There is no one method that will serve as a panacea for your lead prospecting troubles. In marketing, as in life in general, everything is on a case-to-case basis. What we do have, however, are prospecting ideas suggested by experts and backed by empirical data.
According to a survey by the Chief Marketing Officer Council, the most valued source of B2B leads is customer referrals. While the criteria for "most valued source of lead" is somewhat vague, one can logically infer that these sources have more concrete positive results.
These are the top five sources of B2B leads, according to the CMO Council's survey:
- Customer referrals (54%)
- Email or direct marketing (14%)
- Internet searches (8%)
- Events (7%)
- Other (8%)
What are prospects in sales?
Business prospects are customers – whether new or loyal – who fit a company's ideal customer criteria. They generally fit your company’s target audience and market and have the means and ability to buy what you're selling.
As an example, if you run an extermination business, your business prospects might include a small restaurant that could benefit from regular pest elimination in food preparation areas. However, your prospect isn't the small business as a whole – it's the person who can make purchasing decisions for the business. This person is sometimes called a prospect customer.
A prospect customer is different from a sales lead. A lead may have expressed interest in what you're selling, but you don't yet know whether they fit the ideal client profile your company has developed. A prospect does fit the client profile – as your sales due diligence process has indicated – and the sales pipeline ultimately flows toward selling to this person.
Tips to find business prospects
The tips below can help you find business prospects throughout the sales cycle and move the sales process online, where a large proportion of sales happens thanks to inbound marketing, content marketing, and social media selling routes such as Facebook Marketplace.
Customer referrals and recurring customers
It's overwhelming how big a portion of the pie goes to customer referrals and recurring business. Imagine how a referral from a longtime loyal customer could generate valuable leads and grow your business (and save you plenty of time on your sales due diligence).
Make sure to prioritize your customer relationships. Customer referrals lend your brand immediate credibility in the sales process. The increasing ability for consumers and B2B buyers to share personal expression on the internet, in blogs, and through email or word of mouth has enhanced the voice of the customer. In business-to-business transactions, a customer referral is more likely to lead to an appropriate new customer with a relevant message, which is far more powerful and likely to result in success than a third-party cold call.
So, tap into your wealth of existing customers and convert them into a sales pipeline. Never waste an opportunity to treat your customers as partners. If you make them feel like part of your company and your goals, chances are they won't hesitate to voice a praise or two about you to potential prospects.
Email or direct marketing
Though these methods are only a fraction as effective as customer referrals are, according to the CMO Council's research, email or direct marketing packs a punch too. Email might feel like an old tool – obsolete, even – in the marketing mix, but put yourself back into a customer's shoes. Email is still a marketer's bread and butter for prospect questions, customer service and support, content marketing, and loyalty checks.
Advanced email marketing solutions can make your campaigns specific, personalized and efficient. Remember, it's easy for people to forget about your company or lose track of what you're offering if they haven't visited your website in a while. Previous customers – an important segment of your target audience – can be brought back as "fresh" leads, so use this to your advantage by creating solid email marketing campaigns specifically for this market. Create a list of all your past customers, and then categorize that list down further to create a few personalized email marketing messages.
As more consumers go to social media for customer service or to poll friends and family for advice on upcoming purchases, it's no surprise that channels such as Facebook – which includes a tool for soliciting product and brand recommendations from friends – are increasingly important sources for marketers to consider in the sales cycle.
First, make sure your website is user-friendly, attractive and comprehensive. Your website houses valuable persona-focused content, contact information, and product and solution information. It's also likely to be the hub that your social, event, email, inbound and ad marketing drive traffic to. Condition leads to go to your website for solutions and relevant information, and set up your website to collect valuable lead insights.
Second, take full advantage of your blog. Blogging optimizes your website for new visitors and is an effective way to nurture existing leads. Ask your social community a question or poll them to see what they think about a particular subject. Find common problems related to your industry that people may have and show that you have the solution on your blog. This will boost your credibility and hopefully get people interested enough to take the next step and talk with you about what you can do for them.
Use social media to promote your blog content, and you could also include lead generation forms on your social pages. [Read related article: How Blog Content Can Grow Your Lead List]
It's one thing to be present on the internet and active on social media; it's another to be physically present at big events and showcase your brand or product as something tangible and relatable to prospects. Events are an investment for brands at all stages of the marketing funnel, from generating awareness with new prospects to creating and retaining loyal customers.
Events are perfect opportunities to merge the online and offline experience. Generate hype for your event with a social media or email campaign to start measuring lead activity.
Other sources of B2B prospects
Businesses often make strategic alliances with parallel companies. Think about a wedding dress couturier partnering with a flower shop, or a sports equipment shop teaming up with a chain of fitness clubs. It's a win-win situation. Look for a company that could benefit you (and make sure the other company can get something from you too, or else it won't work) and start talking about the possibilities of expanding your prospects base. If you're lucky, you and your partner business could even swap some industry secrets.
Even in this era of social media takeover, good old cold calling still carries some weight. The basics of cold calling are sound: You get to know the actual potential of the customer when you visit their office, and the customer might even convert immediately, depending on your product and brand. This is your chance to grab the bull by the horns. It sounds tough, but if you are out of ideas for sources of prospects, review your script and start with cold calling.
Although technology can never fully replace the traditional sales process, automated business prospecting platforms can still be useful sources for B2B prospects. Automation can streamline your prospect hunt by signaling potential leads for you based on data you provide. These platforms will include detailed, verified information on each potential prospect. (Sprout24 provides a detailed rundown on automated prospecting platforms.)
Instead of investing your resources into a big event appearance, you could put together a series of small-scale lunch meetings with other sales reps. The information you share about potential leads you've all pursued and products you've all sold can help you shape your sales targeting approach and even, if you're lucky, find other companies to partner with on selling complementary products. Though this is a less common approach, it just might work – after all, what is sales if not constant innovation?
Vivien Reyes contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.