Salespeople: Here’s How to Get Prospects to Pay Attention to Your Outreach

This article is the second in a two-part series. Read David’s first article in the series, Salespeople: Here’s Why Prospects Ignore Your Outreach, here.

Part one of this article on why prospects ignore your sales outreach sparked some interesting conversations. While I generally don’t respond to prospecting outreach, my love of coaching compelled me to share the post content with many of the business development reps (BDRs) who prospected me. The response was amazing. When confronted with a mirror reflecting their tactics, many of them dropped the pretext and shared feedback like

“Wow, I’m constantly trying to improve through learning, and this was the punch in the gut I needed,”

and my favorite:

“I would probably get scolded by my VP if he saw what I’m about to type … although scheduling a meeting [with you] would have been nice, this conversation [about why prospects ignore my calls] has been way more beneficial.”

It’s clear that even those of us charged with executing a seemingly sound sales playbook are emotionally conflicted about the task (check out this bonus video about the perils of being an emotionally compromised seller).

In this age of relentless deadlines, limited bandwidth, and a sea of technology solutions, companies find that their customers are developing immunity to their prospecting outreach. But while competition for attention and mindshare is fiercer than ever, the good news is, there are some tactics you can use to break through your prospects’ defenses.

Try a new (or old) medium

Change things up by selecting a more engaging medium for your message. For example, video messages can lead to 2-10X increases in open rates and my teams found the same thing. Even prospects who weren’t interested in the solution replied to say they appreciated the personalized approach (PS – if you’re looking for a great, free product to share short videos with customers or prospects. check out the Free Video and Screen Recorder by Vidyard). Using video has also been shown to produce vastly higher levels of exposure when it comes to customer discovery calls.  Low-tech ideas like engaging your prospects with a fun piñatagram or even a handwritten note (which one BDR used successfully on me!) work as well.

The ultimate way to usher your message directly to your target buyers is through a referral from a happy customer or mutual connection. Research from Salesforce shows that the lead-to-win conversion rates for leads sourced through referrals are over 50 times higher than an email campaign. And data from marketing automation giant Marketo indicates that leads originating from referrals convert to opportunities at rates of four times the average, and similar to the next three highest- converting lead sources combined (those being partner, inbound, and marketing-generated).

All of this isn’t hard to understand. With the proliferation of peer reviews on consumer sites like Amazon and B2B sites like G2, buyers are becoming warier and warier of vendor-generated content. Personally speaking, the chances of you getting a response from me with a prospecting email are almost nil, but if a friend or colleague tells me your solution is worth looking into, you can almost certainly expect I will.

Rethink your messaging

Vendors like to talk about how awesome they are. That’s why if you’re looking to stand out from the crowd, try injecting some customer-centric messaging into your pitch. The best messages are bold, polarizing, and educational (i.e. they teach your audience something they didn’t know). These tactics will help you speak your customers’ language and disrupt their inertia (the tendency to keep doing what they’ve always done). 

For example, instead of saying, “Coaching sales reps is important, which is why we developed the next-generation sales coaching solution,” try saying, “Research shows sales rep coaching is the single most important factor in quota attainment, yet only 7% of sales managers spend enough time coaching and 85% of reps hate performance reviews.”

Before reaching out to an executive buyer, try sourcing some insights from lower-level team members or even publicly available data. For example, instead of saying something like, “Most organizations want more positive customer reviews on solution rating sites. We can help with that.” some quick research might allow you to say, “Looking for positive online customer reviews is the first step for 90% of buyers, yet I noticed that [company name] has 70% fewer positive customer ratings on G2 than other vendors in your space. We can help with that.”

Bonus video: How To Supercharge Your Pitch with Data

Bring your customers “gifts”

Reciprocity is one of the most powerful forces in business. It’s an incentive-based behavioral equation: I want something from you and in exchange, I offer something in return. While science has demonstrated how compelling this persuasive force can be, as it turns out, reciprocity is even more powerful when what you offer is actually given in advance instead of afterward. That’s why before you ask a prospect for their time and attention, ask yourself, what value or “gift” will accompany your request? (and no, information about “how awesome your company is” or a self-serving eBook doesn’t count.)

As Sales expert, Jeffrey Gitomer often says, “Don’t tell your customers something they don’t know about you. Tell them something they don’t know about them.” A great example of this came from an entrepreneur who prospected into me in my last VP Sales role. He was selling a solution that alerted companies when your key customer champions left their company and went to another one. Rather than talk about what his solution did, he did his homework and brought me a gift. A real example of a real champion of ours who in fact, left their company (unbeknownst to us) and went someplace else. The one-two punch of 1. reciprocity and 2. demonstrating the value of his solution in a bespoke way was very strong.

Looking for a slightly more scalable option? Instead of hitting up your prospects with the all-too-familiar “Just checking in” or “Do you have 15 minutes?” message, why not send them a relevant article, white paper, or business book? Note: content that’s arms-length from your brand or company (like a Harvard Business Review article) comes off as more authentic than those commissioned by your company or that point directly back to your website.

Bonus video: Prospecting Tip – How to Use Reciprocity to Increase Response Rates


In the age of distraction, getting customers to notice you — nevermind replying to your outreach — is hard. I believe the future of sales and marketing will continue to skew towards both buyer skepticism and empowerment. That means that sellers (and especially prospectors) must meet their modern buyers with a customer-centric mindset, deep-rooted conviction, and value at every stage.

While there are many approaches modern sales organizations can use to get customers to pay attention, the easiest way to know if you’re on track is to pretend you are the customer on the receiving end of your tactic and ask yourself one simple question; would you respond?

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