Are You Ready For Outbound Sales Development?

waylonSo — are you?  Well — probably…maybe.  Luckily, it is easy to find out for sure — just ask yourself some tough questions.

What do you hope to accomplish?

Outbound sales has a bit of a brute force reputation, but in reality the concept is very flexible and can apply to a few different business objectives:

  • Test an idea.  For pre-product / traction companies or for existing companies taking new products to market (or existing products to new markets), outbound sales is an incredibly effective and efficient way to validate a product / idea.  You can focus on very specific target prospects and have lots of customer development conversations very quickly, all of which speeds up the learning process.
  • Support a marketing program.  For marketing teams, outbound sales can accelerate programs and increase conversion rates.  For example, if you’re trying to get prospects to sign up for a marketing event in town, augmenting your traditional marketing efforts with outbound phone calls and personalized emails might be a great way to increase attendance.
  • Build a sales pipeline.  Obviously!  For most companies, outbound is all about building sales pipeline.  Hitting the right targets with the right message in an effort to generate curiosity, with the goal of converting the curiosity to interest, the interest to engagement, and the engagement to a lifetime customer relationship.

Each objective requires a completely different set of assumptions, goals, and inputs — so it is enormously important that you’ve got this nailed at the outset.

Who do you want to target?

OK — so you know what you want to accomplish.  Now you need to clarify your target prospect profile, which seems easy in theory:

  • What problem does my product solve?  What companies / people have this problem?
  • How big is my target company?  What industry?  Where is it located?
  • What is my target prospect’s job title?  How senior are they in the organization?
  • How many prospects meet this criteria?  How easy / difficult was it to find them?

All done, right?  Well — kinda.  You don’t need to have this 100% nailed down forever at the outset of the process, but you shouldn’t skimp on your time here.  And there are some pretty compelling reasons why:

  • A very accurate target prospect profile provides enormous leverage once you get your process up and running.  If all of your prospect inputs are on target, then your outputs will be too.  If your prospect inputs are mixed, then you’ll find yourself having conversations that don’t meet your criteria — which is enormously frustrating and a huge waste of resources.
  • The more narrowly you define your target, the more personalized you can be with your messaging and your outreach.  Very specific industry or geographic niches probably have unique problems / characteristics that you can use to create a compelling call to action, which will lift your response rate.  (We’ve got a messaging post in the works, by the way.  In the meantime, take a look at some thoughts about personalizing outbound sales at scale.)
  • You’re going to need to a build a data machine that feeds your sales machine.  In my experience, it is always worth the effort to go beyond just defining your target prospects and also figuring out how you’ll be able to source a steady stream of quality prospect data — either off the shelf or homegrown.

Do you have a strategy that aligns your goals and your target market?

OK — now we’re getting somewhere!  You’ve got a clear objective and you’ve got a clear target market — now you need to make sure that your strategy maps to your market dynamics and business objective.

There are really two strategy extremes here — spearing and netting — with lots of room in the middle:

  • Spearing — targeting high value prospects one-at-a-time with a focus on maximizing the value from each prospect — like spearing a large fish.
  • Netting — targeting prospects en masse with a focus on generating conversations more efficiently, likely with less personalization — like fishing with a net.

Spearing works best in situations where the market is small and the value per prospect is high.  If you’re selling enterprise software to the Fortune 50, your best bet is to spend lots of time researching, personalizing, and targeting your sales efforts.  There are only a handful of prospects and they’re all potentially very, very valuable.

Netting works best in situations where the market is very large.  If you’re selling $250 / month HR software to SMBs with fewer than 200 employees, your best bet is to cast a wide net to churn up as many conversations as possible.  If there are lots and lots of target prospects, then you can churn through them more quickly and generate leads more efficiently.

Note again that these are extremes.  There is lots of gray area between the two and plenty of ways to combine elements of both methods.

Once you’ve got the right strategy that aligns your objectives and target market, you can make the team, process, and technology investments that will support your effort.

Do you understand what you’re getting yourself into?

If you’ve answered all of the questions in the affirmative thus far, then you’re just about good to go.  But before you jump in with both feet, you need to take a very hard look at some undeniable truths of an outbound sales strategy:

  • Do you have a sense of your unit economics?  It takes a ton of work and a ton of time to turn a cold prospect into a customer.  If the end of that process ends up with a $100 per month subscription, then you need to make sure that your process is fast and your funnel is tight.  If a win means a $60k subscription, then your model will be different.  Depending on your cost per lead and close rate, both methods — sniping and netting — are incredibly do-able.  Just make sure that you lock down the numbers so that you can manage your expectations…and your psyche.
  • Are you ready to make the investments necessary to make outbound work?  You can easily hack together a one-off blast for less than $1,000 — but you’re going to spend an awful lot of time making it work.  In order to truly build an outbound sales engine, you’re going to need data, workflow management, and CRM tools and you’re going to need a great person and/or team to execute the process — none of which is cheap.
  • Can you be patient?  It will take a couple weeks to get a program running, a couple more weeks to warm up the first prospect conversations, and — depending on your sales cycle and sales effectiveness — a few months to land new customers.  And that is if you execute flawlessly — it is more likely that it will take you 6-months to get a deal closed.  But — in our experience — if you keep cranking, stay focused, and remain patient, you’ll be glad that you did.  🙂

So get going!

So are you ready for outbound sales development?  Of course you are!

You’ve still got a lot of work to do — sourcing data, writing messaging, testing ideas, tee’ing up tools and process, advancing prospect conversations, and more — but you should have the strategic foundations to build a successful outbound sales development process.

Good luck!  Call us if you need any help.  🙂