I frequently recommend using lead generation, and then in the next breath mention sales prospecting, when we’re defining new business development strategies and building client campaigns. But, I’ve realized that business owners – and even salespeople and marketers – don’t recognize the subtle differences between them.
Both terms describe a new business development approach, but they aren’t synonymous. In fact, the goals of lead generation and sales prospecting, and when to employ each, often are very different.
Yet, both are essential in driving net new clients for your business.
So, What’s the Difference?
Simply put, lead generation is a long-term strategy and prospecting is a short-term, quick-hit strategy.
Lead generation is a one-to-many approach, focused on your target market. It centers on prospective client cultivation and nurturing. The goal is to build awareness and interest in your target market, moving them through their Buyer’s Journey, to generate marketing qualified leads (MQLs) over time. When your pipeline is healthy and you want to keep it that way, lead generation is the approach for you.
Prospecting, meanwhile, is a 1:1 approach focused on a smaller, defined set of prospects in your target market. Think cold calling. You use it to quickly identify, engage and close new clients. When your pipeline is thin and you need to replenish it, prospecting is the way to go.
Not understanding the difference can kill your sales funnel quickly.
Who Does What?
As a one-to-many approach, lead generation is a marketing function. You’ll use marketing strategies like SEO, content marketing, email campaigns, social marketing, webinars and events, and pay-per-click ads. You don’t want a salesperson to tie up their time creating and implementing campaigns. They won’t have the time – or expertise – to thoroughly plan a go-to market strategy, create the content, and implement it.
Prospecting is a sales function. You’ll cold call a list, mine LinkedIn, and follow up on marketing qualified leads using a prospecting process like the Bloodhound Follow-Up Strategy. Whoever does this may be making as many as 50 dials a day, breaking past gatekeepers with the goal of setting first-time appointments with new prospects to start the sales process and fill your sales funnel.
Can One Person Do Both Lead Generation and Prospecting?
When I talk with business owners who expect to hire a salesperson who can do their marketing or a marketing person who will cold call, I tell them they’re setting themselves up for failure. Both are about new business development, but marketing and prospecting are two very different skill sets.
If a person is good at marketing, that’s where they’ll spend their time. Prospecting will suffer. In all likelihood, a marketer will avoid prospecting. They’re horrified by the thought of cold calling. They’d prefer to spend their time analyzing your target markets, planning strategies to penetrate them, creating content, and implementing activities that will entice people to engage and convert MQLs to SQLs over time.
A great prospector with sales hunting skills won’t want to waste their time with marketing. In their mind, why the heck wouldn’t you just pick up the phone and call someone instead of spending all that time planning a campaign? I want to hire the hunter with that mindset! But I won’t ask them to do the marketing.
When to Employ Lead Generation Campaigns
Use lead generation campaigns when you:
- Want to build awareness and get prospects to demonstrate some form of interest before you contact them by phone
- Have the time to execute a series of lead generation strategies to build awareness and interest in your target market
- Don’t need leads right now
- Have a big list of contacts you want to nurture until they have a need
- Prefer to use a combination of personal, digital, and collaborative prospect-attraction strategies like I write about in my book The Sales Mgnet
- Have high-value, downloadable assets on your website that prospects must register to receive, and you want to nurture those prospects after they’ve downloaded the asset
- Want qualified prospects to find you through a Google search, even if they’ve never heard of you
- Want to develop an approach for building a consistent flow of leads
- Want to attract leads that are warmer and more qualified
- Want to warm up leads until they’re ready to engage with your salesperson
When to Employ Sales Prospecting
Use sales prospecting when you:
- Are thirsty for new opportunities and want to close first appointments quickly
- Need leads right now
- Favor a combination of 1:1 calling, email prospecting, and social selling to uncover new prospects
- Are generating marketing-qualified leads that need follow-up to uncover prospects who are ready to engage
- Are receiving inbound leads you want to convert to qualified first appointments
- Prefer to focus on a small, very targeted list of prospect microsegments to ensure that your value proposition is specific and relevant to each individual prospect
- Aren’t worried that the people you’re prospecting have no awareness of you
- Are comfortable being rejected or ignored (with prospecting, it may take at least 9 attempts before you get a response)
- Are confident in your ability to quickly and concisely deliver your value proposition, and are comfortable questioning prospects and responding to their objections
- Have a salesperson who is a successful, proven hunter
The Ideal Lead Generation Campaign and Sales Prospecting Strategy
The ideal new business development strategy is to combine lead generation campaigns and prospecting. Lead generation hits a large target market, nurtures it through the Client Buy Cycle at the prospect’s own pace, and identifies marketing qualified leads who may be sitting back just waiting for you to contact them. Lead generation campaigns warm up prospects.
Many prospects who are ripe to engage never contact you, even though they’re reading your great content, attending your webinars, and avidly following you.
Why? Because they’re crazy busy.
They know you’re there, but they never make the time to reach out. When they have a need it’s time to address, they’ll take your competitors’ calls – because your competitors called. You didn’t.
- Plan prospecting as part of your lead generation campaigns.
- Warm up prospecting with lead generation.
- Pass MQLs to your skilled salesperson to call, get the first appointment, then convert them to SQLs in your sales funnel.
Marketing and sales go hand in hand. You want both. Together, they are the new business development strategy that will create a steady flow of leads so you never again have to wonder where your next client will come from – or when they’ll arrive.
Marketing employs a combination of tactics that no one person can master. Sales prospecting is not an art. It can be learned. If your marketing isn’t generating the leads it should, we can do all – or part of – it for you. If your salesperson’s prospecting isn’t converting first-time appointments and sales-qualified leads, we can train them to fill your sales funnel. Contact us and let us help you generate the steady flow of leads you deserve.