7 sales prospecting techniques you need to succeed in 2021
Sales prospecting is as important now as it’s ever been, but to resonate with post-pandemic prospects, you have to update your prospecting strategy.
Published August 10, 2021
Last updated January 21, 2022
The global pandemic made staying home and going online a necessity. But what started as an emergency order quickly became the new way of life, giving rise to a truly digital-first marketplace. In fact, the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report found that ecommerce sales increased by 30 percent in 2020.
Today’s customers also care about different things than they did pre-pandemic. Seventy-five percent will spend more for a good customer experience. And more than half of customers want to do business with companies that are socially responsible, prioritize inclusion in their workforce, and have empathetic support agents.
The pandemic changed the customer landscape, so your sales process has to change with it. Filling your pipeline starts with developing a modern prospecting strategy that’s tailored to consumers’ evolved needs.
What is prospecting?
Prospecting is the process of cold calling, emailing, texting, or otherwise contacting potential customers to gauge interest in your products or services and generate leads. “Qualified” prospects—those who show interest and appear to be a good fit for what you’re selling—can then go into the sales pipeline. The pipeline gives account executives a list of pre-screened potential buyers to connect with, in hopes they’ll make a purchase down the road.
Don’t confuse prospects with leads. The latter are people who have expressed interest in your product or service, usually by opting in to a contact list or reaching out directly. Prospects are leads who match your company’s customer profile. That's why using sales prospecting tools and lead gen software are different exercises.
With consumers suddenly spending more time at home, they’re more likely to screen companies and search for information online themselves. They may also casually opt-in to the latest email promotions or discount codes. So, you may discover that you have more leads than usual, but fewer prospects.
Sales reps need to be savvier with their prospecting strategies to filter out this extra volume. To win the hearts of today’s consumers—people who care about a brand’s social responsibility and inclusivity—businesses need to lead with empathy.
Why getting prospecting right matters
When you’re prospecting, you’ll often be a potential customer’s first impression of your brand. In a market where buyers are increasingly concerned with business’ values, the way you conduct yourself in this initial interaction could win you a lifelong customer—or drive a prospect away for good.
The bottom line: Good prospects turn into sales. In a situation like a pandemic, the greatest security a company can gain is having a pipeline full of potentially high-value customers. Nailing your prospecting strategy is critical to that stability.
7 sales prospecting techniques (and how they’ve evolved in 2021)
Whether you’re new to the prospecting game or a seasoned pro, these are your go-to strategies for turning contact information into sales. Though the techniques may be familiar, you may need to slightly adjust their execution in 2021 to appeal to post-pandemic customers.
1. Book intentional time for prospecting
While the largest enterprise organizations may have staff who prospect full-time, prospecting is just one element of a sales team’s responsibilities at most businesses. To keep prospecting productive, you and your sales agents need to set aside time for it.
Build prospecting into your calendar just like you would schedule a client meeting. Choose the time of day when you have the best energy to spend on cold contacting—but make sure you consider the time frame your prospects are most likely to be reachable, too.
Determine how frequently you want to have these prospecting sessions given your targets and schedule. (We recommend at least one dedicated session each week.)
Start each prospecting “meeting” with a goal you’d like to achieve by the end of the session. It may be to reach out to a certain number of people or to advance a certain percentage of contacts to the next step in your sales process. Setting these mini objectives can help you stay motivated.
If prospecting is something you dread, minimize external distractions during your “meeting” time, too. Set your personal phone and communication channels to “do not disturb” so you’re able to focus.
2. Dig into your connections
The best way to make new connections is to leverage your existing relationships. This is especially true during times of economic uncertainty—like 2021—when businesses and individuals may be hesitant to invest in new products and services.
To speed up prospecting, lean into the personal and professional connections you’ve already made. On the personal side, look for ways your product or service can help your loved ones. If you sell point-of-sale software, for instance, keep an ear and eye out for friends who just opened their own storefronts or family members who work in retail. Even if the person you know isn’t a software decision-maker at their company, they may be able to connect you with the person who is.
Because word-of-mouth marketing is so influential, you should leverage your existing happy clients and business connections as well. Don’t be afraid to ask satisfied customers to promote your brand to others in their industry or to ask your LinkedIn connections for an introduction to their colleagues that may be a fit for your product.
If you’ve already done the work to build genuine relationships with these people, they’ll likely be eager to help you form a new one.
3. Use digital events to generate leads
Good prospecting isn’t just about working down a list of names to cold contact. It’s also about developing techniques to creatively source customers.
Events are one of the oldest methods of prospecting in the book. Making connections often feels a lot more organic over a drink at an industry meetup than a phone call with a stranger.
Digital events were already on the rise before COVID-19. A KLA Group study found that they were the most popular way to prospect pre-pandemic (although conferences, networking, and lunch and learns were also popular). While in-person events will eventually return, digital events will likely remain a top choice even after the pandemic is over due to the convenience, time, and money savings.
Wondering what digital event you should run? Webinars are a golden opportunity to stand out from competitors. KLA’s research found that 78 percent of people have attended a webinar, but more than half haven’t ever hosted one themselves.
A webinar doesn’t just position your brand as an industry expert—it’s also an opportunity to offer potential customers free advice or education. It fills your pipeline with prospects that have already expressed interest in learning more about your product or service, and it gives you a point of common experience that you can use to connect over in the future.
4. Segment your prospects to make emotional connections
Customer segmentation is the idea of grouping your prospects by similarities: demographics, interests, product preferences, etc. Splitting them up by shared traits allows you to create customized experiences for each unique group. To streamline your prospecting, you can also order your segments based on which groups have the best sales potential so you know where to focus the bulk of your efforts.
Segmentation is especially helpful with emotionally connecting to your post-pandemic prospects. EY’s recent Future Consumer Index report divided today’s consumers into five distinct buckets, according to what they value most when making purchases.
- Affordability: Thriftiness and value are what matter most to this type of customer. Customers may have seen a reduction in wages or job loss during the pandemic, so they’re willing to buy off-brand products for the cost savings. To connect with an affordability-first prospect, lead with your brand’s value and how the initial investment can save them money over time.
- Health: These prospects’ chief concern is keeping their family and themselves healthy and safe. They may have experienced a health scare or illness of a loved one during the pandemic, so communicate how your product or service can increase peace of mind and well-being.
- Planet: This segment’s top priority is environmental stewardship. They’re most likely to buy products from companies tied to missions they care about, like using recyclable packaging or being carbon neutral. These prospects likely took notice of the lower carbon emissions the world experienced with the downfall of commuting during social distancing. If your product or service makes remote work easier, highlight that aspect for planet-first buyers.
- Society: Similar to planet-first buyers, society-first prospects want their purchases to go toward the greater good. They want to give money to brands that live out their values and are dedicated to transparency. Connect with these prospects by communicating your company’s commitment to improving the world—not just by describing your values, but also by showing evidence of good deeds.
- Experience: Entranced by the latest and greatest, these prospects want to be on the cutting-edge of technology. In a Software as a Service (SaaS) environment, this segment often represents the highest-value customers. Lead with what makes your product superior over the competition’s.
EY’s customer segments can help your sales team relate to prospects’ timely challenges, but they’re just one way to group your buyers. However you choose to segment your customers, look for that group’s unique pain point and focus on it when reaching out to them.
5. Reach out on your buyers’ favorite channels
In today’s data-heavy world, businesses have more customer information at their fingertips than ever before. Buyers expect you to use that data to meet them on their favorite channels. Consumers want to be understood, and they want to work with companies that spend time in the same places they do.
For a lot of prospects, that means connecting over messaging and social media apps. This is especially important if your target prospect demographic is Millennials or Gen Zers. Growing up with texting and instant messaging, these groups are particularly resistant to phone calls. Instead, try reaching out to them through text messages or social media—younger generations are leading the adoption of digital channels.
Social media and texting can also be great ways to follow up with missed prospects in a low-pressure way. Instead of leaving your 11th voicemail or adding to their spam-riddled email, shoot them a text message or private social media message. Offer to connect via messaging at a time that works for both of you. This keeps the interaction low-stress and low-pressure for the prospect while giving you a chance to share information about your product or service.
On the flip side, if your target demographic is Gen X or Baby Boomers, phone calls are still the best way to resonate. But instead of the old tried-and-true sales pitch you rattled off pre-pandemic, start with a little empathy—these two groups faced immeasurable strain during COVID-19. Ask them how they’re doing, how the pandemic has changed their day-to-day activities, and where they’re struggling. Then, see if you can find an inroad with how your product or service can help them through these issues.
By meeting prospects where they’re most comfortable, you’re already building rapport and showing you understand them.
6. Consider switching gears to target thriving industries
The pandemic caused some businesses to explode like never before and others to shrink in an unexpected way. So, if your product or service works for multiple industries, agility is the key to your prospecting success.
Instead of focusing on the same markets you targeted before 2020, center your attention on those industries that grew rapidly. WordStream’s Google Ads Benchmarks Report found that the following industries saw massive growth during the pandemic.
- Nonprofits and charities
- Business management and finance
- On-demand media
- Floral industry
Even if these aren’t your brand’s target industries in a normal year, they may be worth pivoting to as the economy settles into a new normal.
Being conscious of the changes in your target markets also applies to your prospecting timing. Do your due diligence to track your target industry’s upswings. If possible, wait until that industry is growing again before reaching out to prospects in that market.
This move doesn’t just show sensitivity and knowledge about the state of your customers’ businesses—it also means you’re more likely to get a response once the market has stabilized and companies have more money to spend on new products and services again.
7. Remember: prospecting is a numbers game
Prospecting during and right after a pandemic can feel especially draining. To refocus, it’s worth remembering that sales is a numbers game. It may be the oldest mantra in the book, but it’s true.
Research by KLA Group found that most salespeople give up after four to six tries to reach a potential buyer. But it takes around nine attempts for most people to connect with their prospect. Instead of letting these figures discourage you, allow them to inspire your prospecting strategies.
Today’s buyers have more time than ever to choose businesses, but bear in mind that they also have unprecedented demands on that time. They may be homeschooling their children for the first time in their lives, supporting an unemployed spouse, or caring for a sick loved one.
Go into your set prospecting time with the appreciation that it may take more touches than normal—maybe even a lot more touches—to make contact. When you are finally able to talk to a prospect, patience is key. Strive to build genuine relationships through these conversations instead of focusing on closing the sale.
Even if the prospect doesn’t move down the pipeline, your effort will still be worth it. When that customer is ready to commit, they’ll remember your diligence and your humanity.
Streamline your prospecting with a CRM
Successful prospecting in 2021 requires large amounts of customer data. The more types of data you collect on individuals, the better you’ll be able to understand and cater to their needs and expectations.
As a centralized system for your data, a sales CRM like Zendesk Sell can make it easier to turn prospects into buyers. This software tool lets you segment customers for added personalization and focus, track where your most lucrative leads are coming from with lead management software, and look for patterns in customer data. All these powerful features work together to empower you to engage prospects more efficiently and effectively.