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What is Value-Based Outreach (VBO)?

At it’s core, Value-Based Outreach is a twist on traditional Account Based Marketing that places an extra step at the beginning of any outreach campaign, where the marketer:

  1. First offers something of true value to the prospect they are trying to engage  (typically through email outreach)
  2. Follows through on that value
  3. Then makes their ask/pitch after delivering said value

The goal of VBO is to develop a relationship with a prospect in steps 1 and 2, enabling a better chance of success for your ultimate objective (sign-up, sales lead, etc.)

The Story Behind VBO

I’ve been swimming around in the digital marketing space for more than 18 years, and while I love the diversity that comes with this line of work, cold email outreach has always made my skin crawl.

Sending it – which I (more or less) stopped doing years ago. Receiving it – which still happens way too often. Listening to other marketers talk about it.

Make it stop.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, as open and click-through rates are generally abysmal and trending ever downward, while inbound techniques are on the rise in popularity and effectiveness.

So when I joined the team at Pagely to head up their marketing efforts in 2016 and our Director of Sales came to me with a lead list and some ideas for outreach, I first said: ‘eh…’ But then: ‘ok, let’s give it a whirl.’

The results were as you would expect: despite A/B testing and several clever approaches, we landed 0 conversions and very few responses. But our situation, and a few related articles, got my wheels spinning.

There Has To Be A Better Way

As mentioned, I’d read about the idea of providing value to a prospect or client through ABM, but at that time, this typically meant custom-tailoring your pitch and offer to the prospect’s unique needs. That didn’t sound like true ‘value’ to me, so I started to think about what true value means to the broader business world. In other words, something that most everyone involved in running a business would care about with zero concern for our own needs/wants.

After mulling over a few bad ideas (free t-shirt *cough*), we landed on what felt like a winner: we create highly targeted lists of our ideal prospects using persona data, group them by industry and role, and then offer them something of value that closely matched with their persona (something unique to smaller groups pulled from the larger lists).

And it worked.

Open rates approached 90% right out of the gates and response rates reached as high as 48%. Most importantly, we closed new business before we even had a chance to make a sales pitch. We had found the model that worked for us, and in theory, a similar formula could be replicated at most any B2B or SaaS company.

VBO open and reply rates.

Early success numbers using VBO.

Bonus Points

As we went through the process, which at the time we dubbed ‘Better ABM,’ we realized different approaches to our value offers were actually checking several other marketing boxes as well, including:

  • Content Marketing – We could co-produce content with our prospects which helped us to build our brand and establish our thought leadership inside of the industries that we served.
  • SEO – New marketing relationships and partnerships with prospects opened up PR opportunities to link to our site in bylines, news stories and larger conversations online.
  • Social Media Marketing – We had great content and news to share that was relevant to our target audience, and the prospects that we engaged with typically participated in that social sharing.

The Details

It should be noted that we’re most likely not the first team to implement a strategy like this, yet at the time of this writing, I’ve yet to see anyone talking about this specfic method. It may be one of those closely guarded marketing secrets, like the ‘pay to play’ state of content marketing and PR in general. Or it may be so obvious and ‘common sense’ that the bourgeoisie of marketing just haven’t put it down in written form.

For us, it worked so well that we doubled down on VBO and stopped most paid marketing, including PPC. The clear exception was retargeting display ads, as that channel clearly continues to add value to our VBO project.

Will it work for you? There’s only one way to find out. Just know that the formula outlined here is more of a general guide – you’ll want to make sure you understand your target audience at a deep level, and most importanly, what they truly value.