Getting to Initial Traction

Have Even Half-Decent Connect Rates? Double Down on Outbound Sales Early On'

Jason Lemkin

We’re going through a quiet revolution in sales processes now, where a combination of specialization, technology, and a segmentation are making the next generation of SaaS founders far better at figuring out and scaling sales than I or my peers ever were.

One of the things the best founders are figuring out earlier than ever is how to invest in both outbound and inbound sales early.  In many ways, this was Rob-smiling-on-phonethe core message of Aaron Ross’ Predictable Revenue.  When I first met Aaron, probably way back in ’07, his main point was simply: Add Outbound.  Best case, it can be epic. Worst case, it will at least add a layer, a new revenue stream (more on that here).  Worst case, if you have happy customers and any reasonably sized ACV, outbound should at least be a way to squeeze another 10-20% of revenue out per year.  And in a recurring revenue business, with second order revenue and referrals being critical — that extra 10-20% can compound to something amazing 3-4 years out.  Aaron learned this building the first outbound sales team at Salesforce.  Now, we’ve all kind of sort of learned it, too.

So let me add one simple nuance to Aaron’s core message.  If you aren’t doing outbound today, or doing much of it, or are scared of it (and many founders much prefer to answer inbound contacts) … take a look at your Qualified Connect Rate.

This is my blend of several metrics, which is — What % of Targeted Potential Customers Can You Get to Take a Phone Call and Do a Demo?

If you can get even 5% of any cohort, of any sub-segment, of your targeted buyers to agree to do a demo out of a LinkedIn connect, a targeted email, or even a phone call … you have something.

You have something that either breaks through a crowded market, or, that you can convince someone to take a look at in a market that is even a bit of a new category or at least new process to automate.

If you spam 10,000 accounts with a non-personalized cr*p message, you’ll never hit 5%, of course.  But instead, if you haven’t done this, pick the exact Buyer Title, Stage, and Type of Company that’s already bought before.  And see if you can get 5% of them to not just respond, “Thanks!”, but to actually take a meeting.

If you do, it’s OK if you can’t even close a ton of those yet.  You’ll get better. Just try to close 1 or 2.

And if you can close just 1 or 2 out of those 5% — you are probably ready to hire an outbound team, today.  Right now.  Like, a full team.   8 outbound SDRs.  Even if you don’t quite know what you are doing.

And note if your sales team today hasn’t done this before — they are probably terrible at it, or don’t want to do it.  100% inbound guys are usually terrible at outbound unless they did it before.  You may need to remix the team to add a passion for outbound to the team.

Published on May 1, 2016


  1. Agreed. In my experience, a 5% prospect-to-meeting convert rate is very, very good and absolutely warrants a bigger investment. If the target market and deal sizes are both large enough — and if you can close — I would argue that you should even double-down at a 1% or 2% prospect-to-meeting rate.

  2. We are getting ~22% overall conversion rate from a cold mail to phone call. And there is something I need help with :

    our conversion rates are ~40% for prospective customers within India but relatively very low for outside India(primarily US). I am not able to figure out the reasons behind this – our location? mindset? background?

    @Jason, any thoughts? or have you written anything about this I can read?

    1. not sure but my main advice is stick to what works … if India is working, and you get get to Initial Traction there … don’t get distracted

  3. On behalf of all of us who actually care about the people we email, please set your standards way, way higher than 5%. From personal experience, 50% (yes, 1 in 2) is totally doable with:

    * the right person sending the email. If this person ends an email with “What is a good time to talk with you on the phone?” or starts with “I don’t mean to bother you, but” (and then continues to bother them), they aren’t the right person.
    * legitimately trying to help someone, not trying to pitch something. If you’ve done your job, it’ll be a good fit and won’t need to be forced.
    * truly personal emails, not BS templates.
    * not trying to be clever, whether with statements in the first bullet or by trying to make impersonal emails seem personal. Recipients see right through this and you’ll end up looking like a dishonest clown.

    These only sound hard to do because they’re not possible with the spray-and-pray tactics which lead to a 5% response rate. They’re totally possible (and actually far more efficient) with a 30%, 50%, or 70% response rate. And no, those aren’t theoretical, they’re totally possible.

    A 5% response means you’re spraying and praying, whether or not you know it. It’s a sign that your qualification is poor (“they might care about my service”) to non-existent (“they have a pulse”). It would mean that a recipient receives and discards 19 emails for every 1 they care about, which would be as horrible as it sounds. 5% might as well be 0%. If you send emails to total strangers and 5% of them are interested, it’s spamming, whether or not you’ve admitted it to yourself.

    Put the effort you’d put into this spray-and-pray campaign into marketing ( Do something that makes people care, rather than transferring the burden of filtering on to them.

    Related reading: ,

  4. We’re on 8% email to demo booked and 30% close rate from booked demos. Our pricing is around $3500/annual. We’ve had issues with our first SDRs not performing, we’ve bootstrapped so don’t have quite enough capital to scale immediately. Do you have any advice@jlemkin:disqus

    1. As a startup, how do you keep tabs of how/what SDRs say to prospects when they are in contact. Ex. Do you review their emails to prospects? Or do you have a review & coach plan?

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