When your team struggles to hit its quota quarter after quarter, what gets the blame? Are they not following up often enough? Are they following up too often? Is the competition too fierce? Maybe your product isn’t keeping pace with what your market wants? Maybe it’s marketing’s fault for delivering crummy leads. Or maybe—hear us out on this—just maybe your salespeople’s outreach straight up sucks.

Poor-quality outreach—poorly written emails, ineffective subject lines, lame cold calls, or even sharing content that your audience isn’t interested in can all have a negative effect on your team’s sales efforts. It’s also much of the reason that it takes 18 calls to connect with a buyer—and the fact that fewer than 24 percent of sales emails are opened.

Think about it: you can’t control how busy a prospect is or how successful the competition is, but you can control the quality of your outreach. And when your job literally hinges on hitting your quota consistently, why wouldn’t you want to make one of the few factors you control in the sales process as tight and effective as possible? Of course you would.

Here’s how to get there.

Get to the point

Ever heard the old pop music adage: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus?” That especially applies to email, and doubly so for sales outreach. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that people want to know why you’re cluttering up their inbox or voicemail as quickly as possible.

That doesn’t mean you should start your email off with: “Hi Sharon, I’m Steve, and I’m trying to sell you our MarTech platform.” But it does mean your outreach should be brief and communicate your point quickly and clearly. Lengthwise, according to a recent study from Boomerang, the sweet spot is between 50-125 words. For reference, this paragraph is exactly 75 words long, so shoot for somewhere in this range when reaching out to prospects.

As for subject lines, keep those short—very short. In fact, subject lines that are three or four lines long perform best. After six words, open rates begin to fall dramatically.

Pique their interest

“Oh, I’m so glad you called, Jane. It’s been ages since I’ve talked to a random salesperson,” said no buyer ever. Your team needs to understand that they’re competing for a very limited amount of attention, and leading with a sales message isn’t going to get it. They need to lead with something compelling and relevant to their interests.

This is where smart content sharing comes in. Instead of a cold call or stale sales email, have your team share content that might help a prospect solve a problem they could be facing. If they’re selling a MarTech solution, a thoughtful white paper on lead attribution or a useful infographic on the topic of audience behaviors throughout the sales funnel might be of interest.

Remember, no prospect is going to buy from the jump, and making an enterprise sale takes long-term relationship building. Deliver value from the outset, and you can make a warm lead even hotter.

Of course, if you have an account-based marketing platform or an insider who can clue you in on what their problems and priorities are, all the better.

Don’t make it about you

“Did you know that our MarketingBot 5000 can improve the volume and quality of leads by over 120 percent?” That’s a great stat. But now’s not the time. Your sales force is still in the outreach phase, and that’s some hard-sell language for a prospect who’s not in the hard-sell stage of the funnel just yet. Save the shouty sales statistics for leave-behind one-sheeters and make it a learning experience by asking a few questions.

Data shows that emails that ask up to three questions are 50 percent more likely to generate a response than those that ask no questions at all. Sales calls are also more effective when the seller does more listening than talking. So with this in mind, have them try asking a few questions that:

  • are relevant to a prospect’s interests
  • are simple enough to generate a one- or two-sentence reply
  • can generate useful insight you weave into your next communication

Something as simple as: “Will you be attending the Adobe Summit this year?” can be a great way into a longer, more meaningful conversation.

Keep it real

Have you ever gotten one of those scammy-feeling emails with subject lines like “RE: the info you asked for” or “FW: this is a must-read?” Of course you have—and you hate them. Your prospects hate them too, and there’s no worse way to start the relationship-building process than by making your prospect feel like they’ve been tricked. Don’t do it. It’s that simple.

Know when to quit

Yes, you want your reps to be tenacious, overcome objections, and make the sale. But buyer behavior is changing, and the hard sell isn’t going to work the way it used to. In fact, buyers today do much of their research online, and many will proactively reach out when they’re ready to buy. That’s just one more reason we’ve repeatedly stressed the value of building beneficial long-term relationships.

Your prospects may not be ready to buy today, but when they are, they’ll reach out—if your sellers have communicated with them effectively. When will they not reach out? When you’ve annoyed them to death by following up again and again and again with overly aggressive outreach.

Instead of sending a 4th breakup email asking if they are okay or in jail or otherwise incapacitated, when you’ve worked through your cadence and reached out to them across multiple platforms with no response or a strong rejection, consider pumping the brakes, passing them along to a nurture stream or simply moving on to other targets.

Be persistent, but do no harm. By avoiding crossing a line with one contact who is definitely not interested now, you maintain the chance of winning the account through another contact or reconnecting with the contact when they are actually ready to buy.

Put it all together

What constitutes effective sales outreach is changing, but it’s still not rocket science. Take some time to train your team on best practices for 2018, and review any existing email templates or call scripts that may contain some of the errors we discussed above. Again, your outreach should:

  • be direct and concise
  • be relevant to your prospects’ interests or pain points
  • provide value from the outset
  • contain a few short questions
  • not be designed to manipulate them into opening or responding
  • be designed to stop after a reasonable period if no response has been received

It’s time to bring your outreach communications into the 21st century. Your prospects will thank you.

Executive Insights

Today’s buyers have different needs and priorities, and bombarding them with hard-sell language will get you nowhere. To make their teams as effective as possible, sales leaders should take the initiative and revise their outreach communications to align with today’s buyer behaviors—before it’s too late.