By now, sales teams across the nation have probably read every book there is on outbound prospecting and taken every training on outbound prospecting. Some are really, really good and others are lagging a bit in terms of best practices.

What’s also interesting to note is that there always seems to be some quick gimmick to learn – maybe it’s writing in all lowercase for the subject line, or spelling something wrong on purpose, or writing a very vague question as the subject line.

But your prospects are getting smarter, email service providers and email administrators are getting smarter, and your response rates and open rates are dwindling.

What gives?

The Current State of B2B Outbound Prospecting

Prospecting has always been a part of a Sales team’s practice; it’s just simply changed shape over time.

What started out as scraping the internet for the emails of prospects – potential buyers or people who could refer to decision-makers – has turned into a full-fledged engine that Sales and Marketing teams are adopting across the world.

There are tons of tools available today that allow for faster and larger-scale outbound prospecting – I’m reminded of SalesLoft’s Cadence, ToutApp, YesWare, and more.

And the technologies are smart – they’re almost exactly like marketing automation platforms, but because they connect to your email service provider, they can skirt the CAN-SPAM laws and allow you to send big blast emails, but seemingly individually.

So of course, as humans do, we marketers and sales teams FLOOD the entire channel and practice. This means even more B2B email from sales and marketers alike for everyone. Groan.

But with the new year of 2017 looming, and sales and prospecting teams scrambling to make their quotas, it will be interesting to see how outbound prospecting will change, especially given that it is one of the lowest opportunity-converting channels.

Cold emailing and outbound prospecting does, however, help with qualifying leads with inbound marketing and referrals taking the lead. Creating opportunities because much more challenging.

Not surprisingly, email is still the most commonly used channel for prospecting.

Building Real Relationships

It’s no longer enough to simply say “Hi First.Name!” as part of your personalization strategy, although it’s certainly an easy way to get an open if you do use someone’s name.

When it comes to outbound prospecting, the focus will shift away from simply using someone’s name or that person’s recent activity as bait and will begin to get back to process of forming relationships.

Asking for referrals is still one of the number one recommended ways to get into the decision-maker’s line of sight, but as we already agreed, people aren’t idiots, and they tend to be protective of their people and would rather forward the email without telling you or BCC their colleagues in a response and allowing them to decide to follow-up or not.

How do we build relationships?

We start by NOT SELLING TO THAT PERSON IN AN EMAIL. But seriously, if you think about it kind of like dating, do you propose on the first date?

Probably not, if I had to guess. But you do start by getting to know that person. What do they like? What don’t they like? What makes them tick? What do they hate? Who has inspired them the most and helped them become who they are today?

You probably won’t be able to get into all of that from an email, but imagine if there was a way you could help them personally. Really help them. What are their pains before you even shoot them that email? What can you, personally, help with today?

Personally, as a marketing leader, I’m pitched constantly in email. I get hundreds every day – “look at my software, look at my product, check out my copywriting services”.

No thanks.

What I would actually respond to? “I’d love to introduce you to our marketing team since you have similar backgrounds and could probably swap some war stories.” Or “I’ve done a ton of research on you and your company and I’d love to share my ideas with you.” Or “Would you be interested in this extremely exclusive report worth $$$$?”

Like, okay. I can’t really resist those. They help me too much.

Better Sales and Marketing Alignment on Content Creation

What was interesting to see in conducting all of this research about outbound prospecting was that content was absolutely useful (especially inbound content), but B2B execs still needed better content.

Regarding sales content effectiveness analytics, 67 percent say the ability to see which content leads to closed deals needs improvement within their organization” says a report by Seismic.

And B2B marketers agreed in terms of content creation being important. Higher quality and more efficient content contributed to B2B marketing success this year in addition to overall strategy.

But even more interesting is that B2B sales execs, across the board, felt the types of content that were available to them needed improvement.

That’s why we predict a huge shift in the way content is created for both the Sales and Marketing teams – and the only way to do that is through collaboration.

Sales and Marketing will have to align themselves in a way where they are both happy, but also to dig deeper into what could make the current (or future) content even more effective.

And if I had to guess, there’s a gap with reporting and analytics to make it easier for sales and marketing to understand which content works for them and also how well it aligns to their customers.

The Shift Away From Sales Technology and Back To The Customer

Another common challenge for sales teams was the lack of the right technology in place.

Or was it? Is that true?

The same study by Seismic revealed “that sales enablement has become a top priority for executives, with 61 percent of sales enablement teams reporting directly into executive sales management. However, such programs are failing to meet goals 56 percent of the time due to ad hoc processes and lack of proper technology.”

“76 percent of enterprises plan on implementing such technologies by the end of the year.”

But what kind of technologies?

Technology that can better enable sales teams to personalize content and experiences is implied to be a priority in the article.

A more common trend regarding technology is the missed opportunity when sales teams don’t use marketing automation, according to this infographic from Hubspot. Although not technically in the realm of outbound prospecting, it’s still interesting to note how much time you have to respond when a prospect is actually a web-generated lead – and in this case, only 5 minutes!

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The easiest solution for that is of course to use marketing automation to automatically respond within minutes rather than a few days.

But this is a completely different story from what actual B2B sales reps say help them close deals – and, surprise, it’s not more technology. It’s their ability to effectively communicate a unique point of view that positions their products in an irresistible way.

Or in other words, it’s all about the message, the pain, and why you’re going to be best for your clients.

One could argue, however, that sales technology and process are a lot more important at the top of the funnel than it is after an opportunity has already been identified.

Because of this distinction, outbound prospectors will shorten that gap by adopting better messaging from the beginning and instead will use sales technology to close any low-hanging fruit opportunities.

Honesty and Clarity vs Sensationalism

The great schism for email marketers and outbound prospectors is finally rearing its ugly head, and that’s the ultimate subject line – the thing that gets you an open – and maybe a click, and maybe a demo request – or not.

There’s two three subject line cycles running currently:

  1. The Same Subject Line You’ve Already Seen a Million Times from SEVERAL Vendors
  2. The Sensational, Can’t Deny Your Need to Open Because the Subject Line is Just So Darn Good
  3. The Very Honest and Clear Email That Makes You Appreciate Non-Manipulative Prospectors

Which one wins?

Well, it all depends on who you are and who you’re talking to.

There’s articles and research and ebooks all teasing out subject line ideas and ways to either trick people into opening, or affect them personally enough to open the email. Or, the article encourages and open and honest mentality with the greatest of intentions – because those emails stick out, too.

Doing a Google search on “best email subject lines” yields millions of results.

But in the end, these subject lines fall into one of the three camps mentioned above.

Recipients are getting smarter, though, and prospectors and marketers alike are doing their best to compete.

Personally, I think the sensationalist subject lines will continue to play on our own psychology and reality – catering to fear, frustration, curiosity, and kitschy-ness, but it will become more and more personal as time goes on.

We’ll start to see subject lines taking very real stabs at our pains and fears and continue to drive some emotion into what we end up reading – ultimately leading to some desired action.

Eventually, when everyone does the Jedi mind trick to get you to open, the ones that stand out as highly empathetic and personal will win.

At the same time, we’ll also continue to see the very honest and open emails flood our inboxes. Jury is out whether those will stand the test of time and people!

True Account-Based Marketing

Finally, outbound prospecting will get back to its basics: account-based marketing.

Account-based marketing is the practice of building a list of ideal clients – or accounts – you’d like to target and ultimately become clients.

And it comes in many forms – it could be a list of prospects, ideal clients, or specific customers who could refer you into other ideal customers and prospects. It could also be a list of specific teams with in an organization – especially if you’re targeting several departments in a large corporation.

Outbound prospecting will dig deep into ABM – and with good reason! “About one-third have ever tried or are currently engaged in account-based marketing, with a slight majority (53%) of this group feeling that it is effective“.

But beyond just having a list of target accounts, prospectors will start using slightly different data points for targeting and qualifying accounts.

For example, information on how big a marketing team is in any given account could be crucial information if you’re selling a marketing technology. But “marketing team size” is a data point that will need to be collected in some kind of way.

It’s also a data point that could actually be used  for the prospector.

That’s what we mean by getting smarter about data points and which accounts appear worthwhile versus not.

As prospectors continue to prospect, they will absolutely begin spending more time scrutinizing each account before even concocting an email.

In addition to spending more time, better customer research also falls out of account-based marketing. (Or in this case, selling).

As prospectors begin to adopt better practices around account-based selling, so does the need to conduct better research.

Exploration of New Channels

I know I said that email still remained the most commonly used channel. But is there an opportunity for prospectors to use different channels?

If you’re in the camp of “test everything”, then absolutely!

One of my colleagues told me a story about how one particular marketer prospects and even wins the clients she has today.

Her breakdown was – for every 10 people she reached out to, at least 2 of them replied, and if they didn’t immediately become clients, they at least referred her elsewhere.

Her channel of choice? LinkedIn!

I’ve got another friend whose target market is most active on Twitter, so where does she do most of her prospecting? Twitter!

It’s very possible that prospectors will start turning to different channels entirely over the next few years. If you’re active at all on LinkedIn, you might have already seen it happening either in your own inbox or in the comments section of someone’s blog post.

What are some of YOUR predictions?

Asia Matos was the Director of Marketing at ARKE Systems where she oversaw all of the marketing channels and operations for the organization. In her role, Asia managed lead generation-focused content strategy, traffic acquisition, campaign execution, and event planning. She worked daily with content management systems like Sitecore and Wordpress, the analytics platforms of Google Analytics and the Sitecore Experience Platform, and contributed her extensive experience with email service providers like Silverpop and ClickDimensions. Asia was the editor and writer of ARKE’s blog Asia is now the #FlipMyFunnel Demand Generation Manager for Terminus.