What we’re talking about
Sales outreach is how you get in front of potential customers of your business. Largely relevant for businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B), it’s the process of finding the people who might be interested in your product or service (often referred to as ‘prospects’), reaching out to them in the most effective way, building a relationship with them and finding a solution that’ll benefit both of you. Think less about persuading and more about collaboration – ideally your outreach will result in a happy customer on one hand and revenue for your business on the other.
Why it's important
Every small business needs its own outreach strategy that’s distinctive and relevant to the industry they’re in, the product or service they’re selling and whoever it is they’re trying to sell to. Research from professional services firm KPMG suggests that prospects most value a personalised and seamless experience – you need to match prospects’ buying practices and needs to the way you reach out to them.
Making sales through outreach can be tough. One widely shared figure from Statista suggests the average sales conversion rate across all industries is between 2.46% and 3.26% – so unless you’re intentional about how you connect, your emails won’t get opened, your calls won’t be answered and your social media reach-outs will be left unread.
Things to note
‘Cold calling’ (when you reach out to a prospect who’s had no prior communication with you and has no knowledge of your business) is a notoriously difficult way to start a relationship. Ideally, you’ll go ‘warm’ instead – meaning you’ll have carried out proper research into the prospect, have gained introductions through common connections or will be following up with prospects that have already shown an interest in your business (known as ‘inbound leads’).
Casting the net too wide is a common mistake. Going after the wrong kinds of customers is a big waste of time and resources, so focus your outreach on a narrower list of prospects that are more likely to convert.
Flexibility is key to this process. It’s not about offering the exact same terms to all your prospects. You’ll need to use a certain amount of nuance and understanding of each customer on a case-by-case basis.
Virtual selling is here to stay. If digital outreach wasn’t already pretty much the norm pre-pandemic, then it definitely is now, so getting comfortable using online tools and platforms is essential. It’s also worth noting that according to a study by management consulting firm McKinsey, 75% of sales prospects prefer video conferencing over phone conversations.
How to design a sales outreach process
1. Get clear on your ideal customer profile. Think about the type of companies that your product or service would be a good fit for – you might even write descriptions of hypothetical companies you’d want as customers and that would want to buy from you. A good place to start here is looking at the best customers you already have and seeing what they have in common.
2. Create a targeted list of companies. Get together with your team and define some of the key criteria that companies need to fulfil to be worth reaching out to. That might include the size of the business (by revenue, employee headcount, or budget); what their goals or values are; how long they’ve been in business; their geographic location; their positioning in the market; type of ownership; any seasonal factors that dictate buying decisions; whether they’re driven by innovation or reducing risk; and what their awareness needs to be of your product or solution. You might end up with a few different types of company, or segments, to target. From here, you should be in a position to put together a target list of between 50 and 100 initial companies to reach out to – ideally some of whom you’ll already have some contact or connection with.
3. Think about buyer motivations. This is all about understanding the different motivations and priorities of the specific people you’ll be speaking to at your target companies. That might be anyone from a founder-CEO at a smaller business to a sales rep at a larger organisation. For each buyer type, think about the job they do; what they care about; what their pain points are; how much say they have on buying decisions; and how willing they’re likely to be to pay. Put yourself in their shoes and understand their needs and priorities.
4. Get searching. For each company on your target list, identify the right prospect to speak to using their website, LinkedIn or social channels. Set up a spreadsheet to organise the contact details so you can keep track of where you are with prospects and add useful notes. If you’re a larger business with budget – or for when long consideration goes into the decision – it might be worth investing in some tech to help you manage this in the shape of customer relationship management software.
5. Pull educational materials together. You may need to share content with prospects so they can quickly understand what you’re about. Think brand books, short videos, or ‘about us’ blurbs that are easily skimmable. If the conversation develops, you might bring in more substantial materials to reinforce your argument, like white papers or studies, educational seminars, product demos or customer testimonials. Remember: plenty of buying decisions are made by a committee (seven people on average, according to this study from Harvard Business Review) so you’ll need to educate more than one person. You should also anticipate potential objections and pushback around price, functionality or contract terms and come up with strong messaging templates to address these.
6. Assemble a tech toolkit. Put some thought into the tools you’ll need for managing the relationship in the most seamless way possible. Things that could be useful are a personalised video conferencing platform like Whereby for meetings; an app like Calendly to save the back and forth of organising meetings; and email management software like SendinBlue to help you track and manage your emails.
7. Decide which channel you’ll reach out on. Consider the behaviours of your prospects; what channels are they most engaged or active on? Email is the most common, but LinkedIn, social channels or even phone calls are all options. You need to go where they are – but also be aware that you might need to use multiple channels. Sending 10 emails probably won’t work.
8. Work on your initial message. There isn’t one sure-fire template to use here, but there are some key principles to remember: this is a trust-building exercise, so your message needs to be tailored and personalised so that each prospect feels understood and directly spoken to; subject lines should be personalised and engaging; emails should be succinct and conversational in tone; highlight any mutual connections; show that you understand their specific context and pain points; use interactive and engaging content like videos, GIFs or drawings where appropriate; and try not to start with a big ask. Frame your call to action around education rather than a sales meeting. Once you’re happy with your message – and you’ve checked it with others in your team – hit send.
9. Follow up. Your initial outreach might not get a response, so you need a set strategy for how you’ll follow up – and how long you’ll wait between touchpoints. This might change from prospect to prospect, but the key is that you don’t overwhelm them with the exact same messaging through the exact same channel and that you keep it conversational and light. Definitely follow up as it’s part of the process, but if you’ve tried a few times and heard nothing back, move on.
• Sales outreach is most effective with serious planning. From finding the right people and assembling the necessary materials to workshopping your messaging, it’s all about prep.
• Personalisation is crucial. Prospects want to be offered a solution that’s specific to their exact situation.
• Just because a conversation with a prospect doesn’t result in a sale, it doesn’t mean it’s not a useful exercise. You’re building relationships that you can pick up later on down the line while furthering your understanding of what customers want.
Perspective. This comprehensive handbook from Founding Sales is aimed at founders in their first sales role – with extensive chapters on each stage of the sales pipeline.
Perspective. Sujan Patel has offered his key dos and don’ts for sending a cold email.
Example. Among many resources, Hubspot has outlined the nine classic sales methodologies you can follow – along with some email openers you shouldn’t be using.
Example. If you’re struggling with how to phrase your sales messaging, what objections prospects might come up with or what questions you need to think about, this starter pack of templates from Close is a decent place to begin.
Tool. For identifying the email addresses of prospects whose contact details you can’t find, Hunter is a handy tool – with 50 free searches a month.
Tool. For a simple, user-friendly customer service management tool to help move deals forward, check out Freshworks CRM.