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Outbound sales: Misunderstood, but as powerful as ever

outbound sales


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Over the past decade, an increasing number of businesses have turned to inbound sales as their go-to method for generating and closing new leads. Outbound sales, which involves a salesperson directly reaching out to potential customers, was once the driving force behind all sales departments. But many marketing and sales experts now deem it to be a second-rate (if not redundant) strategy for increasing revenue.

But is this really the case? Is it not true that countless businesses, especially those with bootstrapped budgets, continue to depend on using a “push” sales strategy to land new customers? 

As a company that’s helped thousands of businesses level-up their outbound campaign management, we’re in no doubt that outbound sales is still an incredibly effective way to secure new customers—provided you do it right. For outbound sales to be worth your while, you must steer clear of the lazy and intrusive tactics that have helped to give it a bad name.

In this post, we’ll show you how outbound sales can strengthen your sales program before running you through various techniques of how to do it well.

What we’ll cover:

Let’s kick things off by looking at how outbound sales developed its bad rap.

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Why outbound sales gets a bad rap

As you know, outbound sales involves you, the salesperson, reaching out to a potential buyer and giving them your sales pitch. Common outbound sales strategies include cold calling, cold emailing, and networking at trade shows. 

This stands in contrast to inbound sales, which relies on prospects coming to you to inquire about your products or services. This involves working more closely with Marketing and methods like content marketing, SEO, and social media—with the overall ethos being “build it and they will come.”

Since outbound sales often entails approaching prospects who may have never even heard of your business before, it’s (understandably) thought of as the more aggressive approach to sales. But this perception has been aggravated over the years by the cavalier attitude of all-too-many salespeople. Nothing has done more to discredit outbound sales than people receiving unsolicited calls from brash salespeople with completely irrelevant pitches. Bad experiences like these have led many to become skeptical about outbound sales tactics.

Some people also suspect that having an outbound sales strategy is no longer sustainable in light of regulations brought in over the past 20 years. For example, the 1991 Telephone Communications Protection Act (TCPA) limits the use of telephone solicitations, while the Do Not Call Registry introduced in 2003 makes it illegal to cold-call any number listed on the database. Likewise, B2C cold-calling has been all but banned in the European Union (EU) ever since the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect.

But neither of these concerns actually proves that we should do away with outbound sales altogether. There’s still life in outbound sales—if it’s done right. The fact is that an effective outbound strategy should neither frustrate your prospects with irrelevant information nor violate any data protection regulations. As we’ll see, effective outbound sales relies heavily on doing two things well:

  • Correctly discerning who your target is, and
  • Offering genuine value to your would-be buyers so you don’t waste your own time or theirs.

4 unique benefits of outbound sales

Here are the main benefits that a well-executed outbound sales strategy can offer your business:

1. A shorter sales cycle

Acquiring new customers through 100% inbound channels is sometimes a long-game strategy that can take months, if not years, to yield significant business results. You have to hire pros to consistently produce well-crafted content, play catch-up with the ever-evolving search engine algorithms, and wait for your reputation to build to a point at which prospects actively seek out your business themselves.

Outbound sales, on the other hand, offers much quicker results. Once you start prospecting, you can quickly discover what works and what doesn’t, and adapt your approach accordingly. There’s no need to wait for prospects to organically discover you, then trust you, and then approach you to make a purchase.

And if you’re equipped with, say, an outbound contact center platform, that can lighten your workload even more. Here’s an example:

Instead, you reach out to them, give your best pitch, and get the real-time feedback of a clear-cut yes or no answer. You also have much more control over the pace of your outreach—if you need more customers, you can simply ramp up your prospecting.  

2. An opportunity to test new territory

A related benefit of cold outreach is that it can quickly give you a good lay of the land whenever you venture into a new niche.

Imagine you developed a new product and there were no similar solutions already on the market. Your prospects would know nothing about this new category, and so you couldn’t rely on them coming to you.

But with a targeted cold outreach campaign, you could begin to convince those prospects that you have a new solution that meets their needs. In doing so, you’d probably encounter a slew of different objections and questions that you could then use to refine your value proposition and perhaps even use it as the basis of an inbound content strategy.

3. A chance to sway undecided buyers

While many motivated buyers will come to you, there will always be some who are waiting for you to come to them.

These potential customers may have visited your website, read your brochure, and liked a few of your LinkedIn posts, but they haven’t quite built up the impetus to reach out to you directly. Sometimes this happens because it’s not clear to them who in their company should be contacting vendors, and sometimes it’s because they just aren’t clear enough on what differentiates your solution from those of your competitors.

In any case, you can often stir these prospects into action by approaching them yourself and explaining how your solution can address their particular pain points.   

4. The ability to target decision-makers directly

Outbound sales lets you directly contact the key decision-makers within your target organizations. 

In terms of speed and efficiency, it’s clearly a better use of your time to start a conversation with influential stakeholders and those responsible for procurement than it is to attract and nurture anonymous leads in the hope that some of them have buying power. 

What should the outbound sales process look like?

Now that we’re clear on the main advantages of outbound sales, it’s worth briefly revisiting what steps are involved in the outbound sales process. 

While the specifics of your sales process will depend on the particular needs of your business, the fundamental process involves the following five main stages:

1. Identifying market segments

The first stage is all about figuring out who you’re going to target and learning as much as you can about them.

This involves clearly defining the types of problems your product or service can help solve, and building a profile of the type of customer who is most likely to experience those problems. Fleshing out the general attributes of your ideal customer will give you a much better steer on the types of companies you should target.

Once you’ve identified your target market, the next step is to segment your prospects into different groups based on more specific attributes, such as company size, budget, location, and specific business challenges. This will give you a better picture of the subtle differences within your target market, which will thereby allow you to better tailor your messaging when reaching out to them.

2. Lead generation

The next step involves creating a list of bona fide leads. This means researching the companies in your target market and finding the contact details of the key decision-makers within those organizations.

In general, there are three approaches you can use to generate leads. The first is to identify them manually. This involves your sales team (or your in-house lead-gen team) building up a contact list by scouring social media channels like LinkedIn or Twitter, digging through company websites, or attending industry events. An additional step here could also involve certain automation where you can extract emails from LinkedIn searches for your sales outreach campaigns. Another approach is to buy a database of targeted leads from a third-party, which is generally the least effective method. Yet another option is to outsource your lead generation to a dedicated lead-gen company. 

Whichever method you choose, at the end of this stage, you should have a pipeline full of leads so your sales team can begin prospecting.

3. Lead qualification

Now it’s time for your sales team to reach out to leads, usually by cold emailing or cold calling.

As they work through the contact list, your sales reps can begin categorizing each lead based on their responsiveness and degree of interest. Some might qualify as “hot” leads, which means they are ready to buy, while others might qualify as “warm” leads, which means they’re interested in buying but not quite ready to take the plunge. “Cold” leads are those who show no interest in what you’re offering, or who’ve become unresponsive after showing some initial interest.

4. Sales calls 

The next step involves your sales rep arranging a meeting or call with a responsive lead to further discuss your offering. 

Depending on the lead, this interaction could be an in-person meeting with executives, a live product demonstration, or a deep-dive phone call to discuss the benefits and technical details of your product or service.

If you’re operating in the B2B space, this stage usually involves multiple calls or meetings due to there being more stakeholders involved in any decision-making.

5. Closing the deal

If your sales team were successful in the previous step and convinced the prospect to buy, the final step of the outbound sales process is getting the prospect to sign the dotted line.

Once your lead has been converted into a paying customer, the onboarding process can begin.

5 tips to help you build a powerful outbound sales strategy

Now that we’re clear on the basic building blocks of an outbound sales program, what should you pay attention to in order to give your program the best chance of success?

1. Pick the right tools for the job

Before letting your sales team loose on your prospects, you should equip them with tools that free up their time to contact more leads and focus on selling. The right combination of tech will help your team keep track of leads, improve communication, and generally improve their overall management of the sales process.

Tools like customer relationship management (CRM) systems, social listening tools, and sales software can all be used to drastically improve the efficiency of your sales team.

For example, the RingCentral Engage Voice™ platform makes it easy to manage your outbound campaigns by offering intelligent, time-saving features like remote access so you can engage with prospects wherever they are, call blending so you can switch seamlessly between inbound and outbound calls, and list management to help organize your priority leads.

It also comes with multiple pre-built CRM integrations, like Agile CRM and Salesforce, allowing you to place cold calls directly from your computer screen:

agile crm RingCentral integration

🕹️ Get a hands-on look at how RingCentral is designed to help you close more outbound sales by booking a product tour:

💰 You can also use this calculator to see roughly how much your business could save by using RingCentral to support your team’s communication with each other—and clients.

2. Communicate your outreach plan 

Every member of your sales team should have a clear understanding of your outreach plan to help guide their sales activities.

Your plan should explain details like: 

  • Whether to call or email a lead first
  • How long to wait before following up with an unresponsive lead
  • Specific points to mention during calls and emails
  • How to go about leaving voicemails
  • Which criteria to use when qualifying leads

Your sales reps should also be in no doubt about the key metrics they should be tracking. These should be defined with your sales goals in mind. Common sales metrics include calls made, emails sent, demos booked, and time spent talking to prospects.

It’s also a good idea to encourage some healthy competition among your sales reps to help hit your targets and keep your team members motivated. Many sales teams manage this by using monthly contests or sales leaderboards that tally up and compare everyone’s performance in key sales activities.   

3. Hone your value proposition

In order to pique the interest of your prospects and prevent them from either hanging up on you or adding you to their email spam folder, you must present them with a unique and compelling value proposition.

Your value proposition should stress the unique benefits that your offering can give your prospects (mentioning features is also important, but less effective when trying to initially hook your prospect). Each member of your sales team should internalize your value proposition and be ready to articulate it with conviction at any moment.

Of course, your value proposition will likely change over time. Perhaps your offering will change slightly, or perhaps you’ll discover that customers like your product or service for reasons you didn’t initially realize. In any case, no sales rep should start pitching prospects before a compelling value proposition has been defined.

4. Do your homework on each prospect

We’ve already mentioned the importance of researching and segmenting your target market, but you should also take time to research individual prospects before reaching out to them. 

As much as 82% of B2B decision-makers believe that salespeople aren’t fully prepared when they reach out, which can be especially frustrating when you’ve taken the time out of your day to take an unsolicited call.1 The fact is it only takes a little extra preparation to massively improve your odds of establishing that all-important rapport and level of trust with your prospect. 

So before picking up the phone to call your lead, why not first do some research on their website or LinkedIn profile? Look for any unique details about them or recent news about their company. Do you have any connections in common? Have they recently published a noteworthy piece of content? What does their role involve? 

The more you can find out about them, the better you’ll be able to tailor your pitch to their particular needs.

5. Arm your reps with compelling scripts

When your sales reps reach out to a new prospect—be it by phone or email—they only have a brief window of time before the prospect loses interest.

Having a cold call script or email template prepared in advance maximizes your use of this precious time. Your sales scripts should always include a sales conversation starter, your value proposition, and an invitation to follow up with a discovery call or meeting. 

Of course, you shouldn’t stick too rigidly to the script once the conversation begins flowing naturally, but it’s always useful to have at hand to avoid awkward pauses and to keep your reps focused on the central goal of securing a follow-up session.

Again, having the right tool can help you here. For example, RingCentral Engage Voice’s advanced agent scripting makes sure that all your scripts remain on-brand and tailored to your specific contacts. It also helps agents with any disclaimers they need to read to customers:

engage voice sales

Ready to embrace outbound sales?

Outbound sales has developed a unfairly poor reputation in recent years, caused in large part by unscrupulous sales practices and overblown concerns surrounding legal compliance.

We’ve seen, however, that a well thought-out outbound sales strategy can yield significant business benefits that just aren’t available from an inbound-only approach.

That said, succeeding at outbound sales takes considerable preparation and consistent execution. To get the most out of your outbound sales strategy, be sure to incorporate the tips covered in this post.

Originally published Nov 14, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022

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