Selling for Startups — Prospecting (2)

In this article, I described my two favourite methods for growing the funnel, LinkedIn & trade shows.

Sadly, these are not enough. For one, not everybody goes to trade shows, and there’s a small chance your contact checks their LinkedIn invites & emails twice every 5 years. So relying on these methods only will guarantee the increase of the “you suck factor” in your sales life. Great sales people are always monitoring “the suck” and ensuring it is kept under control.

You must be comfortable in reaching out to people in various ways the same as a cook can use multiple different knifes depending on what they have to cut. I’ll go as far as saying that it’s entirely your responsibility to make the other person feel as normal as possible when you contact them cold. After all, you’re the one changing their routine or disturbing their potentially heavy schedule. To keep their attention and receive the allowance of a short conversation, you have to sound like $1 000 000 just arrived to save their day.

Here’s the remaining methods i used to prospect and a few tips for each:

1- Phone

A.k.a: cold calling. Dude it sucks. Seriously. When is the last time you picked up the phone to call someone who had no clue who you were and actually liked it. Don’t lie about it, be real. I know the last time for me was never. It NEVER happened.

Still, I must have done at least 5000 cold calls in my sales career and I’m shooting low here. Sometimes there are no other way to make someone aware of your product’s existence than to use the phone.

The good news is there’s a way to make it feel more natural, and this for both you and your “target”.

  • Be real, and right off the bat state the obvious — “Hi ‘mam, I’m JS from Startup, hope i’m not catching you at bad time, i know i’m calling you “cold” here, but…”
  • Show you know at least a few things about that person — “… I noticed on LinkedIn you handle Product Management of connected appliances at XYZ inc…”
  • Place your bets on what could be the most probable benefit you could bring them - “…since we’ve helped other companies in the same market take care of issues with the cost & timing of implementing an analytics tool for connected devices, thought I’d reach out”
  • simply ask if they are the right person to talk to and if so, if there’s any relevance in having a conversation — “Is this on your radar by any chance or someone else’s? yes? Since, again, i know this is a cold call, would it make sense to book a quick 15 mins intro call next week to see if there’s any fit between what we do and what you’re trying to fix/achieve/produce?”

Voila, 35 seconds and you know if this is worth it or not. I would like to point out that asking questions, like ‘’is this a good time’’ or ‘’do you have a minute’’ will dramatically lower your chance of getting to the next sentence. Just go ahead and state your purpose, then once your done, let the person confirm if they are interested or not. Just be quick about it.

Will you always have success with this method? Hell no. But one thing for sure, you’ll feel a lot more like yourself, will have some enjoyment in the process, and get the info you need from your contact a lot more easily then running a pre-baked script with pushy methods. The idea, as we’ll see in a future post about qualifying, is always to confirm if the client is a good fit for your solution or not. Unless you work for the perennial Unicorn who fixes a problem felt across all verticals, a lot of your time will be spent hearing the words “hmmm, not for us i think.”. It is imperative for your sanity, your positive outlook on life and sales performance that you come to terms with the fact that not all companies are a good fit for you.

Side note: I would recommend building the habit of noting all the key product points in a conversation with a client. Once or twice a week send those to the Product team (or talk to them… that’s also useful unless they are kept in cages by the management. Then don’t do it) to ensure the functionalities they are building are aligned with what the market is saying. When you have enough volume, say 15–20 real conversations per week with potential customers, your data becomes very relevant to help push the devs in the right direction.

2- Email

More and more, Emails are becoming the go-to method for first contacts. It’s absolutely normal since it’s not intrusive (well, not as much as calling), gives you control on the information you share since the other person cannot say “don’t send me this and that”, and, clearly, isn’t embarrassing or awkward due to the absence of human contact. You basically speaking to your computer.

Does it work — It definitely can.

Is there a way to fuck it up?— omg yes.

Traps to be aware of:

  • People get tons of email. Your title must attract attention without being spam-like. Emails are known to be the best way for someone to ignore you. Make sure your title mentions something about the person (their name, company, title, product, etc…) and the purpose of your email (wanna meet? Having issues with your ERP support?)
  • You have to master the skill of getting to the point very quickly, just like in cold calling. It’s basically the same exact idea: when bugging someone in their inbox, a.k.a the private quarters of the corporate world, you have to make sure it’s worth it for them to open your email. There’s has to be something they get out of it. Here’s a real example from an email i sent over LinkedIn:
I saw COMPANY INC on the Agfunder newsletter thought I’d reach out (disclaimer: i sent the same email to your colleague AWESOMEDUDE).
We haven’t met yet, I handle Business Development at mnubo, an IoT analytics firm in Montreal. Are you guys working on predictive models as part of the GREATPRODUCT platform?
We’ve helped companies like MASSIVEBEAST and SMALLSTARTUP accelerate the delivery of predictive & prescriptive insights to growers, we provide both the technology & data science to make this happen.
Not sure if this is on your radar, if it is, maybe a quick intro call would be valuable.
Thanks, enjoy the weekend! JS — mnubo

Feel free to use and replace the product details with your own.

The result of this reach-out email was to be introduced to the CTO of this company, we are now in finalization of the details for a paid PoC.

Now, i wish all my emails had this kind of success. The truth is closer to 30% of my emails get a response, not all showing interest in pursuing the conversation. This is the same as with calling, the idea is to get their attention with something you do really well that they are most likely to be needing at the moment. You want to give them the feeling you are there to discover together if there’s a fit.

Let me say it one more time: this is extremely important. Remember that you’re a startup. There are tons of risks associated to doing business with you: you going bankrupt, product not delivering the promised benefits, reputation taking a hit internally if the project fails, the “why didn’t you look on the Gartner report for a real solution?” comments, etc… The buyer has to feel safe, very safe, every step of the way. That’s YOUR job, not theirs.

3- Marketing: newsletters, PR releases, webinars, white-papers, blogs and social media

I’ve had countless discussions with some of my peers on the topic and it seems that the crowd is divided in 2 groups: Believers & Haters.

Rule number 1 of Marketing: Don’t be a hater. Just don’t.

Rule number 2 of Marketing: If you have no audience to share your message with, you’re talking to yourself. Which means, you look pretty nuts. great job.

The sales game isn’t about selling anymore. It’s about helping people to buy. The mindset is very different and the interactions with the prospective customers are more about helping them find information they couldn’t get on your website, blog posts, white-papers, etc… You become an advisor, a friend almost, and trust becomes your currency, not ABC (always be closing).

Buyers, as you know, are very educated. Not only that, they are ruthless beasts looking for a discount. I hate to say it but your value pitch will be resonating less and less with the crowd if it’s not mixed with a huge dose of supporting content they have access to read or listen to on their own.

Think about how consumers are purchasing products on the internet. Facebook is a huge publicity platform for all sorts of things. And people are making tons of bling out of it. That same person buying a pair of Nike Air Max on Amazon will be sitting at a desk on Monday AM reading your content, reviewing your proposal or worst, doing the same with your competitors stuff. Why would it be any different for them to purchase or try your product? I for one, consider myself the most compulsive book buyer across the internet. If i see any ad related to a new book from one of my fav authors, I’m buying. My kindle “shelf” is FULL of books I’ve read half-way. Is it any different when I get to work? HELL NO!!! I’m notorious to subscribe to all these freakin’ sales newsletters, IoT blogs, etc… You have to make sure your company is part of the conversation, part of the new voice of B2B sales which is done through Marketing Automation.

You really have to convince your Product & marketing team to leverage all the latest technology available to them in order to create a steady flow of inbound leads. This is the Prospecting 2.0: Web robots doing the work for you. I would also highly recommend that the sales team (or sales management, which in a startup is often the same person) participate in the content creation. Buyers need to feel in control. Providing them with a lot of educational material around the problems you fix, the impact they have and how you can help resolve them (without giving away your secret sauce recipe of course) will do a lot more good to your funnel than all those calls, emails, trade shows and LinkedIn reach out.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t any actions to take once the campaigns are running: someone has to follow up with those people that did read the content or attended the webinars. The major difference though is you’ll have a connection point, an easy way to start the conversation. It’s a lot more fun to say ‘’hi Andy, I’m calling to get your feedback on the webinar you attended last week, do you have a minute or can we book a quick 15mins to discuss’’ than to do a cold call where you clearly run the risk of being an annoyance.

Keys to success: don’t be annoying, don’t be a dick, be interesting, be valuable and make buying your shit as easy as possible for people.

The end.

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