Sales leaders and managers can learn a lot from Gordon Ramsey.
In an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, the no-nonsense, foul-mouthed English chef yells at a restaurant owner whose staff are slacking off. “If they’re not doing their job, it’s because you’re not doing your job!” It’s a simple yet impactful statement.
Which brings us to the question, should sales reps be blamed for not meeting quota? Or is the leadership responsible for their company’s B2B prospecting success? Many sales organizations may blame their reps, but one report from SmartCEO shows that poor leadership can cause up to a 10% decrease in an organization’s productivity.
Our verdict is: it’s the leaders’ fault, always, if the sales team is failing to prospect at scale, generate a steady stream of qualified leads, and keep the pipeline fat and full of potential customers. While some leaders believe that the sales reps are responsible for their own B2B sales prospecting results, ultimately, the ability and motivation for reps to perform their tasks effectively rests exclusively in leadership’s hands.
Rethink your sales prospecting strategy from the top down to improve your company’s ability to bring in and close bigger deals. To do this, analyze how leaders and management can hold themselves accountable and where they are falling short. It will improve your reps’ B2B sales prospecting process, and thus improve the bottom line. Let’s discuss.
The Evolution of B2B Sales Prospecting
Business-to-Business prospecting is when a salesperson identifies, qualifies, and reaches out to a potential customer in the hopes of making a sale. Without prospecting, your company will cease to exist. However, the strategies your sales reps use to look for potential customers, and the amount of information they need to successfully connect with them, have changed from the methodologies of the past.
Let’s throw it back to the Yellow Pages. You might still have a few of these bulky, Homer Simpson-yellow directory books lying around your house. In them, salespeople used to find basic personal and business contact information. It was a tedious process, flipping through hundreds of pages and contact names looking for leads in their territory, and trying to contact them with very little data to qualify them with.
By the 2000s, we saw the emergence of online business directories, like Whitepages, which replaced the old Yellow Pages as a more organized, convenient, and expansive source of leads. In this directory, salespeople could receive more firmographic data, like company address, revenue size, and employee headcount for hundreds of prospects.
Once we hit the 2010s, we began seeing B2B sales prospecting software for business email verification, lead enrichment tools, lead qualification, outreach management, and more solutions for every stage of prospecting. Organizations are now spoiled with sales intelligence. It’s pretty remarkable how this huge change took place in the last 20 years.
Why is B2B Prospecting So Challenging?
It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.
The knowledge gap between team members, and lack of communication between reps and leadership can cause disconnects. Some sales organizations have team members who were prospecting with old methods, and maybe have not come fully up to date with new techniques. Others have teams who only know modern methods and technology. Even more commonly, the team’s B2B sales prospecting knowledge and learning curve vary greatly between individuals. When leaders create a one-size-fits-all strategy where it is assumed that every member is prepared to send out 100 cold calls in a day, or use the latest prospecting tool with ease, leaders and managers risk getting inconsistent results with their sales prospecting strategy.
Finding potential customers in the first place is hard, and many leaders make the mistake of not giving new sales reps enough guidance. Effective companies should have their sales prospecting strategy down to a science. Why would leadership take the chance of allowing an SDR to plan their own schedule or sales cadence? These reps are usually in the beginning of their careers, still getting their basic skill-set down, and are notorious for reaching burnout within the first 15 months on the job. Prospecting is the lifeline of your company, so leadership should take responsibility and ensure the reps follow a well-planned, thorough strategy. Not doing so would be like a heart surgeon handing over a scalpel to a med student during surgery. Take control of your sales prospecting strategy by showing your reps exactly what to do at every step of the process.
We know what you’re thinking—just have your top SDRs train the juniors on how to prospect. This works. However, you never want to assume that, even after training, they are fully proficient in every stage. You want reps to be able to come to you for advice and to get accurate information.
According to HubSpot, only 44% of sales reps look to their managers for tips, but over half look to their peers for guidance. That’s not what you want. Your B2B prospecting strategy should make space for open communication between low level sales reps and the higher-ups. Without communication, there’s the potential for misunderstanding the strategy and executing it poorly.
What about SDRs who just don’t do their job?
As the old saying goes—you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. This proverb rings true when it comes to SDRs who have a great B2B prospecting strategy laid out for them, but choose not to give it their all due to laziness or confusion. You might think that certainly this can’t be the leader’s fault as well, right? Wrong, it is! It’s leadership’s job to source candidates who have the skills to keep up with B2B sales prospecting and who have the attitude to do it well in the first place. And if they don’t, it’s up to management to train and motivate them to improve their performance.
However, admitting that something is your fault isn’t easy. Our egos get in the way, and sometimes leaders and managers just don’t seem able to own up. Ron Gibori, Founder of Idea Kitchen, says “great leaders take responsibility for everything. They turn each misstep into an opportunity to learn from the mistakes instead of pointing fingers: they pull the thumb and ask themselves “what could I have done differently?” and they take the blame publicly.”
Clarity and simplicity are the antidotes to complexity and uncertainty. Leaders should lay out a clear, structured, and tested B2B prospecting strategy for their sales reps to guarantee each SDR fully understands the process at every stage.
B2B Sales Prospecting Strategies and Best Practices
Strategy #1: Prospect every single day
You may have heard of the 30-day rule. The rule states that the B2B sales prospecting you do in the next 30 days will determine the health of your pipeline 3 months from now. When you adapt this rule to your B2B prospecting strategy, looking for customers will never be placed on the back burner and reps will understand the consequences of missing a single day or week of looking for new leads. With this strategy, you’ll prevent your pipeline from deflating.
Now here’s one tip to help your team prospect every single day. Remember: prospecting isn’t always looking for new leads every time. Reps can use a combination of asking for referrals and following up with closed/lost leads inside their CRM to find new opportunities fast.
Strategy #2: Create a LinkedIn thought leadership strategy
LinkedIn is a critical platform in B2B prospecting, with sales reps finding their best connections on the channel. How you decide to use LinkedIn in your prospecting makes all the difference. In today’s day and age, decision-makers want to read content that takes a stance, that’s thought-provoking, that challenges their ideals about their industry, and that gets them worked up (in a good way!). Besides using Sales Navigator to look for potential customers, your sales reps could use LinkedIn to build their reputations as thought leaders within your industry. Becoming a thought leader is valuable for customer journey optimization. It gives you the opportunity to engage prospects at every stage in your funnel with content your competitors don’t have, because every insight is completely unique.
According to one LinkedIn study, 58% of sales teams producing thought leadership content say it drives awareness and contributes to their top-of-the-funnel strategy. 86% of decision-makers say they’ve become aware of a company because of thought leadership content. If you implement this strategy when it’s time to reach out to new leads, contacts will already be familiar with you and your product or service, which helps warm them up to your pitch.
Strategy #3: Create a stronger lead qualifying system
The most important sales prospecting strategy is lead qualification. When you qualify leads, you prevent bad apples from entering your pipeline and clogging it up. A great lead enrichment tool will provide accurate firmographics, demographics, and/or psychographics on your leads so you can decide who moves down your pipeline. It’s also important to establish a comprehensive lead scoring system between your marketing and sales teams if you plan to use an inbound strategy. We found that marketing often sends over unqualified leads to sales reps, then reps waste time qualifying them further. Marketing must always know exactly what their ideal customer looks like and what the threshold is for sending them over to the sales team. Leadership can enforce rules and consequences to encourage proper lead qualification, like not allowing them to enter a contest to win a prize if they fail to follow the qualification system.
Best practices for leaders to take accountability
In this section, we’ll focus on how leaders can take accountability for the success of their sales prospecting strategy ensuring it is executed well. Implementing these best practices will help them continue to grow in their leadership and secure the success of their company.
- Get everyone into a growth mindset: Begin preparing your sales organization for the big change. What does that look like? It looks like leaders and managers who are willing to embrace challenges and take responsibility for success instead of shifting blame. It’s also the willingness to adapt to new strategies, like comparing the B2B vs. B2C sales process, and seeing what you can adopt from their tactics into your strategy.
- Have the right systems in place: Whether you want to prospect daily or take up account-based marketing tactics, you’ll need the right strategy, budget, and vision for each one. Always consult with your SDRs and ask them if one tactic feels more fleshed out than the other.
- Hold monthly check-ins: To make sure leadership is accountable for B2B prospecting success, get everyone in one room to discuss how leadership is helping each and every sales rep achieve their goals. Address challenges in the open, and be honest about how they can improve mentorship, resources, and budget for reps to succeed.
If B2B prospecting is the lifeline of your organization, sales leaders and managers are as well. You are the heart of your team, and if you stop beating, the whole thing will collapse. If your team is not performing well or not motivated enough to go out and prospect, there is an issue with leadership that needs to be addressed. Instead of creating your B2B prospecting strategy only around tactics for the team—look to yourself and other leaders to see how you can improve. What tactics can you employ to get along better with your SDRs? How can your team openly address concerns? What kind of training or coaching do you need to help lead your organization to scale prospecting?
Asking these questions and making these types of improvements are how you strengthen your strategy and win bigger deals.