It appears that people often use the term prospecting and cold calling interchangeably. The truth is that cold calling is just one component of sales prospecting as prospecting is actually a larger process that includes many different steps.
Step One: Profiling
Step one in prospecting for sales is the act of profiling. This is the act of building out the profile of the ideal customers that would fit best for what you have to sell. This involves identifying the customers that are most likely to buy and benefit from the products and services that you sell. Factors you will want to look at are the size of companies that are ideal in terms of revenue or employees, the industry they operate, their geographic location, etc.
You are basically identifying where your sweet spot is in terms of customers to go after so that the time you spend prospecting is focused in the area that delivers the best return.
Step Two: Targeting
Step Two in the prospecting process is to build a list of all of the potential prospects that fall under the profile that you built in step one. There are many resources to use to build this list but one example is Hoovers. If you subscribe to Hoovers, you can go onto their site and easily plug in the company size, location, industry, etc., and you will then have a fairly comprehensive list of all of your prospects.
Step Three: Suspecting
The next step in the sales prospecting process is Suspecting. This is the act of going through the comprehensive list of prospects and identifying a pool of suspects. This is to essentially build out a smaller subset that you can focus on. Information that you might want to use to identify suspects is any information on what the company is doing or has done that may exist in your customer relationship management system.
Depending on the size of the list produced by the Targeting step, this step may or may not be necessary.
Step Four: Researching
Once you have your list your list of suspects, the next step in the sales prospecting process is to research. This is essentially a customer information gathering process on your suspects with the goal of getting to a point where you are able to pre-qualify them as prospects. The type of information that you might want to gather is the state of the company (growing, shrinking, or maintaining), identify contacts and who is responsible for what, and identifying what their current processes and systems are. This information may be able to be found on their website, financial reports, and news articles. What information cannot be found through available resources could be possibly found by placing research calls into different areas of the organization.
Step Five: Identification
The next step in the sales prospecting process is identification. This is where you take the information found during the research phase and either classify the company being researched as a prospect or remove them from the list. If the company is identified to be a prospect, their name should be put onto a list of companies that you plan to build a strategy around how to get into.
Step Six: Contact
The final step in the sales prospecting process is to contact the prospect. This part of the process is a whole other subject in itself, but to highlight some key points: contact should be made at the top or executive level, contact should be made in a mix of ways from calling, emailing, physical mail, etc., and the goal of the initial contact should not be to sell but more to secure an appointment.
Source: Jake Atwood, President at Ovation Sales Group & BuzzBuilder Pro