What can Sales Psychology Teach Digital Outreach?


To those in marketing, “sales” is a dirty word. A discipline based purely on aggressive, pushy, cold conversion.

In some sales environments that may not be far from the truth, but if you’ve met a truly gifted sales person, then you know that perception couldn’t be further from reality.

Sales is a science. Many of the techniques utilized by the best sales people can have a profoundly positive impact on your ability to convert content outreach to placement.

A lot has been written, and spoken, about content distribution in recent months with most advice focusing on the technical aspects of influencer discovery and communication and the best ones base that on real experiences. The fact is that the majority believes that outreach is simply about finding the right people and email them until enough responses are received.

This is just scratching the surface of what content distribution is to become; a multi-faceted reinvention of PR for the digital age.

Email, phone, face-to-face meetings, and long-term relationship building effort is what is it going to take to be successful in content marketing over the longer term and the single unifying skill set for being able to be a success in that space centres around the psychology of sales.

Let’s look at a few of those techniques now.

The Start

Before you even begin any outreach campaign, it’s imperative that you answer the following questions as part of the scoping, or planning piece.

Ask yourself:

  • What benefits can they bring the site owner?
  • Do the benefits answer what the site owner is looking for?

There are myriad ways to find out what your potential target site may be after. One of the best is to measure the social shares of their posts to find out what is the most shared, and to then propose a follow up piece.

It can also help to work through the various stages of the classic sales and conversion funnel, preparing a communications plan from day one to ensure that your eventual goal, to grow a long-term relationship with the influencer, happens. Below we walk through that process.

Understanding Your ‘Target’

The critical first stage in the planning process has to be in understanding that it is you are targeting in the first place. It is one of the fundamentals of good selling.

Doing this takes a combination of data mining and a good CRM system that collects the “richer” info about the person. My agency has created a “first conversation” tick sheet that we work through with each new contact to obtain key relationship info, like family names, pets, holidays, and other key points. This is recorded in a profile to ensure that whenever we pick up a conversation again we can talk with authority and empathy with them.

Prior to that first conversation, it’s all about the “stalk.” Again, there are myriad ways to do this, from simple social account research to taking to the other extreme, as Wil Reynolds spoke about http://www.slideshare.net/wilreynolds/stalking-for-links in 2012.

Knowing names and sites is one thing, but by understanding their interests and the more important areas of their life you will make friends and stronger long-term bonds.

For a copy of my agency’s simple influencer profile sheet, contact me, and I will send you a copy, but in principle it includes “questions” such as:

Income level: low/medium/high
Habits: e.g. adventure holidays to remote corners of the earth
Target market for their site:
Family info:
Family names:
Planned Holidays:

It can then also work well to add in blank fields to allow the outreacher or owner of the relationship to capture other areas of interest where necessary. For some I have seen random info like favorite foods, “dislike of Mondays” and even “owns a bright pink bike they LOVE” captured!


Opening a conversation may seem like the easiest thing in the world to do, but there are several ways you can improve your ability to convert it to a longer-term conversation, whether you use email or speak directly.

Don’t be Submissive

My initial view on this was that a submissive opener, playing the “oh you could really help me” card, would be most effective to soften the tone and elicit their help to solve your problem. I was wrong.

In testing it proved conclusive that using peer-to-peer language definitely converted better. So many people now use the former that we are expecting such an approach to be followed by a ‘sell’ and we therefore associate the two.

Too Much Info is Bad

Another mistake, especially in email outreach, is that longer, more personable emails will result in better response. Personalization definitely matters, but too much detail is very much a turn off. It’s a transactional conversation. Your “target” knows this and you know this so get to the point.


Again, contrary to most wisdom in outreach, offering too many potential content ideas can negatively affect your ability to capture the imagination of your target. In testing I have seen pitches with one or two great ideas are much better received than offering three or more.

Most influencers are incredibly busy and that means they don’t want to be baffled by ideas. Look at it from the other side and the last thing you want or need is to have to decide what someone else may create for you.

Someone who is an expert will have an amazing idea that you would die for to feature on your site. Choice equates to idea weakness in their eyes.

It’s a Conversation

Picking up the phone or meeting a key contact in person to pitch a big idea to is planned with military precision. Undoubtedly you will be investing a great deal of time and money into the project and getting a key person involved is a key milestone.

The problem is that kind of pressure can force you into a nervy state that makes you rush the pitch. Nerves can make you speak faster and pause less, which means that the “conversation” becomes a one way hail or verbal bullets, from which you’ll both want to run away from as fast as possible afterwards. Consulting with them and asking questions about past experience with creative content partnerships will strengthen the relationship and make it more likely they will agree.

Negotiating Placement

Getting agreement that an idea is good is one thing, but agreeing the details of how they may feature it, and critically, when, is an entirely different kettle of fish!

Ask any outreach team and they will tell you that the most frustrating part of their job is getting site owners to agree to a publish date, and to then stick to it.

Being aware of this challenge from day one can really help you build your conversation around that date and to ensure you can control it as much as possible.

Before you start the conversation you must prepare. Find the line between being keen and desperate.

Steer the conversation to ensure you get their feedback on the idea and to ask them for input. If they feel they have been involved then you move a huge step closer to ensuring your content is on top of the pile of priorities come publication day.

You can even build in concessions, parts of the concept you would happily give up without impacting the overall value of the idea. If you can prove you are willing to negotiate they will feel part ownership of the piece.

Negotiating also allows you to push back on other areas, which could really improve the overall “deal” for you. By giving something back it allows you to suggest replacements and if you plan for it those can be even more beneficial than the initial option!

Closing the Deal

Closing requires a skill not all of us have. I don’t have it naturally and have spent a lotof time understanding how I can get better. In doing so there are a few takeaways that really helped:

  1. Give up some power: Don’t play the dictator figure (look at history to see how that works out!). People are much more likely to listen if you allow them to feel part of the deal detail.
  2. Think is more important than feel when negotiating: Although some psychology and management principles tell you to bring emotion into a conversation to help overcome difficulties when it comes to closing the detail logic rules the heart. Use irrefutable data around the benefit of what you are offering rather than how featuring it would make then “feel.”
  3. Imitate: Strangely (and this is more important when meeting influencers face-to-face) subtle mimicking of the other persons general body language will help you come across as being “on their level” and they will feel more comfortable doing the deal.
  4. Don’t be too extroverted: There is a balance to strike between being too introverted and overtly extrovert and the answer as to where that line is drawn can only really come with experience. You want to be their friend but not an egotistical maniac.
  5. Emotion matters: While we have already made the point that we make major decisions with our head that doesn’t mean that you should be emotionless. Empathy is key is building trust. Just choose when to use it as a weapon.
  6. The subject line pitch: The days of the elevator pitch are over. When closing, ensure you can explain the benefit of your content to them as if you are writing it in an email subject line. Clearly this is important if you’re using email as your key communication method also!
  7. Make it personal: This is where that initial info you collected on their key interests come in. Make sure you mention a key family member/pet/etc. as part of the closing piece so they know you have done your research and care about their situation.
  8. Sell on “positive purpose”: This is a key human emotion or psychological state and is based on the human need to have a positive impact on the world we live in. Sell on the benefit they will bring by sharing such a key piece of content and how it will help those that consume it.
  9. Loss looms larger than gains: Rather than pitching the benefits of your content selling “what they could be missing” is a key tactic, especially in hard negotiations. Makes clear that they are just one of several influencers your research has pinpointed and that you see them as your preferred partner for the campaign.


When the deal is done the natural position for us to take is one of completion, and often we will move onto the next challenge, but the reality is the work has only just begun.

Again, one of the key challenges is ensuring the piece actually goes live, which requires continual work on communication.

The side benefit of this is that you do then begin to build rapport. It’s at this stage that you can begin dropping into the mix ideas for “the next piece,” which is where the real opportunity begins.

Surprise and Delight

For key contacts it’s important to nurture. My agency regularly brainstorms not just content ideas but for gifts we can share with our key contacts. It is not about expensive presents but more about really insight-led items and experiences we can share with them based on their personal interests. This further reinforces our understanding of them as people, not just as associates.

A regular call or communications schedule is then also created to ensure we keep in touch, irrespective of whether we have a business reason for doing so. And in doing so offer content ideas simply as part of that ongoing relationship.


The distribution of content has come a long way in a very short space of time but core to the technical process is the fact that, ultimately, it is about relationships with people. And that’s something we’ve all been working on for a long time.

The key point is not to forget that and to spend as much time perfecting your ability to convert by communicating as finding those people in the first place.

Related reading

Top 19 Instagram marketing tools to use for success
Eight tips to get the most from your Facebook page in 2019
social media_does it affect seo