For most of my life, I have been the first salesperson for the companies I founded. I focused primarily on building a sales pipeline via inbound marketing. Three years ago, I received a nudge from a tech-savvy friend to "get over my issues" and start prospecting on LinkedIn. That advice led to our largest client and a new outlook on the power of outbound sales.
Here are my top insights for developing an effective outbound sales strategy:
1. Be a Normal Human
While outbound sales are often associated with call centres, email and LinkedIn are effective prospecting channels. Unfortunately, no channel is immune to automation and its resultant inhumane treatment of prospects. Be different. Be human.
2. Aim at the Target
I learned a great deal from sending 900+ LinkedIn messages to first-degree connections in my first attempt at outbound prospecting. First, the response rates (not including 'no thanks' or 'wrong person') were not much higher than direct mail.
Second, the warm responses (qualified leads) were all people I knew, even if we hadn't worked together directly. Lastly, the prospects that turned into clients were familiar with my digital marketing agency after years of monthly email newsletters, my posts on social media, and conversations at networking events.
The lesson is to reach out to your private network (past and current clients, partners and vendors) and work outward to new contacts.
3. Keep It Simple (and Brief)
One powerful piece of advice I received is to keep LinkedIn messages short, but sweet – no more than two sentences requesting a 15-minute catch-up. It wasn’t easy to stay true to that, but it paid off in strong response rates from qualified leads.
Most solicitations I receive have multiple paragraphs, images and sometimes attachments. I ignore them all. Don't expect a different outcome than your reaction to unsolicited sales pitches.
4. Maintain Consistency
Consistency is key for any new behaviour to become a habit. Like social media posts, outbound sales efforts require discipline to maintain momentum. Once my first round of outreach on LinkedIn led to five new clients, I was hooked.
Once or twice a year, I reach out to first-degree marketing contacts, manually messaging about 900 people. While there are automated tools, I don't trust them.
5. Be Bold and Fearless
The primary reason I avoided outbound sales was personal discomfort with outreach to people who didn't want to hear from me. I based that on my disdain for receiving sales pitches. My advisor assured me that my assumption was incorrect.
My experience validated her advice: Nobody told me to piss off. While 98% of recipients ignored the note entirely, very few said, "no, thank you." The rest said, "Thanks, let's talk in 3 - 4 months."
I rejected the fear of rejection to move forward.
6. Start Small and Crawl
Most executives not solely responsible for sales may find manual outreach to 900 contacts off-putting. I understand and even agree. Start small with 5 - 10 contacts per day. It creates a natural cadence, and it can be rewarding to see smaller wins consistently.
7. Leverage Your Network
I learned to leverage my well-established network of 22,000+ to request introductions to ideal clients.
My tech-savvy friends suggest that I regularly make requests of my network, as friends and other first-degree connections are often happy to help and enjoy making introductions. Warm introductions work wonders in comparison to cold outreach. This is particularly valuable for those with established, untapped networks.
8. Quantity vs Quality
While I've advised you to start small, it's a numbers game. An average response rate of 1 - 2% cent means you have to reach out to 100 contacts to get a response and 500 - 1,000 to close a deal.
My first outreach generated a 5% close ratio, which was unusually high and not easily replicated. To compensate, continue growing your list. I still send one to five connection requests to relevant contacts on LinkedIn daily.
9. Don't Forget the Fundamentals
While outbound sales are a foundational exponential growth strategy, it's not the only effective sales strategy. I mentioned that our primary focus for 22 years was inbound sales efforts (search engine marketing, social media, and public relations).
All channels and strategies should be aligned, integrated, and measured consistently. The best method for qualified leads include search engine optimisation (SEO), speaking, and network referrals. Email drip campaigns also work well for lead nurturing.
I found that the single best channel for new clients was our monthly email newsletter, sent consistently for two decades to clients and qualified leads. Regular exposure to our brand was a soft touch but a high ROI (Return on Investment) sales channel.