Article | 10 min read

What is outbound sales? Guide to best practices and strategies

Explore the benefits of outbound sales and learn how you can implement winning outbound strategies for your team.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published September 28, 2022
Last updated October 19, 2022

There’s a lot of talk these days that outbound sales has gone the way of disco, while inbound sales is all the rage—the K-pop of selling tactics. Though there’s a lot to love about inbound techniques (and K-pop), outbound sales isn’t down for the count yet. And we have stats to prove it.

According to recent studies, 82 percent of buyers will accept meetings with sellers who reach out to them. The jury may still be out on disco, but the verdict on outbound sales is that it’s alive and well.

Read on for a succinct definition of outbound sales and how it differs from inbound sales. We’ll also share some outbound sales tips and techniques so you can start boosting your outbound KPIs today.

What is outbound sales?

What is outbound sales?, holding a phone

Outbound sales refers to the process of a seller—usually a sales rep—initiating contact with a potential buyer, typically by cold calling or emailing them from a list of leads.

What’s the difference between inbound and outbound sales?

When it comes to outbound vs. inbound sales, the biggest difference is which party initiates contact. With outbound sales, the seller reaches out to the prospect first. The reverse is true with inbound sales: a potential customer contacts a business to ask about a product or service.

That said, there are other subtle distinctions between inbound and outbound sales. Both sales strategies have different goals and benefits.

Outbound sales works to actively sell a product or service, while inbound sales focuses on educating interested buyers. Thus, inbound salespeople can connect with prospects and learn more about their pain points, which also builds trust in a seller. On the other hand, outbound sales aims to generate interest and make consumers want to learn more about a product or service.

Each sales strategy presents its own challenges as well. Outbound sales requires a hefty amount of resources and time because sales reps must guide prospects through the buyer’s journey to conversion. Inbound sales demands a strong web and social presence, plus robust analytics. This often means it takes longer to see ROI than with outbound sales.

Types of outbound sales reps

Two common types of outbound reps are sales development and lead response reps.

  • Sales development reps

Sales development reps (SDRs), also known as business development reps (BDRs), are inside sales reps who are exclusively focused on outbound prospecting. They often contact prospects via email or social media before making cold calls. SDRs are not responsible for closing deals but rather for moving leads further down the sales funnel. Their job is to gain knowledge about the prospect, their business model, and their pain points to see if the product or service is a good fit.

  • Lead response reps

A lead response rep, sometimes called a marketing qualification rep (MQR), is an inside sales rep who follows up with inbound leads from marketing campaigns. Don’t be fooled, however—lead response reps are mostly making outbound sales calls, so they’re also considered outbound sales reps. Generally, they reach out to marketing qualified leads: those who fill out online forms, download marketing content, or attend webinars.

Benefits of outbound sales

Benefits of outbound sales, thumbs up

There’s no doubt that pursuing outbound leads is resource-heavy work. But it’s worth the investment, as it allows sales to proceed faster with greater attention to detail and control.

  • Speed

    Outreach through cold calls, emails, or social media yields quick results from a wide audience. Reps can also receive immediate feedback on their sales process from the buyers they’re chatting with and make adjustments.

  • Precision and personalization

    The outbound sales process is highly targeted, so your leads are likely going to be interested in learning more about your product or service. Plus, it allows reps to connect personally with consumers, build relationships, and tweak their strategy when necessary.

  • Control

    With the outbound sales funnel, you’re in control of everything from the pace of marketing and selling, to call volume, to call recipients. With the right tools, like power dialers or email automations, it’s easy to scale outbound operations.

5 steps of the outbound sales process

5 steps of the outbound sales process, holding a clipboard

A typical sales process will follow these five steps:

1. Market segment identification

The first step of the process is to identify your potential customers. Ask yourself:

  • Who will you be selling to?
  • What’s your target audience/what types of businesses are you targeting?
  • Who are the decision-makers?
  • Do you have a buyer persona?

Without answers to these questions, your sales team won’t have enough information to contact the right people.

It’s worth segmenting your market into smaller groups as well. This can help reps tailor their sales approach, especially if your customers are in different verticals or your company sells a variety of products or services.

2. Lead generation

You know who you want to reach. Now you need their contact information so you can start to fill your pipeline. This can come from an in-house lead generation team or a purchased database; it can even be outsourced to a third-party company.

Sales reps can also handle lead generation on their own by using resources like:

  • LinkedIn
  • Web directories
  • Social media platforms, like Facebook or Twitter
  • Prospecting tools that scrape company websites

3. Outreach and qualification

Once you compile the contact information for your leads, it’s time to start reaching out to see who’s a likely customer for your business. When a lead is qualified, they move on to the next phase; if not, they’re removed from the list. How to know? Reps use cold outreach methods like email or phone calls.

Email, in particular, is a popular method for initial contact. It’s important to keep these early messages short, personalized, active, and relevant to your leads’ pain points. Reps usually need to follow up multiple times when cold emailing. Luckily, most sales engagement platforms can successfully automate this process without sacrificing the human touch.

4. Sales calls and demos

It’s the moment your sales team has been waiting for. It’s their time to shine doing what they do best: sell.

A sales presentation is an opportunity for reps to show how a product or service works and the ways it resolves specific pain points. It might involve an in-person meeting with executives, a demo of the software, or a sales call. If this call is the first live communication with your lead, be sure you come armed with relevant, personalized information so you can pitch effectively.

Keep in mind, too, that B2B and enterprise sales cycles are often on the longer side because there are more decision-makers involved. It’s important to be patient while staying in contact; closing a B2B deal typically takes more touches.

5. Closing the deal

When sales pitches and demos are successful, the customer signs a contract and your reps can celebrate a conversion. The signature isn’t the end of the road, though—your sales team should continue to nurture the customer and ensure they have a smooth onboarding experience.

The motherlode of sales email templates

We’ve compiled 12 email templates that cover every sales pipeline stage, from prospecting to closing.

Types of outbound sales activities

Outreach sales activities fall into three major categories: cold calling, emailing, and social selling.

  • Cold calling

Cold calling is an essential tool in your arsenal. When using this classic sales technique, reps call prospects who haven’t yet expressed interest in the company’s products or services. It’s often paired with inbound activities, so the lead is at least somewhat warmed up.

  • Cold emailing

This tactic is similar to cold calling, but the phone call is replaced with an email in which sales reps try to set up a call or demo. Email is effective at contacting large numbers of leads very quickly, particularly with automation sequences. Reps can use email automation software to automatically send messages on a schedule or in response to certain actions from the prospect.

  • Social selling

Social selling—or using social media to locate and engage with prospective buyers—is the latest way for B2B outbound sales teams to educate potential customers about their business. Social media provides an outlet for reps to answer questions, share content, and reply to comments. Leads get nurtured until they’re ready to buy.

How to build an outbound sales strategy

Here are five foundational outbound sales tips you can follow to develop a winning strategy.

  • Build the right sales team so you know you have the right people for the job.
  • Create ideal buyer personas so you can sell to high-quality prospects.
  • Polish your value proposition so consumers will see what sets you apart from the crowd.
  • Start generating leads using a mixture of inbound and outbound lead generation methods to find the best balance for your team.
  • Plan your initial and follow-up outreach methods, timing, and messaging.

5 outbound sales best practices to gain more sales

5 outbound sales best practices to gain more sales, writing in a notepad

Brush up on these outbound sales techniques, and your team will see their confidence and conversion rates skyrocket.

Focus on the customer

A customer-centric attitude goes a long way, but this is more than simply being kind and helpful. It’s about personalization, too. This means segmenting and personalizing email correspondence as well as having quality conversations with prospects. Listen to what they’re telling you they need, rather than just focusing on the pitch itself.

Ask for referrals

Word-of-mouth is one of the strongest ways to recruit new customers. 83 percent of consumers say they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family when making purchase decisions, and referral leads have a 16 percent higher customer lifetime value. It’s always worth asking your customers if they know anyone in their network who could benefit from your product or service.

Leverage multiple channels

It’s an omnichannel world, and we’re just living in it. Embrace the ability to communicate with your prospects on different channels. Utilize live chat on your website. Engage in social selling. Don’t ignore your trusty phone or email, either. Leverage your sales CRM to keep track of your outreach and connect conversations across channels. No matter which methods you use, be persistent.

Utilize scripts

A library of sales scripts can be incredibly helpful for your sales team. Scripts help new or underperforming reps gain confidence by giving them a foundation of knowledge to work from. But remember, your reps aren’t automatons—they should have the flexibility to respond with humor, improvise, or add a personal touch when conversing with leads. While a script is a great place to start, it’s people who sell.

Automate

Automations can help reps do their jobs more quickly and efficiently. Use your CRM to automatically add contact history and set up email sequences. Auto dialers save reps from repetitious, manual calling; some can even automate voicemails. Meanwhile, research tools can populate your CRM with contact info scraped from online sources. By automating mundane tasks, reps gain valuable time back.

What are the top outbound sales metrics to measure?

What are the top outbound sales metrics to measure?, magnifying glass

Without a doubt, gathering accurate sales data translates into a clear understanding of how well your sales team is operating. There are three types of key performance indicators (KPIs) that can provide this insight: top-level, tactical, and operational.

A top-level KPI gauges the department’s overall performance. Tactical KPIs measure how well current activities or tactics are driving outbound sales. Finally, operational KPIs indicate the efficiency of your daily operations, so you can see which processes are effective or need improvement.

Top-level KPIs to track include:

  • New business revenue
  • Projected pipeline sales value
  • Outbound sales growth

Measure these tactical KPIs:

  • Outbound conversion rate
  • Number of offers sent
  • Hit rate
  • Customer acquisition cost
  • Customer lifetime value

Operational KPIs to watch include:

  • Phone calls (fail rate, response type, appointment rate, duration)
  • Emails (bounce rate, open rate, response rate, appointment rate)

Connect with prospects faster

Cultivate your team’s outbound sales skills with the support of a comprehensive CRM like Zendesk Sell. Our sales CRM offers everything you need in one simple platform—including contact management, activity tracking, and lead generation. Plus, you can set up triggers and automate tasks so reps can spend more time connecting with prospective buyers. Explore how a leading sales CRM can simplify and strengthen your outbound sales strategy by signing up for a 14-day free trial today.

The motherlode of sales email templates

We’ve compiled 12 email templates that cover every sales pipeline stage, from prospecting to closing.

The motherlode of sales email templates

We’ve compiled 12 email templates that cover every sales pipeline stage, from prospecting to closing.

View free templates now