Beyond the Bottom Line: The Price of Inconsistent Outbound Calling
Outbound calling is a proven way to reach prospects and generate leads. Yes, how it’s done has changed, but it is still a viable activity when harnessing the prospect intelligence being gathered today via digital and inbound strategies. For this discussion, I’ll focus on the outbound side of sales prospecting. Whether you’re introducing a new product or service, or you want to reach those who have not heard about you yet, direct phone calls to prospects do work. Unfortunately, it’s also expensive and takes time to produce results if done solely as a cold call effort. The biggest challenge is consistency. It is easy to fall into these traps:
The inside sales team, over time, only begins to work with existing clients or handle inbound call engagements. These are much easier conversations and, of course, more fun. At the end of the day, we have seen many ‘inside sales’ teams morph into customer service teams.
The campaign loses intensity. Outbound cold calling is hard work: rejection rates are high and prospects frequently decline to engage in conversation. As a result, it is not uncommon for the inside sales team to lose motivation and avoid making these calls. It takes a special breed of person to do this job.
At first glance, you might not think this approach would affect your results much, but the reality is generating solid leads with a calling campaign takes ongoing consistency. A simple analogy is driving a car. Fuel economy is always better when driving is consistent versus frequent starting and stopping – just look at the difference between highway and city gas mileage on the window sticker for proof. Similarly, in baseball, great hitters don’t take a month off, then get back into the game, only to take another month off. The player’s output and consistency are negatively impacted. Likewise, for your calling plan to generate the largest number of strong leads, you need to stay at it continuously. In short, you should be learning every day, taking feedback, modifying your approach, and implementing best practices … rinse and repeat.
Keys to Successful Lead Generation
A look behind the scenes of an outbound calling campaign will show you why taking a break from consistent prospect nurturing causes problems. The process is complex, and some of the details that clients don’t see make all the difference to their success (or lack thereof).
Pacing and Rhythm
Each time a representative speaks with a prospect is a chance to develop a rhythm and refine the calling and conversation approach. More calls mean more opportunities to become familiar with the subject and improve the flow of dialog. It’s also how reps learn which phrases and questions resonate best with prospects. This rhythm makes the representative comfortable with the product and the program. It breaks down barriers and builds credibility. You must put in place a process to capture this feedback in order to gather your best practices.
Don’t let your team fall into the traps mentioned above. The team must stay focused on outbound calling and prospecting. This is as much the responsibility of management as it is the inside sales person. Don’t be lulled into taking the easy path.
Gaps in calling delay the development of optimal dialogue practices because reps must relearn or reacquaint themselves for a day or two to recapture the rhythm. As a result, the rep is less efficient, the prospects are less engaged, and the quantity and quality of leads are diminished.
Consistency and continuity
Keeping a consistent timeline is critical to success. Imagine it’s February and a sales person has an opportunity in their pipeline for a big project. Now suppose that sales person’s pattern is to work on sales in February, lapse into complacency by handling existing customers or inbound calls, and resume prospecting in April and so on through the year. Let’s take a scenario that we all know occurs. During an outbound engagement, the prospect tells the sales person that at the end of February their team will meet to discuss needs for the project. The inside sales rep is diligent about noting that information but fails to act on it. Fast forward to the prospect’s meeting. It is inevitable that questions arise and answers are needed quickly. Unfortunately, the inside sales person does not act on their own notes. But the competition was poised and ready. The result is certainly predictable.
Sales conversations are ongoing and span weeks or months. The point is to close the deal, not to follow an arbitrary window of time on the calendar. The same holds for outbound calling. Here’s what a typical calling pattern might look like:
First Call: leave voicemail and send a follow up email, note that you’ll reach out again in a week
Second call: you may reach the contact or not, and may leave another voicemail
Third call: reach the contact but learn they are not the correct person, obtain a referral
Fourth call: leave voicemail for the referral and send a follow up email, note that you’ll reach out again in a week
We’re back to where we started, but if we’re also at the end of the month, we fall into the trap and it becomes another four weeks before we follow up. Many variables can fill that time: the contact leaves for vacation or takes a new job, our message and email gets deleted, their need is met by a competitor, and so on. Once a contact is lost, it can take several more cold calls to gather a new name from a receptionist, catch a referral at their desk, or scour databases for additional names.
Because most calls don’t actually connect with a prospect, it can take more than 20 phone calls to an account before reaching the correct decision maker(s). Clearly the process is already a long one, and inserting unplanned breaks due to lack of consistency, only stretches the timeline further.
To be efficient, outbound calling takes careful background research, ongoing calling, and regular meetings with your outbound team to fine tune the campaign and drive accountability and consistency. Because starting and stopping adds extra work at each start and stop point, you reduce your success and unnecessarily add costs per lead generated. It takes time to halt calling, flag all the stopping points, and note lingering issues, only to reboot and relearn the whole thing in a few days or weeks. Behind the scenes details are also affected including quality assurance, data management, and research. There is extra time and work involved in picking up where you left off, which only increases costs for everyone. The end result is more billable hours than simply continuing to call without a break.
The bottom line is pretty simple: stick to a regular program of calling and you’ll see consistent progress and improvement. Start and stop repeatedly and you’ll struggle to hit your stride and generate leads. Experienced sales and marketing managers can predict the outcome of both approaches and recommend uninterrupted calling for good reason. In the long run, you’ll save effort, time, and money by staying consistent.