Hack & Hustle

How Can Sales Drive Customer Success?

Customer success is one of the most essential ingredients for sustainable growth in SaaS. Having a dedicated customer success manager (CSM) is great - but it's just as important that sales owns customer success too.

From a sales perspective, there are three main stages where customer success measures can be implemented:

  1. pre-sell: before they're a customer,
  2. post-sell: while they're a customer,
  3. post-cancellation: after they're a customer.

BEFORE THEY'RE A CUSTOMER

What can sales do before a deal is closed to improve customer success? How can sales drive customer success before a prospect converts into a paying customer?

Qualify For Fit

As a sales person, you want to close deals. It’s tempting to skimp over the qualifying part of the sales process. If a prospect shows interest, if you believe you can make the sale, clearly you should make the sale, right?

Not so fast my friend.

As a sales person, it’s your job to sell to those who should buy your product, not to those who want to buy it!

Properly qualify prospects, and then ask yourself: Is this prospect really a good fit?

Example: Qualifying Prospects

A prospect might come to us and say: “We need bulk email.”

The easy thing to respond? “Oh yeah, great, we have this powerful bulk email feature! It’s going to make you a lot of money and save you a lot of time!” And then you push that prospect into becoming a customer.

But do you really understand what the prospect needs?

Instead, follow up with more qualifying questions.

  • What kind of bulk email do you want to send? Marketing, newsletter or sales bulk emails?
  • What kind of tracking, which metrics do you need on those emails?
  • Do you need HTML style emails or do you need text only?
  • etc.

Asking these questions will help you determine whether that prospect is really a good fit or not.

If you sell to a prospect who isn’t really a good fit, just because they want “bulk email” and your product has “bulk email”… they’ll be in for a surprise if the bulk email function doesn’t match their use case.

And by that time they’ll have invested their time and money into your product - when you could easily have saved them both by asking some simple qualifying questions. The customer will cancel, and walk away from your company with a bad experience, and a bad taste in their mouth.

Qualify For Risks

What are potential risks if this prospect becomes a customer? Can they really afford to stay with you? Can this customer survive long enough to truly be a valuable customer? What could potentially affect this customers’ lifecycle?

Example:

At Close.io we had a new sales person who sold a deal to a new startup. Our sales rep and that startup had something in common: they both lacked experience!

Startup: “We have no sales people now, but we’re going to hire 30 interns, and have them cold call potential customers. So we’ll need 30 licenses for Close.io, and then by the end of the month we’ll sort out the interns who didn’t make the cut, so we'll probably keep 15 to 20 licenses.” They had previously shared with us that they had received about $30,000 or $40,000 in funding.

Inside the mind of our sales rep: ‘Wow, 15 to 20 licenses, that could be $3000 in MRR!’

He eagerly pushed to close the deal. “Look, here’s how we’ll do it. You put in your credit card now, and we’ll book you for 30 seats, but we won’t charge for you 30 days. After that, we’ll start billing your card for the remaining 15 to 20 seats.”

What happened next?

Before the trial even expired, 29 of the 30 licenses cancelled! One month we booked $3000 in MRR, the next month we had to put in $2900 churn. Deals like that can totally screw up your numbers.

This sales person should have qualified the risks! They should never have closed this deal. They could just have said: “Hey, do the trial, and after the trial - when you have your numbers down, and really know how you’re going to use Close.io - then we’re going to take your credit card number and close the deal, based on the actual number of users.”

Our sales person should have realized that this was a high-churn-risk customer:

  • With $30,000 or $40,000 in funding, they’d burn through their cash real quick, especially when they hire 30 interns!
  • Hiring 30 interns to do cold calling - without experienced sales leadership! - and expecting them to bring in deals isn’t going to work in the real world. They just didn't understand professional sales.

Two huge red flags. This is an extreme example, but it’s very common for sales people to not properly qualify for risks, and it'll affect customer success later on.

Set The Right Expectations

Most sales reps sell benefits and make promises to prospects. But you want to take it a step further than that: set the right expectations for what being a customer of yours really entails.

Example: Ease of Use

Prospect: “I want this product to do X, Y and Z easily.”

Sales rep: “Oh, great, this is super easy with our product, you are going to do great!”

When in reality, it might not be that easy - especially if your prospect isn’t tech-savvy, or doesn’t have the kind of expertise and experience you possess.

Understand where they are coming from:

  • Have they used a product in your category before?
  • Do they really understand the workflow they need?
  • Did you explain to them what the actual workflow is going to be?

Example: Promising Benefits

Be mindful of how you convey your benefits.
Don’t say: “You’re going to see a 15% to 30% increase in productivity.”
Do say: “Our customers see a 15% to 30% increase in productivity on average.”

If you promise them 15% to 30%, and after using your product they get 10% - they’ll be disappointed. You will have disappointed them. In the worst case they’ll churn - but even if they stay, you’ll have screwed up the relationship. They’ll always take your word with a grain of salt, will always assume you’re overpromising, and they’re less likely to refer you. The impact you’ll have on them will be diminished because of lack of trust, and that can affect customer success later on.

Onboarding

Do you already have an onboarding process in place for your customers?
If not, create an onboarding experience asap - preferably a good training on how to use your product.

Example: Close.io Onboarding

In the early days, we offered personalized 1-on-1 training sessions to all customers. As we grew and scaled, we started offering a weekly training webinar, where we cover different aspects of Close.io, and how to set it up and get going.

This training has been extremely popular, and it has been extremely effective at helping our customers become better at using the product, and getting more value out of it.

Why Do You Need Onboarding?

It’s not enough to sell the benefits of your product. You also want to sell them the actual implementation. Think about a diet product - you can say: “This diet system will help you to lose 30 pounds in 6 weeks!” They buy, and then you tell them: “Only eat carrots for 6 weeks, and go for a 5 mile run every morning.” Well, yeah, they would probably lose 30 pounds if they'd do that, but nobody is going to do it.

When customers start using your product, they are going to run into challenges. They are not going to fully understand how to use things optimally right from the start. It does require training. They need help configuring and setting things up optimally. If they aren’t using your product successfully - they will churn.

That’s why onboarding is so important.

Are You Selling The Onboarding Experience?

If you DO have onboarding, then SELL the onboarding experience to your users! Don’t just passively offer the onboarding. Instead, proactively sell them on participating: push, convince and coerce them to do the onboarding!

At Close.io, every time we close a deal we tell them: “We’re very excited to have you on board! Now that you see the promise in the product, we want to also make sure that we deliver on this promise. The best way we can deliver is by helping you come on board and train you on Close.io, because it can be very complex and has a lot of nuances. So I highly recommend this Thursday, you do our training webinar, here’s the link, please sign up and have the entire team sign up, and whenever you add new users, please have them sign up.”

We’re selling our customers on the onboarding! It’s not enough to take their money now - we want to keep them happy, successful and productive, so that they stay onboard.

Sell your onboarding, so that your customers actually DO the onboarding!

Get Long-Term Commitments

Get prospects to sign up for a long-term contract or annual plan. You want to get a long-term commitment from them so that all the work you invest into them pays off - and they get a better price and more value.

But you have to sell this. Many startups fail at this - they assume customers are going to sign up for annual contracts by themselves if they want to, and make no serious effort to convert them to annual plans. “We’ll just give them an amazing experience with out amazing product and our amazing service, and they’re going to automatically stay!”

That’s not good enough.

Push people to sign annual contracts. Even before you close the deal. And if somebody came on board on a monthly plan, pitch them again in the next month on the annual plan, and say: “Hey, you’ve been with us for a month. How has the experience been?”

And if they’re happy with it, ask them: “Great, do you plan on using our product for the next 6 to 8 months?” - “Yeah!” - “Well, why don’t you save money and do a one year contract with us, this way you’re going to be with us anyway, but you’re going to save ___ dollars”.

This is how you get more people to commit to annual plans, and reduce churn.

Later on when customers experience problems, they don’t just quit. They won’t be the fickle customer who just turns around and leaves when there’s an issue. And this is in their own interest as well, because switching from one vendor to the next is just going to slow them down, they'll have to change the way they work, and more often then not it's just an out of the frying pan into the fire situation.

They’ll be more committed to finding a solution, and sticking with your product - it buys you more time to solve their problems and make them happy again, and it allows you to invest more effort into making them successful.

WHILE THEY'RE A CUSTOMER

Just because you’ve sold someone and they're now a paying customer doesn’t mean your job as sales person is finished. Beautiful sales opportunities wait among your current customers - don't miss out!

Check in with customers you’ve closed a month or two ago. You want to find out:

  • How are they doing?
  • Is your product serving them well?

Upselling

Ask your customers:

  • Whats the plan for growth?
  • How many users are you going to add over the next few months?
  • What are other opportunities within this organization to sell this product? What about your support department? What about this other department?

Help your customers to put a plan together to bring more people on board.

Referrals

Ask your customers if they can make referrals to other people in other companies who can also come on board.

Few sales people do this, but if you consistently ask your current customers for referrals, it can become a substantial source of high-converting sales leads.

Let’s say a customer refers you, and you successfully sell to that referral. You’ll have accomplished several things - in addition to closing another deal:

  1. You have increased the perceived value of your product in the eyes of the referring customer. Since the person they referred obviously saw enough value in it to make a purchasing decision, others obviously too see the value in this. Don’t underestimate how much social validation matters, even in a professional B2B context.
  2. The referring customer (rightfully) feels they made an impact, they feel empowered because they made a difference - thus, they’re more likely to make more referrals.
  3. Make the new (referred) customer thank the referring customer for making the referral - and they're going to be even more excited to keep on referring you.

Problems & Technical Issues

You’re going to run into problems, especially if you’re working in a tech company. You’re going to have downtimes, things break, bugs… and your customers are going to get pissed off.

So how do you solve these problems? You either do it from a position of weakness, or from a position of strength.

From a position of weakness:

  • Apologize to your customers.
  • Fix the problem.
  • Try to compensate customers.
  • Apologize and beg for their mercy some more. :-(

From a position of strength:

  • Apologize to your customers.
  • Fix the problem.
  • Try to compensate customers.
  • Turn lemons into lemonade. :-)

Example: Close.io's Calling Outage
Our VOIP provider suffered from a DDOS attack. The calling function of our sales communication platform was down for an entire day. Now this is a very rare event, and our VOIP provider had never experienced this before. It affected all our customers with calling plans - they couldn’t make any calls from within Close.io.

Some customers complained vehemently. They were upset and angry about a day of wasted productivity and lost opportunities.

We did what any good software company would do: work furiously on resolving the issue, and communicate very transparently what was going on, what users should expect, and finally when the problem was fixed.

We personally gave extra attention to every single customer.

A crisis like this is your chance to shine.

Some of our customers demanded compensation for the productivity loss.


What most companies would say: “Of course, here’s a refund!”

What we said (and what every company who strongly cares about customer success should say): “All right, we’d love to help you guys out and actually strengthen this relationship. You can see how we responded to this situation - and if you’re happy with the way we responded to it, here’s what we’re going to offer: we want to give you guys an additional 5 or 10% discount. But we want to make this a long-term relationship both ways, so that we can work on your success together. So we ask that you guys sign a 1 year contract.”

We had five or six customers who demanded compensation.

How many do you think signed up for a one year contract?

Four!

Always respond from a position of strength! Asking a customer for something in return is fair game. Contrary to what many people assume, it even benefits the customers, because it gives you more leverage to make them successful.

If you do it right, the relationship with these customers will improve - as was the case with the customers who took us up on we’re sorry offer. Just like in personal relationships, overcoming hard times together strengthens business relationships.

AFTER THEY'RE A CUSTOMER

All is not lost once a customer cancels. These make for some of the most challenging, but also most worthwhile sales conversations you can have. Skilled sales professionals have an opportunity to turn these customers around and make them successful with your product. Hustle hard to keep them on board - but don't go comcast on them.

What do you do when a customer cancels their service with you?

First, you call them and ask them for feedback. You want to know what the issue is.

Second, you try to save the customer by communicating from a position of strength. Find opportunities to resolve the issue if you can. It’s worth to invest effort into this. 

At Close.io, every single customer that ever churns, we call and figure out exactly why they churn.

First thing is to understand: What is the reason why they churn. Understand what made them want to leave.

Example: Going Out Of Business

Customer: “Well, we’re cancelling because we’re going out of business.”

Sales rep: “I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me a little bit more about this situation.”

And try to offer customers some help.

If it means that they just need to cut some costs for some amount of time, and then hopefully try to get their business back on track, then you might be able to help financially. Not by giving them money, but by giving them an extended trial or a discount. Sometimes a bit of generosity can give them the leeway to get back on track. But if they’re going out of business for good, give them advice, give them help, give them the support they need - you know how much sweat, blood and tears it takes to build something up, and how painful it can be to have it fall apart. Little gestures can go a long way.

Example: Missing Feature X

Customer: “We’re leaving because your product doesn’t have feature X.”

Sales rep: “Ok, we didn’t have this feature. Did you know that our product lacks feature X when you first signed up? Did our sales do a bad job of understanding your needs? Did we do a bad job when it came to telling you whether or not we have all the features that fit your needs? Or is it something that you figured out later on, you just had a new need, and our product didn’t address this new need?”

The question here is: is that even part of your product roadmap?

Example: Close.io Missing Special Reporting Feature

Customer: “We’re leaving Close.io because we want reporting.”

Sales rep: “Ok, what type of reporting do you need?”

Customer: “We need reporting that graphs and charts how users are behaving based on X, Y and Z parameters.”

Sales rep: “Interesting. Now have you already found another tool that actually does that?”

Customer: “Yeah, we’re looking at this other tool that functions exactly this way.”

Sales rep: “All right, first let's step back and pause for a second. Why did you sign up with us to begin with? For what reason did you originally chose Close.io? What attracted you to us at first?”

Direct the conversation towards the benefits and the value of your product for the customer. This is simple sales psychology: it balances the equation a bit, and creates a counter-force to their desire to leave you. First understand why they chose you to begin with. Then understand what they specifically need, and where the mismatch is.

Sales rep: “All right, so you need this kind of reporting. How would that specifically work? What would that look like?”

Customer: “Well, X, Y and Z.”

Sales rep: “If we had exactly what you said, if we had it in this way, would you consider staying?”

Customer: “Yes, we would stay.”

Sales rep: “If we were able to deliver this feature in the next 2 to 3 months, would you consider sticking around for the next 2 to 3 months until you have that?” 

SCENARIO A [feature is on roadmap, customer negative]:
Customer: “No, it’s just not worth it for us to keep on paying you for two or three months until you release feature X.” 

Sales rep: “All right, how about this, we’re going to give you a 30% discount for the next 3 months, until we release the feature. And if you’ve used the new feature for a month and it does everything you want and need, we’ll put you back on your current billing and you can be a happy customer again. And if feature X doesn’t do everything you want and need, or you’re just not happy with it for whatever reason, no problem, you can still move out to another software system of a vendor of your choice.”

SCENARIO B [feature is on roadmap, customer positive]:
Customer: “Two or three months? Yes, we would consider staying!”
Get them to stay (use incentives if necessary). Frequently update your customer on the progress you’re making towards releasing feature X.

SCENARIO C [feature is not on roadmap]:
Customer: "Maybe."
Sales rep: ”We’re not planning on launching this feature, but here’s a workaround you might want to try, if it works for you great, if not then on problem.”
You still want to ask the question though to make sure that the lack of feature is actually is the root cause! Remember, it's ok to not implement features some customers request.
What’s the strategy behind this?

It’s about aligning the customers’ expectations with the value you provide, and it creates a shared goal for you and your customer within a defined time frame.

These kinds of arrangements turn churning customers into valuable long-term partners, allies and brand ambassadors.

Example: Customer Didn’t Get Enough Support

Sometimes customers churn because they haven’t received the support and customer care they needed, or an issue they were struggling with didn’t get resolved well enough.

This is a great opportunity for you to sell them on you again.

Offer them extra value and attention.

Own up to your problem.

Sales rep: “Hey, we’re really sorry that his happened. We’re committed to making this work. Here’s what we propose. Give us 2 weeks. During this time we’re going to give you an extra level of support, enterprise level of support - we’re going to give you support that we usually charge for. But you’re going to get it or free, we’re going to help you guys become successful, and deliver on the promise that we originally made you. Are you open to that, if we can do that, if we can fix that issue for you? If we can solve that problem for you, would you consider staying?”

Give them that level of support. Be rockstars. Overwhelm them with awesomeness. And then, at the end of those two weeks, make them sign a one year contract.

Sales rep: “Hey, were you happy with the support we gave you?”

Customer: “Yes, we’re happy, your team was awesome. Our problems are solved.”

Sales rep: “Great! Why dont we make this a long term relationship? You saw how we solve problems, you saw how we deal with issues, why don’t we get you guys on board for the long run? We’re going to save you some money, and we’re committing to you to deliver amazing customer success.”

That’s how you not only save customers, but come out stronger at the end of that process.

Summary

You now know how to implement sales-driven customer success in all three customer stages: before they sign up, while they are paying you, and once they want to leave. Keep a healthy balance - don't discount your product, or overdeliver on service, to the point where it becomes unsustainable for you. 

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Sales Process Development: How Involved Should Founders & CEOs Be?

How much should founders and CEOs participate in developing an outbound sales process for their companies? Better to get their hands dirty and immerse themselves in the nitty gritty of sales, or to delegate it to someone else so they can make the big strategic decisions and work on other things?

This question was at the core of the challenges facing the man I recently had breakfast with: a highly accomplished CEO and founder of an incredibly successful SaaS company.

Their startup is doing great. Steady, sustainable growth through inbound marketing and channel partnerships. The whole machine is running beautifully.

Except that there's a lot more opportunity out there for them than what they're getting from inbound and channel partnerships. And our successful SaaS CEO is hungry for that opportunity. How can he get access to that vast untapped potential?

Say it with me kids: Outbound sales!

Developing A Sales Process

He did some things right: he hired a couple of young, ambitious sales reps who feel excited to tackle the challenge.

He learned about different sales tactics and outbound strategies. He did his best to supply them with the right leadership (he mentioned how he already replaced several non-performing heads of sales).

He spelled out what needed to be figured out:

  • lead generation
  • prospecting
  • qualifying leads
  • funneling high quality outbound leads to the account execs
  • what tools to use
  • using cold emails and cold calls to get to decision makers
  • etc.

But in all his efforts to get outbound sales rolling, there was one crucial thing that was missing:

Him!

He pretty much handed off the development of the outbound sales process to his employees, and spent about an hour a week to check in with them. That's not enough. 

In this crucial stage of your company, where you're experimenting and learning how to do outbound sales successfully, you as the founder or CEO need to be knee-deep in the sales hustle. You need to be actively involved, you need to participate.

gruntworkceo

You need to get your hands dirty doing all the things you want your sales team to do. Even low level activities like sourcing leads to reach out to, or dialing dozens of numbers in a row just to get one prospect to pick up the phone. Whatever it is. Do the grunt work. 

Why CEOs & Founders Should Be Involved In Building The First Sales Process

Many founders and CEOs push back when I tell them to do this. "But Steli, I could be closing six or seven figure channel partnership deals, and you want me to spend my time cold calling prospects that at best bring in a couple thousand in MRR?" 

That's exactly what I want you to do. Not because of the couple thousand in MRR that you might potentially get from doing cold calling. But because of the many millions of dollars your startup could steadily earn if you build a strong outbound sales process.

Bambi, Meet Gozilla

To build that sales process, you need to know what it's like to do all the things you want your sales team to do. You can't take some ideas you picked up from a book, from a friend who grew sales for his SaaS company by XX million dollars, or from the charismatic speaker at a conference.

 

 

You need to take your beautiful and precious ideas and see what happens to them when you put them out there in the battlefield of harsh realities. Because if you just hand your untested ideas over to someone else, and it doesn't work - you'll never know if it doesn't work because the idea was wrong, or because the person responsible didn't do it right.

"The best way to find product/market fit is to get in front of customers and validate your assertions. Start early, and validate before you build anything. Use wireframes of the product to walk customers through your vision, then keep validating throughout product development.

Develop objective listening skills, and don’t get caught up in selling too hard. Often entrepreneurs only hear what they want to hear, a trait sometimes referred to as “happy ears.” When a customer disagrees, you’ll often hear these entrepreneurs say: “They just don’t get it.” This is a good indication the entrepreneur isn’t listening."

- David Skok, Accelerate Your Startup: Get the Right Product/Market Fit

David writes about finding product/market fit - but the same principle applies to building your outbound sales process. 

Nobody Understands Your Business As Good As You Do

Nobody is as qualified to do this as you are. Nobody else has the big picture understanding, combined with the nitty-gritty knowledge of the mechanics of your company. 

"How can you send some young MBA “biz dev type” out into battle to sign up partners when you’ve never met with your potential business development collaborators and heard what their goals are and how you can meet them?  If you send out the biz dev guy I’m sure he/she will ink deals. That’s what they do. But you’re unlikely to yield results unless there is a close alignment of benefits for them and for you."

Mark wrote about biz dev deals, but the same principle applies to developing your outbound sales process. As a CEO/founder, nobody is as attuned to your business as you are - that's why you are the one who needs to do this. 

You Get Unfiltered Insights

Doing the grunt work is the price you pay for getting an unfiltered view of the marketplace. You need these first-hand experiences: the reactions of the prospects when you try to get their attention.

You need to hear with your own ears the words they speak when you pitch them.

You need to see their responses with your own eyes.

You need to understand what it takes to find a hundred quality leads, what works and what doesn't.

blindmenelephant

It's not good enough to rely on the interpretations your sales reps provide you with, because they don't see the full picture. They lack the context required to make the kinds of judgment calls which will shape your companies' outbound sales process.

When Can You Hand It Off To Someone Else?

Your ultimate goal is to build a scalable and repeatable sales process that doesn't require any handholing or personal attention from the CEO or founders - but that's exactly how you start out. You start out holding hands, you start out dedicating your personal attention to closing deals and figuring out how to make things work.

Once you transition from the sales exploration phase to the sales execution phase, then it's time to find a sales leader and let her take ownership of your sales operation. In wrote about the four stages of startup sales in my sales hiring post, and the transition point between sales exploration to sales execution is between stage #2 to stage #3.

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Sales Mindset: How To Recover From a Bad Sales Call?

If you’re part of an inside sales team, this scenario is probably familiar to you:

You have a bad sales call; the person on the other end of the line is just rude and abuses you as an emotional punching bag. You hang up - and immediately vent your frustration: “Wow, I can’t believe this guy! Such an asshole!”

Another sales rep turns around and inquires: “What happened?” (The person asking that question is most often the person who not performing well that day either. When you’re on a roll, you’re focused to stay in the game.)

Now you’ve basically got an invitation to keep venting, and that’s exactly what you’ll do: “You know what this guy said? He said bla bla bla! Can you believe this?! So I told him bla bla bla, and then he bla bla bla! Total asshole!”

Other sales rep: “Yeah man, I had a call like this last week, screw these assholes, bla bla bla.”

Now the next sales rep joins the conversation, and soon you’ve transformed a bunch of sales champs into a congregation of complainers. The whole room is filled with negative energy.

And for what?

Just because your feelings were hurt when a sales call went bad. Congratulations, you’ve successfully brought down your entire team.

What should you do instead right after a really bad call?

 

What’s a better way to recover from shitty sales calls and bounce back?

First of all, step away from the desk. Get up from your chair, and get out of the room.

  • Take a five minute break.
  • Get a coffee.
  • Go for a walk around the building. Go outside, take some fresh air.

Get some distance from what just happened, so you can have perspective.

When you return to your desk, do something that’s fun. Just take a minute or two and listen to your favorite song, or read some motivational quotes, do something that lifts up your spirits and puts you into a positive emotional state.

And then get back into the ring. Pick up the phone and dial another number. Close the next deal. Focus on the work in front of you.

Don’t Put A Lid On Your Emotions

There is a time and place to talk about bad feelings. Don’t keep it all inside. You absolutely should have an outlet for the stress bad sales calls causes.

But do it in the right setting and at the right time. Have a framework for expressing emotions that leads to a productive outcome, rather than a destructive one.

It’s best to have a designated time and place, rather than just impulsively letting it out:

  • when you’re at lunch,
  • at team meetings,
  • have somebody in the sales team whom you regularly share your challenges and successes with - sometimes colleague can be the best coaches.

By creating a structure for this, you avoid carrying the negativity over into other sales calls (or even worse, your personal life).

Ask Yourself These Questions To Turn Bad Sales Calls Into Growth Opportunities

These questions direct your thoughts and feelings into a positive and productive direction:

  • How can I deal with people like this better?
  • What could I have said better?
  • How could i have managed the situation differently?
  • How could I have responded to the external and internal challenges better?
  • How can I deal with feeling bad?
  • How can I develop more emotional stability, and have more state control?

Come up with your own questions too, this isn't a complete list, it's just a starting point.

How Real Sales Pros Think Of Asshole-Customers

Remember that those jerks are the reason you even have a job.

If everybody would be easy, there would be no reason for companies to pay salespeople to bring them business.

If you can turn an asshole into a friend, if you can turn no into a yes, if you can turn rejection into affection… that’s when you’re great at sales!

Next time when you have a shitty sales call… don’t do the easy thing and use it as a reason to bring the entire team down. Instead, do the hard thing and turn it into an opportunity to become a better (sales) person.

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This LOI Template Will Close Deals Quicker (Works for All Kinds of Contracts)

Are you in the final stages of negotiating a deal with a large customer or partner? And now you need to send over the paperwork?

Here’s a simple sales hack to get a LOI (Letter of Intent) template that will get signed quicker, and reduce the amount of legal hassle to a minimum. This works for a letter of intent, as well as other kinds of purchasing contracts, letters of agreement, term sheets, etc.

The Typical Way Of Crafting Contracts: Slow, Painful & Expensive

contracts

Even if you use a good LOI template, you’ll often find that it creates a lot of friction. Here’s what the typical process looks like:

  1. You download a template online and tweak it to your own needs with the help of your lawyer, or you use a friends’ LOI.
  2. You send your LOI to your customer.
  3. Your customer sends your LOI to their legal department.
  4. Their legal department will dissect your LOI as if they’re the CSI investigating a high-profile murder case. They’ll go over every line, every single word to make sure that it’s 100% waterproof. The legal department doesn’t care how long this takes. They just want this to be safe for the company to sign. They want to put themselves in as much a favorable legal position as possible. This can take a lot longer than you’d expect.
  5. Then they’ll make edits and comments, and send those back to your buyer.
  6. Your buyer will then send those over to you.
  7. You’ll adjust your wording according to their requests together with your lawyer.
  8. You send the revised LOI back to the buyer.
  9. They send it to legal again.
  10. This can go for several rounds…

It’s like a big legal ping pong match between lawyers. Very expensive, time-consuming and tiring. It can slow down your sales process considerably.

Wasting a lot of time in the contracting stage is something you want to avoid as much as possible. It can even starve a good deal to death, because during the weeks and months it takes a buyer to sign the damn thing something else comes up in their company that nips the deal in the bud, and makes it irrelevant for them. Keep the process moving forward. It’s too frustrating to lose a deal right in front of the finish line.

How to Get the Right LOI Template for Your Buyer?

Rather than trying to come up with a letter of intent in a vacuum, you ask them for one, and use that as your template!

Call up your buyer and say:

“Hey, can you share a letter of intent or a contract that you used in the last six to twelve months that was already approved by your legal department when buying something similar to our service or product? Have you bought something similar in the last year or two that went through procurement and legal and got checked off, got green-lighted?
If you have a deal like that, can you share that letter of intent or that contract with us?”

The buyer will send it over to you, and you have your perfect LOI template for this buyer. Just edit it to your needs.

approved

The big advantage is that it’s pretty much already pre-approved. You’re using the wording their legal department is comfortable with.

You’ll get through their legal department a lot faster, they’ll sign sooner, and you can close the deal quicker. You get their money, and they get your solution earlier. And you can perform that favorite change in your sales CRM: change the lead status to "closed". Everybody is happy… except maybe the lawyers who are being paid by the hour ;).

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What To Do When Your Prospect Doesn't Want To Switch Software?

When you're trying to get a prospect to drop their existing software vendor, and switch to your software instead, you'll almost always encounter resistance. How do you manage - and overcome - that resistance to switching software?

I'm going to assume that the software you're offering them actually serves their needs a lot better than the software they are currently using. So switching actually is in their best interest.

The Cost of Switching Software

Understand that the cost of switching is high - it's not just about how much their current software + service costs vs your offer, but also training, adapting new processes in the organization, and many other unquantifiable factors.

How Do You Get an Organization to Switch Software?

You're going to need 2 things to get an organization to switch:

  1. Patience and
  2. Follow-up.

That's doesn't sound exciting, cool, hip or new... but it's working. And that's all you should care about. 

The Nr. 1 Reason Why Organizations Don't Switch Software

Patience and follow-up help you to overcome the most common obstacle to getting them to switch software: bad timing.

Look at things from their perspective, and you'll understand why bad timing can make a deal almost impossible: They might just have gone through a 3-month long process of talking with different vendors, evaluating all the products in your market, the people involved in making the decision went through all these meetings, championed that software throughout the organization, got sign off on the budget, oversaw implementation... and then YOU call to pitch your software. 

doesntwanttoswitchsoftware

There's no way they're going to switch to your product at that point, even if your product is 10 times better. The cost of switching to your software is currently higher than the value they'd gain from adopting your (better) software.

Be in for the Long Haul

So you need to acknowledge that this isn't the right time, and adapt a long-term approach. The time it takes to close this deal isn't measured in weeks, but in months. Think 6 to 18 months to get them to switch software.

That shouldn't bother you - that should excite you. You're building a pipeline of great, high-value leads that you can close next year. This is an opportunity to build a relationship with them and get to know them better and learn about their sales process.

Systematize Your Follow Up

Follow up with your prospect every month or every quarter via email or with a quick call. Stay on top of their mind (in a positive way). Just by following up consistently, you build a certain level of trust. 

If you're managing more than 100 leads, you'll need some kind of sales pipeline management software to stay organized.

Be Ready When the Day Comes

When their current contract runs out, or there's another change in the organization where the barriers to switching software are lowered, they'll remember you. And they have just spoken with you a few weeks ago. You already have a relationship with them and they know you. You've invested months to position yourself favorably - it's time for the right hook.

How to Decide if a Prospect is Worth Investing That Much Time In?

Of course you don't want to waste a lot of time on prospects who will never close. Being perpetually stuck in "I'm working on my pipeline"-land is the sign of lousy sales people. 

Here's what to go by: Are the prospects problems a good fit for your product? If their wants and needs match what your software really excels at, then keep following up with them even if the likelihood of them buying is currently very low.

The other question to ask is how much is this customer worth to your business? If it's not in the thousands of dollars it will be hard to justify that much follow up from a economical point of view.

On the other hand, a prospect who is showing some buying signals, but isn't really a good fit for your product (even though they're interested in buying)... then they're probably not worth following up with all that time.

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Call Transferring

We're excited to announce the launch of call transferring which is available right now for both inbound and outbound calls for those on our Business and Enterprise offering.

Once on a call, you'll notice the transfer icon. Each user with an eligible plan will be displayed in the drop down next to an online/offline marker indicating if they have their Close.io application open and are available to take calls.  Simply click on the team member to whom the call should be transferred -- your call will be hung up and they will receive an incoming call displaying the correct caller id and that you're the person transferring the call:

Here's a quick example of the current call transfer drop down and user availability indicators:

Screenshot_2014-07-15_12.02.26

 

The incoming calls to the person you transferred the call to looks like this:

call_bar_for_transfer

 

And here's an example of the call activity generated when a transfer takes place:

call_transfer_activity_icon_hover

 

For more informaton about this feature, checkout the call transferring help article.

 

Happy calling!

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The Partnership Hack - Never Miss Great Opportunities, Never Waste Time On Worthless Deals

One of the most precious resources for you as an entrepreneur is your time.

What’s one of the biggest time-suckers in business?

"Partnerships."

The more successful your company becomes, the more offers for partnerships you get.

  • People offering to sell your product for you
  • People offering to promote your product as an affiliate
  • People who offer to distribute your product
  • People who want to re-sell your product to a different market
  • People who have the perfect up-sell for your customers and suggest a revenue-share.

On the surface, this is a good thing, right? People want to help you grow your business faster.

Most Partnership Proposals Suck

But once you actually respond and engage with these people, you'll find that it's just a big waste of:

  • time,
  • money,
  • mindshare,
  • equity.

The Opportunity Cost of Lost Time

If you pursue and engage with these people who propose partnerships to you, you won't have time to run your business anymore. Following up with these people, setting up long meetings, negotiating details of a deal and putting together contracts.

The Fear of Missing Out

While *most* partnerships suck, *some* can catapult your business into an entirely different stratosphere. You don't want to miss out on a deal that could grow your business 10x.

How to Solve This Dilemma?

There is a simple way to not miss out on a potentially great partnership, and at the same time not waste your precious time on worthless negotiations.

The Simple Reply Email

Just send them this simple email template that almost magically takes care of this for you:

"Hey,
thank you so much. I appreciate the offer. We feel honored that you're reaching out, and want to partner with us.

Right now, we're heads down in execution mode, and we don't have any partnership agreements in place, but here's how we typically like to work with others.

If you honestly think that this could be a good fit, and you have lots and lots of potential customers for us, why dont you close one deal to get us started? 

That would prove to both you and us that there is real potential here for a partnership. We're happy to compensate you for that one deal, no problem.

And once you brought that one new customer we'll take the data of that result, and we'll jump on a call to discuss it further, and take it from there.

Sound fair enough?

Best,
Steli"

I have done this hundreds of times now. I've told people: "Hey, we don't typically do partnerships, but bring us some customers. After you've brought them, I'll be happy to pay you some money, and then we can talk about how and if we can expand this into a full-blown partnership."

I literally did this HUNDREDS OF TIMES.

Every single time, the reply I get is: "Awesome! Sounds like a great deal! Look out for all the customers that I'm going to bring you! This is going to be huge!"

What happens next?

Nothing.

Zero.

Zip.

Zilch.

Nada.
nothing
Not a single time did someone ever follow up delivering a result.

This saves me shitloads of time. I don't have to evaluate anything. I don't have to meet with them. I don't have to check their background. I don't have to worry that I might have said "no" to somebody that might have been a great opportunity. I'm free to focus on what really matters to me: building the best sales software on the market, and helping entrepreneurs to make more sales and close more deals.

If there really is potential for a great partnership, and if they can truly deliver results... they will! And then we can take these results as the basis for further decisions and discussions.

If you're a startup don't waste time on partnerships. Only consider that once someone has actually delivered results for you.

 

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3 Negative Effects Of Multitasking During Sales Calls (And How To Avoid Distraction)

The biggest challenges for people working in inside sales? It's what I call the inside sales distraction trap.
What's that?

It's the screen facing almost every inside sales person. Usually there's a browser open with plenty of open tabs.

And you "need" all of them: your email inbox, your sales CRM, your web conferencing tool, twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, the website of prospects, a good article on objection management (and let's not forget Quora ;)).

So while you're having sales calls and you're doing online demos... you have a massive distraction right in front of your eyes. Constantly calling for your attention, creating a hard to resist temptation to go off track - kind of like the Sirens calling Odysseus.

I've observed this playing out over and over again so many times, both with myself and with others:
  • Being on a sales call and then getting distracted by email,
  • or while being on the call switching to check out HackerNews,
  • or Twitter...
  • anything that distracts your attention away from your current call.
THAT'S IS A TERRIBLE WAY OF OPERATING! 

Why?

Because...
  1. It disturbs the flow of your conversation. The moment somebody diverts some of their attention from the conversation to their screen, you can almost hear it on the other end of the line if you're listening carefully. Because it disconnects you and your prospect. The amount of pauses, and filler words (uhm, aehm, uhhh, you know, well...) just goes up dramatically.
  2. You know the difference between "hearing the words" and truly understanding what they mean? True understanding is difficult if you divide your attention between different things.
  3. You're putting yourself in a suboptimal state. Your "superpowers" turn on when you're fully engaged - that's when you perform at your best. You can't be the best sales person you can be if you're doing 12 other things while being on a sales call. If you want to be on top of your game, full engagement is a prerequisite. Tthe more time you spend in that suboptimal state, the more you get used to it, the more habitually you fall back into that state, and the more it affects everything else that they do. It blurs your entire day, instead of you being sharp and clear and mentally alert.
Don't multitask during a sales call. Give the prospect you full, undivided attention.

A lot of people know that being distracted is limiting their performance, yet they keep doing it. Why are we driven to distraction?

Because...
  1. We inside sales people can do it. We've gotten used to a constant stream of screen interruptions. A large part of our life is now a never-ending consumption of things, being constantly connected to the web. And that behavior, that way of functioning, is something that sticks with us even when we work. Our brain doesn't make a clear separation, it's just the modus operandi we're used to.
  2. Something in the conversation with the prospect is going fundamentally wrong. Maybe the conversation is taking to long. Or the prospect is talking about things you're not interested in. Or it takes way too long to describe something. Thus, giving them your full attention just gets harder. Your brain starts to look for distraction, it's trying to find something more interesting and more engaging. Your brain is trying to do you a favor by directing you away from the pain of a conversation that causes you bad feelings to something that makes you feel more positive.
But you really need to find that urge.

Don't find a less painful way of living with the problem. Don't get better at enduring the pain, but instead resolve the problem!

The conversation is going on for too long? Take control, and shorten it. Direct your prospect to stay on track so that both of you make the most effective use of your time.

How to protect yourself from falling into the inside sales distraction trap?

How did Odysseus resist the Sirens?  He knew he wouldn't be able to resist, so he stuffed his ears with wax and ordered his men to tie him to a mast. He was realistic - he knew his own limitations and tendencies.

You don't have a mast in your office, so here are some alternatives:
  • Turn off your screen.
  • Put your computer into sleep mode.
  • Put on a wireless headset and go for a walk. (A lot of great sales people I know like to do this, because while walking stimulates more creative parts of their brain.)
  • Be away from your screen while you are talking and conversing with somebody.
  • Minimize all the tabs (I love Momentum which makes the default tab that I open something that helps me to focus, or OneTab)

The benefits of being 100% focus on a call? You'll be sharper, you'll be able to catch all the little clues, read between the lines, a better sense of timing. You'll be fully engaged and on top of your game. You'll feel better and be more successful. Enough said :)

Recommended reading:

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Launching: The Ultimate Startup Guide To Outbound Sales!

I'm super-excited to announce the launch of our first book:

cover

If you’re a long-time reader of our blog, and a subscriber of our (free) startup sales course, there’s nothing new in this book. This is simply a curated collection of posts, structured in a way that will make it easy for you to set up and optimize an outbound sales process for your startup.

You can read everything that’s in this book (and more) here on this blog. So why would you want to buy the book? Because it’ll save you hours of time trying to put the pieces together in the right sequence.

Is your time worth more than $19 an hour? Then buying the book is probably a sensible investment for you ;-)

And, since you're a regular around here, jot down this offercode: awesomesauce

That way you get the whole book for half the price ;-)

Read more here...

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B2B Lead Generation Basics For Startups

lead generation fishers with nets

How should you source your leads for your outbound sales campaign? I see a lot of people getting this wrong - they take the most obvious, easiest and least intelligent way, and it hurts their business.

 

There are several providers that will sell you lists of names, emails, titles and other contact information and business data:

Highest quantity/lowest quality: Buying Lists

If you buy from these providers, you should expect that a certain percentage of that data will be outdated. (It's been a couple of years since I last use any of these companies, but back then about 30%-40% of the data I bought was outdated). 

Consider this will cost you twice: once the money you spend acquiring the bad data, and then the money (time/resources) you invest in reaching out to those unqualified leads. 

High quantity/low quality: Web Scraping

An alternative to buying lists is to make your own list by scraping websites, which means you extract contact data from a website with a little program/script.

It's a bit of a gray area, and you should check if the website you want to scrape allows that. 

If you target a very specific niche and there are highly targeted websites, this can be a successful approach.

Low quantity/high quality: Outsourced Lead Gen Team

Hire a company that manually finds leads for you, based on the criteria you establish with them. A good company to work with in this area is LeadGenius.com - they are a YC company and I've heard a lot of good things about them from different founders.

Lowest quantity/highest quality: Create Customer Profiles

Look at your current 5 most successful customers. Successful in this context means: a) they get the most value out of using your product and b) you profit greatly from them being a customer. (Look for the strongest win-wins between you and your customers).

And then try to identify the core DNA of your most successful customers. Ask a lot of questions about these companies and look for common denominators:

  • How big is the company?
  • How many employees do they have?
  • What other software tools do they use?
  • What are the titles of all the employees?
  • What kind of social media platforms do they use?
  • Where are they located?
  • What's their average deal size?
  • How long have they already been in business?
  • How did they hear about us? How did we acquire them?
  • Etc. etc.

You'll have to ask a ton of questions and then filter out those that they have in common and that are most relevant.

Based on that you'll then create a very specific customer profile.

And then you go and find another 5 to 20 businesses that have the same core DNA (sometimes you can start with their closest competitors ;). 

You don't need thousands of shitty names. You just need a handful of really great ones. (Click to tweet this)

Reach out to those and strive to create high-quality sales conversations. Try to maximize response and conversion rates. Gain deep market insights that you can then leverage to make more sales and close better deals.

Find out what works best for you

You can probably tell from my answer that I personally prefer the highest quality, lowest quantity approach. But I encourage you to experiment for yourself. In some industries, for some businesses, the "spammy" high quantity/low quality approach works best.

Referral Sales

In addition to that, the most valuable source of high-quality leads you have is your current customer base. Check out our B2B Referral Sales System post for specific advice.

Recommended resources:

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