What is Outbound Sales? Top Strategies, Tools, and Tips
Many people will tell you that outbound sales is a lost cause—that inbound is the only way to go, and that anyone doing outbound is wasting their time.
Don’t believe the hype.
Outbound sales is a staple tactic of successful businesses, and has been for a long time. You just have to understand what outbound sales is and which outbound strategies are right for your business.
Before we get into the more complicated stuff, let’s take a step back. Let’s discuss outbound sales and why it’s valuable for your business.
What is Outbound Sales? An Introduction
Outbound sales is a specific type of sales with unique selling strategies. If you’re new to what outbound sales is, and need to understand exactly what it means, start here!
Outbound sales is a sales strategy where salespeople make first contact with prospects, rather than attracting leads with content, paid ads, or other inbound strategies.
Cold calling is a classic example of an outbound sales strategy, but modern sales teams also use email and other methods of communication. The defining feature is that outbound sales reps contact leads first.
Outbound leads tend to be less qualified and may require more effort from your sales teams.
That’s the difference between outbound and inbound sales. With inbound sales, potential customers are coming to you (often because of your successful content marketing), so they likely understand your value. Inbound leads also tend to convert faster.
The Advantages of Outbound Sales
Previously, we mentioned outbound leads tend to be less qualified than inbound leads. While that's true, outbound still provides a few benefits inbound (usually) doesn’t:
- Highly-targeted outreach: Outbound sales representatives can focus on new leads that are more likely to match your ideal customer profile.
- Immediate feedback and results: Outbound makes testing and trying new sales strategies easier. If a new approach works, you'll know immediately and can roll it out to more reps.
- Personal contact with prospects: People buy from people they trust. With outbound sales, you can build trust with prospects from first contact.
- Control over the pace of marketing and selling: Outbound selling is more direct and easier to scale--if you need more customers, you can make more calls.
These benefits of outbound sales make it a powerful channel for generating revenue. You reach out to your ideal customers instead of waiting for them to come to you, and you find out immediately if your approach is working.
Because you control the pace of outreach and selling, it’s up to you when to start scaling the process. Need more sales? Reach out to more potential customers.
There are benefits to both approaches, and the outbound vs. inbound sales question will never be fully resolved. In most cases, companies benefit from a combination of both sales strategies.
Now, let’s look at what’s involved in outbound sales.
The Outbound Sales Process
Every company has a different outbound process, but there are 5 steps that every outbound sales team has to go through. Here’s a summary of what that usually looks like:
1. Identify Your Target Audience
Who will you be selling to? What’s your target audience? Without this information, your sales team won’t contact enough of the right people to make a significant number of sales.
Segmenting your market into smaller groups also helps tailor your sales approach. This is especially important if you sell different products, or your customers are in different verticals.
2. Generate Leads
Lead generation is a complex topic, but it all comes down to filling your pipeline. You generate outbound leads by coming up with a list of people you want to contact and finding their contact information.
Sometimes you’ll have a lead-generation team in-house. Other times you’ll pay for a lead database. You might even outsource to outbound lead generation companies. It’s also possible for salespeople to handle lead generation.
At the end of the process, you’ll have a list of people for your sales team to contact.
3. Outreach and Qualification
This is when your sales team starts to take action. Salespeople contact your leads through phone, email, or another method. Much of this process is taken up by calling and emailing prospects.
In their first interactions with a lead, salespeople determine whether or not they’re a likely customer for your business; that’s what sales qualification is for. If not, they’re removed from your list. If they’re a qualified prospect, they’ll move on to the next stage of the sales funnel.
4. Sales Calls and Meetings
Now your team gets to do what they do best: sell. This might involve a live demo of your software, a meeting with executives, or a call to discuss the features and benefits of your product.
Depending on your target market, this process can take a while. B2B and enterprise sales tend to have longer sales cycles with more decision-makers. Smaller sales might be closed in a single call.
5. Closing the Deal
If the sales calls and meetings are successful, it’s time to sign the contract. The deal is closed, and your sales team has made a sale. Of course, there’s a lot more to do after this—but your sales team’s involvement in the process is done.
Now that you understand the basics of outbound prospecting, let’s dig into some more advanced topics.
(And if you haven’t claimed your free copy of my book The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales yet, now’s the time to get it.)
5 Essential Outbound Sales Tools and Software
Outbound sales tools help your team make the most of their time. While you could start this process with a spreadsheet, it’s a hell of a lot faster with the right software.
While most of these tools are optional, this first one is absolutely necessary. It helps you keep your team organized, tracks your progress, and improves communication:
1. Outbound Sales CRM to Manage Leads + Sales
Sales CRMs keep track of your leads, log the contact you have with them, and generally organize every part of the outbound sales process.
Why you need it: Because outbound is a complicated process, and an effective CRM manages much of it for you.
Price range (per user per month): $20–$300, depending on the complexity of the outbound CRM, the number of users, and the length of your licensing agreement.
- Close: For badass sales teams of three or more (you can try Close for free now!)
- Zoho: For one-person sales teams.
- Pipedrive: For consultants and solopreneurs dealing with a small number of leads.
- Salesforce: For large enterprises with bigger budgets.
Check out this guide on choosing the best CRM for your small business, listing the advantages and disadvantages of different solutions.
2. Sales Intelligence Tools to Research + Build Outbound Lead Lists
After you generate leads, you need to gather information to figure out which of them are worth pursuing; that’s where sales intelligence tools come in. You get all sorts of information on companies, like org charts, contact information, and revenue.
Why you need it: It arms your salespeople with all the information they need to effectively generate and qualify leads, prepare pitches, and sell.
Price range (per user per month): $80–$1,200+
- DiscoverOrg: For companies that need extremely detailed intelligence
- LinkedIn Sales Navigator: or thrifty B2B outbound sales teams who prospect on LinkedIn
- Datanyze: For teams looking for a tech-focused solution
3. Contact Information Tool to Find Lead Contact Info
If you can’t swing the high prices of a full-featured sales intelligence tool, there are plenty of cheaper tools you can use to find contact information.
Why you need it: Because you can’t call or email without phone numbers or email addresses.
Price range (per user per month): $35–$300
- Hunter.io—for teams looking to save money
- RocketReach—for companies that need integrations
- UpLead—for businesses who want database functionality
- ReachHub—for finding targeted leads on LinkedIn and enrolling them in a prospecting sequence
4. Communication Platform With Automation to Organize Communication
Your outbound sales team can send emails using basic tools like Gmail... but they’ll get a lot more power out of a dedicated communication platform—especially if it includes automation.
Why you need it: To save a hell of a lot of time.
Price range (per user per month): $60–$150
- Outreach—for companies looking to maximize sales engagement
- Prospect.io—for teams who need flexible pricing
- Close—for companies that don’t want to deal with multiple sales tools but instead have a CRM that comes with built-in email and calling features
5. Social Tools to Boost Outbound Sales Tactic Success
Not every company will use social media in their outbound sales process, but it can be a big help. And if you decide to use it, you may want to invest in a tool to help.
Why you need it: Because navigating social media sales on your own is a hassle.
Price range (per user per month): $15–$250
- Buffer—for teams who want to pick and choose functionality
- Hootsuite—for scheduling and management of social media accounts
- SproutSocial—for complete social media management
- Recurpost—For scheduling social media post
There are a lot of tools out there that will help you with outbound sales. These are just the ones we recommend. Feel free to branch out and explore the options that are best for your company.
Outbound Sales Techniques to Close More Deals
There are as many ways to do outbound sales as there are companies using outbound strategies. But when you’re getting started, there are three main things to focus on. We’ll go over the basics here.
1. Cold Calling
This is a staple outbound sales technique. New customers aren’t coming to you—in fact, they’re often actively trying to avoid answering your calls. Which is one of the reasons why some marketers and salespeople say "cold calling is dead."
But there’s a reason that companies still use cold calling as one of their go-to outbound techniques: it works.
Companies around the world have reported great results with cold calling; you just have to go about it in the right way. Cold calling is often paired with some inbound techniques to warm up leads, so it’s not as “cold” as it could be. But calling people who haven’t expressed interest in being called will always be cold outreach.
A tool like an outbound dialer helps reduce the amount of manual busywork that’s involved in calling through a lead list. Our CRM comes with both a built-in Power Dialer and a Predictive Dialer.
These allow you to make a higher volume of calls, speak with more prospects, and also automatically tracks all sales conversations in the CRM, reducing the amount of manual data entry that’s required. (Which also means that you’ll have more accurate data in your CRM and reporting to work with, since the software keeps track of the numbers for you, which reduces flawed or incomplete data.)
Want to see how many more prospects you can speak to with the right outbound dialer? Try Close free for 14 days, which includes the full feature set of our sales CRM!
If you’re like most people, you probably have bad associations with the idea of cold calls. But this method of outreach captures many of the benefits of outbound sales:
- You determine the call volume (which can be very high, especially with the right dialing tools)
- You determine the call recipients
- It’s a fast way to get a hold of contacts
- It allows salespeople to make personal connections
- You get immediate feedback on your sales process
Of course, there are disadvantages, too. Successful cold calling often requires a very high volume of calls, even if your leads are well qualified. And you’ll always be contacting people who haven’t requested a call, which can be exhausting for salespeople.
But all in all, cold calling is an essential part of any outbound sales campaign.
2. Cold Emailing
The business world runs on email, so sales teams have started applying the cold calling formula to outbound emails. The process is almost exactly the same—salespeople reach out to potential new customers via email to try and set up a sales call or demo.
But there are some distinct advantages to using email over phone calls. You can contact a huge number of people very quickly, for example, and scaling the process is easy.
Of course, there are drawbacks, too. Salespeople get a lot less feedback on each pitch, the less-personal nature of email might not be as effective as calling, and a large number of those emails will go unreturned.
This is why you’ll find companies using a combination of cold calling and cold email for outbound—often with the same customers. Here’s a sample schedule for using both:
- Day 1: Cold call and leave a voicemail
- Day 1: Cold email to request a follow-up
- Day 3: Email follow-up
- Day 5: Phone follow-up
- Day 7: Email follow-up
- Day 9: Quick call with prospect
- Day 9: Thank-you email with additional information
Using phone calls and emails in tandem offers more options for salespeople and prospects. And that’s good for everyone.
Want to supercharge your email outreach? Our AI-powered cold email generator tool is totally free and can help you do just that!
3. Email Automation
Email marketers have been using email automation for years--and its just as effective for outbound sales outreach.
You can type out each email individually, but when you’re ready to scale the process, you need to automate as much as possible.
In short, this means creating an automated sequence of emails that your mail client sends on a specific schedule or in response to certain events.
In Close, for example, you can create an entire outbound email sequence and send it to prospects if they don’t respond to your first email. That means all of the follow-up is taken care of.
Responsive email automation is especially useful for qualifying leads. After a visitor downloads a lead magnet, for example, they might get a series of emails sharing related content. Now when they get a sales call, they’ll be more familiar with your company and what you do.
There are many uses for email automation in outbound sales. You just need to figure out which pieces of your sequence can be automated! For ideas, check out two of our favorite email drip campaigns for inspiration.
Outbound Sales Tips: How to Make Your Outbound Sales More Effective
We've been using outbound sales to grow Close for over a decade. We've learned a few things about building an effective outbound sales strategy in that time. If you're looking to improve or scale your outbound strategy, these tips will help you level up.
1. Focus on Being Helpful
Want to stand out from everyone else doing outbound? Make sure your salespeople are being helpful to prospects.
But what does it mean to be helpful?
Put simply, it means putting the prospect first. That sounds easy, but it sometimes means your salespeople will have to make hard decisions. For example, after finding out about the customer’s needs, they may need to recommend a competitor that would be a better fit.
That feels like giving up a sale, but developing a reputation for being helpful and having a strong customer focus will more than make up for it.
2. Take Advantage of Referral Sales
Word-of-mouth and referral marketing is absolute gold. This is especially true in outbound selling, but most salespeople don’t take advantage of referrals, and that’s a big mistake.
As soon as you close a deal, you should be asking if there’s anyone in your customer’s network that might benefit from your product or service. It might feel awkward at first, but over time you’ll come to see just how useful it is.
If you’re not sure how to get started, don’t worry. Check out our guide to B2B referral sales to learn how to make the ask and get people to say yes.
3. Use Omni-Channel, Multi-Touch Strategies
What do you do when a prospect doesn’t pick up the phone? Probably call again. But what if they don’t pick up the phone a second time? A third time? A fourth? Even a fifth?
One thing you could do is give up... but that’s how a lot of salespeople don’t make their quotas. You need to be persistent.
In today’s world, you can be persistent in new ways. Instead of just focusing on making a lot of calls, you can engage prospects on multiple channels. Combining phone and email outreach is a common tactic. But you might also send a message on social media, send a direct mail piece, or even show up in person if you’re nearby.
Stick to your follow-up schedule to ensure you’re not overwhelming your prospect. But feel free to reach out on different platforms to maximize the chance of making a connection.
4. Take Advantage of Calling Scripts
Should you use an outbound script? Ask ten people, and you’ll get ten different answers. It’s a tough question.
But if you develop a great outbound sales script, it will be a huge boon to your salespeople. Creating a strong script actually frees up your top performers to experiment and work on their own approaches.
And it helps new reps get up to speed faster. Here's one we've used here at Close:
It can be hard to strike the right balance between relying on a script and giving your reps flexibility. But with some practice, you’ll find what works for your team. And in the end, you’ll support your sales reps' individual performance and strengths.
Still not sure if (or how) you should be using an outbound script? Check out our article, “Should you use a sales script?” for more information on how we do it here at Close.
5. Automate Outbound Sales as Much as Possible
Outbound sales automation can’t replace sales reps but can help them do their jobs faster and more efficiently. Here are just a few ways automation can help you sell more:
- Email sequences: Reach out and follow up without any intervention
- Auto-dialing: Keeps reps on the phone with available customers
- CRMs: Automatically add contact history to customer entries and see who reached out last.
- Research Tools: Find available contact info online and populate the CRM (we like Clearbit for this task)
- Automated voicemail tools: Save reps time and effort on leaving messages
If it’s a repeated, procedural process, you can automate it. And when the average sales rep only spends 37 percent of their time selling, those automation efforts can improve sales metrics--and your bottom line.
Make sure your reps aren’t afraid sales automation will put them out of a job. Instead, show how automation can reduce mundane busy work so they can spend more time reaching out to quality leads.
Elizabeth Yin also recently did an excellent tweetstorm on outbound sales for founders, based on Aaron Ross' book Predictable Revenue.
Get Started With Outbound Sales Today
An effective outbound sales strategy requires a lot of work upfront. You need a solid plan, new leads, information about potential buyers, and the right tools to support outbound selling.
It sounds like a lot of work. But when you put all of those things together, you’ll be set up for a very successful outbound sales program.
Want a complete, A–Z guide with tools for starting and scaling an outbound sales program? Claim a free copy of our book today!