Rikki Lee Jones - Sunshine Superman
Donovan cover. Whoa
Christopher Bell - You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon cover)
What the hell: it’s charming, you know? I dig.
West Coast - James Vincent McMorrow (orig. by Lana Del Rey)
The best thing you’ll hear all day.
Happy Cover Friday to...
I cannot tell you how many emails I get from sales people that read like mini-novels. I dread opening these things because I know that as soon as I do, I am going to be bowled over in a deluge of clichés, sales speak, and insincere friendliness. I will be implored to share my time, link-baited to exhaustion, and regaled with the wonders of forging a mutually beneficial “partnership”. As an added bonus, by opening the email, a signal will be sent indicating that I “read” said email, inviting yet more future intrusions into my inbox.
The cold sales email is about the worst aspect of the sales experience. No one wants to send these and no one wants to read them. Yet we as salespeople stubbornly persist in this soulless practice, evoking the ire and hatred of recipients everywhere. So why do we continue to slavishly grind out one thankless email after another thankless email?
The thing is that just enough people respond that it keeps the email machine alive. The typical response rates for cold B2B sales emails range anywhere from 3% to 9%, giving just enough hope to wanton sales emailers to continue to pump and load those lifeless boilerplate marketing messages across the Internet to unsuspecting inboxes. And those single-digit results are no deterrent, they simply encourage the mechanization of the email process so that sales teams can send out hundreds upon thousands of emails per week. They are all playing the law of large numbers in order to fill the pipeline with qualified leads.
Here’s the thing though, why exactly do we play this Pyrrhic battle of the inbox? Does it make sense to settle for such low response rates while leaving a whole lot of pissed off people in our wake? What if you could send way less emails, but get insignificantly better response rates and not make everyone hate you in the process?
Well, this is sounding a bit like a TV infomercial. However, I truly believe there is a better way to use email effectively as a potent sales tool. A large part of my recent epiphany was the result of attending a sales workshop by Jeff Hoffman (who is an excellent coach) on prospecting. It also happened to come at a time as I was questioning many of the tips, methods, and best practices I had learned over the years about cold emails. Turns out what I was learning and doing during that time was a ton of bad habits, and this week was a huge awakening to that fact.
I will not divulge the details of Mr. Hoffman’s methods (besides it is much better in person). What I can share however are some of the general concepts that hopefully will help you rethink your own email practices.
These concepts are not going to get you in the door all the time. Let’s face it, you may still end up irritating plenty of people. However, if you get 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 response rates, that is a huge improvement over the norm and tells me that cold selling can still work. Let me know how it is going to for you or if you have any tips you would like to share.
Absolutely 100%. The product has to be great, but a great product without a working distribution strategy and great execution will not do you much good.
How Does A Small Company Make A Big Company Successful? via FeldThoughts
I would even state that this applies to any customer. But more importantly, this speaks volumes about the new approach of enterprise sales. The focus is not on pushing product, but on what the customer needs and helping them to buy the solution that best fits their needs. This requires more than just a cursory understanding of the customer, it requires digging deep, actively listening, and bringing new (and often times challenging) ideas into the company in order to standout and build trust in BigCo.
I had an interesting conversation the other week about what takes an enterprise tech startup from modest growth to hyper-growth. By hyper-growth, I mean that proverbial hockey stick growth that every startup yearns for. Very few ever reach that stage, so it was interesting to hear the thoughts from someone that has “been there, done that” in some recent hyper-growth SaaS startups.
The first point is that many recent high growth startups did content marketing really well. This is a bit of fluid term as managing and distribution of marketing messages and assets has always been a common practice. Before the Web and the Internet, it was whitepapers and product brochures sent direct mail or distributed at trade shows. Now it’s blog posts and social media and infographics. An entire series of posts could dwell on this topic alone, but the point here is that developing high quality content does have an appreciable impact on growth if you are consistent and focused on the approach.
The second point though was the more interesting one, which he referred to as the Asian Flying Carp analogy. If you have not heard, it is a breed of fish from various regions of Asia that was imported to the US some decades back. The problem is that they are an invasive species which is prone to overtaking major freshwater lakes. The other characteristic is that they tend to “fly” out of the water when they are startled. There is even a unique fishing tournament that takes advantage of the fish’s flying tactics.
Anyway, the thing about these fish is that because they can “fly”, they could actually “jump” into other nearby ponds and water sources. Once they have found themselves in the new ecosystem, they quickly take it over. In many ways, that is what the fastest growing B2B tech companies have been able to exploit. They find some way through some aspect of their product and opportunistic market dynamics to naturally “jump” into other companies and spread quickly.
Some may say this is simply an element of viral marketing or what growth hacking attempts to achieve. While there are similarities, they are not the same thing. I would call it inevitability marketing instead in that the process to develop your “flying fish” is going to be much more deliberate and built upon a platform that presents the jumping process as the default option. In other words, the customer would only have one realistic choice even if other options were available. This reminds me of the beginnings of Seamless, which secured enough relationships on the corporate side with their food ordering system, that when they approached restaurants, it was a no-brainer for the restaurant owner or franchise. That is why I say this is “inevitable”.
The other element of this however that needs to function is “the jump”. The product has to be nearly stupid easy to order to spread quickly and take over the ecosystem. That was how Salesforce was able to break through into large enterprises when Siebel was the de facto CRM standard. It was easy for any rep to sign up and use immediately as it was cloud and setup was easy. This began a chain reaction where other reps and managers became interested enough to try it for themselves and their teams. File sharing apps are another example of how creating something simple can lead to fast adoption inside an organization.
These examples of “the jump” are internal, but the even more powerful dynamic is jumping wholesale into completely separate organizations. This can be company to company, company to partners, partners to customers, or any other permutation. In many ways, this is the operational underpinnings of networks effects but for the B2B world. As more companies are added , it becomes more valuable of a platform for those companies. However whereas in a typical network effects business all the nodes of the network aggregate up to build the value of the entire network, in this case the value tends to form around clusters. When enough of these clusters connect however, you could eventually control an entire industry.
Not all businesses will have the “flying fish” built in or accommodate such a model naturally. There have been plenty of B2B tech startups that grew massive in other ways. This also does not mean that selling B2B tech is not slog. The flying fish in just a number of strategic options that could help accelerate sales growth, but startups still need to do a ton of leg work to make the strategy work and to tweak it over time. If you do find your flying fish though, you could be in for a sweet ride ahead.
When people hire for sales, they are looking for people triggers. What do I mean by people triggers? Those are the innate signals that hiring managers are seeking that conform to their view of a quality sales rep. More often than not, these are personality types rather than core behaviors and represent a a superficial view of a person and his or her ability.
The reason executives and managers tend to do this is we value people over process. The startup founder thinks if she hires the right rep with the stellar reputation, then her startup will blast off like a rocket. The sales executive thinks that if he simply hires “rock stars” then there is no way he is going to miss another quarter.
This is not so unfounded a belief as the handful of top performers in a sales force will generally will carry the rest of the team. Without those individuals, most companies would founder and eventually fold. The challenge however is finding those top performers and even if you do find top performers, there is little guarantee that they will continue to succeed.
This is where process comes in. Most people tend to ignore the process early on, but it is critical to understand the how and why sales happen and the mechanics of bringing a deal from lead to close before hiring sales people. What are qualifiers? What are the objections? What types of questions do customers ask and how do you answer? What messages are resonating? What are the sticking points in moving a deal forward? All of these speak to the need to understand the process.
The other aspect of understanding and establishing a process is that it informs the hiring process. Instead of hiring based on personality, you can hone in on the specific behaviors that are likely to result in quality hires that result in productive sales reps. Your questions during the interview can target critical areas of understanding of the sale, uncover potential skills gaps, and lead to a more robust understanding of how a candidate would sell according to your situation. Without knowing your process however, you will just meander into hypothetical situations that may not advance your understanding of how a sales rep might perform if hired.
Lastly, when you have a clear (or at least somewhat clear) perspective of your sales process, it helps bring the entire sales organization to a baseline competency. What I mean is that your top performers will always perform well, but the core performers also have a chance to make their quota. In the absence of innate ability, the process helps the core performers to learn faster and gain more confidence. Furthermore, management has a better sense of where bottlenecks during sales happen and how to coach the reps with more specific feedback. Without a process, all the coaching in the world cannot really help as it is all based on gut feel and misguided perceptions.
Getting the right people is obviously important in any role, especially in sales. You will always need those salespeople that can hit it out of the park quarter after quarter. But long-term success depends on understanding why you win business, hiring with more precision, getting everyone on the sales team to perform better, and having managers coach with more relevant and targeted feedback. Get your process on track and you will be on your way to addressing those issues and having more consistent revenues.
Why Startups Need to Focus on Sales, Not Marketing by Jessica Livingston
100% on point. Early stage startups should be selling in front on customers and getting direct feedback.
If SaaS Products Sell Themselves, Why Do We Need Sales? by Mark Cranney
If you have heard the Ben Horowitz story about Opsware or read his recent book, you would have heard the name Mark Cranney. He was the weirdo that no one wanted to hire because he did not look “sales” enough. Ben hired him against everyone else’s judgment and it probably saved the company. This guy knows sales and from my own experience, enterprise deals are extremely challenging to navigate and close.