Small companies don’t usually have the resources to hire whole sales development teams. That usually puts the onus of prospecting on salespeople who already have to wear many hats.

What’s more, prospecting can be tedious work. Building a list of prospects is fundamentally different work than relationship-building, and doing both in a week can exhuast both sides of your brain.

The key to squeezing a few hours of prospecting into your week is to work as efficiently as possible, and LinkedIn is the perfect tool to help you do this — once you know how to approach this kind of list-building systematically.

Here is how to use LinkedIn to build better prospecting lists quickly and efficiently.


The tools you will need


As DiscoverOrg’s Claire McEachern writes, your prospecting list will need to answer three big questions:

  1. Who is the right person for your message,
  2. How you will actually get in touch with them, and
  3. What that person’s potential pain point would be.

LinkedIn won’t explicitly give you all of those answers, so you will need a handful of supplementary tools to build a top-notch list of prospects:

  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator
  • Datanyze. Its core platform tells you whether a prospect has begun to work with or quit working with your competitors. Either way, you can deduce pain points from this data. Also, the Datanyze browser extension can help you find email addresses.
  • Rapportive and Name2Email. You can use these browser extensions together to validate the email addresses you find with Datanyze.
  • CRM


The framework for next-level LinkedIn prospecting


Once you have your tools in place, open up the spreadsheet where you’ll build your list, then head over to LinkedIn. There is a four-step process for finding the basic data you’ll need.


Step 1: Create specific prospect segments

Comb through your sales data, your buyer personas, and your own personal experience to get an idea of who your target customers are. The team at Yesdata has an example of the level of specificity required: “Vice Presidents of Marketing at companies with more than 20,000 employees, located in Delaware and New Jersey, that use marketing automation.”


Step 2: Apply those details to advanced search operators

Once you have your own parameters defined, you can translate those into search queries. Those search queries can go in one of two places.

First, there is LinkedIn’s advanced search function. Salesforce Canada has a useful cheat sheet for prospecting on social channels that shows you exactly how to use boolean search operators there. Those basic operators include:

  • NOT, which excludes specific results. An example looks like this: VP of Marketing NOT Marketing Director
  • OR, which shows you either/or search results for two terms. For example: VP OR V.P.
  • AND, which narrows results to those that include two specific terms. For example: VP Marketing AND New Jersey
  • QUOTE MARKS, which narrows results to exact matches of a string of words. For example: “Vice President of Marketing”
  • PARENTHESES, which groups search terms when you start stacking operators.

Mix and match those operators in advanced search to cover everything you’re looking for. That way, you can run queries such as (“VP Marketing” OR “Vice President Marketing”) AND New Jersey.

Then, when you run your searches, save them to Sales Navigator. The great thing about Sales Navigator is it will begin to automate the research process for you. “Once you save enough leads, Sales Navigator works in the background to find new contacts and potential leads for you,” LinkedIn Content Marketing Manager Alex Hisaka writes. “But you also have all those saved leads in your Sales Navigator feed, so you have access to exactly what is on your prospects’ minds in real time.”

Alternatively, Mixrank co-founder Ilya Lichtenstein has an advanced strategy that will let you run more robust searches on LinkedIn, but via Google. His strategy, which he outlines at Sales Hacker, was originally designed for people to work around the search caps on LinkedIn’s free accounts. It also works as a nice supplemental layer of research.


Step 3: Identify and map out decisions makers

When you are selling to other companies, you will very likely deal with several decision makers at each company. Initially, it’s best to get all potential decision makers into your list. As Trent Dyrsmid at Groove Digital Marketing notes, his sales team ends up sending emails to a primary decision maker, an influencer, and a couple of bosses along the way.

Then, you’ll want to map out who is who. Again, LinkedIn is often the source for this data. “You’d be surprised how much people put in their profiles — which team they’re in, which office they work out of, what projects they’re focusing on,” Anna Bratton writes at the Salesforce UK & Ireland blog. “With a little detective work, you can quickly build up a picture of who you should be talking to, what they’re like (check out their recommendations) and what they’ve done before.

You can also build up a map of who reports to who and gain a clearer picture of the people you’ll need to influence to make the sale.”


Step 4: Track down any emails not listed on LinkedIn

Finally, you’ll want to collect the email addresses of each person you’ve put in your list. Manually hunting down email addresses can take forever, which is why Rapportive and Name2Email are so helpful.

Here is an excellent process for finding and validating email addresses, courtesy of the Name2Email team:

  1. Take one of the emails you found with Datanyze, or just type in a person’s first name, last name and company domain into Gmail’s “To” field.
  2. Name2Email will automatically populate the field with several possible permutations.
  3. Hover over each option, and Rapportive will verify it.
  4. Update your list with the correct email.


Get to know your prospects


At this point, you’ll have two-thirds of the information McEachern at DiscoverOrg says you’ll need: Whom to reach and how to do it. Now, it’s a matter of deducing the what: What their pain points are, and what you might have in common with each person.

Start with websites, press releases, social media and any news coverage of each prospect’s company. Also, go back over each person’s LinkedIn profile. Dan Sincavage at Tenfold recommends looking into

  • Each person’s professional histories,
  • The company’s recent partnerships,
  • The company’s business decisions,
  • And any information related to investments and funding.

“These are need-to-know information and shouldn’t be relegated as results of a one-off investigation while you were in the zone,” he says.

There are a couple of helpful lenses through which you should read this information. First is from the perspective of building rapport. “When I look up someone’s LinkedIn information before jumping on a call with them (something you should always do and take note of in your CRM), I look for what things we have in common so that I can build genuine rapport before jumping into the meat of the call itself,” writes our senior account executive, Seth Klebe.

Seth recommends looking into second-degree connections; where the prospect went to school, worked previously or has volunteered; and their interests. If you have any common ground there, you’ll be able to weave that into your opening conversation later and start building a relationship immediately.

This phase of your research also helps you qualify prospects before you ever get in touch. A trio of directors and executives from CEB published a seminal article at Harvard Business Review a few years ago on what top sales teams focus on when qualifying prospects. Their findings were a little counterintuitive, but understanding those findings will help you here.

Essentially, you want to look for prospects who demonstrate a potential to change what they are doing in the future. The team from CEB identified two important criteria that distinguish these types of prospects:

  1. The person has a demonstrated history of acting “quickly and decisively” when they are presented with an opportunity, a crisis, or a better alternative to their status quo.
  2. The person’s company either has an emerging need, or his or her company is in a state of flux “whether because of external pressures, such as regulatory reform, or because of internal pressures, such as a recent acquisition, a leadership turnover, or widespread dissatisfaction with current practices.” This is where Datanyze’s competitor research can add a layer of intelligence.

You can score each prospect’s potential to change with the “Prioritizing Your Opportunities” checklist in the HBR article. This will give you a fuller picture of each prospect’s potential pain points.


Keep your momentum going


Prospecting is a grind, but it can be hugely valuable, especially when you nail down a system that is repeatable and scalable. So, schedule some time for it, and stick to that schedule.

“Set up daily defined and prospecting blocks on the calendar and make those time sacred,” author Jeb Blount tells Heinz Marketing. “No interruptions. No excuses. Time blocking is transformational for salespeople. It changes everything. When you get disciplined at blocking your time and concentrating your power inside those blocks on singular activities, you see a massive and profound impact on your productivity and it makes it easier to sustain good sales habits.”