Anyone in a sales or marketing role will tell you that customers rarely come to you – you must generate the interest. That means all companies and organizations need to continually engage in the cycle of driving leads that become prospects that become deals. In this article, we’ll explain the best ways to do prospect research to ensure your prospects are high quality with the best chances of becoming new business for your organization.
Defining Prospect Research
Prospect research is the process of collecting information on people of interest – potential customers, clients, donors, partners, or investors – that will help you achieve your business development goals. This library of information will be valuable in two primary ways: 1) To qualify a prospect and ensure they are a viable target; and 2) To get to know a prospect so you can approach them in a prepared and professional manner.
The information you gather can originate from a variety of sources and include a range of details, but what’s important to remember is that you’ll be referencing this data for prospecting as well as for on-going relationship building in the prospect management phase, so be as detailed as possible to ensure the research is rich and useful.
Prospect Research Best Practices
The most efficient ways to do prospect research involves both preparation and organization – it’s much more than Googling people and flipping through contact databases. Here are the primary components of prospect research best practices.
1. Define Your Ideal Prospect
Some industries call these buyer personas, some call them audience avatars. Whatever name you give it, your first step in prospect research is to clearly define who your ideal prospect is based on industry intel and your existing organization data. There are two main elements to include when you’re creating a description of the “perfect” outreach target:
Qualifiers. Learning how to prospect in general will involve steps to smoothly incorporate qualifying questions into your emails and phone calls, but for the prospect research stage, you simply need to establish what your qualifiers are. These are the characteristics you identify as being key indicators of a lead’s viability and usually involve three main components: inclination, authority, and ability. Does your lead have the desire to purchase or contribute? Do they have the authority (power) to make the decision? Do they have the financial means to follow through?
Depending on whether you’re looking for an investor, client, or donor, your specific qualifiers will be a bit different, but it’s important to determine what those qualifiers are at this stage because they will influence the next immediate steps on identifying prospect details and performing the research itself, as well as be critical when you write up those sales scripts and talking points down the road.
Demographics and Psychographics. The qualifiers are the most important to get nailed down, but many people also add demographic and psychographic information to their ideal prospect definition. These can include age ranges, average household income, ethnicity, education level, geographic location, brand preferences, values, etc. This type of data can be pulled from your existing sales or donor databases, or in some cases, you can purchase this information from industry research companies. Remember – you are looking for patterns in the demographic and psychographic distribution so you can form a generalized picture of who your perfect prospect is.
Why is this step important? Defining a clear description of your ideal prospect will help you focus your research and qualify your leads – simply looking for anyone who has the money or inclination to help you is too broad of an approach and will dramatically lower your chances of successful business development down the road. Being diligent about this part of the research process will mean the difference between trying to hit a dartboard blindfolded or staring focused at the bullseye.
2. Outline the Prospect Details You Want to Collect
Once you know who your targeting as a prospect and how they can be qualified, then you need to define what you want to know about them. This is another step in getting organized before performing the actual task of prospect research. The exact details you include in your research will vary depending on your organization and industry, but be mindful that the ultimate goal is to identify those fit your mold of an ideal prospect and have both the financial means and intellectual appetite to work with (or support) your organization.
Here are some examples of the data points typically collected during prospect research:
- Career History. This encompasses current as well as past employers, and roles. The industries, companies, and experience of your prospects will always be valuable information.
- Wealth Indicators. For a prospect to be viable, they must have the financial means to be involved with your organization. Look for data such as a prospect’s assets, financial compensation, real estate holdings, and overall net worth.
- Philanthropic Involvement. This will be critical if you’re looking for donors, but even if you aren’t, a prospect’s philanthropic contributions and engagement will tell you a lot about them.
- Educational History. Where did your prospect go to school? What degree(s) did they earn? University ties tend to be strong and this type of knowledge could be key.
- Personal Information. Basic contact information is a must, but you should also look for information on a prospect’s family ties, marital status, and hobbies.
You can build a much more robust collection of prospect research, but these five basic data points will be a good start for any type of organization.
3. Perform the Prospect Research
You’ve done all the prep work to define who and what you’re looking for, so at long last you can begin your research. In upcoming sections, we’ll discuss prospect research tools and resources you can use to assist you, but mentally bookmark that this is the point where you begin the actual research itself.
Also keep in mind that this won’t be a one-time activity – this research process will be an on-going exercise that you’ll probably do quarterly, at a minimum. As time passes, your prospect research will become a comprehensive database and one of your most valuable business development tools.
4. Narrow Down Your Prospects to a Targeted List
Odds are your research generated quite a lot of people and data, even using the focus of an ideal prospect profile. The next step is to narrow down all of your prospects into a targeted list that’s tailored to your immediate goals.
Are you a startup that needs investors for a round of funding? A nonprofit that’s looking for donors to support a specific program? A salesperson who needs to hit a quota for a certain product? You’ll have a prospect list from your research that may be a good fit for your overall business development objectives, but narrowing that down to a hyper-targeted group of people or organizations you’d like to target for specific a campaign or initiative will increase your chances of success in closing the deal.
Plus, this ensures you’ll only be reaching out to prospects with opportunities they are most suited for, which will strengthen your relationships and build trust.
Prospect Research Tools & Approaches
There are a variety of tools and resources you can use to do your prospect management and research, ranging from hitting the “easy button” to being time-intensively manual. Your organization’s budget will largely dictate which direction you go, but here’s are three approaches for prospect research tools:
Hire Dedicated Resources. This is obviously the most expensive route and may not be feasible, but you do have the option of handing off this entire process to someone else. You can hire an in-house researcher (or even a short-term consultant) whose sole function is to collect, organize, and manage prospect information. Or, you can outsource to a screening company. These companies are experts at researching and screening leads in short amounts of time, delivering the best prospects to you in neat little packages. Contractual terms vary, but you can typically outsource your research to screeners for a single project or on an on-going basis.
Do It Yourself (Manually). This is the preferred route for smaller companies and startups because it is the most economic, but fair warning – it’s the most time consuming and can take a lot of effort to deploy efficiently. You will essentially gather and assemble information from a plethora of internet sites, social platforms, and face-to-face interactions into a consolidated database of prospect research. If you’re taking this manual route, staying organized will be critically important.
Your industry and objectives will dictate the exact tools and resources you use, but here are some ideas to start with:
- Professional websites such as Google (an obvious one), GuideStar, FEC.gov and SEC.gov, ZoomInfo, LexisNexis, and Zillow and Trulia.
- Social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and blogs.
- In-person activities like networking groups, charity events, workshops and conferences, and neighborhood events.
Invest In Relationship Capital Software. The middle ground between efficiency and affordability is to use software built for prospect management and research, and this is quickly becoming the most popular option for organizations. Specifically, RelSci’s relationship capital platform helps businesses get deep insights on individuals during the prospect research phase, and then displays connections and extended pathways between you and your prospects.
To further explain what RelSci’s software does precisely, here are some its features you would take advantage of when researching:
- Robust Proprietary Database. You can comb through RelSci’s proprietary database of 6+ million influential decision makers in 2+ million organizations. Both individuals and companies have detailed profiles which are populated using thousands of independently verifiable public sources. Remember those prospect details and qualifiers you identified? Instead of bouncing all over the internet or paying for subscriptions to access this data, RelSci has assembled all of it for you in a single place. These profiles contain information that ranges from work history and hobbies to political causes and awards. Plus, the profiles are factual and research based; none of the data is based on user-generated content from social networks and the like.
- Flexible Power Search. The Power Search tool in RelSci’s platform is an easy and fast way you can create targeted prospect lists. With the Power Search, you can run queries in RelSci’s proprietary database of millions by name, role, industry, school, city, donation, and more. Results will show you potential prospects, as well as a custom pathway of connections from you to that prospect. From there, you can determine if the prospects are viable and how many connections you have that could help with a warm introduction.
- Insightful Discovery Tool. The Discovery Tool is designed to give your decision makers and senior executives a clear view of your organization’s relationship capital. You can view direct relationships and extended networks across an industry, location, and role, which will help you do your research and qualify leads, in addition to identifying which markets and individuals have the greatest opportunities.
- Clever Path Finder – Path Finder illustrates the connections between different people in an organization, industry, or even city, which can significantly help you qualify a prospect, and then gives you a “map” to reach them when you’re ready to make contact. You can view your first-degree connections or extended network connections, revealing pathways to prospects you might not have been aware of.
- Informative 360 Alerts – Performing your initial research on a prospect is one thing, and keeping that research current is another. With 360 Alerts, you can get a custom report on your prospects delivered to your inbox every day. The alert contains links to the latest news articles, as well as updates like stock sales, real estate transactions, job changes, and other key professional developments not typically covered by the media. You can create a 360 Alert for a specific person (which will include all associated entities) or a company. The alerts will also give you plenty of valuable information to use as conversation points during your initial contact with prospects.
Using this guide to prospect research will help you learn the best practices on how to prospect as a whole. Being prepared, organized, and focused will help you uncover the highest quality prospects, who are most likely to become successful business relationships.