The sales cycle has seven stages: prospecting, making contact, qualifying your prospect, nurturing your prospect, presenting your offer, overcoming objections, and closing the sale.

Much like building a house, if you cut corners when you’re laying the foundation, you can expect the whole structure to come tumbling down as you add more weight.

This is why prospecting is so important.

So how do we define prospecting? 

Prospecting is the process of finding and qualifying prospects. While, of course, you’ll have further qualifying questions later in the sales cycle, it’s important to rule out unqualified leads during the prospecting stage.

If you fail to do this and instead contact prospects indiscriminately, you’re likely to end up spending time and effort on prospects who are never going to purchase – passing up on genuine opportunities in the meantime.

Here are the five sales prospecting mistakes you need to avoid:

1. Failing to define your ICP

Your ideal customer profile (ICP) simply lists a number of criteria that your perfect customer will fit.

This is not to be confused with persona profiling, which offers a much more in-depth look at your target audience. Instead, your ICP should be used alongside your personas.


When prospecting, you have access to a relatively limited amount of information. However, you should absolutely be able to get hold of the information required to see whether the prospect matches your ICP.

ICPs are largely based on demographic information such as:

  • Location
  • Company size
  • Technological maturity levels

If you do want to dig a little deeper into your ideal customer, you can also bolster this demographic information with more behavioral attributes such as:

  • Which events your ICP will attend
  • Whether they have ever worked with one of your competitors
  • How many times they have visited your website in the past month

The importance of defining your ICP before you start the prospecting stage cannot be emphasized enough.

With a sturdy ICP backing them up, sales reps will be able to focus on attracting the right type of customer for your business. Without one, their efforts won’t be focused – and if you haven’t told them who you’re looking for, who can blame them?

2. Not having a definitive process

Without a process, it’s easy to start strong but then begin to let prospects slip by the wayside as you become busier.

Defining a process that you will follow every single time you’re prospecting means that you’re constantly using and being reminded of best practices. It will also help you maintain the optimal level of contact with prospects, ensuring that you’re not letting any slip through the cracks due to forgetfulness.

Your process will vary depending on the industry you work in, as well as your ICP. However, the most effective processes are based on a plan that keeps you in regular contact with potential customers. This can be achieved through marketing automation or by good, old-fashioned discipline and a lot of calendar reminders.

Your process should also include some or all of the following sales prospecting techniques:

  • Blocking out time for prospecting: It’s easy to let prospecting slip by the wayside if you’re not disciplined
  • Cash in on your existing network: Reach out for referrals and you’ll find more qualified leads coming your way
  • Network at events: Make sure you target the right events, where there will be the highest level of qualified prospects for your business
  • Research: Knowing about a prospect and the company they work for is key to impressing them
  • Relationship building: Unless your company embraces the hard sell, ensure your prospecting process involves enough steps to build relationships with your potential prospects, rather than overwhelming them with a sales-heavy approach.

3. Relying on one prospecting tool

When it comes to prospecting, most sales reps these days head to one place: LinkedIn.

Sure, LinkedIn is an incredibly important and useful tool when it comes to prospecting. Yet by only prospecting on LinkedIn, you could be missing out on a huge swathe of your potential market.

Indeed, as of April 2015, just 37% of the US digital population had a profile on LinkedIn. Furthermore, most of the US professionals that populated LinkedIn hailed from the technology, media, and higher education sectors. Whatever industry you’re in, you could be missing out on reaching potential customers by sticking to just one platform.

So where are the rest of your prospects hanging around?

Ultimately, it depends on your industry – which is why audience research truly is key to a successful sales cycle. You need to find out where your audience is and then master that platform and go find them.

Examples of these platforms online could include:

  • Industry forums
  • Industry Reddit channels
  • Q&A forums
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest

But perhaps your industry remains largely offline. For instance, many of the decision-makers in the construction industry are yet to fully embrace digital. In this case, your prospecting will take place at industry events, conferences, meetings, and over the phone.

4. Offering little value in exchange

Why is a prospect going to give you their precious time, attention, and ultimately money?

Sure, they may have a need for the product or service you’re selling. But often, getting them to that realization takes a bit of persuasion.

This is why, in the prospecting stage, you need to offer value right from the get-go.

On your initial contact, offer them something of value. Consider what challenges they’re likely facing, or what questions they need answers to in the current climate.

Then deliver that answer or solution. It could be an eBook, article, or “how to” video, or it could be the promise of a free one-hour consultation with you or an expert within your organization. It could be an event invitation. Where appropriate, you could even send them a product demo -– as long as that product is solving a problem they know they have.

These days, it’s no longer enough to simply sell the product or service you offer – you have to show added value throughout the sales cycle if you hope to engage your prospects and present a better proposition than your rivals.

5. Not analyzing the results

We live in a data-driven era where there is no excuse for failing to track results and analyze data. There’s simply no reason to rely on guesswork anymore when data can show us significant patterns that we can capitalize on.

Failing to analyze results is a rookie mistake, and it’s not limited to salespeople. However, it does have a bigger impact on them.

Think about it: every hour you spend on a sales approach that simply isn’t working well enough for you is a cash loss.

So where are sales reps going wrong?

Often, they simply aren’t booking out the time in their calendar to debrief from client interactions and analyze what they’re doing right, and – more importantly – where they’re going wrong.

In short

When it comes to sales, quality leads are everything.

If, like every salesperson, you feel short on time, it can be tempting to cut corners during the prospecting stage. But do this, and you’ll feel the impact later on in the sales cycle.

Put in the hours to find qualified prospects, and leave that nagging worry that you might be wasting your time on certain leads behind.

Sujan Patel, Partner at Ramp Ventures and Co-founder at Mailshake

Sujan Patel, Partner at Ramp Ventures and Co-founder at Mailshake

Sujan has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit, and many other Fortune 500-caliber companies. 

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