Best Prospecting Methods — 4 Ways To Stop Second-Guessing How You Prospect

best prospecting methods
Certified Sales ExpertSales ProspectingWinning By Design

The Winning By Design Blueprint Series provides practical advice for parts of a SaaS sales organization. In this blueprint, we provide insights into the best prospecting methods for different go-to-market (GTM) strategies.

  • Prospecting is about having a conversation with a client. This can be through an email, a call, an in-person meeting etc.
  • A prospect is a company or person who matches the profile of a client.

If you’re selling car tires, anyone with a car is a fit. And if someone has worn tires they have a pain. To find the people who have worn tires can be hard. However, you may able to identify people who ski by identifying those who have ski-lift passes or have a ski-box on the roof of their car.

In that case, they are likely to have a pain thus they are an MQL. Following a short conversation, you may learn that they go up the mountain a couple of times a year and that they hate putting on chains. Thus making them a sales qualified lead.

Furthermore, you learn that they are going next weekend with a snowstorm coming in, hinting at a Critical event. That turns them into an SAL.

best prospecting methods: table 1

Lead Gen Variables

To create or develop an SQL, there is a series of variables:

  • Number of Taps — The number of times you reach out to a customer; think of an email, a call, a shout-out etc. This is sometimes referred to as the number of touches.
  • Different Channels — Across what kind of channels are you reaching out, just emails and phone calls? Or are you also sending them something per snail-mail, requesting a LinkedIn connection, or liking a Tweet.
  • Time in Days — Over how many days did you reach out to them? Reaching out to a person three times a day may be way too much. But reaching out to a person three times in a lifetime is likely way too little.
  • Prospect’s Team — Are you sending it only to their CEO/EVP or are you updating “their team” beforehand?
  • Your Team — Is it just the SDR or AE reaching out, or can you involve the EVP, CXO, etc.?
  • CR(t) —The conversion rate as a function of time to get to a single SQL.

best prospecting methods: figure 1

Four Prospecting Approaches

These variables can be used to create SQLs/SALs with four different approaches:

  • Inbound — Following up to a hand-raise received from a mobile app, website, send you an email etc.
  • Outbound — Reaching out to people who are a fit/have a pain your business can impact
  • Target — Reaching out to those you have established, you can impact their business
  • Content — Use of content to educate prospects so they visit your app, website, send you an email etc.

1) Responding to an Inbound Lead

What is an inbound lead?

An inbound lead is also referred to as a Marketing Qualified Lead. There is a common misunderstanding about what an inbound lead is. Let’s clarify.

If we look at when you can say “How may I help you?” the following stand out as true inbounds:

  • {Signup] for a trial
  • [Contact Sales] on the website, which in some cases, is used as an “emergency hotline” for customers
  • [Schedule a demo] on the website
  • [Visit at a trade show] and wanting to learn more
  • [Word of mouth], a new prospect reaches out to you via email at the referral of an existing customer

What all of these have in common is that they are time sensitive.

B2C statistics indicate a sharp drop-off in response rate beyond two minutes. We’re all familiar with the frustration when the confirmation email does not arrive immediately.

But sometimes you may get frustrated if the phone immediately rings. For example, if you download that 40-page white paper, you don’t want to be called immediately!

Don’t mistake these for inbound leads

Over the years, we have noticed that the following are commonly mistaken as inbound leads:

  • [Download] a white paper, ebook, etc.
  • [Sign-up] for a webinar and social events
  • [Nurtured] leads such as by visiting a pricing page

The above three actions provide great context for an outbound call but they are NOT a time-sensitive inbound.

best prospecting methods: figure 2

In order to respond to an inbound, we respond within minutes.

As a result, we have a simple formula left. This means you can simplify an inbound to the number of taps across different channels.

best prospecting methods: figure 3

Example of a single-tap sales sequence

Putting a series of taps or touches together across different channels is referred to as a sales sequence.

Below is an example of such a sequence in which an SDR is reaching out to a person —

  • First via visiting the client’s LinkedIn profile
  • Then a phone call
  • If the client does not respond, (s)he leaves a voicemail
  • And as a follow-up to the voicemail, immediately sends an email

All in a single day. Clearly, this makes it very intrusive, and thus can only be used when a client has reached out to you asking for help. This is also known as a hand-raise in trade language.

best prospecting methods: figure 4

In order to provide a response in less than five minutes, you must always be “on.”  Many organizations struggle to staff an organization for this. So how do you respond within five minutes to a request for a meeting on Sunday night at 2 am?  You can use a setup in which tools provide you an effective response time in an efficient way.

best prospecting methods: figure 5

In this case, an inbound request results in an immediate Email (#1). This email contains a brief Thank You message and instructions to pick one of two Calendly links in the email; a 15-minute call or 30-minute demo, for example.

The customer clicks on the link of choice, books a call/demo, and receives immediately a confirmation email (#2). This email contains the confirmation, and some valuable insights to get the client going immediately. Think of a demo video, and/or white paper.

The sequence in the above figure provides a response in less than five minutes and can be implemented almost immediately with little to no cost.

2) Outbound Prospecting

Many sales organizations do not have the luxury of fielding hundreds of inbounds each day.

These companies need to reach out to prospective clients to interest them to take a look into their solution. For this, you need to orchestrate an outbound prospecting campaign.

best prospecting methods: figure 6

An outbound sequence consists of a number of taps across different channels such as social, media and phone taps AND across multiple days. The efficiency of tools that can automate an outbound campaign of a thousand messages easily traps you into believing this is effective.

However, every company today, big and small, is creating these campaigns.

Below, we are creating a sequence based on Winning By Design principles:

best prospecting methods: table 2

best prospecting methods: figure 7

3) Targeting OR Account Based Prospecting

The outbound prospecting approach is focused on reaching a single person, often in a particular role, across a number of companies.

This may work well in a market with an unlimited number of companies to sell into. However, most B2B businesses sell in a relatively small market.

best prospecting methods: figure 8

In Account Based Sales, you select only a few accounts, say 5-10 per account executive. The marketing qualified accounts (MQAs) are pre-selected to be a fit for your service.

Within these accounts, you need reach out to multiple people across the organization.

best prospecting methods: figure 9

Most often, we deal with three different types of people on the prospect’s side — an executive, a manager, and a user.

Top 2 ways to approach your prospect

Hierarchical —

In this approach, it’s paramount to understand that you cannot reach out to all three at the same time with the same “pitch” or “value proposition.”

You have to line up the right kind of insights to match the value proposition for each individual stakeholder.

Over the years, the hierarchical approach has run into some specific issues.

  • First, many (SaaS) decisions are no longer made by a single person on top of a hierarchy. They are made by a group. The person on top of the hierarchy is responsible for following the process, NOT making the decision.
  • Second, senior executives when they do read/listen to your outreach, they “kick it down.” If the next person has never heard of you, they can dismiss your efforts with a simple “never heard of them, will take a look…”
  • And last but not least, it pins one of the lesser qualified people on your team against the most qualified person on their team.

best prospecting methods: figure 10

This is where our second approach works better.

Chronological —

In this approach, we ensure that the right steps are taken at the right time.

And by the most qualified person on our team.

In some cases, you may decide you wish your CEO/Founder to be involved to address some of the senior decision makers. This adds another dimension to the equation.

Multiple people involved on your team targeting multiple people on their team requires clear orchestration.

best prospecting methods: figure 11

What you want to avoid is a single-threaded relationship. You don’t want an account maintained only by a champion on the customer side and your account manager.

We call this a 3 x 3 account — a term coming from organizational selling. It refers to three people on your team working with three people on your prospect’s team.

4) Content-Based Prospecting

Content-based prospecting can be used to create interest with new accounts OR develop interest with existing accounts.

In this approach, we curate and create content around pain, impact and critical event.

The prospect who experiences the pain is expected to engage with the content as organic or paid search points them to the content. Sales Development is no longer sets up meetings but distributes content where these leads can find them. In effect, content is used as the “outbound” call.

The development rep monitors those that engage with the content before reaching out.

best prospecting methods: figure 12

Account-based prospecting

Once a contact has been established with a company, a more dedicated approach can be deployed. In this approach, an SDR prepares the right content for each person/role in the account. It’s a form of ABM that can be used by Account Executives rather than Development Reps.

best prospecting methods: figure 13

Measuring Efficiency and Effectiveness

Each of the aforementioned prospecting approaches is different in terms of efficiency and effectiveness;

  • Effectiveness — The ability to produce a desired or intended result.
  • Efficiency — The ability to create a result with minimum time and effort.

best prospecting methods: figure 14

In the figure below you see the different prospecting processes mapped to effectiveness and efficiency. As presented in earlier blueprints, the decision to use a specific approach needs to be data-driven. For this, you need to obtain conversion rates and investments made for each approach.

best prospecting methods: table 4

Matching the Best Prospecting Methods to their Market Segments

To scale growth, a company must determine which prospecting method it’s going to apply.

Similar to its product, its GTM must be design based on data obtained during testing. Each of these methods is modeled against the best customer experience. For online sales, that may be optimized for speed and local sales for complexity (integration into the existing infrastructure).

Identifying the effectiveness and efficiency of each of the different prospecting approaches must be part of the product/market fit phase.


Also published on Medium.

Following a 15-year career as a head of sales for Silicon Valley startups, Jacco van der Kooij launched a sales consulting practice in 2012. Winning By Design helps B2B companies with a blue print design that is based on best practices of what works today, oversees implementation including recruitment & training, and with a hands on involvement throughout the launch. Check out the Winning By Design playbook series for more from Jacco.