Over the past five years, outbound marketing has become the red-headed stepchild of the marketing industry. It seems like every conference that you go to; every book that you read; every consultant that you talk to will give you the speech on how you should go inbound. There are good reasons for bashing outbound. Buyers are sick of being sold to. No one wants to take a cold call with the pushy sales guy. And caller ID is making it easier than ever to avoid these conversations. The traditional, interrupt-driven, marketing approaches such as advertising and direct mail typically result in low conversion rates or unmeasurable results.
But the reality is that you need both inbound and outbound approaches to marketing to be successful. Inbound marketing works great for buyers who have identified a problem and are researching options. But many of the largest prospects with your Ideal Customer Profile may not be in research mode. Some might not be aware that there are alternatives to their current approach. Others are simply too busy to be bothered. How do you reach these customers? If they are in your marketing database then you can engage them through email campaigns. But what if you don’t have contact details (or permission to use them)? And what if they don’t open your emails? That is where a proactive outbound calling approach becomes a necessity.
I recently finished reading Predictable Revenue, a great book written by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler. After reading through it you can’t help but start to become a believer in the importance of outbound marketing once again. The authors outline a factory-style model for manufacturing a consistent pipeline of new leads. And they explain an approach that avoids many of the pitfalls of traditional outbound cold calling.
The process starts with identifying your ideal customer profile using your past experiences, sales successes and failures. What size of company has typically purchased your solutions in the past (small, medium, large)? Do you have a concentration of customers in certain industries (telecom, banks, government, health care)? What is their financial profile (growing, startup, profitable)?
You also need to identify the attributes of a bad prospect who is unlikely to buy. The authors refer to these as “red flags and deal breakers.” Examples of these red flags might include recent implementation of an alternative solution; strategic relationships with your competitors; or the outsourcing of your targeted business process to a third party.
The authors suggest an alternative approach to emails. Instead of sending richly formatted HTML messages, they suggest simple text-based notes that are easy to read on a variety of smartphones. They recommend being honest and using customer references to build credibility. The goal of the email should not be to get them to commit to an on-site meeting with all the key stakeholders in the next 10 days. Instead, it should focus on asking one simple-to-answer question that takes you one step further in the process.
They also suggest a different approach to cold calls. Use the first half of the call to ask non-threatening, research-oriented approach. Don’t start with the typical Budget, Authority, Need, Timing (BANT) questions. Ask answerable questions. How are your functions organized? How does your process work today? How long has the system been in place? Where does this fall on your priority list? Once you’ve got them talking, then move towards selling the dream. Sell past the close with a success plan to targets the prospect’s vision of success.
Finally, the authors offer some frameworks to report on your results and monitor your progress. Think about your outbound efforts in terms of assembly line stages. There are a group of target prospects that are “cold” with no meaningful activity. Others are further along in a “working” stage where discovery calls, product demos and BANT assessments are in place. The last group is “Active” which are ready to pass to an account executive.
These are just a few of the many ideas explained the book. I recommend picking up a copy. It’s a quick read that is well worth the time.