Effective outbound lead generation truly is the foundation for building a high-performing, scalable sales team. And it is something that every SaaS company must master in order to achieve any level of notable growth. Fortunately, through the emergence of sales enablement tools and easier KPI tracking, effective lead generation has become more and more like a science and is something that, through constant testing and refinement, can provide tremendous results.
The strategies outlined below are designed to improve your outbound lead generation processes and are all based on the assumption that you are, or will be, using direct emails, a.k.a. cold emails, as your primary source of outbound lead generation–a process made popular by Aaron Ross’s ‘Cold Calling 2.0’ methodology.
1. Build a High Quality Database of Prospects
You would think this goes without saying, but all too often sales organizations try to cut corners by buying lists. Your outbound lead generation efforts will only be as good as the data you use to initiate them. Therefore, building a high-quality list of prospects is paramount.
By far the most accurate and up-to-date resource when gathering contact information is LinkedIn. There are a host of software tools like Lead411 that make it very easy to target and gather contact information for prospects you find on LinkedIn. While this approach requires a significantly higher time investment, it is well worth it because of the time you’ll save that would normally be wasted on low-quality or inaccurate leads. Furthermore, building a strong database of prospects should absolutely be a continuous, never ending process, not a one-time blind purchase of potential prospects.
2. Strictly Govern What Constitutes a Lead
Creating very clear parameters around what constitutes a lead is extremely important in ensuring that the leads being generated and passed off to your account executives are of the highest quality. At ClaraStream, our definition of a “marketing qualified lead” meets the following requirements:
- The individual we have reached out to must agree to talk at a scheduled time to learn more about what we do and how we can potentially work together. If prospects are not willing to schedule a time to talk, that would beg the question how interested are they, and therefore, is this really a lead?
- The lead has to be with a company that falls within our target market (we also have clear guidelines around who is and who is not in our target market).
- The lead has to be a target individual within the organization (i.e., VP or C-level in the marketing department).
A high volume of leads is great. But a high volume of weak leads is very bad. A weak lead that is handed off to an account executive is worse than no lead at all. Why? Because a weak lead will pull that account executive away from spending valuable time with qualified prospects already in his or her pipeline.
Furthermore, if there are no parameters around what constitutes a lead, you are essentially rewarding your sales development reps for generating substandard leads. Over time it will only get worse. I’ve witnessed firsthand as SDRs cut corners in an attempt to simply jam leads into the pipeline with almost no regard for the quality of that lead. This scenario is more common than you might think and can unwittingly set you up for failure. This is why you must put in place and communicate the guidelines for what constitutes a lead, and reward only high-quality “marketing-qualified leads.”
3. Track The Right Key Performance Indicators
The only way you will ever be able to refine your outbound lead generation process and create a scalable sales machine is by defining and closely tracking the right metrics and key performance indicators. Sales enablement tools make this easier than ever before, so there is no excuse not to do it. So what are some of the metrics you should be tracking in order to effectively monitor and refine your outbound lead generation process?
- Conversion Rate of Emails to a Lead: This is the most obvious and most important metric to track. It should be your primary KPI and is the leading indicator as to the scalability of your lead generation process.
- Cost Per Lead: If you want to pour more fuel on the proverbial fire (in a good way) you had better know your cost-per-lead via leads generated by your sales development reps. Again, when talking about scalability, this metric is critical.
- Open Rate: In plain English, this is the percentage rate for which prospects open your emails. It’s obvious that a higher open rate will drive greater success, and this rate is a derivative of well-crafted subject lines AND high quality data (see method No. 1).
- Percentage of MQLs That Convert to an SQL: By calculating the percentage of leads generated by your sales development reps that convert to sales-qualified leads after hand-off, you’re going to get a very good gauge of the quality of leads being generated. For maximum effect, this metric should be tracked at the team level as well as by individual reps so you can identify those who may be generating lower quality leads.
These metrics are only a snapshot of some of the key performance indicators we would use to manage and improve our outbound lead generation efforts. But the important takeaway here is that a rigorous approach to tracking these metrics and others is what will allow you to refine and improve your lead generation efforts.
4. Always Be Testing
The mantra of “always be testing” has become cliche in online marketing and web optimization circles, but it’s equally as important in building an outbound lead generation process that’s driven by email marketing. By testing what you have defined as your critical metrics, you will be able to continuously refine and improve lead generation processes and positively affect the most important metric – the percentage of emails that convert to a lead. Simple A/B testing of critical metrics and logging the results of those tests is a more than adequate way to implement this.
It is the combination of tracking the right metrics and testing elements that affect those metrics that makes this process a science. Without doing this you’re merely throwing darts at a wall. Sure, you’ll get results, but they will pale in comparison to the results you will derive if you are constantly testing, tweaking, and then retesting.
I am of the firm belief that traditional methods of cold calling are indeed dead, or at least dying a slow, painful death. And in order to capitalize on lead generation as something that has become a science, you must be using cold emails supported by sales enablement tools to power your lead generation machine. The methods outlined here will serve as a great starting point in building a scalable and predictable lead machine. Happy hunting!