A couple of weeks ago, I was asked a question in a forum I participate in about how we build our target lists and organize our outreach efforts. We probably spend more time than most contemplating these issues, as we not only implement this for ourselves, but for a number of clients as well.
As I shared in a post recently, the key to success in virtually any endeavor is clarity around “the plumbing” of the process. So before I focus on the actions we take, I’m first going to highlight some key issues in setting up a foundation to succeed in your outreach efforts.
The Importance of Alignment
First and foremost, the plan you lay out for growth must be integrated and support all facets of your growth plans. It’s counterproductive to have an inbound process and an outbound process. Rather you should develop what we call an “allbound” process that supports and aligns all aspects to ensure consistency and optimization of results.
To Score or Not To Score?
Lead scoring is a subject that continues to get a lot of attention. The promise of lead scoring lies in the ability to automate a process that can otherwise take a lot of time, and the opportunity to reach out to a lead at the optimal time in the buying journey/process.
While there are certainly organizations that have benefitted greatly from such efforts, the vast, vast majority are not in a position to go to lead scoring. In fact, even attempting such a practice would actually harm their results. This is because very few organizations have adequate data to accurately score leads. Additionally, very few companies have enough leads to warrant scoring – remember the fundamental purpose of scoring is to reduce the number of leads you must actively manage.
We are fans of a process we call lead triage. This is a highly efficient process that automates a portion of the process, but also provides a human element that allows judgments to be made according to a defined set of protocols. Moreover, if you find that you do have a lead volume that is larger than you can currently manage, we’ve found an effective sales development process is a better way to go. Why cut the number of leads you handle, when instead you can add a sales development rep and increase the qualified opportunities in the pipeline?
The Importance of Definitions
Initiating, managing and sustaining a successful outreach process is an increasingly complex process. To put it simply, Shit Happens. What starts off as a simple process becomes exponentially complex in very short periods of time. One of the most common reasons these efforts lose momentum and ultimately fail is because not enough time was spent up-front in creating clear definitions, agreements and protocols for managing the process.
You must build clarity around the following:
- Your ideal customer (Best Few) profile
- Immediate disqualifiers
- Lead classification levels
- Buyer personas
- Service level agreement
When any of these items are not clearly defined, the growing complexity will doom the effort.
Is Prospecting “A Numbers Game?”
There are some out there who say sales (and especially outreach/prospecting) is simply a numbers game. Increase the volume and you increase the results.
I completely disagree with this assessment. I characterize prospecting as a game that involves lots of numbers. I realize that this sounds like I’m merely playing with semantics, but I’m not.
When you characterize prospecting as a numbers game, you are in essence saying you have no control over the result. The reality is that this approach quickly leads to diminishing returns and is the underlying reason so many say that it’s time to kill the cold call.
The truth is that we have a lot of influence over the results. Here’s a small list of factors we can influence:
- The quality of the list/leads we’re working
- The titles/roles we connect with
- The message we use
- The emails we send
- The number and timing of the calls we make
- The support provided
All of these (and more) have material impacts on the yield of the effort. It’s why we track so many variables and metrics when we implement prospecting and follow up campaigns.
How We Design Prospecting For Fast Growth Companies
With a solid foundation in place, we can now focus on designing the campaign. We implement a waterfall approach to design the process (this is not to be confused with waterfall planning or project management – we’re HUGE believers in Agile).
We allocate resources and attention based upon what is happening within a client’s organization, what they’re selling and how their sales team is structured. The following is our preferred hierarchy.
High-value, vertical alignment targets
While we don't specialize in specific verticals, and many of our clients don’t either, there are typically verticals that have more value than others because of experience or because you know companies within those industries are high value/more probable targets.
The first prospecting focus is on creating a list of high value targets that we (or our clients) want to do business with. This list should be limited, with the primary filter being the value of winning these accounts. Every account on this list should represent an opportunity believed to be more value than your existing average opportunity.
From there, we implement a version of Account Based Marketing. The tactics we use vary by client depending on a number of variables. I should also point out that we do have some clients that don’t really have prospects that are a fit for this type of effort, and if that’s the case, we simply ignore this category.
Quality Inbound Leads
Inbound leads that meet a specified set of criteria represent our second level of focus. As I shared earlier, while we don’t do true lead scoring, the lead triage process filters incoming leads that meet our defined profile. These leads are then classified based upon the service level agreement in place.
The inbound leads that meet the criteria go into a defined outreach process that involves nurturing emails, phone and other SDR follow up in a defined cadence. (By the way, if anyone is going to be attending Inbound 2015, I’ll be speaking there, sharing the details of this follow up approach. If you’re going to be there and you’re interested in seeing the session, let me know. If you haven’t registered and want to, let me know and we can get you a discounted ticket.)
Complementary Prospect List
The nature of the first two prongs represent a fair volume of qualified prospects. Our third prong focuses on using what we know about those companies to find other companies, like them, that are probable high-value prospects.
We use a variety of lead intel sources like Sidekick and InsideView.com that allow us to identify similar companies and competitors. We’ll bring those companies into a list and roll out a series of campaigns with them.
The energy placed on the fourth prong is highly dependent on the needs, capacity and effectiveness of the first three prongs. If the first three prongs are rolling and we’re managing the leads for which we have capacity for (and we’re seeing results from that effort), we won’t need to implement targeted outbound programs.
However, most companies (at least early in the efforts) don’t generate enough quality leads alone to meet their growth objectives, or they’re in a position where they may have added to their sales or sales development team and as a result have more capacity. In these situations, we implement targeted outbound campaigns.
In a future post, I will share how we go about creating and sourcing lists in the effort. The core of it is utilizing what we know about the ideal customer profile and intel from our other efforts to create a list of companies and prospects that fit a clear profile. From there, we implement what we like to call the Inboundy-Outbound campaign (which I’ll also be explaining at Inbound15).
Taking this approach takes a little more time and effort up-front. The investment is well worth it as it creates the structure that allows us to consistently monitor progress, quickly make adjustments and ensure the process generates the necessary results.
It’s also built to support the variable nature inherent in sales. When lead volume peaks and the bottleneck is lead qualification and handoffs, then we’re able to pare back the outreach, without losing momentum. As the leads have been processed or new capacity has been added, we can quickly ramp things up.
Such an effort gives you more control and predictability for your overall growth efforts.