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Why B2B Sales Prospecting is So Damn Difficult—and How to Make It Easier

B2B Sales prospecting isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult to grab the attention of B2B buyers in a marketing paradigm that has shifted significantly in recent years, and where increased competition makes it more and more difficult to stand out from the crowd.

Prospecting for a hot new product on the market isn’t the problem. Targeted, direct approaches can create demand and keep the sales funnel from getting hungry when a new product fills a gap in the market. But what about after the low hanging fruit has been picked and the knowledgeable, proactive buyers picked off? What about when the competition has caught on and caught up?The executive suite will still be calling for action to maintain revenues and that’s when fresh prospecting mindsets and skills are needed.

At the heart of the dilemma facing B2B prospectors is an inability to create selling opportunities when buyers, inconveniently, aren’t actually looking to buy. Traditional pitching and prospecting techniques may no longer be effective. This is clearly a problem with so many marketing, sales, and business development professionals having been brought up on a diet of little else.

The New Breed of B2B Buyer 

The rules have changed for the B2B marketer because the typical buyer has evolved in several ways.

Multiple buyers. The individual buyer has largely given way to a team approach. Multiple players are often involved in purchase decisions, sometimes spread across different business functions; and often with little experience of the procurement process.

Harvard Business Review published an interesting article in March of 2015 called Making the Consensus Sale. They show the average number of buyers involved in a considered purchase at 5.4 but that wasn’t what surprised me. What was scary was the drop off in conversion rates as you add more people to that buying decision.


Sellers need to first ascertain who has authority to make the buying decision. If that person can’t make a unilateral decision, then the goal should be to help them get others on board, perhaps by providing additional, tailored information covering specific areas of each buyer’s responsibility. An end user or influencer will have different information requirements and concerns vs. a financial authority.

Informed buyers. The abundance of research information available online has led to the rise of the “self-educated” buyer. Potential prospects aren’t sitting back waiting for solutions to be presented. They are proactively seeking them themselves and as a consequence are likely to be less receptive to an unsolicited approach.

Value not price. Research from SiriusDecisions suggests cost is no longer a key-deciding factor for B2B buyers in purchase decisions; the unique business value that an organization can offer is of primary importance. Sales prospectors are however falling short with nearly three quarters (71 percent) of executives surveyed indicating the number one issue was the “inability for sales reps to articulate unique business value.”

In an era of increasingly complex solutions it appears old habits die-hard. Too many sales teams are concentrating on price and features, when the focus needs to be on conversations about the distinctive value the seller can offer to set them apart from the competition.

The bottom line according to the report is “sales reps need to be better enabled to navigate the consensus sales and buying committees, evolve from price and discounting, and better communicate and quantify value.”

Going Beyond Cold Calling

This may require some long-term training and a culture shift but what about the here and now. What can selling organizations do to go beyond the cold call to reach out to prospects and get things moving in the short-term?Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:

Deployeffective tools. Every structure needs firm foundations, which explains why I’m a great advocate for the use CRM tools. Every interaction with prospects and customers needs to be recorded and organized and be available for analysis and action across all departments. A CRM platform will do all those things for you enabling better organization, more effective communications, and less wasted resources. The result is better targeting of prospects and less missed opportunities for conversions.

Have a focus.The prospecting effort should be focused where it’s going to be most effective and not spread too thin. By concentrating on the best market segments based on profitability) and personas as identified by the CRM) the approach can be refined to appeal to a specific buying audience. While the quantity of prospects will be lower than with a more haphazard approach, quality is likely to be higher leading to a better conversion rate.

Go Social.Social Media can be a powerful ally in outreach and relationship building strategies. While LinkedIn may be perceived as a favorite social haunt of the B2B community, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the common platforms are good places to connect and demonstrate expertise.

Free or low cost search options are available to identify influencers and decision makers, while paid social media advertising, identified as a key B2B marketing trend for 2017, also has an important role to play.

Email campaigns. Despite the plethora of social platforms at our disposal, email remains a method of communication we pretty much all use. That includes B2B buyers who are a prime target for a well-targeted email that addresses their pain points and provides solutions. Lately I have been using two separate email marketing strategies, one for sales and another for marketing. The sales campaigns are designed to target “THE” decision makers at an ideal company while the marketing campaigns are blanketing all titles involved in the buying decision.

How do you construct the perfect campaign? Take a look at The B2B Marketer’s Guide to the Perfect Email Campaign from my good friend, Shelly Kramer, to find the answer to that question.

Network. Joining networking groups, both online and in the real world, can be a source of new contacts, relationships and ultimately business. Warm leads, cold leads, partnerships, and referrals can all result from conversations at networking events. Consider putting your own event on to raise your industry profile.

Review and revive old leads. Reconnecting with old leads is a source of prospects but only with some caveats.

  • Sort the wheat from the chaff with a quality assessment to identify and exclude unqualified leads.
  • Research the story behind the lead to understand why the original lead wasn’t converted.
  • Re-establish rapport and start the relationship building process before any sales pitch.
  • Establish if the conditions surrounding the original failure still exist and move on if there is no likelihood of a conversion now.

This an old quote from Advertising Age (sourced from Vendasta) but it still holds true when it comes to recycling leads.

“If just 5% of all leads are closing, sales thinks the other 95% are junk,” said Jim Lenskold, president of marketing consultancy Lenskold Group. “But marketing can take that 95%, pull out sets that shouldn’t be in there and pull out another set that needs nurturing.” 

Meeting the Prospecting Challenge

B2B sales prospecting can be challenging and often discouraging in the face of evolving buyer demands. By taking both long-term and short-term actions however, sales and marketing teams can breathe new life in to their prospecting efforts. Hopefully these thoughts will give you the impetus you need if your prospecting engine is stalling.

What tips do you have for reinvigorating your B2B prospecting? I would love to hear your feedback.


Photo Credit: Alan O’Rourke Flickr via Compfight cc