Is Outbound dead? Not really. But it does have to change.

Is Outbound dead? Not really. But it does have to change.
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions / Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on LinkedIn arguing that outbound sales is a dead concept. The arguments were quite convincing to be honest, as it is true that growth models like inbound and product-led growth have proved to be effective. Besides, the buying process both in B2B and B2C has changed dramatically and  information is widely available, making searching for a product or service easier than ever before.

That said, the post got me thinking about outbound sales and what it means exactly. Instead of diving into the technical and academic definitions of outbound sales, I chose to ask myself what it means to me. It didn’t take me long to realize that when I think of outbound sales I think about annoying cold calls, spam in my email inbox and texts, and irrelevant messages over LinkedIn and other networks.

Now, that’s how I think about it, but does that mean it is dead? It’s a hard question. However, after a few minutes of walking around with my thoughts, I believe it’s not. It simply needs to evolve.

In a fast-paced world we’re surrounded by messages almost all the time. To give you some perspective, according to BIWORLDWIDE, the average person today sees or hears about 4,000 to 10,000 messages per day. This is roughly twice the amount they would consume in 2007.

Keep in mind that these are simply ads, we’re not counting 1:1 emails and messages with a sales objective. Needless to say, to capture a consumer’s attention, your offer must be really good. As some marketers put it today, attention is the new currency.

How does Outbound work today?

Bringing it back to the sales field, let’s think about how the process works. You have a CRM and a sales engagement platform like Outreach or Apollo.io, where you can get hundreds of leads, with their emails and phone numbers in just a few clicks. You add them to a list and now it’s time to create the content they’ll receive.

There are thousands of templates to craft good sales emails. Just do a google search and see how many you find. You’ll probably want to throw in some personalization tokens in there, to make it sound more personal. After crafting eight awesome emails, you go ahead and build some sequences, where in addition to the emails you’ll send, you might want to add a few cold calls and LinkedIn steps, like connecting and messaging them.

OK. The time has come. Let’s run the sequence. At this point, it’s a matter of spray and pray. Hopefully some of them will engage with your efforts and meetings can be scheduled so we can add more deals to the pipeline. In the end, it's a numbers game. If we can email 2000 people in a week and get 2% of meetings scheduled, that’s 40 meetings. Nice number.

What are the issues?

I personally have a couple of issues with this. First, it’s not cool to reduce people to numbers (yes, leads are people!). Second, the spray and pray can work in the short-run but not in the long-run. Let me explain.

In the first place, people hate spam in their email inbox. And yes, I know you’re not sending spam and you have the best intentions, but for the recipient it is. Their corporate and personal emails are not intended to receive outbound messages, they are a communication channel with their teammates and customers. As a matter of fact, new tools arise everyday to help users filter away spam.

The effectiveness of cold-calling is another debate. On a personal level, I despise them, mainly because I use messaging apps 99% of the time to connect with people I don’t know, but again, that’s simply a personal preference. That said, cold-calling is regarded as extremely time consuming and frustrating for salespeople. It’s a morale killer for teams. And actually, it’s not that effective. According to the HubSpot blog, using relatively optimistic assumptions, it can take around 6224 calls to make four sales.

The final ingredient in the outbound recipe is LinkedIn outreach. This is probably the most controversial one. LinkedIn is supposed to be a network where people can connect with each other, share awesome thoughts and content, and build relationships that help their careers and businesses. However, because it’s easy to find anybody, and everyone is willing to connect, it’s also become a paradise of unsolicited and unwanted messages. People have become wary of whom they connect with, harming the whole purpose of the platform.

What can you do about it?

It is not uncommon to hear less is more, and this is definitely true in this case. I think we’ve covered why spray and pray doesn’t really work in the long term, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t give Outbound sales a twist.

Instead of messaging and calling hundreds of leads in a week prospects with the same content, what if you only reached out to a few, but with real personalization and purpose. You could go into their company’s website, their LinkedIn activity, communities they are engaged in, and find ways to attract their attention.

The trick here is not to capture attention because of intensity and being pushy, but because of relevance. Show that you actually care about their business and about their problems. Do your research. Personalization is not about using their first name or company name in the email body, it’s about noting what they care about.

There is also the principle of reciprocity. This means that if you’re expecting something, you must provide something in return, seeking mutual benefit. This doesn’t mean sending out your company’s latest blog post as part of your sequence. How do you know that they’re facing that problem at that exact moment? What I mean by this is that you help them with whatever you can.

Look at their activity on LinkedIn, in slack communities or anywhere else. Use your expertise in the space to help them with their questions, doesn’t matter if it has got nothing to do with your products. This is how you can establish trust and lead to a much more fruitful connection.

Thought leadership has also become popular in the past couple of years. If you’re able to become knowledgeable in your space and provide valuable insights to your prospects and customers, please do. I don’t know about you, but I love learning from an expert on LinkedIn about marketing.

The Bottom Line

Outbound Sales are not dead. They’ve simply changed. And I think for the better. It’s not about how many leads you can reach out to anymore, it’s about how much value you can provide.

There will of course be an opportunity cost for this. Using the techniques described above can cost time, and maybe money, but if it is to create a more authentic relationship, it’s worth it. Outbound sometimes puts reps’ reputation on the line, simply because prospects get annoyed. Well, if you continue doing what has been done before, you might harm it.

It’s time to make a change :)