Taking an unknown company out into the world, in a way that engages relevant sales prospects, is one of the most difficult and yet fundamental tasks that sales teams face.
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Inbound lead generation is a luxury that most startups don’t have - at least, not at first. Without the followers and market recognition that come with some track record and maturity, trying to scale through inbound alone can feel like shouting into a void: traffic and volumes are hard to come by. That’s why the answer for almost every startup - particularly in the B2B or B2B2C spaces - is outbound.
Succeeding in outbound is the fastest way for a startup to gain the market visibility it needs to scale up successfully. And the more specialised the niche that the business occupies, the more important outbound becomes - without targeted outreach, it’s vanishingly unlikely that potential buyers will become aware of who we are, what value proposition we offer, and how we can help them.
When it comes to creating and scaling an outbound function, the first question to answer is who owns outbound: sales? Marketing? A dedicated outbound team? The answer will usually depend entirely on the product. In a B2C environment, marketing has a significant impact on lead generation, and is well-placed to drive and coordinate outbound activity. But in the B2B space, it’s a different story altogether.
If your product focuses on a particular industry, and particular buyer personas within that industry, then the determining factors in driving leads from outbound activity might be different: the strength of your network, your support system of potential partners, or a strong presence at the right events. Although marketing might contribute significantly to outbound, it might make more sense for its owner to be the function that ultimately converts and closes deals.
"Successful cadences usually offer a blend of calling, emails, video and social touchpoints”
Next you need to think about the roles that will be central to scaling outbound. The core team should include sales managers (globally), business development, to handle market research, and account managers to handle pre- and post-close prospects. Then decide how you’ll segment your outbound efforts: per country, or per vertical? For a B2B scaleup looking to dominate a niche, it often makes sense to target per vertical, or per industry or set of enterprises, in order to find and engage the decision-makers that will find your product most relevant.
This allows you to focus your outbound efforts on areas of extreme relevance. For example, if we target mobile banking, then we need to make ourselves present and heard at every single mobile banking event we can find. This will arm us with the network and the dataset to be able to target the right individuals and participate in the right tenders to gain momentum in our chosen segments. If this feeds into a robust and rigorous end-to-end pipeline that’s properly tracked, we have a much better chance of growing against our chosen niche.
Find your strongest channel
Finding outbound channels that perform predictably is one of the biggest challenges we face. Salesforce research found that SDRs perform an average of 94 activities a day, across every different kind of media; successful cadences usually offer a blend of calling, emails, video and social touchpoints. If you find a channel that works, then you need to be decisive and commit to it. In our case, InMail through LinkedIn has been the channel that’s delivered the most reliable success. Industry email newsletters have been useful when it comes to finding and refining groups of prospects, but when it comes to reliability and ROI, LinkedIn reigns supreme.
“Invest in content - it provides a reservoir of assets to deploy in outbound cadences that you can tailor to specific audiences”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a plan B. Outbound efforts can fail for so many reasons - in this high-pressure environment, the relentless desire for quick results can lead to a failure to map your proposition accurately to the customers you’re targeting, meaning that the right match remains elusive. You might even find the right fit, but find yourself on the phone with the wrong person, wasting your time with someone without decision-making authority, or worse, with someone who actively blocks the opportunity’s progress.
In my experience, there are various techniques that can help to mitigate this. Carrying out surveys is a great way both to understand pain points and motivations in the industries you serve, but also to make contact and establish relationships. You can also showcase your results at an event and market them through social media, which will drive engagement and help your inbound efforts, as well as increasing your network for outreach. It’s also worth investing in content - while blogs and articles might seem disconnected from outbound at first, they provide a reservoir of assets to deploy in outbound cadences that you can tailor to specific audiences.
When we were ready to aggressively scale outbound efforts, a key step was to add country sales managers. The specific knowledge, language skills and networks required to supercharge outreach in a new market - and drive forward lead gen - are priceless. Unfortunately, that means that individuals who possess those skills are hard to find. The quickest shortcut here is to bite the bullet and recruit from your direct competition. It’ll come at a price premium, but it’s the best way we’ve found to shorten the time it takes to find the right people.
Perhaps the most valuable insight I’ve found in scaling is that the agile method can and does translate to outbound sales. It seems counterintuitive to salespeople; we’re so used to everything being competitive, racing each other to quota numbers and fighting over our prospects. Agile encourages sprint techniques that flatten competition and blunt this competitive edge, forcing the whole team to collaborate and work towards the same goal, rather than compete. It can be tough to convince salespeople of the merits of working together, but if you can unite the team around a common goal, the results can be remarkable.