I run a European based sales agency for software and technology companies. In this article, I will summarize what I’ve learned about the most important ingredients for a successful outbound sales process.
1. The Key to Outbound Sales Success – Understand the Problems & Pain You Are Solving With Your Product
Sounds basic and redundant, I know. But we often present our product as a solution. Be frank! What solution? And for what problem/pain/need?
This goes to an idea that Jason Fried, one of the founders of Basecamp, talks about often:
You don’t really sell “product” at the end of the day. You sell people a better version of themselves or their company.
And also remember: buying is about the status quo going away. You need to convince people that your product is going to make them or their company better, and it’s impossible to do that unless you understand the problem.
2. Is Your Product a Vitamin or a Painkiller? Critical vs Nice to Have.
This question largely determines your sales approach and eventual success.
A “painkiller” is a product that serves a critical business need, a problem, a “pain”.
A “vitamin” is essentially a nice-to-have, therefore not urgent.
It won’t necessarily solve a business problem, but it will make some current ways of doing things better or more effective.
A painkiller can be explained with an ROI, there’s a trigger and an immediate relief. Not true for vitamins. Even if you can come up with an ROI there’s no trigger why to buy NOW.
If a product doesn’t inherently add immediate value, then the salesperson needs to! This has an impact on your sales approach.
Here’s some deeper analysis.
3. Status Quo and Alternative Solutions
How does the target handle the problem today?
You’ll need to know this, or find it out quickly, because it’s an important aspect of smashing the status quo and overcoming the objection — and that’s the crux of how you make a B2B sale.
Many times people make the mistake to compare their solution with “zero” (a paper and a pen, an empty spreadsheet). That is not the reality! They for sure HAVE a way to handle a problem today. In 80% of all cases you don’t compete against a real competitor; you compete against the status quo.
You will always lose this fight if the status quo feels like an OK option compared to what they currently have.
What alternative solutions do they have?
These can be other vendors or tech/products they built in-house. You need to know the whole landscape of how they’re currently trying to solve this problem, because it can help you frame up the advantages of your solution.
For example, if they use 14 different systems to do something and your product can do it all within 1 system, well, that’s likely to be a cost and efficiency (quality) advantage.
Check-writing decision-makers usually enjoy that.
4. Master Your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and Buyer Personas
Describe your ideal customer carefully! What are the characteristics (firmographic like size and industry, environmental like 2nd tier cities and behavioral like decentralized org).
Some types of companies are more likely to have the pain and others don’t. Don’t be afraid to shrink the size of potential targets. Go and “nail your niche” as Aaron Ross would say!
Who in that company benefits most from your product? How would you need to describe the benefits? Too often people root this in “user personas,” which are often extremely worthless.
I mean this as two concepts:
(1) is who has the pain point you’re solving, and
(2) is who among those has the money to pay you what you deserve?
It’s essentially a full list of buyer personas (user, technical buyer, financial buyer).
Today statistically 5.4 people in a business are involved a single decision process. Some of them you are totally aware of, but some of them act from the background. That makes it especially hard for relationship sellers.
There’s another aspect of ICP – early adopters versus mainstream. If you’ve sold your product just a couple of times (most probably to early adopters) be aware that selling to mainstream customers is a completely different animal though!
5. Tailor Your Sales Pitch
Again, statistically 5.4 people are involved in a single decision process.
Someone in Operations (“users”) may care about some functions/features of your product, but not others.
But if it will be deployed company-wide, you also might get an audience with Tech, Product, Strategy, Sales, etc.
They will all have different needs and questions, so the messaging needs to be tailored for how your solution can work for them.
Tailoring your message already starts in lead generation (cold calling, email prospecting).
6. Objection Handling
Record every objection from every call/email ever on one shared document:
Over time, you and your team will maintain a list of objections and can group them into categories.
Surprisingly, the objections repeat a lot!
If you revisit this every month or every quarter, you can craft a few approaches, messages and answers for your sales team to avoid the now-obviously-most-common objections they’re likely to hear.
7. Cost of Selling & ICP Segmentation
What is cost of selling? How much time can you afford to spend on the phone, or crafting emails, or doing cold outreach? How many face-to-face meeting can you afford with a single prospect?
The effort/cost may vary by target segment (i.e. you can spend more time on bigger fish), but you need to know to keep costs in check. Start segmenting your ICP (ideal customer profile) into 3 segments and define a sales strategy (route-to-market) for those 3 segments.
Segment A might include 3 face-to-face meetings but segment C might not even allow you very personalized emails.
We’ve seen so many cases where senior sales executives treat all SQLs (sales qualified lead) similar. No matter if they are segment A or segment C – they ask “when is a good time for you to meet?”
8. You Have a Sales Qualified Lead – Now What?
Most SaaS B2B companies immediately go to a sales demo, but there are other options including a workshop, a second call with more stakeholders on the buyer side, you sending them an eBook/white paper, etc.
Have a plan and be confident in your second step so that the buyer prospect sees you as in charge. Be prepared to be flexible here.
It really depends where in the buyer process your prospect is after your first contact.
He might need to be further educated on the severity of the problem (white paper, etc.) but he could be already in the vendor selection phase (PoC, trial, commercial proposal, etc.). Look here and learn which sales collaterals can help you in which buyer journey phase.
These are some of the major concepts of B2B outbound sales preparation you need to be successful.
Good article, gives quite a deep understanding of outbound sales process. I think that the article only somehow misses one small subject – if you are working with cold emails, how to choose the emails that are really active and to avoid thrashy or overrcrowded stuff? I personally highly rely on services, like proofy.io or remail.io. What about your choices?