In B2B, commercial prospecting is the most time-consuming and at the same time the most important activity. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the best techniques and strategies to maximize the performance of your business development in a B2B context. We will take the time to approach each step of the prospecting in detail.
The objective of this guide is simple: to save you time, save energy, make you more successful in your commercial prospection.
What is commercial prospecting? (the 5 steps of the funnel)
Prospecting is the act of looking for potential customers to develop your business. Beyond the research phase, prospecting consists of advancing prospects in the funnel of conversion and making every effort to maximize the number of prospects to become clients. Prospecting is at the heart of B2B marketing.
Sometimes “lead” and the prospect is confused. These terms are close, but not entirely identical either:
- A lead is someone who has expressed an interest in your company or its services through their behavior (website visit, download of a white paper, registration to the newsletter, etc.).
- A prospect is a person who is a potential customer, who corresponds to your target, to your target clientele.
A prospect may not be a lead. Example: Mr. Martin, who perfectly matches your target clientele but has never expressed interest in your company. A lead may very well not be a prospect. For example Ms. Micheline, who has completed your form but does not correspond at all to the people you are targeting even if nothing prevents it to become one of your clients.
In both cases, the end goal is the same for you: to transform the maximum of leads or prospects into customers, that is to say into buyers of your products or services. The process that leads from a simple prospector simple lead to customer status includes several steps. All your work is to facilitate or stimulate this process. It goes through 5 progressive steps:
# 1 Search
The goal here is to determine the quality of the lead. For this, the B2B marketer relies on a series of criteria to assess the probability that a lead or a prospect becomes a customer.
# 2 Prospect
The second step is to prepare the contact. This includes looking for information, to get to know your prospect better and to personalize your messages.
# 3 Contact
The objective, in a third time, is to get a first appointment with the lead or prospect. In B2B, this appointment can take the form of a physical meeting (a lunch for example) or a phone call. The first phone call with a prospect is sometimes called the “discovery call”. The first meeting – physical or telephone, aims to qualify the lead or prospect.
# 4 Evaluate
It is then a question of evaluating and qualifying the needs of the lead or the prospect, to identify his “breakpoints” and his constraints (budgetary, temporal, technical …). It is essential to be able to propose to the lead or to the prospect a personalized solution, likely to interest it and to transform it into a purchaser.
# 5 Sell
The last step is the sale (the “closing” in English), the transformation of the lead or prospect into a customer. This is the hardest step to accomplish.
The two approaches of commercial prospecting: Outbound VS Inbound
For some time now, we have been witnessing an evolution of B2B prospecting techniques. Prospecting methods are increasingly buyer-centric. More and more companies are moving from an “outbound” approach to an “inbound” approach.
Summary schematically, we speak of outbound when it is the company that goes to the prospect. In India, we can speak of “outbound prospecting”. In B2B, this involves, for example, calling targeted people (prospects) to sell them products or services, soliciting in the clear. Or to send private messages on social networks – just as unsolicited by their recipients. Or to send cold emails, on purchased bases for example (the purchase of basic emails, not opt-in by definition, is tolerated in B2B, banned in B2C). This kind of prospecting has several flaws. It’s time-consuming as the company has to spend a lot of time identifying who to contact. With outbound prospecting, the company only reaches prospects that are not led by definition.
Here is the kind of message that can be sent in an outbound approach: “Hello Mr. Martin, I’m contacting you because I think you might be interested in the products we offer. We are a digital marketing company, etc. “
Inbound prospecting, or inbound prospecting, is about engaging with people who have already shown interest in your business and your products, that is, with leads. The first interaction is initiated by the lead. Example: download a white paper, an ebook, subscribe to a trial period, fill out a form, visit the price page of your website, etc. To enter into dialogue, the company has several levers available. The most commonly used channel is email – most often automatic. But social networks are increasingly used for inbound prospecting. The “search” work is made easier here because you already have lead contact information and interaction history. You have a context.
Example of a message sent as part of an inbound prospecting process: “Hello Mr. Martin, I am contacting you because I noticed that you had downloaded our ebook entitled” 7 tips to improve the productivity of your sales forces “, etc. “.
Our advice: focus on inbound prospecting
Our world is characterized by unprecedented access to information. For 60% of consumers, the purchase decision is influenced by word of mouth, recommendations from friends and social networks. Customer references play a role in the purchasing decision for 49% of consumers, and newspaper articles are taken into account by 44% of consumers. When a salesperson contacts a prospect, the sales process is already 57% on average. Despite these findings and numbers, many salespeople continue to give cold calls as if the kidney was not. According to a study by Baylor University, an experienced salesperson must invest an average of 7.5 hours in cold calling to get an appointment with a qualified prospect.
Businesses must first look to their prospects before trying to get in touch with, understand who they are, what they need. In short, implement an inbound prospecting process. Inbound, whether in marketing or commercial, is the future.
We will focus in this guide on inbound prospecting techniques.
B2B Sales Prospecting Techniques – Step 1: Prospecting
50% of sales time is wasted in an inefficient prospecting job. We will introduce you to techniques and prospecting tips to save time and gain commercial efficiency. For this, we will resume one by one each of the main stages of prospecting. Let’s start with the first step: research. This is by far the most important aspect of commercial prospecting. This initial phase consists, as we have seen, in qualifying the prospects. It is, more precisely, of:
- Determine if a prospect is likely to become a customer, whether you can expect to do business with or not.
- Qualify prospects and start prioritizing them.
- Identify the information needed to establish a personalized dialogue with prospects.
How do you evaluate the chances of a prospect becoming a customer? The basic approach is to assess one’s socio-demographic profile. In which region does the prospect reside? Does my company market products or services that match the prospect’s line of business? Does the prospect correspond to the persona you have determined, ie to your target clientele? Imagine that you are targeting small or medium sized businesses, say between 100 employees and 300 employees. This criterion already allows sorting among your prospects. You can also prioritize prospects, always depending on the number of employees. The lifetime value of a company with 300 employees is a priori higher than that of a company with 100 employees. To summarize :
It is also important to take into account the status, the function of the contact. You are not in contact with a company, in the literal sense it makes no sense. You are in contact with a representative of this company. What is the status of this representative? There are two types of statuses:
- The influencer, the person who does not have the power to buy your service or product, but who will use it and can advocate it to his superiors. If you succeed in convincing him of the value of your product or service, he can play an important role with decision makers (even before you contact them).
- The decision-maker, that is, the one who makes the decisions, who can decide to buy your product or service. In the face of a decision-maker, one must always ask oneself whether he is the only one to take the decision or whether the decision-making process is collegial.
Time constraints and budget constraints are the two main obstacles that a company encounters in its relationship with its prospects. You need to incorporate these barriers into your business case. The level of constraints is a criterion for classification and qualification of prospects.
The level of familiarity you have with certain markets or industries is another criterion for classifying leads. If you are used to working with companies in a specific industry, you are more likely to convince a prospect in the same industry. You are more likely to convert it to a customer. The business sector of the prospect is a criterion that allows prioritizing your prospects. We advise you to rank your prospects by industry, by the market, by industry, by offering so that you can prioritize more easily.
The value that your offer is likely to bring to the prospect is another criterion to take into account. If, for example, you are marketing a basic digital marketing solution and you realize that your prospect already has a strong presence on the web, it is unlikely that your product will bring a lot of value to the prospect. In the same way, we advise you to classify your prospects according to the value that you think you can bring them.
To measure the level of interest that a prospect is likely to manifest for your offer, you can also:
- You go to the sites of job offers, to see if the prospect is currently in the recruitment phase, and especially to see for which departments he recruits.
- If the company is public: analyze the annual reports, to identify the challenges formulated by the company.
It is also interesting to determine the level of knowledge of the prospect vis-à-vis your services or products. Has he already visited your website, read articles from your blog, subscribed to your newsletter, did he post articles related to your offer on his channels, especially on social networks? The more a prospect has knowledge of the type of solutions you are marketing, the more value he or she has for your business – that is, chances of becoming customers. You can also rank your prospects based on their level of knowledge of your offer.
You now know how to classify your prospects. Let’s focus now more on the issue of lead prioritization.
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B2B Commercial Prospecting Techniques – Step 2: Prioritizing Prospects
The prioritization of prospects makes it possible to gain in efficiency, to focus your efforts on the prospects who have the best chance of becoming clients AND those who have the most value (= the highest potential lifetime value). Levels of prioritization and prioritization are based on the criteria and dimensions studied in the preceding paragraphs. Prioritization involves weighting each of the criteria. For example, the potential lifetime time (the potential monetary value of the prospect) is a more important criterion than the criterion of timing. You must list all the criteria you want to take into account in the calculation and assign each criterion a weight, for example by giving it a value between 0% and 100%. This will allow you to assign each of your prospects a score.
Note that Lead Management software can automate this stage of lead scoring and thus save time. If you prefer manual scoring, we advise you to divide your prospects into three or four categories, according to their degree of importance. For example, we propose a hierarchy in three categories, High, Medium, and Low:
- The High value includes prospects who meet all the criteria of your persona, who have needs that your offer can perfectly solve, who are decision-makers, with whom you share relationships (mutual friends on LinkedIn, people who have studied in the same university that you …), who have already visited your website several times or who follow you on social networks. Obviously, prospects who meet the five criteria are the ones you need to focus your efforts on.
- The Average value includes prospects who meet certain criteria of your persona, who have specific needs that your offer can meet, who are influencers or people who can contact influencers, who have visited your website and your accounts social.
- The Low value includes prospects who do not match your persona, who do not have well-identified needs, who have no decision power and who are not influencers, who have never or almost never visited your website or your social accounts.
B2B Commercial Prospecting Techniques – Step 3: Preparation of the First Exchange
The objective, at this stage, is to gather as much information as possible about your prospects so that you can then contact them using a personalized and effective approach. The most important thing to start with is to be interested in what interests your prospects, their concerns. There are several possible solutions:
- Consult your prospect’s blog (if he has one) to identify topics of interest.
- Consult his social accounts, what he publishes on it.
- Consult the company’s showcase site, especially the “About” section.
This will help you qualify the business of your prospect and the role of the prospect in the organization. It is then necessary to identify a valid reason to enter into a relationship with him. You can try to find if you share the prospect knowledge, relationships. If he attended an event you know, which you yourself attended. If he recently visited your website. If so, what keywords did he use to land on your site, which pages he visited, etc.?
All the information that you will glean from your research will allow you to personalize your first contact, whether by email or telephone. The understanding of your prospects allows the personalization of the relationship which is, in turn, a guarantee of relevance and commercial efficiency.
B2B Commercial Prospecting Techniques – Step 4: First Contact
Whether you choose to email or phone for the first contact, it must be customized to be effective. Your exchange and your arguments must start and build on the specificities of your prospect, his needs, and his objectives.
Here are some simple but effective tips for making your first contact, by email or phone:
- Customize.Show that you know the specific problems of your prospect, to show him that you can bring him a specific solution.
- Be relevant.Make sure, with contacting the prospect, that the issues you have identified are still relevant.
- Be human.Nobody likes to talk with a robot. Details like wishing a good holiday can make all the difference.
- Help, do not sell.You must be in a process of help, accompaniment, without asking anything in return. You do not have to talk about yourself, do your self-promotion, but talk about your prospects, the problems they encounter and how you can help them solve them.
- Be natural.Do not adopt a too formal tone. Try to be natural. Adopt a conversational The first contact with your prospect must above all be a human contact, not a commercial exchange. You are trying to build a relationship in the strongest sense of the word.
Email or phone?
This is the big question. For the first contact, is it preferable to email or phone? Each of these two communication channels has its advantages and disadvantages.
Benefits of email
- The visual side.
- Allows the prospect to take the time to study your offer, to focus.
- Give your prospect time to look for information from his side about your company and your offer.
- Can be easily shared by your prospect internally, which makes it easier to make contact with other representatives of the company.
Disadvantages of email
- Email is a crowded channel. Your prospect is probably getting dozens of emails a day, so your email may go down the drain.
- An email is easily deleted or forgotten.
- sometimes it takes several emails of recovery before getting a response from the prospect.
Benefits of the phone
- Calls are less common than emails, they capture the attention of your prospect more quickly and easily
- The phone makes it possible to establish a more intimate contact and allows the commercial to develop more easily his argument.
- Calls are often given at more convenient times and allow a deal to be concluded more quickly.
Disadvantages of the phone
- Calls take longer, a time that is often valuable to your prospect, a time that your prospect is not always ready to grant you.
- You have no guarantee that the prospect will pick up.
- Responders are often as overloaded as mailboxes.
The best-performing strategies most often incorporate both, to take advantage of the benefits and minimize the drawbacks of both channels. We advise you to alternate the two, delivering each time a personalized message. This allows your prospect time to study your offer, think, conduct his own research and answer you without hurry.
Here, finally, some tips for successful emails and calls. Let’s start with the email. Here are some tips for making the first contact by email:
- Choose an engaging email subject. The object must immediately capture the prospect’s attention and avoid clichés at the same time.
- Personalize the first line of your email. You must, at the beginning of your email, talk about your prospect, his business, rather than you. You have to come in to show him that you have a good understanding of his problems and characteristics.
- Then show your prospect that you have a solution that can meet his challenges without falling into self-promotion. You must encourage him to continue reading the email.
- Integrate a call-to-action: offer appointments slots or ask a question to show him that the ball is in his camp. Example: “Are you available to talk by phone next Tuesday between 9 am and 11 am? “.
You can even invite your prospect to call you to set an appointment, or send an invitation via Google Calendar.
Let’s move on to the phone now. Here are some tips to succeed your first call, whether or not this call is associated with an email:
- Never forget that this is a conversation, a “human” conversation. For example, you can start by asking your prospect if he had a good weekend. This “human” approach allows you to build a deeper relationship with your prospect, create a climate of proximity and trust and increase your chances that this prospect is interested in what you will tell him.
- Take advantage of your prospect’s bread points, the difficulties that are his. You must address what is bothering your prospect, which is a problem for his company. At the end of the interview, you must have a good understanding of its main challenges and the problems it encounters. This will allow you to better position your offer, to be more relevant in your commercial approach.
- Take an interest in your prospect Ask him questions about his business. Ask him to deepen some points. You call him first to learn more about him, never forget him. The purpose of the first call is not to close a sale. Talk as little as possible about your business and your product. This is the best way to interest your prospect, as paradoxical as it may seem.
- At the end of the interview, offer your prospect an appointment for a future interview. Example: “Would you have availability this week for a second interview? It would be an opportunity to introduce Yassine, an expert colleague in X, Y Z. My schedule is rather flexible What is best for you? “.
Commercial prospecting can always be improved over time with experience. In your work, always give yourself time to identify time-consuming activities and those that create value.
All prospects do not turn into customers. If the raises can bear fruit, it is sometimes unnecessary to overemphasize and fall into practices that could be likened to harassment. On the other hand, we always have to learn from his failures. When a prospect has made it clear to you that he did not want to go further, why not send him an email asking why he chose? You can for that inspire you from this email template:
7 tools to succeed your B2B commercial prospection
Here are some tools to improve your B2B commercial prospection.
# 1 Twitter
Twitter can be used to identify what interests your prospect. By following him, retweeting him or even engaging in a conversation with him, you show him that you have his interests, his needs, his challenges in mind. Twitter is a great tool for gleaning information about your prospects.
# 2 The CRM
CRM software, such as HubSpot, Zoho CRM or Microsoft Dynamics, allows you to keep track of exchanges with your prospects and your business. The CRM allows you to know when a prospect visits your website (via tracking tools), to store your contacts and businesses – prospects, to track your sales and to realize faster actions like sending a message or planning an appointment.
# 3 Zapier
Zapier is a task automation tool that allows you to automate some boring tasks, and in particular to connect your applications/tools. For example, you can automatically receive an SMS when you receive a new email on your pro box or have a new lead page created in your CRM each time a person registers to your newsletter.
# 4 Tilkee
With Tilkee , you can know and when your leads open your prospecting emails, how much time they spend reading, what links they click on, whether they open the attachment, and so on. In short, Tilkee makes it possible to follow very closely the behavior of your leads vis-à-vis your emails. The information this tool provides allows you to adjust your strategy and customize your relationship with the prospect.
# 5 LinkedIn
LinkedIn is THE B2B social network par excellence. You can use it in several ways to do commercial prospecting. In particular, you can use LinkedIn and Enterprise pages to gain valuable insights into the companies you are targeting.
# 6 Google Alerts
Google Alerts makes it possible to track the new mentions of a company, a product, a sector of activity in the search engines. This tool makes it possible in particular to follow the news of your prospects or their sectors of activity, and to personalize the relation prospect, which is not useless with a view to personalization of your messages and your commercial speech.
# 7 Evernote
Evernote allows you to take notes in an efficient, organized and intelligent way. The notes are synchronized on all your devices (mobile and computer) and can be organized in notebooks. From a sales perspective, Evernote can be used to take notes during your appointments with your prospects, to be sure to remember no information!
That’s it, we did pretty much everything we wanted to share with you. Hoping that all these tips and techniques will help you become more effective in your B2B business development!
Also published on Medium.