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How to create an optimized appointment setting funnel

Vladislav Podolyako
Vladislav Podolyako
Reading time:13 m

Do you think your appointment setting funnel is underperforming? Could you upsell more? Maybe you should target different clients, tweak your value proposition, or nurture prospects a little longer. 

Sound paranoid? No. It sounds like you’re on the right track. 

Аppointment setting is our bread and butter here at Belkins, and we deal with appointment setting funnels for 50+ different industries. We’ve run hundreds of experiments and figured out ways to optimize the appointment booking funnels to bring the best return on the money invested. Our appointment setting process is what has helped us get results like setting 116 appointments in 4 months or reaching $1.5 million in closed deals in 13 months.

Unlike other articles giving you generic advice, our guide is based on 6+ years of our internal team’s hands-on expertise. Read on and find out how to optimize your appointment funnel.

What an optimized appointment setting funnel looks like

Appointment setting is the process of contacting your target audience, filtering out the people who are ready to purchase your product or service, and then scheduling them to talk to a salesperson who closes the deal.

What is optimized appointment setting? 

It is the same process on steroids. With less time and effort spent, you get more appointments with better-qualified leads. This translates to increased sales, improved conversion rates, and a strong return on investment (ROI). 

You have an optimized funnel if: 

  • Your top lead generation tools, like HubSpot, bring you highly qualified, ready-to-buy leads.
  • You get a good email engagement rate.

”Engagement Rate = (Number of positive responses / Total number of responses) x 100

This metric is crucial for assessing your outreach’s effectiveness, allowing you to refine your approach based on specific segments and job titles.

>30% engagement rate is a good benchmark.

>70% negative responses signal that ICP needs improvement.”

Michael Maximoff, Co-founder at Belkins

  • You have a lead-to-appointment rate in the 7%–10% range.
  • Your sales reps hit or exceed their quotas.

Let’s take a closer look at what the appointment setting funnel consists of and then see where and how it can be optimized. 

The appointment setting funnel consists of 3 steps: 

  1. Market research
  2. Appointment setting process
  3. Sales process

Each of these steps has many moving parts that can be fine-tuned to bring better results. 

Our appointment setting funnel optimization process 

How do you optimize the appointment setting funnel? 

Analyze the funnel -> Identify issues -> Fix issues -> Repeat 

Below, we will describe some of the best practices we use at Belkins to set up thousands of lucrative appointments for our clients. Read on to find out what to do and what to avoid.  

Step 1: Optimizing market research 

Market research consists of creating: 

  • An ideal customer profile (ICP), meaning your target company and portraits of customer personas in the buying committee 
  • A strategy defining how you approach your audience, what you write in the emails, etc. 
  • The email sequences that you will use in your outreach

ICP optimization

Knowing whom you are trying to sell to will define your value proposition, the time of your outreach, your follow-up tactics — everything. 

Learning every detail about the prospect is as essential for a salesperson as reading the patient’s records is for a doctor. Once you know their background, you can ask specific questions to properly diagnose the problem and then recommend the best solution. 

A good basic ICP data-collection road map is this: 

  • Take a thorough look at the company website.
  • Go over the company’s 10-K to find strategic goals.
  • List out all people on the buying committee.
  • Read your prospect’s social media feeds.

These steps will give you an idea about their struggles, business stage, goals, and needs. All that will help with crafting the perfect strategy. 

Strategy optimization

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for appointment setting. You must determine the one that will best fit your services, goals, and budget. 

“We’ve seen people trying to do appointment generation without strategy — taking 10 different ICPs, cranking out a bunch of emails with ChatGPT, sending 3,000 letters, and then shutting it down since it’s not working. Well, why would it? 

We know that with the proper effort, we can reach better results by sending 300 emails than these people sending 3,000.”

Yuriy Boyko, Head of Account Management at Belkins

At Belkins, we start by learning the client’s business inside and out. We have to know these parameters:

  • Company’s metrics and goals
  • Types of client products and margins
  • What CRM they use
  • What sales process they have in place
  • How their sales process is managed
  • What bottlenecks are in the sales pipeline
  • How other sales channels work 

This way, we can pinpoint how to provide the best ROI. 

Besides, having a complete picture of the business lets us anticipate possible problems. For example, if sales reps perform poorly, then even if we set 100 appointments, only 1 may result in a sale. We will discuss potential hurdles like these and develop a custom strategy for their appointment setting funnel.

The strategy itself consists of the ICP, value proposition, and several messages we plan to send out.

The first step of the strategy is finding a way to narrow down ICP for the best fit. 

“You can have a generic target audience. Say you are selling SEO and want fintech startups. But not all fintech startups need SEO. How do we find the ones that do? We start looking at the metrics like the bounce rate and traffic numbers on their websites. 

This data gives us the leads who are likely interested in improving their SEO performance.” 

Yuriy Boyko, Head of Account Management at Belkins

Here are 2 example strategies:

  1. You sell accounting software to businesses from medium to enterprise. Your target audience is enormous, and your goal is maximum sales. In this case, the best strategy is to invest heavily in lead databases and automation tools, warm up dozens of emails, and reach out like there’s no tomorrow. You can cut corners by skipping the work with the “not interested” replies and dropping customization. You will still have enough leads coming in. 
  2. Your product is highly niche, such as providing maintenance for hydroelectric dam equipment. Only a handful of people might be interested, but each deal could bring you millions. This is no place to rush. You would want to research each lead in depth, find out their needs and likes, hone the value proposition, and ultra-customize your outreach. Maybe you would even presell by sending them a letter or a book. 

📚 Relevant article: Key strategies for effective C-level appointment setting

The chances are that your business will fall somewhere in between these extremes. Knowing the best practices we describe below, you can mix and match your best strategy.

Expert recommendation: Come up with 2 strategies. We always A/B test different approaches for our clients. 

You can run one strategy on scale and highly customize the other, test different USPs, or reach out to various industries. 

After running the test, we assess what works best and then either apply the more efficient practice or combine the best features of both (this is, after all, what optimization is.)

With a good working strategy, you can start methodically pinpointing the improvable details and fine-tuning the whole thing. 

Messaging optimization

If you see poor reply rates, it might be that your message sounds canned and cliché or doesn’t deliver your value proposal well. 

Think about how you can sound human, authentic, and relatable. Humor is always a good idea if you can pull it off. Another good icebreaker is referring to someone your prospect knows or to a shared experience like an event or conference.  

The value proposition should be concise and to the point. Don’t try to explain every benefit of your product to the prospect. Say what’s in it for them. 

If you address C-suite buyers, build your pitch on numbers and proven results, never on features. CEOs buy results — this is what they value. 

How to optimize your outreach messaging: 

  • Cut the marketing fluff (“streamline your business processes,” “I think we’re a perfect fit”) and use conversational language.
  • Be short and get right to the point.
  • Quote the prospect’s post, website, or 10-K.
  • Make your value proposition results-driven and tell how you helped other similar businesses.
  • Lay out clear next steps.

Don’t overcustomize! Avoid bringing up kids or family, and don’t mention that you “went to the same college” if you’d never met there. It can be annoying. 

When the stakes are high, it is best not to use ChatGPT for message-writing purposes. If you struggle, ask the chat for several options, pick the one you like outline-wise, and then rewrite it, adding your personal touch. 

To make your letter more convincing, include numbers from your case study and propose a clear next step, like “Would you be open for a 15-minute call on Wednesday?”

📚 Relevant article: Personalized cold email examples and best practices

Step 2. Optimizing appointment setting process

The appointment setting process requires the following:

  • A tool to send emails
  • A person who’ll manage these emails, send replies, and book appointments
  • Appointment setting infrastructure: emails, warm-up tools, writers, and so on
  • Tracking tools to fetch open rates and response rates
  • A quality assurance (QA) manager to keep an eye on the processes

SDR optimization

Having set up and run countless appointment setting processes, we at Belkins have developed a precise, foolproof algorithm to follow.

It doesn’t mean there’s no place for creativity. You can always think outside the box to solve a specific issue. However, clear step-by-step instructions for every turn help to minimize both the time and the cognitive effort required.

Belkins’ protocol describes actions in case of “Reply,” “No Reply,” “Positive,” “Negative,” or “Forwarded” response, and so on. 

Our protocol is pretty simple: 

  • If there is no reply, follow up and connect on LinkedIn.
  • If forwarded, send out an email with a reference to the previous contact.
  • If a negative reply, work with objections.
  • If a positive reply, set an appointment.
  • If there is no buying need, move lead to nurture.

These rules make it easier for the outreach manager to take clients through the whole pitching process to the stage of appointment being set or contact being ruled out.

The protocol is the ultimate “how it should be done,” and every appointment setter needs to stick to it. The QA managers on the projects make sure protocols are being followed. If someone deviates, they could face consequences up to being fired. 

The reason why we are so strict about it is simple — this protocol works. 

Deliverability optimization

Deliverability is a set of actions to ensure that your emails do not land in the spam or promo folder but rather get straight to the prospect’s inbox. There are deliverability tools and best practices to improve email deliverability

Pay attention: 

  • Is your domain warmed up and ready for email outreach? 
  • What domains do you send your emails from? (If you use your corporate domain, it might be affected by low email engagement rates.)
  • Which IP do you use? Dedicated or shared? 
  • Are these domains deemed trustworthy by spam filters?
  • Are your domain’s records set up (DMARC, DKIM, SPF, BIMI)? 

Make a protocol with all the best practices written down, and get it in front of your deliverability experts. Aim for deliverability rates of 95% and higher. 

Track delivery success, and check whether all these settings are getting your emails into the right mailboxes. If they aren’t, find what needs to be fixed and fix it. 

Deliverability metrics must be tracked and assessed by deliverability and SDR departments, as deliverability data impacts the SDRs’ performance.

“At Belkins, our deliverability managers track the metrics on all their projects daily. Based on their report, the SDR managers adjust their activity for the day. 

For example, if the sender’s score on one of the emails is down, SDR will send fewer emails from this address for a day or two.

It is an ongoing process, and they constantly keep in touch.” 

Yuriy Boyko, Head of Account Management at Belkins

Big-picture optimization

So your protocols are in place, and your processes are optimized and controlled by SDRs and deliverability managers.

Now, you need a visionary to oversee the whole campaign and fine-tune it based on strategy. They should provide a helicopter view of the campaign, asking and answering big questions: 

  • What is the open rate? 
  • What is the response rate?
  • What kind of replies do we get? Are they positive or negative? 
  • Why are replies like this? 
  • How can we best address negative answers? 
  • Why is our conversion low? 
  • Let’s test a new hypothesis.
  • Let’s reassess our leads.
  • Let’s review our USP.
  • Let’s assess the calls we’ve got.
  • Let’s assess the sales funnel. 
  • Do sales reps close the appointments they get? 
  • What ROI can we expect? 
  • Do sales reps plan to close these prospects? 
  • Do we like what we see? 

At Belkins, the account visionary holds the client’s hand throughout the process so that the client doesn’t have to determine if the campaign is going well. The account visionary is there to define if it is and determine what can be done to make it successful if it isn’t. 

Step 3. Optimizing sales

The sales process consists of:

  • Nurturing. The “warming up” of your prospect is when you get to educate them about your offer.
  • Sales call. Here, everything hinges on the level of your sales reps and their knowledge of the product. 
  • Post-sales process. It may involve follow-ups, sending more materials, and setting extra appointments with higher decision-makers.
  • Proposal. It is your product’s value proposition wrapped into a pitch and reinforced with successful case studies.

📚 Relevant article: How to optimize the sales process for maximum efficiency

Nurturing-process optimization

The key to effective nurturing is correctly defining the lead’s stage. 

1. MQL

Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are qualified to buy from you someday but do not have the need right now; they go to the nurturing folder.

Most often, this applies to the people who replied, “Not interested,” “Not now,” or “We have another vendor at the moment.”  

You may look at different nurturing tactics, but in our experience, sending an email once a month to educate prospects about your product or innovations works best. 

The goal is to keep prospects in the loop so they don’t forget about you. That way when they finally qualify for sale in 6 months, you’ll come to mind first. 

2. SQL

Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are ready to buy now. All you have to do is gently nudge them. 

Prepare a monthlong sequence of 4–5 emails. Send them out one by one: a proposal first, then pricing, then reminders, highlighting new products/offer values. Follow up relentlessly to increase your chances. This stage spans appointments and post-sales follow-ups. 

Post-sales process optimization

There is one common post-appointment mistake that can cost you business. 

What do people usually do? They run the sales call and make the basic follow-up; in 90% of cases, they do nothing afterward.

They may think, “If the prospect is interested, they’ll get back. If not, they won’t.”

Yet, this is rarely the case. 

Picture this: You’ve pitched your product successfully, though not to the ultimate decision-maker. The person you spoke to may have even reported your pitch to the CEO, and they were interested. But then they got distracted by other stuff and forgot about your case. 

If you had only followed up more consistently, you could have landed the deal. 

Or let’s say the prospect you’re chasing may have other vendors — for all you know, they may be choosing between 10 vendors. 

If you are constantly on the radar, it increases your chance of getting picked. Decision-makers love persistence, as it helps them remember you. 

A million minor reasons can lead to clients not calling you back. 

As long as you know the offer is on the table, follow up repeatedly to increase the chance they’ll buy from you. 

Proposal optimization

Analyzing the buying behavior of the ICP can help point out the best-performing products. Simultaneously, it reveals the ones with ineffective margins, faulty features, etc. 

“Here’s what happens very often: We test the campaigns and see that the product that the client prioritizes could be a better seller. However, another option from their portfolio flies off the shelf. 

In this case, we can come to the client and tell them about the situation. Sometimes, they want to push for the initial product. Other times, they are happy to sell more of what’s selling and make money.” 

 Yuriy Boyko, Head of Account Management at Belkins

As you work with your funnel, reassess your product portfolio.

Ask yourself: Does your value proposition communicate the specific benefits that your customers will receive? Is the value you offer memorable, tangible, and easy to understand? Does your product drive the interest of your audience? Do you have something in your wheelhouse that would address their pains better? 

Using automation tools

It may be tempting to use the variety of AI tools popping up every day for appointment booking funnel optimization. But we suggest you pick your battles carefully here.  

Automating email writing 

Though email replies can be automated, we at Belkins do not recommend it, with one exception. 


1. It’s best not to automate the processes that require human touch.

When it comes to writing and responding to emails, no AI tool on the market is (yet) good enough to be empathic and read the emotions in the prospect’s reply.

For example, no AI would go to the prospect’s LinkedIn, see that they hold a huge fish on their avatar, and make a joke about fishing in the follow-up reply.  

Why do people ignore outreach emails? They think they’re from bots. When you include things like fish jokes, they get that there is a real person behind the email and start replying to it. 

Authenticity creates a more relaxed vibe and makes people remember you, which in turn drives better conversions. 

2. You can automate replies to an extent without using tools.

You don’t have to write all your emails from scratch. It is nearly impossible when you work with thousands of leads. We at Belkins have a library of canned responses that SDRs can use in various situations. 

📌 Belkins tip:

Our standard follow-up for “Not interested” reply: 

“OK [name], you’re not interested. Why? 

  1. No budget

  2. You already have a vendor

  3. It is not a priority

  4. Interested, but no time right now”

Canned answers save you time, yet you still have wiggle room to insert your personal touch and make yourself memorable. 

Picture this: You reach out to the head of Google and get a “Not interested” reply. Wow! The head of Google spent 10 seconds answering you! You need to embellish your reply with something that’ll make them remember you when you follow up 6 months from now. And that’s where the human touch comes in. 

3. SDRs need to mirror their prospects when writing replies.

Our SDRs don’t just pick random replies. They choose the style that matches the style of the prospect.

Think of replying to a 23-year-old mobile-first fintech startup founder versus responding to a 63-year-old desktop-based logistics business owner. They will use different wording and tone; the SDR must match them.

Exception: If your strategy is to scale first, it makes sense to use AI writing tools. Just don’t use automation in a strategy where personalization is a must.

📌 Belkins tip: When writing your emails, consider what automated responses Gmail will suggest to your recipient. These snippets are driven by calls to action in your email. Craft these carefully if you want your targeted CEO to tap the “Yes, let’s do it” prompt.

Automating research and data collection

Now, this is the time to use AI 24/7. 

The research comprises 10% strategizing and 90% tedious, time-consuming work. You need to collect an enormous amount of data points, which ultimately consists of going back and forth to LinkedIn and copying thousands of company website addresses. 

An excellent tool for data parsing is Clay. It scans the lead profile and can then parse all the data you need, like email, SEO data, etc. It saves hundreds of work hours.

Automation is even more critical if your strategy demands deeper data research with 15–20 data points on each lead. The more data points you need to gather, the easier AI tools make your life. 

We can confidently say that the research will soon be 99% automated. 

Automating sales pitch

Some sales reps advise automating the preselling by sending prospects a video demo about your product. 

It can either be a great shortcut or a complete disaster. 

Sometimes it’s good:

When you are sure a person needs your product, a video pitch can be a time-saver. Prospect watches your video that includes preliminary info so that you can discuss features during the actual call. 

In most cases, it’s bad:

First of all, never send it in a cold email. An email with a video attachment is very likely to go to spam. 

A video presentation can also backfire if your tool is not easy to explain. It can confuse the prospect, and if it does, you won’t be there to read the prospect’s emotions, step in, and explain the details.

Should this happen, you risk getting “no” without any chance of saving the situation.

As if that was not enough, receiving a video pitch is a reason for the prospect to think they don’t need an appointment with you now. And that was the whole point.


As you optimize your sales appointment funnel, remember there is no one right strategy. Optimization is an ongoing process, which you can now enhance with the expert tips you just learned from Belkins. Explore, test, innovate, and improve each step of your appointment setting journey. Discover what works, and do more of it. 

Do you still have questions? Or maybe you want the best protocols applied to your sales appointment funnel? Whichever it is, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.

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Vladislav Podolyako
Vladislav Podolyako
Co-founder and CEO of Belkins and Folderly
Vlad’s an expert in the areas of culture transformation and leadership development, B2B sales, and marketing. He spent more than 10 years building technology products, has a background in communication networks and electronic device engineering.