B2B Prospecting for Agencies: How to Collect, Validate, Clean Your Data at Scale
If you’re looking to scale your agency in 2022, following industry best practices and learning from your peers is the best way to do so. After all, they’re facing the same challenges, dealing with the same tasks, and working towards the same goals as you do. Who else would be the best source of inspiration and wisdom to implement in your own business?
Talking to dozens of successful agencies, we know a bit about what you’re dealing with. So we’ve decided to team up with some of our agency partners and give them the floor to share their insights and perspectives on the most burning issues related to different aspects of B2B sales and prospecting.
In the first bog post in this series we will focus on the process of collecting, cleaning, and validating prospect data at scale and the related challenges agencies face — as seen by the industry experts.
What is B2B prospecting?
In B2B sales, prospecting means searching for qualified leads and eventually getting in touch with them to determine if they would be interested in your product or service.
As the name implies, the process resembles sifting the sand to find a few gold nuggets. That also explains why the term sales prospecting is applied for the most part to outbound processes when sales reps proactively build contact lists and reach out to the matching accounts rather than using inbound tactics to attract warm leads.
As a result, many teams differentiate between the two key aspects of B2B sales prospecting:
- Data sourcing (also often referred to as data prospecting), including contact validation and enrichment
- Sales engagement (i.e., cold outreach)
You can also think of these as two stages of the prospecting process since collecting the data makes little sense without putting it to use later on and sales engagement won’t be effective without a list of valid, prequalified contacts. In this article, however, we will focus on the first part of the process specifically and cover the second one in more detail later on.
Sales prospecting, both data sourcing and outreach, typically falls in the SDR team’s wheelhouse. In rare cases it can also be a joint effort of marketing and sales.
However, B2B prospecting is a complex, labor-intensive process, to say the least. Getting enough prospects to fill up your pipeline and giving your AEs enough leads to work with will require a team of professional SDRs using reliable B2B prospecting tools. And if hiring SDRs doesn’t seem to be a challenge for you, the budget that a solid prospecting stack requires might. No surprise many businesses choose to outsource the whole process and team up with sales agencies.
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Key challenges agencies face with B2B prospecting
Professional lead generation agencies augment the customer’s sales team to take care of the most laborious prospecting tasks. This, however, doesn’t mean that the process would be any easier.
In fact, B2B agencies face a number of problems of their own when dealing with prospecting on behalf of their clients. Let’s hear about these challenges first-hand starting with our first agency expert, Michael Bassin:
The great responsibility for managing a range of companies’ lead research comes with many challenges. Here are the top issues lead generation agencies face when B2B prospecting.
- Managing lead research timelines
Lead research is very time-consuming and clients need to understand that. While certain tiny sprints may be capable of being completed within 24 hours, extensive lead research will take a lot more time.
Your clients need to know that searching for thousands of prospects can’t be done instantly, especially when you have a set research schedule for multiple clients. This usually becomes a problem when a campaign for a client isn’t going well.
If the leads aren’t flowing in, there’s a natural tendency by both the client and the agency managing them to panic and want to change everything instantly. This panic response is not exactly unlikely. However, even if changing the lead profile is the right thing to do, your clients must realize it will take time to implement.
Tip: When you first start working with a new client, be transparent about your timelines for delivering research and how long things can take when changing course.
- Managing clients who don’t know their prospecting profile
Some clients will provide you with a list of highly detailed criteria that will make your life easy. Other clients won’t have a clue as to who their ideal customer is and will expect you to be their “de facto CEO” to figure that out for them.
If a client doesn’t know who their target customer should be, they may want to frequently change the research criteria or add specifications that disqualify prospects you’ve already found. This can leave the research you’ve already done for them in the dust and force you to have uncomfortable conversations about additional costs for the research.
Tip: Don’t start the research until you’ve fully agreed on detailed prospect criteria that will not change from day to day. Help the client understand that lead generation is a process. Even if they discover that current lead criteria is inaccurate, there will be additional research efforts going forward.
- Talking to clients about relaxing lead profile criteria
No one likes being the bearer of bad news, but a good lead generation agency knows when it’s time to have a talk with a client about opening up their lead research profile.
No lead research team can find prospects that don’t exist. So if you’ve promised you’ll find X number of prospects, but you can’t find more than half of the quota, bring it up as soon as possible.
It’s very important that when you do bring it up that your client does not feel like they have to micromanage you. After all, your client hired you because they believed in your expertise and know-how.
Tip: When the lead profile needs to change, come to the client not just with this news, but also with a detailed list of suggestions that can expand the number of prospects out there. Showing them that you’re proactive and think outside the box will gain their long-term trust.
- Ensuring every member of your team understands the research criteria
Extensive lead research is not usually undertaken by one person. It takes a team to identify prospects at scale. Usually, the head lead researcher will be in touch with clients directly and will be expected to manage the team’s efforts.
This is usually where things get lost in translation. It’s imperative that every member of the lead research team has a solid understanding of who the client is, what the client does, and all the criteria related to their lead profile.
If there’s even one gap in the chain, your lead research operation will be playing the broken telephone game. This can lead to the wrong prospects being identified. If this happens, your campaigns will be less successful, your client will get mad, and your competence will be questioned.
Tip: Put all requirements in a large “master sheet” that all your lead researchers and your client has access to. Encourage a culture of communication by letting your researchers know it’s okay to ask questions and to be unsure about whether a prospect meets the criteria. Make sure they bring their questions to the head lead researcher for answers. Any questions directed towards the client should come from the head lead researcher.
- Structuring your prospecting efforts for scale
Ensuring that your team understands the lead research criteria is important, but maximizing the speed of research is equally important. You won’t be able to scale your research efforts unless identifying companies, contacts, and cross-referencing the data are done in parallel, not one after the other.
If you wait to find contacts until after you’ve found all the information about companies, you will never be able to keep up with demand.
Tip: Assign different dedicated staff to the tasks of finding companies, identifying contacts, and validating the data. When an individual is dedicated to a specific task, they will accomplish that task quicker and with greater effectiveness.
Michael Bassin, Co-Founder & CEO of ScaleUpSales, a boutique lead generation and sales support agency designed to maximize qualified sales opportunities and provide solutions for every stage of the sales cycle. ScaleUpSales manages outbound lead generation and sales activity for over two dozen companies, filling up meeting schedules for the salespeople they support and helping them convert leads into new business.
Where do agencies get their prospect data?
Cracking the code on the ideal customer profile for each one of your clients is one of the most common challenges for B2B agencies. Yet, it’s the necessary first step before you start mining the prospect data.
Once you have your eyes on the prize, you can begin your data prospecting efforts. But where do you go for the data?
B2B databases like ZoomInfo might seem to be the most obvious solution. Just be prepared that part of the data might be outdated or not accurate enough. People switch jobs and companies pivot or go bankrupt quicker than the data providers can keep track of.
So there’s a chance that you will be paying thousands of dollars for a database you will still need to clean up and validate yourself. No surprise that many agencies opt for a more time-consuming but also more reliable manual data sourcing method (or partner with companies that specialize in building targeted lead lists for them). In this regard, the tips shared by our next expert, Roman Shvets of SalesAR, might be useful:
To find and filter relevant as well as valid prospect data is often a challenge for agencies as they simply don’t know where to look for the needed info. Unfortunately, many sources on the web have either outdated data or use automated search algorithms that don’t provide reliable material.
The best way to generate accurate data is to use the following sources:
- Chatbots and “contact us” forms that can help you collect warm leads’ emails and/or phone numbers.
- Platforms like Clutch that provide all the info on the company (e.g., main focus, the number of employees, average hourly rates, project size, etc.).
- LinkedIn where you can find all the info on the prospect starting from the title and ending with the prospects’ latest activities like sharing blog posts/articles or commenting on the issues, which can help business/sales development representatives find common ground for future communication.
- Databases provided by lead generation companies. The majority of such firms use manual research to generate prospect data. Thanks to the in-depth expertise and access to free and paid tools, they can provide you with lists that contain the required data in a matter of days.
Roman Shvets, Co-Founder & CEO of SalesAR, a B2B lead generation company that helps its clients boost their sales. Roman and his team are currently working on new products that can provide clients with access to relevant and valid contact data.
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Data validation and list hygiene best practices
Data quality is a typical concern in sales prospecting, especially when you scale your efforts. That is why data validation and list hygiene are crucial parts of the process for any agency.
This includes the following activities:
- Contact information verification to make sure that the email addresses and phone numbers on your list are valid.
- Double-checking and enriching the rest of the prospect data, from the prospect’s full name and its spelling to any additional info that could help personalize your outreach.
As a result, according to Shaheem Alam of FiveRings Marketing, a typical prospecting process within a sales agency might look like this:
You can have the best messaging and approach but if your list is unqualified or data is bad — none of that matters.
Here are some of the steps we take to build high quality lists.
- We generate a list of qualified accounts to target first using tools like SalesIntel, Crunchbase, Apollo, or – as a last resort – LinkedIn Sales Nav accounts search.
- Next we always start on LinkedIn Sales Nav to build our lead lists.
- Once we export this list, we use GetProspect to get valid emails.
- For cold calling we use SalesIntel’s research on demand feature, which human verifies each lead’s contact data.
- Once complete, our team does a final QA to remove any unqualified leads before finally putting them into our campaigns. This is a manual QA to remove any incorrect title or company name based on the ICP we’re targeting. We’re always exporting fresh data as we need it so we don’t have to worry about data going stale.
Summary of process: Start with qualified accounts → lead lists within those accounts → use valid emails only whether it’s through GetProspect, Reply.io, or another tool → QA, QA, QA!
Overall most consequential advice: The most important thing is to start with qualified accounts at the start and finish with QA at the end no matter what happens in the middle.
Shaheem Alam, Co-founder of FiveRings Marketing, has extensive sales and leadership experience from D2D, cold calling, SDRing, AE-ing, to managing sales teams, and now running his own sales and marketing agency. His company at any given time helps 30+ B2B tech/SaaS companies with their sales and go-to market strategies. He has found and perfected sales best practices, helping companies generate millions of dollars per month in opportunities to drive their success.
How to ace B2B prospecting as an agency
Drawing on the prospecting tips shared by our experts above, there are a few things you should definitely implement with your agency.
- Talk to your clients often. Whether it’s about the deadlines or buyer profiles you’re going to target, communication is key. Make sure you’re on the same page (even if it means explaining to the client that they are wrong).
- Don’t rely blindly on the databases, no matter how rich or how advanced the data they promise. A list of hand-picked contacts will beat any “market-leading” data provider hands down.
- Never underestimate the importance of quality assurance. Even if you’re sourcing your contacts manually, there’s always something that could go wrong. So make sure to double-check every record in your CRM before you push them to your SEP.
Last but not least, if you're looking to improve or scale prospecting efforts at your agency, pay attention to your sales stack. Using a reliable SEP that is designed specifically for sales and marketing agencies can power up your prospecting and outreach efforts.
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