As the head of sales at a growing, $100M+ software company, I find myself high on the target list of SDRs, BDRs, ISRs, and whatever other acronyms the industry has bestowed upon today’s prospectors. I find myself at a unique vantage point because not only am I the target, but I’m also essentially the “targeter,” as these functions are a part of my remit at iCIMS. I believe highly in the value of inside sales organizations – from both an opportunity generation perspective and a talent development perspective. And as such, I think it might be helpful to share some insight on your outreach as an inside salesperson from the vantage point of someone who could easily be on your target list. I’ll do this in the form of some (hopefully valuable) do’s and don’ts.
But first, a little context. Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been keeping close tabs on the volume of attempted contacts I’ve received from prospectors. Astoundingly, the average number of emails received per day has been twenty-six and phone calls received per day has been forty. FORTY phone calls a day, and how many have I answered? ZERO. A lot of that has to do with that fact that I (as I’d assume is the case with many executives) spend most of my day in meetings and am rarely ever sitting unoccupied in my office attending to a land line. In fact, if you’re one of the myriad of SDRs reaching out to me, I’m sure you’ve noticed that my voicemail is full. I don’t even use my desktop phone – haven’t done so since the third week on the job nearly three years ago. The volume of cold outreach I get simply renders my office line useless (employees and customers have my cell number). I give this background information not to deter you, but to make sure you understand what you’re up against. There’s a lot of noise out there. You’re REALLY going to need to stand out to successfully gain an audience with a cold prospect.
Try calling at off-peak hours. You stand a FAR better chance of getting a connection when calling before or after the workday craziness begins to take hold. Many executives start their days earlier and finish them later than others at their respective companies. Heck, you might even want to try calling on a weekend – there’s always the chance you could get lucky and catch someone in their office. And, as a collateral benefit, a prospect coming in early on a Monday morning will walk in to your message – provided their voicemail box wasn’t already full J
If you’re using automation, it better work, and you better pay GREAT attention to detail. Sales acceleration platforms and automated email solutions can certainly help today’s inside sales reps to cover more ground. Inside sales will always be a bit of a numbers game, and technology has certainly helped us to increase the denominator when it comes to volume of outreach. With that being said, it’s quite a turn-off to a prospect when they feel as though they aren’t worth the time it would take to manually type a short email. Your automation should read as customized. That means that it better be pulling the right names and other variables for both yourself and your customer. This data is usually taken from your CRM, so make sure to keep your customer data clean and accurate.
Create continuity by staying persistent. Prospecting is a long game with very few quick wins. Chances are that you’ll be calling, emailing, and “socially stalking” your target for a while before making a connection. Reference your emails in your voicemails and vice versa. And, always be sure to clearly state your name. A selling opportunity occurs when a prospect’s need for your product and awareness of it intersect. You can’t create a need that isn’t there, but you sure as heck can make your target aware of what your product is and the pain points that it can address. I may not respond to your emails or return your voicemails. That doesn’t mean I’m not aware of them – it usually just means I’m too busy to action on them or haven’t experienced the pain point your offering is geared towards solving. But, needs change and pain points grow. If one arises that your company can address, you can be sure I’ll find the time to get back to you – or whichever of your competitors is currently top-of-mind or top-of-inbox. Professional persistence pays off – use it to your advantage by keeping at it while competitors give up or tag a prospect as non-responsive.
Don’t sling mud at current solutions my company may be using. Someone made the decision to go with the system you just bashed. It might have been me. So, while your product may well be the best on the market, go easy on making it seem like the person who chose otherwise is an ignoramus. Instead of bashing a prospect’s current provider – speak and write to the strengths of yours. And, if possible, cite examples of other companies in your prospect’s industry who are successfully using your offering.
Get warm introductions. Your conversion rate will increase exponentially in the instance that you can get someone I know to nudge me in your direction. Is a peer of mine successfully using your product? How about a former boss or employee? LinkedIn can be great for figuring out who knows who. Do your research and see where you might be able to leverage your existing customer base to evangelize on your behalf. An actual email from my former boss, Jane Doe, recommending that I check out [insert sales technology you’re peddling here] will be much more effective than an email from you along the lines of “Russell, Jane Doe said you should look at our product.” With that being said, even the latter is better than a cold outreach. HOWEVER, you can bet your keester that I’m going to call Jane Doe to see if she actually DID think I should take a look at your stuff. And if she didn’t, you’re headed straight to the spam filter for good.
Don’t exaggerate the effectiveness of your product. “Improve your sales team’s efficiency by 1000%!” Does that line sound familiar? It does to me – perhaps because I see some variation of it as the subject line of a prospecting email on a daily basis. First off, if we haven’t yet been in conversation, there’s a high likelihood that I don’t even know what your product is or does, so this reference has no contextual relevance. But, even more importantly, you’ve lost credibility with me before I’ve even opened the email.
Try your hand at quid pro quo – it works. Human nature dictates that people will help those who help them. As an alternative to spamming me with InMails, check out my company’s career page. Do you happen to have a friend who might be a great fit for an open role in my organization? Reach out and make a referral. Have I posted something on social media? Help me promote it. I can’t guarantee that touches like this will get you a selling opportunity or even a returned communication. But, the effort goes a long way, and behaviors like those mentioned above will help you stand out from the other thirty-nine people calling me every day.
Don’t send a cold calendar invite. If we haven’t yet spoken (or at least exchanged electronic correspondence), you’re totally jumping the gun by asking me to “choose one of the times below that works for a conversation.” Unless I was serendipitously researching your product moments before receiving your email, it’s not going to be that easy. You’re going to have to work for that appointment by first standing out from the noise and then establishing some differentiated value that your product offers. And please, don’t commit one of the cardinal sins of prospecting emails by simply shooting over a calendar invite and hoping I accidentally accept.
Practice active listening. Sooner or later, your hard work is going to pay off, and you’re going to get a decision maker on the phone. You’ve reached the big dance and it’s game time. Don’t spoil the opportunity by feature dumping or reading robotically off a script without pausing to let your prospect respond. My mother always used to tell me that “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” I’ve yet to see this old adage proven wrong in sales. So much can be learned by pausing to listen. Take it all in. Think. And then respond to your prospect in a manner that shows them you were actually paying attention. This goes a long way towards crossing the chasm from pest to partner 🙂