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.
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.
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 the SalesRoads 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!