As the sales leader of a B2B technology company I am simultaneously a promoter and target of prospecting outreach. I encourage my team to reach out to customers with respect,conviction, perseverance, and empathy. Yet, as a prospect, I’m very hard to reach. I don’t generally respond to cold emails or LinkedIn requests from business development reps. In theage of distraction I look for every opportunity to promote relentless focus and prioritization. Two of my favourite books,The One Thing andEssentialism, remind me that extraordinary results only come from knowing what’s important, how to bias towards those things, and block out distractions. It’s hard but apparently I’m not alone.
This past February I attended theSaaStr Annual conference in San Francisco whereDavid Skok from Matrix Partners gave apresentation on the 12 Levers of SaaS Success to packed house of technology entrepreneurs. As a preamble to his discussion on sales funnel conversion (getting customers to do something they are not motivated to do, as he put it), David asked a simple question; “Who here uses business development reps (BDRs) as part of their lead generation strategy?” 75% of the audience raised their hands. “Oh yes, we love our BDRs don’t we!”, he responded as the hands lowered and the audience chuckled in agreement. “Let me ask you this”, he continued, “who likes getting prospected by other people’s BDRs?”. Crickets.
If the very leaders who employ these tactics continue to build immunity to them, what hope do we have?
I’ve long since believed that the in the future, sales won’t involve bothering our customers with calls, emails, and social outreach until they notice us. Indeed the future of the buyer/seller relationship will look very different than it does today and our outreach strategy will need to change with it. Here are three fundamental issues I consistently see with the current state of prospecting outreach.
You don’t have my attention
When I wake up in the morning and turn on my phone (ok, let’s be honest, it sits beside my bed and I never turn it off) I have about 20 new emails to read since the time I went to sleep. In his book “Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down” author John Kotter says we're bombarded with 520,000 proposals, plan, or ideas in a single year. In a typical day we can be bombarded with six requests and four complaints from our family before 7:30AM, fourteen things to remember from the radio program we listen to going to work, and dozens of new emails by the time we get to our desk.
Buyers are busier than ever and have scarcely little discretionary mental bandwidth. That means that sellers are finding the chainmail armour buyers once used to deflect your outreach has now been replaced with 6 inch reinforced steel. With all due respect to your valiant prospecting efforts or how amazing your solution is, I have a million (or apparently 520,000) others things to focus on. You don’t have my attention and without first earning my attention your message will fall on deaf ears.
You sound the same as everyone else
I get about five BDR prospecting outreaches a day. Most look something like this:
I wanted to reach out because my company [insert vendor name] helps organizations like [insert your company name] [insert top 10 list of pain/value propositions every vendor claims e.g. increase productivity, reduce sales cycle time, boost engagement, manage leads, improve conversion, connect with key prospects, etc]
Our solutions have helped customers like[insert list of generic famous companies designed to impress me] see an improvement of [insert ROI stat].
Do you have 15 minutes to speak this week? Looking forward to hearing from you!
Now I know many of you reading this will say your outreach is different. That you have a snappy/personal opening, include a screenshot of your app and customer quotes, start your subject lines with “Re:”, or claim to never send cold emails. That you first connect with your prospects on LinkedIn to build trust before making an ask. News flash; you sound the same (and nothing screams “I’m prospecting you” like a LinkedIn invite from a BDR with no context). It’s important to note here that sounding “the same” is different than sounding “bad” (although it certainly can be). The problem with sales tactics (like the good oldAlligator email often used as a last ditch effort to engage a silent stonewalled like me) is that they work for while, people fall in love with them, and they become so pervasive that we become desensitized.
You haven’t sold me on the value of the next step
The purpose of the first sentence of a news article isn’t to explain the story. It's to get you to read the second sentence. Similarly, the purpose of prospecting outreach shouldn’t be to sell me on your solution. That comes later. It is to help me understand why I should click the link you shared or give you the 15 minutes of my precious time you’re asking for. The problem today is that there are so many solutions with overlapping footprints and value propositions it’s hard to differentiate them. If your outreach feels the same as everyone else's I assume your value proposition will as well. Fair? Maybe not. Statistically reasonable? Absolutely. In fact, in the Marketing Technology space alone, the number of vendors hasincreased from 150 to almost 5000 in the past 6 years. Many of these solutions (or new features for existing products) are not revolutionary but instead represent variations or improvements on existing solutions.
Steve Krugg, author of the best-selling book,Don’t Make Me Think says that when prospects visit your website if they can’t figure out what you do within seconds, they won’t stick around. The same applies to sales outreach. Your approach needs to produce enough momentum for me to take the next step.
The good news is, there are some tactics you can use to break through your prospects' defences:
Try a new (or old) medium
Change things up by selecting a more engaging medium for your message. For example, social selling maven Jamie Shanks found a video message increased his email open rates by 2-7X. We’ve found the same thing in our business as well. Even prospects who aren’t interested in taking the next step reply to say what a clever format we used. Low-tech ideas like engaging your prospects with a piñatagram or a handwritten note work work as well!
The ultimate way to usher your message directly to your target buyers is through areferralfrom a happy customer or mutual connection.Research from Salesforce shows that the lead-to-win conversion rates for leads sourced through referrals are over 50 times higher than an email campaign. It’s not hard to understand why. With the proliferation of peer reviews on consumer sites like Amazon and B2B sites likeG2Crowd, buyers are becoming more and morewearyof vendor-generated content. Personally speaking, the chances of you getting a response from me with a prospecting email are almost nil, but if a friend or colleague tells me your solution is worth looking into, you can almost certainly expect I will.
Rethink your messaging
Vendors typically like to talk about how awesome they are. That’s why if you’re looking to stand-out from the crowd, try injecting some customer-centric messaging into your pitch to both speak your customer's language and disrupt their inertia(the tendency to keep doing what they’ve always done). These best messages are bold, polarizing, and teach your audience something they didn’t know. For example, instead of saying “coaching sales reps is important which is why we developed the next generation sales coaching solution” try saying, “Research shows sales rep coaching is the single most important factor in quota attainment, yet only 7% of sales managers spend enough time coaching and 85% of reps feel performance reviews are a waste of time”. This approach can be especially powerful when used in conjunction withaccount based marketing tactics to provide highly relevant insights in the context of your prospects business.
At the Sales Machine 2017 conference I recently attended in New York, Sales expertJeffrey Gitomer addressed a packed house saying “Don’t tell your customers something they don’t know about you! Tell them something they don’t know aboutthem!” Before reaching out to an executive buyer, try sourcing some insights from lower level team members or even publicly available insights or statistics. Offering a free assessment tool (like Hubspot’swebsite grader) that either the sales rep or prospect can run is a fantastic way to source those insights and refine your pitch. For example, instead of saying something like “Most organizations want more positive customer reviews on solution rating sites. We can help with that.”, some quick research might allow you to say, “Looking for positive online customer reviews is the first step for 90% of buyers, yet I noticed that [company name] has 70% fewer positive customer ratings on G2Crowd than other vendors in your space. We can help with that."
Add value early and often
Reciprocity is one of the most powerful forces in business. It's an incentive-based behavioral equation; I want something from you and in exchange I offer something in return. While science has demonstrated how compelling this persuasive force can be, as it turns out, reciprocity even more powerful when what you offer is actually given in advance instead of afterwards. That’s why before you ask a prospect for their time and attention, ask yourself, what value will accompany your request? (and no, information about how awesome your company is doesn’t count!)
In a recentpodcast I spoke about the need for sales professionals to focus on adding value to our customers at every interaction. For example, instead of hitting up your prospects with the all too familiar “Just checking in” or “do you have 15 minutes?" emails or phone calls, why not send them a relevant article, white paper, or business book? Or invite them to an intimate peer dinner or networking event. Even making an introduction to a like-minded customer or third-party expert that can help them in their role works. The gift of time-savings can be equally compelling. At my last startup we routinely reached out to executives who signed up for our freemium product and offered to save them “clicking around time” by giving them a personal 5-minute guided tour, no strings attached. Our uptake on that offer was very high!
In the age of distraction, getting customers to notice you, never mind reply to your outreach, is hard. While I believe the future of sales and marketing will continue to skew towards both buyer scepticism and empowerment, sellers (and especially prospectors) must meet their modern buyer with customer-centric mindset, deep rooted conviction, and value at every stage. While there are many approaches modern sales organizations can use to get customers to pay attention, the easiest way to know if you’re on track is to pretend you’re the customer experiencing your approach and ask yourself one simple question; would you respond?
Want to know more about what you should be doing now to prepare for the future of sales? Join us next Tuesday, August 22nd, at 10:00 am PDT as I present Selling the Future: 3 Surprising Principles Modern Sellers Need to Master. We will cover how the modern landscape has transformed over the past few decades (and why your sales methodologies should adjust accordingly), how today’s buyers are characteristically different than they were in the past, and the three principles modern sellers need to master in order to prepare themselves for the future of selling. Click here to register for free!
A scientist turned 4-time tech entrepreneur, David Priemer currently serves as the Vice President of Sales at Influitive. Previously David was the Vice President of Commercial Sales and resident Sales Leadership Evangelist at Salesforce having joined via the acquisition of Rypple where he was one of the founding members and VP of Sales. Prior to that, David served as Sales Operations Director at Varicent Software, and Director of Solution Engineering at Workbrain. He holds a B.Sc. in Chemistry and Atmospheric Science from York University and a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto.