Setting up a Scalable Outbound Engine for Outbound Lead Generation
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Setting up a Scalable Outbound Engine for Outbound Lead Generation

Build a high-performing outbound engine with limited resources.
Identify the measurable events in the market corresponding to product need.
Construct your audience(s) by combining multiple data sources in one place.
Launch, test, and iterate.

What it is

It’s harder than ever to get a prospect to open a cold email. Inboxes are crowded. Most unsolicited emails feel like spam. Email deliverability is increasingly difficult to maintain.

Outbound has also traditionally been a resource-heavy investment. You start with a small test, then build a team of BDRs or SDRs, and manage them closely to ensure their activity and conversion rates generate the desired results. The dollar investment and human capital risk is high.

All that being said, an efficient, high-performing outbound engine can still be built. The answer is two-fold:

1. Pick the right strategy for your type of business, and

2. Automate that strategy.

We believe the key here is automated collection of detailed data, enabling you to create hyper-targeted, personalized email campaigns at scale.

We’ll show you why and how leveraging multiple data vendors together will allow you to build an always-on, evergreen outbound engine.

Who it's for

Anyone who:

  • Has tested outbound, wants to scale it efficiently, and/or improve conversion rates
  • Has a challenging time collecting all the data they need to maintain outbound volume.


Expect to see improvements in outbound volume and conversion metrics.

Relevant channels

  • Most Relevant: Outbound Email Sequences
  • Potentially Relevant: Targeted Direct Mail, Social Connecting, etc.

How it works

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1. Determine which type of outbound engine fits your market

Repeatable outbound machines come in three flavors:  

  1. Low volume, high personalization, high conversion rates
  2. Medium volume, medium personalization, medium conversion rates
  3. High volume, low personalization, low-medium conversion rates.

The model that’s right for you depends on the size of your market, the skepticism of your target buyer, and your ability to manage email deliverability. All three are helped by having some established brand recognition with your buyer (See our playbook on paid social lead generation.)

A low volume, high personalization model is right for businesses where there is a small TAM, a highly skeptical buyer and there’s a poor ability to manage email deliverability.

If your market is more mid-sized, and you have reasonable experience in managing email deliverability, you can start scaling the volume of your outbound motion – i.e. a medium volume, medium personalization model.  

If you have a very large market (think consumer or B2SMB), you have to go with a high volume, low personalization outbound model.  

An understanding of which model you’ll go with is important when you get to the next step, which is the mechanics of actually building your “machine.”

2. Build an outbound engine

An outbound engine relies on tooling, people, and a continuous volume of prospects.


Let’s start with tooling. At the minimum you’ll need a sales automation tool. These range from the very basic (Mailreach, Yesware, Reply.io) to up-and-comers (Lemlist, Amplemarket, Woodpecker, etc.) to advanced options (Outreach, Salesloft). By the time customers come to Primer they are often using an Outreach or Salesloft. While those platforms have limitations they often provide the best mix features to scale users, volume and/or personalization.

The oft-forgotten part of tooling is domain deliverability. We have written extensively about this in the past. Sending sales emails is a constant game of cat and mouse with ISPs and email clients (i.e Gmail, Outlook) to make sure you don’t land in a spam folder or have your domain blacklisted. Inbox warming – where apps interact with your emails to improve your domain rating – has gotten very popular with tools like Mailreach, Mailwarm, etc. GlockApps helps troubleshoot your deliverability set up, but ultimately your sender reputation is what drives your capacity to safely land in an inbox.  


Next you’re going to need the right team to write copy and manage your email operations. Traditionally, marketing teams hand over leads to BDRs and tell them to figure it out. This is a mistake. More and more we’ve seen outbound teams begin to sit within marketing, particularly for low-to-mid range ACV ($1K-$20K) ARR products. Cold email drives more qualified sign ups/demos.

Effective outbound teams also have excellent, pithy, creative, and differentiated copy. Additionally, they have a team responsible for monitoring deliverability, managing data flow into sequences, reporting on results, and ensuring clean A/B tests are being set up.


Last but certainly not least, you need the people to email. First, you must define your ICP and related segments. Get the data provider tools necessary to build lists of those people – whether it’s a ZoomInfo subscription, an offshore scraping team or a bunch of BDRs with LinkedIn Sales Navigator and Chrome plug-ins.

Finding the right audience and personalizing your copy based on what the data is telling you about them is key to getting your outbound engine to work. We’ve written playbooks about how to find your ideal audience based on data signals. You can use those same methodologies to find and reach your outbound audience.

When you use a service like Primer, you have the advantage of having all the different data sources available in a single place. Plus, you’ll have a growth strategy team to help you think through which signals and attributes are more relevant to your ICP. Get started with Primer here.

3. Launch

This is where it gets complex. You may be asking, “Is this even worth all the work?”  

Please run some tests!

Traditionally the approach to testing is to either throw sh*t at a wall and see what sticks or to A/B test linear optimizations: Start with open rate, then reply rate, then interested rate. While we definitely lean toward the latter, we contend that you now have to go a step further. The core metric you should be looking at is reply rates. The benchmark for average reply rates has diminished to 1-3%. Yet, we’ve seen teams (including ourselves) spike above 20%. The key is to:  

1) Segment your audience in prescriptive ways (which we discuss in our playbooks here and here).

2) Leverage the data you have to personalize your message (see intent-based audiences playbook).

Here is an example we sent out with a 90% reply rate:

primer email

In addition to upping your targeting and copy game, you must recognize that as a channel outbound does not live in isolation. A rising tide floats all boats. You should A/B test the incremental lift in reply rates of prospects you’ve targeted on paid social before (or at the same time as) sending them a cold email.

A truly cold email gets a lower response rate than a semi-warm email. Think about the psychology at play. It’s called cognitive fluency. When something is familiar, it feels fluent. Robert Zajonc’s experiments back this up with what we now know as the "Mere Exposure Effect" — the number of times people are exposed to certain stimuli positively influences their preferences for those stimuli. As we’re scrolling our inbox deleting random emails, we’re less likely to delete the one that comes from a company we’ve heard of before, let alone had a favorable impression of.  

The final gauge of outbound engine performance success is direct/organic traffic. You should be looking at your website sign-ups from direct and organic sources and reconciling them against whom you’ve gone outbound to. You’ll notice a high correlation between website signups and high-volume cold email periods.

4. Maintain

This is the hardest part: How to feed, maintain, and scale the outbound engine you’ve created.

The key is to set up systems for tracking and monitoring deliverability. You need a model that includes your benchmark reply rate, what volume you need to send to hit your SQL goals, how many inboxes you need, how many domains you need, and how many Outreach.io seats you need. Then you need workflows that assign prospects to inboxes and sequences and ultimately source the prospects themselves.

Maintaining a constant, consistent stream of records to email becomes one of the most challenging parts.

You should expect that the initial audience will be sizable, but will decrease in net-new records over time. For example, with your first experiment, you’ll have built an audience of 35,000 companies to email. But on day 30, you only find 100 net-new ones. If you’ve already emailed all 35,000 what do you pivot to next?  

You have two options: Try to find more CMOs by stacking data sources on top of each other and getting incrementally more coverage OR pivot to the next audience segment. With Primer, you can do both. With our ability to stack together dozens of data sources, you get a constant flow of targeted contacts in a well-defined ICP.

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