5 Steps to a Successful Small Business Sales Prospecting Strategy


For many small business owners, the single greatest challenge to achieving sales growth is prospecting. Prospecting is the first step in the sales process, and it focuses on identifying and reaching out (either through marketing activities or through sales efforts) to connect with the persons or organizations, to engage them in a process that will ideally lead to a sale.

Here are five essential steps you can take to achieve true success with your sales prospecting efforts:

Step 1: Define your suspects before you pursue your prospects

It’s important to begin by understanding that the sales effort actually begins with one activity prior to prospecting, and that activity is defining your ‘best-fit’ suspects. In sales terminology, a suspect is a person or organization who meets your intended sales criteria, even though they may or may not ultimately prove to have an interest in, or need for, your product. You could define a list of all identified suspects as your “Total Available Market” or TAM, for example.

In contrast, prospects are persons or organizations who also meet your best-fit criteria, but who are known to the company and the company is known to them. Perhaps you reached out to them, perhaps they registered on your website. These known persons or organizations may actually have expressed interest in considering a purchase (at which point, they become a sales lead), or they may only have signed up for email updates or commented on a blog article, in which case they are known prospects but not yet sales-ready.

Step 2: Build a full picture of your ‘best-fit’ suspects

Now that we’ve clarified the difference between a suspect and a prospect, start honing your definition of what a ‘best-fit’ suspect would be.

In the business-to-consumer (B2C) market, typical factors you might use to define this include things such as the customer’s location, annual household income, marriage and family makeup, whether or not they own or rent their home, their credit score (or credit risk range), any other known affiliations (such as affinity cards or membership programs in your industry).

In the business-to-business (B2B) world, factors worth examining would include company size, annual revenue range, number of employees, industry, location, business structure (local company or subsidiary of a larger firm), ownership (publicly traded vs. privately held), and market position vis-a-vis its competitors.

3. Use market research to build a clear picture of your targets

It may seem like the number of criteria we just discussed is a bit much. After all, is it really possible to profile people or businesses down to that level of granularity, and is all of that effort worth it? The answer is, emphatically, yes.

In the B2C case, it makes no sense to send out a postcard mailer to every household in your area unless you can sell to every household in your area. For example, if you sell daycare services, why send an offer to households that don’t have children? If you offer home cleaning services, do you really want to sell them to apartment-dwellers, who have smaller spaces and may be more price-sensitive than homeowners?

On the B2B side, targeting should be just as precise. Let’s say you sell facilities maintenance services. Do you want to sell them to everyone who has an office, or just to office owners/managers? Perhaps you have a specialty expertise in working with healthcare spaces, or inside industrial and manufacturing settings.

And unless you run a national company, you probably want to skip marketing to companies whose parent location or corporate headquarters is located outside the region — that means too many steps, too much time and too high a risk that you’ll lose to national providers on an enterprise-wide contract.

Remember, the more you focus your suspect research, the more efficient and effective your marketing and sales efforts will become as a result.

4. Use that criteria to focus your marketing strategy.

Having defined ‘best-fit’ criteria and, as much as possible, used that information to perform research and identify your actual suspect base, now it’s time to use that information to your advantage. One step you can take is to engage in targeted marketing to lists of persons or companies who have agreed to receive marketing communications. Another step is to start at a given geographic point and move your efforts out in a concentric circle (for example, with door-hangers, mailer inserts or other hyper-local promotions).

In addition, your online activities can largely achieve the same level of focus through a number of powerful technologies. For example, you can engage in pay-per-click (PPC) marketing through platforms such as Google AdWords, but do so very cost-effectively by converting your suspect ‘best-fit’ criteria into more precise search terms (keywords). In other words, don’t spend your money competing for generic terms such as “home loans” or “home refinance” when you can add geolocation tags or other specifics to your phrases such as “refinance home lancaster pa” or “refinance single family home pa”.

5. Employ the same precision with your sales process.

Since we’re taking a target approach to defining our suspects, this can also revolutionize our prospecting. To begin with, it means that if you ask your sales team to make cold calls, send cold emails or otherwise perform outbound initiation, they can build rapport far more quickly.

Imagine that instead of opening a cold call with a statement such as “we can save you 15% on your home refinancing if you own your home”, you can begin with “We’re saving 15% or more specifically for families in your neighborhood who are looking to refinance their single-family home in the next few years to reduce their debt burden and increase their available cash each month.”

This also means that your marketing and sales efforts should be connected around those factors. A postcard mailer can be just as specific when it’s going to people or companies who are carefully targeted. The same is true for an email campaign or a social media effort.

In addition, this means that your sales team can use this precision to more rapidly tailor their pitch during subsequent discussions with the prospect. Instead of asking generic questions like “Do you own or rent your home?”, they can dig deeper with things like “Have you finished the basement in your home yet, because that can play a big role in the appraised value when we go to refinance.”

Effective prospecting is all about precision, and precision begins with a clearly defined suspect profile. By building your prospecting strategy around this priority, you will save your company time, money and effort while also giving your sales team a much more clearly defined target to pursue, and one that they can become far more familiar with. This, in turn, allows them to demonstrate greater credibility as they look to create the respect and rapport that can lead to a successful sale.

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