8 Fundamentals of Outbound Lead Generation

15 Jul


I consider outbound lead generation to be everything at the top half of the sales funnel – up until you get in front of the customer for a meeting, demo or presentation. This is “back to the basics”: from total suspect – to that first long conversation you have with a prospect – to asking for the appointment (note that we’re skipping over marketing and inbound lead generation). Even the most successful companies are far from perfect in working through the leads to close process. So don’t worry about the bells and whistles – I suggest perfecting the sales basics.

The 8 Fundamentals You Need to Master at the Top of the Sales Funnel:

1. Targeting: the #1 component of lead generation is taking aim at a very specific audience.

  • Do you know the definition of your best prospect before you waste time throwing darts and selling?
  • What is the niche of your ideal customer?
  • What is their SIC code?
  • What size organization (by employee count or annual sales)?
  • Where are they located?
  • Which titles are you calling on? (we don’t believe in selling to just one)
  • What is unique about your current customers that can carry over to similar organizations?

If you can’t answer these questions quickly, stop selling and update your marketing plan. If you are an employee who has no control over this (and your manager can’t answer these questions), I recommend defining it yourself or looking for a new employer.

2. Data Mining & Management: Many people would throw this under marketing, but most small and mid-size businesses ask their sales reps to do a lot of this. Now you know WHO you are looking for, but all you have is a web site and a phone number. Don’t call the receptionist and ask “Who would I talk to about…”. It’s time to do your homework. Never contact a company without knowing the specific person you are targeting. Sam Richter writes a heck of a great book on this topic that we would highly recommend – Take the Cold Out of Cold Callinghttp://www.amazon.com/Take-Cold-Out-Calling/dp/1592982093. Here are some cheap and easy research sites to find contact names, email addresses and more:

  • LinkedIn
  • Jigsaw
  • Data.com (a Salesforce.com add-on)
  • The Dun & Bradstreet Million Dollar Database
  • Just-in-time mining via Google Alerts, Twitter and other social media tools

Database Management is almost as boring as cold calling, but even more important. In addition to documentation, more than half of sales people don’t use a task list – which is unbelievable. All the components below really don’t matter without building your database for future calls (and calls NOT to make again). We’re assuming you don’t have a photographic memory and your close doesn’t happen in one call like a car salesman. Commit to better documentation and task-listing. Build a broader base at the top of the pipeline by religiously using your database tools.

3. Cold Calling: Since January 1st, we’ve surveyed 176 recruitment candidates asking them the following question: “Which part of the sales funnel do you dislike the most?” 63% said cold calling. We clearly hate doing it. Ideally, your business has mastered the marketing side of lead gen and your outside sales reps or consultants don’t have to make a lot of them; or you have interns or entry-level employees doing this (and ideally, the marketing department is doing the data mining). One option we’d recommend is working with a lead generation company like Volkart May (http://volkartmay.com/). This isn’t about making your sales force’s life easy! If your closers spend too much time making cold calls, they simply won’t have enough time to close more deals.

Read Marketo’s blog post Is Cold Calling Dead?http://blog.marketo.com/blog/2011/09/is-cold-calling-dead.html.

4. Warm Calling: Ideally your sales team is making a lot of these calls. Warmer prospects move so much faster than the suspects developed from scratch. Here are several types of ideal warm calls:

  • Someone you know through a friend, co-worker, business associate, neighbor, mailman, or even your sister’s second cousin once removed!
  • A new contact within a current customer’s organization
  • Referrals from current customers
  • Past customers
  • Follow up contacts from trade shows or networking
  • Introductions through partnerships
  • Second degree connections on LinkedIn

Once the email or phone “conversations” begin with a prospect and they appear interested, it’s time to quickly educate them on your strengths and abilities (a 30-60 second elevator pitch should be sufficient). It is also time to ask questions and learn about the prospect. Every company needs 5-10 “Stage 1” Fundamental Questions that are ALWAYS asked. If your prospecting sales representatives don’t ask these questions, then retrain or fire them. If you don’t have them written down, then do it today.

5. Qualifying: The suspect is interested enough to talk to you for 10 minutes. Now it’s time for the next set of questions. Do you have 5-10 “Stage 2” Qualifying Questions that your sales team is expected to ask? Are they documented and known by everyone that is involved in business development? Are they memorized and practiced so they don’t sound like a script? These questions should be easy to slip into any conversation.

What you are driving at in these qualifying interactions: 

(a) Making this your last conversation with the suspect or

(b) Moving them into the next stage of the sales funnel.

Give your prospect permission to say “HELL NO”. Do not be afraid of “no”! They save you time; maybe’s can waste away your sales career and commission potential. Dependent on their profile, it may be time to simply call on another contact within that same organization.

6. The Pitch!: What are you telling them? Hopefully you aren’t saying much. The best salespeople are often borderline introverts/extroverts that listen, shut up, have attention to detail, and navigate a creative solution.

  1. Ask a lot of open-ended questions that help you understand their needs and drive toward your solution. If you know more than your competition, you can customize your add-on services in your pricing and proposal. If you understand their needs and solution sell, you don’t have any competition.
  2. Tell your stories. Again, these are scripted and PRACTICED stories that sound natural and describe what you have done for similar customers in the past. Tell the stories where you’ve gone over and above for your customers. These are stories they won’t read on your website (which they probably don’t bother reading anyway).
  3. Show them testimonials, references and your product and services. 65% of all people are visual learners (even higher among men). Give them a tour, give them materials they can touch, wow them with a unique presentation, share articles about their industry, or introduce them to your CEO – SHOW THEM SOMETHING!

7. Creativity: Robotically, you can do all of the above, check off your lists and still not have the opportunity to present or meet with the prospect in person. This is your fault. If you qualify your prospects appropriately and then they drop off the map, either (1) they didn’t like you or (2) you weren’t creative enough. Some salespeople are naturally creative. Others need to read a few books and hang out with other salespeople for creative ideas. Stuck and know they are a great prospect? Get away from just making calls and sending emails. It’s time to TAKE A FEW RISKS. All they can do is ignore you or say… “no”.

I once sent a shoe to a prospect asking if I could “get a foot in the door” and it worked. Another time, I delivered donuts to 20 prospects (about 8 years ago when Krispy Kreme was all the rage and had just opened in Minneapolis) – and I ended up meeting with 15 of those 20 prospects face to face.

Personalize your interaction and really get to know your prospect, not just their title, department and tenure. There are a million possibilities if you would only take the risk of looking stupid. Send a golf shirt or box of cigars to the golfer or cigar aficionado (it still works!). Wear some Loudmouth Pants while you are calling on prospects on a Friday afternoon this summer (and bring a cooler full of ice cream sandwiches). It’s called differentiation!

8. Persistence: The last key ingredient is about moving everything to the appointment or presentation stage. They are interested and qualified, but really dang busy. Most prospects don’t immediately agree to meet or look at your demo; they want to see some literature and “get back to you”. Refuse to send them materials unless they agree to pen in a next call, introduce you to other decision makers, or sit down with you for 30 minutes.

This is when you need to get aggressive.

This is where you begin to close.

Great salespeople speed up the sales cycle. 

If they are honestly interested but ask you to call back in two months after they “complete the merger” or “wrap up their quarter”, you obviously need to respect their wishes and follow-up at a later date (but this is why you are selling to more than one person within their organization, right?). Always get a next step set at an agreed time and get it on the calendar.

Movement and everything above demands that you are authentic and are always making a human connection. Ask about their hobbies, challenges, goals and obligations. Remember, you are a mere .1% of their life, so you need to not only understand the company, but intimately connect with the individual(s) as well. If you have to fake it, then find a new career. Great salespeople like people!

Good luck with the top of your sales funnel! I’m looking forward to sharing the next blog on presentations and closing in a couple weeks. Stay tuned!

Make it a great day~ Drew Schmitz





2 Responses to “8 Fundamentals of Outbound Lead Generation”

  1. Susan Mathews July 23, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    Awesome article Drew! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jeff Corman July 25, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    Great article, Drew. Thanks.

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