Outbound that doesn’t alienate for a technical product

Picture of Esther Delignat
Esther Delignat

Setting up a cold outbound motion can be pretty daunting. The main reason is that, quite frankly, there’s a lot of conflicting-to-nonsensical advice out there, and a lot of bad outbounding.

So rather than starting from a positive "what should we be doing?", we tackled the negative "what should we categorically not do?" What type of outbound does no one want to be on the receiving end of?

The thread that permeates our outbound playbook is simple: be human(e). That might not always be scalable, but we’re OK with that—we’re playing the long game here.

With that said, here are a few actionable pieces of advice that we think have worked out well for us, from the early days to today.

Don’t hound: No one wants to be harassed

Be mindful of the concentration of your outbound messages (i.e. the number and spacing of touchpoints).

It’s baffling to find salespeople recommending cadences of 16 touchpoints over two weeks. That’s more than 1.5 touchpoint per working day! Imagine receiving one email and a cold call day in, day out for two weeks. I’d hit “block" on day two.

I think the issue here stems from people internalising that you need at least eight touchpoints to grab a prospects’ attention. This may be true, but:

  1. Why obsess over cramming those in a short time-frame? Between commenting eight times on your prospect’s content (podcast, blog, LinkedIn post) over six weeks and sending eight generic emails over six days, we’ll pick the former any time.
  2. Eight is not a magic number: we often hit bull’s eye and get a reply on the first touchpoint, and never need to get the other seven. How?

Personalize: No one wants to be carpet-bombed

“Could anyone else have received this message?" is a question we ask ourselves on every first interaction.

There’s a pyramid of personalization strength:

  1. Individual-based
  2. Company-based
  3. Industry-based

We’ll over-index heavily on individual-based personalisation. Before reaching out, we’ll do some ground research to try to find relevant content and information (podcasts, blog posts, hobbies in LinkedIn bios, specific products/projects people have worked one, etc.) that we can genuinely relate to. Most people will tell you it’s not scalable, but we’re okay with that—again, we’re playing the long-game here.

However, some people are very private online (no information, no content), so individual-based personalisation is simply not possible, however hard you try. In that case, you have to go to company-based personalization. That could be things like big company news (e.g. fundraising rounds), specific triggering events (e.g. for us, recent incidents), but also case studies of similar companies.

Your last resort is to personalize based on industry (e.g. “you’re a fintech, and we work with a lot of fintechs") This tends to be the weakest one, but sometimes that’s all you’re left with and you have to bite that bullet. Alternatively, we sometimes just accept that between sending a really poor impersonal message and simply finding someone else to reach out to, the latter just feels better.

Worth noting: follow-up messages are much harder to personalize. It’s hard to find enough material to personalise multiple touchpoints, and it’s also unrealistic because of the amount of manual work that creates at scale. We see the first touchpoint as the most personal, and subsequent touchpoints as reinforcement.

Respect boundaries: No one wants their personal space invaded

We’ve all been on the other end of getting outbound in our personal inboxes, or even worse—texts and WhatsApps. We avoid these entirely in our playbook.

If you’re trying to sell something in B2B, you’re selling it to a person’s work persona. Their personal space is simply and categorically out of bounds.

Keep it short: No one wants to read a wall of text

Keep your messages digestible. The shorter we can make it, the better. Our longest email these days is 550 characters (not words!), and typically more hovering around the 350 mark. Our videos are 60 seconds max.

Marketing Examples’ newsletter has a lot of “how to cut your copy" tips that we use.

Make your format easy to parse too. Break things into paragraphs, and mix up the length of your paragraphs and of your sentences to avoid monotony.

Don’t be disingenuous: No one wants to be click-baited

We’ve all been on the receiving end of some pretty shady sales tactics: from disingenuous subject lines to calendar invites appearing out of nowhere, human-written-but-actually-AI-generated notes or “hey we chatted a few months ago" from people you’ve never heard of.

Sales is based on trust. Don’t trick people! It feels rubbish, and it’s actually counter-productive.

Know when to stop: No one wants to argue

No means no. If people take the time to reply with a “hey, thanks but we’re not interested," don’t use their kindness against them by barraging them with a bunch of objection handling stuff!

That doesn’t mean you can’t address their objections or ask for clarification ("are you using another solution or is it just not a priority"), but:

  1. Make sure you’re actually listening to (not just hearing) what they say, and adjust your reply accordingly: “this is not a prio for us right now" doesn’t really call for much more than a “I totally get it, I’ll reach back out in a few months" vs. “we’re using {irrelevant competitor} already" means you miscommunicated your product, and can justify a “oh cool, we actually sit upstream/downstream of those guys just to situate us."
  2. Make it clear you appreciate their response and that they don’t owe you anything: we usually add a short qualifier ("thanks so much for the ping back—if you have the patience, could you clarify X"), and phrase replies in a way that make it ok not to answer ("will just flag that {objection}, but totally understand if still not a prio—in which case take care!")
  3. Don’t use their replies against them (the awful “oh but we {objection}"—which basically reads “yeah I know you said this, but I’m going to ignore what you said and keep selling you my stuff")
  4. Be reasonable on how many back-and-forth you’re going for: in general, more than 2 starts to feel wrong—it’s hard to put a hard number, as sometimes people are genuinely happy to engage in some back and forth, but use your best judgement on being persistent but not pushy

You’re better off taking the long-term view and nurturing a lead for later while giving them a good experience with your brand, than trying to book a meeting at all costs and burning any kind of goodwill towards your product.

Ultimately, it’s hard to give prescriptive advice on what to do or not. It comes down to your personal and company style and values. For us, we’re OK trading off some scale and some speed of closing to keep our outbound humane. We’re optimising for people having a stellar experience with incident.io, from the first touchpoint to the last. So hyper-aggressive, pushy, and blatantly spammy outbound is just not our style.

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