As the founder of an entirely remote company, I’ve long fielded questions about our culture here at SalesRoads. Often, they come from a place of skepticism; “How do you create a high output sales environment without the buzz and intensity of a sales floor?”
Admittingly, there is something special about after-work happy hours, ringing bells, and buzzing phones. These environments build comradery while injecting friendly competition, both are important pieces of sales culture, but so much of this can be recreated in a virtual environment and if your revenue depends on the promise of an after-hours drink, how stable is your revenue?
Perhaps these questions are euphemisms for, “How do you monitor your employees to ensure they’re working without having them in one place?” Once again, I would contend that your sales output is fragile if it hinges on a manager’s ability to physically see their employees. Don’t buy into antiquated patterns that stifle innovation. After all, the biggest innovations are always radical before they’re normal.
So then, how does SalesRoads do it? After 13 years in business, two times named to the INC 5000, and four times a Great Place to Work; I’ve learned that a positive sales culture is entirely possible without the need for a sales floor, and I’ll use two examples to illustrate my point.
Example One: The Paranoid Manager
I was recently made aware of a Fortune 500 company that was forced to pivot its SDR team to a remote model. Managers now randomly call each SDR three times per shift to ensure they’re working. Not only this, but they increased the number of required activities to try and cover for lost revenue.
This behavior baffles me.
Firstly, if your managers feel they need to monitor their staff then they hired the wrong employees. Secondly, if your managers spend all their time micromanaging, how do they find time to complete real management activities? Where is the time for coaching, reporting, and strategic thinking?
This environment lacks everything a good office culture should have. There is no trust, it’s filled with anxiety and paranoia, and if there was any semblance of comradery there before, it has certainly been shattered.
The SDR that told me this story is now actively looking for another job and I can guarantee you that if your sales rep is looking for another opportunity, you are not getting their best work.
Example Two: The Generous Employee
We’ve all recently faced a truly unprecedented challenge. A challenge we never imagined, but somehow it still found its way into our local stores, our homes, and our nightmares. The challenge, of course, is a shortage of toilet paper 🙂
Amidst the social media fodder and jokes, however, is a real problem for many Americans. It’s one of the many distractions pulling our minds away from work but also one of the things that somehow connects us in a time of tribulation. So when I heard that one of my employees who lives in a rural community that had yet to be affected by any shortages had gone to Walmart, bought supplies, and mailed them to one of her colleagues who was being affected, I laughed, I sighed, and I felt a great sense of pride in the culture of trust, comradery, and community that we have here at SalesRoads. There is no doubt in my mind that this generous employee is invested in her work, and not only because of her consistent performance, but because of her investment in our SalesRoads family.
These examples may be nothing more than anecdotes and they may be apples-to-oranges comparisons, but they are real stories that illuminate the choice we have as leaders. We can fill an already anxiety-ridden moment with more stress, or we can support each other in moments of crisis. The way we respond is a reflection of the culture we chose to create.
So, when people ask me how we maintain a high output sales culture without the buzz of a sales floor, I think about the investment our employees make in our company, in each other, and in their work. I can’t think of a better barometer for culture than employee engagement, and so far, the results speak for themselves.
With many organizations being forced to consider the possibility of remote-only work, it’s never been more important to plan for how to keep your team productive while working from home. Although this is a new challenge for many businesses, other organizations have successfully leveraged the remote mode and its benefits, for some time.
At SalesRoads, we are one of those organizations.
In fact, we’ve been entirely remote since our inception in 2006. In addition to perfecting the art of managing a remote office, we have been named a Great Place to Work 4 years running and named to the INC. 5000.
Here are our secrets to motivating and managing a completely remote sales team.
#1) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
If you’re moving to a remote model, communication management is probably the first barrier that comes to mind. The reality is good communication does look different when working in a distributed environment, but that doesn’t mean good communication isn’t possible.
In fact, simply working to facilitate good communication may result in better workflows than you had in your office. A couple things to consider:
Keep Your Team in Sync With Established Meeting Rhythms:
Daily Huddle – At SalesRoads, each team has their own 5-minute daily huddle where we state one key goal for the day, anything we are stuck on and need help with, core-value shout outs, as well as a team cheer to end the meeting. It may sound impossible, but we often complete these meetings in 3 minutes, and they function as a barometer for your team and the challenges they are facing on the day to day.
Weekly Team Meeting– Although the idea of a weekly meeting isn’t unique to remote settings, they take on extra importance in a distributed environment as you have fewer opportunities to bring the entire group together. This is your chance to brainstorm solutions, disseminate vital information, and tackle big challenges that require strategic thinking from the whole team. These meetings are literally the heartbeat of your organization’s work.
Bonus Meetings Tip: Make a habit of recording your meetings and make them accessible to your team. This is incredibly helpful when you go back to execute on whatever work you strategized.
1-on-1 s – Are critical to go deep with your direct reports to discuss their work as well as their own personal development. You should be reviewing KPIs in your team meetings as well, but this is an area to hone in on individual performance.
Quarterly Company Wide Meetings – At SalesRoads, we have company wide meetings on a quarterly basis where we discuss our goals, accomplishments, and developments. As always, things can be slow to disseminate in a remote organization so these meetings are a sure-fire way to ensure everyone is on the same page. We use this opportunity to reinforce core values, demonstrate a common purpose, and create buy-in at all levels.
Best Practices: Text-Based Communication
When working in a distributed environment, text-based communication will inevitably become an essential part of your workflow. Although email and instant messengers are office mainstays, you need to be deliberate in how, and how often, you use these tools. Here are a couple things to be mindful of.
Text-based communication requires vigilance in your wording. Sarcasm can be easily misunderstood without the benefit of facial expressions or vocal inflection.
“Another meeting that could have been an email” – or is it the other way around? Yes, email is used for important communication, but think critically on what you’re hoping to accomplish. Sometimes a quick 10-minute meeting can resolve what 10 emails cannot.
Instant messengers, such as Slack, are vital to facilitate quick and frequent communication. Although it may seem tempting to treat these tools as the digital equivalent of “stopping by,” this mentality can quickly turn your essential communication channel into a nightmare distraction for your employees. Imagine an endless stream of people stopping by your office door to ask questions, you would never get anything done! Encourage your employees to close their messengers when they need to focus on projects, try to cut down on superfluous messaging, and do not use these tools to “check-in” and make sure your employees are working.
Facilitate with Visuals Whenever Possible.
You’ll quickly find that screen sharing is a vital part of conducting remote meetings. We advise against creating a PowerPoint for every meeting but do use visuals whenever possible. Typing your meeting agenda into a word doc. with key points is a great way to provide clarity for your audience.
On the subject of screen sharing, it’s amazing how a 3-page email can be distilled into a 60 second video. At SalesRoads, we frequently use screen recordings as a medium for sharing info. that is too complicated for an email, but not worth scheduling a meeting. Some of our favorite tools for screen capture include Loom and Snagit.
If you’re comfortable, turn on your camera. Although we often conduct voice only calls day-to-day, I have been trying to turn on my camera more often. It can be nice to see your co-workers. It provides reassurance that you’re engaged and listening. Likewise, don’t mute out of meetings unless you have a lot of background noise, it can have the opposite effect of making people feel you are notengaged.
Create Clear Expectations – Give people advanced heads up and clear deadlines. Although this is a best practice in any work environment, it is especially true in a remote setting as you can’t “stop by” your coworkers’ desk or nudge a gentle reminder during lunch. If you need something done on Monday, send the email on Friday (if not Thursday), or it can easily slip through the cracks.
#2) Boost Morale and Combat Loneliness
Although most employees love the idea of working from their home office, it can be isolating if you don’t take the proper steps to ensure people feel involved and invested in as people. Things we do to build a sense of community and inclusion are:
A Virtual watercooler where people can share their favorite recipes, pictures of their pets, vacation photos, personal news, birthday wishes, and whatever else would otherwise be reserved for the breakroom. Although some companies use weekly newsletters, at SalesRoads we simply set up an extra Slack channel and one employee is nominated every day to ask a question. At the end of the day, they nominate someone else to ask a question the next day!
Send E-Cards and celebrate your team. We all love getting birthday cards and being in a virtual environment doesn’t stop that! Sending e-cards for birthdays is an easy way to let people know you’re invested in them as people. You should also shout-out accomplishments like exceeding quotas or landing big sales. Acknowledgement goes a long way in keeping your team happy. You can even take the extra step of sending gifts to contest winners. In fact, I once made cookies and sent them to a top SDR. They were famously received as “Kreiger’s Cookies,” which were so popular we had to bring them back for another contest!
Take your employees out for lunch! Seriously, being remote doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy lunch with your employees. I just launched a new initiative to take a handful of employees out for lunch every month. It’s a small gesture but ordering delivery for your employees and having a digital lunch event is a great way to stay in touch with your employees. You never know what great ideas your employees will share when given the opportunity.
#3) Create an at-Home Office Environment
There are pitfalls to working at home, both personal and professional. The first pitfall is not creating a professional environment that facilitates productivity. Ensure family members who are in the house understand that you are still working and ask them help eliminate distractions. Bolster yourself by creating an environment that is productive for you. Some people may choose to dress like they are heading to the office, while others prefer to dress more comfortable. Whatever your preferences, just make sure they facilitate productivity.
The other pitfall is blurring the lines between work and home. When you work from home, home can start to feel like work, and this will tax your mental health. By creating those boundaries, through your dress, environment, and interactions, you preserve the benefits of working from home while ensuring you remain productive.
#4) Build a Culture of Trust and Accountability
There are many benefits to working from home, but it requires a certain level of trust and accountability to truly flourish. The biggest joy of work from home is the freedom it brings – the freedom from a heavy commute, the freedom to walk your dog over lunch, and the freedom to grab your kid off the bus. But this joy erodes to anxiety, for yourself and for your employees, without a culture of trust and accountability.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to build a positive culture early on, it can be nearly impossible to rectify if you try to force your previous culture into your remote environment.
Trusting my employees is something I’ve grappled with as the founder of an entirely remote company and although I have been burned before, by employees misrepresenting their hours or workload, I’ve committed to trusting my team and holding them accountable for their results. This can be a hard mental shift for executives who have become accustomed to visually verifying the efforts of their team.
So often, successful executives get in the way of their own team by trying to dictate how and when work should be done. We all know the perils of micro-managing, but the reality is we all have those tendencies and they can be exacerbated by a remote environment. Make your expectations clear, trust your team to work diligently, then get out of the way!
Accountability is the other side of trust; this is where you measure your employees’ output and hold them accountable for their work you trusted them to do. I’ve found that time and time again, my employees go the extra mile because they are personally accountable for their KPIs and performance. By making expectations clear, there is no room for excuses and, to the contrary, innovation abounds. Trust and accountability are the building blocks of your remote team. Invest in these core values for your own sanity!
Quick Tools List:
Good habits are only half the battle when it comes to remote communication, you also need the right tools to collaborate in a remote office. Your exact tech stack will need to fit your organization, but some essentials for every business include:
An instant messenger for short and quick communication. We mentioned Slack as the tool we use but Skype, Discord, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts are other options.
A platform for external and internal meetings. Popular providers include Zoom Meetings, GoToMeetings, UberConference, and Skype. It is worth considering that some platforms require you to download their software, so going for an online-only solution can be a means of reducing the burden on your client, but they tend to be less stable.
Softphones for external calls. Although much of your internal communication may be done via an instant messenger and email, you still want your sales team to have work numbers where external parties can reach them.
A central calendaring system so your team can coordinate dates. Many email providers have a built-in calendaring system, but other options like Calendy or YouCanBookMe are good options.
A cloud solution for sharing and collaborating on documents such as GSuite or Microsoft Online.
A tool for screen recordings – Loom and Snagit are both free options.
Although there are some hurdles to managing a remote sales team, our 12+ years of success at SalesRoads demonstrates our successful commitment, We have found that not only is a remote environment entirely possible, but your employees will be happier, and in turn be more productive. Should you need help stabilizing your pipeline in a remote environment, or simply want advice on how to conduct remote sales, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or reach out at salesroads.com/contact.
This is Part Two of a Four-Part Series: The Ultimate Guide to Generating New Business. This guide focuses on B2B strategies for effectively finding, engaging, and selling your product to other businesses. We hope you find this guide useful and informative. Don’t forget to come back and read the other sections which are set to be released in the following months!
In the previous section of this series we covered lead generation and the process for finding and identifying prospective customers, you can read it here!
In this section we will continue that discussion by walking you through the process of turning those leads into new business opportunities, or as the title suggests, how to start a sales conversation!
Defining an Outreach Strategy
To kick this article off, we want to address a common misconception about the sales process: “sales is an innate skill that you either have, or you don’t.”
An effective sales strategy is more than what you say to a prospect. In fact, the actions you take prior to calling your prospect are arguably as important as what you say. Although there is an idea of herculean sales professionals who use their charm to sell sand in a desert, most of us aren’t like that. And the reality is, those sales professionals are myths.
Ask any successful sales leader or executive and they will tell you that the key to selling lays in the process. So, when we discuss how to start a sales conversation, what we’re really discussing is how to define an effective outreach strategy.
At SalesRoads, we’ve been working to distill those processes into an effective sales strategy that can work for any product or service, and we firmly believe our results speak for themselves. Although we will be going over each consideration in depth, we thought it would be helpful to give you a high-level overview of the process before getting down in the weeds.
Creating a Value Proposition
Remember that Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) Worksheet we created in the previous section? Well now is the time to dig it back out. If you missed the first part of this series, we recommend going back and reading Part One: The Ultimate Guide to Lead Generation before continuing.
Now that you have your ICP worksheet handy, take a second to review the commonalities that make up your ideal customer and try to answer the question: “What problem does your business solve for your customers?”
If you’re ahead of the game you’ve probably already identified what that value is. But if you haven’t, it might be helpful to think about your ICP in reverse (e.g., what makes you an ideal vendor). Do you have the best customer service in the industry? Have you developed a proprietary method for delivering a sought-after service? Do you have a patented solution for an all too common problem?
Those solutions your business provides – they are solutions to problems. So, you also want to identify what pain points your business’s solutions addresses, as they become a vital part of your value prop. At SalesRoads we call those (drum roll please), pain points and solution points, and they are the backbone of your value prop. A great value proposition can take on many forms, but it should include a mixture of the problems your solution addresses, what makes your product unique in the marketplace, and what life will be like for your customer when your product solves their problem.
As is a common theme in this series, you know your business best, but here is a list of things to be aware of when writing your value prop:
Audience – who are you speaking to? A CEO or a staff accountant?
Metrics – do you have any metrics that backup the value of your product/service?
Movement – your value prop should paint a picture of how life will be different with your product or service
Spice – avoid platitudes and boring phrases like “improved efficiencies”
Value – what does your product or service actually do
Use Cases – in which situations is your product or service most helpful?
Not all value props are created equal and some may be better suited for one purpose or another. Likewise, your value prop may not include all the considerations above, but it should hit on most of them. Here’s an example of a value prop for SalesRoads:
With 50,000 business opportunities created and more than a decade of demand generation experience, SalesRoads is your partner in sales. By freeing your sales reps from the problem of prospecting you’ll not only see a shorter sales cycle and improved efficiencies, you’ll crush your quota!
The above value prop does a lot of things well! In fact, your first value prop may look something like the above example. It has metrics, explains what we do, generally speaks to our target audience of a decision-making executive. But what if we took it one step further? Could it be even more powerful?
As a busy executive, we understand the pressure and frustration that comes with getting your sales team to prospect new business. SalesRoads eliminates that stress and frees your team from the yoke of identifying, contacting, and qualifying new business opportunities. With more than 50,000 of those unique opportunities created, you can trust SalesRoads will empower your reps to sell more, all while reducing the time and resources you invest in managing them!
Now we took a pretty-good value prop and made it a great value prop! We speak directly to our target audience, added some spice, and built more value, without having to sacrifice the best parts of our original proposition.
As is becoming a theme in this series, only you know your business best, but hopefully you can begin to formulate your own value prop and then work to make it better!
Finally, remember your value prop is less detailed than a mission statement and more descriptive than a tagline. You might have heard this referred to as an “elevator pitch,” which is a pretty good description because a good value prop explains what your business does, what problem it solves for your customer, and it should take less than 30 seconds to say.
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Choosing Your Channels
At this stage, you should have a clearly defined value proposition that specifically addresses the problems your customer faces. You also have a set of leads and contacts that fit your ideal customer profile. The only thing left is to get your value proposition in front of those leads!
To accomplish this, you’ll have to decide which channel you plan to leverage to complete this goal. Different types of customers respond to different kinds of mediums, so once again, you’ll want to go back to your ICP. If you asked your customers how they found your business, this step will be easy. If you didn’t, no need to worry, you can make some inferences based on the other information you collected.
When choosing which channels you want to leverage in reaching your prospects there are a couple things to consider:
What data you have/can access (you can’t rely on text messages to reach prospects if you don’t have their cell number).
Where your ideal customers tend to be. Think LinkedIn vs Instagram, they have different audiences and serve different purposes.
What type of channels have been successful or are prominent in your industry? A common example is car manufactures who do a lot of TV advertising to reach a broad audience, but TV probably isn’t a great fit for a niche B2B solution.
Depending on your expertise, budget, and tools you can always conjure up a new mix of channels. In fact, we highly recommend trying new combinations of channels as your business and market conditions continually change.
We recognize how challenging it can be to identify which channels will be most effective in reaching your customers. If you don’t feel you have a strong grasp on the various channels available for reaching your customers, we recommend reading 4 Steps For Identifying the Right B2B Channels by SalesRoads’ Maria Enns.
Putting Together a Cadence
One of the biggest pitfalls in the sales process is only trying to reach a prospect once or twice. In fact, only 10% of sales professionals contact a prospect more than three times, and your team is probably guilty of this too. The reality is, landing a sale takes being consistent and persistent – remember how we said the key to sales lays in the process?
To this end, it is absolutely imperative that you create a cadence, or a series of steps your team will take to reach their prospect. A cadence is comprised of multiple “touches” or attempts to reach that prospect, and you should create a cadence that has multiple touches, leveraging multiple channels, and testing different messaging.
The volume and frequency of touches will depend on the specifics of your business, but at SalesRoads we like to build cadences that use a mix of phone calls, emails, and LinkedIn messages (those are your channels), and we typically like to follow up with a prospect every 3-5 days (frequency). In total we aim to touch a prospect 12-18 times (volume).
You can already imagine how much more of impact 18 touches has over 1-2 voicemails, but an effective cadence is also about more than just volume. Creating the correct mix of messaging that fits the channel you are utilizing is equally important.
Let’s say you call a target prospect and don’t get a response. Your next touch could be a LinkedIn message mentioning the voicemail you left and asking them if they got it. Your third touch could be an email simply saying you’d like to connect and that you hope they enjoyed the article you shared via LinkedIn.
Starting to see the synergy created by a consistent, multi-channel cadence?
The other side of this coin is your messaging. It goes without saying that a 5-minute voicemail will not be listened to, but you might be able to achieve an equally powerful result with a 15 second voicemail and a single paragraph email. The LinkedIn request might be just enough to get them to open the email and – BAM, you’ve connected with your prospect.
Obviously, it doesn’t always happen like this, in fact, you probably won’t hear from most prospects. That said, sales is about process, and if you run this process enough then it simply becomes a game of numbers.
Getting People to Listen
We’ll touch on this much more in the next part of this series about improving sales outcomes, but it’s important to start building a strategy now for how you’re going to grab your prospects attention. The following section is focused on an outbound cold calling strategy, but many of the principles can (and should) be applied to different channels like email. This is where you take that value prop and turn it into an elevator pitch. Something that can be said in less than 30 seconds and peeks your prospects interest.
For starters, you’ll want to make sure you’re talking to the right person before diving into your pitch. Don’t make the mistake of going through your entire sales pitch with the receptionist, it won’t lead to any sales and may prevent you from reaching the prospect you really need to speak with.
As we mentioned, we’ll be diving into this subject much deeper in our next section, but here are some key elements for getting people to listen:
A strong opener that grabs their attention – At SalesRoads we utilize a unique approach where we ask for 27 seconds of the prospects time, and then tell them they can decide if they want to continue the conversation. This gives the prospect perceived control and they normally respect your request, allowing you to complete the pitch.
Address internal and external problems – Every purchasing decision is driven by two factors, the external problem the customer hopes to solve, and the internal stress this purchase relieves. An example might be a CRM you are considering purchasing for your business. The external problem you are trying to solve is managing thousands of contacts and your team’s interactions with them. The internal problem that drives you to open your wallet is the stress and confusion that comes from not knowing how recently your team has followed up with their prospects and where they are in the sales process. In our experience, addressing internal problems drives sales better than external problems. So, don’t over focus on what your solution does functionally, but key in on how your solution will change your prospect’s life for the better.
Think about common rebuttals – If you get thrown off by the first question your prospect asks, you’ve not put enough thought into the barriers of purchase. A common objection all B2B salespeople face is “we don’t have the resources.” Although this may be true, don’t let the conversation end there. Instead ask a follow up like, “I completely understand resources are limited, but if my automated accounting solution could eliminate the need to hire another person for your finance department, while also boosting your department’s productivity, would that be worth an introductory call?” In this case, you’re building more value and leaving the door open for a follow up.
Creating a Funnel
Since we left our last section off with a strategy for leaving the door open to a follow up, it’s probably appropriate to discuss the importance of creating a sales funnel. Just like it takes more than one touch to engage a prospect, it will probably take more than one conversation to finalize a sale. Although you are likely familiar with the idea of a sales funnel, it can be surprisingly tricky to implement.
One of the most common methods, and the method we practice here at SalesRoads, is the Appointment Setting method. This method typically deploys a division of labor between a Sales Development Representative (SDR) who executes a cold outreach strategy and an Account Executive (AE) who works to close warm leads generated by the SDR. The SDR typically looks to quickly build interest and qualify the prospect. If the prospect is qualified, they then set an appointment for the AE who looks to learn more through a discovery call, performing a demo and then eventually closes the sale.
If you’re interested in learning more about the appointment setting method, or if you would simply like to have qualified appointments set for your team to close on, visit theSalesRoads Appointment Setting Page.
A key feature of creating a standardized funnel with something like the appointment setting method is it allows for analysis of what is successful and what is not. It is a lot harder to measure success when the entire process takes place in one call or meeting. Furthermore, when managing a team of reps, they may visualize their funnel differently, so it’s important to be consistent across the board.
Executing and Testing Your Cadence
At this point you have a list of leads and associated contacts, multiple touches as part of a cadence, a funnel to run your prospects through, and a basic strategy for connecting with your prospects – the only thing left to do is execute on your outreach strategy. But how are you going to track all those moving parts?
You will have different contacts at different stages in your funnel and at various touch points, you’ll have contacts with different priorities to reach, and on top of selling, you need to keep track of all these variables.
You need a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).
These days, almost every business has a CRM but that doesn’t necessarily mean your CRM is going to be an effective lead management tool. You’re probably familiar with some of the bigger players such as SalesForce, Zoho, Microsoft Dynamics, and Hubspot. All these are great tools for general contact management and the more quintessential CRM features, but you may also want to consider another tool specifically designed for lead management and sales operations.
Some examples of those players include Pipedrive, Insightly, Agile, and our personal favorite, VanillaSoft. All of these services can operate as a CRM but offer additional features that may help you reach your unique organizational goals. In the case of VanillaSoft (which we use as a CRM and as a sales engagement platform), they offer a suite of tools that help us reach our organizational objectives of reaching more contacts, automating our sales process, and ultimately creating more business for ourselves and our clients. Some of those extra features that make a big difference include:
Queue-based routing – no more cherry picking leads you want to call. Set your priorities based on set parameters and it will automatically route the next lead with the highest designated priority.
Automated tasks – no need to type out every email or repeat every voicemail. You can set templates and voicemail recordings to automate your sales process.
A Reporting Engine – dig deeper into what parts of your outreach are effective and make informed decisions to improve outcomes.
Of course, you’ll want to pick a CRM that works for your organization, and there is no shortage of options out there. If you decide to do some shopping, you’ll want to make sure the CRM you choose allows you to do some reporting. After all, this section is on executing and testing your cadence.
As you move prospects through your funnel, you’ll want to be measuring leading indicators that point to effective messaging and then fine tune your outreach strategy to replicate and expand on what is working. This might be as simple as moving an email with the highest open rate to the front of your cadence, or it might be adding/removing a channel altogether. Either way, you’ll want your finger on the pulse of your sales team to test what is effective and build a strategy around that.
The data points you want to collect and report on will depend a lot on your business and goals. There are CRMs that help manage content marketing, others for sales operations, and many niche CRMs such as those for HR Recruiters, Advertising, or even Legal Services.
We might sound like a broken record, but you know your business best, so you’ll ultimately have to choose the CRM best suited for your organization. Likewise, you’ll have to determine which leading metrics are most important to report on. At SalesRoads, for example, we do a lot of outbound calling, so metrics such as dials per hour, dials to conversation, and conversations converted to an appointment are important to know.
As you can see, the further into the process of creating new business you go, the more you must trust your judgement, and firsthand knowledge of your business.
I've Connected With Some Prospects, But How Do I Land the Sale?
Once again, congratulations! You learned a lot in part two of this series. We covered everything you need to define an outreach strategy including building a value prop, creating effective messaging, choosing the right channels, building a funnel, and choosing the right CRM!
In Part Three of this series we will take a deep look at how improve Sales Outcomes now that you’ve finally connected with some prospects!
This is Part One of a Four Part Series: The Ultimate Guide to Generating New Business. This guide focuses on B2B strategies for effectively finding, engaging, and selling your product to other businesses. We hope you find this guide useful and informative. Don’t forget to come back and read the other sections which are set to be released in late 2019!
So you’ve decided your organization needs to generate new business. Maybe you’re trying to launch a new product, expand into a new market, or just need to your quota now. Either way, you need to generate new opportunities and don’t know where to start.
First, take a deep breath and know you’re not alone. Many organizations struggle to keep their pipeline full of new customers and although it may seem daunting, this article will guide you through everything you need to get started.
So with that said, lets dive into the first step in generating new business: Finding Leads.
What is a Lead?
Before we can discuss how to generate new leads, we first need to define what a lead is. This definition may change depending on who you ask, but for the purpose of this article a lead is defined as having two parts:
A person or organization that you think would benefit from your product/service.
This person or organization fits your ideal customer profile.
Easy enough, right?
What is Lead Generation?
Unfortunately, the confusion around what a lead is extends to the term lead generation as well. A Google search for the keyword “lead generation” will turn up results for Facebook ads, CRMs, data companies, and yes, lead generation agencies.
The definition of lead generation varies greatly depending on the source and the service they offer. At SalesRoads we see lead generation as the process of identifying, qualifying, and contacting prospective customers who are interested in your product or service.
To help your understanding – lets break that definition down a little further.
Identifying leads is all about generating a list of potential customers to contact. The emphasis here is on creating a sufficient number of prospects to chase. If you’re always creating new lists, it can be hard to accurately track the effectiveness of your outreach and decide where to invest more time. The exact number of leads you need before beginning to qualify them depends on the length of your sales cycle, scope of work, and bandwidth to pursue them.
Qualifying leads is all about figuring out which leads are worth pursuing further. Your time is finite so you don’t want to waste time calling businesses who can’t afford your product. Qualifications can be hard or soft – meaning they can be a preference, or they can be absolutely necessary.
Contacting leads is all about getting your foot in the door. Its great if you’ve identified a list of 1,000 companies you’d like to work with, but if you don’t know how to reach your customer it doesn’t matter much. Likewise, you’ll want to understand who within an organization is your target prospect. Calling the IT department about your new SaaS marketing solution probably won’t yield great results, but a direct line for the marketing manager might.
With this in mind, you’ll want to start thinking about what types of businesses you want to work with so you can find options for pursuing them (it’s hard to prospect new business if you don’t know who you’re looking for). This process is formally known as creating an Ideal Customer Profile.
Creating an Ideal Customer Profile
Although countless books have been written on the subject, building an ideal customer profile is a vague, often difficult process but is one that every business should undertake. Your ideal customer profile is going to guide every decision you make from here on out, so it deserves your upmost attention. It is also something you should revisit frequently as your business and market conditions change. To make this process easier, we’ve created an Ideal Customer Profile worksheet that you can download here.
Step One: Identify Your Best Customers
Think long and hard about your best customers, but don’t just think about who paid you the most money. Although the average deal size should be a part of your ICP, you’ll want to consider all the factors that make your customer ideal.
You should be considering things like how long they have been a customer, how easy they are to work with, how much they benefit from your product, what verticals they work in, and how they came to be your customer. Imagine you could clone 3-4 customers. Who would you like to work with over and over? Only you know who your best customer is, but these questions should be enough to get you thinking.
It goes without saying, this step is only applicable to businesses who already have some customers. If you just started a new business and don’t have any customers to analyze, find a handful of businesses you think could be ideal customers and use those as your subjects for the next step.
NOTE: Steps Two and Three, Analyze and Interview, are somewhat interchangeable. You may find your analysis opens more questions than it answers, and you may find that interviewing your best customers informs your analysis. It is perfectly fine, if not encouraged, to flip between these two portions but we recommend starting with an analysis.
Step Two: Analyze Your Best Customers
When conducting the analysis portion, start by studying your 3-4 best customers using available data. Utilize any internal and publicly available information like revenue size, total number of employees, average deal size, customer longevity, and anything else you think is relevant to your customer profile.
To give you an example, at SalesRoads we consider the geographic footprint of potential clients when identifying our ideal customer. We’ve found that companies need to have a regional footprint in at least three states to have enough target prospects to truly benefit from our service. Although geographic footprint is important for us at SalesRoads, a SaaS CRM company probably doesn’t care how many states you work in. This theoretical CRM company probably does care how many employees you have and how many of those employees would need a license to use their product. To round out the example, employee size really isn’t important for us when determining if a client is a good fit. At the end of the day, only you know which factors are truly important for identifying an ideal customer.
Regardless, write down everything you know about your 3-4 best customers and move on to the next step.
Step Three: Interview Your Best Customers
At this juncture you should have some hard metrics on what your best customers look like. Now reach out to those customers and ask them if they would be open to an interview (if they don’t say yes, they might not be your best customer)!
Before sitting down for an interview think about what information you can’t gleam from available data and center your questions around that. Examples might include:
What was the reason you decided to invest in a solution like the one we offer? (e.g., what was the issue you were trying to solve)
How did you find our service?
Why did you choose our service over other solutions you looked at?
Why do you continue to use our service?
Is there anything you would change about our product?
How many people are involved in decision making process to purchase our product?
In what ways is our service helpful to your organization?
For example, at SalesRoads we see our ideal customer as a sales executive or organization who doesn’t have the time or resources to effectively manage an inside sales team. We also like to see a client who is looking for a long-term sales partnership, not just a short campaign to hit their immediate goals. As we alluded to earlier, it doesn’t mean we won’t take a shorter campaign, but it’s not our ideal customer. To flesh out this information we asked some of our best clients:
What led you to work with us originally? (lack of time/resources & need to rapidly increase sales)
Why do you continue to work with us? (a true sales partnership)
How many people we’re involved in deciding to contract our services? (informs our sales cycle)
Once you have an idea of the types of companies you would like to work with and what types of stakeholders to target within those organizations, you’re ready to start compiling a list of prospects to chase!
Types of Lead Generation
We’ve already touched on the lack of consistency surrounding the lead generation vernacular, so you probably won’t be surprised when we tell you that methods around lead generation are also convoluted. To make things easy we’ve broken down lead generation into two buckets. Let’s take a look together.
Inbound Lead Generation is about making yourself visible. This includes activities such as search engine marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, and more traditional channels such as television, radio, and print. Like the name suggests, you’re trying to get yourself in front of customers and pique their interest, so they contact you organically.
Outbound Lead Generation is about making yourself heard. Outbound lead generation strategies include trade shows, offering referrals, outbound social, targeted email, and cold calling. The strategy with outbound lead generation is oriented towards proactively reaching out to your target prospects and starting a dialogue. This strategy is closely aligned with sales.
With the emerging popularity surrounding digital channels you might be thinking, “perfect, I’ll start a blog and wait for all that sweet business to roll in!”
In no way are we suggesting you neglect inbound channels. Creating a stream of inbound leads is one of the most valuable endeavors your business can undertake. It is also one of the hardest things to nail down in practice and is an investment in every sense of the word. People aren’t going to start buying your product because of a couple social media posts, no matter how funny they are. We’ll explore inbound lead generation techniques later in Part Four of this series, Scaling Sustainable Growth.
The reasons we suggest focusing on outbound lead generation first is multi-faceted, but to summarize quickly: inbound lead generation requires a deep understanding of your most effective messaging and this takes time to develop. You could spend countless hours writing blog posts and thousands of dollars on ads with nothing to show for it.
Compare this to outbound lead generation where the goal is to engage live people, and it’s easy to see how the ability to pivot mid-conversation and read social cues is a major advantage in terms of message refinement. Outbound lead generation also has the advantage of being inherently linked to sales. Business now is better than potential business later, and any good conversation has the chance to turn into an immediate purchase. As a bonus, you’ll get live feedback on the challenges your prospects face regarding your solution.
Lead Generation Services
If you’re reading this article, you might be interested in starting your own lead generation operation. But if you’ve decided that it all sounds like too much and you’d rather just have your team call pre-qualified leads, there are options available. At this point it should be no surprise that the scope and quality of lead generation services vary widely, but here are a couple different types of services you’ll come across.
Simple List Building – many data companies sell prospecting lists under the guise of lead generation. Although purchasing a list can be an effective way to get yourself off the ground, these lists often need to be “cleaned up” before they can be used (more on that soon).
Inbound Lead Generation – is often just another term for marketing. Many companies will run online ads and send you the data. This can be an okay option if you’re looking for an economic solution, but these services have the same problem as list builders; the data often needs to be cleaned and you don’t know if their qualified yet.
SalesRoads Opportunity IQ Lead Generation – at SalesRoads we offer a unique type of advanced lead generation. Because we believe in forming sales partnerships that are for the long-term benefit of both parties, we start our process by helping you identify a list of prospects that fit your ICP. We then call the prospects and qualify them through a series of questions before asking them if they would be interested in learning more about your product/service. You receive all the data we collect to inform prospecting decisions, but more importantly, you team is connected with prospects who have expressed an interest in your product and want a follow up!
Our clients tell us that our unique approach to lead generation returns highly qualified prospects that are easy to engage and result in profitable opportunities. If you would like to read some case studies or would like to schedule a meeting to discuss how we can help you identify, qualify, and contact new leads for your business, visit our website at salesroads.com/client-success.
All that said – you came here to learn how to create leads for yourself, so let’s get started on creating an outbound lead list!
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Creating an Outbound Lead List
Generally speaking, you need to identify a list of businesses and contacts that fit your Ideal Customer Profile before you can begin to contact and qualify them.
Our recommendation is to purchase a list of businesses and contacts and then supplement that base list with manual research and any existing contacts you have. There are numerous online resources for purchasing lead lists and we’ve included some below.
ZoomInfo – Established and credible data company. More expensive than other solutions.
Crunchbase – Mostly venture backed start-ups.
Discover.org – Owned by Zoom.
Seamless.ai – the only AI-powered search engine built for B2B leads. They offer a free trial and are a great cost-effective alternative to Zoom.
SalesIntel – SalesIntel is a top provider of accurate and affordable sales data. They have over 4 million human-verified contacts, resulting in 95% data accuracy, plus their chrome extension is completely free.
Which service you want to use is dependent on several factors including the number of leads needed, your budget, and ICP. If you really need to understand how much funding your prospect has, a solution like Crunchbase is a good choice, although Zoom also has this functionality and is always acquiring new capabilities as the competitive landscape grows.
If funding isn’t as important as finding a cost effective, all-around solution, we recommend a product like Seamless or SalesIntel. Both solutions also have the advantage of integrating with LinkedIn, which can be incredibly handy when you go to scrub and supplement your base list in the next section.
Prices for a list can run anywhere from a couple hundred to tens of thousand dollars depending on the service and size of your list. Once you have a list of leads that fit your ICP, you can begin to scrub and supplement that base list with manual research.
Scrubbing and Supplementing Your Base List
After purchasing a list you’ll inevitably find that some of your lead records contain inaccurate or incomplete data. Before you load these leads into your CRM, its probably worth going through each record and scrubbing out any unhelpful records. A situation where you might just decide to scrub the lead is when you come across a record that obviously does not fit your ICP. If you provide IT support for SMB then it probably doesn’t make sense for you to target a huge multi-national corporation like Microsoft who certainty has an internal team, but if your core customer is listed on the Fortune 500, call away! You will want to strike a balance between removing too many records and eliminating wasted time pursuing dead end leads.
Once you’ve taken out the obviously poor fits, you can begin to supplement the incomplete records with manual research.
Depending on where you found your list you may need to supplement with different sets of information. For example, Crunchbase makes it very easy to find companies that fit certain parameters such as recent funding or executive profiles, but they do not provide contacts for that company. You may decide to look up contacts at those companies using ZoomInfo, but even then, you’ll inevitably have a handful of inaccurate or outdated emails, phone numbers, or titles. We’ve included some resources for you to use when supplementing your list.
Email Grabber – scans websites and can help you find missing emails
LinkedIn – great for findings contact names and titles within an organization. Can be paired with SalesIntel or ZoomInfo for more capability
Rocktreach.co – identifies email structures within an organization allowing you to make informed guesses on where to reach your contacts
ZoomInfo – Covered above, solid service but expensive price tag
Automata – an amazing tool for finding complex, specific, or unique leads and associated info. For instance, if you need to find the contact info for an individual that has sales experience, was promoted in the last year, and works in the automotive industry, this is your solution.
When all else fails you can use the following process for rounding out your records.
Take the business name to LinkedIn and find a person with your target title.
Go to that company’s website to find their main phone number and call the front desk.
Finally, tell the receptionist that you’re looking for the contact/title you found on LinkedIn and ask to be transferred.
You may or may not connect with your prospect, but if you do it right you should be able to determine if your contact still works there, if they are the person you want to reach, and possibly how to reach that person.
Putting It Together (The Perfect Calling List)
Over the last few sections we’ve listed no less than nine different resources for finding prospecting information, as well as different use cases for each one. During your list building and research phase you are certain to find tools that work better for your business, but also others that fall flat. Unfortunately there is not a magic mix of resources that create a perfect calling list.
Well, maybe there is a perfect mix, but the secret ingredient isn’t an ingredient at all; it’s just good ol’ fashion elbow grease.
At SalesRoads we strive for 98% list proficiency. This requires a concerted effort, to the tune of hundreds of hours of work from an entire team of data and research specialists. Although you might not have a dedicated Data Team, you still want to do your best impersonation. Some steps our Data Team takes to ensure such high proficiency include:
Manually Verifying All Contact Info Including Name, Direct Phone, Email, Title, and LinkedIn Profile Link
Manually Verifying Business Info Including Address, Phone, Current Employees, and Website Link
Aggregating All of the Above Data into a Single Data Source
Checking Multiple Resources for Records or Fields that are Still Missing
Verifying Email Validity Through a Tool Like ZeroBounce to Reduce Bounce Rate
Building Sophisticated Integrations to Ensure Data Hygiene Across Tools
At any rate, invest as much time here as possible, it will save you a lot of time in the long run. After all, you don’t want to waste time sending emails to accounts that are no longer active, or worse, spending weeks pursuing a prospect that has recently retired.
Testing and Optimizing Your Lead List
Remember to document the steps you took to create your lead list. Once you begin prospecting with this list, you’ll want to determine what works well and what does not. This will ensure that you are continually improving your lead generation process, not just calling aimlessly.
Although we’ll cover this again in Part Two of this series, Starting a Sales Conversation, proper documentation on the front end is paramount to that effort.
How long Should Lead Generation Take Me?
We wish we could answer this question with absolute clarity but, just like creating your ICP, only you can really determine what is reasonable for your business. Typically, it is recommended that sales professionals spend about 60% of their time prospecting new clients. Using that as a guideline, we would say that generating a list should take about 25% of that time upfront, with the understanding that more research is likely needed as you begin to prospect off that list.
When you do the math (25% of 60% = 15%), a general recommendation might be around 15% of your total sales time should be dedicated to creating a sufficient list to call on, but again, only you know what is appropriate for your business; and as we mentioned above, the more time you spend creating a perfect calling list, the more time you save in the long run.
If you feel overwhelmed by this process or lack the time and resources to execute on it efficiently, visit salesroads.com/lead-generation to learn how we can help you create a list of high conversion, qualified prospects who have expressed an interest in learning more about your product or service.
Congrats on making it to the end, we’ve covered a lot in this article! To help you stay on track we’ve summarized a list of topics we covered for creating a high performing lead list!
Create an Ideal Customer Profile
Types of Lead Generation
Options for Finding a Lead List
Lead Generation Services
How to Clean Your Lead List
Testing and Optimizing Your List
I Have a Bunch of Leads, Now What?
In the next part of this series we will discuss how to turn those leads into qualified opportunities. Some subjects we will touch on include:
Defining an Outreach Strategy
Creating a Funnel
Building a Value Proposition
Getting People to Listen
Part two of this series is set to release in mid-November so remember to come back and check it out!
SalesRoads founder David Kreiger was recently interviewed by Victor Arocho, a thought leader in Sales Leadership and Coaching. To learn more about how Victor turns sales professionals into sales leaders, visit his website at victorarocho.com.
Listen to the full interview here and see our top takeaways below!
Since the dawn of time countless business owners have asked themselves this same question, “How do I reach more customers?” Although this fundamental question hasn’t changed, the answer certainly has.
To illustrate my point, let’s step back into a simpler time when there were only 4 TV channels, a local paper, whatever magazine you found at the salon, some billboards along the highway, and the party line you shared with the neighbors.
This time was both good and bad for business owners looking to grow their operation. On one hand, it made reaching wide audiences easier because there were simply less places for people to look. On the other hand, business owners almost certainly wasted a lot of money reaching people who had no interest in their products.
To complete this thought experiment, imagine a car dealership wanting to promote the new 1961 Ford F100 Pickup Truck. Knowing that you want to reach drivers, putting a billboard along the main road into town might seem like it makes a lot of sense, but in reality, everyone on the road already owns a car. So, was a billboard really the best means of reaching people looking to buy new cars? Perhaps this dealership would have been better off promoting their car maintenance services instead.
The challenge for business owners today really isn’t all that different. What is different is the sheer number of options they have for reaching customers at their disposal. One look at the diagram below illustrates how confusing it can be to find your target audience.
Even this diagram is admittedly incomplete, and the organization of channels is bound to change depending on who you ask, especially when applied to the B2B sphere. Furthermore, each channel has its own streams that further complicate finding your customer. For example, social media might seem like a straightforward way to reach people, but even then, you have to decide which platform to utilize.
This all brings us back to the original question: What are the right B2B channels to grow my business? In the next four steps I will walk you through the process of identifying those channels, and the answer is as easy as you imagine!
Step One: Set a Goal This should be the first step before undertaking any serious business endeavor, but one that is often overlooked. Of course, you want your business to grow, but you will have to be more specific than revenue dollars if you really want your business to thrive.
Additionally, you’ll want to consider how you plan to reach your goals. For example, imagine you own a SaaS solution with a subscription as well as a “freemium” option, and your goal is to increase the number of paid subscribers. In this scenario, do you want to increase your number of users, or do you want to focus on improving your free-user to paid-user ratio?
One of our clients, Kuebix, was faced with such a dilemma. After thoughtful consideration, they decided to focus on their paid to unpaid ratio and found massive success. I invite you to read the case study here.
The point being, there is more than one way to dice an onion and you’ll want to consider not only the “what”, but also the “how”, when outlining a goal. This can be deceptively hard and will force you to consider the subtle nuances of your business and surrounding marketplace.
Step Two: Identify Your Audience Again, this is one of the first things you should understand about your business but is one of the hardest things to nail down in practice. Your target audience should also align with your goals. To go back to our previous example of a 1960’s car dealership looking to sell their new Ford Trucks, they thought their core audience was drivers, a fair assumption provided they sell cars. But more specifically, they were looking to sell to a specific kind of driver, either one who was looking to upgrade from their previous model, or a new driver who had no car altogether. Either way, maybe they should have spent their ad dollars on a placement in the local paper’s classified section – the place someone in the market for a new car would be.
Step Three: Find Where Your Audience Is You might be thinking to yourself, “If I knew the answer to this question, why would I need this article?” But stick with me, the answer isn’t so straight forward.
Take social media for example. If you sell funny pop culture t-shirts, your core customer is aged 18-24, and your goal is to drive sales, a display ad featuring the shirt on Instagram might be your best course of action.
Conversely, at SalesRoads we work strictly in B2B, so we choose to focus our social media efforts on LinkedIn because that is where our core customer is.
The more clearly you define your goal and audience the easier this step will be. So if you are struggling to identify where your customer is, try refining steps 1 & 2 before moving on.
Step Four: Figure Out Which Channels Convert At this point in the process you should have a clearly defined goal, a target audience, and an idea of where to find them. Now you need to put some skin in the game and start testing different channels to see if your hypothesis was correct so you can start measuring which channels convert.
This process is a lot harder for traditional B2B channels and for businesses whose goal is to build awareness. It is nearly impossible to attribute revenue growth to a collection of billboards, although you could make educated guesses about the number of people who likely saw the ad and assign a rough dollar amount to each impression.
Especially when just getting started, you probably want to avoid big brand-building exercises like the one above and focus on the channels that can be attributed. This is why digital channels are increasingly popular, everything can be tracked. So unless you have millions sitting in your ad budget, focus on B2B channels like email where you can attribute your conversions.
Putting it All Together Now that you’ve tested some different channels, you ideally have a crystal-clear picture of who your customer is and how to find them. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always so obvious. In all likelihood, most channels you tested probably generated something, but knowing where to invest your precious dollars may be a challenge.
Our suggestion is to take a multi-channel approach and continuously test your mix. At SalesRoads we’ve generated more than 50,000 business opportunities using three main B2B channels – Phone, Email, and Social Media (LinkedIn to be more specific).
How did we find this perfect mix for success? Well, let’s walk through the steps together.
1.) Set a Goal: For most of our clients this is an appointment set with their ideal customer. So we’ve defined a goal and move on to the next step.
2.) Identify Your Audience: Because we operate exclusively in B2B, our clients want to reach high-level decision makers who have the authority to close a deal. Depending on the client and target prospect our audience may be a director or C-Suite executive.
3.) Find Where Your Audience Is: Since we are targeting high-level executives who can make decisions on behalf of their business, we reach out to them at their place of work. In practice, we’ve found our most productive channels to be the Phone, Email, and LinkedIn. Because we have a clearly defined goal and target audience, this makes a lot a sense.
A) Executives always have a phone number dedicated for work and we’ve found a phone call is an effective way to cut through the noise. B) They certainly use email for business functions. C) LinkedIn is a social media platform for professionals.
When you put it all together, you have a powerful channel combination for creating new business!
4.) Figure Out Which Channels Convert: On any campaign, we’re always measuring this along the way and adjust depending on what the data says. On some of our campaigns, LinkedIn is a huge conversion driver, on other campaigns, phone is our bread and butter. We tend to shift our focus onto the most productive methods and messaging but never eliminate a core channel.
At the end of the day, we recommend using this approach and utilizing a multi-channel strategy. Although the notion of a multi-channel approach certainly isn’t novel, identifying the right mix can be challenging, especially if you are having trouble personifying your core customer. For this reason, it is important to always be testing your mix and following your audience. Ultimately, identifying the most productive channels for growing your business is challenging work, but if you utilize our battle tested method, you are bound to find a successful mix to grow your business!
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