverill, operations manager at business data provider Company Check. For more of her insights into the intersection of data and business, and practical tips on how to improve your sales strategy, visit the Company Check Hub.
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