Photo credit: Kristofor McGreevy
I’ve just been through a hectic period, implementing sales processes and developing value proposition for technology companies. And admittedly I’ve had very little time writing… I am still fascinated to see how many technologies go to market with a value proposition that is focused on their technology and product rather than the problems they address. But marketing value proposition isn’t the focus of this blog. I’ll focus on something known as sales stack. “Sales what?” do I hear you say. Good question. Let me take one step back.
Many organisations do not have a well structured sales process in place, starting from the critical stage at the top of the process, prospection. This rather difficult stage of knocking on doors and getting a fair amount of “no thanks” to get the necessary “let’s talk” responses (as we know, it all starts with a conversation). I’ve previously shared some thoughts on prospection but I didn’t get into the specifics of how to use the right technologies available to be organised and efficient. Technology teams doing product development have a technology stack in place, an array of technologies that help them develop the product (mongoDB, Node, Angular, etc, etc…). Sales team also need to have a range of tech in place to help them sell the product. That’s their sales stack. So here are some key tools that help to get one in place.
1- The basic. The CRM. No need to dwell on it. It’s the obvious tool, dare I say critical. There are all sort of options out there and I’ve been using a varied range from Salesforce to the small ones. Salesforce is of course a very powerful CRM and there is plenty to read about it. For organisations that are in the early days of their sales development, it might not be the appropriate first step though. One CRM I have been using a few times is called Pipedrive. It does what it says on the tin and is plenty for either a first step or for a mid-size organisation. It’s flexible and easy to rejig the different stages of the process as it becomes clearer what the ideal sales process should be. Importing and exporting data is straightforward (a key feature when doing some heavy prospecting!). And, if the need is to start being fanciful with sales data, as is usually very quickly the case, they have an API to do any customisation required.
2- The basic 2: Email tracking. Email tracking is, or should be, the bread and butter of any sales organisation. There are a few options but I have been using YesWare for years and am a bit partial to it (even if I’ve seen their price rise substantially). Beyond the tracking feature which tracks where and when the mail have been opened, it has templates which is very useful in a Saas context where the message in the different stages of the sales process can have a lot of similarities, team data is available for KPI reporting, mail merge to organise campaigns (see below) and a few more bells and whistles.
Counterintuitive to what one might believe, the immediacy of email tracking is not the most valuable aspect of it. What I find especially useful is knowing that a dialog I have had with a prospect, say, 6 months ago suddenly generates some new activity on my mails. If the process with this prospect ended up as a “no fit”, seeing my emails re-opening shows that the topic I discussed with him/her is moving up in the priority list. And allows me to recontact the said prospect. And as there is no time limit in the tracking functionality, even old conversations and relationships can be rekindled at the right time…
For Saas businesses, YesWare has a feature called Mail Merge which is essentially an email sales campaign solution. In short, for companies using email as a sales prospection channel, it helps put in place prospection campaign and automate a follow-up when a prospect doesn’t respond. It is also possible to track campaigns that work, don’t work, response rate, bounce rate, etc… Used well, I have had open rate of 78% and response rate well above 30% on previous campaigns as can be seen in the screen shot below. Small tip by the way: my experience is that putting links in an outreach email leads to the prospect clicking away from the mail rather than clicking “respond”. Hence the campaign below had no link and a 0% click.
Needless to say that these responses are a mix of “No thank”, “Yes, let’s talk” or “Worth discussing later”.
3- Lead generation – Finding companies. This post if focused on outbound and, to get the outbound process started, there is one thing needed: leads, leads, leads… First thing first, I steer very clear away from lists. Last time I checked, we were in 2016 and lists are dead…
There are a lot of options out there of product that allows to find leads. No shortage of products from datanyze to find.ly and others. But I am particularly fan of being more creative so here are four ideas I’ve used with good results.
Rich datasets: For outbound, where the contact with a prospect is made “cold”, rich datasets allow me to add context to how I found the company or person. What I mean by “rich” is something that goes beyond a name, surname, title and email address. The more personalised a message, the more likely a prospect is to read my cold emails and respond or start a dialog if the contact is made on the phone. Where do I get these databases do I hear you say? Good question! Well, the obvious is Linkedin groups but there is a need to be creative to get good results and there is not shortage of possibilities. I use directories, marketplaces, list of conference speakers, use cases on companies in my ecosystem which also give me a name and a quote to use, etc… Scraping data helps to be efficient for these datasets. From a tool point of view, I’ve been using Kimono Labs which was very user friendly and an ideal solution to turn website into structure data (and structured API). However, Kimono Labs has been acquired by Palantir (a shame for its users but no doubt a great move for the team). import.io or other solutions do the same trick (just google kimono lab vs to find alternatives)
Twitter: Another source of possible leads is, of course, Twitter. It is possible to use a keyword approach to find out who has been talking about, say, drone, CRM or any other type of interest. But for an efficient and scaled process, sifting through Twitter manually is not the most efficient way. To be more systematic, I’ve been using Anygrowth. Good data, very responsive support from the team and a reasonable price point too.
Business Intelligence – Paid for: Another place to access good data is to use a business intelligence tool. For the UK, Beauhurst is a great datasource that has a team of analysts collecting, verifying and enriching information about organisations that are in various stages of growth. Knowing who the growth companies to target them is not easy. But when more than 60% of the growth equity deals are not made public, finding these growth companies is nigh impossible. Beauhurst addresses this issue and have structured their data in a very useful way. It might be a little less creative than the two ideas above and is a paid for option but their price point is very reasonable and saves a lot of time and effort.
Business Intelligence – Free: Owler is also a publisher of business information which has been dubbed as “the death of google alerts”. I haven’t used Google Alerts for a long time as I’ve found it not very accurate (edging on the spammy) but Owler, whilst being crowdsourced, is great. It gives the companies operating in the ecosystem of a prospect, hence giving me new ideas of who to approach, gives alert when there are event related to the companies I follow or allows me to generate companies based on a range of criteria. Oh, and so far, as it is crowdsourced, Owler is free.
4- Lead generation – Finding the contact details of these leads. Once I have the list of companies that are relevant or even the people I want to target, I need to find their details, either phone or email. For this, UpWork is a great solution. UpWork is a marketplace for freelancers. It has of course some competitors but whatever the platform used, the key thing to be efficient is to find the good freelancers. The review systems allows to know those who have been rated well by previous clients. But I realised I have rather high standards for my prospecting needs. And more often than not, ratings didn’t marry up with my experience. So, when building a team of freelance researcher, and after a period of testing, I do find important to invest time with the freelancers, develop a relationship with them and even train them on techniques and technologies to find leads details (it’s a fast moving space). They are a crucial part of the sales process and key team members, even if virtual team members.
More often that not freelancers specialising on lead generations do use tools. The proficient ones even have paid-for subscription to Zoominfo and similar. But here are 3 free to use tools that are also useful on a day to day basis:
a- Rapportive: Do I really need to share what Rapportive is :) ?. In short, Rapportive a Chrome plug-in that cross verifies an email address in Gmail and the Linkedin database. If that mail is in their database, it pulls up the social card on the right side allowing to validate that email. In a prospecting context, if I search Jo Blog from Acme.com, I can test firstname.lastname@example.org and see if Rapportive pulls up the social card from Linkedin. It comes across like this (slightly edited the screenshot below, I have to admit…)
b- Email combination: Email format are more or less the same globally. Whilst there is a wide combination of them, these combinations tend to be always the same. So finding an email address is therefore only a matter of testing all possible combinations of mails and testing it against Rapportive (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc…). It can be done manually though it’s easier to use this spreadsheet that essentially generates all of them. All’s left to do is to test them using rapportive.
Warning: Having the card of a prospect showing up in Rapportive is not a guarantee that he or she works for the company anymore. People might have left their email address Linkedin from previous employers.
c -Mailtester.com. Mailtester sends a ping to the mail server of your prospect and has two outputs: if the mail server allows the ping, it tells you if the mail is valid or not. If the mail server does not allow the ping, it tells you so.
5- Data quality: No solution is perfect. For companies (notably Saas ones) that are doing serious mail prospecting, it’s important to know if the details of an email address are correct or not. This to make sure that the bounce rate is limited and the web server isn’t blacklisted. I have found Briteverify quite useful for this. Loading up the csv of prospects, Briteverify flags those that are not valid and therefore to be excluded from the prospection list.
Pfeeew! Still here? Wow, that’s great! Let’s take a short breather. Based on the options above, what is best for getting leads. A product approach or a more manual approach. I usually take into account two variables: cost and quality.
I mentioned above the option to either use a product (eg: Datanyze) or a manual approach. From experience, the manual approach gives better quality than, at least Datanyze. Typically, the percentage of mail addresses that are not valid from a manual research is around 5% to 8%. With a product approach, I’ve had situation where I have had 14% email addresses flagged as invalid by Briteverify. Up to 3 times worst than those I get when using Upwork researchers.
A lead coming from UpWork, using efficient researchers, costs me anything between $0.40 to $0.65. A lead coming from a product approach (Datanyze, etc…) and similar usually cost around $1 (any update on this would be welcome if I get my data wrong). This bring the CPL (cost per lead) from $1 to $1.16. So, a product based approach is 1.8 to 2.6 more expensive. Clearly, there is also the time involved in managing the researcher that need to be taken into account and this doesn’t give all the “bells and whistle” that Datanyze and other solution do bring.
Conclusion: Despite the management effort needed to handle Upwork researchers and the absence of the bells and whistles, I have found a research based approach with leads identified through scrapping and similar creative ideas is a very valuable option.
6- Automation. Automation is crucial to be efficient. Again, there are plenty of sales automation tools out there but here are a couple of automations tricks I use:
A- Zap. When prospecting via email, even using the likes of Briteverify, it is inevitable to have some email bouncing off. And it is a shame to have identified a good prospect, contact him via email and get this lead wasted due to a bounce. It’s possible to manually log these leads as a bounce in the CRM but I found this to be a tad tedious. A more efficient way is to build a Zap, from Zapier. Zapier, if you do not know it yet, is known as “the glue of the internet” and helps to build a range of actions between various tools. It can be used for an endless list of use cases but, for prospecting, I have built a Zap which checks my emails for text of strings that are always in a bounced email (eg: from:postmaster@ or from:mailer-daemon@ or mail.notification@ ). My Zap polls my email address regularly and every time it finds such an email, the lead is moved into a separate stage of my Pipeline called “Bounced” (how creative he!).
B- Follow-up. When there is a dialog happening with a prospect, the conversation can sometimes go very quiet (what I do call the Valley of Death). Of course, a CRM helps to make sure these do not get forgotten. But I also like to use Boomerang, another Chrome plug in which “forwards back” the email I sent into my inbox as an automated reminder if there’s been no response. Boomerang has a small amount of credits available for a trial and, afterwards, is a paid for tool.
7- Scheduling. The hard work over, the prospection is taking place. Now there is a prospect who wants to have a call. To schedule a call with a prospect, one option is to let the prospect book a time in a diary shared online. I’ve been using the likes of youcanbookme or scheduleonce in the past. The other option which I do quite like is assistant.to. It essentially is the reverse logic, i.e. I pick a few options in my diary and share them with my prospect. It’s a Chrome plug which inserts the options very nicely in the email (see below) or for companies using Salesforce is part of the feature set of CirrusPath, an alternative / competitor to YesWare.
Clearly, these are just some tools to get an efficient sales process started and there are far more tools available out there. I only recently discovered Assistant.to so I am always looking at discovering new, powerful tools to add to a good sales stack. Don’t hesitate to share your favourite ones