Outbound Prospecting Supercharged – Appointment Setting Tips

I define outbound prospecting as the work performed in order to get another person (the prospect) engaged in an initial conversation that allows both parties to see if there is something worth discussing [Qualification] that might lead to a more in-depth conversation to identify a specific need [Discovery] into which you can propose a solution that is worth investing in to solve their problem [Selling].

Contrary to popular belief, the prospecting process is the same regardless of lead source. Whether you are working from a purchased list, inbound lead, or referral, your objective should be to convert an interruption (calling when your prospect is not expecting you) into a planned-for conversation (a meeting on their calendar).

Ultimately, the only differences between a ‘hot’ lead from a website and ‘cold’ call to a name on list are:

  1. the effort required (how many attempts) to get through and
  2. the individual’s demeanor when they answer the phone.

These two elements have nothing to do with qualification. As noted above, ‘Qualification’ is a process step that takes place in the context of a conversation. As such, all outbound prospecting calls (calling without an appointment) are ‘cold’ calls.

This post is not about prospecting style or technique, it’s about the fundamental workflow associated with managing your pursuit of prospects over time. The result of more efficient work management is simply the ability to do more of something within a given time period. Work management is not necessarily sexy. It is, however, a powerful tool for improving your results. Here’s why:

Traditional outbound prospecting workflow includes two primary elements that are inherently inefficient:

  1. a large list of accounts (usually an Excel Spreadsheet) and
  2. task based work.

Typically, when I audit a sales organization, I find that front line sales resources (particularly inside salespeople) have hundreds (if not thousands) of accounts. Worse, they have hundreds (if not thousands) of tasks created to remind them to follow up. As a result they struggle to make 20-30 calls a day and they experience very low conversion ratios (calls to initial meetings set). The problem with most sales force automation tools (Salesforce.com, etc.) is that they reinforce this inefficient paradigm. They are essentially configured as a large customer and task list.

My prospecting workflow replaces task lists with work ‘queues’ that focus the inside sales representative on doing the work (making calls) rather deciding who or when to call next. Changing your prospecting workflow from a task-based to queue-based methodology will result in a 300%-400% increase in efficiency. This means you can make 60-100 calls in the time it takes someone else to make 30. And since this is Prospecting (not selling) the quality vs. quantity argument does not apply.

Past a certain level of basic competency, Prospecting is ONLY a numbers game. To prove my point, consider this: working a targeted list of ‘cold’ prospects a ‘good’ prospector will generate appointments at a rate of 2% of total calls. Working the same list, a ‘great’ prospector will achieve a 3% appointment rate. Assuming these conversion rates, a ‘good’ prospector who alters their prospecting workflow from “task-based” to “queue-based” will increase their output to 50 calls a day and, in turn, set more appointments (an average of 1 per day) than the ‘great’ prospector making 20 calls a day who does not alter their workflow (an average of .6 per day)

Outbound Prospecting Workflow Principles

My outbound prospecting workflow has a few simple principles:

  1. The goal of prospecting is to schedule a brief introductory phone meeting (10 minutes) – not to pitch the product/service.
  2. No future tasks. Scheduling a follow up call ‘in 3-4 months’ is ridiculous. If you can’t get them to commit to a scheduled conversation, move on.
  3. Your ‘active’ prospecting list should consist of exactly as many targets/companies as you plan to call in one day. If you average 20 calls per day, focus on 20 prospects.
  4. Your ‘on deck’ list should consist of enough prospects to keep you busy for 2 weeks; everything else should go back into a pool of accounts to be nurtured and queued up for future work.
  5. Commit in advance to a specific number of attempts you will make before moving on. This is called your ‘persistence criteria’ and 8-10 is a good start for raw lists 3-5 is appropriate for a warm lead or referral.
  6. Schedule prospecting time in advance in your calendar. If you can allocate 10 hours a week, fine. Just make sure prospecting time has a home and is not ‘something you try and get to…’
  7. Call prospects on your active list every day until your persistence threshold is reached (or until you get a meeting or they tell you to go away).
  8. Leave two voicemails – one on the first attempt and one on the last. Make it short: the first voicemail lets them know you will be calling every day in order to catch them live and schedule an initial meeting. The second voicemail lets them know you plan to stop calling them (for now) and would like to close the file on their account record.
  9. Don’t worry about time of day. Seriously, I have studied this in depth and at scale. Any advantage gained by ‘thinking’ about when to call is outweighed by the efficiency lost doing the thinking. Work your list top to bottom at whatever time you have scheduled for prospecting.

Prospecting Workflow Mechanics

Appointment Setting Tips for Outbound Prospecting

As the diagram above suggests, my prospecting workflow uses the principle of work ‘folders’. All prospects live in one of seven folders. This methodology can be implemented with fancy CRM tools (Salesforce.com, etc.), an Excel Spreadsheet (using a ‘folder’ column and the auto-filter function.), or even index cards and manila folders.

All prospects begin their journey in the ‘Everyone I Know’ folder. As the name suggests, this folder is large. I use the label ‘New Accounts’.

From here, prospects are moved into the ‘People I’d Like to Focus On’ folder. As mentioned above, this should contain enough prospects to keep you busy for two weeks. How many is that? Well, if you plan to make 40 calls a day and expect the average prospect to require 6 attempts then you would need 67 prospects (400 total calls divided by 6 attempts). I use the label ‘On Deck Accounts.’

Projects then advance to the ‘People I Plan to Call Today’ folder. This folder should contain as many prospects as you plan to call in one day. I use the label ‘Active Prospecting Accounts’.

Every prospect in the ‘People I Plan to Call Today’ folder ends up in one of four places:

1) The ‘Try Again Tomorrow’ folder. This is self explanatory – depending on what call attempt you are on, you either left a voicemail message or you didn’t. Tomorrow morning, you can move them back to the ‘People I Plan to Call Today’ folder.

2) The ‘Don’t Bother Calling Back Ever’ folder. This folder is reserved for prospects that are out of business, merged with another company, or you have determined do not meet your qualification criteria. Note: this is for prospects WE deem unworthy of future effort, not for prospects that say something like “we are not interested”. I use the label ‘Dead and Disqualified Accounts’.

3) The ‘Scheduled Meeting’ folder – SUCCESS! This is what you are working towards. Create a calendar event, send them a meeting invite, and get back to cold calling. I use the label ‘Scheduled Accounts’.

4) The ‘Stop Calling for Now’ folder. This is an important folder (and one where a lot of prospects go!). Prospects end up here for a couple of reasons: you reached your persistence threshold OR the prospect would not agree to meet with you (too busy, not interested, etc.) OR perhaps you couldn’t get past the gatekeeper. Prospects in this folder are evaluated from time to time and are ‘recycled’ based on an intentional plan. By way of example, I often find that simply recycling a raw list of prospects 3 months after the initial attempt yields an 8-12% ratio of appointments (as a percentage of total prospects) compared to the 4-6% ‘first pass rate’ with no additional nurturing (email campaign, content offer, etc). I use the label ‘Recycle Accounts’ and always note a) the date the account was recycled and b) why it was recycled.

Take a look at the diagram again. It really is this simple.

Please leave a comment as you try this approach out for yourself, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you need some advice on how to set up your CRM (or Excel Spreadsheet) to implement this system.

By Townsend Wardlaw

photo credit: Bob Xu via photopin cc


    1. Author

      Joe, high rise is pretty cool/basic/cheap CRM software… its shortcoming is it is entirely task driven (which is what I am preaching against.) That said, I think you can create a custom pick list field with the various ‘folder’ names and then drive contact ‘views’ off that. Hope that helps.

  1. Well written topic about Prospecting!

    Learnt a few great points here in addition to what I am already aware of. 🙂

    Thank you and keep it up!

    All the best, Magnus

  2. Very helpful, thanks Townsend. Two questions:

    1. Do you recommend using other other media (i.e., email, snail mail, etc.) during the initial workflow of 8-10 dials?
    2. Do you recommend using email nurturing campaigns to “warm” cold prospects up prior to smiling and dialing, as something you run concurrent with your 8-10 dial process, or as a way of trying to glean additional appointments out of your “people-who-wouldn’t-agree-to-a-meeting-right-now” bucket?

    1. Author

      1) Really depends on the lead ‘source.’ For ‘cold’ calls off purchased targeted list…no. One VM on the first call and one on the last. I’ve run all kinds of scenarios at high volumes (10s of thousands of calls) with no measurable impact in conversion. Remember: you are bugging someone who is not expecting and did not ask for your call. Other lead sources can be a different situation (web inquiries by default tend to be associated with a particular topic, product, or conversation.) That said, you are still interrupting someone and don’t have any idea where they are coming from. Imagine meeting someone at a party, getting their phone number, calling to ask them on a date, and then filling up their mailboxes with photos, testimonials, and such…creepy right?

      2) Absolutely yes… but as you know, marketing and sales have to be aligned in their interest. To often I see too much emphasis on ‘selling’ when the prospect is just entering the ‘interest cycle.’ Great marketers (like yourself) understand that marketings role changes throughout the lifecycle. They also understand that effective marketing requires an agreed upon strategy (intent) AND requires an actual plan of execution. Bottom line is content driven nurturing (emails, etc) serve to improve the conversion rate… which means more efficient use of sales resources. I pushed this up back when I was working with AtTask http://smmbootcamp.com/2009/12/05/an-allocation-based-marketing-framework/

  3. Townsend,

    Great post, it is very on point and offers a great success blueprint and nicely adds to the lessons learned in your previous endeavors.

    Thank you for posting this information as a good reminder is always necessary to keep a sales agent at their peak efficiency.

    Best regards,


  4. Thank you Townsend! I have been practicing these principles nonstop since learning them from you nearly 5 years ago. I want you to know how grateful I am for sharing your knowledge and how successful I’ve been ever since. I have absolute confidence in your process and have proven its productivity in multiple markets and across a diverse set of products and services. No question you are a great demand creation prospecting expert. My only advice to others is to listen and then listen some more. Thanks again for everything.

    Kelly Jon Gillespie
    [email protected]

  5. As always, Townsend, great stuff. Maybe add one item that is certainly implied in your process: Whatever it takes to Maximize contact time with prospects, do it. Time spent cleaning up scripts and updating databases (i.e., sales admin) is time lost “in front of prospects”. Its like time spent changing flies, weights, etc…the fish are in the water, not in your fly box!

  6. Townsend,

    This one really hits home. Working for an organization with infinite, and I do mean infinite, miles of red tape bogging me down both pre and post sale, prospecting constantly gets pushed to the back of the line even though I know full well that it shouldn’t and that putting it off is the leading cause of “empty-pipeline-itis”…

    Regardless of my particular organization, however, sales people will always make excuses to their management and, more often, themselves to put off prospecting to “tomorrow” or “this afternoon” (I’m doing it right now by responding to your blog:) which mean we need a very regular and very swift kick in the a** to remind us to devote the appropriate energy to it as it is the foundation of steady performance and ultimately a steady income. Otherwise we might as well go somewhere else and do a much easier and stress-free job for a base salary.

    So thanks for the swift kick!

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