I know you bring a lot of sales experience to the table. There's a lot of information on best sales practices, but I feel like they rarely talk about the psychology about why the best practices are best practices. I've come up with a few questions, it'd be great if you can go through them individually. Thanks!
1. Take me a through a sales process from beginning to end and beyond and explain the psychology behind it.
2. How do you know what "tone" to pick in the initial email?
3. What's the best "tone" for intro emails? Why?
4. How long does it need to be? Short - yes, but how short? Why that length?
5. What should the intro email include? Why?
6. What's the best subject line? That's the first impression, how do make it a good one?
7. You're tracking emails. At least you know people are reading them. How do you use that information to your advantage? Send them quicker follow ups? Change the tone?
8. How often do you send follow ups? What's the ideal time in your experience? Why?
9. When do you give up following up? Why? Why can't you send an email every week until they respond back? Even if it takes 6 months?
10. When do you engage someone else in the company?
11. Who's your target in a B2B company? Top execs? Entry level? Mid-level? Why?
12. Does your approach change depending on who the target is - exec vs. entry level? How? Why?
13. How often do you follow Up?
14. How does the tone, style, content change in the follow ups?
15. How do you add urgency to make them respond back faster?
16. Overall tactics to help get people to respond back?
17. How do you quickly build rapport over email?
18. How do you quickly build rapport over the phone?
19. Spending time is better for closing, but really, can you be just as effective on email and phone? How?
20. Are salespeople born or made? Why?
21. How would one recognize if they have great selling skills, or if they are wasting time in sales/biz dev?
22. What characteristics do great salespeople have? Why?
23. How can these characteristics be developed?
24. How do you optimize for success individually?
25. What are some habits that great salespeople have?
26. How can you develop those habits?
Setting up a sales team from scratch is a daunting task. I've done it several times for various product and service-based startups. I originally learned about inside sales from the best sales guy I've ever met, named Everette Hammond. He ran a very successful inside sales team ("inside" means phone-based reps) at General Electric for a service called "EDI" (Electronic Data Interchange), where I worked when I first graduated from college. In fact, Everette's team was so good that his sales numbers regularly beat the pants off the outside sales team ("outside" means field-based reps) that GE had. I'll invite Everette to post his thoughts here as well.
The first caveat I'll give is that setting a sales team up isn't a job for someone who's never done it before. It's not something you can easily just figure out. There are many small process steps involved, and getting just one of them wrong will kill the entire process. So if you're an entrepreneur looking to create a strong sales engine, the best thing you can do is hire someone who's done it before -- someone like Everette that can set these things up in his sleep. A secondary option is to use an outsourced sales team, but I tend to shy away from that approach because you don't have much control over it. The advice I'm going to provide in this post may be a bit like describing to a blind man how to fly a plane: Interesting, but not very actionable. I'll try to keep it as scoped down as possible though, so there's some actionable value in it.
The second caveat is that you need to have a really great product or service. The best sales team in the world will have a hard time selling a bad product. But there's a flip side to that as well: A great sales team won't complain about the quality of the product, and a great sales team won't sell vaporware which the company then has to rush to build. They'll sell what they've got in the most effective way they can.
So if you've read those two caveats and you still want to proceed in building your own sales team from scratch, then let's dig into it together.
First, let's examine the relationship between sales and marketing. They're not the same thing. Marketing generates demand, and sales turns demand into revenue. Great marketing makes selling easy. But then, so does a great product. Not to be too crude about it, but drug dealers don't "sell" drugs. They're just fulfilling orders. The demand is already there (unfortunately in that case, due to addiction, but that's another blog post entirely.) A great product will stoke demand, which makes selling it relatively easy. For startups, I typically advise against building a sales team until you know you have product-market fit. And you'll know when you do, because you'll start seeing demand. So instead of trying to have sales reps create demand for a product that's not yet ready to be sold, focus on getting one or several really passionate customers you can use to do some great marketing with. This is typically the CEO's job. If you feel you've already got a strong product-market fit and you're ready to build a sales team, then read on.
Next you'll have to decide which of two approaches you want to take: Do you want to have sales people pursuing only new business (traditionally referred to as "sales reps") and have a separate group of people taking care of existing customers (known as "account managers"), or do you want each sales rep to find new business as well as manage existing accounts?
There are pro's and con's to each approach. Let's look at both a bit:
Option 1: The "hunter" approach: This approach is good for taking down big deals -- typically deals over $50k in size. Sales reps' only job is to land new business. Once they successfully close a deal, it's passed over to account managers who manage the client and work on upselling additional business. Often, these hunters will be "outside," or field sales reps, meaning they will travel to meet clients in person, while the account managers will typically be "inside" reps, meaning they interact with the customer primarily over phone and email. Companies with products or services under $50k will sometimes take this hunter approach, but have the sales reps be inside instead of outside reps, meaning that nobody is actually visiting with clients (which is a very expensive way to sell, but very much worth it for large deal sizes).
Option 2: The "gardener" approach: In this approach, each sales rep is also an account manager, much like a gardener plants a seed, then tends to the garden through its entire life cycle. This approach is better for smaller deal sizes at higher volumes, because there's typically less support required and less of an upsell opportunity on smaller deals. The entire client lifecycle is typically handled in an "inside" manner with no outside sales work, since the deal sizes don't justify the expense.
Those are the two traditional approaches, but it's changing with the rise of Software as a Service (SaaS) models. Whereas traditionally a piece of software might cost $100k to buy, now it's being offered as a service for $5k or $10k per month. This approach vastly lowers the up-front cost of buying into a software solution while providing an ongoing revenue stream that companies can plan around. SaaS approaches also blur the lines between hunter and gardener sales approaches because they mix elements of the two: A low initial cost, but often with a high customer LTV (Lifetime Value) and plenty of room to upsell additional revenue as the customer gets more and more dependent on the offering over time. I've seen, and sold SaaS offerings both ways, and there are advantages to both approaches. I tend to recommend a hunter approach, but with a fully inside sales team. That way you're not burning sales budgets paying for outside reps to prospect (important due to the low upfront revenue of a SaaS sale) but you're still getting the benefits of hunters that are solely focused on finding new clients, and therefore new sources of recurring revenue. Since that's the approach I generally recommend for technology startups, that's the one I'm going to focus on as I answer the questions below.
Next, let's talk about sales support: Salespeople can only be productive when they're selling, and so to the extent possible, a successfully structured team lets them concentrate solely on that. This means that creating customer lists, loading them into a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, structuring sales reporting and accountability, and anything else that's not directly tied to picking up the phone and/or contacting leads should be handled by a sales support person or team. This isn't always possible in a startup -- in fact, most of the time, it's not -- and so the sales reps also have to be sourcing leads, which leads to a much less efficient sales team. One of the first things I recommend you do as soon as you have the budget for it is to hire a very competent sales support staff member who can keep the sales team efficient. It's a specialized role that can be hard to fill, and you may have to play it yourself for a while until you find the right person to take it over. But at the end of the day, do everything you can to keep your sales team selling.
Lastly, before I dive into answering your specific questions, let's talk about hiring. It's hard to hire the right salespeople. Really good salespeople can have difficult personalities internally and "god complexes." They may feel the rules don't apply to them and can be very demanding. It can be a tough line to walk, but I generally recommend doing everything you can to keep your best salespeople happy, while doing everything else you can to find and promote new talent. The only thing that really keeps a misbehaving top performer in place is the threat of someone else who wants to take their spot as the top rep and has the skills to do it. I won't go into how & where to find the right salespeople in this post, but that is an art in and of itself.
Now that I've laid out the landscape for you, let me answer your questions. In my best "scrum" approach, I'm going to a) prioritize the ones I answer first based on the ones where I think I can add the most value, and b) add answers to these questions as I write them, so this entire post doesn't have to wait for me to answer all the questions.
Answer #1, from Question #11: "Who's your target in a B2B company? Top execs? Entry level? Mid-level? Why?"
Deciding who to target is a very important early decision. I tend to like to go as high as I can and still generate a response or forward movement. One series of books I'd recommend you read is "Selling to VITO," the "very important top officer". It's a bit outdated now (from '99), but the techniques in there are awesome and all the principles still apply.
So for example, if you think that a product manager is your primer user, then start in the executive suite with whomever manages that person's boss's boss. Depending on the organization, it might be a CIO or CEO. Sometimes a CTO or CMO. Start as high as you can, because if you can get that CXO to forward the email to one of his or her staff, it'll get a lot more attention than it otherwise would. I'll explain more about specific approaches in an answer below.
GH, here's a related post on a new sales tool I'm piloting: http://danielodio.com/piloting-a-new-email-bigdripper-sales-tool
There's a very specific approach that works with web leads, which we've found through trial and error. (Here I go giving away all our secrets again.)
Step 1: Good SEO: The first thing is to have really good search engine optimization (SEO) so people can find you. You can "rent" space at the top of Google by buying AdWords or you can pay an SEO expert to convince Google you're an expert so they'll rank you first naturally. AdWords is immediate but more expensive while natural SEO work takes time - 6 months or more. You can also use a combination of both approaches.
Step 2: Website tricks: I've said this before and I'll say it again: Most companies simply have no idea what the purpose of a website is. They seem to have this idea that a website is a great place to put lots of marketing literature. While that is fine, the purpose of a website for most companies is to get to a phone call. That's it. You want someone to pick up the phone and call you, or have the person email you, because they're impressed with the information they find on your site. But how is someone going to easily contact you when you have a small "contact us" tab or link at the bottom of your site? We have a big "contact us" form on every single page of our DROdio.com site. And people use it. On some of the pages, we have multiple "contact us" buttons & forms. There are 3 on our property listing pages, like this one.
Step 3: QUICK contact. A really fast response to a web lead is key. In fact, the speed of response is more important than anything else about you. It's more important than your subject matter knowledge. It's more important than your helpfulness. When people submit leads online, they don't wait for you to respond. They move on to another site and submit a lead on that site too. Whoever responds first gets the customer. Period. Our goal is to always respond within 15 minutes. In fact, we try to respond in under 5 minutes when someone submits a lead on our sites. And think of it this way - when you submit something online, you're not really expecting to get a response for several days, right? So when you get a call within a few minutes, that really builds trust with the client.
We use an advanced custom-build CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system that is PHP-based and FREE called XRMS, which we've been modifying for the last 4 years.
There's a very specific approach that works with web leads, which we've found through trial and error. (Here I go giving away all our secrets again.) Step 1: Good SEO: The first thing is to have really good search engine optimization (SEO) so people can find you. You can "rent" space at the top of Google by buying AdWords or you can pay an SEO expert to convince Google you're an expert so they'll rank you first naturally. AdWords is immediate but more expensive while natural SEO work takes time - 6 months or more. You can also use a combination of both approaches. Step 2: Website tricks: I've said this before and I'll say it again: Most companies simply have no idea what the purpose of a website is. They seem to have this idea that a website is a great place to put lots of marketing literature. While that is fine, the purpose of a website for most companies is to get to a phone call. That's it. You want someone to pick up the phone and call you, or have the person email you, because they're impressed with the information they find on your site. But how is someone going to easily contact you when you have a small "contact us" tab or link at the bottom of your site? We have a big "contact us" form on every single page of our DROdio.com site. And people use it. On some of the pages, we have multiple "contact us" buttons & forms. There are 3 on our property listing pages, like this one. Step 3: QUICK contact. A really fast response to a web lead is key. In fact, the speed of response is more important than anything else about you. It's more important than your subject matter knowledge. It's more important than your helpfulness. When people submit leads online, they don't wait for you to respond. They move on to another site and submit a lead on that site too. Whoever responds first gets the customer. Period. Our goal is to always respond within 15 minutes. In fact, we try to respond in under 5 minutes when someone submits a lead on our sites. And think of it this way - when you submit something online, you're not really expecting to get a response for several days, right? So when you get a call within a few minutes, that really builds trust with the client. We use an advanced custom-build CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system that is PHP-based and FREE called XRMS, which we've been modifying for the last 4 years. This CRM system lets us have multiple employees interfacing with each contact using a "sales funnel" approach. When a lead comes in, it starts in "no contact." As we interact with the lead, we move him to different statuses, such as "first followup" or "second followup". This lets us easily see at what stage each person is in. You don't need an advanced CRM system to do this yourself. You could, for example, make a series of folders in your Outlook that mimic the same behavior. As your business prospects move through different stages of interest, you can move them to different folders. We do, however, highly, highly, highly recommend you start using a CRM system if you intend to do any selling at all. Trying to sell without a CRM system is like trying to eat without utensils. It's possible, but not pretty. There is a very good subscription-based CRM tool called Salesforce.com which is $50/month-ish. You can view their demos here. We also have a very systematic approach to following up with each lead that comes in. We "tag" each lead with a very detailed set of tags specific to that person's interests. For example, if the buyer is looking to buy a home in Alexandria, VA, we can easily pull out of our database all of the prospective clients we have that meet that criteria, and market directly to them (when a new listing is available in Alexandria, for example). These "tags" are an important part of what's called "drip marketing" which is revolutionizing the way companies stay in touch with consumers. These days, consumers often are just "kicking the tires" online, looking for some information. They're often not read to commit to you immediately. I've heard many salespeople get frustrated at this online behavior. But if you know how to harness it, this can become a real asset. Become a trusted resource for these potential clients over time, and use technology to leverage your knowledge transfer. For example, why do you think I spend so much time writing these blog postings? I know that there are many subscribers to this blog that I will eventually want to do business with in some form or another. If I can share my expertise to you now, then you'll be more likely to listen to what I have to say when I have a business idea for you. The same thing should apply to your business. You should be using a drip marketing campaign tool such as Constant Contact so you can keep your consumers on a "drip marketing" campaign and let them come to you when they are interested in something you write. Our process is as follows: Lead comes in via email or phone. If via email, we respond within 15 minutes. We offer to put the home buyer on a "set it and forget it" alerting system so they're notified when new properties come one the market that match their buying criteria. You might be able to find similar ways to leverage technology to do some of your work for you. Once we've responded, we move people from "no contact" to "first followup" in our sales funnel. If no response, we follow up again via phone & email within 24 hours. We move the lead to "second followup" If no response within 2 days, we follow up again via phone & email. At this point we move the contact to "discarded" BUT we set them up on a "drip" marketing campaign to have them keep receiving occasional (usually weekly or every 2 weeks) emails from me about trends in the marketplace. About 30% of those on the drip campaign will eventually contact us, and of those, 25% to 40% will turn into clients. As you can see, this process isn't difficult; it just requires discipline and a bit of a process framework to help you get things done in a consistent manner. Sales is a numbers game. The more people you have coming through your sales funnel, the more business you'll get. You have to be ready to face rejection; if 1 in 10 of your leads turn into paying clients, you're doing well. That means you'll be told "no" 9 out of 10 times. Most people can't handle that kind of rejection. But those of us who love selling thrive on the 1 "yes" in 10, and on providing true value to our clients. Good selling!
Alan Mayer is a veteran salesman and sales trainer. With over two decades of experience, he's able to deliver results quickly and has powerful mental models for understanding sales. Most interestingly, he now has a speciality in how introverts can leverage their natural skills to even be better salespeople than extroverts!
He's running a class for GiveGetWin on November 28th on how to create instant rapport by matching your language to the prospective client or customer. Extremely powerful stuff. Enjoy this interview, and then get over to GiveGetWin to scoop this deal up if your job or role involves any selling or interpersonal skills.
"The New Rules For Sales" -- When Features and Benefits Don't Get It Done
Sales wisdom from Alan Mayer, as told to Chiara Cokieng
I am a sales trainer. But first and foremost, I'm the person in sales for over 20 years now. I started very young during university selling bulldozers and excavators -- heavy equipment. My whole career, I leaned towards sales.