Why is prospecting difficult for some salespeople? Identifying and connecting with the people involved in the decision-making process requires perfect timing, clear contact channels, and personalized reach-out messages that resonate with their experiences and needs.
High-end prospects know their worth. According to a McKinsey survey, over 3,500 B2B decision-makers agreed they desire in-person, remote, and self-service outreach delivered 24/7. Without this level of responsiveness, they are willing to take their businesses elsewhere.
Gartner claims that 33% of B2B decision-makers desire a seller-free sales experience, and the number climbs to 44% for millennial buyers. As the B2B buyer's journey keeps becoming more independent, sales development representatives (SDRs) in charge of prospecting need to find new ways to connect with prospects.
To fully understand the challenges involved in B2B prospecting, let's take a closer look at how prospecting works for the present-time possible buyers and what improvements can be made to accelerate their transition into satisfied customers.
The Current State of B2B Prospecting
The prospecting process includes all the efforts driven by sales and marketing teams to filter, nurture, and convert the best-fitting possible buyers. That said, the B2B prospecting arena has grown more complex over the last few years.
Another recent Gartner study found that 77% of the consulted B2B buyers defined their last purchase as "complex." An essential reason behind this note is the immense amount of information available, flooding their communication channels without any structure or hierarchy.
If that wasn't hard enough, Harvard Business Review (HBR) stated that the number of channels B2B buyers use has doubled from five in 2016 to ten in 2021. At the same time, McKinsey claims that two-thirds of U.S. B2B buyers opt for remote human interactions or digital self-service at various stages of their decision journey.
For this reason, the account-based marketing (ABM) approach is quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to connect with potential customers. ABM is a set of follow-up strategies focusing only on specific, highly profitable accounts.
By integrating intent data tactics, which translate to the collected analytics of behavioral information about digital users' web content consumption, marketers and sales reps can get a clear picture of what leads are closer to a purchase decision.
Combining the intent data methodology with data segmentation efforts, which refer to the dissection and organization of account-related data through different criteria, makes it possible to target only the leads with the highest conversion probability.
That said, there are plenty of obstacles on the prospecting path. Here are some of the most fundamental challenges involved in the B2B prospecting process and ways to solve them:
1. Defining Your Total Addressable Market
Every business has a total addressable market (TAM), which refers to the conglomeration of all the potential customers in every hierarchy, industry, and country with enough funds to purchase their products.
Drafting a TAM is a critical step in the prospecting process. This helps sales and marketing teams clarify how big their universe is, how campaigns need to be structured, and what actions need to be taken to conquer the desired market.
Many sales executives believe that the bigger the universe, the more opportunities they get to close more deals. But separating the wheat from the chaff is one of the most vital actions derived from B2B prospecting.
Once your TAM has been narrowed down, it is imperative to leverage the generated insights to create accurate ideal customer profiles (ICPs). These can be defined as detailed data files that contain the description of a company that would be a perfect match for your product.
Specific criteria like revenue, size, background, geography, industry, and technology usage are considered for their crafting. A TAM that transforms into an ICP list without modifications indicates that no strategic choices were made to constrain that vast universe of possible buyers.
2. Understanding the Buyer's Journey Stages
The buyer's journey can be defined as the active research process a potential buyer goes through every time an identified need demands the purchase of a solution. Identifying what prospects are looking for at each stage of their journey makes it possible to manipulate their experience to achieve the best possible outcome.
The standard B2B buying process follows the following actions:
- Problem identification: How can the company address a particular situation?
- Solution analysis: What product could solve the problem?
- Requirements setup: What characteristics need to be bound to the solution?
- Supplier selection: What companies offer the solution we require?
- Validation process: How do these solution proposals solve our needs?
- Consensus decision: Who would be the final decision-makers?
Even when decision-influencers ICPs are designed correctly, rushing or delaying follow-up actions can harm the B2B prospecting process. Marketers should be able to set specific triggers to indicate SDRs that the lead is ready to move forward.
3. Targeting the Right Decision-Makers
There’s a common misconception that sales reps should always aim at the top of the hierarchy business ladder. However, a С-level decision-maker that signs the contract may not be the best decision for targeting.
According to Gartner, the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to ten decision-makers. That said, decision-makers are rarely part of the earlier stages of solution research.
On the other hand, decision influencers are usually involved in free trials and demo presentations from product providers, as it is most likely that they will be the actual users of the solution.
Here are some significant differences between the B2B decision-makers and decision-influencers:
- Decision-maker: A decision-maker (DM) is often the C-level executive responsible for the final sales decision-making stages. They are rarely a part of the research or vetting stage in the sales process. DMs have the final say in signing deals but won’t make a final decision without an expert weighing in.
- Decision-influencer: A decision-influencer (DI) may have a junior- or mid-level title, be a subject-matter expert, or serve a greater role in the buying process. The DI will likely be responsible for the initial research on your product and/or become the end user who presents data to the C-suite that ultimately makes the purchasing decision.
By generating ICPs that are more DI-oriented, marketing representatives can launch campaigns that aim to engage people with a direct interest in solving a specific need as soon as possible, as they deal with it regularly.
Instead of deploying time, energy, and money to connect with C-level executives whose contact channels are constantly saturated, your SDRs will have a better shot at proving the capacities of your product to the “real” decision-makers.
4. Crafting Target Account Lists
Your TAM was already filtered into ICPs, the marketing experts at your service managed to locate the decision-influencers inside the companies you want to target, and your vendors already identified their current buyer's journey stage. How do you define who to talk to first?
A target account list (TAL) is a catalog that gathers all the qualified ICPs your marketing and sales forces managed to bring together. These lists help SDRs to have a clearer view of which profiles have the best probability of conversion by segmenting their intent even further.
The primary objective of TALs is to push hyper-personalized follow-ups to these potential customers. You may assemble your lead profiles according to the following tiers:
- Top tier: This represents the top 10% to 20% of your list. These accounts would be the most profitable and have shown significant potential for a fast-paced conversion. Marketing and sales forces must deploy frequent, direct, and targeted actions with the express intent of closing the business.
- Mid tier: This tier will take around 20% to 30% of your list and consists of accounts that have shown a decent amount of interest in your product. The sale could occur within the next twelve months, and the decision-makers need to be reached at a monthly rate.
- Bottom tier: This tier will likely consist of 50% to 70% of your list. These accounts would gain value from your product, but they do not have the intent to purchase at this moment.
It's not uncommon that SDRs waste too much time and energy prospecting contacts from segments of the TAL that are not ready to close a deal any time soon. As obvious as it may sound, advertisers and vendors should focus on the top-tier segment of the TAL and nurture the rest of the leads with the proper follow-up.
By gaining a more profound knowledge of the situation of each filtered prospect inside the TAL, it gets easier to define what actions should be taken next to improve the chances of closing a deal.
5. Leveraging Prospecting Filters
B2B prospecting complexity depends on a vast number of factors. Even when your TAL is filled up with near-perfect ICPs, the chances of not being able to engage your prospects successfully are always present.
Prospecting low-to-high-risk contacts is always a safer bet. Several filters help SDRs increase the probability of connecting with possible buyers who are genuinely interested in purchasing your product. Here are the most representative ones:
- Size of company: The bigger the prospect, the more obstacles you'll have to face to access the right people. On the other hand, there are fewer guards at the gate for over 32.5 million small companies in the U.S. Smaller companies may have enough budget to become your clients, yet their walls are less tall and more flexible.
- Industry: Certain industries are strengthened by contact with others, so their openness is much greater. However, others can nurture themselves and rely only on internal connections. Focusing your outbound strategies on the most open industries will significantly benefit the results of your prospecting process.
- Function and department: Prospecting success also depends on knowing which DIs are assigned to which organizational departments. Some roles are more open to external contact than others. Similarly, other positions and divisions are much harder to enter. The first kind is accustomed to gaining advantages from relationships with other parties, but the second type may have greater suspicion.
- Region: The location of your potential clients is another important consideration throughout the prospecting process. Although TAMs may include relevant companies in several countries, ICPs should be built around regions that respond better to international prospecting techniques.
While the metrics of prospecting filters are not absolutely reliable, they help to create conversion metrics that are accurate and solid. This means that sales reps and managers can base their prospecting objectives and estimate their monthly results.
Integrating historical, data-centered insights are also a great way to segment what types of prospects deserve more attention and what follow-up methodologies have proven to be more successful.
6. Relying on a Prospecting Plan
Every contact with a prospect has a fair chance of leading to an appointment, but some contacts are more likely to be profitable than others.
A mathematical definition of probability explains it as the degree to which an event is likely to occur, determined by the proportion of the favorable situations to all other potential outcomes.
Accepting that trade-offs are necessary to close new agreements is the essence of strategic prospecting. Therefore, working with step-by-step prospecting plans help SDRs to give priority to the most advantageous cases.
As landing meetings with B2B targeted accounts demands much practice and expertise, it is always wise to angle for the prospects with the highest probabilities of success.
Every sales rep should remember that building a successful sales prospecting plan is an ongoing process, and it should be constantly edited according to every significant insight into how to match their prospect's needs as efficiently as possible.
Work Your Way Through B2B Prospecting Challenges
B2B prospecting is about solving the needs of companies searching for new and better ways to deal with their struggles. While it is possible to get a lucky sale from time to time, a solid foundation is needed to deliver consistent results.
As the B2B prospecting processes evolve, new obstacles will undoubtedly arise for all marketers and sales professionals. That said, it is essential to remember that we are still people working with and for people, so the human touch will continue to be indispensable for all actions derived from the sales arena.