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An introductory guide to sales prospecting
Effective sales prospecting is vital for identifying viable customers and closing deals more efficiently. Learn prospecting techniques and tools for success.
As we exit 2022, we find ourselves at an inflection point. We’re in a new era of sales. Business as usual won’t cut it anymore. Entire sales teams must adapt to thrive. Economic conditions will require AEs to become the CEO of their book of business. In 2023, they’ll be creating more of their own pipeline, qualifying leads, closing deals, and everything in between.
In each era of sales, there are defining moments.
You’d return from an event with a thick stack of business cards, take your handheld phone off the receiver, and get to work calling each new contact. The quality of your rolodex defined the quality of your pipeline. AEs fully owned every aspect of their business — from generating pipeline to closing it.
Processes became digitized through the CRM and a Blackberry. (Remember those?) We didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the beginning of the notion that information could be digital, but still disorganized. Personal networks still reigned supreme. However, even the strongest contacts couldn’t soften the financial impact of “The Great Recession.”
The economy and inbound leads began to rebound. SEO helped businesses cast a wider net and reach more people through online search. Increased pipeline and closings gave sellers the luxury of specializing — owning just the closing part of the deal cycle. SDRs focused on prospecting, moving, and qualifying leads. Automation emerged to help SDRs manage that process. Then, the prospect was handed off to AEs to close the deal.
Sellers who’ve just entered the workforce in the past decade will need to build a muscle they may not have used before. Sellers with more tenure in the industry will need to tone a muscle they may not have used in a while. It’s an opportunity for everyone to either learn a new skill set or adapt an older one to the demands of today’s market.
Internally, sales leaders will need to lead the charge. Outreach’s GTM experts recently discussed their top 5 predictions for 2023 in a live webinar. Here’s what they’re predicting as we navigate the new sales landscape.
Pipeline coverage was a vanity metric for a long time. It was all about how much coverage you could afford to create at the top of the funnel. If there was additional budget available, it was given to marketing. They would get more pipeline and the sales team had more opportunities to convert. Oversight was minimal and required less participation from sales leaders. The idea was, “As long as I have enough reps selling something, I’m going to cover my number.” It was a great, but expensive, way to live. In 2023, we won’t have this luxury any more.
In a turbulent economy, businesses spend less. Marketing budgets tighten, reducing opportunities to advertise and generate new leads. As a result, sales teams will have a smaller pool of prospects to choose from — and even fewer qualified ones to close — unless they step up to fill in the gap. This matters now more than ever because your pipeline is going to be thinner. It looks like a martini glass. It’s time to focus on quality coverage. Sellers should have a more stringent focus on the ideal customer profile and much deeper discovery earlier on. In 2023, focus less on pipeline quantity and more on pipeline quality — and your sales team will close in a much more predictable fashion.
Remember the days when you’d wake up and it felt like nearly every existing customer was on a growth trajectory? Maybe customer contributions made up 80% of your number and you thought to yourself, “Great! Now, we only need to go after that last 20%.” Those were the days, but now they’re behind us.
Sellers need to build or rebuild their prospecting muscle and focus on the right deals that will grow over time with the right champions. To help ensure sellers are winning long-term deals, sales leaders need the ability to see — at a glance — how deals are being worked and which buyers are engaged.
Sales leaders also need to establish prospecting KPIs they can monitor daily, says Cassie Pless, Outreach’s Senior Director of Commercial Sales. They should be able to look at their sales execution platform and answer these questions, she adds: “Are we getting to the right personas in our customer accounts? Who are the key people? Are we doing account planning and then are we executing the prospecting motions? That's with a goal of really getting into the right deals so that you can drive long-term growth.”
No matter when you started in sales, you’re probably accustomed to the concept of quarterly sales goals. The assumption that deals will open and close in the same quarter is flawed in two ways. On a human level, it puts a huge burden on senior leadership. Accountability should take place at every level of the organization — from senior leadership to sales management to reps. From a prospecting perspective, buyers don’t care about our quota deadlines. Those dates mean something to us, but they’re completely arbitrary to them. Customers care about when you remove their pain. They want to know, ‘When does that pain go away?’ And sometimes, that’s many months after the ‘go live’ of the project or after you’ve closed your deal. Great reps are the ones who create a workback plan, from pain removal to value creation.
The simplest and most effective way to manage a straightforward sales process is having a mutual success plan with a champion from the buying team. Collaboratively mapping out the path forward gives sellers and buyers clear visibility into next steps and shared responsibility for realizing value. That’s why sellers need a platform that helps them develop effective success plans with their buyers.
Start by plotting out the milestones that matter most to prospects. For most, that’s whenever they’ll see ROI on their investment. From there, sellers can backtrack to their sign date. The success plan should also be customer-facing so that both the seller and the buyer are on the same page on the steps that need to take place — and by when — to reach that pain-alleviation milestone.
Excellent candidates from all different backgrounds are out there. But if you’re not actively engaging with them, another company will. In fact, women make up more than 50% of the college-educated workforce, yet they hold only 12% of the coveted sales leadership positions. Likewise, Black professionals continue to be underrepresented in the U.S. tech industry, especially at the leadership level, making up only about 2 to 4% of all tech leaders. In other words, sales leadership doesn’t align with the world at large. It’s also a missed opportunity for a company's bottom line — research found that women hit their quota at a higher rate than men. Much like building sales pipeline, building and empowering more diverse teams takes time and effort that pays off.
Companies need to put diversity, equity and inclusion into action. At Outreach, we developed the RISE and RISE UP program. These are 6- to 9-month leadership accelerator programs dedicated to developing diverse talent from within our company. RISE focuses on uplifting women in sales and RISE UP focuses on championing Black individual contributors.
To walk the talk, Outreach facilitated both of these programs internally — and shared blueprints for both of them externally during our first-ever, in-person Women in Sales Summit. As a past participant in the RISE program, Cassie says she loved that it allowed women to connect with one another and other women leaders. “There is such a need to bring these communities of folks together and empower them,” she adds. That’s the beauty of what leaders get to do — empower the next generation of people who come from all walks of life.
During the economic boom, companies bought tech as fast as they could. When sellers or managers asked for a tool to help them perform their role, they often got it, with little pushback. Now as budgets tighten, purchases are falling under greater scrutiny. In fact, in a Forrester Consulting study commissioned by Outreach, “B2B Leaders Usher In A New Era Of Sales,” 79% of respondents said their CFOs and finance teams got more involved in provider evaluations in the past two years. It’s a good time to look at our tech stack and say, “Which of these toys need to be packed up and put in the attic?”
Sales leaders are feeling the pressure as we usher in this new era of the “Create and Close Rep.” They need to spend less, while increasing seller productivity, win rates, and deal velocity. Outreach provides a single Sales Execution Platform that empowers the entire sales organization to create pipeline more efficiently — and close more of it, too.
As the only complete Sales Execution Platform, we have workflows for Sales Engagement, Opportunity Management, Mutual Success Plans, Conversation Intelligence, Rep Coaching, Pipeline Management, and Forecasting. The scale of Outreach’s platform means that we can offer a single solution at a lower total cost of ownership than the dozens of overlapping point solutions typically used by sales teams today. Consolidation is a friend of these tight economic times, and a very natural fit to what we're trying to do here at Outreach.
Adapting to these five predictions will require agility and empowerment. It’s not easy to own your own pipeline, spend less on resources, and still deliver results. Fortunately, expecting more from sellers doesn’t have to mean working longer days or micromanagement — leading to inevitable burnout and costly turnover.
Instead, you’ll need a plan to orchestrate this cultural shift, enable everyone on your team to be a top performer, and use technology that helps your team ramp up deal velocity — without creating more work along the way.
That’s how you’ll make this new journey one your entire sales team can believe in — and actually execute.
To hear more about our 2023 predictions, watch the webinar.