In my industry, many agencies take pride in the fact that they have no sales team.
“It’s all referrals.”
“Never done one cold call.”
It seems that outbound sales tactics are a sign of a snake oil merchant with lots of empty promises and nothing to back it up.
Certainly NeoMam was all referrals in our first few years. But I never felt proud. I felt stressed. My fate was not in my control. Feast and famine was all too familiar. The market demand dictated how many clients would reach out and hire us.
Our First Approach to Outbound Sales
I first experimented with outbound sales around two years ago. I decided to bag myself a client in the auto sector; we had two customers in this area already, so it seemed to make sense. I built some contacts from LinkedIn and had a freelancer reaching out to them using a template email. We got lots of calls. Lots of explaining on what an infographic was but zero sales.
Maybe the HubSpot guys are right; outbound stuff is a waste of time.
Later on I hired a guy self-titled ‘The RainMaker’ who had an amazing phone voice, but lacked even basic digital skills and was quickly let go. There was a long spell during which I thought that maybe outbound sales were not for us, we are creative so let’s have our work sell us.
As the year progressed, we hit a dry spot with inbound leads. We needed to get new clients and quickly. We were running out of cash reserves.
The Relationship Between Outbound Sales and Influencer Marketing
Rather than simply trying out another mini-experiment, I decided to get the whole NeoMam team involved and together we learnt that outbound sales were very similar to the influencer outreach we do everyday for our clients.
Instead of selling our content to publishers, we are selling our services to potential clients.
From our experience, we knew that if we were speaking to the wrong people, we wouldn’t make the sale AND also waste a lot of time trying to explain what we did and why it was useful.
We looked at our current clients and noticed that the main points of contact with their businesses all had similar job titles: They all worked as part of an in-house SEO team. That’s when we decided to build a very small list of in-house teams with job titles like SEO executives, SEO Managers and Heads of SEO.
We did everything by hand: picking the right person, adding them to the spreadsheet and finally emailing each one individually. I knew from our experience with influencer outreach that if we were to scale before having something that works, we would just fail in a bigger way.
We started off by scraping client details from infographic seeding sites like http://www.loveinfographics.com. The idea being that if they had produced an infographic for a seeding site – especially one that you have to pay to submit – it’s likely the results were far worse than what we were achieving for our clients each week.
In our first test, we sent 50 emails. From that test, we won one big client in the UK – they were 10 minutes drive away. At this point, I was amazed.
But to let you in a secret right now, this was a total lucky chance. We had emailed the right person at the right time and hit big.
NeoMam’s Outbound Sales 2.0: How We Pitch Our Product To Outbound Leads
As we progressed, we had far less luck. It took us another 1000+ emails over the next four months to win three new clients. These were real clients in attractive industries who had no idea who we were before we reached out to them.
As of today, we regularly have 2-3 sales meetings per week.
Most of our inbound leads need to be heavily vetted and most of them are not a good fit. In comparison, most outbound leads are exactly the type of businesses we want to work with – which is not rocket science as we specifically chose these people because we want to work with their companies.
Does this mean every agency should give up on events, networking and content marketing? Probably not. I am a member of the awesome Agency Collective, which helps agencies to grow. I’ve learned that most full-service agencies should spend their time on the 50 tactics that Spencer recommends.
But what we sell is a lot more like a product. We don’t require the same client input and trust that a full-service agency needs. We add power and skills to pre-existing in-house teams who need extra resources.
It’s not to say that relationships are not important but our main concern is whether these people are looking for a provider who can produce great content and, more importantly, get this content seen by publishers.
We know that lots of vendors sell a similar product but many times it doesn’t perform as expected. The underperformance of campaigns was a clear pain point for our potential clients and something that we know they are keen to alleviate.
Our initial messages were directly aimed at this pain and we have the portfolio and case studies to show that we can provide a solution. We find that most clients still take at least 1-3 months from initial contact to close, so over this time we share lots of case studies and information over emails and calls.
Why We Choose Outbound Sales Over Inbound Leads
What I love about outbound sales versus inbound methods is that you can be strategic about the type of clients you want. We might find that we have many clients in one industry, which leads to a decision to work in a new sector. It’s very easy to filter the people that we speak to and to aim at just that industry and adjust the messaging and case studies.
From a business owner’s point of view, having the ability to increase the amount of clients we have makes me sleep far better at night than relying on the feast and famine of referrals and inbound leads.
My last piece of advice to anyone interested in experimenting with outbound sales is not hire a salesperson before you have a solid process for lead generation. A great book that was very helpful on my journey was From Impossible to Inevitable by Aaron Ross. As Aaron says:
— Aaron Ross (@motoceo) April 27, 2016
Be sure to reach out if you have any questions or just want to share your experiences with outbound sales. You’ll find me on @dannyashton or drop me a message on LinkedIn.