Why is B2B prospecting difficult?

Prospecting is an activity that does not always have a good press. For sales people, the process often seems time-consuming, tedious and off-putting.

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

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

In short, prospecting requires a lot of time and energy to make contact. And a large proportion of the contacts made end in a refusal to continue the conversation.

We can also add to this the fact that sales representatives are generally remunerated on the contracts signed, thus on the closing rather than on the prospection.

The second difficulty in B2B prospecting is the length of the sales cycle. Since 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 prospect’s maturity level. Traditionally, the BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timing) method is used in prospecting to :

  • verify the existence of a budget,
  • ensure the identity of the final decision maker,
  • validate the existence of a real need
  • estimate the time frame in which the project would be implemented

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

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How to build a prospecting plan to meet new customers?

Prospecting is not an easy activity. To reach your acquisition objectives, it is essential to be well prepared. 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 allow the company to reach its business objectives.

In particular, it helps to identify the right methods for :

  • attract more leads
  • 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 issues:

  • build up a file of prospects, conquer new prospects
  • quickly find leads that are qualified enough for a sales contact
  • reactivate existing contacts to boost sales

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

Before launching headlong into prospecting actions, it is necessary to define clear objectives. To be precise, we even talk about SMART objectives:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realists
  • Temporally defined

Prospecting objectives are directly linked to the company’s business objectives. One way to set them is to start from the internally defined sales target.

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

Then, on the basis of the conversion rates of the previous prospecting campaigns, we can continue to decline the objectives: number of sales meetings carried out, number of appointments obtained, number of prospects contacted, number of prospects to be treated,…

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

Setting SMART and motivating goals for sales people is not a random process. This must be based 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, sales people will get discouraged and lose productivity. If they are too low, the company will not prospect at full speed.

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

  • What are the main expectations of the market?
  • What are the recent market evolutions (legal, technological,…)?
  • Who are the main players in the market? How do they prospect?
  • How is the company positioned in relation to its competitors?
  • What is our customer typology?

This preparation phase is fundamental. In particular, the question of knowing which target customers to address largely conditions the way in which you will prospect.

Indeed, if we are dealing with prospects who are largely informed on the web and are very autonomous in their search for information, we will favor digital prospecting methods such asemail marketing, inbound marketing or social selling.

On the other hand, if you are addressing a target that is not very connected and is used to direct contact, you will turn more to telephone or field prospecting.

Knowing your target audience is also an advantage when building your prospecting pitch. We will have more chances to create a climate of trust conducive to a sale if we base our contacts on a solid knowledge of the problems of our interlocutor.

In the same way, we can only adopt a differentiating discourse if we know perfectly the offers, the strong points and the weaknesses of our competitors.

Conduct an internal analysis of its strengths and weaknesses

Once the opportunities and threats related to the context and the competition have been determined, it is time to do some introspection.

The question now is what are the strengths of our brand and our offerings and, conversely, what are the weaknesses that work against us.

Here we go. All together, marketers and sales people, 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 this is where we excel, we will focus our interactions with prospects on this area.

Conversely, the list of our weaknesses allows us to anticipate objections from prospects. If we don’t know them, we will be caught off guard when they raise these points. They can mean the end of the relationship. On the other hand, by listing them 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 prospect file

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

Not all contacts, not all leads are equal. One of the objectives of prospecting is to evaluate the ones on which the commercial efforts will be concentrated.

What is the purpose of segmentation?

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

For example, we can segment a market based on the characteristics of the company:

  • Type of companies (startups, SMEs, ETIs, large groups)
  • Activity sector
  • Geographic location
  • Number of employees
  • Sales figures

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 feature.

In this way, we will be able to address groups that are truly interested in our offer and have a higher probability of purchase.

The consequence of segmentation is that we will have different actions for prospects with different levels of maturity.

For example, hot prospects, identified as « almost ready to buy » can be the subject of telephone prospecting actions with a specific sales pitch. At the same time, prospects who are less advanced in their purchasing process will be contacted by email to maintain contact.

#3. A prospecting plan must define its conversion tunnel

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

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

For this, it is necessary to define a sales tunnel.

The sales tunnel (or conversion tunnel or conversion funnel) refers to the process through which a company will accompany its potential customers from the discovery of their needs to the purchase.

In other words, it is the representation of the successive steps in the progression of a sale, from the moment the prospect’s contact information is obtained to the conclusion of the sale.

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

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

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

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

In order to prepare sales pitches (in the plural), you need to rely on the types of target customers that we mentioned earlier.

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

Once we have identified some of the issues to which our offer responds, we will be able to use these elements to build an advisory and support approach.

The meeting at a trade show, the first qualifying phone call or the initial phase of an inbound marketing strategy serve this purpose: to gather information about the prospect’s issues.

If you target mature prospects, you will need to have a well-constructed sales pitch to close the sale. If we know what’s at stake, it’s pretty simple.

If the contact is made with prospects less advanced in the sales tunnel, it is the accompaniment that prevails. The role of the sales representative will be more to provide advice and to position himself as a reference on the subject.

In the end, fixed arguments are no longer appropriate. It is the salesperson’s ability to adapt his or her speech to the phase of the tunnel in which the prospect is located that makes the difference.

Depending on the choice of the prospecting method, the sales representative can use marketing supports (web content, print documents, catalogs, etc.) to get his messages across.

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

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

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

Today, two main methods of prospecting co-exist.

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 try to make the prospect come to us by using content marketing, SEO, social networks. Then, once the prospect has submitted their contact information, we accompany them through the funnel until they are mature enough for a sales contact.

On the other hand, outbound marketing is more or less the traditional prospecting techniques. In this perspective, it is the salesperson who goes to the prospect, for example with telephone prospecting or cold emailing campaigns.

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

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

#6. Plan prospecting actions with a good prospecting plan

We have now defined :

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

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

Why is this important?

First of all, we have to coordinate our prospecting mechanism 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.

Secondly, some marketing actions take place over a long period of time. If you opt for an inbound strategy, the first results will only be visible 3 to 6 months after the start. You need time to build an editorial plan, to create and distribute your first contents, to improve your referencing.

Therefore, while waiting for these results, you should plan other actions to generate leads in the short term.

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

#7. Launch and manage sales prospecting efficiently to reach your objectives

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

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

If the strategic and operational planning for prospecting has been done correctly, any dispersion could result in less efficiency.

In addition, the provisional schedule foresees dependencies between actions. If we go outside of what was planned, it could affect the whole.

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

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

Based on the observed KPIs, 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 sales prospecting plan, prospecting is not a smooth process, especially in B2B.

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

The first step is to improve your knowledge of your prospects. As prospecting becomes more and more digital, mastering data appears to be an obvious area for progress.

Depending on the methods chosen, preference will be given to:

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

But above all, it is the use we make of the data that conditions the success of our prospecting actions. The ability to aggregate and analyze data and to use it for action is a strong differentiating factor.

A second axis of optimization consists in being innovative, testing new methods of prospecting. No more « we’ve always done it this way ». Buyer behavior and therefore methods are changing. You have to know how to change your habits.

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

Finally, it is essential to strengthen one’s resistance to failure, especially when using techniques such as cold calling.

The tools of B2B prospecting: field sales prospecting

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

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

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

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

  • Decision-makers are reluctant to interrupt their business to meet with a salesperson on the fly, without making an appointment in advance.
  • Unless you work on 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 costly (many travel expenses) for inconclusive results. Its ROI is rather low

On the other hand, there are other actions on the ground that are much more effective: events or trade shows.

This type of configuration has a major advantage, provided that the right events are targeted: 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 a prospecting file and to start launching contact or follow-up actions.

Another advantage of trade shows is that 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 apply to trade shows. Upstream, it is advisable to target the prospects you are going to meet and to identify some issues to start the conversation.

B2B telephone prospecting: to gain customers

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

Traditionally, telephone prospecting consists of trying to reach a potential buyer in order to obtain a sales appointment.

How to prospect by phone?

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

A good telephone prospecting approach consists of 6 steps:

  1. Introduce yourself: once you have your caller on the line, he or she will decide fairly quickly whether your call is worth their time. First, it must be able to identify you. Therefore, a successful prospecting call begins with a brief introduction: First name, last name, position, company.
  2. Explain the purpose of the call: at this stage, the prospect does not yet know if they will listen to you or not. He wonders what your call has to do with him. The purpose of the call should be clearly presented to the caller. For example, you could base your offer on a sectoral issue that decision-makers in your field are facing and to which your offer responds.
  3. Keep the prospect’s attention: decision-makers have little time to spend on prospecting calls. The mistake would be to launch into a long monologue extolling the merits of your solution. Take an interest in the person you are talking to, ask questions and keep the conversation going while identifying the issues at stake.
  4. Respond to his objections: welcome the prospect’s objections and answer point by point. If you have built your prospecting plan well, you have prepared this step.
  5. Engage your prospect: you have argued and answered objections. This is the time to find out if the prospect wants to go further.
  6. Clarify the next step: at the end of the call, review what you have agreed together and specify the terms of the next contact.

Is it still necessary to do telephone prospecting?

Telephone prospecting has a bad reputation. In B2B, it often annoys decision makers who consider it a waste of time. Many no longer respond to phone solicitations or shorten the call by asking the caller to email it all to them. In other words, without appropriate training for the target, commercial prospecting by telephone is difficult.

This reticence is mainly linked to practices such as « cold calling », which consists of calling prospects who have not shown any prior interest in the proposed offer.

However, in some sectors, telephone prospecting is still 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 certainly needs to be combined with other approaches. For example, digital prospecting methods make it possible to qualify a prospect and only trigger a first phone call when he has reached a certain level of maturity.

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Digital prospecting techniques

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

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

Email marketing

Email is a very powerful channel for B2B prospecting. But emailing practices are evolving along with buyer behavior.

Mass emailing appears to be an outdated digital technique. Buyers are now keen on personalized messages that echo their profile, their issues and are adapted to their position in the sales tunnel.

Inbound marketing and social selling

What is inbound methodology?

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

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

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

Once the prospect has submitted their contact information, they enter the prospecting pipeline. Marketing will feed it content to mature it and gather information.

Then, when the prospect is sufficiently mature, it is passed on to the sales teams for a 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, sales people are sometimes suspicious of the quality of inbound leads, since they are « no contact » leads. There is therefore a whole new commercial qualification process to be carried out.

Social selling allows you to do outreach on the web. Here again, the golden rules of prospecting are still applicable: identify the targeted profiles, engage them in conversation about their issues, share relevant content to engage them over time and conclude by making contact.

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

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