What is sales prospecting?

Sales prospecting is the process of identifying and reaching out to potential customers, often referred to as prospects, with the goal of converting them into paying customers.

Channels can include email, phone calls, social media, online advertising, direct mail, and content marketing (like blog posts, whitepapers, and webinars).

Understanding sales prospecting

Sales prospecting, at its core, is the proactive process of identifying and initiating contact with potential customers, a critical step in the sales pipeline.

However, it’s often fraught with challenges and inefficiencies that make it a particularly tricky part of sales management. The primary problem in prospecting lies in the difficulty of not only locating but also effectively engaging with the right prospects – those who truly need and are likely to purchase the offered product or service.

This task is compounded by the vast array of channels available (from emails to social media), each requiring distinct approaches and skills. Moreover, sales professionals must navigate the fine line between persistent follow-up and intrusive pestering, all while competing in increasingly crowded markets.

As a result, effective prospecting demands not just strategic outreach, but also keen insight, patience, and adaptability to navigate these hurdles and convert prospects into viable, long-term customers.


Quality sales prospecting is vital for sales teams to meet their revenue goals, as it lays the groundwork for a successful sales strategy. It involves targeting leads that are most likely to convert, enabling teams to focus on prospects with a real need for the product or service.

This targeted approach leads to improved conversion rates and ensures that the team’s time and resources are spent effectively, rather than being wasted on unqualified leads.

This focused strategy also facilitates the building of meaningful relationships with potential customers. By understanding their needs and pain points, sales teams can establish trust and credibility, leading to higher sales success rates and fostering customer loyalty.

Furthermore, engaging with well-qualified leads tends to shorten the sales cycle, as these prospects are already interested or in need of what’s being offered. This efficiency reduces the time spent on convincing or educating them, speeding up the overall sales process.

Ultimately, quality prospecting leads to increased revenue and a better return on investment for sales activities. It contributes to a more predictable sales pipeline, allowing for better forecasting and resource allocation.

This predictability is key in achieving and potentially exceeding revenue targets, making quality prospecting an indispensable component of effective sales operations. In essence, it’s not just about generating leads, but about generating the right leads that align with the business’s broader goals.

How do you assess prospects?

Assessing sales prospects is a critical step in the sales process, involving the evaluation of potential customers to determine their likelihood of making a purchase. This assessment can be broken down into several key steps:

1. Identify prospects’ needs and pain points: The first step is to understand what the prospect needs, what problems they are trying to solve, and how your product or service can address those needs and problems. This involves asking questions and listening carefully to their responses. The aim is to gauge whether there’s a fit between what you’re offering and what the prospect is seeking.

Typically teams use tools like an Ideal Customer Profile (or ICP for short) that detail specific types of buyers that have success with their company. For example, if your business caters to cloud storage technology for government workers, your prospects would need to be in the government sector with an IT job title.

Illustration Of Breadcrumbs Icp Worksheet


Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) Worksheet

Learn how to create an Ideal Customer Profile and build a successful sales strategy with this Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) Worksheet.

Typically people with these same demographics and firmographics will have the same needs and pain points that your product can solve.

2. Evaluate their budget: It’s important to determine whether the prospect has the financial resources to purchase your product or service. This can be done by direct questioning or by researching the prospect’s company size, market position, and general financial health. Understanding their budget helps in tailoring the offer to their capabilities.

3. Determine decision making process and authority: Assess who makes the purchasing decisions and how those decisions are made within the prospect’s organization. Sometimes, the person you are in contact with might not be the decision maker but can influence the decision. Knowing this helps in customizing your pitch and understanding how long the sales cycle might take.

4. Assess their level of interest: Evaluate the prospect’s level of interest and engagement during interactions. Are they actively asking questions, requesting more information, or showing enthusiasm about your product or service? Are they talking about using your product/service this year or next? If the issue is being put on the back-burner, it will likely affect the sales cycle length and outcome.

5. Check for competition: Determine if the prospect is considering competitors’ offerings. Understanding their evaluation criteria and what they find appealing in other products can help you position your product more effectively.

6. Lead scoring and prioritization Many sales teams use a lead scoring system to rank prospects based on how they fit certain criteria. The more engagements (website visits, emails opened, etc) a contact has and the better fit (judging by your ICP) they are, the more likely they are to be a good fit for your solution. Lead scoring tools like Breadcrumbs can interpret these data signals to instantly alert your sales team to these high-quality leads who should be given the utmost attention ASAP.

What Is Sales Prospecting? Breadcrumbs Lead Scoring

In sum, assessing sales prospects is about gathering as much relevant information as possible to make an informed judgment about their potential to become a customer. The more data you have, and the clearer you are about what makes a candidate a great pick for your solution, the better your outcomes will be.

What is prospecting in marketing?

Prospecting in marketing refers to the process of identifying potential customers or clients – often called leads – who might be interested in a company’s products or services. This proactive step is foundational in building a robust marketing pipeline and is integral to both the marketing and sales strategies of a company.

The aim here is to pinpoint individuals or entities that are most likely to convert into paying customers, thereby facilitating targeted and effective marketing efforts.

The process of prospecting in marketing starts with market research and the analysis of existing customer data to identify the characteristics and behaviors of the ideal customer. This research can involve demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data to create customer profiles or personas, like the ICPs we just mentioned.

Tools like CRMs, social media platforms, and analytics software play a significant role in this process, helping marketers collect and analyze data to identify potential leads. Once potential leads are identified, the next step is to segment them based on various criteria such as their needs, interests, location, or purchasing behavior, enabling more personalized and effective marketing strategies.

After identifying and segmenting leads, marketers engage in targeted outreach and communication efforts. This can involve a variety of channels like email campaigns, social media engagement, content marketing, and even direct mail.

Effective prospecting in marketing not only increases the chances of conversion but also ensures that marketing resources are utilized efficiently, targeting individuals who are more likely to become loyal customers.

What is outbound prospecting?

Outbound prospecting is a proactive approach in sales and marketing where the salesperson or marketer initiates contact with potential customers. Unlike inbound methods, where prospects come to the company through channels like content marketing or SEO, outbound prospecting involves reaching out to potential leads directly.

This can be done through various channels such as cold calling, email outreach, direct mail, social media messages, or even face-to-face interactions at trade shows or networking events. The objective is to introduce the potential customer to the product or service being offered, gauge their interest, and ultimately move them into the sales funnel.

What is your primary goal in prospecting?

The primary goal of prospecting in sales and marketing is to identify and connect with potential customers who have a high likelihood of converting into actual customers. This involves more than just increasing the quantity of leads; it’s about enhancing the quality of leads so that they align well with the product or service being offered.

Prospecting is essentially the first step in the sales process, laying the groundwork for all subsequent sales activities. It’s about building a pipeline of potential customers who have demonstrated or can reasonably be expected to have, an interest in what is being sold, ensuring that the sales team’s efforts are focused and efficient.

Successful prospecting results in a list of leads that are not only interested in the product or service but also have the need and the financial capacity to purchase it. This process requires an understanding of the target market, including the customers’ needs, preferences, and purchasing behaviors. The ultimate aim is to engage these potential customers, establish a rapport, and develop a relationship that moves them through the sales funnel toward a purchase.

How to automate the sales prospecting process?

With the advances of AI and sales automation tools, it’s easier than ever to manage your task load. Here are a few key ways you can leverage automation with sales prospecting process:

  1. Use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software: CRM systems are essential for automating many aspects of prospecting. They can store and manage lead information, track interactions, and help segment leads based on various criteria. Advanced CRMs can also automate follow-up tasks, set reminders for contacts, and provide valuable insights on lead behavior.
  2. Leverage marketing automation tools: These tools can automate repetitive tasks like sending out email campaigns, posting on social media, and segmenting audiences based on their interactions with your content. For instance, if a lead downloads a whitepaper from your website, the tool can automatically send them a follow-up email tailored to their interests.
  3. Implement lead scoring: Calling every prospect is bound to end in wasted time and opportunities. Lead scoring can help you distinguish the leads who are ready to take action today from the tire kickers. You can then use lead scores to power the rest of your automation. For example, high-value leads should be immediately sent to the sales team, while leads who are not as engaged can be sent automated marketing emails to move them down the sales funnel.
  4. Integrate web forms and landing pages: Web forms on your website or landing pages can be used to capture lead information, which can be used for lead scoring, segmentation, and automation. Standardizing and then using these categories to further refine your personalization is key to having effective (and clean) data hygiene.
  5. Use chatbots and AI assistants: Chatbots on websites can engage with visitors 24/7, answering basic queries and capturing lead information at the same time. AI-powered assistants can qualify these leads by asking pre-set questions, thus automating the initial screening process, and fueling your data stores.

Remember, while automation can significantly improve the efficiency of your prospecting process, it’s important to maintain a balance.

Personalization and human interaction remain key elements in building strong relationships with potential customers (at least until AI can do a better job of selling). Automated systems should be used to enhance these interactions, not replace them entirely.

What is prospect scoring?

Prospect scoring, also known as lead scoring, is a systematic approach used in sales and marketing to evaluate and rank leads based on their potential value to the organization. It involves assigning scores to each lead, which helps in prioritizing them and optimizing the sales process. The score is typically based on various criteria that indicate the lead’s likelihood of converting into a customer.

Lead scoring criteria can include demographic information, such as the lead’s job title, industry, or company size, and behavioral data, like website visits, content downloads, email engagement, and social media interactions. These factors are chosen based on how well they align with the characteristics of an ideal customer for the business. Additionally, you might want to consider firmographic data, such as the company size, revenue, and industry of the lead.

What Is Sales Prospecting? Breadcrumbs Lead Scoring

Each criterion is assigned a weight or value based on its perceived importance in predicting a lead’s likelihood to purchase. For instance, if downloading a specific whitepaper has historically led to a higher conversion rate, that action might be assigned a higher score. Similarly, leads from a specific industry that is a perfect fit for the product might receive higher scores.

Once leads are scored, they can be segmented into different categories, such as hot, warm, and cold, or whatever terminology fits the company’s sales process. At Breadcrumbs, we use a 16-part co-dynamic distribution model that scores leads based on both their fit and behavioral data.

What Is Sales Prospecting? Breadcrumbs Lead Scoring

An A1 score in this model would mean someone who is a good fit from a demographic/firmographic perspective (aka someone who meets all of our ICP expectations) and someone who is actively engaging with our business (reading our emails, visiting our pricing page, etc).

On the lower end of the quadrant is a D4, where prospects are unlikely to become customers based on their firmographic profile and their activity (or lack thereof). 

This specific model allows for deeper segmentation and personalization than a typical ‘hot or cold’ score, and can be more easily used by teams and automated tools.

What is the difference between a prospect and a lead?

The terms ‘prospect’ and ‘lead’ are often used interchangeably in sales and marketing, but they refer to different stages in the customer acquisition process. A lead is a person or organization that has shown some level of interest in a company’s products or services, but their potential to make a purchase is not yet fully determined.

Leads are typically generated through various marketing activities like content marketing, attending trade shows, advertising, or filling out a form on a company website. They are the initial point of contact in the sales process – individuals or entities that have made their contact information available to the business, but their level of interest and suitability for the product or service is still largely unknown.

A prospect, on the other hand, is a step further along in the sales process. A prospect is a qualified lead, which means they have been evaluated and deemed to have a higher potential of becoming a customer. This evaluation often involves determining whether the lead requires the product or service, the authority and means to make a purchase, and a level of interest or intent that makes them likely to buy.

While all prospects are leads, not all leads become prospects. The transition from a lead to a prospect is a crucial step, involving an assessment of the lead’s potential value to the company and their likelihood of moving further along the sales funnel towards an actual purchase.