Few people would argue that cold outreach is unnecessary, but there was a time when a lot of people insisted that it was dying. A few of us pushed back on this idea, starting a conference called OutBound, which 400 people attended with a few weeks’ notice that first year. Since then, OutBound has grown to include more than 20 speakers and thousands of attendees.
The pendulum has swung from “cold outreach is dead” to “cold outreach is the most important thing in sales.” If you follow even a few people involved in sales development, you will see more content about outreach than any other topic.
Sales leaders insist their teams spend much of their time on cold calling and cold email. To ensure they hit their sales targets, they ask their salespeople to provide coverage by generating 300 or 400 percent of their quota. This strategy stems from the belief that more opportunities increase their chances of reaching their goals. While it’s true that you need opportunities to close deals, leaders in the cult of efficiency take this to an extreme.
When a sales leader is falling behind, they are tempted to use a spray-and-pray approach to outreach, which often involves an automated prospecting sequence. This approach is at odds with how B2B sales works.
Excessive Focus on Cold Outreach Is Possible
Excessive focus on cold outreach is that causes sales leaders and sales managers to play a numbers game when they should instead focus on effectiveness. Looking at the top 20 percent of their sales force, sales leaders would likely notice that their top performers don’t spend nearly as much time prospecting as the rest of the sales force.
The reason the top 20 percent of salespeople make fewer calls is because they target the companies they want to pursue, which are often larger clients. These reps have no interest in calling a list of companies that are unlikely to buy what they sell. Because cold outreach commands so much focus, sales managers require their sales teams to spend an inordinate amount of time on it, while the sales reps at the top of the stack ranking do the opposite.
More isn’t better than better. A better approach, a better list, and a better strategy to acquire a first meeting should be the sales leader’s priorities for increasing sales effectiveness.
Activity isn’t the same as effective activity. Activity metrics often cause sales managers to believe their teams are succeeding because they are generating many calls and emails. Cold outreach has a low yield when it comes to activity and a high yield for revenue. To capture the high yield, it’s important to measure outcomes instead of activity.
The only outcome you need from cold outreach is a meeting. Some salespeople need more activity to realize this outcome, while salespeople who are more effective need far fewer dials.
The Insanity of Pipeline Coverage
One leader stated out loud that his goal was for his team to have a pipeline equal to 800 percent of their quota. The math here suggests that he expects his sales force to lose 87.5 percent of the opportunities they were responsible for creating.
It isn’t uncommon for sales organizations to scale an approach that fails. Increasing the number of opportunities only to lose nearly all of them reflects a misunderstanding of how net new revenue is generated. You only generate net new revenue when you win a client’s business. You gain nothing from generating opportunities you lose, and you do no better with a flood of suspect deals in your pipeline.
The only time a sales force should scale their approach is when they are winning clients.
Focusing on a smaller group of promising targets is certain to provide a greater number of won deals, again, something your best sales reps are already doing.
The Top of the Funnel Isn’t the Bottom of the Funnel
Many now treat the top of the funnel as if it is the bottom of the funnel. It’s easier to add an opportunity to the top of the funnel than it is to win a new deal.
When you require your sales force to add a new opportunity to their pipeline after a first meeting, it adds false opportunities., which makes it difficult to gauge their performance. If you are brave enough to remove from your pipeline any deal that hasn’t had a second meeting, you will still have non-opportunities, but you will have something closer to the truth.
Prioritizing Sales Effectiveness
B2B sales requires effectiveness. There is no amount of outreach that can make up for a lack of effectiveness. Many have tried, and all have failed—and continue to fail. Only a greater level of effectiveness can generate new won deals and the net new revenue you need to grow.
The Problem of Having Too Much Focus on Cold Outreach and Pipeline
Placing too much emphasis on cold outreach and pipeline prevents sales organizations from hitting their sales goals and objectives. It’s a mistake to believe that more activity and a bloated pipeline will lead to success. When sales organizations pursue this poor strategy, they fail to reach their goals.
When you look at successful, high-performing sales organizations, you will notice they carefully choose to target companies that they believe are the best fit for the way they deliver value. You will also notice they use a modern sales approach, allowing them to create value in the sales conversation and a preference to buy from the salesperson and their company.
Cold outreach is important, but so are creating value, doing professional-level discovery, facilitating the buyer’s journey, and enabling a decision that will improve their results. Effectiveness is required from the first cold call to a signature on a contract.
Those of us who care about how we sell believe there needs to be a resetting of the priorities in sales, starting with an approach that provides enough opportunities and a rate of effectiveness that will ensure the sales force reaches its goals.