A small business’ growth is often limited by its business development team’s ability to generate leads. That’s because, for all of the relationships you can build via inbound marketing, there is still a tremendous amount of value in picking up the phone or sending an outreach email to a prospect.

Even with tools that let you see a website visitor’s level or engagement or let you track a customer’s journey in real time, there is still no substitute for being able to get yourself on a potential customer’s radar through sheer hustle.

The math bears this out, as Jeff Day at Highspot shows: Statistically, only 3 percent of your market is actively buying — but 40 percent of your market is open to beginning those conversations.

And the best way to reach that segment of your market and to start those conversations is through old-fashioned, hard-nosed prospecting. As any business development professional can tell you, that kind of work is a grind, but it’s worth it in the end.

That’s why we’ve put together this cheat sheet below. It will give you a roadmap for handling your calls and outreach emails, and help you focus your energy. After all, prospecting is a game that rewards only the most determined sales reps.



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Small Businesses That Are Good at Prospecting Have an Unfair Advantage

The team at Openview has their own great infographic on sales prospecting, and their research uncovered an important point: Being the first salesperson to contact a prospective buyer has a huge impact on whether you will close that particular deal.

Openview describes this statistical edge as the prospector’s “unfair advantage”:

  • The vendor that reaches a decision-maker first and builds that buying vision will close three in four deals.
  • Half of buyers end up choosing the first vendor to respond to their questions.

This isn’t far off from Woody Allen’s claim that 80 percent of success in life is simply showing up — as long as you show up first, anyway.

But there is one more trend that further underscores why you should be doubling down on your prospecting efforts right now.


Inbound’s Popularity Has Made Good Prospecting a Competitive Advantage

As Nudge co-founder and CEO Paul Teshima writes at Sales for Life, inbound marketing has created huge volumes of leads that marketing teams and sales reps must sort through and qualify.

This means inbound leads often get attention at the expense of outbound leads, and the deluge of responses leads receive today has created some fatigue.

“Content marketing budgets have exploded, with the best B2B marketing teams spending 29% of their entire budget on content marketing,” he writes. “However, with content marketing on the rise, we are seeing a decrease in efficiency on the sales side. In the 2016 Sales Development Metrics report from the Bridge Group, they reported the average number of attempts per prospect has gone up 46% since 2012 to maintain the same number of quality conversations.”

In other words, poorly executed content marketing has created too much noise. Today, leads need more touches, more nurturing, and more vision-building before they can connect their current problems with a need for what you are selling.

“This doesn’t mean you should stop developing inbound leads,” Teshima says, “but it does mean you can’t ONLY be focused on inbound.”


How to Win the Prospecting Game

Two important things to remember:

  • Prospect frequently to increase your chances of being the first vendor to reach a buyer.
  • Be persistent: Every time you push through a “No,” you shed competitors who have decided to give up the chase.

Entrepreneur Robert Clay underscores the importance of that second point, being tenacious.

“Different studies carried out at different times, in different places, by different market research companies over a number of years all reveal that 80% of non-routine sales occur only after at least five follow-ups,” he writes at Marketing Donut.

“Think about that. It takes at least five continuous follow-up efforts after the initial sales contact, before a customer says ‘Yes.’ FIVE!”

Here’s the thing: After that fourth “No,” only about 8 percent of your competition will still be standing. The rest will have already given up on the lead.

And the majority of buyers will say “No” four times — 80 percent of them, in fact. That means that, on average, the 8 percent of salespeople standing after four “No”s will be competing for 80 percent of all deals.

So, how does your sales team get to that Elite Eight round? Persistence.

Clay has two nice rules of thumb that will keep your persistence on track:

  • First, make a policy of getting to five “No”s before giving up on a lead.
  • Second, keep frequent contact to stay at the top of the buyer’s mind. After all, sales cycles can take months. He recommends reaching out no less than once every three months to nurture the relationship, add value to it, build trust and demonstrate your professionalism.

That’s the simple formula to out-hustling your competitors.


Header image by:
Tim Gouw ©choreograph/123RF Stock Photo

Casey Meehan