B2B sales prospecting:
to find customers efficiently

Summary of the article

What is commercial prospecting? (sales, prospects …)

Commercial prospecting is an essential activity for the success and sustainability of a company. To identify commercial opportunities, the teams design and deploy a prospecting plan using various commercial methods. Today, traditional techniques coexist with new digital prospecting methods.

B2B prospecting: understanding the sales process

Commercial prospecting is a process that consists of finding new customers for your company. In B2B, prospects are usually company executives, purchasing managers or department managers.

The teams in charge of prospecting implement commercial actions to identify and qualify potential customers in companies.

In principle, this role is assigned to the sales teams. But the new buying behaviors of customers and the development of digital prospecting tend to blur the line between marketing and sales.

Define the notion of prospect before launching your commercial prospecting

To find prospects, you must first have a clear internal vision of what a prospect is. However, the notions of suspect, lead, prospect and customer often overlap and become mixed up. A prospect is a potential customer who has gone through a qualification process. Since it has been qualified, it is considered mature enough for a first commercial contact.

The prospect is therefore no longer a suspect or a raw lead. In effect, a suspect is just a potential buyer not yet formally identified. A lead is an identified but not yet qualified lead. As for the prospect, he or she meets the targeting criteria previously defined by the sales representatives.

Prospecting and selling: what is the difference in sales?

Prospecting and selling are two distinct steps in the sales process. They should not be confused with each other. Prospecting consists of finding and qualifying future customers. During this phase, salespeople seek to:

  • Establish a relationship of trust with their interlocutor
  • to accompany him in the resolution of his problems
  • collect data on the prospect and his needs
  • keep the conversation active until the sales phase

The sales phase is the conclusion of all the prospecting efforts in commercial matters. The sales representative proposes his offer to the prospect and together they discuss the conditions of sale. The main risk for a salesperson is to try to sell too early and break the relationship with a prospect who was not yet mature enough to buy.

Why is BtoB prospecting essential for salespeople?

For a new company, customer acquisition is a necessity to generate revenue and sustain the business. But what about established companies? Couldn’t they just keep their customers loyal? Indeed, retaining customers is significantly less expensive than acquiring new ones.

Prospecting is essential for 3 reasons:

  • A company regularly loses customers (on average 10% of its customers each year according to a Harvard Business Review study). This is called attrition (or churn). The reasons can be diverse: cessation of activity, dissatisfaction, changes in strategy or people, increased competition
  • Having a sufficiently large portfolio of prospects at all times allows you to generate continuous growth.
  • In case of a hard blow (economic or health crisis, loss of important customers, arrival of a very aggressive competitor,…), the company has a pool of potential customers to approach quickly.

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The steps of commercial prospecting

# Define a sales prospecting plan

1- Set the objectives

Before launching actions, it is first necessary to set objectives in line with the company’s business objectives. Based on the announced sales target and the company’s sales performance (Lifetime Customer Value, churn rate, etc.), it is possible to set a quantitative target for the number of new customers to be won over a period of time. Based on the lead-to-customer conversion rates, the company can then define intermediate objectives such as the number of leads to contact.

2- Choose your B2B targets

In BtoB, targeting is very important. To optimize the return on investment (ROI) of your prospecting actions, you need to focus on the profiles with the best probability of being transformed into customers. Upstream, it is therefore essential to :

  • list the types of target clients to be targeted in priority
  • define clear targeting criteria (type of company, business sector, turnover, position held, problems encountered, etc.)

3- Create a sales action plan

Once the objectives and targets are defined, the sales teams can define the prospecting actions accordingly.

Prepare the prospecting campaign

First, the sales representatives build a prospecting list from one or more sources:

  • leads generated by digital marketing actions (inbound leads, newsletter subscribers,…),
  • contacts from CRM databases (to reactivate old inactive prospects, for example),
  • the purchase of a prospecting file
  • leads met at a professional event

Then, depending on the targets, you must determine the appropriate prospecting methods: direct contact, telephone canvassing, social selling, etc. Finally, the campaign must be prepared and planned. In concrete terms, this phase consists of developing prospecting scenarios, dividing up tasks within the team and planning actions.

4- Measuring performance

Before taking action, you still need to define key performance indicators (KPI) to measure the achievement of your objectives. Indeed, KPIs allow to evaluate the efficiency of actions and to optimize campaigns. For example, you could look at the number of sales appointments made over a given period.

# Launch and manage commercial prospecting actions

Everything is in place to start prospecting on the chosen sites. It is essential to stay focused on the previously defined plan and not to lose focus. Otherwise, it may result in less efficiency. In addition, performance monitoring will be more complicated.

The other pitfall to avoid is the slump. In general, teams are motivated at the beginning of the campaign. But rejections, the need for multiple re-launches and fatigue can cause the pace to drop. Again, it is important to stick to the schedule.

To maintain the pressure, the monitoring of indicators and the steering of actions play an essential role.

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The traditional methods of prospecting in commercial matters

Commercial prospecting in the field

This method consisted of a salesperson going directly to the company to meet the prospect.

The disadvantage of field prospecting is obviously its interruptive nature. In fact, it is considered as forcing and has a rather bad press. The rise of digital methods has almost put an end to this type of practice.

Trade shows in commercial matters

Professional events are a good place to prospect. Indeed, in a trade show, you can easily reach decision-makers in your sector of activity.

In addition, these professionals are likely to be good listeners. Indeed, they are gathered precisely to meet customers, partners and suppliers.

The commercial effectiveness of telephone prospecting

Telephone prospecting on unqualified or poorly qualified databases is still widely used. However, phoning is particularly frustrating for salespeople.

Indeed, cold calls have several limitations:

  • the famous barrage of the secretary, who refuses to pass the targeted person
  • the need to multiply reminders to reach a contact person
  • the refusal of contacts to take the call

Most decision makers feel they are over-solicited and no longer respond to prospecting calls.

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Digital prospecting methods

Mass emailing

Mass emailing consists in shooting a commercial message to a large internal or purchased contact base. While this technique may have worked in the past, it is no longer effective.

Indeed, the number of commercial emails sent daily has exploded. As a result, mail servers have developed spam filters that prevent these unwanted messages from reaching the inboxes of their recipients.

The mass mailing method is gradually being replaced by the cold mailing method.

Cold Mailing

Cold mailing is the smart answer of marketers and sales departments to the death of mass emailing. Thanks to software like Magileads, it is now possible to send quality emails to targeted prospects. Cold mailing is the solution of the future to boost your commercial prospecting. It is important to keep in mind that email prospecting is governed by the RGPD and the CNIL. To know everything about the rights and obligations of companies when sending commercial emails, please refer to our article Commercial prospecting and CNIL: everything you need to know.

The inbound methodology (inbound marketing + inbound sales)

Inbound marketing is based on the observation that interruptive prospecting techniques no longer offer the same results. Buyers reject unwanted solicitations. Today, a shopper completes more than half of his or her purchasing journey online. Decision-makers are autonomous in their information gathering. And, therefore, the commercial contact comes later and later.

How can the company take the lead in a prospecting logic?

The answer is to attract prospects to you by sharing content that will help them in their decision making. This is called inbound marketing. Then, once the lead is sufficiently qualified, the sales teams will take over, remaining in a logic of support and nurturing of the prospect.

Social selling

Like inbound, social selling responds to new buying behavior. Here again, it is a matter of taking control from the pre-purchase phase. The playing field is a little different since, this time, it is on social networks that salespeople will interact with prospects, particularly on LinkedIn. Social selling is divided into 3 steps:

  • Attract target customers on LinkedIn by sharing relevant content
  • Connect with prospects on the network and interact regularly
  • Get a sales appointment

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The tools of modern prospecting

Even though traditional and digital prospecting are often contrasted, they often coexist in the practices of companies.

For example, many growth hackers scrape email addresses on LinkedIn to feed a cold emailing campaign or an automated sequence of commercial emails. In terms of tools, it is essential to have a complete palette including:

  • An updated and easily exploitable contact database
  • A marketing automation solution to create automated emailing sequences
  • A scoring feature to measure the progress of prospects in the sales cycle and trigger the transmission of hot leads to the sales team
  • A CRM solution to allow sales representatives to track their prospects and convert them into customers

Under the effect of new buying behaviors, commercial prospecting has largely evolved in recent years. Traditional” methods are losing ground to digital prospecting techniques. Beyond the choice of the method, companies must ask themselves the question of the personalization of messages and then coordinate their tools to optimize an omnichannel prospecting approach.

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