The secrets to defining and identifying sales prospects

In 1992, Alec Baldwin helped add the phrase “Always be closing” to the American lexicon, thanks to his turn in the film Glengarry Glen Ross, which featured four Chicago salesmen desperate to save their jobs.

For sales reps to close, they need customers. But before there are customers, there are prospects. And before that, leads. That’s why it’s so critical for brands to constantly add new leads to their sales pipelines, which their sales teams can then vet during the process known as prospecting. 

Who are your prospects?

A prospect is essentially a mature version of a sales lead. That means sales reps have determined the lead meets the criteria your brand has established to indicate whether a particular consumer or company is, in fact, in the market for your brand’s products or services. Once a sales lead becomes a prospect, you know it is moving down the purchase funnel and is worth your time and attention.

While precise characteristics will vary by company and industry, every prospect has three things in common: It fits the demographic of your target audience, includes the right budget, and (if you’re a B2B brand) has corporate decision-making power. Your sales reps can figure this out in various ways, including through online forms, email communication, phone calls, or in-person or video meetings. Like with any relationship, communication is key.

The sales term “prospecting” refers to the process of sorting through leads. It’s important to get prospecting right because it saves your sales team from wasting time on unqualified leads (those leads unlikely to make a purchase). Instead, they can devote their efforts to the customers most interested in the brand’s products or services, which is a win-win for both the sales rep and the customer. 

From there, it’s up to your sales team to gently nudge the prospect closer to conversion. We recommend implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to help track buyer stage and outreach and avoid oversaturation, which might drive prospects away and nullify your hard work.

How do you find prospects?

While no two customers are exactly alike — and you should not approach them with a cookie-cutter sales pitch — one universal aspect of prospecting is engagement.

Finding prospects to engage with, however, can be challenging — and it runs the gamut of more traditional methods, including email marketing, inbound marketing, events, and even cold calls. 

The trick to successful prospecting lies in giving your sales reps the freedom to play to their own strengths. For example, if one sales rep is particularly good on the phone, they should budget plenty of time for prospecting calls. That being said, no sales rep should limit their efforts to one approach.

Once again, taking a test-and-learn approach is wise. Have your sales team establish prospecting goals for each form of outreach, monitor the returns over time, and adjust accordingly. 

If trade shows consistently generate multiple prospects but email marketing doesn’t, you should focus more on in-person events — and possibly dive deeper into why email marketing isn’t more effective. At the end of the day, it’s your prospects who determine how they want you to contact them — and you should listen to them.

Thinking outside the box will also help your brand uncover more prospects than traditional methods. There are three main places to look. 

Job listings

If you’re a B2B brand, job listings might be your secret sales weapon. That’s because brands that are hiring have an unmet need you can potentially fulfill. Job listings can also indicate there will be a new internal decision-maker before long, and you should probably know who that person is to avoid reaching out to the wrong individual.

To tap into the power of job listings, make a list of your target customers and set up alerts on the job boards they use. (It’s also a good idea for sales reps to check in periodically to make sure they don’t miss anything.) Then, once a target customer posts a relevant position, a sales rep can do more meaningful outreach — even if that’s a cold call.

Social media

Your customers and prospects are, in all likelihood, already talking about their wants and needs on social media. You can find these users by searching for relevant keywords on popular platforms and identifying conversations where your brand can add value. 

However, you don’t want to start direct messaging a host of Twitter users with a hard sell. Use social interaction as an opportunity to introduce your brand to new potential customers and prove your value. That will establish awareness, and then your sales team can grow the relationship from there.

Don’t forget that social media includes LinkedIn, which is laser-focused on business opportunities. Like other social platforms, you should focus on providing value for the overall community by joining relevant groups and weighing in where appropriate. But you can also use the search functionality to identify specific users within your target demographic and reach out to them individually.

Trade media

Finally, your sales team should monitor the publications that cover your particular industry (or even location) as another source of potential customers. Like job listings, news often indicates a change or need that sales reps can use in their outreach efforts to transform cold calls into warm calls.

Maintain a stream of leads

The future of any business depends in part on a steady stream of leads and prospects. But unlike the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross, your sales team doesn’t have to be at each other’s throats. 

By zeroing in on the most qualified leads, playing to reps’ strengths, and looking for leads in new places, both your sales team and brand will be well on the road to success.

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