Outbound in an AI-obsessed World
Why AI is not the answer to solving your outbound issues
In B2B SaaS, there's a growing frenzy around the potential of AI to revolutionize outbound sales and marketing. Every corner of LinkedIn, B2B marketers, and salespeople is developing a common belief that AI — with its capacity to scale email personalization and send them at volume — is THE silver bullet for outbound challenges.
In the last three years as an Outbound GTM advisor, I've encountered numerous founders, and Marketing and Sales leaders convinced that outbound can be fully automated with AI or some automation tool, reducing the whole outbound motion to almost a mere numbers game. Doesn’t that sound all too easy and too good to be true though?
This faith in AI's omniscience and omnipotence is now more than ever facing a crucial test.
A recent announcement from Outreach — a leading SEP (Sales Engagement Platform) — about major email clients like Google and Yahoo tightening spam email policies, shook the reliance on AI for outbound sales and marketing, generating a wave of worries in all those who have been over-relying on the “AI outbound promise”. If AI truly was the outbound silver bullet, why the sudden tremor of uncertainty? Not to mention that many sales leaders and founders have also been concerned about lower-than-previous-years reply rates!
The reality is that AI and any automation software has its limitations, particularly in outbound. AI excels in data scraping, parsing, and organization, acting as a tool rather than a strategic mastermind. It’s a tool that is here to help optimize existing workflows upon being provided detailed instructions, but it’s still incapable of looking at situations from different perspectives, reading between the lines, providing heuristic guides, and thinking about things deeply.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it lacks human traits that are essential in outbound sales and marketing — especially in B2B SaaS and technical software — the ability to connect, empathize, understand nuances and heuristics and creatively problem solve. These crucial skills can’t be replaced with AI yet.
And, when it comes to high 5-6 figure deals, PLG alone won’t cut it — your customers will require human engagement over automated systems.
Feel the same way? Subscribe to get similar posts, twice a month right in your inbox.
This is all to reiterate two timeless points I’ve learned during my decade-long tenure in outbound:
People buy from people, not from brands, and most definitely not from an automated email (even if AI and automation can assist in the process, it won’t seal the deal…yet), especially in enterprise and technical sales.
Also, if you’re already at scale, AI can help automate manual and tedious tasks. But if you are kicking off the foundations of outbound sales and marketing, AI alone won’t take your business from 0 to 1.
So, how do we embrace the positive changes brought to us by AI and navigate outbound in 2024 and beyond? How do we effectively integrate AI and humans into a robust — and cost-effective — outbound GTM strategy? And last but not least, how do we empower SDRs, ABM, Demand Gen, and Growth marketers to be an AI-assisted team that is aligned and focused on a single goal: generating pipeline?
First of all, Sales and Marketing need to be true allies — think two wings on a bird, two wheels on a cart. Without this mutual respect and understanding, gaps will widen over time. So it’s important to design your outbound strategy working back from that — an aligned team with a singular focus on generating pipeline.
Design your outbound strategy starting with your goals, team, processes, tools, and data (things AI cannot do!); and then add AI to assist with manual, tedious tasks.
In the age of AI and, productivity per employee is scaling, smaller cross-functional teams will be more common — think of them as linchpins.
In this two-part series, I will walk you through how to build a cross-functional outbound team that encompasses sales and marketing — a team made up of linchpins who know and understand outbound frameworks, design and execute on programs across teams, leveraging data, tech, and AI. And most importantly, to ensure a tight handshake between sales and marketing to build a pipeline.
One team. One dream. One goal. Creating pipeline!
The good news is that it can be done — I know this because I built this outbound system and engine at Auth0. And I’ve also advised startups to do the same. if I did it and my clients are doing it, you can do it too!
In part one, we’ll cover the fundamentals — your goals, vision, and team. And in part two, we’ll dive into your campaigns, data, and (AI) tooling you need to pull it off. Let’s!
Goals, Vision, and Team
It all starts with your goals and team. To build a successful outbound team, you’ll need to have clear goals and the right people in place to foster the relationship between sales and marketing (both of them are necessary!), design outbound strategies, and execute programs that are driving pipeline.
Here are some roles that are crucial when starting.
Demand Gen Leader — Goals, Vision & High-level Strategy
At the heart of any successful outbound team is a leader who can unite a team on a vision to achieve a common goal. In this instance, the vision is to generate pipeline as one team, aligning Marketing and Sales goals, and working together with one another.
Your Demand Gen Leader is crucial to:
Foster relationships between Sales and Marketing because this sets the culture and standard for how the rest of the team is to behave.
Ensure every team is aligned — from paid ads to ABM to SDRs — and focused on creating pipeline.
Hire the right people for the right role, and manage their execution.
Nurture a culture of learning from mistakes and being bullish on experiments.
An effective Demand Gen strategy requires the practical application of outbound frameworks that are modular, scalable, and cost-efficient based on key customer traits, and equally as important:
Process: Who does what and by when.
Programs: Execution of tactics to generate pipeline.
Data: Pipeline and attribution reports of programs.
Tools: Leveraging software to optimize the team’s output.
The core goal of each outbound campaign — across ABM, Paid, Events, Lifecycle, and SDRs — needs to be focused on identifying and accelerating sales opportunities for every customer buying stage.
Sales Strategy Manager — Cross-Functional Outbound Strategy
It may sound like I am beating a dead horse when I say this, but all effective outbound programs start with the fundamentals of prospecting. Otherwise, it’s like building a house without foundations.
And that’s what the Sales Strategy Manager’s role is about, more specifically:
Identifying the target accounts, personas, and related buying intent and triggers.
Developing the right messaging mix for each persona, account, and intent signal.
Designing outbound campaigns, such as mapping out accounts and multithreading.
Analyzing pipeline and attribution data to guide future strategy, programs, and campaigns.
In summary, the Sales Strategy Manager is a cross-functional role — a linchpin! — that ensures every outbound program supports pipeline creation; from what personas and companies are targeted to the messaging and approaches used by SDRs when prospecting — think core and secondary personas, multi-threading, direct mail, AMA sessions, webinars, courses, and more — as well as studying the related data.
ABM/Growth Manager — Intent triggers, Campaign Execution
ABM Managers are also linchpins that operate across Sales and Marketing.
They’re responsible for setting up, running, optimizing, and scaling all your outbound campaigns — 1-to-many (eg. Virtual Hands-On Lab, Direct Mail, etc.) and 1-to-few (eg. executive dinners, direct mail, etc.). These programs will incorporate various prospecting tactics, such as multi-threading with core and secondary personas, all within target accounts (we’ll cover these in more detail in part 2 of this article).
At its core, ABM is a framework that guides marketing teams to focus their effort on their specific Company’s Ideal Client Profile (ICP); often called target accounts. ABM shares similar fundamentals to outbound prospecting, which refers to deeply knowing your customers, identifying the right personas, accounts, and buying intent and triggers, and then engaging them with a mix of prospecting approaches alongside direct mails, executive dinners, virtual hands-on lab, ads (to name a few, as we’ll cover these in more detail in part 2 of this article), and many more programs to earn time on the calendar.
Effective ABM/ Growth Managers will require deeper collaboration with the Sales and Marketing teams to access buyer trigger data and design a channel mix across webinars, virtual hands-on labs, paid ads, and direct mail to capture prospects’ attention and earn time on their calendars.
If you need help to set up the foundations of your Outbound motion and find the right people to build our your team, let’s chat!
Outbound is a Team Sport
As you can see, you don’t need to hire 50 SDRs to pull off an effective outbound program. And most importantly, outbound is a cross-functional team effort, not limited to SDRs. Everyone in Sales and Marketing plays a vital role in creating pipeline.
Outbound is a team sport. As Michael Jordan once said,“...teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
SDRs are on the frontlines speaking with prospects and getting real-time feedback; the Sales Strategy Manager works actively to provide new prospecting strategies and Account, Persona, and Buying data; and the ABM/Growth Managers design and execute programs that will pique the curiosity of our prospects, while assisting the SDRs in connecting with prospects. It’s a matter of leveraging each other’s strengths and collaborating closely with one another.
To win as a team it’s crucial to meet regularly — weekly to bi-monthly — to discuss goals, transparently review what prospecting programs and approaches are working and what are not, and brainstorm ideas where Marketing can provide additional outbound support through their creative programs.
As we’ve seen in this article, the true power of outbound begins with people being aligned on a singular vision and goal — generating pipeline. AI then enables them to focus on what they do best, which is empathizing with prospects, creative problem-solving, and building relationships based on trust and mutual value creation. AI saves us time on admin work while, but it won’t be able to replace the empathy and the creativity of the human mind.
In the next article of this series, we’ll come full circle and share our approach to how your newly-formed outbound “linchpin” team can build the 0 to 1 of your outbound programs. We’ll delve into key campaigns, channels, attribution data, and toolkits used, so don’t miss it!
Subscribe to get the next playbook right in your inbox!