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5 Takeaways from Why Outbound Isn’t Working for 82% of Companies & How to Fix It

As sellers in a fast-paced, digital age, we have to do a better job of how we show up and where we show up.

Pre-pandemic buyers were already telling us that they prefer virtual sales interactions and like to research on their own. This trend was simply accelerated because it was the only option for a while.

But the two biggest hurdles in our virtual sales world today, nearing almost two years into the pandemic, are showing up confidently and telling a better ROI story in a virtual environment.

According to a study by Bains & Company, 92% of B2B buyers prefer virtual sales interactions, up 17% from May of 2020.

The problem is that Rain Group also found that only 16% of buyers believe sellers are very effective at making the ROI case when selling virtually.

Obviously, there is a considerable gap between what buyers are telling us they want and what many sellers, not all, are delivering.

If COVID accelerated these virtual trends, then we need to accelerate these changes in our virtual selling strategies.

Who is hitting their targets?

About a month ago, I ran a couple of polls to verify if what these studies were saying lined up with our own research.

The first poll had 834 respondents and asked, “Is your team hitting their outbound targets for qualified meetings?”

The results? An astounding 82% said no.
We then used PeerSignal to break down the data and understand if the results differed per company size or from the perspective of senior and junior titles. They didn’t.

This and the second poll, to capture why teams weren’t hitting their outbound targets, was the catalyst for a session I gave at Vidyard’s Fast Forward Virtual Summit: Why Outbound Isn’t Working for 82% of Companies & How to Fix It.

What I want to get into here are five of the key takeaways from that session to help you fix the gaps in your own virtual selling strategies that cover more than effective outbound, but how to show up and how to have better conversations.

Key takeaways:

  1. It’s the end of an era
  2. Conversations are more telling than activities
  3. Optimize sequences like you optimize ads
  4. Video puts the “person” in “personalization”
  5. Conduct tiered research to understand your buyer better

1. It’s the end of an era

The same playwright, Arthur Miller, that wrote Death of a Salesman, also wrote, “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.”

I take this to mean that we’re at the end of an era when people keep trying to repeat the old way of doing things with worse results. And that’s where we’re at with outbound right now.

Many teams are still trying to hit send all, throw in some calls, and not utilize any other digital channels available to them or take the time to research their buyers thoroughly.

This is your wake-up call. If you want to drive new meetings successfully, you have to get out of your comfort zone.

The second poll I mentioned earlier had 1625 respondents and asked, “What is the top reason 82% of teams aren’t hitting their outbound targets?

  • 48.5% said “generic messaging”
  • 26.3% said “too focused on quantity”
  • 16.2% said “sequence strategy too old”
  • 9.1% said “not iterating fast enough”

All four of these reasons tend to feed off of each other, especially the top two. If we continue to be too focused on quantity, then, of course, our messaging is going to continue to be generic. There isn’t enough time in the day to research, personalize, and connect with all the prospects we’re requesting of our reps.

So the first thing we need to do to fix our outbound gap is change what we consider to be the essential metrics.

2. Conversations are more telling than activities

There is a reason why so many teams track activities. Number of activities used to directly correlate to meetings set and meetings set to Closed/Won, but this isn’t the case anymore. Not in the sense that every 100 activities will get you X number of meetings, so just hit the more button if you need more meetings.

Activities with a call to action in each step was a good proxy for a while, and it worked. But today, the number of emails sent or other touch-points made in a week can still result in zero meetings because buyers expect more personalization and a better understanding of their priorities before they’ll commit to a meeting.

Nonetheless, we must track some leading indicators to predict pipeline and know that our outbound strategies are working.

This first leading metric should be the number of “meaningful conversations” a rep needs to get to X number of meetings.

That “conversation” can be someone getting you to the right person or coordinating a time with the right person, etc.

It’s not just reply-rate but the sentiment of the reply that matters.

And then what are the other leading and lagging metrics from there? A simple way to start is to quantify how many meaningful conversations you need to get to meetings set and then how many meetings set you need to get to $X contributed to pipeline.

3. Optimize sequences like you optimize ads

We have to start looking at outbound as a performance engine instead of the set-it and forget-it mentality that many sales teams have today.

Let me put this into perspective.

Companies will spend $1000s on Google Ads and constantly look at the data to optimize their messaging and targeting to increase ad performance.

These same companies will spend $1000s on sales headcount and implementing a sales strategy but will only update their outbound messaging and targeting every 3 to 6 months.

A few years ago, what I’m suggesting may have been challenging to do, and again, probably not needed. But with the number of data points that can now be leveraged using sales engagement tools like Outreach or revenue intelligence tools like InsightSquared, there is no reason we should not be optimizing our outbound sequences every 3-4 weeks.

We should also be looking at performance on a team and individual level. Reps have the ability to look at their own data week to week and try something new before deploying it across the team.

4. Video puts the “person” in “personalization”

If you could send generic messages at scale, I would tell you to do it. It’s easy. But unfortunately, it just doesn’t work anymore.

Generic messaging is the #1 reason people give for missing outbound targets, and old sequence strategies was #2. And yet, we’re still running sequences that look like this:

Video is one of the most underutilized virtual selling tactics right now, and the reason why it’s working so well is that it’s hard to make video generic, and it feels more human.

As technology advances and sellers get more creative, there are also a few different forms in which we can send videos to meet our needs, whether you’re using Vidyard via email or using video in your LinkedIn messages.

I did say it’s hard to make video generic, but there are still ways to do it wrong, so here are a few best practices to consider:

  1. Custom text: always include two-three sound bites from the video in your email or message. Do not just send a video with no context.
  2. 1-minute or less – keep your video brief and to the point.
  3. Touchpoint two or three – we’ve seen better success sending a customized email as touchpoint one and then follow-up with a video in touchpoint two versus the traditional “checking-in to make sure you got my email” email.

5. Conduct tiered research to understand your buyer better

When we talk about “personalized” messaging, we mean that there are three things you should know about your buyer before you reach out.

  1. How does the company make money
  2. What their department actually does
  3. What is most important to the individual

This research will help you craft better sequences and better messaging and prepare you to have better conversations when you do book a meeting.

You can still absolutely “templatize” your emails as long as you create different sequences for each persona and then follow the rule of thumb to personalize about 20% of your message to the company, department, and individual.

This is not personalization:

If you’re thinking it would be too hard to include all of the research you’ve done about a company, department, and individual into one email without making it convoluted, you’re probably correct.

You want your first email or touchpoint to be strong, but you also don’t want to only personalize the first touchpoint.

Remember, you’re personalizing your first message, sending a custom video in the second, and then following up again on that video in a third personalized touchpoint.

You have ample opportunity to show your buyer that you know their business and you know what is most important to them.

Start hitting your outbound targets

Before you get back to your day and start reassessing your virtual selling strategies, I want to reiterate the importance of showing up prepared (even in email or other digital channels) and making sure you’re showing up in the right places.

I covered a few best practices that talked about video and LinkedIn, but if your buyers are on Clubhouse or Twitter or Slack groups, show up on those channels. Direct sending may also not be classified as “virtual selling” but if it’s relevant to your business, show up in the physical mailbox. You can do the sending from your computer with tools like Sendoso and seamlessly insert it into your process.

And remember:

  1. Tracking meaningful conversations are more telling than the old standard of tracking activities
  2. Optimize your sequences like you would optimize your marketing ads
  3. If you want to stand out, video is hot right now and puts the “person” in “personalization”
  4. Conduct tiered research to understand your buyer better and develop personalized messaging and sequences

For more virtual selling tips, sequence examples, and creative touch-points, check out our Modern Outbound Playbook, the virtual selling edition.

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