The Outbound Stack is Toppling

Sep 12, 2016

and sales reps should take cover

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State of the art in outbound sales changes all the time. Year after year, new tools, channels, and techniques materialize to improve the selling or buying experience while the existing ones become familiar and stale to buyers and stop resonating.

This cycle lends itself to excesses for outbound sales teams in two ways:

  1. People Bloat — hiring too many outbound Sales Development Representatives (“SDRs”) too quickly, often beyond what the total addressable market supports.
  2. Systems Bloat — stacking new sales tech on existing systems and processes which increases fully loaded costs while generating poor results and accelerating prospect fatigue.

As costs rise and results stagnate, they often learn a crucial lesson — the sales stack is toppling.

Sales leaders who’ve seen their reps crushed under a collapsing tech stack say the warning signs were clear:

  • Teams spending too much time managing redundant tools and gathering or cleaning data.
  • Each SDR running different plays to connect these tools and services, which wastes precious time and effort.
  • Campaigns and activities not aligned with broader sales and marketing strategy.

How are the best sales teams avoiding this cycle and increasing the ROI from their outbound efforts?

  • They’re creating “Outbound Ops” teams accountable for the end-to-end outbound sales programs which allows their SDRs to focus exclusively on revenue generating activities.
  • They build their Outbound Ops teams to bring the analytical rigor of a data science team with the customer focused mindset of the organization’s best salespeople.

The Rise of Outbound Ops

An outbound ops team works closely with marketing, SDRs, SDR Management, Sales Reps, Sales Ops, and executive teams to orchestrate and execute a comprehensive outbound sales strategy. This function owns outbound results and acts as the clearinghouse for data, content and campaigns.

Example Structure for Outbound Ops

The Outbound Ops role demands:

  • frequently manipulating data (generally in Excel) including the ability to compile, clean and segment data quickly
  • capacity to prioritize disparate requests and content submissions from Sales and Marketing
  • competence to create customized media (GIFs, images, videos) in large volumes
  • investment in staying ahead of ‘what works’ in outbound, which changes constantly

Once their Outbound Ops team is up and running, sales leaders are seeing superior results from SDRs when they’re focused solely on providing a human touch where centralized Outbound Ops can’t.

For many teams, especially those who sell to well-paid knowledge workers who don’t take cold calls (a.k.a. prospects with large budgets), this model may generate 2–10x returns when compared to a decentralized strategy.

Making Outbound Ops Work

It’s not enough to just create an Outbound Ops team, you also have to manage it with the operational and analytical rigor to get the results you’re looking for without sacrificing any quality and creating “tweet-worthy outbound fails”.

Companies who do this best follow five core principles:

1 Embrace large volumes of data: Focus on building a data pipeline, not solving for “who should we target next”. This means sourcing thousands of contacts per month, and constantly sourcing new data well in advance of campaigns. This also means programmatically cleaning data from structured reports into familiar language (see below). Reps spend huge amounts of time cleaning data, sometimes in painfully slow fashion.

Real people don’t write “Google, Inc.”

2 Make every message count: If even one prospect suspects they’ve been included in an email blast, you’re doing it wrong. Even at scale, every message reads like it’s just been crafted. Helpful. Timely. Relevant. Personalized. Focused on their business. Maybe some stats, not too many. Plain text. One link maximum. One to four short paragraphs. Not Cheesy. No exceptions to any of these, ever. The secret to doing this at high volume is cracking the mental model for flexible templates (below and #4).

Super flexible templates allow for increased personalization.

3 Everyone is a seller: To build a sustainable outbound engine, teams must be scripting plays from all levels of their company to all levels of their prospect’s companies. This means Outbound Ops will orchestrate emails from your CEO, SDR and everyone in between (including Product, Eng, CS, etc.). These emails go to every prospect CEO, approver, buyer, recommender or influencer. Why involve the whole team? B2B sales is a team sport. You can’t dream of closing most large enterprises without quality touches across org charts over long periods of time.

From everyone in your org to everyone in theirs.

4 More messages, fewer templates: Most organizations have dozens of templates to customize their message. Instead, focus on building copy in spreadsheets to scale, using merge tags for nearly every sentence or phrase. This allows for copy that’s valuable for each individual prospect. Using fewer total templates (but more merges per template) increases personalization while reaching large swaths of people.

Centrally cleaning and staging data

5 Pictures tell the best story: Mixing custom visualizations with great email copy increases response rates.

(Update: See our post on automating images at scale).

No, not funny cat GIFs. Imagine each prospect seeing side-by-side images of current vs. future solutions, GIFs which crystallize a product’s value in seconds or videos too compelling to ignore. Some companies are even investing in systems for batching hundreds of custom company-specific GIFs simultaneously (see below). This is difficult but the payoff is enormous.

Custom GIFs for outbound campaign to Walmart, 1-800-Flowers and Macy’s

Architecting the Outbound Ops role is complicated but the rewards are worth it. To accelerate this, consider an external hire or consultant who’s done this successfully. Building this function internally is not impossible, but requires a salesperson who is technical or someone analytical who understands customers.

Results vary by market, but someone great can source $40–50m of sales qualified pipeline annually. To get started, establish a target for pipeline from Outbound Ops, then back into targets for opens, replies, first meetings, opportunities and amounts. These inform data collection targets, a detailed budget and coverage plan.

How do we know this works? This has been our outbound playbook at companies large and small since Google Apps Script launched in August 2009 . One of our clients went from 3 to 25 first meetings per month after standing up Outbound Ops. Others have found $250K of new revenue per month, up from $0 three months ago.

Modern sales orgs are using Outbound Ops to quickly improve the results and flip the economics of outbound. If your outbound stack is looking complicated and unsteady, you should consider this strategy too.


Dogpatch Advisors is a research and advisory firm in San Francisco. Follow us on Medium or email us: hello@dogpatchadvisors.com | dogpatchadvisors.com