Like ‘Old Gil’ from the Simpsons, I’ve been in this game for more than ten years, and I’d like to think I’m not as long in the tooth as him at least. From a Glengarry Glen Ross perspective, I’m almost the newest kid on the block, but if you’re a Millennial, perhaps I seem over the hill. The bottom line is that times have changed, and selling is no longer about spewing out feature sets - it’s about identifying and being able to solve a problem in a succinct and value-orientated fashion, and interacting with your prospect in the newer channels on which they want to communicate.
I’ve captured five of the most vital steps in my engagements, and the sales and marketing tools I live and die by to deliver this successfully in two key phases. Spoiler alert: It’s also tonnes of hard work!
Phase 1: Research
Step 1) Effective Third Party & In-house Content
According to Andy Mehr Ph.D, the average CEO reads four to five books per month, which amounts to some 50 annually. I know as a sales guy that building rapport and being on the same page (pun intended), are vital, and having an arsenal of books gives me ammunition to relate on any given topical problem area.
This type of approach allows you to provide impartial advice and gain the status of trusted advisor at the very beginning. Think about it, when you’re not solely trying to push your agenda and you actually care about addressing someone’s needs, you may not sell to them straight off the bat, but you will be a rock star in their network.
I can’t even begin to count how many referrals I’ve gotten this way! For those of you who would consider cheating, ‘Blink List’ may be the App for you. Blink List allows you to consume up to four books a day in summary format. You could even use it as your filter for deciding what books to read, but I’d always exercise caution in pretending you’ve read something you haven’t.
I’m a strong believer in the premise that a sales guy is only as a good as his site bookmarks, so use blogs and social media groups to ensure you are up to date and on point with industry-wide developments. My go to places are:
I try to make my sales process repeatable (but not boring), but there is often little risk of that, since everyone is different. While I still need to figure out the uniqueness of everyone’s business and what offers we’ll go to market with, I find the best prospects for my business are ones I share a common ground with and can genuinely relate to. That’s not to say that it won’t work with people you don’t ‘get’, but I challenge you to inventory your current customers and find the best ones! I’ll bet the above is true for them.
Step 2) The World of Social Selling: LinkedIn & LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Just for the record, I have no formal relationship with LinkedIn whatsoever. In fact, they don’t have any level of global partner program, but my god do I love this platform, more specifically ‘Sales Navigator’. I regularly check my social selling index score to find out how I rank, relative to my industry.
Ok, being ranked 1 of 1 in my team isn’t something to write home about, but being in the top 1% of my industry and top 5% among my connections means I’m engaging with my audience and the below four components shows me what I need to work on to further improve this score. Namely:
- Establish your personal brand
- Find the right people
- Engage with insights
- Build Relationships
LinkedIn acquired SlideShare a number of years ago, and as a result they’ve integrated their learning platform right into their own tool, meaning not only will this metric tell you ‘What’ you should focus on, but also, and more importantly, the ‘How’ of fixing it.
While the above helps you feel good or not so good about yourself, this is only the tip of iceberg in terms of the power of the tool itself.
Sure, standard LinkedIn is helpful for reaching out to people once you know them, or uncover the web of social and business connections you share, but what if you don’t know them? Isn’t that the very crux of prospecting?
Sales navigator allows you find your perfect future customer, while also adding significant additional value. Let me explain. Throughout my sales career, without doubt the fastest sales I’ve had were as a result of someone in authority who has recently changed jobs. When you think about it politically, those in new roles really have something to prove, and often that involves bringing in a new innovative, product, process, service or even all three, which is where you should be fishing.
Here’s a sample search I’ll do for Director level or higher in companies with a headcount between 11-50, selling computer software and based in London. In addition to this, my focus is always those in a sales and marketing function who carry a number (accountability and results are key for me) and those who are 2nd level connections to me or share a group. This means I could have a shared connection and be part of a common group where I can use this information contextually to reach out.
I also like to include the keywords ‘HubSpot’ or ‘Marketo’, as our ‘Sweet Spot’ is those who’ve bought into this technology but perhaps haven’t yet leveraged the full return on it.
As you can see, this has netted me 169 net new leads, which are super-targeted. Of these, 22 have changed jobs in the last 90 days and 70 of them have published on LinkedIn in the past 30 days, so what they’ve written is my first port of call.
For £59 or $79 a month I can honestly say it’s the best-value tool I have in my sales toolbox.
Phase 2: Prospect Engagement
Step 3) The Effective Outreach
I have more than 5,500 LinkedIn connections and I get hit up every day, but some people look to work with me without providing any level of value. As pointed out in this blog we wrote for Valentine’s Day, sales is like dating - you need to get to know me and buy me a few drinks first before asking ‘how many kids I want!’. I’m also not shy about sharing crappy outreaches I get on LinkedIn as a means by which to help make this better! Here’s a clanger I got recently.
What do I hate about this? They haven't referenced anything unique about my profile or a challenge on my website, or even my experience or something we have in common! No - it's all about them and how great they are. To be honest, I really don't care.
What I do care about is: 'Can you actually solve a problem I may have?' At the very least, ask for my opinion on something. The absolute worst part is that this seems to be from a digital agency just like us.... ouch! While 14% isn’t bad, why can’t I get in of some of the triple digit growth?
So, I get it, you’re chomping at the bit and you’re excited to talk to these targeted prospects, but let’s think carefully before we do, and not fall into the trap my new friend did above! Now it’s time to get reading and find out if you can comment or share the fresh content your prospect has published, and use your opinion in a helpful way. Oh yeah, this takes hard work as I mentioned at the start!
The next thing I like to do is direct them back to our site to check out an evaluator/ tool or download to contextualise a problem they may have and attach it to a solution set we provide - an example is our ‘Funnel Audit’. Either way, if you do this correctly, it will start the conversation. More on this later!
While commenting can be done at no cost, sending an InMail to someone you’re not connected to has an associated cost, as you can only do this for free to your own 1st degree connections. Outside of this, you’ll need to use your coveted InMail Credits. A typical ‘professional’ account user will get 20 of these per month. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with paying for the sending of your message but you’ve got to use them wisely!
The good news is that you’ll instantly get your credit back once you get a reply, but for a sales process to be scalable this may not be a fit for you, meaning you’ll need more than this in isolation to win. I do like that LinkedIn is encouraging the right kind of behaviour in considered outreach, and if your message is tailored enough you can see great success here.
You can connect to them in the hope that they will accept, but I’d recommend that you take the time to customise this message. Be aware that this doesn’t preview well on mobile, and your prospects may not read it before accepting. While they will see it on the message chain from you in their Inbox, you’ll need to send a pleasant and gentle reminder. This and all messages must contain a question to spur them to a reply. It’s human nature to want to help and seek closure on a query asked in the right way.
Step 4) The Actual Message
You’ll really only get one chance at this, and I’ve had many debates on this very topic of late, but I’m a believer in quality and targeted crafting, and my close opportunities bear this out. If you think about it on a human level, my findings indicate a higher response rate with those I’ve gone to the trouble of researching more extensively.
1. Join our LinkedIn Group
Let’s take an example of an IT Services provider we work with. We’ll call them ‘Stellar IT Services’. Their target persona is small business owners and IT administrators and CTOs in greater London, who are time-poor but need to leverage technology in their business to really ‘work from anywhere’ and deliver more for their customers. Stellar IT Services can start a LinkedIn group for those who fit into that category, which allows members to share their challenges and provides helpful advice. An outreach message might say:
I noticed that you and I are both part of [Group A] and [Group B] on LinkedIn and we also follow Gary Vaynerchuck (did you listen to his most recent podcast? I’m not sure I agree with all of what he said).
Anyway, I am putting together a new group on LinkedIn for business owners to share their experience in leveraging IT in their businesses. At present we have [X members] and since you recently commented in [Group B] on a similar experience you had, I feel the group would very much value your opinion. You can join here.”
The group is administered by Stellar IT Services, but is thus populated with their target audience. Stellar IT have done a search in LinkedIn Sales Navigator and have now reached out to this audience with an invitation to this profile to join the group. The benefit to members is to be a part of a community where you share similar goals, and the path to these goals will be similar and relatable. This works best when Stellar use this administrative power in a ‘non-salesy’ but helpful fashion, and monitor the social conversations in an appropriate way. For example, let’s say that a target profile posts:
“We’ve recently successfully gone through a funding round and we’d love to learn how to quickly deploy a series of standard and custom applications to our soon to be hired sales team. We’ve looked at Citrix but also think Okta might be sufficient. Has anyone had a similar experience in the SaaS space?”
What Stellar should not do is say:
“Yes, we’ve gone tonnes of solutions we can sell you there, let’s talk”
“Great question, well the answer depends on the type of applications and total number of users. We recently published an article ‘here’ on our blog which may be of help. In summary, we’ve found Citrix a fit in Situation A and Okta in Situation B. Can you tell me more? I am available next week if you care to find a space in my calendar here!”
In the second approach we’ve actually helped them address their problem and offered to help them with their problem rather than try for a sales call with a clear and more obnoxious agenda. I am also a big fan of inserting the calendar booking link at the end of a message as it takes out the back and forth of finding a time. You can get started using the calendar app for free here.
2. We’ve Created A Survey – Will You Contribute?
This is something that if done effectively can work well, but at the same time can’t be overly burdensome. No one really likes contributing to long-winded and verbose surveys. The trick here is to make it multiple choice, with only a few open-ended questions allowing for free text input. We are trying here to gather statistical data from our industry personas to validate our market, but also prove our agility and willingness to respond to change.
HubSpot does this very effectively by authoring ‘The State of Inbound’ and each year they publish gives them another good reason to reach out. If you think about it, you’re playing to the ego of your prospect by asking them to contribute and then also validating what the market says from the peers of your prospect. I use Survey Monkey for this, which is a great tool with free options to get started. They also have some pre-built templates I find very useful.
3. We are creating a piece of thought leadership. The Expert Round-Up
This is a great concept and methodology, which again allows you to appeal to their ego and also have some great SEO benefits. We’ve utilised this approach in multiple campaigns, both for ourselves and our prospects over time. Let’s say for example that we wanted to help our sample organisation Stellar develop credibility and ultimately a lead base for a campaign they are running in migrating traditional on-premise users over to the cloud.
This campaign primarily takes the form of the blog, but we’ll also syndicate this on social channels to increase its reach. We’ll want to make the outreach snappy, but also have the benefit of being an ego play featuring them among their peers.
We again identify our audience again using LinkedIn, and then begin to reach out to this audience with a message similar to the following:
I’m putting together an article on successful migration to the cloud and I’d very much value your input. The questions are simple
- What was your biggest challenge when undertaking a project like this?
- What would be your no.1 tip to those attempting such a project in 2018?
I’ll be publishing it on [X Date] and I’d very much appreciate any detail you’d care to mention. I’ll be featuring you alongside 25 additional stakeholders. I’d be happy to share a draft before it goes live so you can tie in with your blog and share on social channels.”
What I’ve done here is ask for a backlink from his website and also for him to share on social. A backlink is still regarded as a primary ranking factor, while sharing on social will increase visits and time on site, and will also contribute to the ranking of my article for a keyword phrase such as ‘cloud migration’ etc. At the end of the article, I’ll want to include a download in pdf format for capturing leads such as ‘The Definitive Checklist for Cloud Migrations – A Handy Guide” thus closing the loop between reach and conversion. Finally, I also use this as reference content in the sales process itself.
Step 5) Automating the Outreach
So, now that we know what we are going to say, how do we actually find their contact details, namely their email, and also make the process efficient? LinkedIn Helper is another tool I’ve come across in the past six months and it’s one I’ve grown to love. It takes the saved searches you’ve built up in the prior step and allows you to interact with these prospects. It effectively allows you to automate the outreach in the step above to my 1st connections via this handy tutorial.
You can automate the visiting of profiles you’ve selected in a group. 40% of these views will result in a return view. This is a great first step to engagement. You’ll want to make sure you have something snappy in your LinkedIn title to show exactly what it is you do. Mine reads: ‘Helping People Explode Their Leads and Sales Pipeline for FREE!’
Not only can you manage the initial connect message, but also the follow-up sequence of messages to them. Before I do anything, I like to know whom I’m engaging first so I can tailor that message. I’ll want to gather what I know about them and their company and some of the things we share in common.
I like to download the list of prospects to Excel, which is another handy feature, and segment the data so each outreach goes into a meaningful category. I then like to conduct further research on their website and categorise what I’ve found.
Since we are a digital marketing agency, I’m looking for things such as whether they have a blog, and how often they update it. Do they have Calls-To-Action and what software scripts have I found running on their site? I then split out these commonalities into separate tabs, which I can bulk send.
Now I have the best of both worlds: a high volume of leads but with super-granular levels of customisation. In the outreach message itself, I’ll share with them a tutorial on how exactly to fix that issue I’ve found, and then invite them to speak to me to walk them through it on a Skype call. Yes, I give away the ‘Secret Sauce’.
Why do I do this? Because in 95% of the cases, they’ll never do it themselves and they’ll need someone like us to do it for them. There is a big difference between ‘What you should do’ and ‘actually doing it’. The latter is the commercial element of our offering, but hey, the value is they can always do it themselves and each prospect walks away with something of worth!
I’d encourage you to think of your business in these terms. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also super-valuable and I’ve closed many a customer by going this extra mile.
This is a tool both myself and my team have come to love, but, as Peter Parker was once told, with great power comes great responsibility, so use it with the respect it deserves. While its use is now widespread, with an impressive 600,000 accounts, you’ll need to separate yourself from the crowd as to how you use it. They’ve got a handy chrome extension and your first 100 email addresses are free, and for just 49 bucks you can get 1,000 beyond that.
To use the chrome extension you can visit the URL of the prospect’s site and it will tell you the email convention used. Then simply amend the excel spreadsheet you’ve created above with your newly found ‘Email’ address for this prospect.
HubSpot Sales Sequences
Armed with the email addresses of your chosen audience, we can now use HubSpot’s sequencing tool to automate the series of meaningful message we’re going to send. Again, these have to be super-tailored and meaningful to the businesses, and moreover people, you are emailing, but let’s assume we are all good students and we’ve made the above spreadsheet into a true masterpiece.
HubSpot sequences allows me to take decisions based on what they did or didn’t do. For example, I can send a customised email like the following:
This example is straight from HubSpot’s own tool. As an intro, I like to apply some of that granular level detail I’ve worked so hard to attain and apply it. The thing I love, however, is the action they ask for. You’ll see they ask for the prospect to download an eBook, which can work well. What I also find works well is directing them to an online calculator you’ve developed, or even better, a piece of software you’ve created. Even if it’s still in Beta, ask them to test it - after all, they could be the one using it longer term. I talk more on these styles of ‘lead magnets’ later. The goal here is to simply get the conversation started.
Again, this is a newer entry to the market place, which addresses some of the inefficiencies in social selling today. This is a very top of the funnel tool which allows you auto-visit profiles on LinkedIn and then customise the outreach message you insert into the connection request itself.
It’s very helpful for growing your network in a meaningful way. Not only does it allow you to personalise this message, but you can tag profiles to further facilitate and scale this custom outreach, while also being able to import and export CSV lists and thus work en masse with these. One other massive leverage point is the ability to only target the most active users, meaning you vastly improve your connection rate and reach those who are actually engaged!
This is a tool I’ve been impressed with. In combination with LinkedIn, you can prospect from perfect-fit profiles with their handy overlaid ‘Prospect button’ - this means that record goes straight into HubSpot. It also allows you to fully automate the outreach process in a number of sequences using InMails to your first connections. It also has API integrations into a number of Email discovery tools such as ‘Email Hunter’, ‘Toofer’, ‘Find That Lead’ and ‘Any Mail Finder’. You can check out LinkedHub and its overview here, it’s installed by way of a simple chrome extension.
LinkedIn Versus Email Sequences
This is a question I often get asked: Which channel should I use and can they work together? It’s not so much a question of which you should use over the other, more a question of how to use them together successfully. I’ve tested both in parallel and overall, I’ve found it largely depends on the intended outcome of the campaign. I’ve found that for building target lists and engaging at the very top of the funnel, LinkedIn is the only avenue, while creating a campaign around an ‘Expert Round Up’ for example, has to be done over email. So both have their place in the process.
HubSpot Sales Pro: An Effective Email Notification & Delay Tool
One of the gamechangers for me in the process of actually reaching people who are interacting with my content and email sends is being notified in the first place of this fact. Let me explain! Back in the day, say ten years ago, I’d often have a call which was centred around the question of ‘Did you get that email I sent?’ Well, thankfully those days are no longer. With Sales Pro I get a pop up in my browser or mail client when someone is opening my email and clicking on the embedded links.
I still put the phone call in but I often get ‘That’s so weird, I was just thinking about you’ on the other end! I follow that by being transparent and explain how it wasn’t the stars aligning but rather technology. In addition, it also allows me to tell what device they’ve opened it on and from experience someone opening my email on their phone at the end of the day is skimming on the train, and this is not an opportune moment to put a call in. The free version of Sales Pro will give you 200 notifications to get you started.
A Series of Lead Qualifiers
As I touched on earlier, we need something for people to actually do when we reach out to them. The survey is an active example of a potential prospect engaging with me as a person and my business and this determines for me if they are someone who will put in the effort to drive a sale forward. While sales qualification is a battle for another day, I wanted to highlight that it should be the sales guy doing all of the work.
The temptation is to have your prospect sit there passively and listen or tune out to what you have to say. Rather, you need to bring them on a journey, whether you are a product or services-based business. I like to first ask some questions about the challenges they have and then ascertain if they are willing to solve them, in what timeline, with what associated cost, and their expected ROI:
Step 1: Problem identification
Step 2: Solution Mapping & ROI
Step 3: Timeline Planning
I find my website crucial to this process where I position a link for them to complete and set an expectation on how long it might take (usually pretty quick) and look out for the results. The purpose of this exercise is not to burden them with torturous homework, but to test the resolve and commitment to actually solving the problem in the first place. Someone who takes time to complete a project engagement document, in whatever form that takes, is someone on the road to committing to solving for that problem.
Oh, and an actual phone call
That we live in a hyper-digital age is no excuse to not get on the phone and actually speak to people. While digital assets help us, they don’t replace the human-human conversation that is required.
Find out more about the tools I use for effective sales and marketing, and how I can help your business or agency increase ROI by booking a call with me: