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Startup101: Outbound Prospecting for Startups – By Adam Griffin

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There are countless steps in building a successful startup, and many of them happen in a whirlwind of activity that can seem difficult to grasp. In this Startup 101 Series, we’ll be exploring the various pieces of that whirlwind, and how to best approach them. Through our own experience building and scaling tech startups, as well as tapping into the incredible knowledge of the Galvanize community, this Startup 101 Series will provide you with the tools and tactics necessary to go from startup to scaleup.


Author: Adam Griffin, Director at Galvanize

When building a startup, one of the most difficult tasks can be growing revenue quickly once you’ve found your first few customers that are willing to pay you. This becomes even more difficult when the founders have a technical background and aren’t used to building out sales processes. Below is a framework for outbound prospecting (the process of seeking out your future customers) that can be implemented by both seasoned sales founders and technical founders alike.

Step 1: Identify your ideal customer profile.

If you haven’t sold anything yet, this will take some time to figure out. Implementing a scalable sales process, like the one below, should be fuel to the fire, not the fire itself. This means that you should spend time finding an early customer profile of who you want to sell to, based on the profile of your first several paying customers, and use outbound sales processes to find more of those paying customers. Build a profile based on the type of customer that brings you the majority of your revenue by asking the following questions:

  • What vertical are they in?
  • What is the typical title of the decision maker?
  • What is the typical use case that they use your product / service for?
  • What is the average sales cycle length?

Your ideal customer profile should be something as specific as “SaaS-based CRM platforms and the VP of Product, who could use our API to integrate external data into their platform, and can take anywhere from 3-9 months to sell into their product roadmap.”

Step 2: Find prospects that fit the customer profile you’ve built.

Once you’ve built your ideal customer profile your job is to go find as many companies and contacts as possible that fit that profile. There are several ways to do this including:

  • Searching LinkedIn
  • Searching AngelList by industry
  • Using BuiltWith to search based on technologies the company uses
  • Going down the Google rabbit hole, using both organic and sponsored search results

Once you’ve identified a list of companies that you want to outbound prospect your next step is to identify people within that target list of companies. You can use LinkedIn to find the first and last name of the ideal contact at a company. As in the example from Step 1, you would search for the VP of Product within the companies you’ve targeted.

Quick Tip: If privacy settings on LinkedIn only show you the first name and last initial, simply Google the first name, last initial, title, and company. Google does not have the same privacy restrictions, so they will show you the full name.

Step 3: Find email addresses of your target list.

Once you’ve found the first and last names of the contacts you’d like to reach out to there are several ways to track down their email addresses. There are platforms like quickreach.io to quickly build lists of companies, contacts, and emails, or simple email tools like Email Hunter. You can also use a number of different email verification tools to check email addresses manually, by simply searching common email structures like firstname@company.com, firstname.astname@Company.com, firstinitiallastname@company.com, etc. As a last resort you can also simply Google the person’s name, company and the word “email” and oftentimes you’ll find the email address publicly available on the web somewhere.

Step 4: Use a 7+ email drip to reach out to your prospect list.

In this stage, you have one goal only – to move someone to the next step in the sales process, whether that be a phone call, a demo, a free trial, etc. To achieve this your goal is simply to get the person to reply to you. The emails should be short, to the point, non-salesy, and ask for a next step. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Intro yourself and your company in 1 or 2 sentences.
  • Give basic context to why you’re reaching out, and the value you’re looking to provide. Example: “We have a data API that can easily and automatically add phone number and address data to your existing CRM contacts, which could be a great add-on for your customers.”
  • Always ask for a next step. Example: “Do you have 10-15 minutes tomorrow afternoon so I can show you a couple quick examples of the power of the API?”
  • Always reply to the previous email you sent so the person you’re reaching out to has context.
  • Send the emails within 2-3 business days of each other so the content is top of mind.
  • In your last email, if you still haven’t heard back, ask the person if they can point you in the right direction of the best contact to reach out to at their company.

If you’re new to sales, seven emails may seem excessive, but in today’s hyper-busy world, it often takes six or more emails to get someone to pay attention. As long as your emails are human, to the point, and not drawn out, they won’t come across as hard sales pitches. If you don’t receive a response from the contact your best bet is to find another contact at the company to reach out to.

Quick Tip: Gmail has a free Labs product called “Canned Responses” in which you can setup these email templates in advance. If you want an even more automated system, you can use platforms like YesWare, Reply, or similar tools to automate the process.

Step 5: Analyze

Always be refining your sales process. The things you should be analyzing are:

  • Which email gets responded to the least?
  • Which email gets responded to the most?
  • Which titles are responding to you the most?
  • Which titles are responding to you the least?
  • What is your close rate once you get people to the next step in the sale (the demo, free trial, phone call, consultation, etc)?
  • Are you closing at a high rate, but not hitting your sales targets?

This data is what tells you what you’re doing well and where you need improvement. As an example, if you’re seeing a high response rate to your emails, but unable to move people to a demo once you’re on the phone with them, then your phone calls need to be revised. Or if you’re seeing a low response rate from your 4th email (relative to the other email response rates) then refine the copy of that email. Or if you’re closing at a high rate, but not hitting your sales targets, then you need to increase the top of the funnel by finding more leads each day. This part of the process is very custom based on your own experience, so you simply need to get good at analyzing and adjusting.

The process above can be used to scale both early startups and sophisticated sales organizations alike. The process can be automated as little or as much as you’re comfortable with (and can afford to invest in software for automation). The most important thing is to get started, outbound more than you think you need to, and adjust as you go.

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Adam Griffin

About Adam Griffin

Director at Galvanize. Personal development writer featured on INC.com, Men's Journal, Men's Fitness, Huffington Post, and Entrepreneur On Fire to name a few. Author of The Guy at the Bar, and Redwood: A Guide to Leading a Remarkable Life. AdamGriff.in