I was recently talking with Mark Roberge, CRO at Hubspot, for a podcast we’re launching soon. I asked him, “What is a common question that you get that’s actually the wrong question?”
He explained that people constantly ask him for absolute answers to questions like, “What traits should I look for in a sales hire,” and “How should I onboard new employees.” Mark explains, “The mistake is taking diligent notes and trying to replicate.” Unless your business is an exact copy of Hubspot, his answers are useless, and potentially harmful. Instead, you should be asking, “How do I come up with an employee onboarding process that works best for my company?”
Later that day, I talked with Brian Balfour, who also happens to work at Hubspot running their Growth Team. He emphasizes this as well: “People need to stop looking for tactics first, and start establishing a growth process.”
This kind of thinking goes beyond hiring and onboarding. This kind of thinking plagues the sales industry with regard to selection of a sales stack.
A sale is not made based on the tools used. A sale is made possible through the process the rep used. The tools just makes the process scalable. (click to tweet)
Rather than investing in the next tool or platform, take a step back, analyze your sales process and consider the best approach for you and your business.
There is great value in reading articles listing all the tools in the sales stack to keep a pulse on the tools and platforms available. However, there is also danger in following suit. The instant you become too dependent on the tools, you’re at their mercy and risk becoming an automaton- just another cog in the system. When you blindly follow others to incorporate a new tool into your sales stack, you’re focusing on the wrong things and losing sight of the bigger picture.
Examining the Sales Process
A sales process is a system that effectively and profitably guides prospects through the entire customer journey using available resources to make that journey enjoyable for those prospects. A good sales process is predictable and repeatable. A great sales process is scalable.
However, the entire sales process is fraught with challenges that, if mishandled, can undermine not just the productivity of a sales rep, but an entire organization.
In order to build a great process, you need to consider your buyer’s journey and identify the most important pieces of each stage of the journey.
At a very high level, the stages of your sales process could look something like ours:
- Lead Generation
- Lead Management
- Demonstrating the product
- Closing the Deal
For each stage, figure out what you need to accomplish in order to effectively move the most prospects through to the next stage. Then turn to a list that breaks down sales stacks, like this one, to find the solutions that will provide you what you need.
Let’s walk through how to create your sales stack.
Stage 1 — Lead Generation
There are three main ways to approach lead generation: manual prospecting, 3rd party lead sourcing and outsourcing.
When it comes to manual prospecting, speed matters. How long does it take to find one qualified lead? You need to know your business economics to learn whether this is sustainable. Next, consider sales intelligence. Sales intelligence software provides sales reps with vital information, like background and contact information, for a leads, accounts, or across market verticals.
Our favorite tool for this is LinkedIn Sales Navigator. We know most of our prospects hang out on LinkedIn. This gives us access to all the information we need fairly quickly.
Some companies don’t have the time, resources or pricing structure to justify manual prospecting, so they use a 3rd party lead sourcing company. We’ve found the highest integrity leads come from ZoomInfo and Datanyze. .
Rather than paying with time, you’re paying with money. So, the important question becomes how much does each lead cost?
There’s one more viable option for lead generation: outsourcing. By hiring freelancers through Elance and Upwork, we’ve driven our cost-per lead down well below $0.50 without sacrificing accuracy or velocity.
But managing a team of freelancers comes with its own challenges, and could warrant a blog post all its own. To start, here are some important tips: Give clear instructions; test out multiple freelancers at once and cut the low performers (those who give you bad leads, a low quantity of leads, can’t follow directions, etc.) quickly; verify all their work.
Finding good freelancers is an ongoing process that involves contracting with a half-dozen or so to do the same task. We meticulously track their results in separate spreadsheets, use an email verification tool like Kickbox.io, Rapportive or Briteverify.com to reduce bounces, and choose to continue working only with the highest performers.
Important question to ask when choosing your tools/platforms in the Lead Generation stage include:
- How accurate is the information (data integrity)?
- How much information is given to me on each lead?
- What is my price per lead and does that work with my business economics?
- How much time will it take me to get X number of leads?
- How many leads are actual sales qualified leads, and how many close ?
Stage 2 — Lead Management
In theory, this is what the CRM was built for. In practice, CRMs can slow down a high-velocity sales process, especially at the top of the funnel where volume is the greatest. This has lead to platforms focused specifically on the outbound processes.
That doesn’t mean the CRM is useless. It should be the backbone of the sales process, the central database for all communication and can coordinate the activities of sales and marketing teams. Thus, your outbound sales platform needs to integrate with your CRM. Our CRM of choice is Salesforce.
In an active sales process, the volume of outbound sales communication is huge (email, phone, social media, direct mail, etc.). A few platforms address the challenge of managing that volume while maintaining the personal human element of sales, while at the same time preventing leads from falling through the cracks. We built — and use — PersistIQ for this.
In most cases, it takes several attempts to get a response from a lead. There are many factors in creating a successful outbound sales campaign, and you need to make sure your outbound sales platform can support them. Our best performing campaigns have been those that are highly personal and relevant as opposed to those that are generic and purely automated. There’s a fine balance between automation and personalization!
Just like with sourcing leads, it pays to be methodical about your approach. Test multiple strategies, track the results and double down on the best performing cadences and subject lines.
It’s also important to note the vital difference between marketing automation and sales automation. You shouldn’t try to use one for the other’s job.
Important question to ask when choosing your tools/platforms in the Lead Management stage include:
- Am I using the right platform for my outbound sales, or am I trying to hack a sales solution using marketing automation?
- Can my CRM integrate with my outbound sales automation platform?
- Can I easily import and manage leads in each system?
- Does my sales automation allow me to set up personalized multi-touch campaigns?
- Can I test and analyze different message across multiple campaigns?
- How easily is it to collaborate with my team on each platform?
Outbound Sales Platform*:
*Full disclosure, I work for PersistIQ, but I’ve tried my best to give an unbiased opinion of the outbound sales platform space.
Stage 3 — Demonstrating the Product
When things are going well and a good percentage of the cold email volume is converting to phone calls, demos and in-person meetings, managing the calendar can become a chore. It shouldn’t take multiple emails with a potential client to pin down a time to talk, and errors here can be devastating to a deal.
We tried a few tools, including Calendly, ScheduleOnce and Assistant.to. They integrates well with Google Apps, lets us offer a range of potential meeting times for prospects to choose from and avoids double booking meetings when we have multiple requests out at the same time.
Demo and screen sharing software has come a long way too. In the past, this was a nightmare. Each party had to download and install software and figure out how to use it minutes before the scheduled call. But with a cloud solution, this is avoided. The other critical aspect of conferencing software is the integrity of the video. A laggy screenshare can kill a good presentation.
Important questions to ask when choosing your tools/platforms in this demo stage include:
- Does my schedule technology integrate with my calendar?
- How good is my scheduling tool at updating to avoid double booking?
- How quickly and easily can the other party access the conference?
- How reliable is the service?
Stage 4 — Closing the deal
But just as in a cold email process, research and persistence is crucial. Are you talking to a decision maker? Is that the same person who signs the paperwork?
Too often, the sales stops moving forward after the demo. It’s because the AE stopped pushing it forward, or worse, has failed to accurately map the account and is pushing it down the wrong path. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a software tool that can do that job for you.
Important questions to ask when choosing your tools/platforms in the closing the deal stage include:
- How easy and intuitive is it to build proposals?
- How easy is it to send proposals to multiple people at a company?
- How easy is it to edit templates and proposals?
- How secure is the service?
- How much automation do you need in this process?
Once you have your core sales stack in place, you can start filling in small gaps that help you move through the process quicker and with more accuracy. This is where individual preferences often come in. For example, one team member may prefer Viola Norbert where another may prefer Thrust.io for finding and/or varifying email addresses.
Some of my favorite additional tools that fill in the gaps are:
Finding the right stack for your sales team is a matter of mapping out your buyer’s journey and identifying your team’s needs to move prospects through that journey efficiently and effectively.
Use data to guide decisions. Do a minute-by-minute workflow analysis so you can understand where you’re bottlenecks and how to streamline the process.
The bottom line is you should never invest in a tool or platform within your sales stack that does not clearly fit into your workflow and make reps more productive.
Remember the wise advice given by Mark and Brian: first focus on the process, not the tactics (click to tweet).
If you liked this, please check out other posts I’ve written:
Published in #SWLH (Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking)