Business Glossary

Prospecting: A Definition

Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.

What is prospecting?

Sales prospecting, or simply prospecting, is the first step in the sales pipeline. It involves using outbound marketing techniques to make potential customers (or prospects) aware of your company, start to familiarise them with your brand and begin to move them into your sales funnel. The term has its roots in the gold rush of the mid-1800s, when prospectors would sift through soil and rocks to find nuggets of gold. Centuries later, the principle is much the same.

Sales prospecting is used in both B2B and B2C contexts. B2C prospecting targets consumers directly, while B2B prospecting will typically target key decision-makers, such as executives or their PAs. These prospects are often referred to as ‘cold’ because they have no prior familiarity with your brand, or discernible intent to buy from you. Prospecting is an important part of the lead generation process as it qualifies whether or not a prospect is a good fit to become a customer, and prevents sales professionals from wasting their time and effort in targeting prospects who are unlikely to ever convert.

Prospecting is instrumental in growing your business, as it enables your brand to reach new customers. Getting it right can lead to sustainable growth and greater revenues. Getting it wrong, however, can lead to an undue expense of time, effort and resources.

Examples of prospecting techniques

There are several techniques that sales teams can use to engage new prospects and move them to the top of their sales pipeline. Digital technologies have opened up new possibilities for prospectors; however, many tried-and-true solutions can still prove effective in converting prospects.

Conversion need not necessarily require a transaction. It may simply result in a prospect signing up for your email newsletter, following you on social channels or simply visiting your website.


Cold-calling is designed to initiate a conversation between a member of your sales team and a prospect. While cold-calling can be a risky tactic, it can generate success for gifted sales professionals. However, the communications watchdog Ofcom has specific guidelines on cold-calling legally in the UK.

Automated voicemail

Cold-calling can be successful for businesses, but its historically low success rates can mean that it yields a fairly low Return On Investment (ROI). Companies often don’t want their talented sales teams dedicating too much of their time to cold calls. Automated voicemail is a form of prospecting that can draw traffic to a physical premises or website without taking up too much of a sales professional’s time

Email/social media marketing

Email marketing is a popular form of prospecting because it is largely automated. The sales team simply needs to draft a great email template and the rest is done by algorithms. Using third-party applications, companies can send huge numbers of emails in short periods of time, thereby mitigating the risk of low conversion rates.

Direct mail

Direct mail requires businesses to create and send printed materials to be delivered to prospects’ homes or business premises. This might include leaflets, postcards, catalogues and anything else that might encourage a prospect to buy from you.

Prospecting tips for best practice

The techniques above can all prove successful for sales prospecting. However, how they are used will determine the difference between success and failure.

Here we’ll outline some tips to help ensure successful prospecting:

Embrace personalisation

Cold emails are much more likely to be opened and acted upon if they address the prospect by name, mention where they live or work, or do something else that makes them feel as though you know them.

Be selective

A ‘spray and pray’ approach to prospecting can not only be a waste of time and effort, it may also damage the goodwill that your brand has built up by associating it with nuisance contact.

Keep it relevant

Successful prospecting needs to position your company as the solution to a problem that the prospect is likely to experience. If your call, email or leaflet is relevant to their needs and pain points, it stands a much higher chance of success.

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