Tips & Tricks from the Sales Consulting Professionals
Get more closed deals by following this advice.
In what other position within your company would you find it acceptable for employees to forget 84% of their training after 3 months?
Now imagine that position is solely responsible for carrying revenue over the finish line. All of the marketing budget, testimonials, white papers, favors, and gifts you've put into building that relationship end up in one person’s hands.
That’s a lot of pressure for someone who may be one of the 55% of salespeople who lack basic sales skills.
Sales people need constant practice and constant coaching to remain competitive. Period. Michael Jordan didn’t get himself a ring and say “I think I’m done being coached.”
If you are in a perpetual growth mindset, sales training and retooling should be among your top priorities.
It might sound like a lot, but the best start comes from breaking down the most meaningful sales activities to your organization and practicing them individually.
Audit your sales process and identify your largest challenges. Are prospects lost at objection handling? Is a tweaked pitch making your value unclear? Are there typos in emails resulting in a loss of credibility?
From cold calling and emailing to refining your sales approach, the guide below covers some of the most meaningful steps you can take to get to your desired outcome–more closed deals.
Read it from top to bottom or skip to the session that interests you most:
Cold Calling 101: Advantages & Disadvantages
Old habits die hard; that’s as true for business as it is for any other aspect of life. And one of the oldest habits in the sales-and-marketing game is the cold call. Indeed, plenty of companies still utilize this technique that was developed decades ago, and while it continues to divide opinion within certain industries, it remains a big part of many business sales strategies. So to better understand cold calling, it’s time for an examination.
Consider this article “Cold Calling 101” for beginners and veterans alike.
Why Do Businesses Still Cold Call?
The simple answer is that it works for them. (Or at least, they think it works for them. More on that in a moment.) There are certain advantages to the cold-call system, if you know how to implement it properly. Many times, companies don’t make an individual cold call with the express intent of landing a sale. Strange as that may sound, cold calls these days can be more accurately considered “probing calls” to gain pertinent information. Some businesses merely use cold calls to determine who the manager is at a potential client’s operation. Other times, businesses cold call to ask leads survey questions as a form of market research. And lastly, businesses will cold call simply to establish a person-to-person connection with a potential lead.
Cold Calling Drawbacks
What’s not to like? Lots, unfortunately. Not only do consumers hate receiving cold calls, most sales professionals don’t like making them either. They’re difficult, largely ineffective in terms of sales conversion, and take up an inordinate amount of a company’s time and resources. Plus, it’s not going to get any easier for cold callers. More and more businesses are abandoning landlines altogether, and fewer young professionals are willing to pick up the phone to have a conversation with a sales person––even if they could actually benefit from a given product or service.
Future Prospects and Alternatives
It’s likely that some sales professionals will want to go down with the cold-calling ship when the time comes to completely shelve this way of doing business. However, for the moment, some companies will still continue with a cold-calling strategy in some regard, even if it’s not the most efficient way to create leads and make sales. For those who insist in following this ideal, you can take steps to “warm up” your cold calls by utilizing marketing data, sales analytics tools, and by taking more time to study leads beforehand. Alternatively, companies looking to ditch cold calling completely have these methods at their disposal––along with a whole bevy of alternative lead-generation possibilities.
The Perfect Sales Follow-Up Email
Spoiler: it’s not just one.
There are many techniques Sapper uses to get insane response rates for our clients. One campaign in May yielded an 85% open rate and 45% reply rate for a client:
With these tactics, we’ve scheduled over 25,000 sales meetings for our clients. And in this article, I’m going to detail 3 of our favorite sales follow up emails that have helped us to do so, and the psychology behind why they work:
1. “Any thoughts?”
Seriously. That’s it. After your initial sales email, hit them with this two word fastball that is made to create confusion (in a good way). We’ve already talked about including the reader’s inner thoughts in the conversation.
When this is latched onto the original email thread, the first thing that goes through their mind is, “Any thoughts about what? What did I miss?” This little conversation has them clicking back and re-reading your original email.
Who says you only get one first impression?
Maybe they missed it the first time, skimmed it, or it just didn’t hit them the right way. Suddenly, you have another shot at piquing their interest (as long as your first sales email is bang-a-rang, too).
With the rise of email automation, many don’t take their time anymore. It’s pretty easy to blast 10,000 emails out without thinking twice about it. But if you give the appearance that your’e taking the time out to reach out to your prospect with relevant information, they’ll respond.
That email looks like this:
sent from mobile
The mobile signature is a nice touch too, especially if you have the prospect in an email sequence. It lets them know that they’ve been dealing with a human the whole time (even if they haven’t) and are much more likely to respond.
2. “I thought I had the right contact”
With all of the prospecting tools and email marketing platforms available, most people can tell when they’ve been put on a list. When they realize it, they’ll send a sweet message asking you to remove them.
Those usually look like this: TAKE ME OFF YOUR [expletive] LIST before I…
Well, you probably know the rest.
We hate that. It’s the worst, because good marketers don’t want to bother people.
If you find yourself having prospected someone who’s nowhere near the ballpark of what you’re discussing, practice two things: humility and humanity. That looks something like this:
I spend quite a bit of time researching potential clients to understand who could truly benefit from our services. Originally, I thought you were a great fit but I may have made a mistake.
If that’s the case, I apologize and would appreciate your passing me along to someone who’s a little closer to these types of decisions. If you are the correct contact, would you still have time to discuss ?
We’re apologetic but not groveling. We recognize the potential of a mistake, but also highlight the thought and work that has gone into our outreach so far. Find a balance that works for you, and you’ll be amazed at how often you get passed to the right person.
3. Give them options
In school, I loathed seeing essay questions when a perfectly good multiple choice would do. A lot of people share this feeling because many of us only have so much in our critical thought tanks every day.
If the call to action in your email makes your prospect respond with a novel, it’s too much. Here’s one way to lay out the options:
I know you’re busy so I wrote this simple email to gauge where you’re at. Select what makes the most sense for you and we’ll get something on the books.
1. Not interested.
2. Busy right now. Reach out in a month.
3. I’m interested. Let’s schedule a call.
Short. Sweet. To the point. This said, I’ve seen similar email tactics that include a cutesy 4th option like, “4. You’ve fallen and can’t get up, and I need to call someone!” to get a laugh.
I get it.
But personally, I don’t find most of them funny, and it’s likely that many of your prospects won’t either. So unless you know exactly who you’re writing to and what kind of humor they’ll respond to, resist the temptation!
Sapper (and many others) are still experimenting to find the perfect follow up sales email. And so far, no one right way exists. But there are tactics, that when combined, have produced incredible results for us and our clients.
5 Ways to Ditch the Shotgun Sales Approach
Despite a measly 50 percent of sales leads being qualified, chief executive sales officers (CE/SO) jump on every coffee networking lead as if it’s a sure thing. While it might be more fun for CE/SOs, this approach is fundamentally flawed — and easily fixed.
A CE/SO is a chief executive officer who is also the chief sales officer. This doesn’t mean he or she is the only salesperson at the company, but it does mean that this individual is looked to as the sales leader. And as a leader, this person should ensure that his or her sales approach is maximizing deal flow and minimizing employee unhappiness.
Most CE/SOs prioritize leads and sales meetings backward. They relentlessly schedule meaningless coffee meetings and refuse to have the “unqualified demo.” But this strategy leads to wasted time and lowered team morale. Whether you like it or not, how you spend your time sets the example for how your team should spend its team. Your company’s mantra shouldn’t be “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Set a Standard for Your Team
As the CE/SO, you need to set an example of time efficiency. One huge flaw I’ve seen among CE/SOs is that they’re often out of the office or out of town working on highly improbable sales opportunities when their team is expected to be working in the office 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. This negatively impacts company culture. It leaves your team wondering when you’ll be in and what you’re doing. Do not let these thoughts creep into the minds of your team. You always need your people to feel that you are the hardest working person at the company.
It’s ironic, but often these CE/SOs will take frivolous coffees but refuse what they consider “unqualified” sales calls. This makes absolutely no sense and should be completely reversed. Take more sales meetings than you think you should and fewer networking and coffee meetings than you think you should. If someone is interested — even if they may not seem like a great prospect on paper — you should take the call. Or at least five to seven minutes of the call.
Instead of making judgments ahead of time, like refusing to meet with someone because of his or her title, just spend seven minutes on the phone and decide for yourself whether the call will be a productive one. Start by getting curious about the company — really understand what they do — and assess whether it’s going to be a good fit.
I frequently go into calls thinking they won’t be productive and am surprised by the positive outcome. Conversely, I’ll often prep and go into a call with high hopes and ditch the call after four minutes. The fact of the matter is you just don’t know until you’re on the call.
Spot Bad Leads
Once you’ve scheduled the sales meeting, though, how can you tell within those first few minutes whether a lead is going somewhere or whether you should get out now?
It’s relatively simple. You probably have (and if you don’t, should have) disqualifiers: three or four attributes a prospect must have to even consider him or her as a customer. For my company, you must have: an average customer lifetime value above $10,000; a total number of potential U.S. customers greater than 1,000; and a strong desire to grow the business.
You might be thinking, “But if you can uncover these attributes prior to the call, why take the meeting?” Good question. First of all, you might be wrong. Secondly, perhaps there’s a new product or service that is not public and you don’t know about. And last, in today’s business climate, individuals are often involved in many businesses. Perhaps the business they’d like to discuss is not one you are thinking about.
Another way to make sure you’re spending time wisely is to ask the prospect. Don’t be shy about coming out and asking about a lead’s intentions. You don’t have to be rude about it — don’t be a Neanderthal and demand straight out, “Look, are you going to bite or not?” Be subtle. If someone doesn’t sound like she wants your product or services, say, “You don’t sound terribly interested, am I right?” Either she’ll admit she’s not going to become a customer or she’ll warm up.
But that all pales in comparison to the most surefire way of determining if a lead is good: Does the lead ask you to send more information? If so, you know with almost 100 percent certainty that this lead is going nowhere. When people generically ask me for information at the end of a call, I refer them to my company’s website and mark them as lost.
How to Focus on Good Leads
Once you’ve weeded out your bad leads, make sure you’re using your increased time and energy to capitalize on the good ones. Here are five practices you should be using for every call with your qualified leads:
1. Forget about BANT leads (unless they call you).
BANT, an acronym for “Budget,” “Authority,” “Need,” and “Timeline,” is the old standard rubric that sales managers use to judge whether a lead is “qualified.” It’s dead. Bury it.
In today’s world, if a potential customer is BANT qualified, that means she has a pressing (sometimes desperate) need for a product or service in your category. Using outbound marketing to secure BANT-qualified leads is unreasonable. If someone is in desperate need of a service, he’s already gone out for himself and found a vendor or a few vendors. If you are that vendor, mazel tov. If not, give up on holding yourself or your salespeople to this standard and asking them questions in 1-on-1s to determine if they have BANT-qualified leads in their funnel.
2. Prioritize preparation over follow-up.
Stats like “It takes 27 touches on average to close a deal” make salespeople and CE/SOs waste endless amounts of time poring over the right note to send post-meeting or the perfect number of days in between sending a contract and robo-calling your prospect. The truth is: It doesn’t matter. The deal is won or lost in the meeting. Just like you can’t save a bad date with a great text, you can’t revive a deal with a great follow-up note.
If you can’t save a bad meeting with follow-up, it stands to reason that you should do everything in your power to ensure your meeting doesn’t need saving. Take 80 percent of the time you spend on “following up” and move it into preparing for the meeting. And I don’t mean figure out where they went for spring break with their niece in 2010 so you can drop in a line about how you also love Antigua. I mean role play, anticipate questions, think about how you’re going to build credibility, etc.
3. Pull deals quickly.
The idea of “qualifying” prospects to determine whether they are actually going to become customers presumes two things that are largely untrue: When you are asking qualifying questions (what’s your timeline to make this decision, are you the final decision maker, etc.) you are getting the real answers and when those answers won’t shift over time. Both are bad assumptions.
The only way to determine whether a deal is going to happen or not is through action. And you cannot force action by increasing the quantity or frequency of your follow-ups. Creating false deadlines is transparent to customers and smacks of desperation. So pull deals. It’s real, it forces action, and it will save lots and lots of time.
4. Stop pretending.
Anybody can trick themselves into thinking that Steve who asked for more information (and sounded so interested) was different from the 100 leads who asked for more information and went dark. Maybe he was nicer or seemed more inspired by your pitch. He liked it, right? Right?
Wrong. Steve didn’t like your pitch. If he did, he wouldn’t have asked for more information. That’s not how interested people act.
I know, I know. One time Joanne from the big company you sold a deal to once in the ‘80s did ask for more information and Joanne became a customer. That’s an exception, not the rule.
Assume the worst. If your gut says it’s going to close, it’s not. If your gut says it might not close, it’s not. And if your gut says it’s probably not going to close, it’s definitely not.
5. Schedule the right type of intro meeting — a phone call.
Set yourself up for success before the first meeting even starts. Start with a 20-minute to 45-minute introductory call. Life won’t end if 20 to 30 minutes get wasted. Stop scheduling face-to-face intro meetings in Topeka if you live in Los Angeles, saying you’ll build some other bad meetings around this intro and make the trip worthwhile. (Doubt it.)
Not all leads are equal. Do your homework, take the call, but if it’s not a good fit within the first few minutes, set them loose.
"Cold Outreach" Doesn't Include Cold Calling Anymore
At one point in time, the cold call was exactly that: cold.
When you made the cold call, you knew nothing about the person on the other end of the line. If you’ve never had to do this before, I can’t begin to explain how difficult it could be to close a sale.
But everything’s changed.
With all of the information that’s available online, you never have to go into a truly “cold” pitch again.
This article reviews how cold outreach and cold calling has changed over the years, what you can do to increase your odds of closing a lead, and where the space is headed in the not-so-distant future.
Resources Available to You
We live in a time where you have more access to information than you ever had before.
It’s a marketer’s dream.
In the past, you had to flip through your index of phone numbers and sell to people that you had never met and knew nothing about.
Needless to say, conversion rates on straight cold calls were not great.
But now, you have several weapons on hand.
While it can still be a bit uncomfortable to call someone you don’t know, you can learn a lot more about your potential leads before you contact them than you ever could before.
Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Google analytics, or any other type of social media / analytics, you can find out where your leads have lived, who they have worked for, their type of employment/income, what they like to do in their free time, and many other things that might help you generate conversation.
How to Use These Tools
The most important thing to understand about researching people and companies via social media is that these accounts are all about building relationships first.
If you focus too much on sales, people see right through you.
That’s why I recommend that, no matter what information that you find, it’s important to not come across as intrusive or creepy. By this, I mean that you shouldn’t get on the phone with someone and make specific comments about what they post on social media.
With that said, you can still come up with a ton of useful information without scaring off your prospects.
Businesses and organizations are using social media at every single level, and here are a few ways that you can leverage these accounts to your advantage:
- By reading a company’s blog, you can learn a lot about their culture and perspective on their niche.
- When you visit a company’s Facebook page, there are a lot of telling signs about their personality and brand voice.
- Checking out their Twitter, you can find out what kind of charities and organizations they are working with.
- If your lead has a video channel, you can even gain insight into what the company’s physical environment is like.
- Depending on what the company or lead is tweeting about, you may even be able to gain insight into their preferred brands and buying signals.
The Future of Cold Outreach
The future of cold outreach is that it will essentially cease to be cold in the traditional sense.
Customers will be looking for more personalization than ever before, and marketers will be targeting leads with much more precision.
In 2016 alone, 79% of marketers polled said that they are currently using sales analytics technology or are planning to use it in the near future.
Sales software helps marketers and sales reps recognize patterns that ultimately improve their performance.
Between sales analytics software, more targeted outreach, and more personalized call/emails, businesses can increase their conversion rates significantly.
When the Sales Meetings Get Tough, the Tough Get Sales Meetings
Like all things worthwhile, landing sales meetings via cold emails requires persistence, adaptation, and clearly defined processes that can be studied to understand why certain things work and others just don’t. The following tips are strategies I use to increase the likelihood that a cold email exchange will end up in a sales meeting.
1. Respond Anyway
This may sound like a time-sink, and it can be, but I’ve found that responding to as many emails as I can, including “dead end” types of responses, can lead to either an acknowledgement from the prospect, or even follow-up questions.
Both responses often yield an additional meeting or two within the month, or even a few months down the road. Be persistent, even in the face of rude responders. Most people get it, and many even respect it. And, if you build out some simple “canned-responses” to address key reasons why folks may not be interested, you can always just copy/paste pre-built retorts down the line and save yourself some time.
2. Always End On a Call-to-Action
You can even try something like the following–these are just a “starter-pack” pulled from the “canned-responses” we discussed earlier:
Hope you're well. I wanted to follow up on our conversation to see if now was a better time to put 20 minutes on the calendar to discuss YOUR COMPANY and PROSPECT COMPANY NAME.
A quick reminder about what we do: We _____ X for PROSPECT INDUSTRY companies. If still interested, let’s schedule that short phone call to discuss. Are any of the following blocks convenient?
Wednesday (XX/XX): XX-XX
Thursday (XX/XX): XX-XX
Friday (XX/XX ): XX-XX
It's great to connect with you. REFERRAL NAME referred me to you. My name is NAME and I am the owner of SENDER COMPANY.
We provide XX ... We have the ability to take on all XX ... And, if you already have XX in place we can work alongside them, too, to supplement their efforts.
Just thought I could save you all some time and reduce XX related frustration. If you're interested, I'd love to schedule some time for a quick call this week or next?
Does Friday work?
The best way to ensure constant use of this tactic is to build out a custom canned responses document (similar to what I mentioned in the last point) that caters to the types of responses your outreach is getting.
3. The Importance of Being Referred
A couple of things can happen when someone is referring you. It either means that, a. they actually can’t help you (if you get a lot of these with a specific title it could be part of a bigger problem), or b. they just want to be rid of you and they’re passing the buck.
Regardless, we can apply the same tactic throughout, which is to forward the thread to the referred person in question and incorporate the referee to leverage this internal baton pass to our advantage.
It can be hard to manually remind yourself to check back in if referrals are slow to respond, so try building out an automated “referral campaign” to use with automated tools. If you don’t have automated tools at your disposal, create a referral folder within your mailbox labeling with “month” tags, letting you know when you should check back in.
4. Slowly Letting You Off the Hook
When someone responds with: “check back in X months” - do it. They’re operating off of the assumption that you won’t. Much like the folders mentioned before, make custom sub-labels for “check back-ins” and set dates on them. Remember to check these labels at the start of every month. Consider adding a recurring calendar reminder too.
5. When Words Aren’t Always Enough
Another good practice is to get a few “one-sheeters” built out that cover typical services, costs, etc. and to incorporate their use in canned responses for when a prospect asks for more information. This also provides a great touch point to reach back out to a quiet prospect, and it can sometimes be exactly what someone needs to hear in a tough time.
6. Are They Really Dead?
Running low on prospects? Sort through your past sends for folks who’ve never responded to you. Try using an intro calling out this fact to them (remind them you’re a human being).
If you get an automated response from someone stating that they’ve retired, or left the company to pursue another opportunity, there is a good chance someone else may be referenced in the automated message. These often contain at least one, if not more, email addresses for similar titles at the company. Cross-reference these to see if you’re already sending to them, and if not, send away and refer to the automated-response to see if you can get one of the other folks to respond.
7. But, I’m Already Doing All of This!
If you’re frustrated, doing all the right things, but still aren’t getting results, don’t fret. Just use one of your lifelines and phone-a-friend.
Try bouncing ideas off of another team member, someone with whom you can discuss reports, templates, or sending times. Consult online resources to verify that you have the correct data. And, you can even try asking your clients–see what won their attention in the first place.
To Wrap It Up
Even though much of prospecting can be empirical, much of it is data driven, so clearly document what works and what doesn’t.
And finally, don’t panic. Stick to the plan. You’ll be shocked at just how effective these 11th hour tips are at yielding you more sales meetings.