What’s the biggest challenge salespeople face today? While your first thought may be getting buyers to sign on the dotted line, you’ll be surprised to hear that for most reps, prospecting is often the most difficult stage of selling.

While targeting and initiating conversations with prospects in the hope it’ll eventually lead to a sale is an essential part of the sales cycle, it’s a beast to pin down. Still, agents must develop this critical sales strategy if they want to achieve long-term success. Part of the challenge is that most companies fail to provide training or access to viable prospecting data. Maybe that’s because managers haven’t had the requisite information to share with agents, until now.

Below are several prospecting best practices to keep in mind and pass on to your agents:

1. Know Your Target Audience

The first step in prospecting is to ensure that you have a solid grasp on your target. This requires a comprehensive understanding of what your products and services do, in addition to knowing which companies and individuals are in the market for them. What’s more, it’s important—especially for B2B salespeople—not to pinpoint prospective buyers who are too low in the organization. Senior-level professionals are often the real decision makers with purchasing power.

2. Gather Sales Intelligence

Once you know precisely what and to whom you’re selling, it’s time to gather as much sales intelligence as you can. This includes deep firmographic business criteria such as size, revenue, location, industry, and demographics. According to our Infographic, 89% of world-class sales organizations clearly understand their customers before selling, compared to 29% of average companies. Simply put: Do your homework!

3. Mix it Up

It’s important to use a variety of methods to target prospects. All too often, salespeople take the same approach day after day, which starts to get mundane. Try cold calling, networking events, email, or social media. Just remember: Every “touch” should provide some sort of value. Take the “always be helping” approach instead of the traditional elevator pitch.

4. Follow Up

It takes more than one attempt to get through to senior-level decision makers. In fact, past research has indicated that the majority of sales are made on the fifth to 12th contact. To move a lead from cold to warm to hot takes effort. Provide your prospects with engaging, informative and relevant content to help push them to the next stage of the buying process.

5. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Prospecting is hard work, but there are a number of resources that can help you work smarter. According to the infographic, 43% of reps spend more than half a day preparing for sales calls. With access to concise company, competitor, and industry reports—like those offered by Hoover’s—salespeople can better prepare for calls, close more deals, and take back precious time.

Amy Bible is the Director of Acquisition Sales at Dun & Bradstreet. She leads a team of almost 50 salespeople who focus on serving emerging businesses with various data solutions, including Hoover’s.

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