Guide to outbound sales: Best strategies, tools, and tips
Lots of 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 use the right outbound sales strategies.
Here are all the things we’ll go over in this article to help you understand and make use of outbound sales:
- An introduction to outbound sales
- How to build an efficient outbound sales system
- 5 essential outbound sales tools and software
- Common outbound sales techniques
- Outbound sales strategies that net you more sales
Before we get into the more complicated stuff, let’s take a step back. Let’s talk about what outbound is and why it’s so valuable for your organization.
Want a complete A-Z blueprint for building and scaling your outbound sales process? Get a free copy of my book The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales.
An introduction to outbound sales
Outbound sales is a specific type of sales with its own unique strategies for selling. If you’re new to what outbound sales is, and need to understand exactly what it means, start here!
What is outbound sales?
Outbound sales is the process of sales reps reaching out to prospects and delivering sales pitches. Cold calling is a classic example, but modern outbound sales teams also use email and other methods of communication. The defining feature is that reps are contacting leads—leads aren’t coming to you.
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).
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.
The advantages of outbound sales
Before we talk about the outbound sales process itself, let’s talk about why it’s worth doing.
In short, outbound can be effective because it provides the things inbound (usually) doesn’t:
- Highly-targeted outreach
- Immediate feedback and results
- Personal contact with prospects
- Control over the pace of marketing and selling
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 right away 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 prospects.
To get the most out of your sales process, you can combine inbound and outbound tactics—giving you the best of both worlds. So, let’s take a look at what’s involved in outbound sales.
An overview of 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 market segments
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 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. Whether by phone, email, or another method, salespeople contact your leads. Much of this process is taken up by calling and emailing prospects.
In their first interactions with a lead, salespeople will 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 onto the next stage.
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.)
How to build an efficient outbound sales system
You might think that starting an outbound sales system involves hiring a few salespeople and giving them a list of people to call. But if you want to succeed with outbound, you need to do a lot more than that.
You need to build a great team and create a strategy for closing deals. That requires a lot of scientific thinking and experimentation. Here are five steps that will help you build a profitable outbound sales process.
1. Build the right sales team
You can certainly start outbound selling when you’re the only person in the company. But if you’re building a sustainable outbound process, having a team onboard will be a big help.
So who do you hire?
There are all sorts of ideas out there about who you should hire. Some people hire for industry experience. Others have in-person tests that salespeople need to pass. We, for example, hire hustlers instead of veterans.
Find people who have the potential to be great outbound salespeople and cultivate their skills and attitudes. They’ll help you create and improve your process.
It’s also a good idea to hire more than one outbound salesperson. A sense of competition, a backup when someone isn’t able to call, and more room for experimentation pay off in the long run.
In Close, our built-in sales leaderboards compare sales activity between each member of the sales team—helping gamify friendly competition. This will keep your team motivated as you can compare number of calls made, emails sent, minutes spent talking to prospects, and more.
2. Create ideal buyer personas
You know who your target audience is. But it’s time to get more detailed. You need to know their job titles. Where they read articles online. The exact problems they’re looking to solve. What keeps them up at night.
All of this information is represented succinctly in a buyer persona. And that persona is a valuable tool for your salespeople.
You might already know some of the information that belongs in a buyer persona. But it’s also worth making sure you have as much information as possible. Talk to your contacts, current customers, and even strangers.
Keep in mind that you may have multiple buyer personas. It depends on how many products you sell and how many types of people they appeal to.
We have a full guide to creating ideal customer profiles for B2B lead generation. If you don’t have personas yet, read it to learn more before you continue with these steps.
3. Nail down your value proposition
Why should your ideal customer buy from you? The answer to that question is your value proposition—and that’s what’s going to get you sales. Make sure every salesperson can articulate it on demand, and without hesitation.
Of course, you may find that your value proposition changes over time. Some customers might use your product for reasons that you didn’t expect, or you may have to reposition your brand to account for new competition.
But jumping into outbound selling without having a really good reason that people should buy from you is going to backfire. Make your value proposition irresistible and your salespeople’s jobs will be easier.
4. Start generating leads
Your salespeople now know the type of people they’re selling to and the value proposition that appeals to that audience. Now it’s time to build a list of people to actually start selling.
Today’s lead generation methods are almost exclusively focused with inbound:
- Publishing blog posts and online guides
- Being a guest on podcasts
- Hosting events
- Building authority on social media
- Speaking at conferences
All of these methods of lead generation get people to come to you. They’re scalable, sustainable, and—generally—don’t require a big investment of cash, though they often take a lot of time.
There are outbound methods of lead generation, too. Print ads, outdoor advertising, direct mail, and other traditional types of marketing still work. And paid lead databases can be immensely useful (though you have to be careful about trusting the information you get from them).
The best method for your company depends on your industry, sales process, and growth stage. Most companies will use a combination of methods, but it’s worth taking the time to figure out what works best for you, because you’ll never stop generating leads.
5. Plan your outreach and start selling
By now you might be wondering if you’ll ever start selling. Don’t worry—once you’re done with this step, your salespeople can start hitting the phones. But to do that, they need an outreach plan. Here are some things to include in that plan:
- Whether to call or email first
- How long to wait before following up after leaving a voicemail
- What format the follow-ups take
- Specific messaging to include in calls and emails
- Timelines for continued follow-ups
If you’ve been selling your product or service, you can build on your experience. If you haven’t, start with what you think will appeal to your audience, and then build from here.
This plan will change as you learn what works and what doesn’t, but you should have at least a rough guideline for how your salespeople should do their jobs before you set them loose.
Once you have a plan, you’re ready to start selling! Make sure everyone knows how to put your plan into action and then get them on the phones!
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 going to be a hell of a lot faster if you have the right software.
While most of these tools are optional, this first one is an absolute necessity. It helps you keep your team organized, tracks your progress, and improves communication:
1. Outbound sales CRM
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 3 of 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
Check out this guide on choosing the best CRM for your small business, listing the advantages and disadvantages of different solutions.
2. Sales intelligence tool
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—for thrifty B2B teams who prospect on LinkedIn
- Datanyze—for teams looking for a tech-focused solution
3. Contact information tool
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
4. Communication platform
Your 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
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
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.
Common outbound sales techniques
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. People 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 that cold calling is dead.
In the age of inbound everything, outbound cold calling seems like a relic from a bygone age. 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.
This not only allows you to make a higher volume of calls, and speak with more prospects, but 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
Because the business world runs on email, sales teams have started applying the cold calling formula to outbound email. The process is almost exactly the same—salespeople reach out to potential 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.
3. Email automation
If you use cold email for outbound sales, automation is a must. 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 strategies that net you more sales
We’ve been doing outbound sales for a long time, and in that time, we’ve learned a lot about the outbound strategies that work. Here are some of the best strategies you can use with outbound. Build these into your outbound process from the beginning, and you’ll find success in your sales program.
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 someone 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 make sure 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.
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 the individual performance and strengths of your reps.
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 it 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
- 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% of their time selling, those automations have an effect on your bottom line.
Make sure your reps aren’t afraid that your automations will put them out of a job. Instead, demonstrate that automation is meant to remove mundane busywork from their workday. Then, make their lives a lot easier by automating as much as you can.
Eliabeth Yin also recently did an excellent tweetstorm on outbound sales for founders, based on Aaron Ross' book Predictable Revenue.
And if you're looking for an example of a clever next-level outbound sales system from a technical perspective, check out How To Create Your Own $10,000-20,000/Day Outbound Sales System by Jesper Qvist, where he breaks down his outreach process to investors.
Start outbound sales today
An effective outbound sales strategy requires a lot of work up front. You need a solid plan, a lot of information on your prospects, 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 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!