Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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People want “me” mail, not email. Email must be relevant to, and meaningful for, the recipient. If it’s not, don’t expect it to be read. If you don’t provide sufficient value, your emails will end up in the spam folder.

via Seth Godin

A good addition to my thoughts last week on cold emails.  If they are not relevant to the recipient, then it was not worth sending and you wasted your time.  Instead of pumping out tons of generic emails, make each one count and personal and meaningful for the person that will open it.  Make it about them, not you.

You can’t ‘try’ to be successful at selling. It just doesn’t work. You have to commit to it and be willing to do what it takes to reach your objectives. Then, when things change, you have to go back to learning again.

SNAP Selling by Jill Konrath

Sales, like many things in life, requires constant learning and iteration.  Most sales people we met are definitely committed to selling, but often are using methods that have grown stale overtime.  The methods and processes that once worked so well simply become ineffective.  The sales people and teams that have a strong commitment to learning however are the ones that are successful in the long run.

(via enhatch)

The Real History of Sales Technology via Enhatch Blog

A look at where we have been with various iterations of sales technologies which have been very data entry oriented / data model centric and how the future will be a break from the past.  The first task is to get back to building technology that is built for users first and then proceed from there.

via enhatch

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.

  1. Your emails are too long - This is easy to fix. Instead of going on for paragraph after paragraph, think about fitting the entire content of your email on a smartphone screen. Why? Because that is what most people are now reading email on and they will not have the patience to scroll down for more info.
  2. Your emails are the wrong shape - How much time are you spending talking about yourself? Do you launch right into talking about you? Do you make your “ask” clear and concise? And why do I mention shape? Think of a right triangle. Now invert it so that the right angle is on the upper left, and that is the shape you want. The first section is about your recipient and is the longest. Then the second is about you and is shorter. The last section is the ask and should be the shortest. That is the right shape.
  3. Your emails are link heavy - Your emails may never even be getting to your recipient. Why not? Because spam filters are getting smarter and smarter, looking for emails with excessive links from domains they do not know. Lose the links including those in your email signature. If a recipient is truly interested, they will reach out.
  4. Your email needs an “in” - The first thing someone sees on an incoming email is the sender and the subject line. Make it count by mentioning something that is relevant to the recipient. Search around the Internet to find something that might have been said or presented by that person. That is more likely to get someone’s attention when it is about them as opposed to you.
  5. Your emails need your real address - Anything other than your corporate domain name and your real email address is patently unacceptable. That includes the use of email marketing tools. Just don’t do it, spam blockers are wise to those methods will banish your email to the spam hole, never to return.
  6. Your emails must go to the right address - It is okay to guess an email every so often. If you get it wrong and get bounced, no worries. Do it too often in too short of a span and expect to get spam blocked or even worse, getting your company’s domain blocked. Make sure you are dealing with the right email address at the onset.
  7. Your emails should aim high - Reaching out to executives is not something to avoid. As long as you adhere to the previous six tips, you should be okay. The bonus is that when you get a response, a referral from a senior person is a significant stamp of credibility and should get you the meeting with the actual decision maker you were targeting.

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.

The ascendancy of software delivered through increasingly ubiquitous mobile, cloud, and social networks fundamentally changes the landscape for entrepreneurs. The old rules no longer apply. Any innovation strategy needs to take into account five principles of this new environment:
1. Market shifts are unpredictable.
2. Small teams create immense value.
3. New markets are winner-take-all.
4. Speed is the only competitive advantage.
5. For every success, there are a multitude of failures.


About Those Long Enterprise Sales Cycles…

"Just remember that optimism looks exactly like doing nothing."

LOL…enterprise sales often feels like nothing is happening.  It is indeed the patient game.

That is a really bad idea. It is very likely that one channel is optimal. Most businesses actually get zero distribution channels to work. Poor distribution—not product—is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have a great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished. So it’s worth thinking really hard about finding the single best distribution channel. (via pointsnandfigures)

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.

Instead of expecting BigCo to react to you in any way, start from the perspective that if you want a relationship with BigCo, your only goal in life should be to help BigCo be successful.

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.