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Prospecting leads: top strategies to win customers

Small business owner using laptop while talking on phone

Key takeaways

  • When prospecting leads, identify the best sales opportunities by creating a list of high-quality prospects who are ready to learn about your business
  • Use outreach campaigns like email, social media, and networking to connect with new prospects and make a pitch for your products or services
  • Leverage prospecting tools and strategies to make your sales team more effective and reduce time-consuming tasks

As a small business owner, it’s essential to get your products and services in front of leads—that is, potential customers who want or need what you’re offering. While that might be easier said than done—61% of salespeople in one survey said it’s harder to get in front of customers today than it was five years ago—it’s certainly achievable and can put you a step ahead of the competition with the right approach.

The key is testing, implementing, and optimizing strategies for prospecting leads so you can turn them into paying customers. Learn how to build more effective sales processes, target the best opportunities, and maximize your (and your sales team’s) time.

What is lead prospecting?

Lead prospecting, also called sales prospecting, is a targeted approach to qualify and connect one-on-one with potential customers and move them through the sales pipeline.

Lead prospecting typically takes place after lead generation—a set of marketing efforts to find and attract potential customers. With lead gen, salespeople and marketing teams create lists of contacts and break them down into groups based on buyer personas. These personas are grouped based on similar characteristics. For example, your list might segment people who live in the same geographic area or people with the same pain points.

Once you identify a lead, the next step is to start a lead prospecting process to qualify them. To qualify leads, consider how ready the person is to make a purchase, if they’re a good candidate for your services, and what their interest level is. This process includes creating a scoring system—typically a numeric system of 0 to 100—to identify which people are most likely to be customers. The scoring criteria can include demographics, online behavior, or social engagement.

There are prospecting tools that simplify this step, including customer relationship management (CRM) software. You can use these tools to manage customer relationships, overcome roadblocks, tailor your communication to match the prospect’s preferences, and track the success of your lead prospecting.

To reach these prospects, salespeople often use traditional approaches like cold calling, cold email campaigns, and social media outreach.

What is lead generation vs. lead prospecting?

While some resources say lead generation and lead prospecting are the same thing, there are important distinctions. Lead generation is the process of finding and attracting customers through marketing outreach. The goal with lead generation is to encourage a potential customer to act on their interest in your business—typically by providing their contact information.

On the other hand, lead prospecting is a sales process that involves qualifying those leads and creating sales outreach campaigns to move them through the sales pipeline. The goal of prospecting leads is to identify which potential customers are most interested in your services and create tailored campaigns to get them to convert. The process involves segmenting customers into similar buyer personas so you can tailor your sales approach to meet their needs.

While related, lead generation and lead prospecting are two parts of an overall business growth plan. Any successful sales campaign will involve both lead generation and prospecting efforts. Think of lead generation as the first step before you can start any outreach with your lead prospecting.

Outbound vs. inbound prospecting

Prospecting leads: young couple in car showroom buying a new car

Prospecting leads fall under the umbrella of two larger categories: inbound and outbound.

Inbound prospecting is when you reach out to potential customers who have shown an interest in your products or services. They may have reached out with a question via email or they may actively engage with your social media accounts.

Inbound lead generation and inbound prospecting go hand in hand. With inbound prospecting, the research phase takes less time since you already have a sense of who the prospect is and how to reach them. This type of prospecting is also more likely to be successful since you already know the potential customer has an interest in your offerings.

On the other hand, outbound prospecting is when you contact people who haven’t shown any interest in your brand or might not even know your business exists. In that regard, it’s similar to outbound lead generation and can include cold calling and cold emailing.

With outbound client prospecting, you can reach people who may need your services but haven’t heard about you. At the same time, you may end up contacting people who actually aren’t interested, so success rates tend to be lower. Outbound prospecting can also take more time since you’ll likely need to track down contact information and follow up several times before making a connection.

Most sales and marketing teams recommend using a combination of both outbound and inbound, which is a scalable approach to attract new customers. However, many focus more efforts on inbound prospects since they tend to have higher conversion rates.

Different types of prospective leads

Many sales teams segment lead prospects into three categories: cold, warm, and hot. This process breaks down prospects based on how likely they are to make a purchase. As such, you can tailor sales processes and outreach methods to meet the needs of those leads.

Cold sales leads

Cold leads are people who don’t know anything about your business. These people haven’t necessarily shown interest in what you offer, but they’re also your ideal customers. They might buy products from your competitors or have pain points that your product or service solves. Since cold leads don’t know anything about you, it’s critical to build brand awareness into your outreach.

Warm sales leads

Warm sales leads know about your products and services but aren’t ready to make a purchase yet. They may compare your offerings to competitors or simply browse what’s on the market. To convert these leads, you need to nurture them and provide a compelling case of why your products beat out the competition.

Hot sales leads

Hot sales leads are buyers who are highly motivated. They may need to make a buying decision quickly or they’ve shown high levels of interest in your product or service. Hot sales leads don’t always equal instant customers. You still need to make the case for what you’re selling—and make it easy for them to make a purchase.

5-step lead prospecting process

A lead prospecting marketing team having a meeting in office

With the following steps, you can drum up new business using a targeted and effective lead prospecting campaign. Each of the prospecting stages is broken down with tips for saving time and getting the most out of your efforts.

1. Research and identify your target audience

As a small business owner, it’s important to know who your customers are so you can create outreach campaigns that are personalized and targeted to their needs. To understand your target audience, market research is a crucial step. Gather information to identify your target market’s pain points, interests, buying habits, and what drives their decision-making.

Some key things to look at include:

  • Demographics including age, location, and gender
  • Education level, job titles, and roles
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Behaviors, attitudes, and values
  • Communication preferences and styles
  • Spending patterns

With this information in hand, create buyer personas—customer profiles with characteristics shared across your target audience.

Take time to research your target market and identify decision-makers you can reach out to. They can be at different stages of the sales funnel, so keep that in mind when planning your outreach.

2. Create a prospecting list

The next step in the sales prospecting process is to create a list of all your leads, keeping your buyer personas in mind. Start by creating a list of inbound leads—people who have expressed interest in your business by taking a particular action, such as signing up for your email newsletter or filling out a form on your website.

You’ll also want to look for new leads on places like social media platforms and online business platforms like Yelp. These may be people who have liked your posts, sent you a message, left a review, or requested a quote.

When it comes to Yelp users, they’re often ready to buy since they’re doing research on available products and services. In fact, 83% of people hire or buy from businesses they find on Yelp.

Connect with these high-quality leads by claiming your Yelp Business Page. Add your business information, categories, services, and amenities to help customers find you. Upload high-quality photos to reflect your offerings, and add details about your company background, history, and specialties.

When potential buyers send your business a message or use the request buttons for a call, appointment, or quote on Yelp, you can not only satisfy their specific request but also ask for their contact information so you or your sales reps can follow up with them quickly.

Yelp tip: While Yelp doesn’t offer a list of people who’ve sent a message or reached out directly through Yelp, your sales team can keep track of these connections and add them manually into your CRM system.

Here are a few more lead prospecting ideas to fill out your list:

  • Create lead magnet content: Use blog posts to offer free e-books or host a webinar to show how to use your products in exchange for getting their contact information
  • Update your website: Make it easy for people to reach out and learn about your products by adding a “contact us” button to your website’s footer, having a call-to-action button to sign up for emails, and clearly displaying pricing and product information
  • Ask for referrals: Offer incentives like discounts, early access, or gift cards to existing customers who refer new customers
  • Create an interactive tool: Capture email addresses and assess customer interest with a tool like a cost calculator or product demo
  • Consider Yelp Ads: With Yelp Ads, your business page is placed in key places on and the Yelp mobile app—such as above or below relevant search results in the “Sponsored Results” sections and on your competitors’ pages—helping you get even more lead prospects

You can apply multiple lead prospecting strategies to gather new leads and use a CRM tool to keep track of everything and manage the customer relationship. Use these tools to automate follow-up sales emails and log each interaction with the lead.

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3. Qualify leads with a scoring system

Once you have a list of leads, you’ll want to figure out which ones are worth pursuing and which ones you should skip.

The best way to qualify potential leads is to create a scoring system. There are popular methodologies like BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing), which use a set of criteria to categorize the most valuable prospects. Your lead scoring system should be tailored to your specific sales process and business, but these methods can guide your process.

The main goal in this step is to establish whether the lead is a good fit for your business and where they are in the sales funnel.

To ensure you create a list of qualified leads, start by assessing:

  • Customer profile: Does the lead fit your target audience and buyer persona?
  • Prospect’s needs: What are the prospect’s pain points, and do your products or services solve this need?
  • Decision-making process: Is the lead a decision-maker who can make a purchase? What’s their process for making buying decisions and how long does it take?
  • Competitive environment: Is the lead talking to any of your competitors? What other products or services on the market might the lead consider? What information does the lead want to make their decision?

Create a point scoring system and establish a list of criteria to rank each lead against. These criteria can include factors like demographics, behaviors, and engagement. Each criterion should have a point amount allocated.

Here’s an example of a simple scoring system you can customize:

  • Lives in a specific region: +5 points
  • Level of seniority: 1–10 points depending on the level
  • Website visits: +10 for visiting your website
  • Social media engagement: +10 for communicating on social media
  • Unsubscribing from an email list: -10 points

Lead scoring is highly customizable, and your point scoring system should reflect your business and desired customer behavior. Use your scoring criteria to segment lead lists into cold, warm, and hot lists. You can then prioritize your lists and reach out to the highest-value leads first.

4. Conduct outreach using different sales prospecting methods

Once you have a list of qualified leads, it’s time to conduct outreach. There are several sales prospecting techniques including email outreach, social selling, and in-person networking to reach potential customers at different stages in the sales pipeline.

Review the lead profile to see if they listed a preferred contact method and use that. Some leads may want a video or phone call to learn more while others might only require a follow-up email to close deals. It depends largely on the lead’s profile so make sure you understand who you’re reaching out to and adjust your approach accordingly.

Cold calling and cold email campaigns are great options for the first point of contact with leads who could use your services but might not know about your business. Run email marketing campaigns to target these leads and offer other ways to connect—like a sales call—if they want to explore your products further before making a decision.

To make these efforts more effective, personalize your outreach. For example, look at your prospective lead’s background and create an email subject line that speaks to their interests. You can also use puns or jokes if you have some information on the prospective lead’s personality.

Depending on where the lead is in the sales cycle, you might need to provide product information or highlight why your offerings are better than the competition. In addition to the lead’s background, it’s important to know what motivates them and what information they need to make a decision so you can provide that in your communications.

Content marketing and networking at events are other ways to connect with prospective leads. Use content to answer common questions and share how your product solves customer pain points. Share these on your social media platforms or via your email outreach. Networking events offer an opportunity to connect directly with consumers, so participate in trade shows or host webinars to share your product information and generate new leads along the way.

Social media outreach lets you connect with leads, especially if they’ve reached out or engaged with your profile on the platform before. Create profiles on sites like LinkedIn or Instagram to supplement your sales strategy and build relationships.

5. Follow up until you get a reply

No sales professional wants to be annoying, but you need to be persistent. Schedule follow-ups with any leads who don’t reply to your first outreach. Keep it brief and simple, and use automations to streamline this process.

Most email campaign tools let you schedule an automatic follow-up within a set number of days after the first email. Use your CRM or a campaign tool to categorize people who’ve replied and those who haven’t. Create custom emails for each of these segments to increase the likelihood that they’ll respond.

You should also follow up with deals that have fallen through or people who said no the first time. The key here is not to be pushy. A simple follow-up to see if their interest or needs have changed is a good way to start the conversation.

Tips and strategies for successful lead prospecting

A lead generation marketing manager using laptop

Once you have your five-step plan in place, you’ll be ready to launch a lead prospecting campaign, even if you’ve never done it before. Increase your chances for success with these lead generation strategies and sales prospecting tips.

Use sales prospecting tools

CRM systems and lead generation tools streamline efforts and keep your sales prospecting strategy organized. Use CRM software to track all your customer interactions and data so far. These tools are customizable so you can include custom fields specific to your lead prospecting campaigns.

Most sales prospecting tools offer integrations so you can connect communication apps and analytics in one space. That makes it easier to qualify leads, assess campaign success, and conduct outreach from one platform instead of several.

CRMs also offer workflow automation, saving you (or your sales reps) time and energy. When prospecting for leads, you can set up automations to trigger an initial outreach email or follow-up after a lead takes a certain action.

Use personalization and focus on building relationships

A young florist serving a customer

Most of your competitors are doing sales outreach, so the best way to attract more customers to your business is to personalize communications and build relationships. When done effectively, it builds trust and makes it easier for potential customers to navigate the buying process.

When writing email templates, address the email to the person’s name. Before you make a sales pitch, connect with the lead by sharing a common interest or highlighting work they’ve done that you found impressive.

If you’re reaching out on social media, see if you have mutual connections. Reference this in your outreach to share a common connection and start building a more personal relationship. If the mutual connection is a current customer, you can even share that person’s testimonial (if the customer agrees) to encourage the sales lead to make a purchasing decision.

Implement strategies to overcome challenges

In sales, you’re bound to run into roadblocks. When prospecting leads, common challenges are rejection and gatekeepers. But just because a lead says no now doesn’t mean they won’t ever buy your products or services. Find out why they said no. Maybe they don’t have the budget for your products right now. Or perhaps they aren’t in a position to make a decision.

Whatever the case might be, it’s valuable information you can put to work. If they don’t have the budget right now, circle back next quarter or next year to see if the timing is better. If the person isn’t the decision-maker, follow up and find out who is.

Gatekeepers are another common lead prospecting roadblock. These are folks who prevent you from accessing decision-makers. While you can’t force someone to connect you with a lead, you can try building rapport and a connection with the gatekeeper. Over time, they may decide to pass your information along. Be persistent, but don’t be annoying. Change tactics and reach out to other decision-makers if possible to avoid this roadblock.

Continually measure success with KPIs

You’ll never know how successful your lead prospecting is if you don’t track metrics. Use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track campaign success. Be sure to set up a process for continuous evaluation and adapt as your needs change.

The exact KPIs will change depending on what campaigns you’re running. For email campaigns, open rates, reply rates, and unsubscribes will be key numbers to track. For social media campaigns, engagement numbers will be critical gauges of success.

Use your free Yelp Business Page to track valuable metrics like page views and leads. Under the Customer Leads tab, you can see phone calls, mobile check-ins, direction and map views, and clicks to your website.

Convert leads into customers with an effective lead prospecting plan

Prospecting leads starts with audience research, creating a list of potential customers, and using tools like your Yelp Business Page to reach these folks. You can then begin qualifying and prioritizing their interest and creating outreach campaigns to turn new prospects into part of your customer base.

Learn how to build an email list to build relationships and drive sales for your small business.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.