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The 5 pillars of outbound (with Ryan Reisert)

May 9, 2022

Writing exclusively for Cognism.com, sales expert Ryan Reisert takes a deep dive into the latest and greatest outbound techniques. Scroll 👇 to discover the 5 pillars!

There’s a phrase that invades my LinkedIn feed approximately 17 times a day. If you work in B2B sales, you’ve seen it too.

“Cold calling is dead.”

This is a problem phrase for me. Why? Because it shifts the blame from the salesperson to the activity.

It’s like saying whenever a baseball player misses a pitch, “baseball is dead”.

I’m here to tell you:

Cold calling isn’t dead.

Cold calling, like baseball, is an evolving game. The opposition keeps getting stronger, so your performance has to keep getting better.

I’ve broken outbound into 5 key pillars. If you can optimise each of these pillars, your outbound game will get stronger.

And the 5 pillars are:

  1. Hyper-targeting.
  2. Preparing for meaningful conversations.
  3. Deploying SDRs in the right way.
  4. Keeping up to date with the changing landscape.
  5. Allbound.

 

Now I’m going to explore each of the 5 pillars in turn. Starting with…

1 - Hyper-targeting

Pillar 1 is about choosing quality leads over quantity. Make sure the people you invest time talking to have high intent and are ready to engage with you.

Every sales team has problems to deal with, but the solutions to those problems may not always seem clear. First of all, you need to identify the problems in your process before you can start making any serious changes.

The number one thing to ask yourself is, “do I need to get more targeted?” It’s not a trick question!

Here’s how to bring hyper-targeting into your sales organisation.

Do the math

Where do you want your sales team to elevate your business to? For a lot of companies, the goal is $100M before they go public.

Sounds like a lot of deals, right?

You could do that with 1k $10,000 MRR clients, or 10k $1,000 MRR clients.

So, why do so many companies have over 100k orgs in their target accounts?

If your targeting is that broad, you’re creating several problems for yourself:

  • You’re setting your SDRs up for a spray and pray approach.
  • You're setting them up to fail in most of their conversations.
  • And then you’ll have to hire more SDRs to cover for this failure.

What’s happening here is your outbound sales team is being built on an acceptance of failure.

Gah!

Why don’t we focus on the next 1k accounts instead?

This shift will turn SDRs from old-school hunters into well-prepared outreachers. Imagine the difference it makes when they’re anticipating a meaningful conversation every time they pick up the phone.

If this resonates with you, read on.

Targeting comes from the top down

Revenue is the most crucial outcome for every business. We’ve established the importance of targeting in driving revenue. Why is it that the majority of businesses I’ve encountered leave their targeting to the most junior people in the company, SDRs?

It’s absolutely criminal!

You’re tasking them with understanding how your product is actually being used, finding the right target orgs in your target industry, and finding the right people in those orgs to speak to.

If their targeting is off, it could be devastating for two reasons:

Firstly, time speaking to the wrong people is time wasted. More importantly, if your reps are underperforming, you have to find out why. Is there a problem with their sales technique? Or is it a problem with their targeting?

The way to fix this is for targeting to be set at the very top of your business.

A top-down approach to targeting results in:

  • A better understanding of the product and market.
  • A level playing field for your sales reps.
  • Clarity when a sales rep is underperforming.
  • A more refined sales process.

The higher up the org these decisions go, the better it is for your company.

So take responsibility for it!

Leverage modern technology

More, more, more. That’s the old model of sales.

How can we have more conversations, more people on the phone, more time spent calling, more rejections, more deals, more cold dinners, more sweat and more tears!

We’ve ended up with incredibly wide sales funnels. Let’s get as many people into the funnel as possible and take it from there.

But we have the technology now to update that model.

Let’s turn that funnel from a wide net into a nail.

Intent data is changing the playing field already. With it, you can narrow your target list down to companies who are already interested, identify them earlier in the buyer’s journey and have more interesting sales conversations.

Sales triggers are also underappreciated. With them, you gain insights into job joiners, new technologies, funding and more. All of these triggers will make your targeting laser-focused, and all of them can be used to understand your prospects better.

Invest in the best prospecting technology for your team and you’ll have mastered the first pillar of outbound.

Time to move on to the next pillar 👇

2 - Preparing for meaningful conversations

Pillar 2 is about engaging in value-adding conversations. Put your prospects' needs and desires first and build trusting relationships.

Here’s the truth.

Generic sales pitches just won’t cut it anymore.

Because in this new era of outbound, it’s about mastering the art of talking with, rather than at your prospects.

So, you need to be asking yourself:

What can I do to add value to a conversation with a prospect, every single time?”

Have this question ingrained into everything you do in outbound. Make it a part of your DNA as a salesperson.

Now, how exactly can you prepare for meaningful conversations?

Here are my thoughts:

Have a value-led mindset

From the very start, be intentional.

Make prospects know that they’re going to be in a valuable interaction with you, from start to finish.

Ask questions so you can really get to know your prospects and what their pain points might be. Then, answer by providing how you’re specifically able to help.

Think back to all of those situational judgement tests you’ve done. You have a problem in front of you, and you need to provide a relevant and tailored solution.

Don’t just reel off a list of product features. You need to make sure that your prospects know what’s in it for them.

Also, a value-led approach means you don’t fall into the trap of sounding distant or cold. You’re letting your prospects know that you’ve got their best interests at heart.

And the domino effect from this?

Well, if your prospects trust that you’re in the business of helping them, the likelihood of a relationship developing is high.

So, let me ask you this:

What’s going to be more productive: making 700 dials a day, or having 35 meaningful conversations?

Learn how to accept “no”

Abandon the following motto when you’re in outbound sales:

“I won’t take no for an answer.”

Because you’ll just come across as passive-aggressive. And trust me, there’s nothing more off-putting for prospects.

The more time you spend trying to turn a “no” into a “yes”, that means less time to focus on other opportunities.

So if you’ve followed the mindset of making your conversation with a prospect as valuable as possible, and they still say “no” - forget about it.

Move on and focus on the next prospect.

Time for the third pillar 👇

3 - Deploying SDRs in the right way

Pillar 3 is about hiring diverse personality types into your sales team and empowering them to be creative in selling. Emotional intelligence is key!

The age of the robo-spamming SDR is over.

No surprises here.

This way of operating became oversaturated and prospects stopped responding to it. The next time I hear a pitch that begins:

“Hi this is Jack calling from SellYourCatAndUseTheMoneyToBuyScratchcards.org and I want to tell you about a fantastic offer we’re doing on second-hand furniture...”

I’ll start a riot.

So the SDR is dead, right?

No way!

We just need to be deploying them in the right way. Because hiring SDRs, handing them a script, and passing them a phone is just a huge misallocation of resources.

And it all begins with…

Hiring the right SDRs in the first place

There are a bunch of guides on SDR hiring, and you should definitely check them out.

This section isn’t going to be the most detailed hiring guide you’ll ever read. But it might be the most useful.

I have a fairly straightforward view of SDR hiring.

Today, salespeople have to be able to provide something of value. They have to be able to expand in a way that can’t be automated. They have to be able to answer questions and tell a story.

This comes from product and market knowledge, business acumen, a desire to make an impact, a thirst for knowledge and genuine curiosity.

The truth is that a huge number of salespeople are happy to go through the motions without actively trying to learn more. The majority of people don’t read books anymore. Just reading a couple of sales books, subscribing to some newsletters or listening to a few regular podcasts can put you in a relatively strong position.

People who take this attitude to their career are the people you want to hire.

When you hire SDRs, you should be hiring the people with the highest potential ceilings in the company.

This comes first; everything else comes after.

Sales personalities

Only with a solid foundation and strong mentality can salespeople start to set themselves free.

What does freedom in sales mean?

It means encouraging SaaS sales reps to rely on their areas of strength and bring their personalities into play. A free sales team is:

  • Relying on its strengths.
  • Enjoying the results they see from experimentation.
  • Having more fun.

There are loads of different personalities in sales: you can have highly-literate and detailed messengers who excel in email sales, energetic and enthusiastic “power diallers” who make a hundred cold calls every day or engaging and consistent social media masterminds who generate demand online.

Sales reps flourish when they’re empowered to use their creativity and bolster it with market and product knowledge.

And when sales reps flourish, the how becomes less important. It’s only when SDRs struggle that you need to set stricter guidelines.

I’ve heard of sales leaders forcing creative reps into cookie-cutter processes for the sake of uniformity. Strong social sellers being told to stay off LinkedIn and stick to cold calling, for example. In my opinion, this is just a widespread restriction on potential.

If you do want to run sales in a specific way, then make sure you’re hiring reps whose personality types fit your process. If not, allow your reps to experiment.

You may be surprised at the results you see.

Buyer personalities

Guess what - buyers have different personalities too.

I recently hosted Nelson Gilliat on Revenue Champions. I spoke about how happy I am to receive targeted, timely cold calls, and Nelson completely disagreed. He much prefers seeing LinkedIn ads and receiving marketing emails.

Here’s the thing:

Neither one of us is right; we just have different preferences when it comes to buying. Emails and cold calls can both be spammy if they’re done wrong, and they can both be useful when they’re done right.

If you allow for different personality types and areas of expertise in your sales team, you’ll maximise your chances of communicating with prospects in their preferred way.

You’ll cast a wider net while being more targeted - this is the dream of any sales leader!

Rather than forcing your SDRs to fulfil activities they don’t resonate with, allow them to naturally swing towards their favoured way of selling.

Then, over time, hire SDRs with personality types that match those of your buyers. Find out how your buyers like to be contacted (email, phone, social), then recruit reps who specialise in those areas.

4 - Keeping up to date with the changing landscape

Pillar 4 is about making the sales process easier for your buyers. Meet them where they are, offer value and take a buyer-centric approach.

Let’s delve into the fourth pillar. First up, what do I mean by the changing landscape of sales?

I just did a Google search for the terms ‘changing landscape of sales’ and ‘changing face of sales’, filtered by time, and found a result - from a reputable source - from every year since 2010.

So why are people always talking about sales ‘changing’?

There are two reasons:

  1. Sales is always a changing landscape. It changes each time there’s a shift in technology, and whenever that happens, it also causes a shift in public perception.
  2. It helps writers to sell articles (guilty!)

But there is a clear shift happening in sales right now.

Buyers’ schedules are busier than ever. In order to buy a B2B product, they’re having to make several calls, have internal meetings, go through qualification processes, and spend time trawling through comparison pages. It’s exhausting!

We’re coming to a place in sales where we need to adapt and keep it fresh for our buyers.

We need to meet our buyers where they’re at, and in a different way than we’re used to.

How do we do this? By making use of the modern tools available to us.

We need to change our perception and become helpers before we become closers. We need to help buyers through their journey of discovery before we push them into a sales conversation.

This is what we call the buyer-centric sales model.

That’s the theory - now here are the practical steps you need to take to become more buyer-centric 👇

Figure out where the buyer is in their journey

This should impact the way you interact with them, and it’s as easy as asking the question. If you can categorise them as problem-aware, problem and solution-aware, or ready to buy, you’ll know how you can help them.

Asking questions in sales isn’t just about diagnosing pain points, it’s about trying to understand the buyer’s situation.

Provide buyers with useful content during the decision-making stage

What do I mean by useful content?

Things like video and follow-up content after conversations.

My tip for follow-up content:

Try to use a variety of forms. Salespeople are getting carried away with video and audio content, because it’s easy to get across a lot of information in a short amount of time, and they get great feedback.

But, you should still provide your buyers with text-based content. Make things easy for the Director who wants to send a summary to their CEO or CFO or bring up some of your points in a meeting.

Acknowledge your competitors

You need to know why your buyer would choose your service over a competitor’s.

It’s not good enough to ignore or slander your competitors - it’s too transparent. Recognise and respect them, while knowing where your product comes out on top.

I’ll actually go one further: know where your competitor comes out on top.

This is where I’m going to lose a lot of the hardcore sales folk…

There’s an old-school mentality of ‘growth at all costs’, but this mindset comes at a cost.

If you can spot an obvious reason why you shouldn’t sell to someone (maybe you don’t have an integration they need, maybe your software is just too expensive for them), then you shouldn’t sell to them.

If you force these deals through, you’ll end up with unhappy customers who’ll just churn. You’ll miss out on key upselling opportunities and you’ll end up with a bad reputation.                                                                    

Instead…

Tell the prospect why they’re not a good fit for your company, and then tell them when they should come back.

I’m in Year 2 of my company at the moment and I’m seeing lots of people coming back to me now that they’re a better fit. I’ve got a lower churn rate and a better reputation than I would have had otherwise. The crucial point is that organic growth is easier for me now than it would’ve been had I pursued ‘growth at all costs’.

This is a long term strategy, but it’s one that pays off significantly.

Don’t rush into a pitch

This is the other side of the same coin. Being buyer-centric is about helping the customer to make a decision. Rushing them into a sales conversation when they’re not ready is, more often than not, only going to scare them off.

Give them the content they need and have the sales talk when they come to you, or when you know they’re ready for it.

5 - Allbound

Pillar 5 is about using a combination of inbound and outbound techniques to nurture leads and help them make a decision. The two aren’t separate - it’s one integrated process.

The fifth and final pillar is something I feel passionately about.

We shouldn’t think about either outbound or inbound, or view these as different approaches. Outbound and inbound activities are essentially two sides of the same coin.

You need to be looking at both in synergy, or in other words…Allbound!

To optimise the journey, you need to see the full picture - and you can’t do that with teams working against one another.

Instead, inbound and outbound teams should come together as one revenue team. Sharing knowledge and insights, feeding into the customer journey as a whole and finding ways to complement one another.

For example, you can have the most skilled outbound sales team calling day and night to schedule meetings, but do you think for a second that they won’t do their due diligence, and research you after the call?

Unlikely. They want to know you’re worth their time. So, they Google you. And if your website, content or user experience isn’t up to par, or offer them the information they need to decide to follow through with the meeting, then suddenly you have no shows on your hands.

It's in the interests of salespeople making calls to have engaging, helpful follow-up information available to refer to after the fact.

Everything should be about generating demand

Once you have a revenue team working seamlessly, all focus should turn to driving awareness and interest.

This means finding opportunities to engage your targeted list of prospects with the right messaging for their stage in their journey with you.

My advice is to incorporate cold calls into as many of these stages as possible.

You should be calling leads you get through inbound sources - especially if they’re interacting with pages that suggest they’re problem-aware and interested in your solution.

Other areas of opportunity include:

  • Those who scheduled meetings and didn’t show up.
  • Those who had a demo booked but ghosted.
  • Your closed-lost deals.

Have quarterly follow-ups and try to get them back on the calendar; they may have had a change in priorities since you last spoke.

It’s also important not to neglect activation calls. The call objective doesn’t always have to be booking meetings. Often, those you’re contacting for the first time will need a little more information and rapport-building before making a decision to engage with you further.

Having a team that calls prospects to make them aware of content or another offer that drives awareness, such as an invite to an event, can be a good way to get the ball rolling. Then, once you’ve built that new relationship, you can nurture it through content and further calls.

These activation calls also allow SDRs to bucket different personas so you can better tailor the content for their particular set of circumstances.

Inbound and outbound activities can be integrated across multiple touchpoints with the prospect, nurturing the relationship until they feel comfortable making a decision.

Understanding prospect problem awareness

Okay, I’m sure you’re wondering ‘what content should I create?’

First, it’s important to understand where in the problem-solving or decision-making process your prospects are.

Prospects become customers because you can solve a problem or provide a solution to a problem they’re having.

But at this stage, they may not yet be aware that they have a problem, or that there is a threat facing them in the market.

Alternatively, maybe they’ve identified a problem, but don’t know your solution exists yet.

Outbound callers can gather this information during introductory calls - but you should also be making use of any data you can gather from the way website visitors interact with your pages.

Are they visiting ‘about us’ or ‘what we do’ pages? Or are they spending time researching more in-depth insights into your solution?

Content can be a cyclical resource; it informs you what your prospects might be interested in and what stage of the problem-solving journey they’re at. It also helps to move them on through the stages.

The content you produce can educate prospects, while also providing you with a clearer idea of what they’re looking for, making it easier to send in your SDRs.

What content should you create?

Alright, here is the crux of it.

You need to be creating a network of resources that acknowledge each stage of the B2B marketing funnel, ideally creating a series for each of the target personas that will make their way through those stages.

These are the all-important questions your content should answer:

  • What problems do your prospects need to solve?
  • What solution do you provide?
  • Why should they consider you? What’s your expertise?
  • Why should they care? And why should they care now?

Something that’s interesting to note here - the forgetting curve. No doubt you can relate to feeling like you’ve forgotten half of what someone told you after a phone call.

It’s very normal. It’s theorised that people forget as much as 70% of new information within 24 hours of learning it. That’s just how the human brain works. So we should assume the same of our prospects during sales pitches.

Then consider how much your buyer is likely to retain if they’re not really paying attention, or if they’ve had 3, 4, 5 calls in a row - this figure likely dwindles.

So what follow-up content do they need to be reminded of? It should be a mix of website content, email, phone calls or other mechanisms.

But it’s important to compound engagements in a timely manner, otherwise you may already have lost them to a busy business week.

The main message I want to give you here is to put yourself in your prospects’ shoes.

What process and information can make their lives easier, and make it more straightforward for them to choose you as their solution?

Final thoughts

So there you have it. Those are the 5 pillars you should consider if you want to up your game in sales.

The headline takeaway?

Modernise your approach. Out with the old canned responses and rigid strategies, and in with the new: a highly-targeted, personalised and buyer-centric approach.

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