I caught this tweet from Peep Laja (someone I admire greatly and whose advice I generally think is gold) today:
This was one of the rare times I disagreed with Peep (or at least with my initial interpretation of this tip), and so I replied, wanting to provide some nuance but limited by Twitter’s short-format. Hence this blog post to explain in greater depth a problem that I think is becoming endemic to the B2B sales and, particularly, the startup/SaaS worlds.
To Peep’s credit, he meant this in a different context than I took it (following up after an in-person pitch where a relationship has been established is totally different from the follow-up to a cold outreach email/pitch). But, given the amount of times I’m seeing this:
Or this (via Moz’s CMO, Annette, who’s now keeping a file on the worst offenders):
I’m worried there’s a group of sales professionals and teams out there who are receiving and applying Peep’s advice in the exact wrong way.
My advice to these folks is simple:
- Don’t start with cold outreach. You burn a potentially fruitful bridge with a lot of folks when your first contact comes in this fashion, and are only selling to the fraction of a percent left that are transaction-oriented.
- Build an inbound funnel – a way to attract attention and interest organically, so your sales people/teams never have to do cold outreach, but merely need to help folks who’ve already expressed interest. Buy Dharmesh & Brian’s book, Inbound Marketing. Read it. Live it.
- If inbound isn’t in your wheelhouse or your company/team won’t embrace it, get an intro from someone your target knows, likes, and trusts. Earn that intro by being an awesomely helpful person/company.
- Don’t make the first conversation exclusively about the sale. That’s like making the first date exclusively about sex. An undertone of the possibility of a sale is fine, but we both already know it’s there; calling attention to it is gauche (and an instant turn-off, even if I was interested before).
- The best sales processes I’ve ever been through were already closed deals before we ever discussed the sale itself. I knew the person/team/company, liked them, and trusted them.
- Sales teams and managers: don’t build incentive structures that force your salespeople to treat an email list like a spammer does (low engagement, low conversion, high annoyance). Instead, build incentives that encourage long-term relationships, tactics that don’t turn off 99% of your potential audience only to convert the 1% (because your competition will find ways to get at that 99% which leaves you in an ugly place with an even uglier brand perception).
Granted, I’m not a sales professional, nor do I have much experience with cold outreach. But I can tell you how I feel as a “potential lead,” and I’m reasonably confident that my experience is representative of a large swath of the market.
Besides all of that, I have data (both from Moz, and from many other SaaS businesses) that show how sales that are earned rather than spammed have higher loyalty, higher LTV, and a greater likelihood of evangelism. It’s not just empathetic and kind, it’s good business.
Best way to sell something – don't sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect, & trust of those who might buy.
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) February 4, 2015
p.s. This doesn’t just apply to sales, but to email outreach of almost every kind.