The ultimate guide to building a prospecting sequence
A prospecting sequence (also called a cadence) is commonplace in the world of sales development. The reason why sequences are so common is that it allows you to execute prospecting activities across multiple channels (phone, email, LinkedIn, etc.).
In this article, we are going to cover the following.
- Why you need a sequence
- How to blend customization and automation
- Planning your sequence
- Building your sequence
- Executing your sequence steps
It’s a lot to cover, so grab your coffee, and let’s jump right in!
Why you need a sequence when prospecting.
When it comes to SDR work, there are a lot of repetitive tasks. The key to hitting quota, and even exceeding it, is to prioritize and focus your attention on activities that matter. Sequencing is about planning and prioritizing activities, which makes those repetitive tasks more efficient and effective.
Sequencing is also about increasing the volume of activities you are capable of. The reason why volume is significant is that SDR work has low conversion rates. Take a look at your top-performing email or cold call campaign. Odds are, the percentage of replies is small. You should improve the performance of those campaigns while also improving the number of activities you perform.
It’s really that simple. You need sequencing because:
- It allows you to prioritize and plan effectively.
- It enables you to execute more activities.
Weaving personalization and automation together to achieve better results
When it comes to emails, I am a firm believer in personalization AND automation. Which apparently, is controversial. However, in my mind, it’s pretty simple…
- Personalization improves response rates.
- Automation allows you to send more emails.
- I believe there is a place for both.
Personalized emails show the prospect that the email is specifically tailored to them and not just another generic spam email.
But, there is one significant downside of personalization.
It takes time.
So, while response rates may be five times higher than automated emails, they require more than 5x the work. Depending on the number of contacts you manage, it's impossible to personalize every email to every prospect.
There is a tradeoff between personalization and volume. Take a look at this diagram below.
The effort personalization takes requires SDRs to balance their time along the blue constraint line. More personalization means fewer emails produced.
Automation allows you to get the best of both worlds.
By incorporating automation within your sequences, you’ll be able to weave personalization and automation into one another. This harmonious relationship between personalization and automation is what top SDRs are doing today to stay ahead of their quota.
For example, having a manual email followed by an automated followup.
Plan your sequence
Before we discuss building your own sequence I believe it’s essential that you know how to plan out sequences.
The first step is deciding on the goal of the sequence you are developing. Go deeper than just trying to schedule a qualified sales meeting.
- What types of people are you hoping to convert?
- If the prospect does not respond, what are you hoping they will take away from the messaging?
- Are you trying to nurture the contact or get a meeting now?
For example, you may have a sequence targeting CEOs with the goal of getting them to forward your email to the correct decision-maker.
Planning Step 1. Understand your Personas
To finalize the goal of your sequence, you should know who you are targeting. The “who” is considered a persona. To build a sequence, you must know the type of prospect that you intend to add to that sequence.
Your company should know the primary personas that you should be targeting. Once you know that, you must decide on the target for the sequence you are building. It can get a bit complicated, but at a high level, you determine your entry point. The diagram below shows multiple different entry points and how they are all connected (note: I typically recommend entering as high up the corporate latter as you can).
Knowing your entry point allows you to solidify the goal of your sequence. Once you have the goal, it's time to decide how to accomplish that goal!
Planning Step 2. Pick Your Outreach Channels
Once you have the goal of your sequence, you should decide what outreach channels you will be using to accomplish that goal.
There are three major outreach channels, phone, email, and LinkedIn. There are pros and cons to each.
- Speaking with a prospect has the highest potential to lead to a scheduled meeting.
- Getting a prospect on the phone requires a high volume of “no answer” calls.
- Emails are simple to send to prospective customers.
- Response rates are low.
- Great for staying top of mind with prospects and getting a response.
- Not all prospects are active on LinkedIn and some industries don’t use it at all.
Knowing the goal of your sequence allows you to decide on the outreach channels that make the most sense for who you are targeting and the effort you intend to put into prospecting those targets.
Knowing the goal of your sequence and how you intend to accomplish that goal will allow you to build a sequence aligned with your goal. This planning phase is essential, so never skip it!
- What is the goal of your sequence?
- Identify your target “personas” and decide on an entry point.
- Decide on outreach channels (Phone, email, LinkedIn).
Build your sequence
Now that you have planned your sequence it is time to build out your prospecting sequence. There are 5 main parts of building a sequence.
- Diversity of outreach channels
Once you put together the four things above, you are ready to execute your sequence!
Every sequence has a start date and an end date, which is called the timeframe. Your timeframe for each sequence may differ based on your goal, persona, company size, and many other factors.
Generally speaking, the longer the sequence, the less flexibility you have with that contact (because they are already in a sequence). Alternatively, the shorter the sequence, the more vulnerable you are to “bad timing,” such as the prospect being on vacation or too busy to respond.
If you are building your first sequence and are not sure how long to make it, I would suggest 30 days. 30-day sequences are a great starting point because it’s long enough to help you collect data and short enough to be able to experiment with the contacts enrolled quickly.
As you collect data, you will begin to identify how many “touches” (phone, email, LinkedIn) it takes to get a response. When you have that data begin to construct your sequences to maximize for responses.
Action Tip: Decide how long you would like your sequence(s) to last.
The next step of building a sequence is to decide how frequently you would like to reach out to that prospect. This is where SDRs make mistakes because they are worried about being too aggressive or not aggressive enough.
How frequently you should reach out should directly correlate to how much urgency there is to connect with that contact.
For example, if a contact requests a demo from your website, you should reach out as fast as possible because they are interested in your solution. You want to take advantage of their interest and “strike while the irons hot.” If a prospect doesn’t respond to any of your cold outreach emails, it may be time to lower the frequency.
Three basic rules
- Inbound sequences should consist of a high frequency of touches. They are more likely to respond because they initiated the engagement/conversation.
- Cold outbound sequences should go from low frequency to high frequency back to low. The more familiar the prospect is with you, the barrier to entry reduces.
- I do not consider calling and sending an email on the same day “aggressive.”
Action Tip: Make the frequency of touchpoints within a sequence correlate to the urgency to make contact.
3. Diversity of touches
A major part of every sequence are the outreach channels you decide to use. How many calls, emails, and LinkedIn touched do you plan to use throughout the sequence? To answer this question, you first determine the impact you want this sequence to have on your workflow.
For example, If you intend to use a lot of manual emails and LinkedIn touches, you should prepare to spend a lot of time on those contacts. The reason why is because you should allocate your time to high priority accounts and contacts.
Here is what I suggest.
Lower quality accounts/contacts = More automation.
Higher quality accounts/contacts = More attention.
It seems simple, but many SDRs find themselves behind on tasks with no ability to catch up because they have built sequences that require a lot of manual intervention. Do not fall into this trap!
Another reason why diversity of touches is important is that different prospects have different preferred methods to communicate. Some prospects love email while others get behind on emails, so calls are more effective for them. It depends on the person, so never assume.
I start almost every sequence with a “triple touch.” That’s one call, followed by an email and finished off with a LinkedIn connection request. After that, it varies based on workflow but I try and diversify the touches as much as possible.
Action Tip: Decide on the touches you use over time by considering the effort it will take to complete the tasks.
4. Create messaging for each outreach channel
Every proper sequence must consist of good messaging. I could write multiple articles on multiple topics when it comes to messaging. Messaging is the words you say or write, and it must resonate with your prospect.
We are not going to cover all the different types of messaging and how to write effective emails, call scripts, and LinkedIn messages. We will cover the high-level view of how to design a messaging strategy for most sequences. Let’s cover all 3 categories.
Phone - Lead with two main challenges you solve and let the prospect decide which one they feel is relevant.
Email - I always lead with an overview email and as the sequence goes on, I like to keep emails focused on a specific value proposition or challenge we solve.
LinkedIn - I keep LinkedIn very casual with a high-level value proposition and a question to gauge interest. I also use LinkedIn as another way to send an email, but I tell the prospect I am forwarding them an email I sent.
Great messaging requires knowing your prospects well and testing to see what works best. Having great messaging is most of the battle. The rest of the battle is having a strategy to deploy it. The latter is where the sequence comes in.
Action Tip: Create a plan for the messaging for each outreach channel within your sequence.
The structure of your sequence is the glue that holds it all together. There are infinite ways you can structure a sequence and it’s totally up to you!
Below I will share an example of an outbound sequence that I have found effective. That being said, this guide helps you create your own sequences, so use the below example as an aid. If you would like an interactive version of this template, enter your email below.
Finally, at the end of each sequence, you should have a task to decide what to do next. For example, do you want to add them to a nurture sequence and have one email go out every month? Alternatively, you can add them to a sequence with more personalization to see if that gets you more of a response. It’s up to you, but make sure you do something to avoid letting leads slip through the cracks.
Action Tip: End each sequence with a clear next step.
How to decide to make changes to a sequence.
There comes a time in every SDR’s life when they want to make changes to their sequences. I can’t blame them, it's a lot of fun! I have a simple rule when it comes to changing a sequence that I feel is the best way to end this article.
Decide on what metric you are trying to improve and make one change at a time that influences that metric.
Many SDRs fall into the trap of trying a bunch of things and hoping for better results. Instead, I urge you to try one thing at a time and measure the effectiveness of that change.
Action Tip: Decide on what metric you are trying to improve and make one change at a time that influences that metric.
Building a sequence is hard and takes experimentation. There is no silver bullet in sales development, and sequences are no exception. A sequence is there to help you be more effective but requires you to spend the time planning it out. I hope this guide has helped you and you use some of these strategies to build great sequences. If you would like to stay in the loop on future content, fill out the form below.
- Decide how long your sequence needs to be.
- How frequently will you be reaching out to the prospect?
- What outreach channels will you be using?
- What messaging will you be using?
- Decide how long you would like your sequence(s) to last.
- Make the frequency of touchpoints within a sequence correlate to the urgency to make contact.
- Create a plan for the messaging for each outreach channel within your sequence.
- Decide on what metric you are trying to improve and make one change at a time that influences that metric.