If there was a Sales Hall of Fame, Aaron Ross would be listed as Outbound King. In just a few years, he led Salesforce.com to $100 million extra revenue by introducing his innovative cold calling 2.0 technique.
His best-selling book, Predictable Revenue, describes his $100 million best practices in full - and is often referred to as the sales bible of Silicon Valley. He describes how scalable and predictable revenue are all-important to the growth of a B2B business.
Joining forces with Groeiatelier, we brought Aaron Ross to Belgium for a two-day workshop. Ross shared his main techniques and best practices to build a scalable sales organisation.
Like all attendees, we were much intrigued. And we're happy to share the biggest learnings with you:
1. Customer relationships benefit from clear focus
Customers are at the heart of your business. That means the entire follow-up, from start to finish, should be done by one and the same person. That way, your customers have one point of contact, who's perfectly aware of their situation. Logical and customer-friendly, right?
Aaron Ross says no.
He states this will actually hinder your ability to be customer-centric: when people juggle too many things at once and need to follow up on many opportunities, it won't take long for things to go south. They lose focus, and soon enough, won't be truly in the loop anymore.
By creating focus and encouraging a qualitative handover between colleagues, everyone knows exactly what is expected - and your customers will be helped sooner.
"When you juggle a lot of things, your customer relations will suffer." - Aaron Ross
These focus roles also allow your co-workers to excel, and grow into different roles within your business. If you focus on developing outbound contacts, for instance, junior co-workers will get to know your business AND your customers inside-out.
Soon enough you'll have your own senior experts, and you won't need to hire expensive consultants. In English, this is referred to as a farm team.
2. Inbound leads alone won't cut it
Inbound leads are often seen as the holy grail: these leads are triggered by your content, and find you on their own initiative. So you don't need to go out and look for them.
A consistent and affordable influx of inbound leads, though, is tricky to obtain. Only very few businesses are able to survive relying solely on inbound leads.
Luckily, there are other ways to top up your funnel and create a predictable lead intake process.
"Inbound leads are great, but at some point they plateau or will become too expensive." - Aaron Ross
There are three types of leads:
1. Spears: These are the leads you hunt for yourself: the spear refers to the active role you play in acquiring these leads.
These leads offer 3 advantages: they are of high quality, predictable and usually offer high deal value.
As you prospect these leads yourself, you can target those interesting to your business or who need your solution the most. Your entire campaign can be tailored to these leads.
Outbound prospecting also makes it easier to get in touch with bigger businesses, which will usually benefit the deal value.
Also, it's easy to measure how many leads you'll need to contact to convert one, which brings predictability.
The biggest downside, though? It's expensive, as you'll need to invest quite some time to prospect and convert these leads.
2) Seeds: Basically, you're planting 'seeds' for the long term: by building excellent relationships with your customers, they'll recommend your business to others.
The best kind of lead you could get, according to Ross, as they've heard about you through word-of-mouth, and were convinced before even talking to you. Unlike Spears, Seeds are quite unpredictable: it will take time building relationships in order to get more seed leads.
"Don’t think of Customer Success as a cost. If done right, you will get more seeds and a higher retention rate, which will lead to a higher revenue." - Aaron Ross
3) Nets: Using all kinds of marketing campaigns, you cast out your nets, hoping to bring in some leads. This is the classic form of inbound marketing, in which you use content to gain interest and convert prospects to customers.
Net leads are cheaper than spears because they came to you, and the lead intake process is more scalable. Once you set it up, the leads will keep flowing in.
Unfortunately, these leads are not always the best: many of them will never convert to a customer and the deal value is usually quite low.
3. Tear down the wall between marketing and sales
Oftentimes, sales and marketing work in different silos, led by different managers. This makes it harder to work together, causing opportunities to go to waste.
Aaron Ross's advice: unite sales and marketing in one revenue team, with one manager. That shared responsibility will induce better cooperation, and also better leads... leading to more sales.
Roles should be divided as follows:
- Marketing: your marketing team is responsible for generating seeds (inbound leads).
- Junior Inbound Sales Development Rep: this person qualifies inbound leads and passes on the right ones to the senior salesperson.
- Junior Outbound Sales Development Rep: this person is responsible for prospecting and generating outbound leads.
- Account Executive: the senior salesperson receives leads from the SDRs, and will focus on those.
"You can’t create predictable revenue if you don’t have predictable lead intake. You need to know what to goes up in the funnel to know what will come out at the other side." - Aaron Ross
Also, ensure everyone within your business can bring an elevator pitch about your offering. If your people can't explain what you do, other people won't be able to understand it either.
4. Nail a niche
"Be the big fish in a small pond. And you know, it’s easier to make the pond smaller than to make the fish bigger."- Aaron Ross
To reach the right people (whether that is through inbound or outbound) and collect qualitative leads, you need to know your audience. The better you can explain who your customer is, the more successful you'll be.
A small trick Ross uses to look for the ideal customer, is to imagine you can only contact 10 people this year. Who would you reach out to, and how would you define them?
The important thing is not to lose time on prospects with a low deal value, or prospects unlikely to convert.
Once you've figured out who your ideal customer is, you'll need to start thinking about how you'll address them. See that you can explain what you do in a simple way, using their words. If you can't do that, your chances of success will plummet. The challenge here is to try and say the same thing in fewer words. The key for outbound e-mailing is to instantly grab the attention of your audience.
"The more generic the writing, the harder to sell." - Aaron Ross
5. Email is not dead
Believe it or not, email is still one of the top sales channels. Aaron suggests two approaches:
- The referral mail: send an email asking for the right person; this gives you an internal referral, allowing you to talk to the right person with the compliments of the first person you spoke to.
- The cold email: send a cold email, describing explicitly what it is you do, why you contact that person and what you expect.
Of course, there's not one be-all and end-all way of e-mailing. It's always a process of trial and error to discover what works for your business and your customer.
"A perfect email campaign does not exist... just like the ideal diet doesn’t. It depends on the person, but there are however some basic rules: more vegetables and fruits are always a good idea." - Aaron Ross
Nonetheless, Ross swears by a couple of basic e-mailing rules.
- ABT (Always Be Testing): keep daring to experiment, because who knows, there may be a technique out there that works better for you.
- Short and sweet:the shorter and the more concise, the better.
- Aim high:the higher the position of the person you contact, the higher the success rate of your sales efforts.
- Do research first, start selling afterwards: when you first reach out, you're not selling yet - but investigating whether there is a match.
- Make it simple to understand, and easy to act upon: make sure the recipient of your e-mail understands at a glance what you're telling, and what you expect of him.
- Include a very concrete CTA: this helps clarify what you expect of the recipient, and will increase engagement with your e-mail.
if you've sent a cold e-mail, Ross advises to follow up with:
- a follow-up mail: "did you receive my last e-mail?"
- a mail with extra content: "I think this blog could be interesting for you too"
- a break-up mail: "since I haven't heard from you yet, I presume you've gone the other way. Let me know if I can be of any help to you in the future!"
And finally, you should follow up on these e-mails with a phone call, unless they sent you a negative reply. If they react positively to one of your e-mails, it's important that you call them back within 24h. For contacts who didn't respond yet, you can take a bit longer. But make sure they didn't forget about your e-mail by the time you get in touch with them!
Just like in real life, a phone call only gives you one chance to make the right first impression. Mind your tone of voice, how you come across and keep the goal of your phone call in mind. During this phone call, you want to find out whether there is a fit between your product and the company you're calling. Be sure to ask enough questions, and let your conversation partner do the talking.
6. You need a CRM tool But if you don't use it well, it won't do you much good.
A final tip by Ross: make sure you use your CRM tool the right way.
Your CRM is the tool you use to track contacts and follow up on deals. It can be invaluable to a business, if you need to follow up on all contacts in your sales pipeline. It's also the perfect way to ensure no opportunities go lost because they're not passed on from marketing to sales, or from an inbound or outbound SDR to an Account Executive.
Companies that use a CRM tool properly, perform better in so many ways.
Of course, a tool is only half the battle. If you don't implement the right mindset in your business, even the best tool in the world won't help you.
That's also what we believe at Teamleader. Which is why our onboarding and all support comes free. More business, fewer chores.