I run a B2B sales support firm that, among other things, provides sales prospecting services to companies with hard-to-sell offerings—expensive, complex, and frequently intangible products and services. Our client’s prospecting campaigns typically target senior management, C-level executives, presidents, and business owners. As you might expect, the higher you aim in the management hierarchy, the more difficult it is to reach the prospect.
Some years ago, it became apparent that our contact rate was steadily declining in spite of increased call and email rates. Why was it such a struggle to reach high-level prospective buyers? There were (and are) a number of reasons:
- the universal use of voicemail and the abysmal return-call rate;
- the wide implementation of automated attendant systems and the corresponding difficulty identifying and directly accessing target prospects;
- the growing use of caller ID to filter callers;
- the plethora of amateur-sounding and automated telemarketing calls, increasing the resistance of prospects to answer the phone;
- the growing acceptable behavior in business of not answering the phone, relegating callers to voicemail;
- the proliferation of junk email, resulting in the recipient’s mass-trashing of messages;
- the enhanced level of email filtering by mail servers and client applications, tuned to eliminate anything that looks sales-related; and
- the increasing effectiveness of gatekeepers, protecting the identity and access to executives.
The challenge was substantiated by a study performed by B2B Marketing Zone in 2016 showing that the response rate to voicemail messages left was less than 5 percent. A similar study by Smart Insights, also in 2016, showed that the click-through rate (accessing a website from within an email) for unsolicited emails is only about 2 percent; worse, the actual meaningful response rate from emails that result in a sales conversation is less than 0.1 percent.
We decided to dedicate ourselves to overcoming this challenge. We started by analyzing prospecting metrics, performing message receptivity studies, and researching alternative contact methods. After months of research and experimentation, we settled on an effective approach that we refer to as our “Pursuit Protocol,” which we implemented across all of our prospecting campaigns. The results have been impressive—our contact rate has more than doubled, significantly boosting our productivity.
The Pursuit Protocol focuses on the basics and doesn’t rely on social media, marketing gimmicks, or a CRM system plug-in. It can overlay an existing prospecting or sales methodology or CRM system implementation, enhancing its effectiveness. The protocol consists of two parts, an untraditional messaging approach and a process we call “2nd Opps.” 2nd Opps got its name from being consistently applied after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the target. 2nd Opps is a rules-based, largely tactical process. We found that prospectors can learn and fully adapt to the protocol in a matter of days.
The first part, the messaging approach, is anxiety-based and surprisingly doesn’t mention or promote the client’s offering. It involves referencing the experience of others like the target who have a frustration, concern, or issue that can be addressed by the offering. This approach reliably identifies those who relate to the referred-to pain (i.e. prospective real buyers) while avoiding sounding like a sales call. And it has the added benefit of quickly filtering out the curious time-wasters who have no underlying reason to buy.
The second part of the Pursuit Protocol, 2nd Opps, guides and amplifies the effectiveness of the prospector. 2nd Opps is employed at three points during the pursuit process:
- before initiating contact with the target;
- after an unsuccessful attempt to initiate contact; and
- after unsuccessful attempts to re-contact the target following a previous discussion.
The 2nd Opps process consists of four steps, performed in order, starting with the step that has not been completed recently for the target:
- confirm the target’s area of responsibility (purchase authority);
- identify an employee physically close to the target, e.g., an administrative assistant;
- determine the target’s availability and both the best and alternative modes of contact; and
- perform the best initial or alternative contact outreach method and document what was performed, as well as the outcome.
For us, the Pursuit Protocol has shown that sales prospectors who apply a buyer-centric message and who are consistent and vigilant in their pursuit will see a significant and measurable improvement in their effectiveness and productivity.
Erik Nebergall is president and CEO of Meta, a B2B sales support and prospecting firm that specializes in hard-to-sell offerings and in optimizing the front-end of the sales process. Nebergall formed Meta in the early ’90s and was a pioneer in the development of B2B sales prospecting methods, processes, and systems (predating CRM). Meta continues to be an innovator in the prospecting sciences and supports clients in a wide-range of industries including technology, healthcare, manufacturing, and management consulting. Nebergall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 513-739-0155.