10 Tips for Developing a More Effective Outbound Sales Strategy

Kent Lewis, Entrepreneurs’ Association is the founder and CEO of Member, Digital Marketing Agency (EO) in Portland, Oregon anvil mediarecently merged dexia, We asked Kent about his experience overcoming their fear of outbound sales outreach, and how others can do the same.

For 22 years, the agency I founded was its lead vendor. I focused primarily on building a sales pipeline through inbound marketing, as I personally despise outbound sales. Three years ago, I got a push from my advisory board to “get over your issues” and start prospecting on LinkedIn. That guidance gave a fresh perspective on our largest customer and the power of outbound sales.

Here are my top 10 insights for developing an effective outbound sales strategy:

be human

While outbound sales are often associated with call centers, email and LinkedIn are effective prospecting channels. Unfortunately, no channel is safe from automation and the resulting inhuman treatment of prospects. The sales communications I receive from solicitors lack not only personalization, but any sense of human connection. be different Be human.

aim goal

I learned a lot from sending 900+ LinkedIn messages across a first-degree connection on my first attempt at outbound prospecting. First, the response rate (not including ‘no thanks’ or ‘wrong person’) was not much higher than direct mail. Second, the warm responses (qualified leads) were all people I knew, even if we hadn’t worked directly together. In the end, the prospects who turned into customers were familiar to my digital marketing agency after monthly email newsletters, my posts on social media, and conversations at networking events. Lesson: Begin outreach with your intimate network (past and current customers, partners and vendors) and work your way up to new contacts.

Keep It Simple (and Brief)

A powerful piece of advice I’ve received is to keep LinkedIn messages short but sweet—no more than two sentences requesting a 15-minute catch up. It was tough to live up to, but it paid off in strong response rates from qualified leads. Most of the requests I receive have multiple paragraphs, images and sometimes attachments. I ignore them all. Don’t expect different results from your response to unwanted sales pitches.

maintain consistency

Consistency is key for any new behavior to become a habit. Similar to social media posts, outbound sales efforts require discipline to keep pace. Once I got five new customers in my first round of outreach on LinkedIn, I was shocked. 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.

be fearless

The primary reason I avoided outbound sales was personal trouble for people who didn’t want to hear from me. I based it on my personal disdain for receiving sales pitches. My advisor assured me that my assumption was wrong. My experience validated his advice: no one asked me to discuss. While 98 percent of recipients completely ignored the note, very few said, “No thanks.” The rest said, “Thanks, let’s talk in 3-4 months.” I let go of the fear of rejection to move on.

start small

Most executives who are not solely responsible for sales can get manual outreach to 900 contacts. I understand and also agree. Start small with 5-10 contacts per day. This creates a realistic cadence, and seeing small wins consistently can be beneficial.

Use an Accountability Partner

Never underestimate the importance of the accountability component. I take advantage of this with outbound sales by scheduling monthly check-ins with my advisor to make sure I’m on track and navigating any obstacles.

take advantage of your network

After extolling the virtues of networking for 20 years, I had not leveraged my self-established network of 22,000+ to request introductions from ideal clients. My advisor suggested that I make requests to my network regularly, as friends and other first-degree connections are often happy to help and enjoy making introductions. Warm introduction works wonders versus cold outreach – especially valuable for people with established, untapped networks.

quantity vs quality

While I recommend starting small, it is a numbers game. An average response rate of one to two percent means you need to reach out to 100 contacts to get a response and 500-1,000 to close a deal. My first outreach produced a near five percent ratio, which was unusually high, and was not easily replicated. To compensate, keep growing your list. I still send one to five connection requests to relevant contacts on LinkedIn.

don’t forget the fundamentals

While outbound sales are a foundational exponential growth strategy, it is not the only effective sales strategy. I mentioned that for 22 years our primary focus was on inbound sales efforts (search engine marketing, social media and public relations). All channels and strategies must be aligned, integrated and continuously measured. The best channels for qualified leads include search engine optimization (SEO), speaking and network referrals. Email drip campaigns work well for lead nurturing. The single best channel for new customers was our monthly email newsletter, sent over two decades to customers and qualified leads. Regular exposure to our brand was a touch less, but higher ROI sales channel.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.