Sales Prospecting Tips and Tools for the Modern Org

Warm up to cold calls with the right prospecting strategies and solutions.

By the team at SlackJuly 8th, 2024

Prospecting is a small but mighty portion of the sales process. According to the latest Salesforce State of Sales report, sales teams spend only 8.7% of their workweek prospecting. Meanwhile, successful engagement is key to attracting new customers and generating revenue for any growing business.

So how do you turn a lead into a prospect, and how do you turn that prospect into a customer? It’s an involved process that requires careful research and a human touch, but you can boost efficiency with a strong lineup of tech solutions. Here’s what you should know about sales prospecting and how AI-powered tools like Slack can help.

What is sales prospecting?

A “prospect” is a potential customer who is interested in your company, matches your ideal customer profile, and meets your qualification criteria. When you make an effort to engage a prospect — whether through email marketing, social media outreach, cold calls, or another method — you’re “prospecting.”

With a good prospecting strategy and a reliable set of tools, you can expand your base of potential buyers and grow your company’s pool of prospects. More prospects can lead to more sales opportunities and, eventually, more buyers generating revenue for your business.

Lead vs. prospect vs. opportunity

Most prospects start out as leads; when they express interest in making a purchase, prospects graduate to sales opportunities. Let’s break down these terms.

  • Lead: This broad term applies to all potential customers, whether they’ve subscribed to your company newsletter, wandered into your storefront, or accepted your LinkedIn request. Leads are aware of your business but haven’t necessarily made moves toward a purchase.
  • Prospect: When a lead engages with your business, matches your ideal customer profile, and fits your qualification framework, they become a qualified lead, or a prospect. Every business sets its own qualification criteria for prospects. A prospect has interacted with your company, but they might not yet demonstrate interest in buying anything.
  • Opportunity: A prospect who’s clearly interested in making a purchase is a sales opportunity. This transition might happen when a prospect requests a demo or trial of your product, or when they want to discuss pricing. An opportunity is one step away from becoming a customer.

Understanding your target market

Before you can start rolling out a prospecting plan, you need to know who’s buying your product. Start by identifying your target market and building an ideal customer profile, asking questions like:

  • How old are the consumers who are most interested in your brand?
  • Where do they live?
  • How much money do they make?
  • What typically motivates them to make a purchase?
  • What do their buying patterns look like?

Optimizing customer data

When learning about your target audience, data is your best friend. Data is a must for analyzing website traffic, points of sale, and social media engagement, which can all be used to craft an ideal customer profile. A tool like Slack Sales Elevate can help centralize customer records, accounts, opportunities‌, and key metrics from Sales Cloud onto one work platform — Slack — so teams can collaborate and have conversations around it in real time.

If you haven’t yet collected enough consumer data to create an ideal customer profile, accelerate things with a mass marketing campaign. This strategy blankets a wide audience without targeting any particular group, allowing you to gather information on consumer responses so you can gauge the most-interested demographic.

Taking advantage of automation

Salesforce’s State of Sales report found that 33% of sales organizations use AI as part of their workflows. Ninety-eight percent of survey respondents reported that AI has improved the following:

  • Forecasting accuracy
  • Use of sales reps’ time
  • Prioritization of leads
  • Understanding of customer needs
  • Visibility into sales rep activity
  • Personalization for customers
  • Understanding of competition

Granted, prospecting isn’t the most time-consuming part of the job, taking up less than 9% of reps’ average workweek. But in a fast-paced sales environment, every hour matters, and AI tools can make prospecting more efficient. According to Salesforce’s 2023 Trends in Generative AI for Sales report, 58% of reps agree that generative AI helps or will help them increase productivity (and save up to 4.5 hours a week); 56% say it helps or will help them increase sales; and 61% say it helps or will help them better serve customers.

For example, Salesforce’s sales engagement intelligence platform provides AI-powered email templates and data-based recommendations to help sales teams keep track of and follow up with promising prospects.

Effective sales prospecting strategies

Choose your prospecting medium wisely. Research by RAIN Group reveals that most buyers prefer to be contacted via email and phone, and sales emails are most effective when reps personalize them using customized details and research. Sellers report that the most successful prospecting tactics are:

  1. Phone calls to existing accounts
  2. Phone calls to prior accounts
  3. Presenting at conferences, trade shows, or seminars
  4. Sending customized emails to individual prospects
  5. Phone calls to new contacts

The research shows that VP and C-level buyers in particular prefer phone-based prospecting, as do tech buyers. Among all buyers, 78% give new providers less than 10 minutes on the phone to prove their value; 22% give less than five minutes.

With such a small window to make a big impression, you’ll need an airtight prospecting strategy. Consider the following before beginning outreach.

Qualifying prospects

Qualification is what distinguishes a prospect from a lead, and it’s the most important step of the process. This ensures you’re spending your time as effectively as possible by focusing on the most promising potential customers. Qualification also pushes you to learn as much as possible about each prospect’s individual situation so you can personalize your outreach and close more deals.

Come up with a standardized qualification framework for potential prospects. The BANT (budget, authority, needs, timing) framework, for example, is a popular one.

To qualify a prospect using BANT, you’ll need to conduct research to determine whether a lead meets your criteria for the following:

  • Budget: Does the prospect have the budget available to purchase your product or service?
  • Authority: Does the person you’re speaking with have the decision-making power to purchase your product or service?
  • Need: Have they identified and articulated a specific need that your product or service will fulfill?
  • Timing: Are they ready to make a purchase now? Do they have a purchasing or implementation timeline?

If a lead doesn’t have the business budget to afford your product or service, they might be a dead end. The same applies if your contact doesn’t have the authority to purchase what you’re selling. If a lead is interested in your business and ticks the BANT boxes, you can consider them a qualified prospect and worth the outreach effort.

Building rapport and trust with prospects

Customer relationships are a critical component of prospecting. In Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer, 84% of business buyers say they expect reps to act as trusted advisers — yet 73% say most sales interactions feel transactional. What’s more, 86% of business buyers said they are more likely to buy if companies understand their goals, but 59% say most sales reps don’t take the time to understand them, and 63% say most experiences fall short of what they know is possible.

To generate more qualified opportunities, you’ll need to follow up with your prospects and get to know them on a personal level. Slack provides the ideal platform for casual check-ins and asynchronous conversations with potential clients throughout the day.

Slack Connect lets you bring people outside your company, including prospects, clients, buyers, and partners, into your Slack workspace. From there, it’s easy to book meetings, share documentation, gather feedback, and answer questions to address each prospect’s needs. Workflow Builder’s no-code workflows even let you automate many of these tasks, all without leaving Slack.

When you engage with a potential customer through Slack Connect, you can step outside of the typical sales role and become more like a partner to your prospect. The key to successful prospecting is to help, not just sell. Slack Connect makes that effortless.

Maximizing sales prospecting efficiency

Between research, qualification, outreach, and relationship-building, prospecting requires perseverance and care. But it doesn’t need to be a tedious process. The right tech stack makes prospecting faster and more effective.

Manage customer relationships. Qualifying and prioritizing your prospects requires a lot of data. You’ll need to store prospect research, track prospect activity, analyze customer data, and study sales patterns. But a good customer relationship management (CRM) system can make managing all of this data painless and productive.

Harness AI. AI-powered CRM tools are especially powerful, as they let you pull together stored information about a prospect at the touch of a button so you can easily personalize your outreach efforts. For example, Einstein 1, Salesforce’s CRM portfolio, brings together data management, AI, and security in one platform to simplify sales.

You can also tap into Slack AI to cut through the noise and work smarter. For example, when new team members are brought into a sales deal, they can use channel and thread summaries to summarize the account and gain enough context to effectively prepare for the next customer meeting. Need to catch up on that quarter’s sales goals? Use search answers to get up to speed without pulling anyone else’s focus from a sale. Catching up after a day of in-person meetings? Get a daily recap of messages missed.

Integrate tech solutions. Further optimize your prospecting workflow by integrating your company’s CRM with its business messaging platform. Slack integrates with more than 2,600 apps, including Sales Cloud with Slack Sales Elevate. Integrations reduce context switching at work, saving you time and energy so you can focus on the most important parts of your job.

Collaborate more effectively. Marketing and sales teams work together closely to run campaigns, analyze data, find leads, qualify prospects, generate opportunities, and close deals. The right communication platform should support cross-team collaboration both asynchronously and in real time. Slack makes it easy to initiate, organize, and search within conversations to make sure everyone’s in the loop.

Building a strong prospecting mindset for success

Phone calls and emails aren’t going anywhere, but they’re no longer your only good options for prospecting. Consumers’ inboxes are overflowing, and calls from unrecognized numbers are going straight to voicemail. For successful prospecting, you’ll need a creative, flexible mindset.

Prioritize authenticity and connection when reaching out to potential customers. Use the tools and platforms at your disposal to conduct personalized research and reach out to prospects with customized messaging. Play with expanding your outreach to Slack and social media platforms like LinkedIn. Also, regularly audit and refine your prospecting process to keep it fresh and relevant.

After making contact with a potential buyer, assess the interaction to identify potential improvement areas for next time. Did you gather the information you needed? Did you learn something valuable about the prospect’s goals or decision-making process? Did you get an idea of where this contact could lead?


Best practices for sales prospecting

Keep these best practices in mind as you design your prospecting strategy.

Craft compelling messages

It’s safe to assume every one of your prospects has an email inbox full of generic and irrelevant messages. Don’t add to the noise. Whether you’re writing a Slack message, sending an email, or making a phone call, you should come to the conversation prepared with detailed knowledge of the prospect and a tailored message just for them. Your prospects want to be seen; make sure to meet them halfway.

Use storytelling to engage prospects

Narratives work. An interesting story can capture your audience, evoke their empathy, and build trust. Hook your prospect with an attention-grabbing introduction followed by an engaging conflict and persuasive solution. Your story should illustrate how your company’s product or service could help the prospect overcome their own unique challenges.

Lean on social proof and customer testimonials

Perhaps you’re reaching out to a prospect who is experiencing a particular challenge that your company resolved for another customer. Use that evidence to show the prospect how your product could benefit them. And if you have good rapport with past or current customers, ask them for testimonials. Gathering endorsements can strengthen your existing client relationships and establish credibility among newer prospects and leads.

Prospecting made simple

Data collection, individualized research, persistent outreach, regular follow-ups — prospecting isn’t easy. But it can be simple. Intelligent tech solutions like Slack and Salesforce help you organize data, streamline workflows, and facilitate communication so you can build genuine, lasting relationships with potential and existing customers. Boost conversions and revenue with a strong prospecting strategy and toolkit.

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