Outbound sales: definition, process and strategies
Put simply, outbound sales is actively seeking and reaching out to prospects. The idea is to eventually move potential prospects through the sales funnel to be a closed deal.
It’s a lead generation strategy that is the core responsibility of sales development representatives (SDRs). The sales reps pitch products or solutions that solve the problems faced by your ideal customer profile (ICP).
This initial outreach by the SDR aims to book a meeting to discuss the prospect’s pain points and why this product (or service) might help. Once a meeting is booked, the prospect is usually passed to an account executive (AE) for demos and deeper discovery calls.
Core channels that are used in outbound sales include:
- Cold calling.
- Social networking on LinkedIn.
- Cold emails.
The idea is to get the potential customer hooked with a sales cadence that sticks, with touchpoints that help them reach a buying decision. Depending on what you’re selling and your sales cycle, this might include follow-ups, demos and proof of value trials.
Done well, outbound sales can generate some serious revenue. But only with the right strategy.
What does a great outbound sales strategy look like?
Much of outbound is about building relationships effectively and knowing your ICP inside out. ✅
Right off the bat, an outbound sales representative’s role isn’t made easy. You’re contacting and attempting to build some sort of relationship with a total stranger.
People naturally dislike receiving unsolicited phone calls, emails, and messages particularly when it interrupts their flow at work. Sales today needs to be all about value-based selling.
Building a great outbound sales strategy requires:
Building out your ICP
The right ICP is all about the perfect type of company for what your product or service solves. It’s different to a buyer persona, which is about the individual.
Having an ICP also helps you segment the market to tailor your messaging. Also meaning that SDRs will only target the right people.
Building out an ICP means looking at the following characteristics:
- Company size - Often determines their budget and revenue, therefore how much they must spend on your product or service.
- Industry - Is your product or service industry specific?
- Geography - Where can you do business?
- Legality - Are there legal requirements that your company or the company you do business with must meet?
- Service level agreements (SLAs) - Can you guarantee you’ll be able to meet your customer’s needs if they have these thresholds?
As well as an ICP, knowing your buyer and user persona is also important. The buyer persona is different to the user persona in that this is the person who is the decision-maker for purchasing.
The buyer persona and user persona could be the same people, depending on the structure of the company you’re talking to.
A world-class sales team
This one’s not easy, but it is possible. If you’re starting out with your sales team, it’s essential to understand the personality traits that make a successful outbound sales rep.
We’ve listed some of the key ones:
- A good listener.
- Eager to learn and take on feedback.
- Consistent in their work ethic.
It’s also vital to think about your onboarding and training plans. Helping SDRs reach their full potential means roleplaying, critiquing past cold calls and shadowing colleagues. Important activities for honing your skills, even if you’ve been in sales for a while.
Rachel Goldstone, Commercial SDR Manager at Cognism says:
“Learning to deal with setbacks is an important part of the onboarding process. Rejection is just part of SDR life, so we upskill our team to overcome this from when they start.”
The psychological side of sales like anxiety is also important for ongoing training. Being an SDR can become repetitive and monotonous, especially during a bad week.
The right tech stack
You could know your ICP inside out, have a great team of sales reps to drive pipeline, and still not be successful in outbound sales if your tech stack is bad. 💩
Technology really can help enable, and there’s plenty of outbound sales software to choose from. We think, as a minimum, you need…
- A CRM.
- Online demonstration and collaboration platform.
- A sales cadence tool.
- Sales coaching tools.
- Data intelligence and enrichment software for finding contact information.
Anything else is nice to have.
Inbound vs outbound sales: why you should do both
Inbound sales is different because the potential client starts it. Unlike outbound, the pull comes from your marketing campaigns rather than sales reps reaching out.
Because they’re coming to you directly, these inbound B2B leads have a higher intent to buy than outbound. This makes them high value because of their likelihood to convert. But they don’t just come out of nowhere.
Hooks that encourage inbound leads to make the first move include:
- A high intent SEO optimized blog article.
- Value-led social media posts.
- Long-form content like an eBook or guide.
- Webinars and podcasts with a thought leader.
- Paid search ads across channels like LinkedIn.
Benefits & drawbacks of an inbound sales strategy
Inbound leads are more likely to convert. They’ve identified their need for your product or service to resolve a pain point. The frustrating thing about this is that they’re probably looking at your competitors, too.
It doesn’t mean the deal is done, even if they want to speak to sales. In B2B, people like to shop around and are likely to consider solutions that:
- They’ve used it at one of their previous companies.
- Are cheap and therefore ‘lower risk’.
Their final decision is based on the finer details of the product or service. This could include price, capabilities, integrations, product roadmaps, support, and plenty of other stuff.
An inbound lead isn’t (always) a closed-off deal. Just because you don’t have to pitch at first doesn’t mean you won’t have to pitch later. Particularly if your sales cycle is on the longer side.
We all like to shop around. The prospect might ask why they should pick you over a competitor. 🤷
On the surface, inbound sales can be seen as lower cost. But there’s a lot of marketing resource that goes into creating that demand. It’s an important ongoing activity and needs investment to stay fresh, which costs CAPEX.
Benefits & drawbacks of an outbound sales approach
There are many challenges regarding outbound sales techniques, whether email or cold calling blocking, sales objections, or high-cost vs low yield.
Scaling an outbound sales team can be difficult if you’re a smaller business. But the tech stack that’s now available does make this much easier.
Hello to sales cadence automation, tracking and training platforms. 😍
It takes hard graft but offers the opportunity to close big deals, maintain relationships and build a pipeline. You can also keep activities that generate outbound leads more on your radar.
That outbound prospect you spoke to three months ago? They are much more likely to hear you out after they say they’d like you to call again in a few months.
The inbound prospect that decided it wasn’t the right time to get in touch? Unless you use sales intelligence, you never even knew about them…
Why both is best
Neither approach is better. Both are powerful tools for lead generation and revenue growth, each with benefits and drawbacks.
How you choose the split between them very much depends on your business. Including what you do, the typical sales cycle and how much CAPEX vs OPEX expenditure you have.
If you’re a startup, for example, you may be limited on resources. This can mean that both are harder to do at scale.
Inbound sales can be particularly useful if your business relates to the below. 💡
Targeting an audience who don’t entertain cold calls
Not everyone appreciates the sentiment behind outbound sales calls (we do, though). Some audiences find outbound sales invasive and annoying.
If you target people working in a niche or highly technical area, they will probably prefer to do their own research. Then contact you when they’re ready to talk more.
If your sales cycle is short
If you’re selling something that doesn’t take much time to decide about, then inbound sales can be a great approach to seal the deal. A website that converts sales needs high-quality content marketing and lots of it.
Creating content is one of your specialities
If you’ve got a talented team behind you in the content creation and SEO department, it makes sense to champion inbound. Especially if you’re well-connected to influencers or have access to a subject matter expert.
SEO is competitive, so you need to be able to rank well. But if people are searching for your product or service, it’s a good indication that this could be the right way for you.
Likewise, outbound sales tactics can be particularly useful if you relate to the below. 💡
Your sales cycle is longer (or you sell to enterprise)
Sales cadences are crucial here. A longer sales cycle means that there’s going to be more time needed to reach a final decision. This makes follow-up activity very important.
Enterprise customers typically make the sales cycle longer (even if it can be shorter). Usually, deals with these businesses are extremely large and take longer to sign off.
The audience you target doesn’t mind phone calls
It’s impossible to say there’s an audience that enjoys receiving cold calls. Apart from maybe other SDRs.
But if you’ve got a target audience that will accept unsolicited phone calls, then outbound sales makes complete sense. You can talk the prospect through the true value of your product or service and highlight what makes you stand out from the rest.
There is the challenge of how to find the prospect’s contact information. But that’s why prospecting tools exist, to make this easier and save time.
You’re able to pay a decent commission to sales reps
Aside from career progression, pay is another reason people go into sales. You’ll be able to attract top talent if you can offer a decent commission. The flip side is that you need larger deals to be closed if you rely more on an outbound sales strategy.
Let’s wrap this one up
When it comes to the inbound sales vs. outbound sales argument, it’s best to have both. But how you split them depends on your business situation.
We’ve summarized the core considerations that might mean you dedicate more time to one than the other. Check out this neat infographic. 👇
How to measure outbound sales
Revenue functions in business need strong reporting best practices. These are vital KPIs that give an insight into how outbound sales representatives perform.
It’s more than just looking at who’s hitting their quota. You need to get an overall picture of the sales to funnel.
Leads in the funnel
Tracking lead metrics is vital. You need to know how many are in the funnel and whether they are qualified leads.
Time in the funnel is also important to track. In SaaS sales, you track deal velocity; the average time it takes for a lead to move through the pipeline.
Average deal size
This is an important insight for hitting your revenue target. If you know the value of the average deal size in the funnel, you’ll be able to forecast how many leads you need to hit it. This can filter down into targets for marketing and sales reps.
Other metrics you can look at include:
- Customer lifetime value - The revenue an average potential buyer will generate during your relationship with them.
- Customer acquisition cost - The cost of signing new customers.
Both can help provide more context and validate that you’re salespeople are going after the right prospects and whether you need to negotiate the deal.
This metric comes from closed-won deals, or in other words, prospects that have officially signed as new customers.
Measuring closed-won deals will identify areas for growth and if there are issues further down the funnel (by looking at closed-lost). This falls on account executives (AEs) and anyone else in a closing seat.
You might find you’re gaining traction with deals in a certain industry. In this case, it could be time for your outbound sales representatives to target specific verticals.
Outbound sales cadence
When you’re building a pipeline, you need to have a strategy to manage the leads. Outbound sales cadence involves having multiple touchpoints over a set period. This exercise is made much easier now with sales cadence software.
Organizing this process is important for knowing when you need to contact your prospect next and eventually get the lead to the closing stages!
Often sales cadences happen across a variety of channels, with calls and emails being crucial for B2B. It can be a bit of trial and error. The best sales cadence depends on your ICP and buyer or user persona.
Here are our tips for outbound sales cadence. 💡
Test it out
Testing your sequences is vital, especially if you’re just starting out. You can do this by engaging with prospects on various channels and trialing a selection of tailored messages.
Then, you can review what’s got the best response (and do more of it).
Make it personal
The current climate makes standing out harder than ever. Nothing is more of a turn-off than receiving a cold call or email where the person knows nothing about you. Remember, above all you need to send relevant messages!
Do your research. Adding significant details like acknowledging they’ve just started a new role at the company makes you stand out.
Below is an example sent to our SEO & Content Manager Daisy two weeks after she’d started. The company have taken the time to research before cold emailing. 👇
Know when to break up
Yeah, being persistent is important. But you also need to know when to cut your losses. You don’t want any tire kickers in your pipeline.
If all you’re met with is tumbleweed after multiple attempts, it’s probably time to consider the breakup.
Sending a breakup email can trigger a genuine response, working in your favor. Always leave it on good terms, as you never know when the prospect might need your product or service later.
Charlotte Johnson, Account Executive at Salesloft, likes to ask for feedback in her breakup email. She’s found that this encourages a response.
Channels for outbound sales
Which channels to use is an important consideration. Each provides a different way to communicate with your prospect. Let’s talk about the best ones.
Ah, the humble cold call. There’s no doubt that this is a crucial channel in your outbound sales strategy. It’s hard to cut through the noise in this digital world without speaking to a human.
Much of sales is about building relationships; the only real way to do that, other than meeting in person, is on the phone.
Cold phone calls often mean the sales rep has not communicated with the prospect. Once you’ve started to build a rapport, cold calling becomes warm calling.
This is how cold calling helps to build a pipeline; it’s all about creating relationships.
There are 9 key reasons why cold calling is beneficial for outbound sales:
- Learn immediately if a prospect is interested.
- It’s simple.
- It is the beginning of a relationship.
- You can put out a consistent message.
- There’s an opportunity to learn.
- Get an edge over your competitors.
- It’s measurable.
- Cost-effective outbound sales channel.
- You can go into a phone call more prepared than ever!
Social networking on LinkedIn
LinkedIn and Sales Navigator are also popular channels for outbound sales. It’s the largest professional network available, making it a goldmine for prospecting.
These are the core tactics that SDRs can use LinkedIn for:
- Finding and researching prospects.
- Supplementing cold calling through prospect engagement.
- Social selling and building a personal brand.
With channels like this becoming more saturated, using them for cold outreach can be challenging.
Morgan J Ingram, Content Creator at Cognism explains how he uses LinkedIn and Sales Navigator for prospecting in this clip. 🎬
Being able to sell like this on LinkedIn is great for building out your pipeline.
It’s important to spend some time thinking about a few things first though, like how you’ll:
- Optimize your profile
- Build a strong network
- Create a content strategy
- Establish credibility
- Start conversations
Daniel Disney (king of social selling), LinkedIn author, speaker and trainer has three core focuses for optimizing a LinkedIn profile.
- A professional photo
- A great background
- A straightforward summary
Cold email campaigns are another important channel for B2B. In outbound sales, they’re used to try and help build the relationship and as a key follow-up activity.
Your sales cadence sequence might even start with a cold email. This is sometimes helpful if you must pass a gatekeeper to get through to your prospect.
With spam filters becoming more advanced, it’s a case of quality over quantity with emailing. The “pray and spray” approach is dead. 🪦
As a sales rep, it’s crucial to know how to write the perfect cold email.
There are 4 steps to the perfect email introduction. Like every great story, there’s a beginning, middle and end.
1. The beginning
- A killer subject line.
- Appropriate greeting.
The subject line and opener should be short and punchy. This part of the email needs to pique the interest of the reader.
You could reference the paint point or goal of the prospect, like the subject line examples below 👇
- Ideas for [their challenge or pain point].
- Question about [their goal].
The opener should demonstrate that you’ve researched them. You could use something like “I noticed you…” and reference an action the prospect has taken (could be LinkedIn post they’ve commented on).
2. The middle
- Make a connection.
- Clear call to action (CTA).
Next, you need to connect their pain point or goal with your sales pitch. The CTA is the next step. Usually, for an introductory email, this will be an action to find out more (a website link).
3. The end
- Sign off.
- Use an email signature.
The sign-off gives you a chance to reiterate what you’re offering. If you want to put “thanks” and “best regards” to shame, you could use something like…
- Excited to tackle [challenge or pain point] with you.
- Look forward to learning more about your [challenge].
4. The sequel
- Follow up (your sales cadence).
A final word
There you have it. We’ve taken you through our ultimate guide to outbound sales; now it’s time for you to go and nail your strategy.
A quick summary of the key takeaways. 👇
- Know your ICP.
- Inbound vs outbound sales: it’s important to have both.
- Your strategy means nothing if your tech stack is bad.
- Meet your prospects on the channels they like.
- Test and refine your sales cadence.
FAQs about outbound sales
Do you have some questions to ask about outbound sales? Check out our FAQ section. 👇
What is the outbound sales process?
Before you start outbound sales in SaaS, you need a good strategy. Let’s take a look at the key points to consider.
1. Identify the target audience with buyer personas
You must go beyond just identifying your ideal customer profile (ICP). This includes narrowing down who your audience is, the problems they’re facing, and why your SaaS tool is the solution.
2. Set prospect criteria
You don’t want your SDRs chasing down unqualified prospects, so qualifying leads with specific questions and criteria is necessary.
3. Simplify where you can
This means developing email templates, call scripts, and closing techniques unique to your selling.
4. Consider objectives and goals
Having activity goals and sales quotas can set your reps up for success.
Activity goals are measured by:
- Number of dials made.
- Emails sent.
- How many meetings are in the calendar.
5. Conduct outreach
It’s time for sales reps to roll up their sleeves and get in touch with leads. Remember that each cold outreach technique has its own strategy and KPIs to measure success.
6. The art of sales cadence
You’ve likely narrowed down which leads have potential interest in your product. Now, you need to continue to engage with them by following up; this is called sales cadence.
Once an SDR books a meeting, the prospect has a demo with an AE who will try to close the deal.
7. Have a customer support plan
Supporting the customer may not always be up to the outbound sales rep, but having a plan is always good. Knowing where a customer runs into bottlenecks can be a part of the solution, which will ultimately help AEs close more deals.
What is SaaS sales?
To understand SaaS sales, let’s define software as a service (SaaS). This is where software businesses sell their product through a subscription-based pricing model.
Customers can access SaaS software directly from the cloud instead of installing it onto their computers or devices. Not only is this convenient, but the model also minimizes potential storage issues on your device due to extra clutter from installing software.
SaaS sales is selling software using this model. 📈
A sales development representative (SDR) sells software to customers that they can access through a portal or website and start accessing the product immediately.
Like any other sales model, SaaS sales involve building trust and rapport with potential customers. As well as learning their pain points and answering their questions.
However, there are ways in which SaaS sales development is unique. For instance, SaaS sales has no physical or tangible product.
What is the payment model for SaaS?
With SaaS sales, it’s more like customers rent the software, not buy it. Additionally, with traditional sales, customers usually pay a one-time fee.
But in SaaS sales, customers buy a subscription, which could be monthly, annually, or pay-as-you-go.
SaaS sales also come with important metrics to track.
Let’s take a closer look at some. 🔎
- Monthly recurring revenue (MRR): A company expects monthly revenue based on current customers’ subscriptions.
- Customer lifetime value (CLTV): An average amount a customer will generate in revenue for your relationship.
- Annual recurring revenue (ARR): Revenue a company would bring in over a year based on the current subscription value.
- Deal velocity: The average time it takes for a lead to move through the pipeline.
- Customer acquisition cost (CAC): The average cost of signing a new user.
- Churn rate: The percentage of customers leaving every month or year.
- Win rate: The percentage of total leads your SaaS sales development team closed over a specific timeframe.