From Quantity to Quality: Shifting the Focus of Outbound Sales

More activity means more productivity means more deals means more wins! So, dial, dial, dial!

Does that mantra describe your sales floor? When we built our outbound sales engine, we adopted the same approach that larger competitors in our space had implemented. We poached sales reps who were used to making 100+ calls per day, pitching the same script over and over, and held them accountable to that level of activity.

After about six months, we noticed there wasn’t a positive correlation between dial volume and won deals. Once we realized we couldn’t dial ourselves out of this challenge, it forced us to take a deeper look at our strategy, what we were doing and why it wasn’t working.


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Focus on quality by having more meaningful conversations.

What did we realize? It’s not about the quantity of activities. It’s about the quality of engagements. The goal isn’t to have as many interactions as possible, but to make every interaction meaningful.

When most of our reps were reaching their ceiling, one of our reps was crushing hers month after month. How? Rather than focusing on her dial minimums, she focused on another metric: talk time. She was routinely dialing about half of what our other reps were dialing, yet doubling her talk time and ultimately far outpacing the other reps across all of our core revenue-driving KPIs.

The reality in outbound sales is that the overwhelming majority of activities don’t result in the goal of that prospecting. Most BDRs come to believe that most of their efforts are essentially meaningless. That mentality creates a blind spot that ultimately decreases the effectiveness of their efforts, and leads to sales floor burn out.

So armed with a single, anecdotal data point, we completely shifted our focus. We removed the notion of daily activity minimums and instead told our reps to slow down and make their engagements mean something.

Refuse to let an interaction with a prospect go by without:

  1. Learning something new about the company;
  2. Trying to build rapport on a personal level with that person.

outbound sales demo graph

Once we made that shift in focus, the results were striking: it took our reps 35% fewer dials to produce a deal (for us, that was a qualified prospect willing to schedule a virtual demo of our product), and we saw an 86% improvement in the likelihood of that prospect showing up for the demo.

Here are the four primary takeaways we learned to help make our outbound sales interactions more meaningful.


1. Embrace the gatekeeper to help qualify quickly.

Most sales reps don’t realize the importance of the gatekeeper. They incorrectly focus most of their mind share on the very rare instances when they can connect with a decision maker. Those interactions are obviously important, but about 90% of their efforts are wasted on just trying to reach decision makers.

So how can you drive better results by having meaningful engagements with the gatekeeper? Ask more questions and listen intently to the answers.

If the only question you are asking a gatekeeper is ‘when do you think would be the best time to connect with (Decision Maker)?’ then not only are you annoying them, you are also missing out on an opportunity to get other relevant information that can help you with the sale.

Try these questions:

“How long have you been with the company?”

Often, gatekeepers wield more power and have more institutional knowledge than they let on to. Understanding how long they’ve been with the company can help you decide whether to ask additional questions, the answers to which allow you to better qualify the prospect and tailor your outreach…

“Is the company dealing with Problem A, B or C?”

Gatekeepers typically have a good pulse on the company. What questions could you ask the gatekeeper to help you understand the likelihood your product or service can solve a problem they are dealing with?

“How is your Monday going?”

At best, most sales people treat gatekeepers as a means to an end. At worst, a total nuisance. Whether you know it, gatekeepers can sense that. Do you want to stick out and gain rapport? Then genuinely show interest in them and how they are doing. People appreciate that, regardless of whether you’re selling something.


2. Be diligent in your note-taking and tooling usage.

Most reps view their sales CRM as a necessary evil, not the powerful tool it really is. Why? Because most sales managers focus on dials and activities, and think of diligently using a CRM as an impediment to getting out more calls and emails.

But by shifting your sales team’s focus to quality engagements, reps can slow down and be smarter with their leads without fear of missing their productivity minimums.

Most reps assign themselves a follow-up task that says: ‘Call (Decision Maker)’

So when it’s time to complete that task, it’s just another cold call.

But what if by embracing the gatekeeper, the sales rep has a 3 minute phone call with the gatekeeper and learns 3 – 4 pieces of new information (some personal, some company-oriented). And, then upon completion of the call, spends a few minutes taking very detailed notes about everything they learned?

Now, when it’s time to make that follow-up call, it’s not a cold call anymore, it’s truly a follow-up to the previous conversation. The rep has all the information he or she needs to reference that conversation and make this next call more meaningful.

outbound sales example

Or even something as simple as:

outbound sales simple example

By taking the time to update your lead records after every meaningful conversation, you’re able to build a smarter pipeline which arms you with the information you need to have more personal and meaningful engagements.


3. Reference your notes before every call.

Have you ever met someone at a social setting, had a great conversation with them, then weeks or months late you run into them and they ask you questions about your previous conversation?

  • “Hey, how was that family trip to Colorado? Did you guys have fun?”
  • “How is your wife doing? You are coming up on your due date, right?”

Doesn’t it feel good when you realize that someone listened to you and cared enough to ask about you?

Gatekeepers are used to having the same sterile, scripted conversations with salespeople all the time. Want to stick out? Reference things you’ve learned in the past and ask them about those things!

Remember, your goal with gatekeepers is to gain enough rapport and trust where they feel obligated to give you the one thing you’re asking for: a few minutes to talk with the decision maker. There is no better way to do that than to make clear you care about them and what they have to say.


4. Humanize yourself using personalized video.

Perhaps the biggest challenge any sales rep faces when cold prospecting is making a human connection. It’s easy for a gatekeeper or prospect to reject a voice over the phone, but it’s much more difficult for them to reject a human being. A person with a job, a family, and responsibilities just like them. By nature, humans are predisposed to reject other humans. So whether or not you realize it, one of the biggest advantages you have in outbound sales is humanizing yourself.

And what better way to do that than by giving the gatekeeper or the prospect the opportunity to see you in all of your imperfect glory?

outbound sales video chat

Personalized videos are a great way to put an actual human behind the outreach. They aren’t supposed to be perfectly edited & choreographed productions. You don’t have to be perfect, in fact, you’ll come across as more genuine and relatable if you aren’t perfect. So take 2 minutes and record a quick video with a personal message to the prospect and let them truly see who you are. It might be just the thing you need to help progress a prospect through your pipeline!


Focus on what matters

As a sales manager, it’s easy to focus on certain things that feel measurable and controllable while losing sight of the bigger picture. Ultimately, our job is to identify as many prospects as possible and attempt to understand whether or not we can help them solve unique problems they are facing as a business. What we learned was that we couldn’t do that with a shotgun approach that relied on a one-size fits all, high-velocity mindset.

Instead, by re-focusing our reps on having more meaningful conversations, not only did our results drastically improve, but we also were able to build a work environment that resulted in improved employee satisfaction.

Matt Buchanan outbound sales contributor

Matt Buchanan is the Co-Founder and VP of Sales at Service Direct, an online advertising and technology company based in Austin, TX.

  • Originally published March 11, 2020