The sales development profession has advanced considerably since its inception.  Whether you’re just getting started in it, or if you’ve been leading outbound sales teams for a while now, there’s more to learn than there ever was!

Since launching RevenueZen in early 2017, I’ve helped over 30 startups with their outbound sales initiatives, mostly consisting of building either the entire sales development program or a piece of it, from scratch.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned along the way:

 

1. Start With a Narrow Buyer Persona, Not a Broad One

Almost everyone starts out with a broad buyer persona, but to do outbound sales properly, you should be speaking very specifically to specific people.  In the worst case, a CEO will say “we’re going after everyone in the application development org”. Best case, they’ll know enough to describe their persona as something like, “general and operations managers at construction companies in the US and Canada”.

My view is that you should be starting with even more specific of a persona. Consider segmenting buyer personas with a matrix. Remember, when you start building your contact list based on your best-fit Accounts, you’re going to want to know down to the keyword-level who you’re going after.

Here’s an example.  Are you selling to Success teams?  Great, try typing “Customer Success” into a search bar, and you’ll end up excluding “client success”, “partner success”, etc.  Type only “success” to search for the right title, and you’ll end up with “employee success”, “career success”, and so forth.

This is where Apollo’s Prospect Sales Tool comes in handy: your job when defining your persona is to start broad, look at the results, decide where to get more specific, and (just as importantly) what to exclude:

screenshot of apollo's outbound sales prospector tool

Resist the urge to start broad, by going to market with a generalized value proposition.  Pick a specific role and a tight set of seniority levels (for example, only Engineering Managers and Directors – not including CTOs and Team Leads).

Then, drill down into a specific vertical.  Going after SaaS companies? Good start, but do you pick “Computer Software” as your Industry classification?  What if you add “Internet”, and “Information Technology & Services”? You have the same issue: now your Account search is going to come up with software consulting companies, and other companies that self-report as one of those three Industry codes, but are not actually SaaS.

One easy trick to get started is to refine the search with Company Keywords – for example, try only including “B2B” and “SaaS” keywords, and excluding the keywords “consulting” and “development”.  Since Apollo can pull these keywords from essentially the entire online presence of a company, you’ll have a much better Account list to work with when you refine this further.

One final tip: Think about how companies self-report their Industry and keywords, and act accordingly.  Is a SaaS company that sells to real estate agents, a Real Estate company, or a Computer Software company?  Often, they’ll choose Real Estate when they pick their Industry on LinkedIn or otherwise, because they’re trying to look the part for their ideal buyer, not for people trying to research them.

 

2. Set Up Your Email Technicals Properly

The next biggest mistake I see is not doing a proper technical setup and QA of an outbound sales program, before launching.  Nowadays, if you’re using G Suite, you probably have DKIM, SPF, and DMARC set up on your email account by default, but test your outbound content by sending mail to the address on a website like mail-tester.com, to make sure everything is set up properly.

If you just bought a new domain and G Suite account, and you plan to use it for outbound sales, you’ll want to take the account out of Trial mode by prepaying at least 6 months of your G Suite service.  That increases your daily outbound email limit to 2000 deliveries per day, in lieu of 500 per day. However, this is not the end-all be-all of domain reputation. It’s incredibly important to warm up that domain, and send mail only to trusted senders for the first few weeks.  In other words, send mail to people that are basically guaranteed to open, reply, and will definitely not mark your emails as spam for any reason. Consider also leveraging Apollo’s Email Service Provider (ESP) integration to ensure you have adequate deliverability in the early days:

screenshot of the integrations available in apollo's sales engagement platform

The same goes for your visual content.  Is your email signature attractive, clean, and well-designed?  Or does it have huge images that are going to get you blocked from prospects’ inboxes?  Does your LinkedIn profile read like a clear description of how you help companies, with instructions on how to contact you and qualification criteria — or is it written in the third person, describing your accomplishments? Shoot for the former, not the latter, and be sure to have a LinkedIn social selling plan in place!

Set up your phone’s voicemail box, and make sure your dialer is connected properly by calling a friend and making sure your voice quality is coming through, and that background noise is minimal.  If necessary, invest in some high-quality headphones with a noise-cancelling microphone, not just a noise-cancelling headset. Your prospects can definitely hear that background noise, and it can turn them off.  I’ve heard people say they didn’t buy because they heard a ton of background noise from the sales rep on the phone, and it made the interaction seem unprofessional.

 

3. Calculate Your Outbound Activity Volume Based on Your Deal Size & TAM

The question of “how much prospecting volume should I do each day?” should be settled by data, not ideology.  It’s awesome your first manager told you to make 100 calls a day, really. But what if that number is actually 40? What if it’s 200?

The first data point to look at is the number of people that are available for you to contact.  Maybe your market only consists of 5,000 contacts, total, at 1,500 Accounts. Should you be contacting 100 prospects per day?  No, probably not! Because, if your market is this small, it’s very likely that you have a large deal size. Deal size and total addressable market (in terms of number of potential people you can contact) often, but don’t always, have an inverse correlation.

The reason you should likely be making fewer prospecting contacts per day with a large deal size and small TAM is that your return on personalization will benefit more.  For example, if you can spend 10 extra minutes of research per contact you make, and get a 40% better engagement rate, that’s probably worth it if your deal size is large, but is probably not if your deal size is small and you have 200,000 potential buyers to go after.

Your ideal number of daily prospecting activities can be based on a “top-down” activity quota calculation method, once you know your prospecting sales funnel numbers.  For example, let’s say you need to:

  1. Contact 50 leads to get 1 discovery meeting
  2. Hold 2 discovery meetings to get 1 qualified opportunity
  3. Work 4 qualified opportunities to get 1 deal worth $50,000 ARR
  4. Close $800k ARR per year (1.5 avg size deals per month) to make your quota

Now, you know that you need to contact 600 people to close each deal (from the basic funnel math above: 1.5 x 4 x 2 x 50 = 600).  Given your quota, you should actually probably be making 50 new prospecting contacts per day, if you get no help from SDRs or Marketing.

Of course, you might be able to contact fewer leads to get a meeting by prioritizing the right accounts with more research or by looking for warmer introductions, or doing the opposite (less research, leading to a lower efficiency rate per contact but a higher ROI on your time).  That’s where the art of prospecting comes into play, leading you to the science. You might find that the following are true for you:

  1. You can get a meeting from every 50 contacts with a lot of research, going into accounts you have great visibility into.  You spend an average of 20 minutes per contact on research alone. Total time spent to get a meeting = 16.7 hours
  2. You can get a meeting from every 200 contacts with minimal research, just by targeting the right role and vertical, spending 0 minutes on research, and just planning your accounts up front.  Total time spent to get a meeting = 1 hour, but you “salted the fields” a bit more with your less-well-researched prospecting efforts.

These are both valid strategies in the right scenario, with different trade-offs each way.  Make your choice according to the unique mix of your short-term and long-term goals.

 

4. Get Third-Party Opinions on Your Messaging

There are two main kinds of third-party opinions you can seek, on your scripts/templates/general value proposition and credibility statements before they’re customized to meet your prospect’s situation:

  1. Sales leaders or copywriters with relevant experience
  2. People currently or previously part of your buyer persona.

These are both powerful ways to go, but have unique value to you because they often have different perspectives.  A salesperson or marketer who has experience going to the same market can tell you, “this isn’t going to resonate,” “here’s a better CTA to qualify the VPs in CPG/Retail than the one you have,” etc.  A member of the buyer persona can tell you, “this seems irrelevant to the role,” or “this isn’t what I get judged on, so I probably wouldn’t respond very warmly to hearing about it.”

The difference is one is a primary source (your buyer) who knows what they think they want very well, while the other is someone who has seen the data around what works and what doesn’t.  In my experience, marketers are the less valuable of the two kinds of feedback, but much more plentiful and easy to talk to candidly about this subject. They are great for providing feedback in ways that may cover a buyer’s facade as to what they really care about.  In other words: people don’t know themselves or aren’t always honest about what they will or won’t respond to. Marketers who have sold to the segment are less-in-touch with the persona than the people in that persona themselves, but the marketers can be more objective and also more understanding about what’s going to work.

People then often wonder: How should you get feedback from people in your persona?  For example, if you’re selling to Directors of Architecture/Infrastructure, how do you get a director of infrastructure to tell you what they think of your value proposition, and how do you get enough of them to get meaningful objective feedback?  We don’t have time to go into all of the tactics of it today, but some places you can go that I have relied on in the past are:

  • Talking to friends of yours or asking them for introductions to people that have relevant jobs to the persona you’re going after.  Most of my friends happen to be software engineers, and you can bet that they’ve given me feedback on messaging ideas, in exchange for a beer!
  • Reaching out to people in the buyer persona on LinkedIn yourself and offering them something in exchange for objective feedback. You can do this over a phone call, or ask them to take a survey.  If you’re making personal contact and haven’t vetted people very well, you may need to qualify them with a very short pre-survey to filter out those that don’t actually have relevant experience, before doing the real/paid survey.  This takes more work, and is harder to track, but it’s cheaper than the final option:
    • The pre-survey should be designed to throw off “fakers” who will give you bogus information in order to collect the incentive you’ve offered: you can, for example, ask:
    • 1) “Are you in a position to evaluate or influence the purchase of [CATEGORY OF SOLUTIONS YOU SELL] for your company?” [Yes/No]
    • 2) “Which of the following types of solutions have you evaluated?  [SomewhatFakeOption1/RealCompetitorOption2/YourSolutionType/RealLookingButFakeOption3].
  • Using services like Respondent, GLG, Emissary, or other similar platforms that, for a fee, connect you with the people you’re looking for feedback from, for a short consulting engagement with them.  Because you’re paying the platform to vet people for you, you don’t have to be as hardcore about your research methodology and your researcher qualification.

 

5. Customize Your Messaging According to the Prospect’s Business Model

This means using baseline messaging that is created according to the combination of “role + business model”.  You might have a set of credibility and value proposition statements discussing the challenges of being a:

  • Product Manager at a Tech company
  • Director/VP of Support/Service/CX at a Gaming company
  • VP/Director/Head of Customer Success at a B2B company

As you can imagine, you’re going to end up with a matrix: company profiles on one side, and roles on the other.  Each cell in the matrix has its own talk track. Your research and experience with the industry and domain helps you fill in the cells with knowledge, and there’s no great shortcut for this. You have to put in the work and study your buyer’s actual set of holistic challenges, the impact those challenges have on their business, incumbent solutions for addressing that challenge, and how your solution differs – on a deep level.

What you shouldn’t do is go to different verticals (or worse, different roles) with the same type of messaging.  Your prospecting efficiency will go way down. It takes a lot more up-front work to segment and customize your messaging according to each role and vertical, so feel free to make use of Apollo’s If/Then dynamic tags for some of the easier differentiation statements.  And this work pays off for you over time as you’ll be able to focus on optimizing existing messaging instead of ‘customizing from scratch’ each time you go to send a LinkedIn message, write an email, or make a phone call.

For example, if I wanted to outbound a few different verticals at once, but address marketing services companies differently than others, I might use something like the following tag, but more complicated depending on the campaign.  The following simplified example would display “marketing & ad agencies” if the Company’s Industry tag was “Marketing and Advertising”, but a more-generic “small services companies” if the Company’s Industry tag was something else:

{{#if Industry == Marketing and Advertising}}marketing & ad agencies{{#else}}small services companies{{#endif}}

 

What’s Next?

Keep being a scientist.  The hard work of outbound marketing is that it’s constantly changing, and the tactics and logistics that worked 2 years ago need updating for today’s day and age; the same will be true another 2 years from now.

Many thanks to Apollo for letting me crash their blog! If you enjoyed this article or have questions about applying any of these best practices, feel free to reach out to me at alex@revenuezen.com.