New Year, New Opportunities: How to Effectively Prospect in January
The start of a new year often means the start of a new Sales quota. This time of year, however, is often seen as the most difficult time when it comes to outbound - So how does one effectively prospect in what is widely considered to be the most challenging month of the year?
It’s the start of a new year and as expected, most companies have their strategies and goals for the year already laid out. As they start chipping away at Q1’s objectives, cold emails are generally not seen as a top priority. So why bother prospecting at all in January?
Some may argue that January is an excellent month to prospect because people are using the quieter time of the year to reassess strategies and explore new opportunities. Others will go on at length about how they absolutely do not want to be bothered in January because they’re far too busy implementing new plans, starting new projects, and trying to fill quotas of their own. The truth is, January is as good a time to reach out to prospects as any other and it's actually one of our favourite times of the year to reach out!
Our data shows that people aren’t looking for the hard sell in January. While it’s always worth being proactive to check if there is a need, we find that a higher proportion of prospects aren’t currently ready or looking to buy at this time of the year. That being said, this doesn’t mean that decision makers are unplugging their phones and filtering all non-essential emails. In fact, we find some of our best open rates happen in January!
For the past two years, we have seen great open rates across our in-house campaigns in January, however, replies only really picked up in February. This is because we adapted our outreach strategy to get engagement in January which we then leverage in February with follow-ups and tweaked CTAs to drive responses.
Our Head of Sales, Oliver Knowles, is adamant about the fact that there isn’t really a difference between reaching out in January vs later on in the year. Every company has a slightly different financial year and buying cycle which is why we find that it’s always best practice to adopt a “business as usual” approach around this time. While we do find that Tech companies do tend to be a bit more rigid around this time of year with their availability and responsiveness to outbound, it is never a fruitless endeavour to proactively reach out.
One of the reasons why we love January is because even if the prospect isn’t part of the 3% that’s ready to buy or even the 6% that’s open to it, we get to be the first on their radar. Even if they’re not currently facing the problem we’re trying to solve right this minute, there is a chance that at some point in the year they will want to have a conversation about how their outbound can be better. If you have your ICP defined well then this should ring true, no matter the industry. So the benefit of being first is that you get to be the thought leader. You get to educate our prospect about how you can best address their current and future needs. Being proactive with your outbound means you won’t have to justify your UVP against your competitors’ when the same prospect comes inbound when they do need your services.
One example would be reaching out to the likes of Nestle or Mondelez. These companies run absolutely huge Christmas and Easter campaigns which require outside help from vendors and partners. Work on these campaigns begins anywhere from six to eight months in advance meaning that if you have failed to have a conversation with a decision maker by around May, then you can forget about working on their Christmas campaign. This is a prime example of why January is a fantastic time to reach out. Nestle or Mondelez aren’t thinking about vendors for that particular campaign at that time quite yet, however, establishing contact with some appropriate follow-ups leaves you on their radar for when that becomes a priority.
While most companies do have slightly different financial years, we have seen that a large number of the organisations that we reach out to already have strategies in place for January and aren’t willing to discuss other options while they’re preoccupied with implementation. However, we’ve seen a large increase in responses by February when many decision makers realise that their strategies have flaws and they need to take action - at least when pertaining to driving new business. This is why using softer messaging in January is generally advised as you’ll be in the best possible position to drive responses and book meetings the following month(s).
Top Tips for January Prospecting:
It’s business as usual in January! However, “business as usual” doesn’t mean that you should be reaching out the exact same way at every stage of the process. We like to think of January as “introductions” month. While we do find that our open rates are extremely good in January (around 90% across all Leadable campaigns in January 2022), we find that reply rates only really pick up in February, where in both 2021 and 2022, we found a ~29% increase in replies for the month of February over January.
This data (anecdotally) tells us that people aren’t quite ready to buy, but are still willing to hear you out. Provided you follow a few basic principles:
- First impressions matter. While it’s generally advisable to not be the stereotypically overbearing salesperson, this especially rings true for January. We find that prospects are generally less interested in the hard sell around this time of year. Instead, this time is best utilised to make a great first impression that can then be used as a bouncing board for further follow-ups and multichannel proactive outreach.
- Pick up the phone. The fact of the matter is you have no idea what their financial year is or what their buying cycle looks like. The best way to get that information is simply to talk to someone at the company. These quick calls can do wonders for your pipeline!
- Tweak your messaging. Especially around this time of the year, your messaging needs to be on point and relevant to the prospect. Concisely and effectively explaining why your UVP can help their company in Q1 or 2023 as a whole can help you get ahead of the prospect’s needs.
- Carefully and deliberately set your cadence. You don’t want to be reaching out and following up too often around this time of the year as many companies have other priorities at the moment. You do, however, want to stay on their radar. This is where a thoughtfully laid out multichannel approach can really help you.
- Build reliable lists. Without a strong foundation, your outbound efforts will collapse. As long as your ICP is well-defined, you should be able to build strong lists of prospects that your product or service is suited towards. Even if they’re not currently ready or willing to buy, you’ll be able to start seeding and priming them for when the time is right.
As we’ve experienced in the last few years, there’s no magic formula that tells you when it’s the best time to start building up your pipeline. We find that it’s best to always be proactive with your outbound while adapting your approach to your ICP and the current climate. As we like to say this time of year, the best time to build pipeline is last January and the second-best time is right now.