Like many business owners I have things I do well, and things I do less well. Sales in the traditional sense has never been one of my strong suites. I have never taken easily to traditional sales methods especially making the first connection, and I've never liked cold calling. But, I've made plenty of sales. I've been the primary, and for much of my company's existence, the only salesperson. How did I do it? Like some many other business owners by referrals. We do good work. Customers like our work, tell people they know, and we get a referral. Referrals bypass that first awkward stage and let you get down to talking about customer's challenges, goals, and needs, and I love doing that.
But, living by referrals is dangerous. By definition, referrals come from those who run in the same circles. That makes it hard to expand beyond a certain by by referrals alone. At some point, you reach the boundary of the circle of people who know your work. It's also dangerous because you're leaving the outreach to your customers. Sure, you send them emails, but the same people only have so much work. Sometimes work is plentiful, sometimes it dries up. Referral based sales may work for a while, but once you get to a certain size it makes cashflow hard to manage, and growth sporadic and difficult. Does this sound like someone you know? Read on.
We became a HubSpot partner a little over a year ago. As part of the HubSpot partner program, I was invited to join HubSpot's Pipeline Generation Bootcamp lead by HubSpot's Dan Tyre. We have never done cold calling. We have never bought lists. We have done inbound marketing to gather leads, and sales by following up with those leads. We essentially followed an inbound sales methodology. Even so, the skills learned in this bootcamp transformed our approach to selling. It's made it more process driven, easier to execute, and more customer focused. In this article, I'll share the eight key things we learned in this sales bootcamp the transformed our selling, tips that can supercharge your inbound sales.
Why We Needed Help
A little over two years ago we realized that we needed a better set of tools to do our own marketing. We had always been a fan of HubSpot's tools and their entire approach to inbound marketing made HubSpot a natural fit for us. At the time we were pleasantly surprised to find that HubSpot had a robust partner program. HubSpot works hard tries to activate their partners. They do it because we partners help sell HubSpot, but we also make HubSpot solutions work for our clients so it's a win for everyone involved. More than that they offer help to their partners, and the Pipeline Generation Bootcamp is an example of that. Why did we need it? Our agency had evolved, and that had created a problem.
Having come from a starting point of doing content campaigns for individual departments in large enterprises to helping companies get started on social, we found ourselves in an odd place. It takes a lot to do inbound effectively; SEO optimization, audience analysis, persona builds, competitor analysis, content strategy, content creation, content offer creation, landing page creation and so forth. To do it right, you need persistence, which meant longer engagements and retainer-based services. Essentially, what we were offering went beyond what startups or companies just looking to "get started on social media" needed. At the same time, we were too small to go after those large enterprise accounts. The referral pipeline was no help.
We needed to go after a new type of client. Established businesses looking to grow. Prospects that who had websites, were on social, and doing content but seeing leads and sales coming from their efforts. Lead generation and customer acquisition are what we do, and we had to change our approach to reach those new prospects.
I was fortunate to be accepted into HubSpot's Pipeline Generation Bootcamp. It gave me the opportunity to meet some other great agency owners and work with them as a cohort to improve sales skills and to bounce ideas off of.
We all benefited from Dan's mentoring throughout the bootcamp. He's high energy, positively motivating, and his skills focus on the thing I was the worst at, the initial outreach. It's what HubSpot refers to as the Connect Call. Dan's methodology and guidance have transformed our sales process. Here are seven key takeaways that can help you connect with leads, and turn more of them into customers.
1. Information Turns Cold to Warm
Like I said, I hated cold calling and never did it. I don't feel comfortable reaching out unless there's a reason. Inbound marketing gives you a reason to reach out. When someone downloads a content offer and gives you their email or phone number, that's a great reason to reach out. By definition, inbound marketing provides warm leads. But great tools can give you even more information.
HubSpot tracks user visits to your site so that you can see what pages your leads are looking at. This detailed information gives you so much more information to help with outreach. You know:
Which pages they looked at.
What offers they downloaded.
When and how frequently they visited our site.
What other users from that domain have visited our site and what pages they've looked at.
Applying this in our sales process: We develop a picture of the problems they're trying to solve based on the pages and content they're interacting with. We then reach out to answer questions about an offer they've downloaded, or pages they've viewed. With then send links to additional content that can help them address their problems.
And that's your initial outreach. It's simple and process-oriented, and customer focused. It's really more like the classic brick and mortar in-store experience. A prospective customer walks in, looks at something on the shelf, and you walk over and ask if you can help.
2. Help Don't Sell
This is the single most important lesson from the bootcamp. Inbound marketing is about engaging people who are trying to figure out how to solve their problems. Two harsh realities that every sales team has to come to grip with is that people online don't care about what you're selling, and they don't care about your business. They have their own problems that they need to solve.
Help them solve their problems.
If you're doing the inbound marketing piece right, your content should be framing the issues that concern your target audience, and answering questions that will help them solve their problems. That approach should not change once engagement moves from marketing to sales. Dan Tyre stated it frequently and best, "always be helping."
If you do that, people will talk to you. If you listen they will respect you. Eventually, they will begin to trust you. With so much information is available at the end of everyone's keyboard, taking an "always be helping" approach, building a relationship, and earning trust are the first steps toward making a sale in today's digital world.
Applying this in our sales process: We focus on knowing the inbound marketing process. How it can generate leads, acquire customers, and engage clients. We look at what a lead has interacted with on our site, and we ask what problems they're trying to solve. We provide advice to help solve their problems. Sometimes we provide additional content, sometimes we help with tips on how to improve website performance, sometimes we explain how other clients have addressed the same challenges. Salespeople can't just know your product line, they have to understand the challenges your customers face, and how the things you do help solve those problems. They have to establish a real human-to-human connection by listening, and helping.
3. Spend Quality Time Don't Waste Time
One of the biggest challenges salespeople face is deciding where to spend their time. Like everyone else, salespeople want to spend their time doing things that will return good results. That's why all salespeople love referral business, it's easy and fast to close referral deals. That's also why a lot of salespeople don't like going after new leads because new leads don't turn into closed deals as often as referral leads to. They feel that pursuing other work brings better value. This can be a huge barrier as a commission salesperson may see a drop in income if they switch from pursuing referral based leads to pursuing new inbound leads. For business owners who are often the primary salespeople for their small and medium businesses, the problem is worse as so many other executive and management tasks tug at their time.
I've already discussed the dangers that can come from living off of referral-based sales, so I'm not going to rehash it. You have to make time to go after new leads. The good news is pursuing referrals and new inbound leads aren't mutually exclusive activities. But, since you only have so much time, make sure you go after the best leads. HubSpot has a tool called the prospect fit matrix. This is a simple spreadsheet that lists criteria that define prospects that are a good fit for adopting HubSpot, and therefore, are a good fit for agencies like mine to pursue. The spreadsheet puts hard numbers around our ideal client. Every business can create a document like this, and every sales team should use something like this. It helps salespeople focus on the leads that have the most potential.
This is where salespeople push back. "Are you saying pursue some leads, but not others?" Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. It's counter-intuitive to many salespeople. They might ask, "Why throw away leads that came into your website?" I'll say it again, if you only have so much time, spend it pursuing the best leads. This is where that prospect-fit matrix can help you zero on those best leads. Second, you don't have to throw away leads that you aren't actively pursuing. You can let your marketing automation software pursue them through an email workflow and re-evaluate if they continue to engage.
Applying this in our sales process: This is a simple filtering and time management technique. It gives us a controlled and thoughtful way to deal with the leads coming into our site. We review leads against it as they come in and qualify them. We develop a prioritized list and go after the best leads first. We identify some leads as must pursue, others as potential good fits, and others are disqualified. A lot of other agencies download our content, I'm not selling inbound services to them anytime soon, so they get disqualified.
4. Process, Persistence, Patience
The sales process HubSpot advocates, and Dan reinforced in the boot camp is a simple one. Once a lead is qualified, call them four times, waiting a few days between each call. Email them after each call. Help all the time by providing relevant and personalized advice and content based on their website and content interactions. If you don't hear back, if they don't respond, send a breakup email.
Having a process is huge because it turns sales outreach into a simple series of steps to follow. Research the lead, generate your personalized talking points, follow the outreach steps. It makes selling a repeatable and consistent. That makes it easier to control the time allotted to for initial outreach to new leads, and, if you're new to this type of selling, demystifies it making it more easily repeatable.
It also teaches persistence, which is one of the most important sales skills. We reach out four times because it can take a long time for some leads to respond. That's hard to remember when you're leads aren't responding to you. It's easy to think, "I called, they didn't call back so they aren't interested." Many might still be researching their problem. It's not that they aren't interested, they haven't figured out they are interested yet. You have to be persistent to land those clients.
One of the great things being in the cohort was that we shared experiences with each other. Every week Dan had us share big wins little victories and potholes. Of course, that gave Dan and the other members of the cohort a chance to cheer on your victories and provide insights to help with the potholes. It also let everyone see that our sales issues weren't unique and that the process and the persistence can pay off. If it doesn't work for you right away, seeing it work for someone else can be the motivation the keeps you engaged and using the process.
Applying this in our sales process: Simply put, we follow the process. It makes outreach simpler, consistent, and allows us to schedule and manage the time for outreach more effectively. In short, we work the process persistently, we have patience, and we know the big wins will come.
Great Tool Tip: During one of our meetings we were introduced to a free Wisita tool called Soapbox. It's a free tool that allows you to record yourself and your screen, then edit and share the video. It's a simple tool that's easy to use. We started using it video connection emails. First, we call. If reach their voice mail, we create a three-minute video with some quick tips and advice (always be helping) about their website, content, or something else related to inbound marketing. The engagement is through the roof. Video get's people's attention. They gets callbacks. They get meeting requests. It's sales outreach for the video age!
5. Role Playing Brings out the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
One of the biggest keys to getting better at this process is role-playing. In the bootcamp, we got on the phone with the members of our fellow cohort, either during class and practiced connecting on the phone. We were assigned scenarios based on real companies and real people forcing us to personalize our approach to each different role-play. We also worked with each different member of our cohort so we could get feedback from different personalities and different perspectives. We even role-played as part of homework. In a few cases just did it on our own to practice new opening lines or outreach to particularly tough clients.
In each case, we assessed ourselves, then got feedback from our partner. Each of us has things we do well and things we don't do well, role play truly brings out the good, the bad, and the ugly in your own personal outreach style. But three great things come out of this type of role play:
It lets you know what you need to work on. While we all know our weaknesses, putting a fine point on them makes them something you can work on. Maybe it's more preparatory research. Maybe it's more practice. Maybe it's more jokes or fewer jokes. The point is, once you know, you can work on it.
Constructive criticism is often followed by some good things to try. Most of the negative feedback I received was followed by something like, "In those types of situations I try to...." I have incorporated more of those tips than I can count into how I personally try to engage with leads.
It's great practice. Role-playing with people who have heard "no" dozens of times, based on dozens of different reasons, and have themselves found ways to push through to the occasional "yes," gives you an experience you can't get anywhere else. If that initial outreach step is hard for you, nothing will make real calls easier than role-playing with your peers.
Applying this in our sales process: I've added role-playing steps to my monthly sales prep routines with internal people inside my company, and external contacts who are good friends of the company.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Speaking of practice, at the start of the boot camp we got some seemingly strange tasks. We were told to practice our telephone greeting, what we say when a lead answers the phone. 100 times the first week. Over time other components were added such as how to build rapport, how to inquire about the customer's needs, how to briefly state our positioning so leads would know what we do.
In addition to the role-plays, we had to practice all of this. It seemed a little odd at first. But the more I did the role-plays, the more I understood why I needed practice and the more I came to value it. Think about it. How many times do you review a web page, or a content offer before it's published? Do you sit down with the team to go over your approach to a client's problem before the big meeting? It's like that FedEx commercial from a few years ago where they said treated all packages like they were the golden package because they didn't know which package was the golden one:
You don't know which call is your next client, or which client will be the golden one that takes your business to the next level. Practice makes you better. You do it for your current clients, spend some time doing it for your future clients too.
Applying this in our sales process: There are eight or nine paths that prospects take to become leads. I will approach each differently. Every day I'll look at my calling list and practice the outreach that I'll use. It warms me up, it calms me down, and it gives me more confidence. Ever had that happen? You make three calls then you finally feel like you're the groove. Practice first and you'll be in the groove by call number one. Also, every salesperson we hire will be doing a lot of practice.
7. Connecting with People In Your Business
One of the unexpected benefits of this bootcamp were the connections I made with other agency owners. I was a little apprehensive at first as I suspect many in my cohort were. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I knew I'd have to show some of my weaknesses. I don't like doing that all, much less to people who might be competitors.
Over the course of the first two weeks as we began working together three things became apparent:
Agencies tend to go after different market segments, so they're not necessarily directly competing with you.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, everyone is just as vulnerable and nervous as you are.
Everyone needs help or they wouldn't be here.
As these realizations hit us, it transformed how we worked together as our cohort collectively relaxed. All touchy-feelies aside, that's when the real value of the cohort rose to the surface.
Not only did we have similar weaknesses and needs, we have similar problems as agencies. Suddenly we found ourselves connected to people that we could ask questions, and bounce ideas off of. In fact, beyond our cohort, we had access to all the previous graduates of the bootcamp! Agencies grow at different paces and in different ways, many in my cohort had solved problems I'm just starting to deal with, and I've been able to share solutions that have worked for me.
Applying this in our process: This doesn't necessarily apply our sales process but our business overall. I now have access to a group of people who understand the challenges I'm facing, and are or have worked to solve them. Some have great solutions they've already had success with. All have opinions and insights to share. I would never have reached out on my own to other agency owners because they're competitors. But since there's so much need, and since we all target niches that are a little different it works, and it's great. A lot of running a business, any business, is trial and error. By asking questions and running ideas by these fellow agency owners, I can hear about what's worked and get the lowdown on the pitfalls some have seen. I can refine my approach before I start, bring my solutions online faster while avoiding some of those pitfalls.
If there's a way to meet up with people in your industry to exchange ideas and insights, do it. It's worth your time and will help your business.
The only regret I am left with from HubSpot's Pipeline Generation Bootcamp is that I didn't implement a sales process like this sooner. Don't make the same mistake. Don't wait. These sales tips apply to business or any person doing sales. Start using them right now to make your selling more process oriented, easier, more time effective, and client-centered.