B2B outbound sales: What do you need?

I decided to sit down recently and think about the major prerequisites you need for successful B2B outbound sales. Oftentimes in the modern business environment, with a lot of channels and platforms and people talking, topics like this — which are really important as new B2B companies try to scale up — get drowned in complete and total horse manure. Suddenly it becomes about “vision” (which is important but doesn’t pay mortgages) and “effective communication” (which is crucially important but needs more specifics). So let’s try to be real here. What do you actually need for B2B outbound sales to work well?

(This list is not necessarily in priority order, but it’s close.)

Understand the problems/needs you are solving with this product: We’ve used this graphic once or twice before, and here it is again. Apologies if you’re language-sensitive:

This goes to an idea that Jason Fried, one of the founders of Basecamp, talks about often: you don’t really sell “product” at the end of the day. You sell people a better version of themselves or their company. And also remember: buying is about the status quo going away. You need to convince people that your product is going to make them or their company better, and it’s impossible to do that unless you understand the product.

In the same vein, is your product a painkiller or a vitamin? More on that here. A “painkiller” — immediate business need — is 20X easier to sell, but a “vitamin” (“nice to have” product) can be sold if you know the right approach.

ICP: What’s your ideal customer profile? Too often people root this in “user personas,” which are often extremely worthless. I mean this as two concepts: (1) is who has the pain point you’re solving and (2) is who among those has the money to pay you what you deserve? Some types of companies are more likely to have the pain and others don’t. The real difference-makers tend to be industry, size, and recent acquisitions made.

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How does the target handle the problem today? You’ll need to know this, or find it out quickly, because it’s an important aspect of smashing the status quo/overcoming the objection — and that’s the crux of how you make a B2B sale. Far too often people make the mistake to compare their solution with “zero” (a paper and a pen, an empty spreadsheet). That is BS! They for sure HAVE a way to handle a problem today. In 80% of all cases you don’t compete against a real competitor; you compete against the status quo. You lose this fight if the status quo feels like an OK option compared to what they currently have.

What alternative solutions do they have? These can be other vendors or tech/products they built in-house. You need to know the whole landscape of how they’re currently trying to solve this problem, because it can help you frame up the advantages of your solution. For example, if they use 14 different systems to do something and your product can do it all within 1 system, well, that’s likely to be a cost and efficiency (quality) advantage. Check-writing decision-makers usually enjoy that.

Which people/silos benefit the most from your solution? This is sometimes thought of as “identifying decision-makers,” but it’s more than just the people who can write the check. It’s essentially a full list of buyer personas (user, technical buyer, financial buyer). Today statistically 5.4 people in a business are involved a single decision process. Some of them you are totally aware of, but some of them act from the background. That makes it especially hard for relationship sellers.

Tailor messaging to different buyer personas: Someone in Operations (“users”) may care about some functions/features of your product, but not others. But if it will be deployed company-wide, you also might get an audience with Tech, Product, Strategy, Sales, etc. They will all have different needs and questions, so the messaging needs to be tailored for how your solution can work for them. Tailoring your message already starts in lead generation.

The teaser slide deck: This one is a nice little “life hack.” Have a five-slides-or-less deck ready about your product and the problem it solves. This can be “WOW”-type information and stats/visual, but it has to be short. Whenever anyone early in a funnel process asks you for “more information,” hit them with this teaser deck. It should have a success rate of 70%+ in getting a second/third call or else you need to edit it up. Goal is to raise curiosity or to help your contact person to get more decision makers in your presentation meeting.

Record every objection from every call/email ever on one document: Over time, you will maintain a list of objections and can group them into categories. Surprisingly, the objections repeat. If you revisit this every month or every quarter, you can craft a few approaches/messages for your sales team to avoid the now-obviously-most-common objections they’re likely to hear.

Understand cost of selling: How much time can you afford to spend on the phone, or crafting emails, or doing cold outreach? The effort/cost may vary by target segment (i.e. you can spend more time on bigger fish), but you need to know to keep costs in check. Start segmenting your ICP (ideal customer profile) into 3 segments and define a sales strategy (route-to-market) for those 3 segments. Segment A might include 3 face-to-face meetings but segment C might not even allow you very personalized emails.

What happens after the first prospect meeting? You should be driving the ship of what happens next. Most SaaS B2B companies go to a demo/trial, but there are other options including a workshop, a second call with more stakeholders on the buyer side, you sending them an eBook/white paper, etc. Have a plan and be confident in your second step so that the buyer prospect sees you as in charge. Be prepared to be flexible here. It really depends where in the buyer process your prospect is after your first contact. He might need to be further educated on the severity of the problem (white paper, etc.) but he could be already in the vendor selection phase (PoC, trial, commercial proposal, etc.).

These are some of the major concepts of B2B outbound sales preparation that jump out for me. Anything else you’d add?

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