The New Rules of Sales Prospecting

Learn about the fundamental shift in sales prospecting and discover the new rules of successful prospecting in the social selling era.

August 6, 2014


Cold calling is for the birds. You already know this, but it wasn’t long ago that cold calling was an essential sales prospecting tactic.

If you’ve been thriving these past few years, you’ve likely embraced the digital landscape. And you’re not just on social media, you do social media – it’s how you portray your personal brand, it’s how you communicate your values, and it’s how you communicate.

But while much has changed, one thing remains the same: to make quota consistently, you need a steady pipeline of qualified sales prospects.

How the sales prospecting game has changed

Information is power, and as access to information increases, the buyer’s ability to control the sales process also increases.

Gone are the days when, upon discovering a need, buyers pick up the phone and reach out to a handful of companies to get info, advice, pricing, etc. And gone too are the days when sales reps can pick up the phone, reach decision makers, and help them uncover a need they did not previously know existed.

In fact, 90% of C-level executives say they never reply to cold calls or cold emails.

For centuries, the only way for buyers to find the information they needed to make a decision was through sales people. Not anymore. Today, roughly two-thirds of the buying process is performed digitally via online content.

To gain access, sales professionals must abide by the new rules of prospecting.  Read on to discover sales prospecting best practices that work in today’s buyer-controlled process.

Rule #1: A strong personal brand is no longer optional

When people search for you online, what are they going to find? When prospects see your status update on LinkedIn and then check out your profile, which answer below describes the impression they will come away with?

a.)   I cannot see myself working with this sales rep

b.)   Meh

c.)    I can see myself working with this sales rep

These are the possible reactions, and unless you can confidently answer ‘c,’ your personal branding could use some attention.

Even if you answered ‘c’ (in which case this next line should come as no surprise to you) personal branding is not something you “check off” and call it good. To stay on top of your game, your personal brand needs consistent attention because an unattended online presence can grow stale quickly.

The truth is you are constantly being judged without even knowing it. When you log into LinkedIn and see that your profile has been viewed by 32 people over the last 90 days, what this really indicates is the number of people who have evaluated you, sized you up, and determined whether they want to make a connection or do business with you.

A strong personal brand shows you are an active participant in your industry. It leads to more inquiries from prospects. It leads to more responses to your communications.

In an age when sales prospects are pre-qualifying prospective vendors and sales reps online, you can’t afford to let your personal brand dis-qualify you from the buying process.

Rule #2: ABC = Always Be Connecting

Whether it’s in person or online, networking is critical. Networking has always contributed to sales success, but today networking is absolutely essential for finding high-quality prospects and gaining access to the buying process.

People buy from people they like and trust, and there’s no easier way to become liked and trusted than having a mutual connection vouch for you.

Think about your own buying decisions. Are you more likely to make a decision based on what you read online, or based on firsthand information from someone you respect? Corporate buying is no different.

By expanding your network and staying engaged with the key connections within it, you are creating warm paths to reach prospects and opportunities to earn referrals.

According to bestselling sales author Joanne Black, when introduced through a referral, “your sales prospect becomes a client at least 50 percent of the time (and more likely 70 to 90 percent). No other sales prospecting or business-development approach comes close to sales results like these. None.”

And as Joanne notes, though almost all sales pros rate referrals as their best leads, less than five percent of sales organizations have a written referral sales plan with goals, metrics, and accountability. Learning how to get more referrals can help you win more sales, bigger sales, and can speed up sales cycles, reducing your overall cost-per-sale. The simplest way to build relationships, create warm paths, and generate referrals is to always be connecting.

Rule #3: Lead with insights or trail those who do

Today’s buyers expect more from sales reps – they just do. And the best way to capture the attention of demanding buyers is to lead with insights.

Leading with insights gives your prospect a clear, compelling reason to meet with you to learn more. It shows you’ve done your homework and it establishes the all-important relevance factor at the outset. Here’s a quick example of how leading with insights makes a difference.

  • Mrs. Prospect, I’d like to meet with you to discuss the competitiveness of your benefits package. We help companies like yours create a benefits package that reduces staffing turnover by 31%, on average.
  • Mrs. Prospect, I noticed that roughly 15% of your workforce took a job with another company this past year. On average, our clients reduce staffing turnover by 31%, which for a company of your size equates to about $525,000 in annual cost savings for recruiting and training.

Which of these statements differentiates you from other sales reps? Which of these statements is more likely to capture Mrs. Prospect’s attention and lead to a meeting?

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count. Do your homework and wow sales prospects with specifics. Anything less is forgettable.

Rule #4: Create a pleasant buying experience

Have you ever received what you thought was good-natured help, only to be blasted with a strong sales message shortly thereafter? You didn’t care for it, did you? Well neither does your prospect.

We all want to make more sales faster, and there are certain tactics you can use to naturally speed up the sales cycle. But what doesn’t work is force-feeding an agenda to prospects. Again, they hold the power and they likely have plenty of options. To achieve the desired outcome, force yourself to align with the buyer’s agenda, objectives, and timeline.

If you use social listening to uncover top-of-funnel questions, answer them to the best of your ability and focus on being helpful.

Make yourself memorable by creating a pleasant experience. Then, when prospects are ready to take the next step, they will recall fond memories of dealing with you. It doesn’t always work this way, but it sure as heck beats badgering.

And it’s not like you need to completely disappear and rely on hope. With the new LinkedIn Sales Navigator, you can easily save leads and get updates on your prospects to turn cold calling into warm introductions.

Exercising patience and toning down the urgency will lead to a sales pipeline filled with prospects who enjoy working with you, and the best way to close sales consistently is to maintain a healthy sales pipeline.

Rule #5: For best results, prospect smarter, not harder

Why is it that some sales pros can arrive at 8am each day, punch out by 5pm, and double the production of those who work nights and weekends?

It doesn’t seem fair.

But if you were to monitor the daily activities of each person, you’d likely find that the sales rep who punches out by 5pm is simply working smarter.

The ability to focus on the right people and companies daily is what separates those who prospect smarter. The sales pros who work smarter at sales prospecting are:

  • Finding the right people efficiently
  • Keeping track of leads and existing relationships
  • Prioritizing the right companies, prospects, and sales activities

For sales pros who empower prospects by helping them save time, by providing insights that aid the decision-making process, and by doing so in a way that garners trust, the new rules of sales prospecting are a welcomed change. Today the strategic, helpful, empathic sales reps stand apart like never before.

Each new day brings new opportunities. How do you get the most out of each day? Discover how the new LinkedIn Sales Navigator helps you exceed sales goals through smarter sales prospecting.