Over the summer, I wrote a blog post about the need to temper your expectations when it comes to your outbound prospecting team’s first year. To repeat, you should not expect real repeatable revenue from your enterprise outbound prospecting team in the 6-12 months of operation.
Just to clarify, when I say outbound prospecting, I’m talking about a team that is solely responsible for reaching out to target prospects in very focused campaigns and finding qualified leads to hand off to the enterprise sales reps to be managed and ultimately closed.
So it’s the end of November now, and I’m going to stress this point again. Why? Because time after time, even since this summer, I’ve seen expansion-stage companies (inside and outside of OpenView’s portfolio) getting really frustrated, all for the same reason: They’ve spent time and resources getting this type of enterprise business development team up and running, now it’s been 6-9 months, and they aren’t seeing any direct revenue from this engine’s efforts.
If you’re in a similar situation you may be wondering what the hold up is. Well, let’s examine these five variables:
1) Consider Your Average Sales Cycle
If you are an enterprise selling organization, your sales cycle is likely longer than three months. It could be longer than six months. Some of OpenView’s portfolio companies even have sales cycles closer to nine months.
This a no brainer — how you can you expect something to COMPLETELY close in the first six months if your sales cycle is six months? You may actually get lucky and find one of these deals, but it’s not going to be repeatable so early on.
2) Consider the Maturity of Your Sales Organization
So your prospecting team is kicking butt and generating some great opportunities for your sales reps. What is the confidence level of your sales reps that they can properly manage their pipelines and effectively close the deals?
You’ve spent a lot of time training your new outbound prospecting team, but what about training and developing your closers?
Sometimes the problem is not so much with the quality of the appointments that your hunters are setting, but rather the lack of attention it takes from the sale reps to push a deal through the sales cycle post hand-off. Another one of my blog posts really drives this point home — you can’t blame the outbound team when a deal doesn’t close. It’s out of their hands!
3) Consider the Ramp Up Time of Your New Outbound Prospectors
Depending on the years experience/skill level of your new hires, it may be a couple months before these individuals are truly effective in their new role. If you are hiring folks right out of school, or even with 1-2 years experience, they’re likely not going to be able to jump right into a role and start producing in the first month.
Now, take this ramp up time and tack on your average sales cycle — see what I’m getting at? Here is a great blog post from my colleague, Ori Yankelev, all about ramp up time and determining whether your team is ramping up too slowly.
4) Consider the Maturity of Your Marketing Organization
In order to be effective, your team is going to need assets to support their efforts — conversation guides for different buyer personas, email templates (each with a meaningful unique message) buyer persona guides, white papers, objection handling docs, etc. If you don’t have an effective marketing team, building these assets will be challenging (not impossible, but definitely challenging) for your team’s manager.
Also, an effective outbound prospecting engine will have an automated system in place that nurtures prospects over time by delivering meaningful, appropriately-timed content to keep the prospect aware and engaged. That way, when they ARE ready, your product is top of mind.
5) Consider These are Cold Leads that May Not Have Started the Buying Process
Remember, your team is prospecting into target buyers who are likely not ready to be in an active sales cycle yet. Even though they are DEFINITELY the right person to be connecting within, they may not have even been aware that a solution like yours existed!
Your outbound prospector has caught the prospect off guard, and made them aware. Next, it may very well take them a few months before they are actually interested in taking a next step and further evaluating your solution. Is that failure? Hell no. It’s called building momentum.
Listen, I understand. Launching this team is a massive investment of time, money and resources, but here’s the deal — in Year 1 you really need to think about your outbound prospecting team as being your company’s very own built-in research insights engine. Their mission is having dozens of daily conversations with target buyers in your target market(s), testing the messaging, creating brand awareness, and starting to build more long-term relationships.
That is an INVALUABLE addition to your business, yet it often goes overlooked. And if it’s being overlooked, quite frankly, and I can see why you and your company might be getting frustrated with the program.
It’s not too late to change this mindset NOW!
Is your team asking the right questions and sharing insights gathered with management, marketing, and product (objections, competitors, value prop that resonates the most, features of interest, areas where your product is lacking, etc)? Is your team capturing that data in salesforce.com to be analyzed following a campaign? Here is a recent blog post on how we recommend capturing “messaging” data in salesforce.