Sales have changed dramatically over the past decade and some people now tend to belittle the importance of certain practices, such as outbound prospecting. However, our own experience here, at CIENCE, is quite different from what they proclaim.
We made outbound prospecting our key service. Not only do we study the industry’s best practices, but we also monitor and analyze our own work. Our main assets are hundreds of Sales Development Representatives who contact our clients’ prospects and schedule appointments for them on a daily basis. Here’s what our expertise dictates :
Although some experts want to make everyone believe that modern sales are all about inbound, in reality, outbound is as powerful as ever.
Recent research by the RAIN Group backs up this point of view. Recently, they published the Whitepaper, 5 Sales Prospecting Myths Debunked — the scope of the research provides compelling evidence to debunking skeptics such as “cold calling is dead!“.
We talked with our CMO Eric Quanstrom about these beliefs to find out what they are, why they emerged and how to deal with them. And as a San Francisco native who has heard Steve Perry belt out the Journey classic Don’t Stop Believin’ a million times, he was inspired to deliver a rollicking discussion on myths that we should all STOP believing for cryin’ out loud.
How Do Outbound Prospecting Myths Appear?
Outbound communications – and going directly to prospects – are strongly associated with cold calling. This practice has a bad reputation, some of it deserved. Some of the tactics employed in the past were as simple as calling down a phone list and trying to make as many dials per day as time permits. Understandably, this approach rubs people the wrong way.
There are many dimensions to discuss here. However, the main reason why Outbound communication (cold calls and emails) have a bad reputation are unsavory tactics. Mainly via past practitioners. All that said, I think there’s a strong impetus for debunking myths. Largely the claim that cold calling is dead and so is cold emailing. Mainly, because if it were the truth, we wouldn’t see so many successful businesses using the Outbound prospecting playbook to grow fast.Eric Quanstrom, CMO at CIENCE
Inbound vs Outbound Prospecting: Informational Imbalance
As a marketer and a CMO for over a decade now, I can say one thing with absolute authority. There’s a particular group of marketing specialists who have a natural affinity to inbound tactics. It’s because they seem more pure and honest, less “dirty” than outbound. I agree with them to a certain extent.
It’s great to create content (like we’re doing now!). You’ve got many people’s eyes on it. You improve your rank in search engines. And eventually, new people show up at your front door every single day. They raise their hands and say: “I want to learn more about your product and service.” It’s awesome. I’m an inbound believer myself.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
However, there’s (at least) one significant problem. With inbound, it’s nearly impossible to call your shot. Similarly, it’s almost unattainable to say:
“This particular company is a perfect fit for my business. I want its decision-makers to walk through my door and raise their hands to learn more. And I wish them to be all of a sudden struck by the brilliance of my content and everything that I’m doing. Finally, I need them to say that it would be great to do business with my firm.”
The fundamental flaw of inbound is lack of control
You take what you get. A lot of these tactics (like SEO, content marketing, SMM) are the province of catch-as-catch-can. Furthermore, one of the tension points between marketing and sales teams is the quality of leads. You know that when a poorly qualified inbound prospect is passed to a selling group, they are taught to ignore these types of leads.
Every sales employee I’ve met in my life wants to know that he or she is talking to the right person, who can either make a buying decision or advance the sale. Otherwise, they’re just wasting their time. Ignoring leads results in tension between marketing and sales.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
I’ve been in organizations with an overwhelming volume of marketing qualified leads (MQLs). However, if you pass all those prospects to your sales team, you’ll get unsatisfactory results. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Marketing feels great – generating the lead volume that’s demanded of their role. But the worst feeling in the world is high MQL metrics and underperforming sales figures.
You need a buffer that somehow scores those leads before they show up on a sales person’s calendar. It happens because they have a
“Don’t waste my time!” ethos
By the way, this situation is a perfect tee-up for outbound prospecting. With outbound, there should never be a time when any of the tactics or strategies you’re employing are in service of going after wrong fit clients. If they are, then you’re doing it wrong. In-market buyers are another matter, but landing appointments with bad-fit clients should never, ever, ever happen when outbound is done right.
A common mistake is sloppy research, i.e., insufficient targeting or poor filtering of companies. A firm can also fail at the “homework,” namely the context they should be talking about with their leads.
In theory, every outbound activity or initiative you run with a given company should always be in service to a specific target audience. And those firms should still be the right fit for your product or service.
In a “cold” scenario, the real struggle is turning someone who may not have been thinking of your product or service into a warm lead. The goal is for a prospect to realize there’s a problem that they didn’t even know they had and a need that they didn’t think they had to meet. And that’s the real sale. It’s real business development. That is a hallmark of Outbound.
In its Whitepaper, the RAIN Group conducted a broad survey of 488 buyers and 489 sellers across 25 industries worldwide.
1. MYTH: Buyers Don’t Want to Hear from Sellers
Buyers do want to hear from sellers, but the right timing is crucial.
In the era of almost limitless access to information, we are made to believe that buyers want to be left alone and do the buying journey all by themselves. Their choice is said to be determined long before they contact you.
However, let’s consider a different perspective on the abundance of information.
Please show me an executive who couldn’t benefit from something that would help them do their job better, faster, cheaper, more productively? Or give their staff extra motivation, more organization, or otherwise be additive to their business? To the extent solutions exist, ambitious executives have an open calendar to figure out how to improve. And they always make time.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
It’s your job as an outbound prospector to do the research and the analysis for your potential buyers. To understand the value of your product for their company and their revenues. It’s your job to find the ways to contact your prospect and to explain them the benefits of the purchase. The capacity for any leader, manager, or line employee to improve their own business is limitless.
If you succeed, your prospect will naturally move into your sales pipeline, turning into a lead. That’s what we call sales development magic!
At CIENCE, Research is one of the key components of outbound prospecting. Our research process is multi-stage.
First, an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is created. This can be as targeted as necessary and inclusive of demographic, firmographic, technographic and psychographic data on these target customers.
Second, teams of researchers look for the perfect fits to these ICPs– often combining databases, and offering the benefit of human curation. A cadence is developed based around the ICP (Account Based Marketing tactics to target companies and the contacts therein) and a list of contacts is handed to the SDR team. Then, each SDR undertakes additional research on the prospects to personalize all outreach. Read more about the work of our SDRs here.
According to RAIN Group, only 2% of buyers do NOT want to communicate with sellers during the buying process, while as many as 82% accept meetings with vendors. This is a crucial finding that flies in the face of popular sentiments that pronounce outbound to be dead.
Rethinking The Sales Process
The RAIN Group have their own model of the buying process. It starts with frustration around a prospect’s current situation, their desire to change, and the search for a possible solution. They call this stage “define vision.”
That’s when buyers are most willing to talk to sellers!
The percentage of those willing to hear the sellers is 71% at the stage of seeking new ideas, 62% at the stage of looking for a solution and 54% during the evaluation of possible providers. This means that your chances to be listened and heard by your potential customer are the highest during outbound prospecting.
This can also provide a brand new perspective on the popular statement that “57% of a purchase decision is already complete by the time a seller meets a buyer for the first time.” It can mean that way too many potential customers are looking for a solution to their pain point all by themselves.
They’re literally left alone and unguided. They entrust their quest to the search engines, popular blogs, and expert forums. You might have a perfect position on the SERP, but there’s a catch: at the stage of frustration and search for new ideas, the problem might still not have proper wording (think “keywords”) making your Inbound effort futile.
By the time your potential customers find you, you will have already lost your opportunity to reduce the search process for them through providing ready-to-implement solution specially tailored to the needs of their business.
At this stage, you will be one of many in a Google results set for your keyword phrases. The thing is to catch your prospects before they fully realize what their problem is and conducting research. It’s about establishing a powerful prospect-centric bond between a potential buyer and new ideas. And that’s what outbound prospecting is for.
2. MYTH: Cold Calling is Dead
49% of buyers prefer to be contacted by phone.
This stat is meaningful, and the RAIN Group data tells you that 57% C-level and VPs prefer this means of communication. A phone call is the buyer’s second most preferred way of talking to sellers, with number one being email. And it’s also in top 3 of the most effective methods according to the sellers.
Cold calling is alive and buyers say it actually works.
Here are some more stats to back this statement. In 2016 The Bridge Group surveyed 355 B2B companies and compared “phone-centric” and email-centric” sales teams. The former made more calls and had more quality conversations per day than their emailing counterparts. The key finding was the positive correlation between the quality of call and pipeline power score.
Here’s one more thing to consider. Do you remember the sales era before the outbound prospectors began warming up the potential buyers? Sellers would call and repeat the same lines that they learned by heart regardless of who they’re talking to. They sounded artificial and that’s what buyers hated most because it seemed they were talking to machines. It was also the era of non-personalized long-read emails.
Today the approach is completely different. A seller wants to convey a targeted message to the prospects and demonstrate the understanding of their specific problems as well as introduce a good solution. Companies seek to establish long-term relations that begin with the first touch and last long after a deal was made. Modern sales are highly personalized.
Today’s B2B sales model is about being human.
If cold calling were dead, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. Think about it. We’re still humans. And human beings want to buy from other human beings. No one likes to be sold to, but everyone loves to buy. And in this process, the power lies with the buyer. Furthermore, when treated as such, most buyers understand this construct. So, in an efficient cold call, it should all be about the one who might (eventually) make a purchase.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
That’s one of the main reasons why calling is effective.
Though most people prefer visual information, recent studies of voice perception have proven that it’s a powerful source of information about the identity and emotions of a speaker. Hearing another person talking to us starts the unconscious process of “reading” the information and identifying him or her. It can provide grounds for establishing relations, but only if your message is highly personalized.
3. MYTH: It’s Impossible for Sellers to Get Through (There’s always a way to connect with buyers, but it heavily depends on the sellers’ efforts)
Of course, it’s hard. Most business people that would be good prospects learn to pattern recognize and get really good at ignoring outreach. This is REALITY. Filtering must occur or no one would get anything done.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
Many sellers say that buyers don’t perceive what they hear. “I just can’t get through!” is one of key complains. Here’s what we think about it. Human communication is a two-way process. You can’t control everything. At all times you have as much as 50% of the responsibility for what’s going on between you and another person. Same works for outbound prospecting.
If too many buyers aren’t interested, it’s time to analyze what you’re doing wrong:
- The prospects don’t fit your buyer persona – it’s a research problem.
- Your emails aren’t effective – it’s the problem of messaging.
- Your phone calls don’t convert to appointments – it’s the problem of SDRs.
We take a look at the effectiveness of any email campaign 1-2 weeks after its beginning and then think of the things we can change in the way we connect the client. Same goes for calls. If the conversion of calls to appointments is low, we try to understand the reason.
There are several reasons why buyers aren’t satisfied with the phone calls:
- Lack of research and understanding of buyer pain points
- The voice and conversation sound too artificial
- You fail to provide a simple explanation of what you’re offering
The last item is especially important. Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain something simply, it means you don’t understand it well enough.” It implies that you should know well your product and service and see the key improvements it can bring to a particular company.
According to the RAIN Group report, there are things that influence the buyer’s decision under a seller’s control.
You’d be surprised to hear that it’s your potential buyer’s perception of:
- You and your company.
- Their needs and budget.
It’s up to you to provide them a valuable insight of how prospects might change the things for the best with the help of your company.
4. MYTH: Buyers Don’t Want to Hear About Your Capabilities (Sellers are expected to tell what their company can do for the buyer’s business)
Sellers often hear that nobody wants to know how great their company is. And this is partially true. Once again, let’s look at the outbound prospecting as relations. What would you think of a person who starts the conversation with a long and detailed description of his or her own greatness? “A narcissist” is the first thing that comes to mind.
However, if a person comes up to you at a party and says something like: “Hey, I see that you’re hungry and I heard that you’re from the south. Come here and try this BBQ. I made it myself. It’s my best recipe. In fact, I reckon it’s the best BBQ on the block.” Nobody will think your boasts in vain (provided your BBQ is really good), and you’ll connect with that person in ways never imaginable were the sequence reversed.
What we’re trying to say is that nobody cares about your skills until they can solve some problem for them. It doesn’t matter how great your product and company are. If they can’t serve, they’re of no importance.
Identify your prospect’s problem, suggest a solution, and only then speak of how good you are at delivering the solutions to these problems.
According to the RAIN Group’s research, “description of provider’s capabilities” and “content 100% customized to our specific situation” are the second most popular messages that influence a buyer’s decision to schedule an appointment (67%). The first one is “primary research data relevant to our business” (69%).
5. MYTH: Cold meetings Don’t Convert to Sales Wins (Meetings convert to closed deals if sellers can bring value)
The last, but not least, myth is about closing deals at outbound-generated meetings. Your outbound prospecting team had worked really hard and scheduled a number of appointments, but your Account Exec didn’t close the deal. Once again the problem is not about the format of the meeting.
Any meeting is time-consuming. People won’t waste time unless they have an interest in how you might help.
RAIN Group says it’s about the value sellers can bring — and we couldn’t agree more. An appointment is where outbound prospecting stops and the sales process truly begins. The lead shouldn’t really feel he or she has crossed a line. It should be a natural flow from interest generation to desire to learn more. The focus of your sales team on a potential client’s desires or pain points and the solution to provide either, should never stop.
Once again, it’s your company that is an expert at solving particular problems, not your client! Educate them, show successful cases that are similar to your lead’s situation, arrange a brainstorm and don’t forget to ask as many questions as possible. That’s how you can succeed and we really hope you will!
3 Bonus Outbound Prospecting Myths Topics To Think About
How do these myths impact the business in general and the revenue of B2B companies?
I think there are many people that are very protective of their time and their schedule. So they aren’t likely to give that time to just any vendor/supplier. The corresponding impact means fewer conversations, thus less change and less improvement. I should also point out, this is largely because it’s hard to change.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
Does fear of Outbound techniques impact the revenue of the company?
Every survey I’ve read on this topic for the last ten years claims that the number one pain point for every sales organization is finding more new opportunities (according to Richardson, American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, CSO Insights, Forbes, HubSpot). And it’s the direct result of not having enough or good enough Outbound prospecting.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
How can we change this situation?
I believe it should be done through both education and awareness. How should you think about going to the market? There’s a lot of businesses that have had outsized success with sales specialization—going directly after the customers who are a perfect fit for their product or service. This should be on the radar of go-to-market activities.Eric Quanstrom, CMO
These success stories need to be more shared and exposed. As a result, more people will be more comfortable with Outbound prospecting as a part of their strategy.
There are many myths surrounding sales. However, they prove to be untrue once they’re studied with a scientific approach. Outbound prospecting remains the key method of lead generation if it is executed in a proper up-to-date way.