There’s a huge misconception in sales.
For most reps, the focus is all on closing. Hitting the right pain points, what language is the most persuasive, reading body language—that kind of thing.
True, there’s a time and a place for those topics. But the foundation of sales success isn’t how you close. It’s who you’re talking to.
Finding the right buyers is key to making your job 10X easier (and 10X more lucrative). And the first step is knowing how to build a prospecting list.
This guide covers everything you need to know about how to build a prospecting list, including why to do it (4 core benefits) and our proven step-by-step framework for building (and improving) your prospecting list.
Why Bother Building a Prospecting List?
Before we dive into the prospect list building framework, let’s hit the “why” behind it all.
Why should you bother going through the effort of building a prospecting list at all? Can’t you just stick to the old method of focusing on closing buyers as you find them?
Of course you can!
But building a prospecting list lets you sell more efficiently. Here’s why.
A) You Can Focus Your Energy on the Best Prospects
So say you’ve got a perfect product. It solves a major pain point. It’s affordable. And it’s easy to use.
Well guess what?
You’re still not going to be able to close with every buyer you talk to. There are a million reasons your prospects don’t buy:
- Misunderstanding of value
- Cheaper competition
- Lack of urgency
The sad truth of sales is that you can’t win them all. In fact, Sales Insights Lab found that 50% of prospects won’t end up being a good fit.
So rather than wasting time with prospects destined not to buy, why not put your energy into finding buyers that are more likely to say yes?
That’s what a great prospect list does—it lets you define (and refine) who your best leads are while weeding out those who aren’t a good fit. And for you, that means a much better close rate.
B) Makes Your Sales Activity Clear
So much of a sales rep’s day is wasted on task uncertainty.
Should you be following up with leads on booking a demo? Is your time best spent prospecting? When do you nudge buyers in the decision stage of the process?
We’ve talked about plenty of sales cadences and methodologies on this topic before. And one of our main goals is to make selling simple.
But without a doubt one of the best ways to maximize productivity is by having a bank of prospects you can reach out to if you have a free minute. Rather than sifting through LinkedIn, checking backgrounds and qualifications, you can just move down to the next name on your prospect list.
Simple as that.
So rather than fumbling with indecision, you can keep on moving forward.
C) Speeds Up Your Prospecting
HubSpot reports that prospecting was the most widely challenging part of the job (40%) according to sales reps, followed by closing (36%) and qualifying (22%).
Prospecting takes time—a lot of time.
And when you consider it takes an average of 18 calls to actually connect with a buyer, it’s easy to see why.
Now, in the short run, building your ideal customer persona (ICP) and prospecting list takes a bit of work upfront. But when it’s done, you can smash through it much quicker than trying to do everything one person at a time.
On top of that, you’re also only interacting with the most qualified leads—those who are much more likely to buy. That means fewer objections, less feet dragging, and an altogether shorter sales cycle.
D) Lets You Refine & Scale
One of the best things about knowing how to build a prospect list is that your list is a living document—it grows, it changes, and it lets you scale.
If for example you aren’t getting enough meetings booked or your prospects aren’t properly qualified, it means there’s something wrong. Your ICP is off, and your data gathering is broken.
It’s time to refine. You can continually go back and adjust your buyer parameters to narrow down who is going to be a fit for your product. And once that cycle’s done, you can go back again and keep refining.
Within a few cycles, you can go from a measly 2% booking rate to a comfortable 20% (with the right strategy of course).
Beyond refining, you can also scale.
Say for instance you’re booking meetings at a great rate. Well now you can scale by ramping up your daily outreach activity and increase the size of your prospecting list.
The best thing about it is the control is in your hands.
The Sales Prospect List Building Framework
There are some very clear benefits to building a prospecting list—that much is clear.
So the question is, how do you do it?
There are tons of resources out there on this topic. But few give you the detailed, actionable steps you need to take to actually do it.
But that’s where the Sales Prospect List Building Framework comes in. This framework comes from the Selling Made Simple Academy. And it’s built on four crystal-clear steps:
- Refine Your ICP
- Create Your Test Audience
- “Testing” Your Test Audience
- Scale or Change
Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of each.
1. Refine Your ICP
The first step of the framework is refining your ideal customer persona or ICP.
As you might’ve guessed, an ICP is a description of your perfect buyer. These are the buyers that:
- Are easiest to close
- Have the pain point you’re solving
- Understand your product’s value
- Offer the fewest objections
- Are urgently ready to buy
When you map out similarities between your best clients, you can build a roadmap of what to look for in new prospects.
One way to go about that is by going through your past clients and picking out the best. After that, it’s time to identify what makes those clients great in the first place (we’re tackling that in the next step).
How to Identify Your ICP
Identifying your ICP takes a bit of work.
In fact, we have an entire framework for defining ICPs—The Value Proposition Design Framework.
We’re not going to go into complete detail with the framework in this guide. But here’s a quick overview of what it looks like.
- Identify Your Value (The Value Diagram)
- Find Your ideal Buyers (The Buyer Breakdown)
- Find the Fit
- Create Your Value Proposition Statement
- Verify Your Value Proposition
There’s a lot more involved with this framework. So be sure to check out our guide on The Value Proposition Design Framework for a more detailed look at this essential sales tool.
The ICP Essentials
No matter what your market may be, every ICP should cover six essential components.
- Job Title – Is your ideal client a mid-level buyer or a C-suite executive? Not every selling strategy will work for the same job title.
- Industry – What industry is your ideal client in? The more similar the industries, the closer your messaging can be with prospects.
- Location – Where are they located geographically?
- Company Size – How big are they? Are we talking a small mom-and-pop or a several thousand employee conglomerate?
- Current Goals – What are they trying to achieve this month, this quarter, this year?
- Main Pain Point – This is a big one. What’s the biggest problem they’re dealing with right now? The more specific, the better.
- Current Solution – What are they using right now to deal with that problem?
As you continue to refine and scale your list, you can start incorporating other details to keep building your prospect list. For instance, you may want to also include their customer base and target market. Or maybe your ICPs also have very similar motivations that keep them moving. These can all be valuable details when refining your ICP.
How you build out your ICP criteria is up to you. But for now, just stick with these essentials and expand as you go.
The Two Variables
Now, each of the seven essential components above falls under two types of variables: facts and hypothesis.
- Facts – These are the concrete details that we can get on our own. We can use specific software, Google search console, or even quick phone calls to confirm these details.
- Hypothesis – These details are what we’re only able to guess about the account. However, it’s hard to confirm without speaking to the clients directly.
So, which of the seven essentials is which?
Well typically they fall under the following:
- Job Title (Fact)
- Industry (Fact)
- Location (Fact)
- Company Size (Fact)
- Current Goals (Hypothesis)
- Main Pain Point (Hypothesis)
- Current Solution (Fact/Hypothesis)
You’ll have to do a bit of digging to figure out each, maybe even a few cold calls. But filling out the profile completely is a must here.
2. Create Your Test Audience
Now that you have an outline of your ICP, it’s time to put it to good use by creating your test audience.
Your test audience is going to be your R&D center—where you determine what’s working and what isn’t.
For ICPs that are brand new, you’ll want to stick with a smaller audience size. For validated ICPs, a larger audience makes sense. We’ll get into the specific numbers in a bit.
But for now, let’s look at one of the biggest issues sales professionals have when building their prospect list—how exactly they can build their test audience.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator
The absolute best way to create a test audience in my book is by using LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
Sales Navigator is a LinkedIn-based tool that lets you target the right buyers using a variety of powerful search metrics.
And guess what?
If you’ve built out the seven essential components of your ICP using the previous step of the framework, all you have to do is plug those details into their advanced search function and hit ENTER.
Then you’ll get a full list of everyone on the platform that matches each point of your criteria.
Plus as you expand your ICP, you can also include more of the 44 different search metrics including:
- Company revenue
- Relationship (companies where your current connections work)
- Department size
- Fortune (listed on Fortune 50/100/500)
- Recent senior leadership changes
There are lots of details to play with on Sales Navigator.
But be careful—your results are only going to be useful if you’ve built a strategic and spot-on ICP.
Determining Your Audience Size
Now that you have the power of LinkedIn Sales Navigator at your fingertips, it’s time to fill in your list.
But how many leads are right for you? This all depends on whether your ICP is validated or not.
Newer ICPs will need more refining than tried-and-true ones. And as such, you’ll want to work with a smaller audience size, at least at first. That way you can run through your list, evaluate your results, and refine your ICP to target better leads.
For validated ICPs, you can shoot for bigger numbers since you already know what works.
Here’s the audience size I recommend for each:
- New/Unvalidated ICP – 40 people
- Validated ICP – 150 people
3. “Testing” Your Test Audience
Okay so you’ve got your ICP. You’ve plugged the details into Sales Navigator and found the appropriate audience size for how validated your persona is.
Now it’s time to move on to testing.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Now you’re going to start running through your sales cadence against the audience.
Nothing too technical here—just start from the top and work your way down the list.
The goal is to get through the list and see how successful you were at achieving your desired outcome (booked a discovery call, scheduled a demo, closed a sale, etc.).
Then we can determine whether to scale or change (step four of the framework).
Building the Right Sales Cadence
Though we’re focusing specifically on building a prospect list in this guide, it’s worth mentioning the importance of working with a solid sales cadence.
With the right sales cadence, you can simplify your processes, scale without sounding spammy, and continue to improve results by refining again and again (just like we’re doing with our list building).
I recommend using the Cold Outreach Sales Cadence Framework.
In a nutshell, this framework covers:
- Benefits of Using a Sales Cadence
- The Essential Elements of a Successful Cadence
- The Two Types of “Plays”
- 3 Sales Cadence Templates
Ultimately, your goal is to find a cadence that speaks to your unique audience with the right messaging. And the Cold Outreach Sales Cadence Framework is a great place to start.
Evaluating the Results
After you’ve run through your list and recorded your success rate, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate.
What percent of your audience were you able to move on to the next step?
If the success rate (e.g., meetings booked divided by your audience size) was less than 5%, then there’s an issue with either your ICP or the cadence.
For example, if you run 40 people through your cadence, you need to book more than two meetings for it to count as a success.
If you’re hitting less than 5%, start by making sure your cadence is solid using the framework above. Then we can move on to step four of the framework.
4. Scale or Change
You’ve run through your cadences so you’re done, right?
The work has only just begun. Because now it’s time to refine baby.
In all likelihood, your very first go only brought about minor success. A 5% success rate is a good jumping-off point. But with some work on your ICP, you can do magnitudes better.
And if you’ve already hit a solid success rate after your first run-through, all that’s left now is to scale your success and bring in the wins.
Refining Your List
If you’re pulling in a just so-so success rate, that means it’s time to refine your list and your ICP.
This step takes a bit of work and critical thinking on your part.
But believe me, it’s well worth the effort. It’s not uncommon to go from a 5% meeting rate to 10-20% after a single round of refining.
That being said, the effectiveness of this step depends on how deep you’re willing to dig. Because now, you need to look through the people who booked meetings and find new similarities.
- Are they currently using a specific competitor?
- Do they spend a lot of time on LinkedIn?
- What similar things are going on in their market?
There are tons of possibilities here.
But your goal is to find what connects them all together and tweak your ICP accordingly.
When looking for new similarities, I suggest using the specific Sales Navigator filters as inspiration. That way you can be sure your new search criteria will be available on LinkedIn.
Iterate on Your Success
With the hard work done, all you have to do now is jump back into the framework.
Use your newly-tweaked ICP as a starting point. Then build a new list, sticking with the same audience size (you can move up once you’ve reached a stellar success rate and your ICP is validated). And finally, continue the framework until there are no more of that ICP left in the market.
After that market’s tapped, it’s time to move on to another market.
What’s great about your ICP is that a lot of the details will carry over between markets. For those that don’t, you need to put in minimal work to tweak them so they fit, and you can keep building your pipeline.
A long, strategic prospect list is one of the best assets for sales reps. When you work from a prospecting list instead of finding leads haphazardly, you can:
- Focus your energy on prospects more likely to close
- Get clarity on your next sales process steps
- Speed up your prospecting
- Refine and scale your success
The problem is most reps don’t know how to build a prospect list on their own.
With The Sales Prospect List Building Framework, all it takes is:
- Refining Your ICP
- Creating Your Test Audience
- “Testing” Your Test Audience
- Scaling or Changing
And best of all, you can keep iterating on your success again and again. That means progressively better clients, progressively better close rates, and a progressively better sales career.