The best outbound sales strategies (plus KPIs to track performance)

Posted June 8, 2023

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By Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices at Outreach

Like its best practitioners, outbound sales is just too persistent to be ignored. Its been more than a decade since many experts predicted that outbound would become irrelevant amid the growing preference for inbound sales, and the rise in growth marketing. But the reports of outbounds impending demise have been exaggerated. Accounting for the larger share of generated leads (55% vs. 27% for inbound sales), outbound sales strategies remain crucial to the success of many organizations, especially for selling into the enterprise market segment.

Lest you ignore the huge opportunities this tried-and-true sales model can generate, here are some outbound sales techniques and tips that will help propel your revenue performance.

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Tap into the metrics that stand between you and your revenue goals. Get our checklist of basic and advanced KPIs that best-in-class sales organizations use to measure success. Use these slides as the framework to anchor your sales team meetings, training sessions, strategic planning, forecast calls, or executive briefings.

What is outbound sales?

Outbound sales encapsulates the classic nature of corporate selling, where sales professionals initiate and drive customer engagement. In outbound sales, the seller actively seeks a potential buyer, then reaches out to the prospect via cold calling and emails, strategically moving the prospect towards a purchase decision through a process of follow-ups, demos, negotiations, and close attempts.

What is the difference between inbound and outbound sales?

Outbound sales refers to a selling dynamic where the seller actively initiates the sales conversation. In contrast, inbound sales describes a model where potential buyers whose interests are piqued by the information they acquire from websites, news, or ads initiate contact with a sales professional. Inbound sales uses methods that have been made possible by advances in digital technology: search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, publication of white papers and industry reports, online ads, influence marketing, blog posts, and social media activity.

While both inbound and outbound sales reps need to be empathetic and serve as problem solvers when engaging potential clients, the idea that modern sellers should serve more like trusted advisors started and became more pervasive in inbound sales.

Finally, potential buyers in inbound sales are described as warm, while prospects in outbound sales are described as cold. The descriptions cover the degree of apparent interest demonstrated by the potential buyer.

Types of outbound sales reps

All outbound sales reps are involved in building relationships with cold prospects. However, depending on the company, the market, or the structure of the sales organization, outbound sales reps may be classified into different categories.

Both B2C and B2B sales may employ outbound sellers. The difference primarily lies in the target customer: outbound B2C sellers engage individual end consumers while their B2B counterparts engage corporate buyers, each having multiple decision makers.

Depending on the stage in the sales process, outbound sellers may also develop specialized skills and roles:

  • Sales development reps (SDRs) are the most common practitioners in the field. Owning the process of outbound prospecting, SDRs are routinely cold calling and sending cold emails to potential buyers. They help screen and nurture potential buyers with the aim of creating a short list of sales-qualified leads/contacts for the closers, or Account Executives.
  • Business development reps (BDRs) often have identical functions with SDRs (they are synonymous in many cases). But in some companies, they perform a distinct function: serving as the link between marketing and sales by helping develop business with potential clients and referring sales-qualified leads to closers in the team.
  • Lead development reps (LDRs) or market development reps (MDRs) are sales reps who fully support inbound operations by initiating contact with prospects who have been cultivated through lead generation or essentially raise their hand to be contacted. These potential buyers have already visited the company website, downloaded a report, or signed up for an event. These actions demonstrate interest but not all active users end up as inbound leads. By focusing on these warm prospects, LDRs/MDRs fill the gap.
  • Account executives (AEs) support both outbound and inbound sales operations. These senior sales professionals make presentations, conduct demos, send proposals, handle objections, and ultimately close deals.

Outbound sales challenges

Right at the onset, outbound sales professionals face daunting challenges. Their main role is to make contact and build relationships with total strangers. The trouble is, people naturally dislike receiving unsolicited calls, emails, and direct messages. They resent interruptions, especially ones where they are asked to buy something they don't know anything about.

Obviously, it takes a) talent, b) a clever strategy, c) a predictable process, and d) the best tools to hurdle these challenges early in the game. A successful outbound sales operation requires a team of highly-skilled and motivated sellers, as well as a data-driven strategy and tech stack that optimize the sales process.

One way to blunt the sharp edges of outbound prospecting is to do diligent prospect research by collecting readily available information about potential buyers and the decision-makers who may be involved in the purchase process. Gleaning data from corporate websites, news, and social media activities is a good place to start. Meanwhile, technology such as software that collects and stores useful data will help warm up the process of cold prospecting.

What if every rep could sell like your best rep?

Outreach makes it easy for reps to self-source their own pipeline and organize their book of business.

Outbound sales strategies for scalable growth

Outbound sales is a complex field requiring a laser-precise strategy drawn from actual data on the sales floor. Such strategy covers all aspects of the operation, from the human talent that drives it and the sophisticated tools that augment their capabilities to the changing behavior of consumers and the playbooks that guide engagement. Moreover, a reliable system for measuring success should also be in place to keep performance and efficiencies in a constant state of improvement.

As Growlabs CEO Ben Raffi said, “A proper outbound sales strategy has real science behind it. You can't just start pounding the pavement with no direction and expect to achieve growth.”

In an article he wrote for Sales Hacker, Ben Raffi described the system Growlabs used to drive the company from $0 to $2.5 million ARR (annual recurring revenue) in just six months.

According to Raffi, the keys to a scalable outbound process that leads to expansive growth are market segmentation and tailored messaging. Such systems begin with accurately identifying your Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) and reaching out to customers that fit the profiles using highly targeted and personalized messaging.

He outlined the outbound process in six steps:

  1. Identify your most attractive markets via market segmentation.
  2. Establish a clear, value-based hypotheses that will guide the segmentation.
  3. Generate customer data and insights.
  4. Analyze data and group customers into ICPs.
  5. Evaluate the attractiveness of each segment.
  6. Find leads in each micro-segment.

Strategies to increase your outbound sales

With a scalable outbound process in place, it’s time to turn your attention to outbound sales performance. The most effective ways to improve outbound sales performance includes:

1. Scale operations by hiring more staff and/or expanding territories

Once you have a scalable outbound process, you'll need more SDRs to grow revenue. But when it comes to hiring, onboarding, or training SDRs, there are a few key points to remember. First, it’s important to understand successful SDR traits. For example, the role involves reaching out to cold prospects via cold calling and emails, so they need to have skills like communication and professionalism. At the same time, they have to be persistent and persuasive to convince prospects to pay attention. That’s just skimming the surface, and it all depends on what’s important to your organization. By developing a scorecard based on your ideal SDR profile, you’ll be able to find and onboard the best-fit reps. And when it comes to onboarding, start with persona training instead of product training so your reps will be better prepared to connect your solution to the personas’ goals or pain points.

Remember, though, that there's a caveat to scaling up: prematurely doing so can lead to disastrous outcomes (i.e., making investments on capex or additional staff without verifying ROI or validating addressable opportunities can bleed the company's finances over time). So, ensure that the company is ready for the big league before taking the leap.

2. Drive process optimization and efficiencies

A stable outbound sales process and competent (and trainable) sales team are prerequisites of steady business growth. Once you've ticked off these baseline items, you can focus on driving growth through efficiency.

As demonstrated by the Agoge Team at Outreach, optimizing sales playbooks and sequences through A/B testing is one way to achieve expansive growth. Serving as an incubator for process and messaging innovation, the Agoge Team shattered previous records by achieving 243% quota and 100% sales rep participation.

3. Adopt sophisticated technologies 

Your CRM serves as the baseline tool for outbound sales teams. Without it, lending system and science to your sales process becomes impossible.

But just having a reliable CRM and a mix of sales tools won't get you far, especially when your competitors use sales and marketing software that helps drive differentiation and competitive advantage. 

For outbound sales reps to be most effective, they need solutions that help them maximize their productivity. In practice, that looks like a central hub for customer data and insights. At the same time, reps need a platform that automatically syncs their sales activities, helping them avoid getting bogged down with manual entry across CRM and other tools. They also need to be able to make use of automation when it comes to workflows and playbooks. That way, they can maximize their output without diminishing the experience. 

4 key performance indicators (KPIs) for outbound sales

There are many performance indicators that track business outcomes. However, not every indicator that works for one sales organization will work the same way for another. The trick is to identify the specific performance indicators that will generate the best value for your particular business and sales operation when tracked and optimized.

However, four of the most common indicators that you should always track include:

Sales cycle time

Sales cycle times shows how fast it takes a lead (on average) to complete the buyer journey and make a purchase decision. The average sales cycle for your target audience likely depends on your business or industry. So, you should identify a benchmark that makes sense for your business to judge your sales cycle.

Cost per opportunity

Cost per opportunity is the calculated cost of generating a single lead. If close rate is high and cost per opportunity is low, then you know your sellers are reaching the right target audience. So, to optimize this metric, focusing on high-value leads may deliver better ROI.

Click-through rates

Click-through rates measure the fitness or efficiency of your call-to-action messaging. A low click-through rate negates all your efforts at reaching out to potential customers. Improve performance by tweaking the approach, timing, or other aspects of your messaging.

Calls to close ratio

Calls to close ratio is a metric that shows how many leads you need to contact, on average, for one call that results in a conversion or closed deal. It’s a simple metric that can quickly help you evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of your outbound sales techniques.

Best practices for outbound sales prospecting

In a nutshell, a good outbound strategy depends on having the right Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for your business, the right playbook, and an effective means of measuring performance or success.

And finding success in outbound sales is the sweet spot where your strategy execution matches the realities of the market and the behavior of your ideal customers. It can only be achieved by iterating your best practices over time and by adopting best-in-class sales tools.

But arguably, the most fundamental asset you can have in outbound sales is adaptability. Change is a constant, which means you should be ready to ditch even your favorite playbook or selling method when new market conditions arise. In a shifting landscape, the ability to test, measure, and improve sequences, tools, and techniques is priceless.

Outbound sales tools only scratch the surface

To create and close more pipeline without piling on more reps, more point solutions, or more costs, sales teams must embrace technology to improve their sales execution.

Outreach is the only AI-powered Sales Execution Platform that unlocks productivity to help both inbound and outbound sellers efficiently create and close more pipeline. By connecting data across every interaction from each deal, Outreach surfaces insights that help the entire team drive better sales outcomes.

Want to learn more about how technology can help your entire team create and close pipeline more efficiently? Get the latest edition of our sales execution tech buying guide.


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