Building an outbound sales strategy is a lot like house painting. How you prepare for the job can have a big impact on the quality of the end result. Of course, when it comes to preparing there are a few basics to keep in mind. For example, making sure you’re reaching out to the right buyer personas for your solution. Making sure your emails and phone calls land at the right time of day. And of course, ensuring you have sufficient volume of activities to have the desired impact on your sales pipeline. But that’s just the start.
Back at Salesforce, I noticed a strange trend with some of my reps. They were making tons of phone calls to the right people, at the right time of day, but not generating as much pipeline as you might expect given their level of activity. So I decided to dive deeper, see if I could diagnose the problem, and provide some coaching. As I listened to dozens of calls to hear where things might be going wrong, some interesting trends emerged. Trends that weren’t showing up on any report or dashboard. Trends that I have since found to be consistent across many of my clients.
1. You don’t have your buyer’s attention
Where on the priority scale does an unsolicited outbound prospecting call from a vendor sit with you? Before you answer, keep in mind that in his book Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, author John Kotter says we’re bombarded with 520,000 proposals, plan, or ideas in a single year. In a typical day we can be slammed with six requests and four complaints from our family before 7:30 a.m., 14 things to remember from the radio program we listen to going to work, and dozens of new emails by the time we get to our desk. And according to Gary Keller, author of The One Thing (one of my favorite cerebral reads), we get interrupted every 11 minutes and spend about one-third of our day recovering from those interruptions.
Ok, answer now!
The reality is, buyers (like us) are busier than ever and have scarcely little discretionary mental bandwidth. That means that sellers are finding the chain-mail armor that buyers once used to deflect your outreach has now been replaced with 6-inch reinforced steel. With all due respect to your valiant prospecting efforts or how amazing your solution is, buyers have a million (or apparently 520,000) others things to focus on. You don’t have their attention, and without first earning it, your message will fall on deaf ears.
Looking for ideas to help win your buyer’s attention? Why not try a different medium. For example, sellers have reported a 10X increase in open rates from using video messages. Or how old-school hand-written notes (shout-out to the BDR who used that tactic successfully on me!). Or better yet, getting referrals and warm introductions from happy customers who can more easily secure your buyer’s attention. Not to mention convert at rates 50 times higher than email campaigns!
2. They can’t figure out how you can help
Steve Krugg, author of the best-selling book, Don’t Make Me Think, says of your company’s website, “If visitors can’t identify what it is you do within seconds, they won’t stick around”. The same applies to your outreach…but with a twist. Your customers don’t need to know what you do in short order. Rather they need to understand the problem you can help them solve! Unfortunately, most failing conversations tend to place the initial focus on the vendor’s products and solutions (e.g. “Oh hello there Mary. My name is Steven and I work for Acme Co. We specialize in high-volume marketing automation solutions and analytics“). And to make matters worse, regardless of how well-differentiated we believe our solutions are, most of us tend to sound the same to our buyers simply because of the sheer number of solutions saturating every market today. For example, in the Marketing Technology space alone, the number of vendors has increased from 150 to almost 7000 in the past 7 years.
So when it comes to getting your value to not only be heard but resonate quickly, the science of persuasion can help modern sellers operate with armor-piercing efficiency to convert more customers. The secret is leveraging a principle known as processing fluency; the ease with which information is processed.
For example, instead of describing what you do, describe who the enemy of your solution is. Are you trying to stamp-out crappy performance reviews that most employees hate? Are you focused on helping security-conscious banking customers reduce their exposure to data breaches? The power of juxtaposition and contrast can also be helpful here. For example, have you ever noticed that when you’re watching an infomercial for a new kitchen gadget, the argument to purchase it all of a sudden becomes more compelling when they start listing all of the older clunky, expensive, and hard-to-clean appliances their gadget can replace?
The quicker you can deliver clarity to your customer around how you can help, the more likely they are to lean in and say, “Interesting…tell me more!”
3. You feel you’re bothering them
Let’s face it. Unsolicited sales outreach can feel invasive to your customer. And because most of us share a detest for schlocky sales tactics we can easily empathize with those we call on. It also doesn’t help that most outbound outreach involves an element of Experience Asymmetry; an imbalance created when a younger, newer, or generally less experienced sales reps call on a more senior decision maker whose job they’ve never done. For all these reasons, despite our best efforts to “smile and dial”, many times when we call on our customers we feel like we’re bothering them. We are emotionally compromised. We sound tentative, unsure, or even fearful, and our customers feel that uncertainty in the tone and demeanor of the seller during the interaction.
But imagine you were calling your customer to tell them they just won ten million dollars in the lottery. How would your tone and enthusiasm change then? Would you feel you were bothering them? Of course not! So the key is to figure out how to manifest the same degree of conviction in your current outreach. For example, get customers to share first-hand stories with your team. Wharton School of Business school professor, Adam Grant, conducted an experiment where students who received scholarships funded by alumni donations share first-hand, life-changing stories of how the scholarships impacted them with the fundraising reps. The result, a 400% increase in average weekly donation revenue because the reps were able to convey the value of their outreach with higher conviction.
You can also reformulate your pitch to lead with beliefs and feelings rather than products. In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek, asserts that customers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. For that reason, when sales reps lead with messages rooted in beliefs, their conversations are more natural and persuasive with negative feelings organically pushed aside in favor of high conviction and enthusiasm.
Executing an outbound selling strategy can be tough. While tactical execution is fundamental to sales success, alignment around the emotional elements of attention, clarity, and conviction is equally important and unfortunately, often overlooked.