B2B companies with a compelling value proposition operating in markets that have from a few thousands to a few hundred thousands potential customers should embrace account-based outbound prospecting to accelerate organic growth. In previous articles, we discussed what is outbound prospecting and why it's important and how to develop an investment case for an outbound prospecting program. Here we illustrate how to setup and launch an account-based outbound prospecting pilot program in about 12 to 16 weeks referencing a case study from the flexible packaging industry.
B2B companies that have decided to embrace outbound prospecting to accelerate new customer acquisition can setup and launch new processes and campaigns in 8 to 12 weeks and start collecting preliminary data regarding their ability to engage new prospect accounts in the following 4 to 5 weeks.
During the initial 4 to 5 weeks after launch, Sales Development Reps (SDRs) will reach out to an initial group of prospects to start testing the new processes and campaigns (in our case study, about 600 prospect contacts working in key positions at about 100 prospect accounts). Engaging at least 5% to 8% of the targeted prospect accounts will usually be considered a successful start.
Given the typical length of B2B sales cycles and qualification periods, generating the first new sales opportunities will usually take at least an additional 2 to 3 months. After that period, if successful the program will start generating the first new sales opportunities accepted by Account Executives (AEs). The exact number will depend from the volume of targeted prospect accounts, the conversion rate metrics, and the average time taken by engagement and qualification activities.
In our flexible packaging case study, given that we planned to reach out to about 200 prospect accounts during the first two months after launch and that the average time for engagement and qualification activities (∆T1 + ∆T2 + ∆T3) was estimated to be about 3 months, based on targeted conversion rate metrics the program was expected to generate between 3 and 5 new sales opportunities withing 5 months from launch.
Finally, to see the first sales opportunities convert into actual sales will usually take an additional 3 to 4 months and in some cases a bit longer. If successful, at this point the program will start generating the first new sales and have a few additional sales opportunities in advanced negotiation in the pipeline. This is why a 12-month period is the minimum required time for B2B companies with a relatively long selling cycle to validate the effectiveness of an outbound prospecting program.
In our case study, by the end of the 12-month period if successful the program would generate 2 to 4 sales contracts with new accounts and have a few additional sales opportunities in advanced negotiations.
During the initial 12-month period, a successful outbound prospecting program will generate initial levels of interest and engagement, some new sales opportunities, and some new actual sales. The actual measures of its success, however, will be the creation of a repeatable and scalable data driven and intelligently automated sales process and the generation of ongoing improvements in key sales metrics through continuos optimizations.
The work required to setup and launch an outbound prospecting pilot program can usually be done in about 12 to 16 weeks and is best organized in three phases with the following objectives:
The chart below illustrates the typical duration and key outputs for each phase.
In the following sections we'll discuss in more details the main activities and key outputs of each phase.
The objective of Phase I is to develop a set of detailed strategic guidelines that will allow the Sales Development Team to properly setup the outbound prospecting program in Phase II. These guidelines are developed through a series of one-to-one interviews and some group brainstorming sessions with the CEO, senior leaders from the sales and marketing organisations, and a selected group of sales and marketing executives and managers.
Often, involving executives from Operations and Customer Service will also prove extremely valuable to surface good examples of how the company has been creating value and impact for current customers (i.e. ideas for case studies).
The key topics addressed during this phase are:
The table below illustrate an example of prospect accounts' ideal customer profiles and a do not contact list from our flexible packaging case study.
|Tier 1||Dry food, fresh produce, and soft drinks producers with more than 10,000 employees, excluding current customers and other accounts included in Do Not Contact list.|
|Tier 2||Dry food, fresh produce, and soft drinks producers with employees ranging from 201 to 10,000 and packaging plants located East of the Mississippi River, excluding current customers and other accounts included in Do Not Contact list.|
|Tier 3||Dry food, fresh produce, and soft drinks producers with 200 employees or less and packaging plants located East of the Mississippi River, excluding current customers and other accounts included in Do Not Contact list.|
|Do Not Contact||Current customers and other accounts excluded either because part of another business development initiative or for other reasons.|
With regard to the contact strategy, we made the following decisions:
Once the strategic guidelines are clearly defined and documented the Sales Development Team will be ready to start Phase II to setup the pilot program.
The objective of Phase II is to setup all the processes and tools required to run account-based outbound prospecting campaigns and to develop supporting sales enablement materials (i.e. case studies, website landing pages, videos, etc.).
Usually the work is organized in five separate work streams executed in parallel:
To create lists of prospect accounts and contacts matching the ideal customer profile(s) and persona(s), the team will first need to select the appropriate sales intelligence tool(s) from which to source the data. Several tools exist and the team will have to decide which one is a better fit given their requirements and budget. Important aspects to consider include:
A company just starting an outbound prospecting program with a limited budget could select and integrate a few simple sales intelligence tools to create a cost effective solution. For example, the following tools could provide a basic working solution at a total annual cost of about $4,500:
A company already using Salesforce as a CRM system, with a greater available budget, and looking for a more permant solution should instead consider a more capable tool like Clearbit Prospector (or another leading tool like ZoomInfo, DiscoverOrg, or Datanyze]).
In this case, with just one tool a user would be able to search for prospect accounts matching the ideal customer profile from within Salesforce, identify key executives matching the targeted personas at those accounts, automatically create account and contact records in Salesforce with enriched profiles (including a business email and a direct business phone number), and automatically update those records every 30 days. Pricing plans for Clearbit start at $20,000 annually and depends on CRM database size and monthly prospect contacts created.
Once the selected sales intelligence tool(s) are setup, typically the Research Analyst will start creating the lists of prospect accounts and contacts matching the ideal customer profiles and personas defined in Phase I. To make the process more manageable, it's a good practice to create multiples lists including smaller groups of accounts and contacts (i.e. accounts from a specific industry vertical, of a certain size, based in a specific geography, etc.). This will facilitate the testing of alternative targeting strategies. An example of the output of this work using LinkedIn Sales Navigator from our case study is included below.
During the setup phase the Research Analyst will typically be required to create lists with enough contacts to feed the initial 6 to 8 weeks of the outbound prospecting campaign(s). Each week during the setup phase the output of the work completed (i.e. search queries, lists of selected accounts and contacts, and lists of discarded accounts and contacts) will be reviewed with the Sales Development Team leader and the SDR(s). Adjustements will be made when needed and all decisions made will be properly documented for future reference.
After the initial setup phase, new accounts and contacts matching the ideal customer profile(s) and persona(s) will be researched and added to the systems on an ongoing weekly basis always maintaining a buffer of a few weeks to ensure uninterrupted execution of the outbound prospecting campaigns.
Data breadth and quality have a huge impact on the results produced by an outbound prospecting program and investments in better data usually have a very positive ROI.
Depending on the size of the company, the sales process type (i.e. high velocity or high touch), and the preferences expressed by the sales team, the set of tools used to manage the sales process end-to-end can be relatively simple, with only a CRM system and a sales engagement system adopted in addition to the sales intelligence tool(s), or more complex with several other tools used to automate workflows, increase sales productivity, provide conversation intelligence, etc. (a partial list of leading sales tools covering a broad set of possible functionalities can be found here).
Evaluating, selecting, and properly integrating the right set of sales tools for a specific company is an important process that requires a clear understanding of how a company wish to operate, the program economics, and the alternative tools available in the market. For middle market companies, striking the right balance between improving productivity and ensuring ease of use is typically an important factor.
In this article we'll discuss only the two main systems, the CRM and the sales engagement platform, that in addition to the sales intelligence tool(s) are required to start an outbound prospecting pilot program. In this context, the sales engagement platform is the system used by SDRs to define and manage the outbound prospecting campaigns and the CRM is the system used by SDRs and AEs to track prospects engagement and to manage new sales opportunities. The CRM is also the system of record for all accounts and contacts data and for the sales metrics data (our reference sales metrics data model can be found here).
The market for CRM systems is very mature with many well functioning products. Salesforce is the undisputed market leader, but many other popular systems exist offering different set of functionalities at different price points (from about $300 / year / seat to $1,800+ / year / seat). Other popular systems include Hubspot, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Insightly, Pipedrive, and Copper.
All of the above CRM systems, and many others not mentioned here, when properly setup provide the key functionalities required to support outbound prospecting. These functionalities can be summarized as follows:
The market for sales engagement systems is less mature, as most of the tools are less than 10 year old, but nevertheless several products exist offering different set of functionalities at different price points (from about $350 / year / seat to $1,600+ / year / seat).
Outreach is the leading tool in this market and SalesLoft and PersistIQ are also mature and well functioning products that have all the required functionalities (a broader list of sales engagement systems can be found here).
The key functionalities that the selected sales engagement system should be able to support can be summarized as follows:
The initial setup of the selected sales engagement system will require the integration with SDRs individual email mailboxes, the integration with the sales intelligence tool(s) feeding the new prospects data, and the integration with the CRM system.
The image below, for example, illustrate the page used to setup automatic triggers in PersistIQ.
Sales are driven by content that support buyer and seller conversations. Sales reps need content, tools, and training that help them share a compelling perspective about the unique value that a company's product or service brings to help buyers more easily solve their problem.
Case studies are a very effective way to tell self-contained stories of how a real customer overcome their problem by using a company product or service. By the end of a case study, a reader should be able to visualize themself as the hero of the story able to overcome their problem and achieving their objectives.
A case study can be produced in several formats (i.e. a blog post, an eBook, an infographic, a video, etc.) to support different media channels and use cases.
This is null from null. I'm writing to ask if you'd like to receive a copy of a recently published >case study that illustrates how our customers using null were able to achieve null.
Please let me know if you're interested and I'll be happy to send you a copy.
According to B2B Marketing, 66% of 112 B2B marketers surveyed said case studies were very effective, while 32% said they were quite effective, at driving new leads and sales.
Several useful guides can be found on the internet explaining how to write professional business case studies that include examples and reference templates (i.e. here, here, here, and here). Key best practices can be summarized as follow:
Based on the messaging strategy defined in Phase I, the Sales Development Team will select the case study candidates, process the legal paperwork, write the case study outline, complete the required interviews, and collect the required supporting data. After that, working with a selected service providers (for example, ClearVoice or UpWork) a professional business writer and a graphic designer will be retained to develop the case studies.
In our case, we decided to develop 6 case studies illustrating how the company had helped existing customers solve their problem and achieve their goals. For each case study, an infographic in pdf format and a full case study eBook in pdf format were produced to be used by SDRs as an attachment to emails.
When appropriate and compatible with the available budget, a company might invest in the development of some videos (i.e. for a message from the CEO or SVP of sales, customers' testimonials, a facility tour, etc.). Most B2B marketers agree that the second most effective content format is video.
Developing effective outbound prospecting campaigns requires mastering multi-touch and multi-media cadences or sequences. A cadence is the number and rhythm of attempts made by SDRs to reach out and engage prospects.
Many books are available that discuss how to develop effective cadence and messaging strategies for prospecting campaigns. Most books also provide several examples and templates. In addition to the books listed in our first article in this series, a broader list of books can be found here.
In this section, first we're going to introduce a few key concepts and best practices derived from those readings and many years of personal experience and then we'll review the choices we made in our case study.
To craft a successful sales cadence for a prospecting campaign there are five elements that need to be defined, tested, and fine-tuned over time:
Implementing a formal and consistent cadence is a must, as the routine helps SDRs master the game by taking away uncertainties around the process, and the most effective media channels are calls/voicemails and emails.
While it's true that calls are more expensive and diffucult to execute and that completing a prospecting phone call (i.e. connecting live with a prospect) is very difficult nowadays, it's also true that a good voicemail might link a company name to an internal pressing issue and prompt a prospect to reply to a previous email. Several studies and field experts agree that including phone calls/voicemails in prospecting campaigns increases conversion rates and has a positive impact on ROI.
When drafting scripts for calls and voicemail, simple but effective guidelines include the following key points:
Effective email templates are also short (i.e. ideally less than 300 words), need to have significant personalization (i.e. with specific information beyond just the contact's first name and the company name), and should be structured in three main parts:
Subject: Helping null achieve null
This is null from null, a provider of flexible packaging solutions for the Food & Beverages industries.
I'm writing to ask if you'd like to receive a copy of a case study that illustrates how our customers using null were able to achieve null. I'm confident we could do the same for your null and null.
Please let me know if you're interested and I'll be happy to send you a copy.
With some good guidelines on how to structure effective outbound prospecting campaigns, the next step is to define how many campaigns to prepare for launch and to set them up in the selected sales engagement system (the number of used campaigns will usually increase over time as the program expand in scope and size).
The number of required campaigns is typically driven by the number of targeted industry verticals (as different verticals might requires different messaging) and personas (as a campaign targeting executives in Sales & Marketing might require different messaging from one targeting executives in Operations and Supply Chain).
In our case, to simplify the initial work we decided to launch with just one campaign defined as follows:
While not strcitly necessary, updating some of the company's website content to reflect the new messaging strategy is often recommended.
Also, in industries with good volumes of organic search traffic, creating a few landing pages to allow visitors access the case studies after entering their contact information would also be beneficial. Down the road, when both the search volume and the number of case studies are high, building a landing page that allows visitors to search and filter for available case studies is also a good practice (an example from ASW can be found here).
Finally, when the website is old and slow, refactoring the website to provide a modern look, fast response times, and easy navigation is a small investement in branding that can help a company project a more appropriate image.
It's Monday morning in launch phase Week 1 and the SDR(s) will finally start testing the new account-based outbound prospecting campaign(s). In our case, during the launch first day the SDR did the following:
The first couple of weeks after launch are typically not very busy and this is why it's a good practice to combine the normal SDR(s) activities with some form of training. In our case, during the first week the SDR selected and added to the prospecting campaign 121 prospects, automatically sent 242 emails and checked open rates by end of week, reviewed and managed 7 replies, attempted to make 242 phone calls using the tool click-to-call functionality, spoke live with 2 prospect contacts, left 213 voicemails, and scheduled 3 discovery calls for the following week.
After a few weeks the situation is usually significantly different as more and more prospect contacts are added to the prospecting campaign(s). In our case, with the duration of the prospecting campaign being 3 weeks, the activity peak was reached in Week 4. In that week, our campaign cadence had 150 prospect contacts in their third week, 150 in their second week, and another 150 in their first week. The resulting SDR activities in Week 4 since launch were the following:
The image below shows a copy of our outbound prospecting campaign results after the first 4 weeks.
During the first 4 weeks after launch our campaign had tried to reach 571 prospect contacts, had reached (i.e. by delivering an email or completing a phone call) 542 prospect contacts, and had received 48 replies:
During the last three years prior to the launch of outbound prospecting our flexible packaging company had acquired only 5 new accounts. In the first four weeks of outbound prospecting, the company reached out to 103 new prospect accounts and was able to engage 11 new accounts. The program had a clearly successful start.
An important factor in order to maximize the long term performance of an outbound prospecting program is to properly manage the prospects' lifecycle as illustrated in the following chart.
The first step is to properly setup the campaign(s) automatic triggers to properly handle bounced and unsubscribed emails. In both cases, the system will automatically set the prospect status to disqualified so that the prospect contact will never be contacted again.
The second step is to provide specific guidelines to SDRs about how to handle replies:
The third and final step is to define how to handle unresponsive prospect contacts (i.e. have valid contact information, did not opt out, but did not reply). This group will represent the largest outcome of a prospecting campaign. In our case, for example, out of 571 prospect contacts added to the campaign during the first four weeks after launch, 477 prospect contacts ended up being unresponsive (i.e. 83.5%.).
The best approach for unresponsive but relatively new prospect contacts is to add them to a follow up prospecting campaign. That campaign will start with a delay of 3 to 6 months and then start a new sequence for a new attempt to try to engage a prospect contact. Unresponsive prospects with a significant aging, typically 18 to 24 month old, will instead be deemed to be not interested (i.e. disqualified).
In today's environment many B2B companies with a compelling value proposition and a serviceable addressable market (SAM) that includes from a few thousands to a few hundred thousands prospect accounts need a cost effective and scalable approach to accelerate the acquisition of new customers. Leveraging data, structured processes, and intelligent automation an outbound prospecting program is the digital solution that meets those requirements.
A cost effective and scalable outbound prospecting program can usually be setup and launched in 12 to 16 weeks.
In 4 to 6 weeks after launch the program will produce initial hard evidence regarding its ability to engage new prospect accounts. Usually, the program performance will continue to improve during the following 12 to 24 months as a result of ongoing process and content optimizations.
After 6 to 9 months from launch the program will also provide factual data regarding a company's ability to offer a compelling value proposition to prospective new customers and suggestions on what to do to increase its competitiveness.
When successful, over a 4 year period the program will make a significant contribution to equity value creation. When not successful, if managed properly the program won't have a negative impact on a company net financial position at the end of the 4 year period.