How to Build a B2B Outbound Sales Strategy
Today’s business environment is changing fast—but one thing will always hold true. To grow your business, you need more customers and more revenue. How do you get them?
In fact, in a world of algorithm-driven digital marketing, outbound—which refers to personal outreach to potential prospects—is arguably more powerful than ever.
Despite its power, misunderstandings and confusion around the outbound sales process are common. Read on to learn how to build a B2B outbound sales strategy that will propel you to success.
Outbound vs. Inbound Sales
Sales tactics come in all shapes and sizes: but the two main approaches you need to understand are outbound and inbound sales. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and each deserves a place in your overall sales strategy.
Outbound sales is the process by which sales reps proactively reach out directly to prospective customers to deliver a pitch. In the past, reps primarily relied on cold calling, but today outbound strategies can include email, social media messages, calling, and more. The aim is to get the prospect interested in your company’s product or service and ultimately develop that interest into a deal.
Unlike outbound, with inbound sales, companies wait for their customers to reach out to them. Of course, there’s a strategy behind this too—traditional advertising, SEO, and content marketing are all used to build prospects’ interest and inspire them to reach out. However, inbound offers less direct control over engagement with prospects.
Why All B2B and SaaS Companies Need Outbound
Despite what you may have been told, inbound sales alone won’t cut it if you’re in the B2B or SaaS space.
Inbound can be a powerful support for your outbound efforts. When a prospect already has awareness of your services from your inbound marketing, your sales reps will have an easier time getting a foot in the door.
But inbound alone won’t give you the growth you need, for one simple reason: your prospects aren’t looking for a product. Instead, 62% of buyers are looking for a solution to a problem.
B2B outbound sales allows you to craft powerful, personalized messages that speak to your prospects’ pain points and help them see how your product or service can address their challenges. The complexity of B2B software and services means that it usually takes multiple touchpoints to get to a demo, let alone a sale—and inbound alone simply can’t take prospects on that journey. A B2B SaaS or service company should be finding up to 70% of its leads from Outbound.
Plus, outbound serves the important role of qualifying customers. You can’t afford to take every tire-kicker out there through a demo or a meeting with your VP. Part of the outbound sales process is identifying leads who align with your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), then qualifying those leads to ensure there is potential alignment before you invest additional time and resources. If you need help setting up an Outbound Sales machine, book a meeting to learn about our sales transformation program.
The Outbound Sales Process
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to succeed with outbound sales—but you do need to create a solid strategy grounded in best practices. As leaders in B2B sales coaching, we’ve helped over 70 high growth B2B software and service companies perfect their outbound approach: here’s the process we use.
Identify Your Ideal Customer
Too often, companies go for quantity over quality when it comes to sales prospecting. While that approach may land you a few discovery calls, it’s unlikely to lead to sustained sales success. Instead, put in the time and effort upfront to hone in on your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) so you can design a content and outreach strategy specific to them.
Start with a win-loss analysis of your historic deals to find the common attributes of the customers who are the fastest-converting, most valuable, and the best fit overall. Look for the converse, too—identify the factors that may make a lead a bad fit for your services, or less likely to close the deal.
Once you’re clear on those attributes, create a baseline profile you can use to narrow down prospect lists by traits like revenue size, employee number, and growth stage. Get serious about understanding that audience’s pain and desires, which you’ll use to ground all your messaging. What challenges are they trying to solve, and how will you help them overcome those roadblocks?
Source and Activate Leads
Now, it’s time to put that ICP and baseline profile to work. Use a sales intelligence tool like Zoominfo or salesintel.io to pull lists of target customers. Following the account-based marketing approach, look for three to five names at each company, targeting decision-makers, champions, and influencers, and add them to your CRM. Providing your sales development team with plenty of leads is crucial to keep fuel for the fire. And, removing the lead sourcing efforts from the sales development team will ensure the SDRs stay focused on development.
The next step is to have your SDRs activate these leads in a targeted outbound messaging system that speaks to the emotions and pain points that were identified in your ICP work. Using a series of outreach methods combined with automated workflows and sequences provides a team with a repeatable and efficient machine to begin to flush out qualified leads.
While the number of leads you can activate each day will vary depending on the number of sales development reps (SDRs) at your company, aim for 15 companies (45-60 contacts) per SDR, per day.
Qualify and “Hunt” Leads
Since you don’t want to waste valuable resources pursuing a lead who isn’t serious or is a bad fit, the lead qualification process is an important part of any outbound strategy. Through this process, SDRs work to narrow their list and develop prospects’ interest in your company’s product or service. To do so, they use a combination of direct outreach and conversations (through LinkedIn, emails, and calls) and marketing automation. Tools like HubSpot produce lead scores based on an activity like opening emails, clicking on links, and visiting web pages—and your SDRs can leverage that intelligence to follow up with or “hunt” those who show interest. The goal is to develop leads into marketing qualified leads (MQL), then sales qualified leads (SQL), and ultimately into sales qualified opportunities (SQO), and finally into customers.
The discovery call is an essential component of any B2B outbound sales strategy. It comes before a full-blown demo, giving your team the chance to assess whether the lead has decision-making authority, an appropriate budget, and a true need for your product or service. It is essential to hold this discovery with your sales development team prior to moving a lead to the salesperson or account executive (AE) because your AEs should not waste valuable energy holding demos for unqualified leads. SDRs should strictly activate, hunt and qualify the leads through the discovery call. In our experience, between 50 and 60% of discovery calls yield true sales qualified opportunities that are then ready for a deep dive and demo.
Sales and Closing
Once the SDR has conducted a discovery call and identified a sales qualified opportunity, they hand that lead over to the account executive. The AE conducts a demo and/or deep dive, ensuring full alignment between your offerings and the prospects’ needs. From there, it’s a matter of negotiating—and closing—the deal. Remember, sales development should qualify the leads, and only then do they hand them to the AE. It's a simple yet often missed system in the B2B sales process.
Building an Effective B2B Outbound Sales System
Once you’ve clarified your Ideal Customer Profile and understand the B2B outbound sales process, it’s time to get your systems in place. After working for and with dozens of sales organizations, we have learned a thing or two about how to create an effective, streamlined team with rock solid processes. Here are our top findings.
Structure Your Sales Team Correctly
All of the leads in the world won’t do you much good without an effective outbound sales team. And for your team to be effective, it needs to have the right structure and support. Ensure that everything is running smoothly on the human resources side, and hire or reorganize your team for maximum efficiency.
You can think of your sales team as fulfilling three roles: sales development, sales, and success. While on smaller teams, it’s common to wear many hats, through years of outbound sales training, we’ve found that teams that break up these roles and assign them to different employees are much more effective.
Sales development is handled by sales development reps (SDRs). These employees focus on the top of the funnel. They activate your leads, warm them and move them through the qualification funnel.
Sales is handled by account executives (AEs). Generally more experienced than SDRs, AEs are the “closers” in your sales organization. They conduct demos and deep dives and work with qualified leads to structure and sign deals.
Success is everything that happens post-sale. Your success team is responsible for working with customers to ensure they’re happy with your product or service, preparing them to evangelize it to others, and creating opportunities for upsells
Starting out, we recommend that companies hire more than one SDR. This is typically an entry-level sales position, and turnover is common. Having at least two SDRs protects you from disruption if one gets sick, gets another opportunity, or decides sales isn’t for them. Plus, it allows you to scale more quickly. Get one SDR to target, then hire to accelerate growth.
As you hire, keep a few key qualities in mind: self-motivation, passion for learning, a process orientation, and people skills. A background in sales isn’t always necessary; in fact, we’ve found that many of our most successful SDRs come from different fields. However, experience working with people and a proven go-getter attitude are a must.
Like with any employee, it’s important to set clear expectations from the start, put measurable goals in place, and check in regularly on progress. Since sales is a highly numbers-driven role, it should be easy to spot any problems early on and work with the employee to address any concerns or tweak processes that aren’t working.
Get Your Tech Stack in Order
Today’s sales teams have a multitude of tools available to streamline lead sourcing, scoring, and follow up. Getting those tools in place from the start, and getting your team on board, will save valuable time and resources. Our must-haves include the following:
- Sales intelligence software: Use tools like Zoominfo, SalesIntel, LinkedIn Navigator, or Seamless to find contact information for potential leads.
- Hubspot CRM: A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool (we love HubSpot) is invaluable for any sales team. HubSpot allows you to create automated workflows and sequences, track prospects’ engagement with your messages and content, and score lead quality. Plus, you can schedule meetings right within the platform. If you’re not comfortable with the platform already, it may be worth engaging a sales development process expert to help you with setup and launch.
- Video communications: Videos are invaluable for sales enablement. A tool like Vidyard that allows you to easily create informative videos to share your key messages with prospects is a worthy investment.
- Internal communications: We all get too many emails. Use a tool like Slack within your team to share ideas and quickly ping other team members for advice or chatter.
- Automation: Creating automation within your company will save time and suffering across the board. Using a tool like Zapier to connect your various tech stack components will save you hours, days, and even months of time.
Refine Your Messaging and Copywriting
Most often, your first point of contact with a prospect will be a LinkedIn message or email—and effective activation and marketing messaging is key to outbound marketing success. Investing time in getting your message right will pay huge dividends, making it a compelling area to invest in when it comes to B2B sales coaching.
By using our proven process to build rapport, show empathy, and demonstrate value to your leads through your copy, you can achieve the same results as our members, including open rates of 50%—more than twice the average for most B2B marketing emails.
Here are a few of the higher-level strategies that we teach in the copywriting phase:
- Remember your ICP. Keep their specific needs and pain points front of mind, and speak to the ICP rather than a general audience.
- Focus on the emotional elements—draw out their worries and weaknesses and show empathy. Hone in on the “why,” not the “what.”
- Create urgency. Remind the prospect why they need to address their issues immediately, and highlight the risks they’re running if they don’t do something fast.
Of course, it’s also important to focus on the nitty-gritty. That’s why we offer both coaching and B2B sales agency services. When we create content for our clients, we use the following stylistic tactics in our done-for-you writing:
- Use short, broken sentences. Sounding relatable and human is more important than perfect grammar.
- Avoid run-on sentences. Stay under 12 words when possible.
- Use personalization tokens (like <firstname> and <companyname>) when possible to drive engagement.
- Keep subject lines short, and use them to spark curiosity.
When all else fails, try to keep things short and to the point. Remember that your leads, like you, have full inboxes!
Perfect Your Sales Development
In the era of online marketing, too many businesses are taking sales development for granted. But an effective sales development team is one of the most powerful investments you can make in your business. The fact is, there’s more competition than ever, and converting a lead into a sale today involves multiple touch points and multiple stakeholders.
The term sales development refers to the early stages of the sales process: identifying and qualifying leads. It does not include the final sales processes (closing) or customer success. To succeed at sales development, it’s essential to create a standalone function so that SDRs can focus on what they do best.
The two primary tasks within sales development are prospecting and lead qualification.
Prospecting or hunting involves identifying prospects that are engaging and having conversations with those leads using lead scoring tools in your CRM to move solid prospects forward to a disco (discovery call).
Lead qualification involves getting the lead to the discovery call and making sure they are the right fit using a scripted and intelligent call process.
Essentially, it’s your SDR’s job to identify whether the lead’s pain points align with your products, whether they have the authority to make decisions, and whether they have the budget for your services.
Your account executives take over once the SDRs have ensured alignment, and it’s their responsibility to close the deal. AEs know your product or service inside and out, and have a well-honed ability to address your prospects’ qualms and close the deal.
Keeping the SDR role separate from the AE role is essential to ensure that both groups have the time and focus to hone in on their part of the process—but clear lines of communication and processes must be set up between the two to ensure smooth sailing.
Measure, Report, and Optimize
Every sales team can improve and streamline. Thanks to CRMs, it’s now possible to constantly check in on and refine processes to increase growth, without adding to your team’s workload.
First, you need to set up the right KPIs. Don’t just make up numbers: do a deep dive into your existing numbers and consider the realities of your product and target customers to come up with goals that inspire you without being unrealistic.
At SalesLeap, we recommend our B2B SaaS clients use industry benchmarks as a starting point, adjusting as necessary based on their specific situation. For example, we use the following numbers to track movement through the funnel:
- 5% of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) convert to sales qualified leads (SQLs)
- 59% of SQLs convert to sales qualified opportunities (SQOs)
- 32% of SQOs are converted to customers.
Set up your HubSpot dashboards to track everything you can, and as you get more and more data, you can use it to further refine your ICP and readjust your KPIs as necessary.
You should also set up a dashboard in HubSpot solely to measure SDR activity. This is a great way to keep things transparent and organized and keep SDRs accountable. We recommend using both daily and monthly KPIs.
Daily KPIs include:
- Total activities completed: this includes calls made, LinkedIn messages sent, and emails sent
- Discovery calls booked: these are the meetings SDRs hold with sales qualified leads to further qualify them before passing them on to the account executive for a deep dive or demo call.
- Discovery calls held: this number is usually different than calls booked since cancellations are common.
Depending on your company’s average contract value, one SDR should create 7-15 sales qualified opportunities each month.
It’s true. Outbound sales are a great way to control revenue growth. In fact, it’s the most powerful tool you have at your disposal to build a strong revenue pipeline for your B2B or SaaS business. But to get the most out of your outbound efforts, it’s important to craft and follow an effective strategy. To summarize, remember the following:
- Know your customer. Identifying your ideal customer in as much detail as possible will help you to effectively target leads, and to communicate with them effectively.
- Build a powerful team. Divide your sales team into roles based on its three key functions: sales development, sales, and customer success. Hire more than one SDR, and check in often to ensure that everyone is performing to their full potential.
- Get your tech in order. Make the most of digital tools to streamline your prospecting, sales development, and communication.
- Perfect your messaging. Powerful and effective copywriting is the key to turning leads into qualified sales opportunities.
- Measure, report, and optimize. Never stop looking for areas of improvement.
There’s no doubt about it—even with these tips, building an outbound system from scratch is not easy. It can take many companies one to two years to build a system that works, especially if they’re new to outbound. Looking to get there faster? Let SalesLeap help you set this up in just 60-90 days with our Sales Transformation Program. Book a meeting with one of our SDRs today to see how a great outbound process works firsthand.