How to Prospect with a Trigger-Based Approach

Editor’s Note: Recap post of the deck presented at Sales Hacker Conference, New York City 2015 by Liz Cain, Senior Director of Worldwide Business Development at NetSuite. The slides from the conference are viewable below.

Prospecting – everyone’s talking about it and there are a lot of different approaches. I’m here to talk about WHY it’s important and how to do it with a trigger-based approach.

I know this community gets it, but this is what it’s all about. There is no sale, no close, no deal, unless we get invited to the table. It all starts with getting in the door and getting that first meeting.

You want to make money? Stop relying on marketing. Learn to feed yourself.

Own. Your. Funnel.

  1. Build your list
  2. Work it

It’s easy, right? There are only 2 steps… and you’re all going to tell me that you’re already doing this. “I’m in sales…of course I’m prospecting”

I know you are doing some, but are you getting the most out of your territory?

Biggest thing a rep struggles with is time management. “How do I prospect when I have 5 deals to work?” The tomorrow will never really come mentality. Breaking that ‘short sighted’ behavior is hard – reps need to look three to four months out and have that honest, difficult conversation with themselves around what happens if/when these deals close. Getting them to realize that every deal they close is great, but also leaves a big hole in their forecast is the challenge.

The fear of a drying pipeline is the biggest motivator. So seldom does a mediocre rep ever understand that, and in turn break that month to month, quarter to quarter mindset.

Build Your Lists (And Know Why You are Calling)

I can’t stress the importance of separating these activities enough. Study after study shows that you lose time/productivity switching between tasks. Build your list and THEN work it.

Before we dive into HOW, What’s your mindset? You have to believe that what you are selling matters and that your buyer NEEDS what you are selling. The key to that is identifying WHY your buyer makes a purchase.

Trigger events are the easiest way to build a relevant list with a clear hypothesis of need or REASON for calling.

[Tweet “A common set of trigger events compel decision makers to move forward.”]

What do these triggers all have in common – CHANGE. At NetSuite stagnant companies are not our buyers. We are working with disruptive, innovative clients redefining their respective industries.

Trigger Events

You have to get on top of these triggers – it has to be real time and you have to act fast.

Your peers are doing this and your buyers are hearing from other people.

Once you’ve done that initial touch, you need to commit to a sequence of activities and plan your finger prints.

Sales Stack

There are amazing sources out there….I see reps trying to manage 8-10 news sources and the reality is that they are just creating noise. There is a TON of overlap – pick 2-3, but follow them religiously.

Think about your business and your buyer – you might want to track local sources, national lists, funding events, follow LinkedIn groups, etc…

Sales Stack

Work It (And Have a Plan)

You built your list. You ID’d some good triggers. Now what? Work it.

Set Your Schedule

Be diligent in your process. Decide when you are calling – schedule call blocks. You’re busy and you have to make time for this. If you don’t schedule uninterrupted call blocks, you won’t make time to do it.

There’s a great study done by the Kellogg School of Management in conjunction with MIT that examined more hundreds of thousands of dials across hundreds of sales professionals at dozens of companies. The study revealed that time of day, and day of week each have significant impact on your ability to connect with and qualify a lead, with time of day being the more significant of the two.

The absolute best times to cold call are between the hours of 8-9am and 4-5pm, with the lunchtime period of 1-2pm being the absolute worst. An early-morning cold call was proven to be 164% more likely to qualify a lead than one made between 1 and 2 p.m. Make sure you know where your contacts are and organize your hot list by time zone.

Think about this when you are planning your day.

Email at 11 AM on Saturdays for Business Execs / Sunday night after 6 PM for IT

Set Your Schedule

Follow A Touch Plan

Top outbound guys have aggressive touch plans for 20-22 days. If you leave a voicemail, always send an email – double tap to increase conversion! Best practice is to dial regularly (daily), but plan your touches. Pair EM/VM/IM. Have a volume, focus or you’ll fall behind. And do not be afraid to BUILD TEMPLATES!

[Tweet “If you leave a voicemail, always send an email – double tap to increase conversion!”]

Follow a touch plan

And Make the Dials

Cold calling still works, but you need to make a lot of dials. You need to target the right companies. You need a compelling opening. You need to ask lots of questions. And you need to speak with the right people.

  • It takes 22 dials to have a meaningful conversation with a prospect.
  • Of those conversations, 1 in 3 convert to a qualified appointment.
  • Therefore, 66 dials = one qualified appointment (However, this includes “prospecting” dials to collect pre-call research and gather contact information).

Direct lines make a huge difference. If consecutive dials are made with the purpose of engaging with a prospect:

  • It takes 20 dials to reach a prospect when calling only switchboard numbers.
  • It takes 12 dials to reach a prospect when calling only direct lines.
  • 75% of all calls reach a prospect’s voicemail – improve your message
  • 73% of meetings are set with live conversations
  • 12 dials to reach prospects using direct lines
  • 1 in 3 conversations convert to appt.

Make the dials

Meetings Happen On the Phone

At NetSuite, we schedule >50% of meetings on the phone AND our phone meetings convert to prospect at 2x the rate of email/InMail meetings. Rapport matters!


Hold yourself accountable for doing these things and make it fun. Create a competitive environment with your peers with leaderboards, SPIFFS, dashboards, etc. and be sure to collaborate – Share resources, what’s working? What’s not? And remember, this does NOT need to come from leadership/manager.


Prospecting plans flow from the trigger. Once you know WHY you are calling, it all gets easier.

Liz is a versatile professional who has worked in many areas of a software as a service company including technical support, event and customer marketing, sales operations, client/account management and inside sales. I currently oversee OpenView Go-to-Market practice delivering recruiting, market insights and marketing/sales strategy services to our portfolio.

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