Prospecting in B2B: why is it difficult?

Prospecting is an activity that does not always get a good press. For salespeople, the process often appears time-consuming, tedious and daunting.

Indeed, in B2B, decision-makers are already in high demand. When they can, they try to avoid new commercial solicitations. When the salesperson manages to make contact despite all the obstacles, the attention span of their interlocutor is very limited.

To reach a decision-maker, you need to increase your contacts. In 2010, it took an average of 4.7 attempts to make contact. In 2016, it needed 8.2. In 2020, 10? 11?

In short, prospecting takes a lot of time and energy to establish contact. And a large part of the contacts made result in a refusal to continue the conversation.

We can also add to this the fact that salespeople are generally paid on contracts signed, therefore on closing rather than on prospecting.

The second difficulty of B2B prospecting lies in the length of sales cycles. As B2B sales cycles are often long, the salesperson must maintain the conversation over time and have regular interactions with the prospect.

During this time, he must assess the maturity level of the prospect. Traditionally, we use the BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timing) method in prospecting to:

  • check the existence of a budget,
  • ensure the identity of the final decision maker,
  • validate the existence of a real need
  • estimate the time frame within which the project would be completed

Finally, prospecting requires salespeople to train in new practices. Indeed, traditional prospecting now coexists with new digital methods such as inbound marketing, social selling or even Account-Based Marketing.

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How to build a prospecting plan to meet new clients?

Prospecting is not an easy activity. To achieve your acquisition objectives, it is essential to prepare well. When it comes to prospecting, especially in B to B, the planning phase is essential. The commercial prospecting plan is used to define all the actions that will make it possible to achieve the company's business objectives.  

In particular, it makes it possible to identify the right methods for:

  • attract more prospects 
  • gain velocity on sales cycles 
  • help salespeople close sales faster

How to succeed in your prospecting plan? Here are the 7 steps to follow to build an effective prospecting plan.  

#1. Prospecting plan: define prospecting objectives   

Prospecting responds to different challenges:

  • build a prospect file, attract new prospects
  • quickly find leads qualified enough for a sales contact
  • relaunch existing contacts to boost turnover

Most of the time, these marketing issues intertwine. In what proportions?

Before launching headlong into prospecting actions, you must define clear objectives. To be precise, we even talk about SMART objectives:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Temporally defined

Prospecting objectives directly depend on the company's business objectives. One of the ways to set them is precisely based on the turnover objective defined internally.

From this forecast turnover and data such as Customer Lifetime Value and the attrition rate, we will define an objective on the number of new customers to conquer over a given period.

Then, based on the conversion rates of previous prospecting campaigns, we can continue to define the objectives: number of sales interviews carried out, number of appointments obtained, number of prospects contacted, number of prospects to be processed, etc.

For example, if we convert 10% of our qualified contacts into customers, and our goal is to make 30 sales, then we know that we need to have 300 qualified contacts. 

To set SMART and motivating objectives for salespeople, you cannot proceed randomly. It is necessary to rely on an external and internal analysis of the situation.

Analyze your market, your competitors and your customers

Setting objectives randomly does not allow you to build an effective prospecting plan. Indeed, if the objectives are too high, salespeople will become discouraged and lose productivity. If they are too low, the company will not prospect at full capacity.

To find the right dosage, you need to have a clear vision of your market:

  • What are the main market expectations?
  • What are the recent market developments (legal, technological, etc.)?
  • Who are the main market players? How do they prospect?
  • How does the company position itself compared to its competitors?
  • What is our customer typology?

This preparation phase is fundamental. In particular, the question of knowing which target customers we are addressing largely determines the way in which we will prospect.

Indeed, if we are dealing with prospects who obtain extensive information on the web and are very autonomous in their search for information, we will favor digital prospecting such as email marketing , inbound marketing or social selling.

On the other hand, if we are addressing a poorly connected target, accustomed to direct contact, we will turn more towards telephone or field prospecting.

Knowing your target audience well is also an advantage when building your prospecting argument. We will have more chance of establishing a climate of trust conducive to a sale if we base our contacts on a solid knowledge of the issues of our interlocutor.

Likewise, we will only be able to adopt a differentiating discourse if we know perfectly the offers, the strong points and the weaknesses of our competitors.

Carry out an internal analysis of your strengths and weaknesses

Once we have determined the opportunities and threats linked to the context and the competition, we must do our introspection. 

The question now is to know what are the strong points of our brand and our offers and, conversely, what are the weaknesses that work against us.

Let's go. All together, marketers and salespeople, we brainstorm and fill in the two columns.

What is the point of this approach?

Obviously, the “plus” column will serve as the basis for our argument. Since it is on these specific points that we excel, we will focus our interactions with prospects on this area.

Conversely, the list of our weaknesses allows us to anticipate prospects' objections. If we don't know them, we will be taken aback when they raise these points. They can sign the end of the relationship. On the other hand, by listing them very early in our prospecting plan, we will be able to develop responses to counter these objections.

#2. A prospecting plan to segment your market and build your prospects file   

Once you have carefully analyzed your market, the second step is to segment it. Depending on your prospecting objectives, we will not treat all contacts in the same way.

Not all contacts, not all leads are equal. One of the objectives of prospecting is precisely to evaluate those on which commercial efforts will focus.

What is the objective of segmentation?

Segmentation consists of dividing your market into several groups made up of prospects with similar profiles, characteristics or behaviors. 

For example, we could segment a market based on company characteristics:

  • Type of company (startups, SMEs, ETIs, large groups)
  • Activity area 
  • Geographical location
  • Number of employees
  • Turnover

You can also segment your contact base according to behavioral criteria or a level of maturity if you use a solution with a lead scoring functionality.

In this way, we will be able to address groups who are really interested in our offer and have a better probability of purchasing.

The consequence of segmentation is that we will have different actions for prospects who do not have the same level of maturity.

For example, hot prospects, identified as “almost ready to buy” could be the subject of telephone prospecting actions with a specific argument. At the same time, prospects who are less advanced in their purchasing journey will be contacted by email to maintain contact.

#3. A prospecting plan must define its conversion funnel   

Most contacts or prospects in a database are not ready to buy. 

The art of prospecting consists of clearly identifying a prospect's position in the sales funnel and defining actions adapted to this position.

To do this, it is necessary to define a sales funnel.

The sales tunnel (or conversion tunnel or conversion funnel) designates the process through which a company will support its potential customers from the discovery of their need until the purchase.

In other words, it corresponds to the representation of the successive stages of the progression of a sale, from the moment we obtain the contact details of the prospect until the conclusion of the sale.

For example, we can define a conversion funnel in 5 phases:

  • Discovery: The prospect does not yet have a clear idea of ​​how he can solve the problem he is facing. His attention level is still quite low since he doesn't know you yet  
  • Interest: The prospect begins to learn about his problem and shows interest. At this stage, we will try to capture his attention by demonstrating our ability to support and advise him.
  • Evaluation: the prospect examines the different solutions available on the market to respond to his problem. 
  • Decision: the prospect chooses a solution and embarks on a commercial negotiation process.
  • Purchase: the deal is signed but the commercial relationship can continue with a logic of cross-selling or additional sales, for example.

For prospecting to be truly effective, it is necessary to precisely define the stages of the funnel, always know the position of prospects and, ideally, measure conversion rates and velocity at each stage.

#4. Succeed in your prospecting plan by preparing your commercial prospecting approach and materials

To prepare your sales pitches (in the plural), you must rely on the typologies of target customers that we mentioned above.

First of all, you have to know the challenges of your prospects. The first moments of interaction are therefore firstly moments of listening. The time to sell will come later. But, first, you have to be in a questioning attitude to identify your prospect's challenges.

Once we have identified a few issues to which our offer responds, we will be able to rely on these elements to construct an advice and support message.

The meeting at a trade show, the first qualifying telephone exchange or the initial phase of an inbound marketing strategy serve this objective: to gather information on the prospect's issues.

If you are targeting prospects who are already mature, you will need to already have a well-constructed argument to close the sale. If we know their issues, it's quite simple.

If contact is made with prospects less advanced in the sales funnel, support takes precedence. The salesperson's role will consist more of providing advice and positioning himself as a reference point of contact on the subject.

Ultimately, rigid arguments are no longer appropriate. It is the salesperson's ability to adapt his speech to the phase of the funnel in which the prospect finds himself that makes the difference.

Depending on the choice of prospecting method, the salesperson will be able to use marketing materials (web content, print documents, catalogs, etc.) to get their messages across.

#5. The prospecting plan must allow you to choose your prospecting means

There is no shortage of prospecting methods and means. We will deal with them in detail in the following paragraphs.

But, for now, the question that interests us is this: how to choose the prospecting tools that will guarantee the best results.$

Today, two main prospecting methods coexist.

The inbound methodology is based on digital tools. It is based on the principle that prospects have become autonomous in their search for information. Therefore, it would be pointless to initiate a sales contact too early. On the contrary, we will strive to bring the prospect to you using content marketing, SEO and social networks. Then, once the prospect has provided their contact information, we support them to move them forward in the funnel until they are mature enough for a commercial contact.

Conversely, outbound marketing more or less combines traditional prospecting techniques. With this in mind, it is the salesperson who goes to the prospect, for example with telephone prospecting campaigns or cold emailing campaigns.

In reality, the two approaches are not really opposed. Few companies operate 100% inbound. Most structures that use inbound marketing combine it with outreach actions aimed at prospects.

In addition, in certain sectors, which are still not very digitalized, it is still impossible to find clients with an exclusively inbound approach.

#6. Plan prospecting actions using a good prospecting plan

We have now defined:

  • Prospecting objectives
  • Targets to prospect
  • The sales funnel
  • The main elements of speech according to the stage of the funnel
  • Prospecting methods to use

All that remains is to plan prospecting actions over time. This phase must end with the creation of a forecast prospecting schedule.

Why is this important?

First, we must coordinate our prospecting mechanics with a certain number of key dates in the calendar: periods of high commercial activity (seasonality, special dates such as Christmas or Black Friday if we are concerned), trade shows, etc.

Then, certain marketing actions take place over a long time. If you opt for an inbound strategy, the first results will only be visible 3 to 6 months after starting. It takes time to build an editorial plan, to create and distribute your first content, and to improve your SEO.

Therefore, while waiting for these results, it will be necessary to plan other actions to generate leads in the short term.

Finally, forecast planning is a tool for internal communication and team coordination, for example between marketing and sales. 

#7. Launch and manage commercial prospecting effectively to achieve your objectives

Everything is in place. It’s time to launch B2B prospecting actions.

In the daily efforts of marketing and sales teams, it is important to stick to the established plan.

If the strategic and operational planning of prospecting has been carried out correctly, any dispersion could result in less efficiency.

In addition, the forecast schedule provides for dependencies between actions. If we deviate from what was planned, it could have consequences on the whole.

At this stage, the role of managers is obviously crucial. It is their responsibility to keep the teams focused, thanks to a precise plan, on their tasks and the assigned objectives.

But their mission also consists of piloting prospecting activities. To do this, they must use performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the progress of actions in relation to the objectives. For example, they can use the OKR method, which consists of assigning high objectives and associating them with easily measurable intermediate key results.

Based on the KPIs observed, they will be able to identify possible flaws in the prospecting process and implement adjustment measures.

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How to optimize your B2B prospecting to reach more prospects?

Even with a well-constructed commercial prospecting plan, prospecting is not a smooth ride, especially in B2B.

At each stage, you must therefore look for ways to improve your performance. 

The first measure consists of improving the knowledge you have of your prospects. As prospecting becomes digital, mastering data appears to be an obvious area of ​​progress.  

Depending on the methods chosen, we will favor: 

  • Or the data acquired internally, which is collected for example with inbound forms.
  • Either third-party data purchased from companies offering B2B data intelligence solutions

But above all, it is the use we make of the data which determines the success of our prospecting actions. The ability to aggregate and analyze data and put it to use for actions is a strong differentiator.

A second area of ​​optimization consists of being innovative, testing new prospecting methods. No more “we’ve always done it this way”. Buyer behaviors and therefore methods are evolving. You have to know how to change your habits.

To do this, it is necessary to continually train in new prospecting methods and tools. But you also need to be able to evangelize internally about new ways of prospecting.

Finally, third axis, it is essential to strengthen your resistance to failure, especially when using techniques such as cold telephone prospecting.

B2B prospecting tools: field commercial prospecting

In B2B, prospecting can be done through different tools. Field, telephone and digital prospecting: what these different tools consist of and how to use them best.

Let's start with the technique of field prospecting. What practices does it cover and what are the means to implement it?

Traditionally, field prospecting consists, for a salesperson, of going directly to a company to speak with a decision-maker.

It is a practice that is falling into disuse for obvious reasons:

  • Decision-makers are reluctant to interrupt their activity to receive a sales representative on the fly, without prior appointment.
  • Unless you work in a limited geographical area or have a very dense territorial network, this method allows you to contact relatively few prospects over a given period.
  • The method is expensive (a lot of travel costs) for inconclusive results. Its ROI is rather low

On the other hand, there are other field actions which are much more effective: events or professional fairs.

This type of configuration has a major advantage, provided you target the right events: several potential customers (or prospects) are gathered in the same place at the same time. This is a rare opportunity to do field prospecting while optimizing your time and resources. Trade shows are therefore a perfect opportunity to create your prospecting file and start launching contact or follow-up actions.  

Another advantage of trade shows: prospects are more receptive to prospecting than they usually are. Indeed, if they participate, it is with the aim of meeting customers, prospects but also suppliers or service providers.

The golden rules of prospecting also prevail in the salon. Beforehand, you should carefully target the prospects you are going to meet and identify a few issues to start the conversation.

B2B telephone prospecting: to win customers

Telephone prospecting refers to telephone marketing actions intended to find new customers for a business.

Traditionally, telephone prospecting involves trying to contact a potential buyer in order to obtain a sales meeting.

How to prospect by telephone?

Telephone prospecting is a delicate practice. It requires good resistance to failure and perseverance. But you also need to have an plan of attack (commonly called a prospecting plan) to hold the prospect's attention and argue and good prospecting software to follow up.

A good telephone prospecting approach consists of 6 steps:

  1. Introduce yourself: once you have your contact on the line, they will fairly quickly decide whether your call is worth their time. First, it must be able to identify you. Therefore, a successful prospecting call begins with a succinct presentation: First name, last name, position, company.
  2. Explain the purpose of the call: at this stage, the prospect does not yet know whether he will listen to you or not. He wonders how your call concerns him. It is therefore necessary to clearly present the purpose of the call to him. For example, we could base ourselves on a sectoral issue that decision-makers in the field encounter and to which your offer responds.
  3. Keep your prospect's attention: decision-makers have little time to devote to prospecting calls. The mistake would be to launch into a long monologue extolling the merits of your solution. Take an interest in your interlocutor, ask them questions and keep the conversation going while identifying their issues.
  4. Respond to objections: Acknowledge the prospect's objections and respond point by point. If you have constructed your prospecting plan well, you have prepared for this step.
  5. Engage your prospect: you have argued and responded to objections. This is the time to find out if the prospect wants to go further.
  6. Specify the next step: at the end of the call, review what you have agreed together and specify the terms of the next contact.

Should we still do telephone prospecting?

Telephone prospecting has a rather bad reputation. In B2B, it often annoys decision-makers who consider it a waste of time. Many no longer respond to requests by telephone or shorten the call by asking the caller to send them everything by email. Suffice it to say that without appropriate training for the target, commercial prospecting by telephone is difficult.  

These reluctances are mainly linked to practices such as “cold calling” which consists of cold calling prospects who have not shown prior interest in the offer proposed.

However, in certain sectors, telephone prospecting remains the norm. This is the case in professions that are less digitalized, for example. Prospects will prefer the telephone to have direct contact with the salesperson.

For other sectors, the telephone remains a relevant tool. But it is certainly worth combining it with other approaches. For example, digital prospecting methods make it possible to qualify a prospect and only trigger a first telephone call when they have reached a certain level of maturity.

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Digital prospecting techniques

The web has profoundly changed the way businesses find new customers. By making buyers more autonomous in their search for information, the Internet has forced companies to review their prospecting plan.

Traditional cold calling or mass emailing techniques no longer meet buyers' expectations. Their results have faded and they are giving way to less intrusive and more personalized prospecting methods.

Email marketing

Email is a very effective channel for B2B prospecting. But emailing practices evolve at the same time as buyer behavior.

Mass emailing appears to be an outdated digital technique. From now on, buyers are fond of personalized messages that reflect their profile, their issues and are adapted to their position in the sales funnel.

Inbound marketing and social selling

What is the inbound methodology?

Inbound marketing is a response to new buyer behaviors. Since they reject the commercial contact initiated by the company, it is no longer the company that must go to them.  

Conversely, the company will seek to attract target customers to its website, in particular through content.

In practice, inbound marketing consists of creating and distributing content to attract target customers (thanks to SEO and social media) then converting visitors into leads. To do this, marketers use online lead generation tools (call-to-action, forms, lead magnets).

Once the prospect submits their contact information, they enter the prospecting pipeline. Marketing will feed it with content to make it mature and collect information.

Then, when the prospect is sufficiently mature, it is transmitted to the sales teams for telephone prospecting action.

Social selling

Social selling consists of prospecting on professional social networks like LinkedIn. This method can complement inbound.  

Indeed, the disadvantage of inbound marketing is that it takes time. In addition, salespeople are sometimes suspicious of the quality of inbound leads, since they are “contactless” leads. There is therefore a lot of commercial qualification work to be done again.

Social selling allows you to do outreach on the web. Here too, the golden rules of prospecting remain in place: clearly identify the targeted profiles, initiate a conversation about their issues, share relevant content to engage them over time and conclude by making contact.

B2B prospecting has multiple facets. It is important to master all of these techniques but above all to know when to use them. To help salespeople win more customers, tools also play a vital role. Automating part of your prospecting allows you to concentrate on the tasks with the highest added value.

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