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.
Recent Tweets @
Posts I Like
Posts tagged "Sales"

NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup

The first event for the newly launched NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup went way better than expected!  Free events are tricky to gauge when it comes to RSVP’s, but that evening over 75 sales folks attended and out of 90 sign ups.  The first panel topic “Your First Five Customers”  garnered some great discussion by our five panelists and moderated by Jake Dunlap of Skaled.  It was great to hear each panelist candidly share their experiences in finding and driving home those first enterprise deals for their early startups.

We have to sincerely thank our panelists for being so generous with their time and insights:

We also have to thank our sponsors, Work-Bench, who provided the space and Enhatch, who sponsored the food and snacks.

Come join us for the next event in September on ‘Creating “Sales Effective” Sales Messaging’.  It will  be a panel discussion talking about how one takes a marketing message and transforms it into something that gets buyers interested.

Full house for our first ever NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup last night! Thanks for everyone that helped out and that attended. (at Work-Bench)

I was planning on writing something that helped break out the differences between the elevator pitch, the unique selling propositions (USP’s) and value propositions.  Then I came across the exact same post written last year by sales guru Jill Konrath, which is pretty solid, so I am reposting here in its entirety down below.

One key point here is the difference between a USP and a Value Prop, which most times confuses folks.  When you are selling B2B enterprise solutions, USP’s are the equivalent of check box items in an product evaluation.  Sure, they help “differentiate” from the crowd, but at the feature level and without any context.  Just because something is different does not mean it is better for the prospect.  That is why Jill states that USP’s provide little value in the B2B sales campaign.

The Value Proposition is much more useful in the early sales cycle, because it hits upon results and gets closer to the perspective of the customer.  Having hard numbers helps, but not absolutely necessary, particularly when you are still early in the product development cycle and return on investment (ROI) is difficult to measure.  The point though is that a good value proposition should be relevant to the prospect’s need and demonstrate the type of upside that makes your solution a worthwhile investment.

Without a strong value proposition, it’s much harder to sell your products or services in today’s economy, much less even get in the door of big companies. But what is a value proposition? And how is it different from other commonly used terms?

A value proposition is often confused with an “Elevator Speech” or a “Unique Selling Proposition.” It’s essential to understand the difference between these terms because their purposes and sales impact are very different.

Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a short, 1-2 sentence statement that defines who you work with (target market) and the general area in which you help them.

About 10 seconds long, it’s used primarily at networking events to attract potential clients and stimulate discussion. The following elevator speeches show you how some people describe what they do:

  • “I work with small businesses who are struggling to sell their products or services into large corporate accounts.”
  • “We help technology companies effectively use their customer information to drive repeat sales.”
  • “I help small-to-medium sized manufacturing companies who have difficulties with unpredictable revenue streams.”

Unique Selling Proposition

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement about what makes you and your company different from other vendors.

Its primary value is to create competitive differentiation. A USP is often used in marketing materials or in talking with customers who are ready to buy.

Here are a few good USP examples:

  • We specialize in working with financial institutions. (Specialty)
  • We guarantee service in 4 hours or your money back. (Guarantee)
  • We use a unique tool called SureFire! to analyze your critical needs. (Methodology)

Helping customers understand your USP is imperative when they’ve already decided to make a purchase decision. But USPs have absolutely no impact when customers are satisfied with their situation or when they’re frustrated but haven’t yet decided to change. USPs are far more effective in the business-to-consumer market than in business-to-business sales.

Value Proposition

A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. 

A strong value proposition is specific, often citing numbers or percentages. It may include a quick synopsis of your work with similar customers as a proof source and demonstration of your capability. Here are a couple examples to stimulate your thinking:

  • “We help large companies reduce the cost of their employee benefits programs without impacting benefit levels. With the spiraling costs of health care today, this is a critical issue for most businesses. One of our recent clients, a large manufacturing company similar to yours, was struggling with how to reduce spending in this area. We saved them over $800,000 in just six months. Plus, they didn’t cut any services to their employees, nor did their employees have to pay more.”
  • “I help technology companies who are launching an important new product into the marketplace – and need it to be successful to achieve their sales forecast. Where I help my clients is in the often dropped hand-off between marketing and sales. As a result, they’re able to more easily meet projected sales goals and significantly shorten time-to-profitability.”

Both the elevator speech and the USP are cousins of the value proposition, but there is one vital difference: they lack the punch of a value proposition when selling to the corporate market.

Announcing the NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup

If you are an enterprise sales rep, where do you go to meet with peers, learn new techniques, or share your experiences?  If you peruse, you can find plenty of groups around NYC to join that are nominally in the sphere of sales.  The problem is that many of these groups were either networking centric ,were too unfocused in trying to cover everything sales, or were too narrow in their focus on a niche subset of sales.

Another thing I noticed, especially now that I am once again leading the sales charge, is the dearth of knowledge and experience in the area of enterprise sales.  This is particularly acute for technology startups, but also applies across the board.  For most people that enter sales, the training is on the job.

It is for these reasons that I launched the NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup with the help of two of my friends and rock star sales professionals, Mike Pierce and Jeremy Baksht.  The idea is to have a community for people dedicated to enterprise sales, whether they are considering a job in sales, just starting out in their career, or they are a long time professional with decades of success.

The focus of the group will be learning and networking.  Our community will be a place where people can learn new techniques and tools, sharpen their skills, share their experiences, educate their peers, and grow their professional network.  While our energy will be on hosting our monthly in person events featuring guest speakers and panelists, our goal is to expand the opportunities to network, to contribute, and to build an online body of knowledge on the topic of enterprise sales.  As we are truly committed to building a community, we also want to get your input and hear your ideas for programming that you want that could benefit the group.

I encourage you to join our group if you are involved in enterprise sales or exploring opportunities to enter the field.  I would even say startup founders, whether business or technology oriented, should join us given how it is often one or more of the founders that wears the sales hat early on to secure those first few customers.  In fact, our very first panel discussion is on the topic of closing those first big deals called “Your First Five Customers”.

The first event is Tuesday, August 19th starting at 6 PM in the enterprise tech accelerator space Work-Bench on 110 Fifth Avenue.  Please do sign up for the group and even though our August event is full, I will be opening up some more spots shortly.  I look forward to seeing you next week!

Everyone has that picture in their head of the prototypical sales rep. Not the used car salesman image, but the one of the über successful sales person. Tall good looking, outgoing, and probably athletic. Of course, having known many sales people over the years, the reality is there are all shapes and sizes and personalities. The only commonality that ties sales people together is an unhealthy appetite for accepting rejection and an incredible well of persistence. Otherwise, most sales people are all over the map.

Recently Jason Lemkin of EchoSign fame came to NYC to spend some time meeting with various SaaS startups founders. He also gave a few talks which I was grateful to have the opportunity to attend. One of the reoccurring themes I picked up from his talks was the idea of hiring athletes whether to manage product or to run sales.

Now you might think that hiring athletes seems to be a bit of stretch. Let’s face it, many folks in tech do not exactly hue to the ideal of being athletic. Besides what does being an “athlete” have to do with closing long and complex deals for nascent innovations offered by startups? Well, not much because if experience is any guide, one’s ability to do triathlons or bench press stacks of weights does not translate to quote killing, sales comp smashing performance.


However, I look at the comment in another way. It is not about the physical body, but the mental ability. The athlete has intense focus and discipline. The athlete has clear and specific objectives. The athlete is results driven. The athlete is relentless in improving and iterating and practicing. The athlete does not back down from the challenge, but instead tackles it head on.

That is the model of the modern sales rep. In a day and age when building chummy relationships and getting by purely from one’s network are gone, there needs to be a better way for sales people to succeed. It is not by being the classic relationship builder and simply working hard only goes so far. Running purely on gut feel is too high risk in high stakes sales opportunities. On the other hand though, being too data oriented and detailed can stifle the initiative and creativity needed to break into new accounts.

The new model of sales is the idea of being a “challenger”. This is not meant in a confrontational way, but as a way of introducing new ideas that changes the perspective of the prospective client. Those new ideas are novel and contrary to industry currents, are pertinent to the audience being pitched, and are always tied back to value. In short, the sales person better be well prepared long before introducing themselves to the potential customer.

What is responsible for spawning this different approach to sales? It is mostly a function of greater information available to customers through analysts and Internet sources as well as the growing complexity of enterprises themselves. This has created better educated customers that are both in control of the sales process and have higher expectations of the vendor sales teams.

So the type of sales people you need are athletes, but the mentally tough kind that have the discipline and perseverance to succeed. Sales is the toughest of jobs in a company which is why it is the highest paid position, but also the one with greatest turnover. It is no mistake that many famous quotes by athletes work so well in a sales context like this one from Michael Jordan:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, >I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over >and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

That could be any sales rep that is prospecting, hitting the streets, and banging on doors. It is drudgery and thankless and often humiliating. It is not a job that one takes if you need instant gratification or to be always liked. You wear rejection nearly every single day and it is enough to wear out the most seasoned professional. And that it why it is so crucial to hire the “athletes”, the ones that can push through the down periods to get to the high points.

One note before closing however on the physical side of being an athlete. Many sales people forget that they not only have a sales quota to smash, but they also have their bodies to care for. This is something that I have personally been negligent of since jumping back to the entrepreneur side. It is easy to push things too far to the point of causing serious harm to one’s health. Unlike money or relationships, your health is not something you can ever get back.

The best athletes recognize the importance of balance between pushing oneself hard and rest. The best sales people understand the need for hard work but to also get adequate rest with interspersed with down time in order to rejuvenate. If it is good enough for top athletes, then it is good enough for any sales person.

Never Try to Sell a Meteor to a Dinosaur

Kind of how what enterprise sales feels like sometimes.  Lots of dinosaurs thinking you are selling meteors.

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.