Last week I posted a status update on LinkedIn regarding a tactic widely used by sales people, consultants and others in which I happen to disagree with. We've all received a connection request from someone (usually a stranger) and within one minute of clicking "Accept" we receive a sales pitch from someone telling us why we should use their product or service via InMail. Rarely if ever, does the pitch take into account or mention what my company does, demonstrates an understanding of my buyer persona or aligns their offering with my known work challenges. So, last week, after receiving my 1000th sales pitch via LinkedIn, I took to the business networking platform to share my frustration and ask for feedback and thoughts on the above approach. I never expected the post to receive the amount of attention it did. Here are my take aways from the 70k views, 150+ likes and 70+ comments.
Takeaway - People don't read. Here is what I actually posted.
Takeaway - People don't read. Here is what I actually posted: "Accepted your LinkedIn connection request. Two minutes later you InMail me a sales pitch describing your company, what you provide and what you want. I'm not a fan of this approach.What are your thoughts on this?
Here is a quick list of some the responses I received:
My Advice: When contributing to a LinkedIn discussion focus on the topic and question(s) raised. In this specific case, I would offer my opinion on the above mentioned approach and then provide an alternative to the messaging used by the sales rep. The goal should be to contribute while also helping others.
Takeaway - Sales managers & leaders are doing a poor job training their sales reps. The content within the InMails themselves are a reflection of the poor training and lack of guidance so many sales reps receive these days. Companies spend so much time and effort on recruiting and hiring top talent only to waste it by not properly training them. Whenever I get emails from SDR's and AE's, I know right away if they were trained or not trained. Proper sales training must include a learning track which covers the basics of writing highly effective prospecting emails. So many of you are sending product dump messages on the very first email before even knowing if there is an addressable need for the prospect! I am challenging all sales managers and sales trainers to take a hard look at their current new hire on-boarding program. If you don't have at least 3 hours of time allocated to teaching effective business development strategies, then you should consider incorporating it.
My Advice: When writing a cold email to a prospect, here is an example of the framework I would use.
For brand new SDR's out of college. Focus on building an audience first. There will time for selling later. See below.
My name is Ryan, a recent graduate of [insert university]. This is also my first sales job and my role requires me to generate potential business opportunities for the company. That's not what this email is about, at least not yet. I've learned that in order to earn someone's business, you need to first understand the day-to-day responsibilities of the person whose time you're trying to earn. From what my company has taught me, CFO's such as yourself love using my company's services because we can dramatically reduce your infrastructure spend while also reducing risk's associated with cyber attacks. I know there will be a time and place for us to speak in the future, but for now I was hoping to receive the privilege of connecting with you on LinkedIn. There is no doubt that I can learn a lot from you. Thanks for your time, John.
If you're someone who has been in the game for a while, you can swap out the opening line with something more appropriate. The point here is to deliver a message that demonstrates you are a professional who took their time and skillfully wrote an email to connect with another professional.
Well folks that's all for now. Just some observations, experiences and feedback on how to pitch on LinkedIn vs. how to not pitch on LinkedIn. Here is a link to the original conversation from LinkedIn - click here.
If you want to improve individual sales performance, start with examining what your top performers are doing
Last week I had asked my AE’s and SDR’s to email me their Top 5 target opportunities for the current quarter. For my AE's I asked for their Top 5 opportunities in which they were intending to close within the current quarter and for my SDR’s I asked for their Top 5 target accounts in which they're pursuing and intending to transition into opportunities. Each email response was to be submitted as a direct reply and not a reply all.
We embarked on this exercise for three reasons: the first being so we can identify where our primary focus and attention should be to ensure we hit our revenue goals, the second so I can hone in and provide executive level support on deals that are key targets for us, and three (and oddly most important for me) so I could gauge how deep each rep was into their deals. The results varied and frankly eye opening for me. The varying levels of granularity or non-granularity when detailing WHERE deals were in the process, WHY the prospect was buying our product, WHEN they were buying our product and WHO they were speaking to was staggering. There were two exceptions however. My two best performing sales reps articulated the above with crystal clear clarity. In other words, they demonstrated to me that THEY were in control of their deals. Coincidence? I think not.
In summary, there is more than one way to examine top performer activities and traits. I am definitely interested in hearing your tactics and ideas for examining individual performance that go beyond the typical tactics used by managers today. You know, like dashboards, reports and call tracking. How can we as sales leaders pass on the traits of our best performers to our lagging sales reps which could allow for others to rise up?
Tune into our podcast as I will be discussing this topic in more detail: Click Here
My very first sales job out of college was selling discount telephone services to small businesses in Connecticut. The required process for prospecting was to arrive at my office every Monday, which looked like a call center, sit down at a terminal with a green screen, the yellow pages, desk phone and make cold goals. My goal was to generate 20 meetings or 5 meetings per day for the remainder of the week. If I fell short that Monday, I was required to come back on Tuesday until my objective was completed. Today when people tell me cold calling is dead, I laugh. They have no clue what they are talking about. Two things will remain true as long as sales remains a profession: the phone is still your most powerful weapon for prospecting and the personal letter remains the most underrated form of communication.
I like cold calling because leaving a voice mail, when done right, is the easiest way to get your value proposition into the ears of your desired buyer persona. For example: I am a desired buyer persona for organizations selling sales enablement tools. Whether it be sales automation, data or call recording software I get a TON of emails asking for my time. I rarely ever read them let alone respond. As you soon I start reading product dumps I press DELETE. However, when I get a voicemail I listen to it. The emails to voicemails ratio I receive per month is about 25:1. I always listen to voice mail. Knowing this as a sales rep, why aren't you making more phone calls? "Because Ryan, no one answers their phones anymore". That may be true, but we all listen to our voicemail. We all read our emails. We just decide who we should call back or not and why we are doing so. Here is a tip: send a well written email composed of research and value. Use that email as your voice mail script when you follow up with your prospect the next day. The goal is deliver consistent messaging to your prospect. Trust me, your prospect knows when you have your shit together and consistent messaging goes a long way to building trust through value and earning ones time. This is why, the next second most powerful weapon to unleash in sales and business in general is the hand written note.
There were days when cold calling and door knocking just didn't work. No matter how hard I tried or how many repetitions I'd put in, I was unable to gain meetings with key decision makers. One day my manager saw me struggling mightily and stopped by my work station to ask me if I'd heard of a V.I.T.O Letter. Of course I responded with, "no". He told me V.I.T.O. stands for Very Important Top Officer. He continued to tell me that if I had ever wanted to get in front of a top officer then I would have to circumvent the gate keeper and send personalized letters to my desire makers. Um, what? You want me to send a personalized letter like in an envelope with a stamp on it? He said, "Ryan, I've been doing this for over 20 years and personalization goes a long way." I decided to give this a try. I sent out 10 personalized handwritten letters to small business owners. I got 5 meeting. It f*cking worked! Later in my career I attempted to get freak nasty and started sending V.I.TO. letters via FedEx. I wanted my letters dropped on the desks of C-levels with "PRIORITY" stickers on them. Who doesn't love getting an express letter sent to them? The response rates were mind blowing. 50% conversion rate. Conversation equaling a meeting.
Should you add the V.I.T.O. letter to your process?
I wrote this article so that sales reps can have a glimpse into the mind of a sales leader. Not all sales leaders think the way I do and while I know it's important to keep an eye on emerging technology, I also believe in improving ME.
Prior to 2014, I spent 14 years as an individual contributor. As my career progressed and I learned more about the art and science of sales, every attempt I made to earn a prospects time became more about the process of earning time through value. With every phone call or email I sent, I was reminded that no prospect ever cared about me, my product or how much XYZ company loved using our services. In actuality, my prospects really only cared about themselves, their teams, their jobs, their performances and their career paths. It wasn't until I stepped into a leadership role and the tables were turned that soon I became the hunted. I had mixed emotions about it at first, feeling privileged at times and frustrated during others. The terrible emails from sales reps were pouring in, the lousy voice mails were jamming my inbox and the random out of nowhere LinkedIn requests were becoming the norm. However, for every 9 bad emails sent to me I would receive a really good one. For every 9 lousy phone calls I received there was that one sales rep who was really prepared. As sales leaders we owe it to ourselves, the companies we serve and the people we lead to start accepting more sales meetings from vendors. I do so for for a plethora of reasons.
Selfishly, folks, it's all about me sometimes. I am always learning and whether it be through reading, writing, speaking or accepting sales calls, my knowledge seeking persona will remain in tact. In fact, any sales leader who is not in constant student mode, should rethink their priority stack. Knowledge is first absorbed then passed on. When I attend a web demo, I use that opportunity to learn about the advancements in sales technology, pricing models for such products and services or maybe the vendor's GTM strategy. The tech stack for sales teams is growing on a daily basis with several pockets of market saturation beginning to form (i.e. sales automation) while other markets are emerging and early adopters are taking toe dips into new technology. This is a great time to learn!
Fulfilling My Entrepreneurial Cravings
Again, me being selfish here. Ever since I was a little kid I've had the entrepreneurial itch. I used to buy and sell G.I. Joe action figures to my friends, sell candy bars at school (which may have been illegal), buy and sell Nintendo games and knock on every neighbors door during snow storms so I can charge them $15 to shovel out their driveways. Later in my adult life I started a residential cleaning business with $200 and grew it to $8k in monthly recurring revenue. It's my belief that the best sales leaders are wired to be entrepreneurs and that DNA will transcend into their day-to-day cadence for growth, leadership and scaling their teams. Entrepreneurs are constantly seeking information and are willing to conduct mini-experiments in search of the next best process. Entrepreneurs will pivot when warranted as will sales leaders. I accept meetings from your company's sales reps so I can fulfill my entrepreneurial cravings and to see what other entrepreneurs are building and selling.
Stack Rank My AE's vs. Those Of Other B2B SaaS Companies
Send your best SDR's and AE's in my direction. Every email they send me I pick apart. The bad one's I send to my SDR team with a note reminding them to do the exact opposite. Left me a voice mail? You better believe I am using it during our next training session, so make it good! By reading prospecting emails and listening to voicemails, I know right away if I am training my SDR's and AE's at a level higher than other sales leaders. I usually accept 30% of the meeting requests I get and it's typically with newer or emerging technologies that address real problems faced by sales leaders. Once on these calls, I am listening carefully and watching closely as your SDR or AE conducts discovery, asked me questions and establishes trust.
Improve My Own Processes
News flash! I don't have the perfect sales process. It's pretty good but it's not perfect. Maybe it will never be. As I've grown older and progressed in my career I have become more and more comfortable with my vulnerabilities. I've become so comfortable in fact, that I actively share my challenges, poor decisions, good decisions and current situations with my peers from other B2B SaaS organizations. As a leader, if you want to get better you must collaborate and communicate with professionals in a similar role as yours. What I've learned is that many of us (by us I am referring to VP's of Sales), are either going through similar challenges or have gone through similar challenges prior. The power of speaking to someone who has walked the road you are about to travel is pretty powerful stuff and incredibly helpful. All of these sales leaders have put a process in place to scale and effectively and repeatedly sell their products over and over again. The carrier of these processes are their sales reps. Their sales reps give me a glimpse into a sales process I may not be using myself. Maybe it's a process that I can blend with my own?
Twelve months of selling and one month will make or break your year. That month, is September. September is the most important month in sales for three reasons.
1.) "July & August are some of the toughest months in sales". I've been listening to this excuse for over 15 years. Decision makers being on vacation, you being on vacation, legal teams being on vacation, blah blah, are not the reasons why July & August are the slowest months in sales. This is a myth. An excuse. Even worse, it's mentally paralyzing. Sales leaders across so many organizations actually tell their sales teams this non-sense. This message actually translates into "you may as well take July & August off because your buyers are off as well". This mindset, put's such a heavy burden on the month of September. For example, if your quarterly sales target is $150k, that would equate to a monthly goal of $50k per month. If you essentially take July & August off, you shifted the majority of your sales target and the majority of your mental concentration into the month of September. And this is just one of the three reasons why September becomes the most important month in sales.
2.) Not only do you have to hit your Q3 sales target, September is a harsh reminder that Q4 is 30 days away. So, not only are you not at your Q3 goal, you have to simultaneously build Q4 pipeline. Finishing the year strong is EVERYTHING. Point #1 above, can be tackled by simply adopting the mindset and cadence of a winner. Get the thought of summer vacation status quo out of your minds and focus on building pipeline! My SDR's generated over $1m in validated pipeline in July & August, contributed 2 closed deals in August, while our team closed a total of 7 deals in August. Decision makers don't take 8 weeks off and with technology such as DocuSign there is no reason deals can't be negotiated, contracts edited and executed from virtually anywhere. Stop making excuses and grind in the dog days of summer. Imagine showing up in September at 65-75% of your Q3 target. The process starts on July 1st, not September 1st.
3.) 50% of the pipeline built in September will be won or lost over the course of the following sales year. Deals from September are going to rollover into Q4. Some will close and some will be lost or pushed into the following sales year. While deals are being closed, lost and pushed, at same time, new opportunities are being generated by your sales team. Those new opportunities may also close in Q4, be lost or also pushed into the following sales year. Wait, all of this is happening in September? YES! I am living this scenario as we speak. As a sales leader myself, I am literally watching my SDR's and AE's take on this three prong monster: close new business, find new business and build new business for 2018.
A podcast episode on this topic is coming soon! Look for announcements on Twitter @demolikeauser and Instagram @demolikeauser
Walk through any sales floor these days and you'll be stunned by the deafening silence that has plagued sales environments. There are several reasons (or excuses) for this, but the reality is your closers have too many gaps in their calendars. In other words, they are not talking to enough buyers per day. Sure, there is a time and a place to throw in your Dre Beats and spend time sourcing new target accounts, emailing prospects and doing research but the real cause of sales floor silence is calendar gap, and calendar gap will kill your start-up. How can we fix this? First, let's discuss some leading contributors to calendar gap and then in Calendar Gap Part 2 I'll offer some suggestions for filling calendar gaps and getting your closers in front of more buyers.
Calendar Gap Reason #1: Your demand generation engine is broken or worse, non existent. The #1 leading indicator of calendar gap is a broken demand generation engine or one that doesn't even exist. I am always shocked when start-ups hire sales people before they've proven whether or not they generate a sales lead. What is the point or hiring a sales person, whose primary role is to close news business, if this person is going to spend 80% of their day prospecting? Your sales organization needs to achieve balance and balance comes from a demand generation engine that works. If your marketing team can contribute 40% of your sales appointments, you're well on your way to achieving balance, and better yet filling some of your sales reps calendar gaps.
Calendar Gap Reason #2: Your company hired a sales team before they had marketing nailed down. What is the point of hiring sales people if your business hasn't demonstrated the consistent ability to generate a lead? You need marketing traction in order to better access the market opportunity. Simply running a TAM analysis isn't enough. We all know the problem(s) our solutions fix and the people we want to pitch to. However, our perceived version of one's pain may not be a reality. In fact, the only way to validate this is for marketing to run campaigns against the hypothetical problem we believe we solve for. Let your marketers run keyword search testing to identify if people are actually looking for help. YOUR HELP. Allow marketing to conduct surveys with your ICP's (Ideal Customer Profiles) to better assess the focal points of pain to align them with marketing language content. I wrote an article back in August 2016 which discusses the importance of putting marketing in front of your sales efforts. You'll also read about some my own personal struggles as I ramped up a start-up of my own.
Calendar Gap Reason #3: You haven't hired a sales leader or the co-founders are leading sales efforts. So many co-founders hire sales people before hiring someone who can train and mentor them. Most co-founders are great at selling their vision, telling their company story and may even bring in the companies first 10-20 deals. However, in order to scale the business (and after you've figured out marketing), you will need to hire a sales leader who can tell your company story just as good as the founders. A great sales leader will know how to eliminate calendar gap by creating demand for your products and services through ABM (Account Based Marketing) techniques, framing your ideal hiring profile and putting in place a repeatable prospecting model. Whenever I take on a leadership role or provide consulting, I always advise on nailing down marketing first then hiring sales development reps shortly after. I'd rather have the problem of people waiting in line to talk to me, rather than paying a bloated sales organization with no one to sell to.
Ryan Lallier is a proven sales leader and builder of high velocity sales machines.