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08 May 17:02

Sales email subject lines: 50+ tips, examples, and biggest mistakes

by (Steli Efti)

When sending sales emails, make sure your subject line isn't foiling your efforts. Though the subject line is sometimes overlooked when sending cold emails, we think it's arguably the most important part, as it can determine whether or not your email will be opened at all.

Here’s how to craft the perfect subject lines, plus examples you can use for your own emails. Here’s an overview of everything we’ve included:

  • Essential questions to ask yourself when crafting sales email subject lines
  • 8 tips for making good subject lines for sales emails
  • 9 advanced email subject line hacks sales reps swear by
  • 22 killer email subject line examples for each sales type
  • 39 proven subject lines by industry: B2B, SaaS, startups, small business & more
  • How to set up subject line experiments to let data do the thinking for you

Let's dive into the first section - the starting point for creating your subject line.

Essential questions to ask yourself when crafting sales email subject lines


Before you even start a first draft, get into the right mindset to better relate to your prospects, and remind you of key points you can make with your email subjects for sales. Here are 9 questions to ask yourself before you begin:

  1. What are you selling? - Of course you know what your company has to offer, but think about the value it can bring to the potential customers you’ll be sending this email to.
  2. Who are you selling to? - Who are your potential customers? Why do they need your product or service? Put yourself in their shoes and think about their needs.
  3. What metrics are you aiming for (open rate % goal, reply rate goals, etc.)? - Knowing your targets may help you craft better subject lines so you can elicit the proper action from your email recipients.
  4. How can you best motivate them to respond? - Your goal is to lead the recipient to want to open, read, and reply to the email.
  5. Are they familiar with your company already? - Are you corresponding with someone who knows your company, or is this email going to be their first introduction to it? You want to make a good first impression.
  6. Do you have any mutual connections? - Maybe you have a mutual acquaintance, went to the same school, or are part of the same Facebook group. Finding common ground and hinting at it in your subject line may lead to more sales.
  7. Why should they want to open your email? - Think of this as a way to “hype up” the body of your email, in a sense. Make it sound good so they will be interested in reading the rest.
  8. Would you delete an email with this subject line if it appeared in your own inbox? - Think about your own experiences with receiving sales emails. How many of those do you delete and how many do you actually read? If you wouldn’t click on it yourself, your prospective customers probably won’t either.
  9. BONUS: How are you going to track which subject lines work best? - Once you start experimenting with different types of subject lines to see what your customers have engaged with most, it’s important to keep track of what’s working and what isn’t.

8 tips for making good subject lines for sales emails

Your subject line is perhaps the most important part of a sales email, as it’s the first impression you give to the recipient. To make the best first impression, here are 8 top tips to creating the best email subject lines for sales:

1. Keep it real

You don’t want your subject line to sound too much like you’re trying to expedite a sale. Craft them in a way that you would in a ‘real’ email, as you would to a friend or coworker. Communicate like a real human—not a pushy marketing expert trying to make some quick sales. Including things like slang and idioms (where appropriate) can be a great way to do this.

Good Example: Hey! Our [product/service] has your name all over it

Bad Example: What’s up, homie? Check out our [product/service]

2. Keep it short

Many people only check emails on their smartphones, so keeping your subject lines short and sweet is imperative. If they’re too long, they may overflow on to a second line, or worse—get cut off. Based on analysis by Leadium of over 40,000 sales emails, subject lines with 4 words or fewer seem to perform best. Try keeping them short and to-the-point and see how it goes.

Good Example: CRM with predictive dialer

Bad Example: Wasting too much time manually calling your sales leads? We’ve all been there! Our CRM with a built-in predictive dialer will help you!

3. Keep it personal

When you see a subject line that addresses you personally, or seems catered specifically to you, you’re more likely to want to open and read the email. Personalized subject lines are far more effective than a ‘universal’ sent to everybody on your list.

Good Example: How happy are you with [company Name]’s project management tool?

Bad Example: We can offer you [product/service]

4. Keep it relevant

Think about why this person needs your product or service. How does this sales email pertain to them? Also, keep it relevant to the body of the email. Putting unrelated text in the subject line may spark interest for some, but it could also make your email look “spammy.”

Good Example: Declining email deliverability rates with your current marketing automation solution

Bad Example: This could be a game changer for your marketing efforts!


5. Keep it genuine

You should make it a goal to have the recipient of your email feel like you genuinely want to help them by providing this product or service to them. Maybe that means giving them a compliment, or commenting on an event you both attended. Try to build a genuine connection rather than trying to close the sale as quickly as possible.

Good Example: It was nice seeing you at [event you both attended], [name]!

Bad Example: Let’s get down to business. Are you interested in [product/service] or not?

6. Keep it casual (but not too casual)

If the recipient’s first impression of your email feels cold and too business-like, they might see it and think “ugh, no thanks.” Something a little more casual can be more appealing, and make your email feel more approachable. You don’t want to be too casual, though.

Good Example: Can we chat about [their company/your products/services/etc.]?

Bad Example: What’s up, [name]? Hit me up if you’re interested in [product/service]

7. Ask a question

Questions can spark interest and encourage someone to open an email. Whether you’re aiming to make them feel useful by asking for information, or making them consider their own needs and wants, sales questions are the key.

Good Example: What does [department] need at [their company]?

Bad Example: This is what you need: our [product/service]

8. Keep your promises

Whatever your subject line promises, make sure the body of your email lives up to that. Whether you’re promising to make their life easier, give them a good deal—or whatever else it may be—you need to follow through. Don’t make false promises or “click bait” your potential customers. That will only lead to you losing business.

Once you start getting creative with subject lines, it’s easy to get tempted to go too far. Certain subject lines might get you amazing open rates, but you need to look at more than just this one metric. Instead, consider the overall funnel. A lot of cold emailing nowadays is done with the “Re:" subject lines, implying that there’s been a previous conversation.

But your email body should deliver what your subject line promises. If you mislead people to get an email opened, they’ll read your email and delete it. Nothing is gained from that.

Here's an example of a clever subject line tricks prospects into opening the email, but irritates by being misleading: "Your meeting got cancelled."

And one of the most effective attention-getting emails I got was the subject line: “Steli, I’m disappointed.”

I immediately clicked on that email, and then, it went on, basically saying: “I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to connect. What we’re doing is … blah, blah, blah …,” and the email went straight into the pitch.

That email was like a guy running a marathon, sprinting the first three miles, being ahead of everyone else, and then collapsing and never making it to the finish line. It was the first email that I opened in my inbox, but once I saw that the subject line was just a clever trick and the sender wasn’t really disappointed, I didn’t bother responding.

Good example: I have a follow-up offer that you will want to consider.

Bad example: [First name], I’m disappointed

9 advanced email subject line hacks sales reps swear by


Want to up your game even more? These nine tips are next-level. Experiment with them to see what gives you the most success!

1. Intentional misspellings

We know, this one sounds pretty weird. However, a tiny intentional spelling mistake can make your email come across as more human. A small mistake such as hitting the key beside the letter you would normally put in that word won’t make it seem like you don’t actually know how to spell the word, but rather that you may have typed and sent it in a hurry. This can create a sense of urgency and may actually entice the recipient to open your email more than if everything was spelled correctly.

2. Connect the dots

No, we’re not suggesting you create some sort of children’s art project—we’re talking about capitalizing on shared connections. If you have a mutual acquaintance or attended the same event, these connections may be able to help you secure a new client.

3. Check on deliverability

Ensure you’re not using any words that may trigger your recipients’ email services to sort your sales emails into their spam folder. Including words and phrases such as “bonus,” “click here,” and “winner” may send your emails straight to junk. You should also run a test on your DNS records to make sure there aren’t any issues.

4. Know your audience

Adjust the tone of your email based on the type of people you’re sending it to. If you’re sending an email to CEOs of large companies, your tone should be different than if you’re emailing free-spirited small business owners.


5. Only use company names

Instead of addressing your recipients by their first name, experiment with only including their company name, or no personal/customized variables at all.

6. Use lowercase text

When sending an email to someone you know, you likely wouldn’t capitalize every word in your subject line. Only using capital letters where necessary can make you come across as more human and genuine.

7. Be creative!

Making use of your wit and sense of humor is a great way to create catchy email subject lines for sales. People may be intrigued if you use a pun or set up a joke, and it’s a unique way to make your emails stand out. We’d recommend giving this a shot.

8. First sentence of the email

While this isn’t actually a part of your subject line at all, we’d recommend also being mindful of the first sentence or two of body text in your email, as this part can sometimes be shown as a snippet, directly below the subject line, in an email inbox. If your snippet reveals that your subject was simply clickbait, or is full of junk like an unsubscribe button, this can deter your potential customers from opening your emails.

9. Subject-line-only emails

Send out emails with only a subject line and no email body text. Using EOM at the end of your subject line also works well. I know a sales team that’s killing it with this technique.

22 killer email subject line examples for each sales type

Need some guidance? Have a look at these examples for every kind of sales email you might be sending out and tweak them to suit your specific needs.

Sales Type Subject Line Examples
Cold Outreach Sales Emails
  • We can help!
  • X steps to achieve [goal they might have]
  • [mutual acquaintance] suggested we reach out!
Follow-up Sales Emails
  • The next steps
  • Here's that information you requested
Introduction Emails
  • Getting started with [product/service]
  • First steps to improving your [issue you're helping with]
  • Hi, we're [company name]. Nice to meet you!
Thank You Sales Emails
  • Thank you for our [date] meeting
  • It's been great doing business with you!
Pitch Emails
  • New [department] strategy for [company name]
  • Jam-packed schedule? Let us help you out.
Sales Prospecting Emails
  • X ways we can help you with [issue they might have]
  • Could you use one of these?
Sales Appointment Request Emails
  • Time to chat?
  • Free [day of the week] at 1:45?
Reminder Sales Emails
  • Have you thought about [topic/product/service]?
  • Last chance to snag this deal!
Post-transaction Sales Emails
  • It's been a pleasure!
  • Would love to work with you again.
Check-in Sales Emails
  • Interested in [related topic]?
  • We'd love your feedback

If you’re looking for something a little more specific, keep reading to get industry-specific tips for crafting your subject lines.

39 proven subject lines by industry: B2B, SaaS, startups, small business & more

Based on what industry you’re in, your target audience will be different, and the types of sales subject lines you use will vary as well. Here are 39 industry-specific subject line examples to get you started:

Industry Sales Email Subject Line
  • [your company] x [prospect's company]
  • Looking to outsource [service you can provide]?
Small Business
  • We'd love to help you grow your business!
  • From one small business to another...
  • You know you're running a startup when...
  • Could your startup use some help with [common issue]?
  • Regarding your [related department] needs
  • Large companies need [your service/product] too!
SaaS & Software
  • Looking to improve your software sales?
  • X ways our software can improve your life
  • A must-have update for [their company]
  • Your site needs this
  • Could this go viral?
  • Ding! You don't want to miss this notification
  • Are your employees' heads in the clouds? We can help.
  • We'll help you ditch external hard drives
  • X benefits we can bring to your platform
  • We can help you build the app of your dreams!
  • Improve your services with this tool
  • Let us do the groundwork for you!
  • Let's turn your ideas into reality
  • We can "smarten up" your home!
  • Want to be #1 on the app store? Let us help!
  • Get better app reviews with this one awesome tool
  • The best thing you'll download today
Real Estate
  • Sell more properties with help from [your company]
  • There's a smarter way to sell real estate...
  • This deal deserves a billboard
  • 3 ways to make your next commercial a hit
  • Want to get more clicks on your Facebook ads?
Digital Media
  • X ideas for your next blog post
  • All content creators need this tool
Food Service
  • Bring in the foodies with [your company]
  • We have a delicious deal for you
  • Grab a bite of this!
  • Check out our claims & we'll help you with yours
  • Risk Management: preparation is not having to gamble
Financial Services
  • Investment opportunity too good to pass up
  • Need help with financial planning?

These subject lines will be more relevant to your prospective customers than a more general example would.

How to set up subject line experiments to let data do the thinking for you

Have you been paying close attention to the performance of your sales emails? You might not have even thought to run experiments with your email tactics, but it can be a great way to improve your results. Here are some tips and advice for the best practices when setting up subject line experiments:

  1. Decide what you want to test - How are you going to measure what’s working and what isn’t? You might want to look at your open and response rates for starters.
  2. Have an idea of what metrics you’re aiming for - It’s important to set quantifiable goals when it comes to these tests. If you’re not seeing the results you want, it’s time to try something different.
  3. Pick how many variations you want to try out - What types of subject lines do you think will work best? Select a few types and decide how long you want to test them before having a look at your results for comparison.
  4. Don’t get caught up in your success - What’s working now won’t work forever. Always challenge your current techniques, because the time between realizing you’re losing leads and finding a new template that works could last months. Don’t stop experimenting altogether just because you’ve found one thing that works.
  5. Follow up with recipients - To get more information about your target audience, consider reaching out to those that opened or responded to your emails to get their feedback. Ask what made them want to open your email, what they liked about it, and what they didn’t like. This qualitative data can be used to your advantage when writing future emails.

Following these guidelines, run some experiments to see what types of subject lines seem to resonate well with your target audience and generate the most engagement.To take it to the next level, learn how to run cold email experiments when you’re emailing smaller sets of leads and don’t have enough data to achieve statistically significant results.

Keep in mind that if you wouldn’t open an email with the subject line you’re using, your leads probably won’t either. Entice your prospects with great subject lines for sales emails that are short, relevant, to-the-point, and sometimes funny, and you’ll be improving your cold email response rate with new customers in no time.

Want more tips? Get your copy of the new Cold Email Hacks 2.0 e-book!

cold email hacks report

08 May 17:01

5 Top Sales Challenges for SMBs (and How Sales Navigator Helps Solve Them)

by Amanda Bulat
Small But Mighty

At LinkedIn Sales Solutions, we have the privilege of working with a wide range of small- and mid-sized businesses (SMB) that are creatively seeking ways to grow and expand their digital footprints. Through these experiences, we’ve noticed several common challenges, many of which can be addressed directly through LinkedIn and Sales Navigator.

Today, we’ll take a look at five of the most prevalent obstacles facing the SMB sector, and how forward-thinking companies are overcoming them through a modern selling approach powered by the world’s largest professional network.

How LinkedIn Helps SMBs Solve Top Sales Challenges

1. Lack of Awareness and Name Recognition in the Market
How can you stand out and get noticed in a niche that may already have several recognizable players? This is an almost universal dilemma for the SMB crowd, especially when it comes to creating awareness at the decision-maker level. There are no easy answers — it takes smart, clever, strategic thinking and execution — but LinkedIn offers some helpful ways to get your brand’s name out there.

Working with your marketing cohorts to develop a consistent and focused content strategy on your  company’s LinkedIn Page can make a big difference in this regard (and the LinkedIn Content Marketing Tactical Plan provides useful guidance on this front). But from a sales standpoint, perhaps the most important step you can take to lay groundwork is expanding your professional networks. Connect with key individuals in the specific areas where you operate — not just prospective customers but also influential voices. Building awareness with experts and authorities who are respected in the industry is a great way to credibly get in front of their audiences, which are likely very similar to yours.

Don’t just connect with people for the sake of doing so, though. You’ll always be more successful reaching out with relevance. Scour interests, skills, and backgrounds in LinkedIn profiles for commonalities that might spark a rapport. Use the TeamLink feature in Sales Navigator to get a full view of your organization’s extended network. The long-term benefits of a robust and wide-reaching sales network are immense.

2. Stalled or Limited Growth
Oftentimes, gaining that initial momentum isn’t the problem; maintaining it is. Once you’ve shored up your early opportunities, where to next? New geographic regions and business verticals can offer prime territory for expansion, but breaking into them is tough for a budding brand.

Sales Navigator can be extremely helpful when it comes to growing the collective networks of your sales team and forging relationships that open new doors. Features within the tool, like TeamLink and Lead Recommendations, make it easy to identify low-hanging fruits outside of your initial geography.

3. Lack of Balance and Coordination Between Inbound and Outbound Efforts
Finding the right balance between inbound and outbound sales is an ongoing challenge for companies of all sizes, but one that seems to weigh more heavily on SMBs. Recognizing that buyers are now more self-driven in the purchase journey, you want to promote smart practices that help them find their way to your brand. But there’s also an added level of urgency to actively seek out new business and fill the pipeline.

LinkedIn supports the pursuit of both these objectives simultaneously. When evangelizing a modern selling strategy, reps are encouraged to build their personal brands and engage in productive conversations on the platform, which helps gain targeted visibility for themselves and the brand. Meanwhile, they can use Sales Navigator to pinpoint qualified prospects, and leverage rich professional insights for intelligent outreach.

4. Difficult to Hire and Retain Quality Sales Talent
The bottom line is that quality employees are more likely to stick around if they are happy, productive, and successful. Sales Navigator users are empowered to proactively create their own opportunities, and develop them independently. And as mentioned before, modern selling approaches are geared toward personal brand-building as well as company growth, so there’s a higher level of inherent self-motivation.

Additionally, the centralized nature of Sales Navigator as a sales enablement platform makes it conducive to training and collaboration with managers. For example, Sales Navigator Deals provides a detailed, real-time, shared view of the pipeline, which many sales leaders use as focal points in their one-on-one meetings. As you probably know, employee engagement is one of the most vital factors in retention and managing churn.

5. Nascent Sales Processes Lack Structure and Refinement for Efficiency
Running an SMB sales operation requires a lot of foundational building. In many cases there isn’t a firmly established infrastructure, which can lead to aimless or duplicated efforts. Sales Navigator helps teams organize and coordinate. With Deals, you can integrate with your CRM, and changes within Sales Navigator will be written back to the CRM instantly.

Simply put, Sales Navigator gives managers visibility into each of their sellers’ activities, provides automated alerts to help push a rep into action at the right moment, and creates a structure to scale up more easily.

Sales Navigator Helps SMBs Think Big

Many people think of LinkedIn Sales Navigator as a scalable solution for enterprise teams with global reach. And it is that. But we’ve also placed a strong emphasis on making the product highly useful for smaller businesses that need an edge to move ahead of the pack in today’s competitive marketplace.

By helping advance your brand awareness, opening up new regions and verticals, bringing balance to your inbound/outbound mix, improving employee retention, and solidifying your sales infrastructure, Sales Navigator is a powerful tool for modern SMBs.

To learn more about how Sales Navigator can bring value to companies of all sizes, subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Blog.



08 May 17:01

Why Would a Property Owner Oppose Neighborhood Improvements?

by Charles Marohn

As an engineer, I worked for cities doing public improvement projects; building and maintaining streets, sewer pipes, water mains, and drainage systems. One project opened my eyes to a crazy world of perverse incentives I didn’t know existed.

It was a rehabilitation project in a struggling neighborhood, the kind of place filled with rental properties badly in need of some attention. The project I was working on would not only replace the underground utilities; it would fix the potholed street and broken sidewalks, restoring the streetscape to something seen only in the more affluent parts of town.

This work was being paid for mostly by a grant with some city funds thrown in, so the property owners weren’t expected to pay anything directly. I went to the public hearing to present the plans, expecting to be embraced as a hero. That is not what happened.

First, the “public” at this hearing was not the people I was expecting: the people who lived in the neighborhood. The neighborhood’s residents were almost all renters and, since the official public notice was mailed to the property owners, the renters didn’t even know.

The owners of the properties did know, and they were the ones out in force. They were mad. With each slide in my presentation, the tension in the room only grew. My cheerfulness about what we were doing for them only made them more irritated. Finally, courtesy drained from the room.

“We don’t want this.”

The ice was broken and now they all started to speak in succession. Whose idea was this? Why was this necessary? Did we have to do this project? The tone was accusatory where it wasn’t defensive.

It took some time for me to understand their central concern: they were worried this project would raise their taxes. In the narrow margins of the low-end rental business, they were worried that improving the street would improve their property values, and improved property values would mean increased taxes. They preferred the run-down street and the cracked sidewalks.

How Taxes Shape Human Behavior

My friend Joe Minicozzi, the founding principal of the consulting firm Urban3, is one of the most brilliant people I know when it comes to analyzing the consequences of tax policy for our cities. He frequently observes in his talks that what we tax—and what we don’t tax—has consequences. To recognize this, he says, we need only look at the way taxes on cigarettes are used to discourage smoking. They are tremendously effective at doing so. If you want less of something, tax it.

“When we line up what we say we want to accomplish, and then we line up the math, they’re almost always at odds with each other.”

So what message do cities send when they institute property taxes? By taxing the value of the buildings on a piece of land—the “improvements”—and not just the land itself, we indicate that we don’t want people to improve their land. We’re going to punish them with higher taxes for doing so.

The property owners in that struggling neighborhood I described weren’t short-sighted or irrational. They had a working business model: buy property in a poor neighborhood, do minimal maintenance, charge whatever rent they could get, and enjoy the benefits of low taxes. The project I was proposing—by improving the value of the properties in that neighborhood—was a threat to their business model.

A Better Alternative: The Land Value Tax

It doesn’t have to be this way. A few weeks ago, we at Strong Towns published an in-depth series about an alternative to taxing—and thus discouraging—property improvements. That alternative is a land value tax.

Under a land tax, you are taxed only on the value of the location you own. You thus have an incentive to improve that property and get the most out of your real estate. And your incentives are aligned with those of the community as a whole, which needs to get a return on its investment in the public infrastructure—streets, sidewalks, pipes, and so on—that serves your land and makes it developable.

I invited Joe Minicozzi to record a podcast with me on land value taxation and related issues. The genius of Joe and Urban3 is to look at tax revenue geospatially: they are able to map out a city’s expenses and sources of revenue and tell them, “Here’s where your money is coming from. Here’s where you’re bleeding it.” We can then have a conversation with eyes open about how to bring private incentives more into line with what we say we, as a community, want to accomplish—strong, financially solvent cities and neighborhoods.

Have a listen to our latest episode of the Strong Towns podcast to hear more from Joe, including:

  • How cities can recoup their investment in public amenities like access to lakes for recreation

  • How big-box chains operate like urban slumlords when it comes to property tax

  • What Pittsburgh did better than other Rust Belt cities during the late-20th century wave of deindustrialization

  • How we reconcile the moral questions around taxation—who pays their fair share?—with the cold hard math of local government solvency

(Cover photo: William Real via Flickr)

08 May 16:58

Time for Enablement or Training? Three Metrics Your Company Should be Tracking Today

by Jeff Hoffman

Bringing in outside training and/or building a sales enablement function is an expensive investment, yet it’s critical to the success of your sales organization.

But when do you do it?

Well as in life, timing is everything. Too early and your team won’t have the proper baseline or pipeline to measure the results of these efforts. Too late and they are locked into bad habits and poor practices that impact your scalability.

Regardless of your go-to-market strategy, arming your sales team with the tools, tactics and processes is paramount in their ability to execute. Here are three metrics that will indicate it’s time to pull the trigger.

1. The amount of deals that are ‘Closed Lost – No Decision’ has increased

Look at your ‘closed-lost’ deals. If you have more deals that have been lost to “no decision” rather than “competitor,” there is a high probability something isn’t working.

This specific metric indicates that your reps are either struggling with their closing techniques or with establishing value in the discovery phases of their pipeline. If you look at the pipeline across the organization, you’ll see a large bump in the middle of the funnel. This is because most of their deals will be stuck in that qualification or discovery stage. They won’t have many on the bookends of their pipeline, because they’re struggling with articulating your product’s value to their prospects.

So how do you fix this?

You’re not going to address this with a change of activity. You fix this with behavior training around the discovery and qualification stages. For example, a busy sales rep hears from a prospect –

“Thanks Kelly, this looks great, I just need to review the notes from the demo, share with my team, and I’ll get back to you.”

And now, because they’re so busy, your rep, Kelly, doesn’t get around to following up, and then pretty soon the deal, which was in Stage 2, is sitting there, collecting cobwebs. And this is not only happening to Kelly, but to all your other reps on the floor.

When your reps make discovery calls, they MUST CLOSE them. Most reps don’t do this because they are unsure what to close for. Build a playbook or arm them with training so that they know how to end a call with a close and a definitive next step. For example, that same prospect says to your rep, Kelly –

Prospect: “Thanks Kelly, this looks great, I just need to review the notes from the demo, share with my team, and I’ll get back to you.”

Kelly: “Well, what’s the easiest way for me to schedule 30 minutes with you so we can review yours and your colleague’s reactions to the notes from the demo?”

Now Kelly has set up another meeting with the prospect and can further qualify the opportunity. When your reps are closing discovery calls, you’ll see a decrease in ‘closed lost- no decision’ deals, and that bump in the middle of the pipeline will be evenly distributed throughout.

2. Your ‘Median Days in Sales Cycle’ is going up

As a sales organization matures, you should never see the median sales cycle go up – it should only go down. You have more market exposure and your reps should have a solid understanding of how to move their deals down the pipe.

We focus on the “mean” rather than the average so that we can best assess the time and days between each stage of the funnel.

So what does it mean when the mean goes up?

The most common culprits are that your reps are sending out proposals too early, and/or underqualifing their prospects. When you see that number go up, it indicates that there is a race to the proposal, without too much weight behind it.

These stages can be the fluffiest and murkiest in the sales process. Giving your sales team more structure, definition, and training will help them decrease the time in each stage.

3. Your Reps’ talk time decreases

Talk time – what does that mean?

High levels of talk time indicate reps building pipeline. Low levels of talk time indicate reps managing deals in the middle. Being aware of reps’ talk time is a good way to see if enablement is a reasonable investment for your organization.

A solid benchmark for talk time per rep is between 90 – 120 minutes per day. I’ve never seen any indication that a successful organization would have anything below 90 mins of talk time with their sales reps.

If you see this number start to dip below, that means that you have a lot of reps working on later deals, and are stuck in the middle of their pipeline.


The middle of the pipeline is a sticking point for many organizations, especially those who have a product-first strategy. Staying on top of these metrics will help you determine if/when it’s time to layer in training and enablement for your reps. It’s okay to rely on your product to drive your company’s success, but investing in your sales team can push your sales to the next level. Keep these key metrics in mind, and you’ll be able to judge when your reps need training, and where exactly in the pipeline could use improvement. You’ll see your reps crush their quota like never before.

The post Time for Enablement or Training? Three Metrics Your Company Should be Tracking Today appeared first on OpenView Labs.

08 May 16:58

How to Stop Playing “Target Market Roulette”: A new addition to the Lean toolset

by steveblank

Modern entrepreneurship began at the turn of this century with the observation that startups aren’t smaller versions of large companies – large companies at their core execute known business models, while startups search for scalable business models. Lean Methodology consists of three tools designed for entrepreneurs building new ventures:

These tools tell you how to rapidly find product/market fit inside a market, and how to pivot when your hypotheses are incorrect. However, they don’t help you figure out where to start the search for your new business.

A new tool – the Market Opportunity Navigator – helps do just that. It provides a wide-lens perspective to find different potential market domains for your innovation, before you zoom in and design the business model or test your minimal viable products. This new framework can act as the front-end of Customer Development. It helps figure out the most promising starting position – market domain – for your customer development process. And it helps identify promising Plan B’s and new growth options if you have already embarked on your innovation journey.

Over the years, I have seen many startups and innovation projects perform a painful “re-start” to completely new market domains. With a little more thinking up front these entrepreneurs and innovators could have identified more promising business contexts to play in, and thus avoided this difficult pivot down the road. But while the academic literature is full of papers covering market selection and the literature has some popular books (Blue Ocean Strategy, et al.) there is a lack of easy-to-use tools to do so.

In large companies and government agencies the problem is even more acute. Where do we spend our limited time and resources on our next moves? While the Innovation Pipeline tells us how to go to from sourcing to delivery how do we prioritize our choices? The Market Opportunity Navigator is a useful adjunct to the curation and prioritization steps.

Just like the Business Model Canvas, the Market Opportunity Navigator has closed the gap between academic theory and books by offering a simple, visual way to navigate the process of how to select what market to start with. Developed by Prof. Marc Gruber and Dr. Sharon Tal and based on hundreds of cases they studied during their practical and academic work, the Market Opportunity Navigator is described in their new book, Where to Play.

In three simple steps the Market Opportunity Navigator can help you:

  • Identify a portfolio of market opportunities stemming from your technology or unique abilities
  • Reveal the most attractive domain(s) by evaluating the potential and challenges of each option
  • Prioritize market opportunities smartly to set the boundaries for your lean experimentations

I asked Sharon and Marc to summarize why market selection is important and describe an example of how to use it.

Different Playgrounds mean different Rules of the Game
There are many ways in which you may have identified a market for your business. Some of you may have identified a market need based on your own experience, or you may have been approached by potential customers, or if you are corporate innovator you may have applied an innovative solution to an existing target market. Yet, are you sure that this is the best opportunity? Could there be greener pastures (larger markets, more profitable markets, etc.) out there for commercializing your technology or unique abilities?

Taking the time to reveal the most promising market – the best starting position – before you engage in a focused customer development process is critical, because market domains vary in their value creation potential, competitive landscape, regulatory regime and risks associated with launching new products. In fact, by not asking “Where to Play” innovators risk choosing an inferior playground – one that does not allow the project to prosper. Beyond the possible loss of revenues, this early decision may be difficult to change, or even irreversible: it influences how you develop your technology going forward, raise money, write patents, recruit employees and pick a brand name. If re-start in another target market is required, such a pivot is painful, costly, and sometimes even impossible.

Finding the best starting position is a learning process that takes time and bandwidth – two scarce resources. So instead of taking a deliberate step back to understand their portfolio of opportunities, entrepreneurs and innovators often just start running. They make a bet and engage in customer development experiments – adopting “local” pivots in a relatively fixed context, until a scalable business model is (hopefully) revealed. This can be a big bet! The search for product/market fit and for a scalable, promising business model should therefore begin with uncovering and understanding the different market contexts in which you can play. In fact, by adopting a wider lens, the search process shifts from 2D (finding a product-market fit) to 3D (finding multiple product-market fits in different market contexts).

Academic research published in Management Science investigated 85 VC-backed startups and offered a conclusion that seems obvious in hindsight: “look before you leap.” The big idea was that experienced entrepreneurs tend to generate a portfolio of market opportunities before deciding where to play, thereby laying the ground for significant performance benefits. In other words, understanding your arena of opportunities is a key asset for entrepreneurs and innovators.

Identifying your Arena and Choosing Where to Play
The Market Opportunity Navigator provides a visual framework to discover, compare and prioritize different market domains and business contexts. It helps you to think about your arena, rather than your industry – a key mindset shift in today’s competitive landscape.

The Navigator walks you through a three-step process that helps you to make a more informed choice. It does so in a friendly, intuitive manner, with a visual design board and 3 worksheets to guide the process.

You can download the Navigator and its worksheets here.

Putting it all together: A Superset of Tools
Mapping out your market opportunities to understand your most promising starting position generates valuable insights for your innovation journey. In short, the big-picture view provided by the Navigator helps you zoom-out to understand “where to play,” while the detailed views of the lean approach and the Business Model and Value Proposition Canvases help you zoom-in and understand in detail “how to play.” Together, they create a superset of tools that supports you in an iterative learning process until you find a scalable, promising business.

Having a market opportunity portfolio to draw from offers an additional benefit. By having gamed out multiple markets, you can bake agility into the DNA of your venture – a key component in the Lean methodology. It allows you to carefully select and keep open backup and growth options.  If a “re-start” is eventually required, it will be less painful and less costly.

Let’s take a look at an example from the startup world to see how the Market Opportunity Navigator works.

We Can Fly Anywhere – but Where Do We Go First?
Flyability develops drones to inspect difficult-to-access locations. In theory, they can custom-build their drone to perform different jobs in completely different markets: industrial inspection, search and rescue, entertainment or surveillance – to name but a few. Each of these markets varies significantly in its business context and in its promise for growth. Furthermore, each market would require its own customer development process to reveal a scalable, repeatable business model – clearly a demanding process that is difficult to run simultaneously in multiple domains.

So how did Flyability find its best starting position – the initial market domain where the founders should engage in detailed customer discovery and build their business? They used the Navigator and its three worksheets to guide their process.

Worksheet 1: Generate your market opportunity set
The founders’ first idea was to use the drone for observing critical disasters, like the reactor meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan. Yet, by going through the first step of the Navigator, the team began to uncover alternative markets where their drone could add value for customers. Among others, they considered drone-based inspection of boilers in thermal power plants, the inspection of oil & gas storage tanks, and intelligence-gathering by police forces. Overall, five market domains seemed interesting and required further evaluation.

Worksheet 2: Evaluate market opportunity attractiveness
Using the second step of the Navigator, the team systematically examined the potential of each market and its unique challenges. This allowed Flyability to map out their options and visually compare their attractiveness. Gradually, it became clear that thermal power plants were a “gold mine” option worth playing in. They could now use the Business Model Canvas and the lean experimentation processes to design and validate a scalable business model within this market.

Worksheet 3: Design your agile focus strategy
Once the founders chose their primary market, they could leverage alternatives to create a more agile company by mitigating risk and avoiding locking-in. Specifically, using the third step of the Navigator, the founders designed a small portfolio of backup and growth options that they would keep open. This foresight laid the ground to early key decisions that have long-term consequences, like how they developed their drone or chose their brand name. In addition, it helped them clearly define which options they would place in storage for now (as focusing is about saying no more than anything else).

By employing the Market Opportunity Navigator, Flyability has not only figured out “Where to Play” it has mapped out an interesting growth path that is appealing to investors. To get a better sense of this process, you can view Flyability’s Navigator below, or read the full case study by clicking here.

Insights for VCs, Tech Transfer Officers, and Social Entrepreneurs
Identifying your arena of opportunities is not only key for startups and established firms, but for anyone dealing with technology commercialization. For VC’s, the macro-level perspective shows the market opportunities that can be addressed by a startup and lays out a clear monetization process over time. It also offers a portfolio perspective when screening initial or successive investments. If you are working for a Tech Transfer Office, a wide-lens perspective is essential for assessing the value of an invention, and for figuring out in which hands you should put it. Furthermore, if you are trying to address a social problem, the Navigator helps ensure you identify a market that allows you to generate an economic bottom-line in addition to your social impact.

Lessons Learned

  • Lean Startup tools offer the details of “how to play,” while the Market Opportunity Navigator helps you to zoom-out to understand “where to play”
    • There are multiple “starting positions” for your customer discovery journey
    • Each starting point has different challenges to overcome
  • What would be your most valuable domain?
  • The Market Opportunity Navigator is an easy-to-apply framework for this process
08 May 16:49

Determining Market Demand for New Products or Services: Four Questions Answered

by Christa Tuttle

rawpixel / Pixabay

Understanding the true desire or demand for your prospective new product or service is vital before you move “full speed ahead” to bring it to market. It’s important to set the stage for a successful and sustainable future for your new offering, but it can be equally valuable to learn that the demand isn’t there or that considerable shifts need to be made so that more dollars, time and energy are not wasted.

We sat down with Launch Marketing’s executive team (Christa Tuttle – CEO, Shawna Boyce – Executive Director, Jeff Raymond – Executive Director) for their insights into best practices to qualify a market need for new products or services.

1. What are some best practices for evaluating demand or need for a new product or service?

Christa: Research, research, research. There’s really no replacement for an objective perspective of how realistic your demand is. I typically recommend a comprehensive approach of secondary research combined with primary research, such as talking to would-be prospects or others who operate in a different niche within the same market. A great source of secondary research are fellow industry contacts you may be connected with via local or national association groups.

Shawna: If you’re an established organization, customers are another great source of firsthand insight. Customers that are big advocates for your organization are a great, often untapped, resource for guiding new product or service decisions. User focus groups are another way to solicit input and can eliminate the guesswork from targeting potential demographics that aren’t a guaranteed match for your solution. Also, make use of the ongoing conversations your customer relationship managers are having so you’re attuned with any holes or potential add-on opportunities for your current product or service. Oftentimes customers can provide ideas for new product or service roadmaps you may not have even considered, and they’ll be the first to recognize any gaps in your current solution that could be addressed with a new product.

Jeff: It’s also important to have a clear picture of what specifically you want to learn in your research. That means having a core set of questions already prepared and an understanding of how long it will take to collect, compile and analyze the data. For something as important as a product or service launch, you don’t want to wing it.

2. Are there specific technologies or tools that can help in the research and evaluation process?

Shawna: There are a ton! I know of quite a few online market research organizations that let you specify the types of people and demographics you’re looking for so you can poll targets on everything from ideal or appealing product features to the market need of your prospective solution. Another approach I’ve used, if you already know the people you want to poll, is Survey Monkey. It has both free and paid options that let you poll large groups of people and analyze their feedback both holistically and individually.

Jeff: In the case that you don’t have contact information for folks, there are several online communities you can engage with while still targeting specific opportunities or industries. LinkedIn Groups, Reddits and Subreddits are just a few examples that offer surprisingly direct ways for you to engage with a particular audience. Your website can be another great platform to solicit feedback, especially if your new product is some sort of add-on or upgrade to offer current customers or prospects. For instance, you can add a quick exit poll on your site of three “yes” or “no” questions. Keep these exit polls short and easy for users so that they don’t detract from the online experience.

Christa: Great point Jeff, and ideally these customer feedback loops should be an ongoing piece of your overall customer experience strategy to keep them satisfied and heard throughout the entire lifecycle. Some of their feedback might even inform future product or service roadmaps and spark ideas to consider later on!

3. What are some key indicators that signal whether there is indeed a market for your solution?

Jeff: First and foremost, does your research definitively show common pain points or wishes that your product addresses? If yes, you’ll also want to evaluate whether there’s a feasible path to successful market entry against other factors- depth and ferocity of competition in the space, attractiveness of price point, total cost of ownership for your product/solution vs. alternatives, ease of implementation, etc.

Shawna: I totally agree. Again, really diving in on feedback you’re getting from users, prospects or even shoppers of your product on what is or isn’t working, or what features it may be lacking is key for getting the new solution engines running. From there, you’re operating off a solid foundation of valuable input that you can leverage to develop the complete, improved solution.

4. What are some common missteps in B2B product or service launches that can be avoided?

Jeff: A big one is avoiding or managing bias. Bias is inherent in all of us so we can’t avoid it completely, but managing those inclinations when it comes to interpreting data or objective signals that might indicate whether or not now is the ideal time for launch is vital for approaching your launch with a realistic mindset, and giving yourself the best chance of launch success.

Shawna: A common misstep I see is launching prematurely. It’s easy to get so excited about going to market with a new product or service that you overlook crucial pre-steps such as qualifying your market need or ensuring you have some level of marketing support to generate hype around your launch. Educating your target buyers early on is really important so that they know what your product is and what value it will bring for them individually.

Christa: Looking at this question from more of a macro perspective, I’ve seen organizations neglect what happens after launch. For instance, do you have a marketing plan set up to continue moving new launch leads through the sales pipeline? How will you keep that launch momentum going for the next six to twelve months? Being cognizant of your post-launch strategy, as well as the long-term vision for your offering and your company, is equally as important as the steps leading up to launch day.

08 May 16:45

Pricing in the context of strategic choices

by Steven Forth

Pricing is often seen as tactical, something that can be left to pricing experts with input from marketing and sales. Research has shown that many CEOs spend little time on pricing, until it becomes a crisis that is. (See research by Stephen Liozu and Andreas Hinterhuber on this theme).

CEOs and other business leaders often do not approach us until pricing has become a problem for their organization. In many cases, the pricing problem is a symptom of some deeper issue. Underlying causes of pricing symptoms can include a lack of alignment on goals, no real market segmentation or customer targeting, weak differentiation or a failure to connect price to value. The root cause though, is a failure to take a strategic approach to pricing.

Simple survey for the C-Suite: Value, Innovation & Pricing Insights from CEOs

Playing to Win Lafley and Martin

One of the most powerful strategic frameworks is the one developed by Roger Martin over the years, originally known as cascading choices, it is also referred to as structured choice making and even your ‘playing to win choices.’ The latter comes from the fullest presentation of this approach in the book Roger co-authored with A.G. Lafley of Procter & Gamble. Roger also has several good articles exploring different aspects of strategic choice making on the Harvard Business Review, such as Pricing Needs to Reflect Who People Want to Be, Not Just What They Want.

The basic framework cascades down (and back up) though five steps: Winning Aspirations, Where to Play, How to Win, Capabilities, Systems. One needs to work on each of these steps in parallel, as there are dependencies between them, but the higher steps fame decisions made lower down the cascade. For example, if one’s winning aspirations include being the category leader then this will frame ones where to play choices. It will help define what one means by ‘category,’ if it is too broadly defined there will be no category leader, if it is too narrowly defined it devalues the aspiration. One cannot make how to win choices (setting pricing levels, deciding when to compete on price) if one does not know where to play.

Cascading Choices

How do we put this in the context of pricing choices?

One cannot meaningfully help people with pricing if one does not know their pricing goals. We try to ascertain these during the early stages of our work and include our understanding of goals in the situation summary (a document we create for prospective customers before we make a proposal). As we work through the pricing challenges we continually go back to these and validate them. In some cases we also do an internal survey early on in our process to see if there is alignment on pricing goals at the executive level and across different business functions. If you are interested in doing this on your own, try having different people in your organization use our pricing assessment tool and then compare the results.

Try the Ibbaka Pricing Assessment Tool

Some common pricing goals include …

  • Revenue growth

  • Gross profit growth

  • Gross profit margin improvement

  • Category growth

  • Category share

  • Maintaining capacity utilization

  • Unit economics - Lifetime Customer Value, Net Value to Customer, Customer Acquisition Costs

It is also useful to think about how your own pricing goals align with those of your key customers. Thinking through this can bring your own goals into sharper focus.

Pricing strategy often skips over where to play choices, but in fact this is one of the most important things to get right.

Cascading Choices in the Context of Pricing

The critical where to play choices are how you segment your market and which segments you choose to target. A meaningful market segment for pricing strategy is one that gets value in the same way and that buys in the same way. In a value-based market segmentation process you dig into how customers get economic and emotional value from your offer relative to the alternatives. This requires primary research, but it is necessary. Your market segmentation is the foundation on which your pricing strategy and the rest of your go-to-market plan will be built.

From a pricing perspective, the critical choices are around pricing model design. A good pricing model connects your value metrics (the unit of consumption by which your customer gets value) to your pricing metric (the unit by which you charged) and is designed for your target segments to achieve your winning aspirations. How to win choices are also where pricing tactics are engaged, from discounting plans to how you will respond to competitor actions (remembering that your responses are conditioned by your where to play choices and winning aspirations.

You will not be successful in pricing without some real skills. A competency model for pricing can help your business identify the key roles in pricing and the associated skills. In our research with our affiliate, we have found for key roles in the pricing function.

  • Pricing strategist - works with C-level executives on the intersection of pricing and strategy, often leads the pricing function

  • Pricing designer - works with product and service designers to align price with strategic goals and value, sometimes outsourced to a company like Ibbaka

  • Pricing coach - works primarily with sales on pricing, but also with other functions that need to understand pricing concepts, how they have been applied at the company, how value and price are related and how to negotiate pricing

  • Pricing analyst - the number cruncher, who looks for patterns in the data and works towards optimization

Pricing skills should not be confined to pricing experts. To build a true strategic pricing capability some knowledge is needed in finance, sales, offer development, customer success and of course on the executive team. Going all the way back up to winning aspirations, the executives are also accountable for alignment on pricing goals.

Pricing also touches a number of systems that most companies use. The customer relationship management system (CRM) should both contain pricing information for the sales force and collect information from prospects that can be used to evolve the segmentation, choose targets and evaluate value messaging. Pricing will also be an important part of the configure, price quote (CPQ) system and will link in to the financial software. Understanding the connection between pricing models and revenue recognition can be an especially important area (see Pricing and Revenue Recognition). For larger companies, with many SKUs and lots of transactions, one of the large pricing platforms like PROS and Vendavo may be needed, or a newer alternative like Pricef(x). Managing these platforms requires a whole new set of capabilities so once you are large enough to go down this path a new role Pricing Platform Manager emerges.

Another connection between pricing and systems is around data collection. Ideally, your pricing model will be coupled with a value model and your application will collect the data needed to inform your data model. If you are using an ROI calculator you are already on the way to this.

Pricing touches strategy on many different levels, from getting alignment on winning aspirations all the way down to how systems are used and configuration is done. It is one of those things that integrates a company.


08 May 16:45

5 Signs It’s Time for a New Marketing Strategy

by Justine Jahnke

There’s a question that keeps business owners and their marketing people up at night:

“Is our marketing strategy doing what we need it to do?”

Sometimes the answer to that question is a solid: “nope.” Other times the answer is not as clear. It can be hard to know when to stick with what you’re doing, and when it’s time to blow things up and start over. To help, we’ve put together a list of 5 sure signs that it’s time for a new marketing strategy. Read on to see if they apply to you.

1.You’re not seeing results from your current marketing efforts

Most of our industrial marketing clients have this popular goal: Generate More Leads.

Take your goal (generating leads) then look at the data over the last year and ask questions like:

  • How many leads have you brought in through your digital marketing efforts?
  • How many users did you convert to leads?
  • How much of your company’s revenue was influenced by your marketing activity?
  • What does your sales and marketing funnel look like? (ratio of leads to MQLS to SQLs to customers)

Not tracking marketing data? You need to create a new strategy that includes regular and frequent tracking of marketing and website performance.

Pro tip: We use multiple tools concurrently to track our marketing performance; Google Analytics, HubSpot, HotJar, Raven Tools, and more.

2.Your marketing strategy is 2-3 years old

Just like 1 year to a human is 7 years to a dog – 1 year of business is like 3 years to your marketing strategy.

Your buyers are changing, technology is changing, as are Google’s search rank algorithms.

Sometimes, the tried and true things “just work”, but odds are you need to revisit (or create) your buyer personas and your buyer’s journeys and then recalibrate your digital marketing strategy to support what you’ve learned. Then you’ll need to update critical pieces of digital infrastructure like your website.

Pro tip: It takes a village to deliver effective digital marketing. Do you have the people and skillsets you need? Use this checklist.

3.You’re launching a new product or tapping a new market

Introducing a new product requires educating your prospects and customers. The same holds true if you’re bringing an existing or new product to a new market.

New markets mean market research including persona interviews and creation of new target personas and buyer’s journeys. Then you’ll need to develop a content marketing strategy to reach them.

New products need a Go-to-Market strategy that includes a business plan (things like pricing and packaging, scalability), a sales plan (target audience, geography, sales cycle), and a marketing plan (messaging and positioning).

Pro Tip: A marketing strategy and a go-to-market (GTM) strategy are slightly different in that a GTM is a one-time effort used to launch a product or service. A marketing strategy is a part of the GTM and is the ongoing tactical effort to market that product or service.

4.Your buyers are changing

We recently spoke to a manufacturer who was frustrated that his customer base was changing and that he needed to figure out how to ‘reach millennials.’ He knew they consumed information and made purchasing decisions differently than their Boomer and Gen X counterparts.

You could try referencing avocado toast everywhere on your website, but we’d recommend evaluating your marketing strategy. Start from the foundation up – who is the ideal buyer, what are their pain points, and how are they searching and engaging online? These answers will point you toward marketing tactics, likely ones you have not used before.

5.You’re only doing one type of marketing

There are two types of marketing: inbound and outbound.

Inbound is anything digital (think podcasts, banner ads, downloadable content, video) and outbound is anything physical (think trade shows, billboards, radio, print advertising, etc.)

A successful marketing strategy uses both inbound and outbound tactics. You should be supporting your outbound efforts with digital content and vise versa. If you’re only focusing on one space to reach buyers (online or in-the-world) you’re missing out on engaging with the other half.

Keeping Your Marketing Strategy Up To Date

Things move fast. Watch for constant changes in:

  • Search Engine Optimization strategies
  • Facebook or other social media best practices
  • Google search rank algorithms
  • Website Best Practices

Once a quarter, stop what you are doing and ask tough questions like: is this working and is there a better (or new) way to do this? How have our business goals changed? How has our audience changed?

Get started by requesting a free website and marketing SWOT Analysis; our digital marketing experts will take a look under your hood and help you identify your gaps and priorities.

08 May 16:44

The Complete Salesperson

by Tibor Shanto

I know we’re not supposed to stare at people’s peculiarities, but at times it is hard not to.  For instance, at the gym, where you see someone with a well-developed upper body, standing on two twigs.  While the first instinct may be to snicker, but having worked with salespeople, I see this type of oddity almost daily.

Selective Training

You know those people in the gym who have made a choice to concentrate only on specific parts of their body. When you ask them straight up, they always have a reason or excuse. But when their guard is down, the conversation more casual, you find out the real deal. What you hear is that they don’t like to work the legs, “it’s hard work man!” then they redouble their efforts, only to further accentuate their twigs.

Salespeople are no different. Few if any, want to make an effort to become the complete salesperson. While many work real hard at given stages of the cycle, they ignore, or under learn and practice other stages. This leads to their success standing on twiggy legs.

The skinny legs for many sellers are prospecting.

Only The Shell Has Changed

Not much new in that, sales people have always preferred almost any other sales activity to prospecting. Specifically, direct prospecting,  not indirect, not merely answering an inbound call generated by marketing. Salespeople have always been at their most creative when it comes to avoidance, rather than mastering prospecting. I remember a rep about two years in the territory, telling me he has earned the right not to prospect.

With few exceptions, this has always been a critical factor in limiting salespeople to the 80% also-rans. The 20% who consistently deliver quota, usually point to their focus on filling the funnel, not just clearing it, as the source of their success.

What may make it seem different today is the model used by many today. Proponents call it specialization, others, disintermediating sales, whatever the label, it goes somewhat counter to being a complete salesperson. I am not sure it is by design, but that is the effect. Salespeople are enticed to join the organization with the promise of career progression. Given the shortage of bodies and turnover, many moving from the entry role to that of an AE. The prize promised when hired. I don’t think it is common, but I have heard interviews for the SDR role, where they were told to put in minimal time, then they’ll be promoted.

Manager To Boot

As I chronicled in the May edition of Top Sales Magazine, what is different today is the path and speed of development or more accurately advancement. With rapid advancement, there is a thinner and thinner layer of tribal knowledge and experience to support the effort. Not only are people getting less experience in core prospecting, but they are also rushed into positions they do not have the grey matter to deal with. Which then blows up as inexperienced people are left to lead newer less experienced people in a crucial sales task, i.e. prospecting.

Complete The Sales Person

Whether you see the “specialized” model as the way to go or not, building complete salespeople is vital. Customers have not disintermediated their buying approach if anything they doubled down on consensus and adding people to the decision. esThis almost requires a complete salesperson to succeed.

There sales leaders who grew up as complete cycle reps and continue to lead that way even when encouraging specialization. One organization I worked with selling tech and services, had a model worth exploring. While they plan to develop reps with a specific focus, both product and stages of the sale, they also insist that they form knowledge and comfort in all role relating to revenue. The outcome is a more stable team of complete salespeople, and as she tells me, it allows the team to “specialize in customer satisfaction.” Something she feels, only a complete salesperson can do — someone who has strength in all areas of sales, not just some.

At times this discussion gets bogged down in methodologies or schools of thought when it comes to selling style. The issue is less about style and more about market view. Witness the recent B2B Sales Handbook from the folks at Autoklose. The book states, your team needs to be as complete as your stack, if not, it’s like selling with one hand tied behind your back. You want to bring your complete sales person game, fully stacked, and not on skinny legs they can’t stand on.

06 May 16:42

Hiring a Sales Rep: Best Practices For Interviewing Candidates

by Josh Bean

Tumisu / Pixabay

The interview process leaves a distinct impression on candidates — whether good or bad. No matter what happens, candidates will evaluate your company based on how the interview process goes.

Nearly 60% of job seekers say they’ve had a poor candidate experience. Not only that, 72% of candidates share their experience online, for example, through It’s important to make sure that your interview process is up to par before causing irreversible damage with candidates.

Whether you’re hiring for an entry-level salesperson or an account executive, create the best interview process/sales interview questions AND select the perfect sales candidate by following these three steps.

1. Respond to all applicants

Some companies only contact applicants who have been selected for the interview. But 80% of job seekers say “they would be discouraged to consider other relevant job openings at a company that failed to notify them of their application status.” Stand out from the crowd, and let all applicants know the result of their application.

Time is also of the essence. Whether it’s a “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe,” don’t wait too long before responding. Your “Yes” applicants are likely interviewing for other positions — don’t miss out on top talent. For “No” and “Maybe” applicants, a response demonstrates common courtesy from your company.

Need help getting started? Here are email response templates for each type of candidate:

Dear [Applicant Name],

Thank you for your interest in the Business Development Representative position with ABC Sales. We received many applications for this position. I’m sorry to let you know that we have decided not to proceed with your application.

We do appreciate the time you took to invest in applying for this position. Please consider applying for any future openings that match your qualifications.

We wish you the best in your job search. Thank you, again, for your interest in our company.


[Name of Hiring Manager]

Rejection email – keep it short and polite but open to future applications.

Dear [Applicant Name],

Thank you for your interest in the Business Development Representative position with ABC Sales! We are reviewing your application and will let you know within 7-14 days if you’re a good fit for the position.

Again, thank you for your interest. We’ll be in touch soon.


[Name of Hiring Manager]

You might need backup if your “Yes” candidates fall short during the phone screening process.

Dear [Applicant Name],

Thanks for your application and for your interest in the Business Development Representative position with ABC Sales!

We were impressed with your resume and would like to invite you to proceed with our interview process. First, let me give you a quick overview of our process so you know what to expect.

1. Initial interview: This is a half an hour phone interview where our <Team Member Name> talks about your background, experience, and skills.

2. Final interview: A one-hour interview with <Team Member> to talk about our sales process and expectations, the culture at ABC Sales, and team development. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask any questions you may still have.

We aim to complete the entire process in 2-3 weeks. For the initial interview, here are a few day and time options:

– [Monday, date, time]
– [Tuesday, date, time]
– [Wednesday, date, time]
– [Thursday, date, time]
– [Friday, date, time]

If none of these times work for you, suggest another time and we’ll see if we can adjust. Looking forward to chatting with you.


[Name of Hiring Manager

Let candidates know what to expect during the process and how long it will take.

For “Yes” emails, consider using a tool like Calendly, which lets candidates easily schedule their own interview.

2. Start the phone screen process

Consider the phone screening of sales candidates as your second vetting process. You should be able to cull down candidates even further to find out who is actually worth interviewing.

At this stage, you’re looking more at the qualifications of each candidate and their overall manner rather than their cultural fit. You want to make sure they can back up their statements on their resumes. The more preparation you put into the phone screening, the higher the chances that you’ll have a great candidate for the final interview.

Phone Screen Best Practices:

  • Keep it short. Spend 15-30 minutes (or less) asking basic phone screen questions. Try not to deviate too much from your list of questions. You can go more in-depth if the candidate makes it to the next stage.
  • Take detailed notes. What is your impression of the candidate over the phone? How are their communication skills? Are they enthusiastic? Also, note the amount of time they spend answering a certain question. For example, are they focused on salary or on company culture?
  • Ask about any concerns. Bring up anything that concerned you about the candidate’s resume. For example, do the dates of their selling experience line up with their former position?
  • Review your notes. Directly after the phone interview is complete, add any additional impressions to your notes about the candidate to determine if they can move on to the next stage.

Phone Screen Questions:

Here’s a list of phone screen questions that you can draw from. These questions cover basic candidate information and interest in your company and the sales position.

  • Tell me briefly about your responsibilities at your past jobs.
  • Where are you in your current job search?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Why did you leave (or are leaving) your current position?
  • Why did you apply to our company?

Once you have your final list of candidates, send a timely email no later than three days after the screening to each candidate thanking them for their time.

For definite rejections, send a short email letting them know that they didn’t make it to the next step. Give the reasons why, so applicants will know how to do better with their next phone interview. Place these applications into your “No” pile. Some of the phone interviewees might become “Maybe,” so let them know that you’ll get back to them soon.

3. Questions for the interview

Select at least three candidates to interview from your phone screen shortlist. Now it’s time to get organized for the final interviews.

Be prepared to ask questions that are relevant to the position and your company. Six out of ten employees feel that the job they’ve chosen doesn’t match with what they actually interviewed for. Make sure the questions you ask fit the actual position, so you don’t risk employee turnover later on.

Get organized:

To make the best impression on interviewees, create an interview system that’s organized and efficient. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who will the interview moderator be?
  • How many people will be on the interview?
  • How long will each interview last?
  • Where will you conduct the interviews?
  • What criteria is the hiring team using to evaluate the candidate?
  • Will your team work from a structured list of interview questions or bring their own?

Once you have an interview structure in place, contact chosen candidates via email or phone. Schedule an interview time and let them know what to expect.

Interview Best Practices:

  • Create a scorecard. Just as you may have done with the application process, use a scorecard to quantify candidate skills and rank applicants. Based on your application scorecard, create interview criteria to discuss with the hiring team. Discussing the scorecard results as a team after the final interviews assists with individual and collective accuracy. It also reduces bias.


  • Ask the right questions. Get past the surface level and learn more about a candidate’s traits, cultural fit, time management skills, and negotiation capabilities. You should already know basic information about the candidate from the phone screen. Ask questions that directly relate to the position.
  • Observe the soft skills. Carefully observe body language and tone of voice. Are they holding eye contact? Is their body stiff, or are they relaxed? Are they enthusiastic or bored? Ask yourself: Do I want this person selling to my customers?
  • Be honest. Especially with sales (an often stressful job), it’s important to be transparent about the role and its responsibilities. Talk with your current sales team about an average workday. It’s better that a candidate knows what’s expected up front rather than get shell-shocked later when they’re working 60 hours a week.
  • Optimize your time. A structured list of questions or at least a general guideline helps you and your team stay on track and not run overtime. For a better idea of how long each interview should take, see the chart below:

sales interview


  • Gauge interest. Did the interviewee do their research on your company aside from basic website info? What type of follow-up questions did they ask? For example, a question like “What kind of targets will I be expected to hit in the first year?” shows that the candidate is interested in whether they’ll be a good fit for the role.
  • Give the candidates feedback. Review your notes and provide feedback to candidates. Just because they’re not a great fit now doesn’t mean that they won’t be in the future. Talent is four times more likely to consider your company for a future opportunity when you offer them constructive feedback.

Let’s now take a look at possible interview questions for both an entry-level sales position and a higher-level sales position.

Sales Development Representative

As this is an entry-level position, focus on identifying problem-solving skills and determine if the candidate can actually sell. For example, what past projects demonstrate that they are coachable and persistent?

  • Tell me about your responsibilities at your last company.
  • When have you been required to complete cold calls?
  • How do you use social media in your selling process?
  • Which is more important: Meeting quota or customer satisfaction?
  • How do you approach customer objections?
  • What values do you believe are important to being a successful sales rep?
  • Explain the steps you take in your own sales process.

Also, look for a good cultural fit when asking questions. For example, do they work well with others?

Account Executive

For an upper-level position, ask questions that provide insight into the candidate’s relevant work experience and ability to meet targets. Prospecting, communication, past sales performance, and selling approach are all crucial areas to cover in your interview questions.

Here are a few examples:

  • Describe your role at your previous company and how success was measured.
  • Give me an example of a successful cold call you’ve made.
  • What arguments would you use to persuade a Director or VP-level leader to consider our company?
  • What is your average deal size?
  • Tell us more about your expertise with CRM software.

Use these questions as a jumping point for your interview process. For even more sales interview questions, Peak Sales Recruiting offers a list aimed directly at reps and managers.

Wrap up your interview process

The sales interview process is not only the candidate selling their skills — you have to convince candidates that your company is right for them. 83% of talent say a negative interview experience can change their mind about a role or company they once liked. From phone screening to the actual interview, be prepared and take the time to do it right.

Stay tuned for our next “Hiring a sales rep” installment where we take a look at how to make the best hiring decision for your sales job.

06 May 16:37

How Startup Founders Survive the First Year Without a Paycheck

by Peter Daisyme

Free-Photos / Pixabay

For most startup founders, it takes a while for the business to become profitable enough to pull out a substantial paycheck – enough to live on, that is. But in the meantime, what do these entrepreneurs do to pay the bills and keep food on the table?

The Uphill Climb to Profitability

Anyone can start a business – that’s the easy part. Reaching profitability – that’s an entirely different story. As you know by now, you can’t expect to quit your day job, launch a business with a bunch of fanfare, and rake in piles of cash the next month. It rarely, if ever, works this way.

Instead, building a profitable startup is an uphill climb on a slippery slope where you always feel as if you’re one bad move from falling to a premature demise. It’s treacherous, finicky, and painstaking. It takes guts, intestinal fortitude, and a willingness to make sacrifices.

Assuming you don’t have a Silicon Valley venture capital firm infusing your startup with a seven-figure sum of money, it’ll take a while for your business to become profitable enough for you to take a salary of any substance. In fact, there’s a general consensus in the industry – and plenty of anecdotal proof – that it’ll take you about three years.

“Why it has to take three years is something that I have absolutely no idea about,” entrepreneur Jacques Mattheij explains, “but it seems to be about right, based on countless observations of people that start out to create a business and how long it takes them to gain enough traction that they can rightfully say their business is on the way to being successful. One-man consultancy shops, airlines and everything in between. Three years. Sometimes a bit less, sometimes a bit more.”

There’s obviously no hard and fast rule on the time it takes to become profitable, but it’s amazing how many startups – at least of the ones that survive – take roughly 36 months to get the cash flow equation right. According to entrepreneur Gene Marks, this same rule holds true for existing businesses launching new products.

“A new product doesn’t take hold for a thousand days,” Marks says. “That’s three years – about how long it takes to get it to a level of profitability. If you think you’re going to launch a new product and bank profits anytime before then you’re kidding yourself.”

For fresh startups, the first 12 months are generally a scramble. Businesses lose money during this introductory phase, and founders question whether they’re doing the right thing. At some point during the second year, there’s usually a break-even point where the company stops bleeding cash. Then somewhere between month 25 and 36, the accounting statement turns from red to black.

During the first few months of profitability, you’ll likely put all of the profits back into the business to either pay down debt or build up an emergency fund. It’s only after six to nine months of profitability that most startup founders are comfortable taking a modest salary. (Modest is the key word.)

There’s nothing wrong with launching a business with the aspirations of one day becoming wealthy, but it’s important to maintain some perspective. The majority of startups fail within the first couple of years. And of those that do survive, it takes months – if not years – for the cash flow to reach a point that the business is profitable enough to pull a comfortable salary for you and your family. How you manage these first few years will determine your sanity and longevity.

Tips for Startup Founders to Survive the First year Without a Paycheck

Three years might not sound like a long time when you read an exposé on an entrepreneur who started a business from scratch and built it into a multi-million dollar corporation, but it feels a whole lot longer when you’re the one in the weeds. And if you stand any chance of one day becoming profitable enough to pull out a healthy salary, you have to find a way to survive the first few years and stay afloat (personally).

Here’s a look at some ideas, tips, hacks, and techniques that other entrepreneurs have used to tackle this challenge:

  1. Rely on an Emergency Fund

This is really a tip that you need to take into account before quitting your day job and launching a startup. Nevertheless, it’s important. Your experience as a startup founder will be much smoother if you’ve taken the time to give yourself a long runway before takeoff.

A typical emergency for a normal household is commonly three to six month’s worth of expenses. Thus, if your bare minimum monthly expenses are $4,000, you should have $12,000 to $24,000 in the bank. But as an entrepreneur who is indefinitely forgoing a paycheck, this probably isn’t enough. It’s recommended that you have a minimum of 12 month’s worth of household expenses in cash (and ideally 24-plus months). Using the previous illustration, a comfortable emergency fund would be $48,000 to $96,000.

  1. Strip Down Your Expenses

The next step is to reevaluate your household budget and figure out which expenses are essential and which ones are non-essential. Remember that a dollar saved is as good as a dollar earned and strip your budget down to the basics.

As you evaluate expenses and figure out what’s worth spending on, come to terms with the differences between needs and wants. You’ll find that almost everything outside of food, shelter, utilities, basic healthcare, transpiration, and insurance is a want. With a little discipline and a willingness to sacrifice, you can live on a lot less than you’ve lived on in the past. (Especially when you maintain the perspective that this is a temporary period.

  1. Pick Up a Flexible Side Gig

Most of your waking hours will be consumed by your startup, but a flexible side gig can bring in some extra money each month and help you pay the bills. Even if it’s just a couple hundred dollars per month, every trickle of income helps.

The key is to find a side gig that’s flexible and allows you to control your hours and earnings. If you can find a way to make money online doing something like website testing, market research, or freelance writing, this is ideal. You may also be able to drive for Uber or host your home as an Airbnb rental on the weekends while you crash at a friend’s house. Get creative!

  1. Rely On Your Spouse

If you’re married, you have a distinct advantage over single entrepreneurs who are 100 percent reliant on their own income. Even if your spouse is only able to work part-time, having any income is better than none.

Try to get to a place where your spouse’s income can at least pay for the top two expenses on your budget. If your mortgage payment is $1,200 and groceries are $800 per month, this means your spouse’s target income should be $2,000 per month. At the very least, you know you’ve got these bills covered. The rest can come from your emergency fund or other sources of income.

  1. Take Out Strategic Loans

If you’re planning to use credit cards to cash flow you through the first year or two, you’re playing with fire. While they do have a time and place, entrepreneurs must manage personal credit card debt with very specific boundaries. The same goes for other types of loans.

Whether it’s a home equity line of credit, a personal line of credit, or a reverse mortgage, you have to be careful not to put yourself in a position where high interest rates compound your situation and leave you in an unmanageable situation. The more you’re able to cash flow your personal expenses and survive without debt, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

  1. Take a Reasonable Salary

Once you reach a point of profitability, it’s imperative that you don’t immediately pull out a six-figure salary and parade through the streets like you’ve made it. A modest, reasonable salary is important in the first few months. You should still be putting most of the profits back into the business to cultivate additional growth.

At some point after profitability, it should be your goal to replace your previous salary from whatever job you were working before. Then, after reaching this goal and living off of a replacement salary for a few months or years, develop a plan that incentivizes you for performance. For example, you may feel like it’s reasonable to take a 12 percent pay increase each year in which revenues increase by 15 percent or more. (These are just arbitrary numbers – you’ll have to set your own thresholds.)

The point is this: The hunt for profitability is an uphill slog that takes months and months of hard work and discipline. Professionally, this is a difficult idea to embrace. Personally, it can be even harder to keep things in perspective when money is tight. But the more you plan ahead – and the more willing you are to be creative with how you manage these gap years – the greater success you’ll experience. Stay the course!

06 May 16:36

Changing “Sales Habits”

by David Brock

We know how difficult it is to change our personal habits. For example, at the start of every new year, we make a resolution to lose weight and get fit. We may go so far as to join the gym, sign up for a class. It lasts for a few weeks, then we miss one session–we always have a good excuse, then the next session, again a good excuse. All of a sudden, we have forgotten that commitment and displacing it with something else.

Each of us has lists of these well intended habits that we want to change that we have never changed. We feel guilty about not doing those things, ironically, often we spend more time feeling guilty than it would take us just to change the habit.

It’s really tough to change habits. Great intentions are insufficient. There is some prevailing wisdom around activation triggers or other types of triggers. These are the little things, that somehow trigger a behavior, which, in turn, triggers the next thing, and the next—kind of like dominos.

For example, my morning routine sets me up for highly productive days. It’s pretty simple, I wake up, do 15 minutes of light exercise, meditate for 10-15 minutes, take a shower and shave. Somehow, that routine gets me moving and productive for the day–wherever I am, whatever I need to do during the day. If I miss/skip any part of it, some how my day seems a little off.

So all I focus on is that simple morning routine. If I get through it, I know I am setting myself up to be as productive as possible.

High performance selling is really the consistent execution of great selling habits. Whether it’s the sales process, how we engage our customers, how we create value in every interchange, how we manage our accounts, how we create healthy pipelines–all these things are simply good selling habit. But we struggle to implement and execute them consistently.

In our jobs as sales people and sales managers, we need to start identifying the activation triggers that cause us to do the things that consistently drive top performance, or to be as productive and focused in executing our jobs as possible.

Like my triggers, they may seem to be small things, things not entirely related to our jobs, but which cause us to do the next thing and the next and the next.

With each person or organization, these activation triggers may be different. One thing we’ve discovered is these activation triggers tend to be easier if the entire organization (or team) is doing them. Seeing our colleagues doing the same thing that we should be doing reinforces our need to do those things. We create positive feedback loops that reinforce both our and our colleagues good selling habits.

You and your team have to figure out what your “activation triggers.” They aren’t complicated, sometimes so deceptively simple, we discount them. Here are some we’ve found useful with our clients:

  1. Call planning with your manager: As a manager, I wanted to participate in lots of calls with my sales people–but only where they thought I could help them move deals forward or address issues they couldn’t address. I made customer calls one of my top 2 priorities. When my people wanted me to make a call, there was one “activation trigger.” I insisted that we spend 15-20 minutes before the call planning our goals and objectives. At the end of that meeting we would have a written outline for our meeting with the customer and an agenda we would present the customer. I did this for every call I made with my sales people, but left it voluntary for them to do it on their calls without me. Over time, call planning and written agendas became a “habit” with the entire team. The found they were accomplishing so much more by spending those 15-20 minutes, in advance, it became a habit for them. The simple trigger started with their calls with me, then became a habit for all their calls.
  2. One client has daily sales meetings at the start of the day. Each month they focus on developing one skill. They know on Mondays, they have to do this with the skill, Tuesdays, that, Wednesdays something else. Every day for 45 minutes they apply that formula to one skill. At the end of each month, the skill has become an ingrained habit. (Would You Spend 45 Minutes A Day Training Your Sales People)
  3. A client is doing weekly pipeline reviews You’re probably thinking, “We do weekly pipeline reviews, they’re a waste of time….” But these reviews are different. They have a goal of identifying the 2 most important things the sales person has to do over the next couple of weeks. For example, it might be to focus on a couple of specific deals, or it might be to identify a couple of accounts to prospect and identify new opportunities. The review takes only about 10 minutes, but it reinforces some good habits and helps the manager coach those habits. We’ve seen a couple of things in the 3 months we’ve created this “habit.” Pipelines are much “fuller,” win rates and velocity are increasing–across the team.
  4. Another client has just changed their “first call” habits. They had been implementing “Challenger.” They had great industry and market insights to deliver and were targeting Moblizers and key executives in making those calls. They had been having success, but weren’t connecting as effectively as they thought they could. The reaction from the customer was, “That’s interesting, but…..” They wanted to get the customer energized saying, “We have to move forward.” They discovered, if they called on a person lower in the organization (there was a specific persona), asking them roughly 3 questions, they could transform their call. They could present the insight adding, “and this is what how it might impact your organization….” Just the answer to a few questions enabled them to personalize the insights, getting much higher levels of interest. They had always prioritized the top executive as their first call, their new habit was this other individual buried pretty low in the organization.
  5. Prospecting is always a tough habit to trigger. Setting up “prospecting blocks” where everyone is doing nothing but prospecting during the same time, reinforces the habit for each person on the team, and the team as a whole. For example, saying, “Tuesdays, 9-12, we will do nothing but prospecting.” Keeping that sacred and not permitting anything (that proposal I’ve got to finish, the expense report… know all the excuses) starts driving good prospecting habits and discipline. Having the whole team to this creates great reinforcement and triggers the right behaviors.

You’re probably thinking, “I don’t get it, this is all normal stuff that we should be doing.” And that’s just the point, it is stuff that we should be doing, but we don’t, at least not consistently. But finding something that “triggers” the right behavior starts getting us to develop great habits.

We all know that we should have documented call plans, but we don’t do it. The simple trigger, outlined above, created the habit we needed to create. Or the prospecting block–we know we have to do it, but we find excuse not to do it. Doing it as a group, enforcing doing nothing but prospecting is a simple trigger just to get us to do what we know we need to do, creating a prospecting habit.

It’s tough to change behavior individually or organizationally. We know the things we should be doing, but somehow don’t do them. It’s human nature. Figure out the activation triggers, the simple things you do, that cause you to do what you know you should be doing, but don’t.

It may be as simple (and as disconnected) as my exercise, meditate, shower, shave routine. It may be the weekly pipeline review. Identify one sales habit you need to change. Take the time to figure out what your activation trigger is, and focus on doing that–everything else will fall into place.

Note To Managers and Sales Enablement: With every new training program or initiative, figure out what the activation trigger is and make sure you put it in place. Without this, it will be impossible for sustaining the change you want. It may be management coaching, it may be a certain activity people have to do every week/day, whatever it is, you are trying to create great new habits–so figure out what creates that habit.

Afterword: The science on creating habits isn’t clear. Some reports say that it takes 30 days to create a new habit, some say 90 days. Whatever you do, if you want to create new habits, think of the activation trigger and give yourself enough time for it to become second nature to how you sell.

After-afterword: There are a lot of good resources on “activation triggers.” Jame’s Clear’s Atomic Habits is a great resource on creating and sustaining great habits.

06 May 16:35

Are These LinkedIn Mistakes Hurting Your Company?

by Wayne Breitbarth

One plus one equals two, right?

Well, not in the LinkedIn world. For the most part, LinkedIn members have been using the site to pursue their individual goals and objectives.

It’s now time for the company to gather up the troops and bring all these individuals together—with their connections and their voices—and put forth a consistent company message. There is immense exponential value when the employees and company work together.

To help business leaders corral this potential value, I have written an eBook titled "10 LinkedIn Mistakes Companies Make and How to Fix Them Before They Damage Your Company's Reputation."

In the eBook I address common mistakes, provide solutions, and give 3D Ebook 2nd Ed Cover-01tips for using LinkedIn to grow revenues, find new employees and suppliers, and maintain a consistent brand in the ever-changing online world.

How many of these mistakes are you and your company making?

1.  Unprofessional or poor quality employee profile photos—or, worse yet, no photo at all

2.  Sharing incorrect or inconsistent information about the company

3.  Poor participation—all company employees are not on LinkedIn

4.  Failing to keyword optimize employee profiles and company page

5.  Sharing poor status updates—or failing to use this powerful tool

6.  Not using LinkedIn to search for customers, employees, suppliers, strategic partners, etc.

7.  Failing to monitor employees' profiles and activity as well as what's being said about the company through LinkedIn

8.  Not joining or participating in LinkedIn groups—particularly significant industry groups and customers' industry groups

9.  Underutilizing the features and tools available on the company page—or not even having a company page

10. Having a woefully inadequate corporate social media policy—or none at all

To learn how to address the mistakes you're making, download your FREE copy of the eBook by clicking here.


The post Are These LinkedIn Mistakes Hurting Your Company? appeared first on Wayne Breitbarth.

06 May 16:35

Learning to Lead Remotely – on LinkedIn

by Kevin Eikenberry

LinkedIn Learning

If you have remote team members and a LinkedIn account, this announcement will be of great value to you. I have partnered with the folks at LinkedIn Learning to create a brand-new online course, titled Leading at a Distance. Maybe you didn’t know LinkedIn was in the learning business, or maybe you already have access […]

The post Learning to Lead Remotely – on LinkedIn appeared first on Kevin Eikenberry on Leadership & Learning.

06 May 16:34

Customer Success Managers Can’t Avoid Conflict. They Should Tackle It Head On.

by Brooke Goodbary

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on the blog here.

Customer Success is fundamentally about helping other people, and as a result, most Customer Success Managers have amicable and agreeable personalities. However, these same traits can lead them to shy away from conflict, which negatively affects customer relationships. Healthy and productive relationships involve a certain amount of friction as both parties challenge each other and track accountability. The goal isn’t to be friends with your customers, it’s to deliver value and success. Tackling conflict head on gives you a chance to manage the resolution process in a way that builds credibility, trust and respect.

Conflict is inevitable

Trying to avoid conflict is an exercise in futility. You can dodge an uncomfortable conversation in the short-term, but unresolved issues fester and manifest in new ways over time. CSMs who think they have skillfully avoided conflict are often surprised when the customer cites those original issues as the reason they want to cancel- and by then it’s too late to save the account. Conflicts are a chance to start a dialogue around how to remove the roadblocks preventing customers from realizing their goals.

Identify the source

Review how you got to this point by asking the customer to identify what they believe is the source of the conflict. The goal isn’t to place blame, but to get both parties to recognize how their actions impacted the situation and agree on how to proceed from here. Allowing each party to explain their thought process and assumptions creates empathy. If there’s any lingering frustration or resentment, this is the time to put it all on the table. You might uncover additional underlying issues that contributed to the current situation- these will also need to be addressed before your relationship can progress.

Establish and agree on a success plan

After you’ve identified the source of the conflict, establish and agree on a success plan that will allow you to move forward. Include a summary of resources each side will commit in order to execute on the plan. Secure buy-in from the customer’s executive leadership and your own. Establish a structure and cadence for how you will update all parties on your progress.

Assign tasks and hold people accountable

Customer Success requires the customer to invest in achieving their goals, which means CSMs need to be comfortable assigning tasks and holding the customer accountable. CSMs are constantly assuming the role of project manager– with customers, internal teams and even other vendors. Outlining the work that needs to be done on individual projects, and how these projects fit into the broader success plan, clearly spells out what the customer needs to contribute in order to be successful.

Manage expectations

Conflict is often the result of mismanaged expectations or poor communication. Maybe a salesperson sold the customer on functionality you don’t support, the customer expects an unsustainably high level of service, or your day-to-day contact misunderstands your product’s value proposition. Take the time to evaluate, reset, and continuously manage expectations to limit further disagreement moving forward.

Invest in building relationships and trust

At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people- make an effort to be genuine, approachable and honest in your interactions. It might be hard to recognize in the moment, but conflict presents an opportunity to grow the relationship by building trust and respect.

Averting constant conflict

Even if you diligently follow the process above you will encounter customers who operate in a near constant state of conflict- jumping from one issue to the next, never spending much time being content. These customers have characteristics that are misaligned with your ideal customer profile, which results in frequent tension. Unless something critically changes, the relationship will remain strained and they will continue to find sources of conflict.

Friction leads to growth

The vast majority of customers want to avoid conflict as much as you do, and will only reach out when they have a serious problem. Recall that truly great relationships need moments of friction to push both parties to grow. Take a moment to consider if your customers are trying to motivate you and your company to become more than you currently are. Think of these customers like an inspirational coach who knows you can succeed and encourage you to put in the extra work to push into areas where you’re less comfortable.

Customer Success teams need to recognize they can’t avoid conflict and instead view these moments of friction as opportunities to grow.

The post Customer Success Managers Can’t Avoid Conflict. They Should Tackle It Head On. appeared first on OpenView Labs.

06 May 16:32

The Best 7 Productivity Software in 2019

by (Meredith Hart)

Imagine you could wave a magic wand and magically improve one part of your workday.

What would you choose?

Would you wish for more hours in your day? Or would you wish all the items on your to-do list be magically marked as complete?

For many, they'd like to achieve more during their workday. Oftentimes, we're left wondering where the day went and the empty checkboxes on our to-do-lists outnumber the ones we've marked as done.

It can be challenging to manage all of the tasks and goals you've set for yourself. Luckily, there's productivity software that can aid you in these day-to-day tasks.

Need more hours in the day? Download our complete workplace productivity guide  here.

What is productivity software?

Productivity software helps you manage your activities so you can produce work effectively and efficiently. The primary goal of these tools is to make it easier to manage the tasks you need to tackle in your workday.

The definition of productivity is, "the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services." Productivity can take many forms. You might be generating a piece of content for your salespeople or working on a project to launch a new product. No matter what you're creating, productivity software enables you to complete it.

With productivity software, you can organize your work tasks and get more done. Here are some of the best productivity software options you can use.

1. HubSpot Free Sales Tools

Price: Free

HubSpot Free Sales Tools provides salespeople with time-saving tools to help tackle their workday head on. These tools help them manage contacts, deals, and tasks. The email templates and scheduling tool make sending prospecting emails simpler and quicker. Plus, they can track the emails they send to see when prospects receive and open the messages, which helps you time your next outreach. And they can send the prospect a meeting invitation when the time is right.

HubSpot Free Sales Tools Productivity Software

2. Todoist

Price: Free (Todoist Free), $4/month billed annually (Todoist Premium), $5/user/month billed annually (Todoist Business)

Do you have more tasks than you can manage? Todoist can help you get on top of them. You can quickly add your tasks, map out your projects and goals, and get reminders for deadlines. And it integrates with other applications you use to accomplish your tasks. You can access your list from your computer, phone, or tablet with Todoist's apps. It helps you stay on task and measure the progress you're making towards your goals.

Todoist Productivity Software

3. G Suite

Price: $6/user/month (Basic), $12/user/month (Business), $25/user/month (Enterprise)

G Suite is a collection of tools (e.g., Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides, Sites) that allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, and more. Each piece of content can be shared with collaborators so multiple people can work on a presentation, modify a report, or edit a resource or whitepaper. Other tools in the suite, like Gmail and Calendar, provide a way to communicate effectively with coworkers and external contacts.

G Suite Productivity App (1)

4. Zapier

Price: $0 (Free), $20/month billed annually (Starter), $50/month billed annually (Professional), $125/month billed annually (Professional Plus), $250/month billed annually (Teams)

Zapier is a productivity software that connects all the tools you use during your workday. Its key feature is automation which speeds up the tasks that might have previously been done manually. You can connect the apps you use on a daily basis (e.g., CRM, Gmail, Slack, Trello, Asana) to create workflows that automate your tasks and allow you to scale your productivity.

Zapier Productivity Software

5. HelloSign

Price: $0 (Free), $15/month (Pro), $50/month (Business), Custom pricing (Enterprise)

HelloSign makes it easy for you to send forms and contracts to your contacts so they can sign with an e-signature. This productivity software connects with other apps like Gmail, GSuite, Dropbox, etc. which simplifies the process of sending documents to sign. Documents can be quickly sent to contacts, signed, and returned back to you.

HelloSign Productivity Software

6. Slack

Price: $6.67/active user/per month billed annually (Standard), $12.50/active user/per month billed annually (Plus), Custom pricing (Enterprise)

Speed up your internal communications with Slack. Instead of creating a lengthy email thread to get an answer to a question, start a Slack message with the individual you'd like to talk to. It makes it easy to reach colleagues and collaborate to complete projects.

Slack Productivity Software

7. Toggl

Price: $9/user/month (Starter), $18/user/month (Premium), Custom pricing (Enterprise)

If you need help identifying where most of your time is spent on a given day, Toggl will come to the rescue. This time tracking tool allows you to analyze your day-to-day, evaluate where the most time is spent, and make adjustments to increase productivity.

Toggl Productivity SoftwareWith productivity software, you'll be able to get more done during your workday. Looking for more productivity resources? Check out this voice-to-text software to help you work faster next.

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06 May 16:32

How to Mitigate Risk When Expanding Into World Markets

by Matthew Debbage

With big opportunities, there’s always heightened risk. Nowhere is this more obvious than with companies that are looking to expand internationally. Being aware of local marketing conditions can be the difference between successful growth and painful failure.

For example, Germany is currently ranked as the best country in Europe for startup expansions, but that doesn’t mean taking your business there is friction-free by any means. German laws on bank account creation and Know Your Customer guidelines require companies to do serious due diligence in their financial organization, business registration, and tax documentation processes. They must also provide written documents detailing their legal structures, business plans, profit forecasts, and other key pieces of information.

Once established, obtaining credit is relatively straightforward for foreign companies, but there are a number of obstacles to face before getting started. Hurdles exist in every market, but opportunities exist in abundance as well. With careful strategic analysis, the benefits to be gained from taking part in international commerce can far outweigh the administrative effort.

Assessing Credit Risks in Foreign Markets

Naturally, there are a number of risks associated with foreign expansion. For starters, companies have to be careful when considering moving into volatile or emerging markets. Take Venezuela, where the opposition leader Juan Guaidó wants to entice foreign investors to the country’s oil market. Historically, though, foreign companies in this market saw their assets seized under late president Hugo Chávez. While the answer is not to avoid unstable markets entirely, companies have to evaluate the risks they might pose to business. Every market carries risks to one degree or another, but it pays to be aware of how those risks might matter to your specific company.

You’ll also want to consider that your company must be paid on time. More than that, make sure your company will get paid at all. It’s critical to understand payment culture in different places, as it’s incredibly nuanced.

Data can help you understand the average time it takes to be paid in each country and differences based on location. Another way to assess this risk of non-payment is by looking at the rate of bankruptcies in a given market compared to the number of businesses there. Take what you find into consideration, especially before you begin extending credit to overseas customers. Gain a view of the economy as a whole to gauge your odds of success.

The political environment in certain markets might affect your compliance obligations, too. Regulations have tightened since 9/11, so it’s critical that you know who you’re extending credit to and who you’re working with. Cross-reference potential clients with sanctioned lists to ensure your company won’t be involved with politically volatile or criminal groups.

It’s also prudent to consider the relationship each country has with the U.S. Because some can be considered red flags, they might require added scrutiny, especially when it comes to businesses based in places like Russia and Iran. Any companies that deal with sanctioned countries, for example, face massive fines. For example, Iran’s soccer team accused Nike of not delivering on a promise to supply it with cleats. In reality, though, Nike was complying with legal requirements that limited its ability to do so because of sanctions against the country. It’s key to be aware of these restrictions, or your company might face trouble it didn’t see coming.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Evaluate Expansion

Now that you know some risks, follow these steps before committing to a foreign expansion:

1. Understand the market.

Review available business information, such as credit reports, for your prospective competitors, suppliers, and clients to give you a sense of how big the market is and how similar companies have performed in it. You can conduct this analysis in-house or hire an external firm to do a deep dive on your behalf. Whichever route you choose, it’s important to identify the market size, whether or not your company would have a viable customer base in it, and your projected timeline to reach profitability.

2. Gauge whether your product or service fills a need.

Once you’ve determined the market size, gather intel on the products your competitors are selling. Then, determine whether your offering is unique enough in terms of actual product or pricing structure. Ideally, you’ll follow up on this by speaking directly with your competitors’ current clients to learn whether they’re open to exploring alternatives. Coming into an established market can be difficult if domestic brands have strong customer loyalty, so be sure to tailor your pitch to that country’s standards and see what you find.

3. Assess policy and regulation.

You can gain a sense of how welcoming the government is to foreign business by looking at policies toward companies that want to expand. Does the government offer grants or assistance to companies looking to set up in that market? How easy is it to move money out of the country? What taxes would you have to pay once you’re established?

Further, consider the financial stability of the nation itself to predict whether companies there will be able to make good on any credit you extend to them. This goes back to comparing bankruptcies and default rates to gain a comprehensive analysis before making any moves of your own.

4. Determine whether there’s a cultural fit.

An expansion should make sense not only from a financial perspective, but also from a brand perspective. Just because a market is hot doesn’t necessarily mean you should rush there. There should be a synergy between your current location and the one you are considering moving into.

For instance, a U.K. company expanding into Ireland makes sense because it’s a natural next move geographically, demographically, and culturally. The shared language and similar cost structures make for low barriers to entry, increasing the likelihood of a successful expansion. Every international growth strategy should take factors like these into account.

If you choose to expand into a market where the language and culture are substantially different, though, be serious and intentional about it. Invest in translators, bilingual staff, and consultants who can bridge the possible gaps between you and your clients. By doing everything in your power to be thoughtful regarding different cultures and ideas, you’ll set yourself up for stronger entry into your new market.

Success in world markets largely comes down to preparation. Understanding the place into which you want to expand is vital for making educated decisions about where and when to commit your resources. Do this, and you’ll start out on the right foot when boldly taking your business to new locations.

5. Identify potential customers.

Business information providers can supply data that helps you target customers who fit your company’s needs. While the profile will differ depending on the company, you can look at certain attributes to tailor your expansion to fit the needs of this group of customers. Consider, for example, the region they’re in to move forward with context and understanding. You’ll also want to know whether your potential customer can — and will — pay you. By analyzing the credit report of your target, you can determine this and much more.

Knowledge is power and can mitigate risk. If your company is considering foreign expansion, keep these things in mind so you can do so as smoothly and successfully as possible.

06 May 16:32

4 Reasons Customer Service Ratings Matter More Than You Think

by Matthew Brown

Feedback matters in the customer-centric era of business we work in. Whether it’s a customer telling your CEO that an agent did a great job or giving them a “negative” face after a chat session, there are many ways companies can receive feedback about their business.

One method that has increased in popularity over the years is ratings on third-party sites. Here, customers can rate areas of your business on an unbiased platform (sometimes receiving a nominal incentive) for the entire world to see. And, one of the major reasons why companies receive the overall ratings they do is because of the customer service a company provides.

But, if these ratings exist only on some corner of the internet, why do they matter? Here are four reasons customer service ratings (and reviews) matter more than you think and how to make the most of this type of feedback…

1) Good ratings and testimonials can be used by business development to increase revenue – Many businesses with good ratings like to display them in real-time directly on their website to provide third-party validation to prospective buyers. It’s a great way to break up marketing content and, if detailed product reviews also accompany the ratings, it lets you also highlight exactly what customers find valuable in your business. The message is more powerful when a company doesn’t say it.

A screenshot of TeamSupport ratings on Capterra show how we emphasize Customer Service

2) Prospective customers visit rating sites and use them in their decision-making process – Moving away from your own website, many prospects begin their buying journey by visiting the sites that solicit these ratings. Leaders like Capterra emphasize ratings specifically for customer service that contributes to an overall rating, but they also offer much more, including product information and detailed customer feedback (both good and bad). In fact, some prospects leverage these sites heavily in their decision-making process and having a low customer service rating here can disqualify you from consideration right away.

3) Ratings can be used to identify and prevent customer churn – The value of ratings isn’t just in acquiring new business. You can use the information received from rating sites to reach out to customers that provide your company with a poor rating. This can help substantially in reducing customer churn. For example, Capterra lists the name and company of each rating, making it easy for you to know who rated you and when. This helps you further understand the pain points that drove the customer to leave a neutral or negative rating so you can address it before their concerns become reasons for leaving your business. Keep in mind that seeing a lot of negative customer service ratings can also provide social proof for a current customer wondering if their bad experiences are common for your business, which can in turn lead to an increase in customer churn.

4) Great ratings help your HR group attract better team members – This is important because it impacts all aspects of a business. Simply put, many employees want to work for companies that do well and look good online. In doing research for a company to prepare for an interview, they’ll stumble upon user ratings and reviews. People want to contribute in a company culture that values employees and time, and a great external indicator of this is how customers speak about a business. For example, if customers say communicating with the service team is easy, it likely means internal communication will be smooth as well. If it’s mentioned by customers that there’s lots of roadblocks to get answers, the same will likely happen with colleagues.

In short, customer service ratings matter because they’re a valuable component of a business and its perception by prospects, customers, and employee candidates. Having a great customer service team that gets high marks not only makes them look good and stand out, it also helps contribute to the success and growth of the entire company.

06 May 16:31

Can You Improve Your Frictionless Selling Approach?

by Gerhard Gschwandtner
If we can truly put buyers first and make their journey as seamless and valuable as possible, then we can manage the true intent of frictionless selling. Here’s how.
06 May 16:31

The Persuasive Power of a Mutual Action Plan

by (Bob Apollo)

MAP OverviewAs Gartner and others have frequently pointed out, B2B buying decisions are often complicated. If the problem to be solved is a new one, rather than a familiar repetitive purchase, the buyer (or, more likely, buying group) may not be completely clear about what they want to achieve, or how they need to achieve it.

Many sales methodologies define a series of steps in the form of a close plan that needs to be completed by the sales person in order to move the sale forward. But unless the prospective customer is engaged in the exercise, these often drive sales activity without guaranteeing any significant progress from the buying side.

This is why Mutual Action Plans are such a powerful concept: they establish mutual agreement between the buyer and seller about the steps they intend to take - individually and jointly - in order to progress the buying journey and make the best possible purchase decision...

But it’s important that we don’t regard the Mutual Action Plan [MAP] as nothing more than a flimsily disguised sales close plan. For the MAP to be effective, it must be structured in a way that enables the customer to complete a successful decision process and - this point is critical - to successfully address the issue that got them interested in the first place.

Stephen R Covey, in his best-selling “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” promoted the merits of starting with the end in mind - and that’s where any discussion about an effective Mutual Action Plan needs to start.

A Mutual Action Plan - unlike a sales close plan - does not end with the raising of an order. It only ends when the customer acknowledges that that the problem they intended to solve has been addressed and the projected business value has been achieved.

Current Situation and Desired Future State

Before we delve into the detailed activities that underpin an effective Mutual Action Plan, we first need to work with the customer to capture both their current situation and their desired future state and to project the tangible business value that they expect to generate from successfully implementing the solution.

This - in part at least - is an exercise in contrast. We want to help the customer to establish the strongest possible reason for change by identifying their current challenges and defining the consequences of sticking with the status quo on the customer’s organisation, on key functions and departments, and on the key stakeholders who will need to approve the project.

And then we want to compare this to the customer’s desired future state: what would success look like, and how will they measure and justify the business value of achieving it? If - despite our help - our customer cannot clearly articulate the contrast between their current situation and their desired future state, there is strong possibility that they will be unable to make a strong enough internal business case to get the project approved.

Helping them make the best possible decision

Starting with their end in mind also helps to demonstrate that our primary interest is not (unlike “traditional” sales people) to get their order as quickly as possible through fair means or foul, but to help them to make the best possible decision when it comes to solving their problem - even if that means doing something else.

By working backwards from the delivery of value, and by making evidence-driven assumptions about which intermediate steps need to be completed in order for these targets to be met, we also help to bring a sense of urgency to their decision-making process (or prove that their initial hopes and assumptions are way off the mark).

We can then work with them to fill in the detail - stage by stage - of what needs to be accomplished, by when and by whom, in order for these goals to be met. Some of these activities will be done on a joint basis, some will be led by us and some by the customer - but they all need clear ownership and timeframes.

Sharing our experience

Every customer will have their preferences or procedures for the steps that need to be covered, and these of course need to be incorporated into the plan. But it’s also very useful - particularly for relatively inexperienced buyers - for us to introduce key elements that in our experience are necessary in order to ensure that the decision-making process is as effective as possible, and that potential constraints or pitfalls are flushed out as early as possible, rather than emerging as late-breaking impediments to progress.

Mutual Action Plan - overview

A flexible, editable, jointly agreed and regularly framework seems to work best. The overview page of the Mutual Action Plan should:

  • Contrast their current situation and desired future state
  • Identify the key project milestones working backwards from the confirmation of expected value
  • Establish the relationship between this project and the customer’s key corporate priorities and initiatives

MAP Overview

Mutual Action Plan - details

The details of the Mutual Action Plan then need to cover:

  • Key activities and outcomes by buying phase
  • Who will participate from the vendor and customer
  • When the activity needs to be completed
  • The current status of the activity
  • All key members of the customer’s and the vendor’s teams

MAP Details

Leading towards, not with, your plan...

I don't recommend that you start the exercise by introducing and expecting to complete the Mutual Action Plan at the start of a conversation - if launched prematurely, prospects (particularly if they are not existing customers) can see the process as intimidatingly complex, intrusive or impertinent.

Instead, I suggest that you initiate a conversation around the guiding principles of the Mutual Action Plan, for example:

  • What they are hoping to achieve, and by when
  • How they would contrast their current situation and desired future state
  • How and when they plan to make the decision
  • What they see as their key steps along the way
  • Who they expect to be part of the decision group

You can respond by sharing your organisation's experience of observing hundreds and thousands of similar buying journeys. Remember, they may be buying this class of solution for the first time - you are experts in how effective decisions have been made.

Without in any way forcing the conversation, you might for example:

  • Ask them how they plan to deal with this or that factor
  • Explore what arrangements they need to make for (for example) a data security review
  • Share what you have learned from other similar buying journeys

It's critically important that you don't come across as manipulative or self serving. Much (but not necessarily all) of your advice ought to be applicable regardless of which other options they might be considering.

Like any other interaction, you will want them to emerge from the conversation feeling that they have learned something valuable. Without forcing them into anything they don't feel comfortable doing, formally capturing these considerations in a documented Mutual Action Plan may then seem like the natural thing to do...

In conclusion

I’ve seen remarkable success from implementing Mutual Action Plans. If customers are inexperienced buyers (for the current type of solution at least) they often appreciate the insights. The idea of starting from the delivery of value and working backwards can help them to establish a realistic timeframe.

Incorporating their current situation and desired future state can help bring focus to why the project is important. And when customers struggle to define these things, it can be a sign that either the business case is weak, or that our current prime contact will probably struggle to get approval for the project.

And whilst a customer's outright refusal to work together on a Mutual Action Plan is not an automatic disqualifier, it should at least cause us to carefully evaluate whether the opportunity is real, whether we have a realistic chance of winning, and whether the effort required will be worth it.

What’s your experience? By the way, if you see a potential role for the persuasive power of Mutual Action Plans within your own sales organisation, please drop me a line.


bob_apollo-online-1Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, a member of the Sales Enablement Society, a regular contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation and the Sales Experts Channel and the founder of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading UK-based B2B value-selling experts.

Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob is now relishing his role as a pro-active advisor, coach and trainer to high-potential B2B-focused sales organisations, systematically enabling them to transform their sales effectiveness by adopting the proven principles of value-based selling.

06 May 16:31

More Sellers Than Buyers

by Fred Wilson

I worked for a VC named Bliss McCrum early in my career. He had been on wall street for about twenty five years before getting into VC mid/late career. He loved investing. He taught me technical analysis/charting and a lot of other things about stocks.

I used to ask him “why did that stock go down yesterday?” and he would always respond “more sellers than buyers.”

I loved that response and sometimes would ask him the question just to hear that answer.

What I really wanted to know was the underlying reason for more sellers than buyers. Did the company post weak earnings? Did a competitor enter their market? Was the CFO fired?

But Bliss would never take the bait.

Just “more sellers than buyers.”

His point, I think looking back after thirty years, was that markets are markets and you need to treat them as such and respect them as such. They are not always rational but the supply/demand for the stock doesn’t lie.

This week we are finally getting an Uber IPO. Its competitor Lyft’s stock has been weak post its recent IPO.

I don’t have a view on either stock but we will get to see if there are more buyers than sellers or the other way around.

I think this is a good thing, for those companies, for their shareholders, and for the entire tech and startup sector. We should let markets work. They do their job very well.

06 May 16:31

The Problem with Wanting Sales to Be Easy

by Anthony Iannarino

Some people want sales to be easy. They want more and better sales without putting forth the effort necessary to acquire clients and opportunities. Many of them believe that their business should run like, with them offering a product or service or solution, and people clicking to buy what they sell, an idea that works well for some transactional sales, but performs poorly when their target clients need help (and even Amazon has salespeople for AWS, their biggest money-maker).

Entrepreneurs spend their time seeking a technological solution to a problem that isn’t easily solved through technology. They spend their time looking for a go-to-market strategy that eliminates the need for salespeople, a part of the business they see as a cost, and one they have no idea how to engage and manage effectively. Because they believe so deeply in their offering, they suffer from the delusion that their target market will immediately recognize the value and buy from them, a rare occurrence. By trying to make selling easy, they make obtaining clients and opportunities more difficult.

Salespeople and some of their leaders believe they can pitch everyone and win new business, and there is a growing cottage industry on LinkedIn of salespeople who are taught and trained to write a four-paragraph pitch with a link to their calendar to strangers, without targeting, and without any indication that the person might be right for their service or solution (I know this because I receive sales training and development offers, as well as appointment-setting services pitched to me every day).

It’s easy to increase your activity by pitching more people faster, and you can deceive yourself into believing that you are efficient. Efficiency is measured by the energy expended to produce a specific result, not the elimination of effort and energy without a result. To believe that you are efficient when you try to make selling easy, you have to refuse to look at the wasted energy and effort.

Most of the effort expended in trying to make selling easier would be better spent in increasing your effectiveness.

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The post The Problem with Wanting Sales to Be Easy appeared first on The Sales Blog.

06 May 16:30

Conducting Killer Pipeline Reviews Your Salespeople Will Thank You For

by Rob Jeppsen
sales pipeline reviews

In the movie “Dirty Harry,” Clint Eastwood’s character asks one of his “bad guys” what has become an iconic question…

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Sadly, many salespeople feel like they’re facing off to Dirty Harry every time they have a Pipeline Review. He’s staring down at them while they squirm and sweat.

This approach makes for a successful movie, but it’s important to remember: Your salespeople are not the bad guys, and you are not Dirty Harry.

I recently met with the VP of Sales of a large, publicly traded company who told me that nobody gets fired for missing quota in their company. Instead, they get fired for failing to forecast quota.

“Dirty Harry” syndrome is real. And the pressure to show progress turns too many Pipeline Reviews into stressful interrogations. But we’ve got a better way.

Keep reading to learn a simple, 3-step method for doing pipeline reviews that work.

The Secret to Successful Pipeline Reviews

What are You Driving?

As sales leaders, we have the awesome opportunity to drive the revenue that fuels the organizations we are part of. Whether you’re driving a high-performance race car or are behind the wheel of something you can barely keep on the road is, in large part, determined by the vitality and the efficiency of your pipeline.

In the world of sales, pipeline is life. Strong, vibrant pipelines provide power to salespeople and sales leaders. But it can be a scary ride.

According to CSO Insights, only 47% of opportunities forecast to close actually closed in 2018. Thirty-two percent of these deals forecast as wins were lost to competitors and 21% were no-decisions.

Chances of your forecast deals closing: 47.3%.

Chances of winning at craps in Vegas: 49.4%.

pipeline reviews forecasting deals

When you are betting career success at odds lower than the odds you get in Vegas, something needs to change.

The pipeline review is arguably one of the most important meetings a sales leader can conduct with each member of the sales team.

The best sales leaders understand how to use the pipeline review to optimize the vehicle they are driving. Whether you need to need to “Tune the Engine” by fueling the pipeline or “Tune the Deals” that take you across the finish line, here are three well-tested tactics to make sure your pipeline reviews are relevant, action-oriented, and inspirational for each member of your team.

RELATED: Weekly Sales Meetings Such. Here Are 5 Ways to Improve Them

Step 1: Win What’s Winnable

Pipelines that move, win. Some deals move fast, and others move slow. But they need to move.

Winning in the world of pipeline isn’t just reserved for the “Closed/Won” status. Winning is about successfully accomplishing the goal of the sales stage regardless of which stage a deal is in.

At Xvoyant, we work with sales leaders in 19 countries around the world, and every time we engage with a new sales team, I find it interesting how subjective a sales stage is and when a salesperson feels they should advance a stage.

Many sales processes include “exit criteria.” But I’ve found this criteria doesn’t solve the problem of creating an accurate picture of where an opportunity stands.

Create Buyer Engagement

Barry Trailer once taught me to look at stage advancement as though you were driving on a toll road. When you come to the toll booth, someone must pay the toll before you can keep driving.

In sales, the toll at the toll booth must be paid by the customer. This is a big deal. Too often, a salesperson sees “exit criteria” as things they can do.

They can’t.

A salesperson can do everything except make a customer buy.

This is why your sales process MUST create buyer engagement.

Winning what’s winnable is more than just pushing deals across the finish line. A successful pipeline review needs to “Tune the Deals” that your sales organization is riding on.

To do this, add Buyer Verifiers to your sales process.

A Buyer Verifier is something a prospect or customer must do in order to satisfy the goal of the sales stage and move to the next stage. Only the customer can provide this. Never the salesperson.

Once you know the goal of a stage and the one to two Buyer Verifiers that demonstrate the goal was achieved, identifying the key activities that help a salesperson accomplish these goals becomes simple.

Add Purpose… Not Pressure

The purpose of a pipeline review is to create purpose-driven activities on what a salesperson can do to advance an opportunity and ultimately win the business. Buyer Verifiers are the best way to create purpose-driven activities rather than adding pressure and flogging the forecast.

RELATED: Sales Managers: The Reason Reps Don’t Follow Your Sales Process Is You

When reviewing current opportunities, here are five lenses to apply to help you tune deals with confidence.

1. Stalled Deals

Most sales teams have some measurement of cycle time. It is important to measure Days in Stage for each rep. When current Days in Stage are greater than the average Days in Stage for that salesperson (not a team or company average), you have a stalled deal.

With a clear verifier objective, the pipeline review now becomes a strategy session on how the salesperson can engage in activities or utilize company resources to help secure the verifier and advance the sales or win.

This approach helps opportunities maintain a rhythm before they enter a stall that leads to a “death spiral.”

2. Must-Win Deals

A best practice for every sales leader is to identify an opportunity or two that is particularly strategic to the development of the salesperson or their overall success, and then help them in the pursuit of these opportunities.

Any “Must Win” should have ongoing, active goals around how verifiers are secured. This is an important part of every pipeline review because it allows the leader to participate without taking over.

RELATED: PODCAST 52: Building Sales Coaching and Training Framework w/ Rob Jeppsen

3. Misaligned Deals

Salespeople have different approaches to opportunity management. But try this simple approach.

Use your CRM solution to match Buyer Verifiers to sales stages. When a deal has advanced to a point that’s not matched by the appropriate Verifier, this is a deal you need to tune.

pipeline reviews misaligned deals

In this example from one of the companies we work with, a salesperson has marked this opportunity as approved and ready to close. However, it is a misaligned deal and is stalled.

Upon inspection of the Verifiers, the stall has come from skipping the first Buyer Verifier confirming who the key stakeholders were.

Later, the salesperson skipped the closure plan, and now the deal has stalled waiting for InfoSec Approval. This stall could have been avoided if a pipeline review had identified the misaligned opportunity.

4. Outlier Deals

When a salesperson is working on a deal significantly larger than their individual average deal size, make sure to pay particularly close attention to the purpose-driven activities and the verifiers they create.

The order of magnitude to qualify an opportunity as an outlier is different for each company and each rep. A good rule of thumb is this: If an opportunity is 3X the average size for the rep, it is an outlier.

The entire buying process likely is different when this happens, and your outliers may require a new set of sales activities and buyer verifiers. Don’t let these catch you off guard.

5. Pushed Deals

I’m always surprised by how few sales teams track pushes. A push happens when the close date comes and there is no win or loss. The deal just lives on.

RELATED: How to Know If a Deal Will Close: A 3-Part Checklist

Here’s what we’ve learned as we model individual wins and losses…

Win rates generally go up after one push. This often surprises people, but there’s a good reason for it. Most of the time, salespeople are making their best guess as to the possible close date. Once you get to the point of making a closure plan, it’s possible to get a firm close date.

PRO TIP: Consider having a structured Closure Plan as part of your Sales Process.

But since many sales processes don’t ask the salesperson to create closure plans with buyers, when the first push comes, this often is the first time a salesperson can gain real insight to an accurate close date.

If you’re coaching the rep effectively in the pipeline review, the salesperson will ask the buyer when the deal can close, so there’s no guesswork.

The “Do We Have a Deal” conversation is an important one, and it generally leads to more accurate close dates. So, one push is a good thing. Two pushes usually have no impact on close rates. But once you hit the third push, this is the time to circle the wagons. Win rates fall by over 10% with the third push and beyond.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Buyer Verifiers do a lot of things to help make a pipeline review action-oriented. Tuning the Deal with Verifiers is the best way to move from just selling something to being seen as a company who’s in a sales process with someone.

pipeline reviews buyer verifiers

This diagram reminds me of a rowboat. When both oars row in unison, the boat goes straight and fast. When only one side rows, the boat just moves in a frustrating circle.

Remove unnecessary frustration and losses by making sure sales activities create Buyer Verifiers. Win rates will go up, sales cycle time will go down, and your buyer will appreciate the process of buying from you.

The point? Use your pipeline reviews to create buyer engagement… not just sales engagement.

Step 2: Achieve Balance

If the deals are the wheels that move your sales organization, an individual’s pipeline coverage is the engine that creates horsepower for your sales team.

A strong pipeline review will make sure there is balance for the salesperson in both the short and long term.

Individual Reps Need Individual Plans

Many organizations have “Average Coverage Ratios” that calculate the average amount of pipeline to goal for a rep to succeed.

Great leaders don’t create action plans based on averages. They help reps create plans based on their unique capabilities and goals.

Calculating how much pipeline an individual needs to win at every milestone (month, quarter, or fiscal year) is not hard to do, and it can make a difference in identifying the purpose-driven activities a rep needs to complete to have pipeline balance.

Here are a couple of easy metrics that will help you add teeth to your coverage models –– and that your reps will thank you for:

Metric: Required Pipeline in $$

Formula: Salesperson Goal in $$ / Salesperson Win Rate

For example, if a salesperson has a $1MM goal and a 50% win rate, she needs $2MM in pipeline for that time period. This metric works since it is a requirement based on the unique goal AND the unique win rate of the salesperson.

Average coverage ratios are like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” This model is sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, and only rarely is it just right.

Get it right. You owe it to your reps to paint a well-lit pathway to success.

Metric: Required Pipeline in # of Opportunities

Formula: Salesperson Required Pipeline in $$ / Salesperson Average Deal Size

“Elephant Hunting” is a popular sport for salespeople… particularly when they are behind goal. Understanding how much deal flow an individual salesperson needs to win just by being “average” is an empowering metric.

Relying on “Career Best Effort” in order to win is a poor strategy. “Required Pipeline in # of Opportunities” creates consistency while removing pressure to win at all costs.

These ratios –– the Required Pipeline $$ and ## to Actual Pipeline $$ and ## –– are gold in a pipeline review.

If you use these calculations, they remove all defensiveness in a salesperson, because they are calibrated to the unique profile of the individual rep.

Remember, creating a pipeline is just as important as moving it. A balanced pipeline gives a salesperson power. Help them learn the power of a fat, balanced pipeline by helping them create pipeline development goals at every stage. Advancing deals to close may seem sexy, but filling the pipeline is more important.

Make the health of the pipeline a key part of your pipeline reviews. Balance here, now, leads to wins later.

What’s been your experience? Have pipeline reviews felt like a Dirty Harry movie? If you’ve had good pipeline reviews, what made the difference for you?

pipeline reviews achieving balance

Step 3: Set Coaching Goals

Set goals to create purpose-driven activities. Your salespeople should expect pipeline reviews to lead to changes. Based on what they learn in these reviews, they’ll discover things they need to do more of or do differently to either Tune the Engine or Tune the Deals… or both.

Coaching goals should never be to “Win the Deal.” Instead, great leaders set goals to complete purpose-driven activities that either create rhythm to opportunities through Buyer Verifiers or horsepower to the pipeline creation engine.

The difference between a conversation and real coaching comes in the commitment. If you aren’t tapping into the power of commitments with each salesperson, give it a try.

This will fuel your informal dialogue with each rep as you help them develop “New Normals” as they become more than just hard workers.

Common Pipeline Review Traps to Avoid

Generally conducted every 2 weeks, the Pipeline Review is one of the most commonly conducted meetings in a sales org. Unfortunately, rather than making them more laser-focused, this frequency often leads to an approach of “winging it,” which leads to mistakes.

Here are a few common traps to avoid in your pipeline reviews:

Trap #1: Flogging the Forecast

One of the primary reasons pipeline doesn’t close as forecast is the lack of Verifiers. When these are missing, Sales Leaders are left with no fallback other than asking a salesperson, “What Do You Think?”

Sometimes, a barrage of “What Do You Think?” inquisitions leaves the salesperson wanting to manage expectations yet still look good to their leader.

When the leader flogs the forecast, rather than focusing on pathways and verifiers, the emphasis on the outcomes ultimately leads to a series of guesses rather than a compilation of strategic plans. And while pressure can turn coal into diamonds, pressure does not create predictability in sales. Planning does.

Trap #2: Crutch, Not a Coach

One of the most common “Deadly Sins” of 1:1 Coaching is to take over an opportunity or dictate how a rep should engage.

Pipeline Reviews are fantastic opportunities for leaders to coach reps. Unfortunately, these are also opportunities for leaders to take control. Taking over or telling a rep what to do stunts growth. It doesn’t stimulate it.

Focus on coaching, not becoming a crutch.

Trap #3: “Trust Me”

It’s common, when discussing an opportunity in a Pipeline Review, for a sales rep to say, “Trust me.” There are lots of different ways this presents itself, but basically, the salesperson asks the leader to overlook the lack of Verifiers and cross their fingers.

Ronald Reagan gave sales leader everywhere great advice when he said, “Trust but verify.”

Save Your Luck for Vegas

Rick Page wrote in his bestselling sales book, “Hope is not a strategy.”

He’s right. You can win without a plan –– it’s called luck. And since you’re not the sales leader, you can get away with relying on luck.

But here’s the reality…

You’re here to create predictability. Leave luck for Vegas.

Verifiers, custom coverage plans, and unique coaching goals are the building blocks of Pipeline Reviews your salespeople will look forward to. Don’t just go through the motions of doing Pipeline Reviews. And don’t let your Pipeline Reviews make your team members feel like they’re facing Dirty Harry.

Use the simple 3-step process I’ve shared in this article, and your reps will never feel this way.

  1. Win what’s winnable at every stage.
  2. Achieve balance to the pipeline and each rep will avoid dry spots.
  3. Set unique coaching goals to drive purpose-driven activities as a result of your pipeline review.

Happy selling.

The post Conducting Killer Pipeline Reviews Your Salespeople Will Thank You For appeared first on Sales Hacker.

06 May 16:30

The Achilles’ Heel of Communication

by Jason Scott

The modern business world looks at communication all wrong.

When executives and managers don’t get the results they expected, they commonly blame ineffective communication. When their frustration hits a boiling point, they launch a project to improve their organization’s ability to communicate.

The truth is communication and leadership go hand-in-hand, so if the communication is poor, then poor leadership skills should be acknowledged, as well.

At my company, 120VC, we communicate to lead our projects forward, as aggressively as possible, and leading our team members to achieve transformational outcomes.

Whether the communication is in person or in writing, each interaction is intended to move our projects closer to completion. Any interaction that leads to confusion, or a status report that leads to questions, is a failed attempt at leadership.

We communicate to lead…period.

When you fail to get the necessary results from and for your team members, don’t focus on improving your communication. Focus on improving your leadership skills.

Here’s why this approach beats focusing exclusively on improved communication.

The Achilles Heel of Communication

The problem with focusing on improving communication as a way of improving your outcomes is that it almost always leads to more communication. More emails, voice messages, text messages, Slack messages, and meetings. This ultimately creates the need for more processes and governance over communication.

This approach creates more administrative work and increased expectations for a group of people that are already struggling to achieve the expected results.

When has that ever improved results?

Leaders should help their team members achieve expected results. Leaders are responsible for the outcomes. If you aren’t getting the outcomes you need, blaming communication will increase the workload, but it won’t guarantee better results.

Focusing on improving your leadership skills gives you much more latitude for improving your outcomes. You aren’t hamstrung by a narrow focus on improving communication.

Instead of increasing workload in the name of improving communication, you could actually reduce workload to focus the team and achieve better results. You could eliminate and refine processes, educate team members, and refine software tools.

You could even eliminate communication methods! Why not abandon email for anything other than reporting and coordination? Email is a procrastination tool. We send an email and wait. We put the fate of our commitments in the hands of the responder instead of picking up the phone and calling, stopping by their office, or sending text messages.

Additional Processes Make Things Worse

Some years ago, I worked with DirecTV, and there was a huge push from the CIO to improve project outcomes. The majority of projects were delivered late and over budget, and IT was making promises to sales and marketing they couldn’t keep.

Instead of getting a baseline of where the project managers were, from an education perspective, or a baseline of what the project managers were and were not doing, they worked from the premise that most projects failed due to ineffective communication.

They created a ton of additional processes, requiring more communication, project reviews, and checkpoints where project leaders would have to get their work reviewed.

They essentially increased the administrative workload; took away autonomy, mastery, and purpose; and expected better results. Things went from bad to worse!

Now compare their approach with that of Trader Joe’s, a national food chain with a thirty-person IT department. Unlike DirecTV, they hit deadlines.

What they don’t manage internally is outsourced to vendors. They make it work because they have a lean, purpose-driven process with intense focus on leadership and connection between their team members; they don’t do anything if it doesn’t somehow benefit their team members in the stores or their customers.

The bottom line is…we communicate to lead. If you aren’t getting the outcomes you need, focus on improving your organization’s leadership skills.

This post is adapted from my new book, It’s Never Just Business.

06 May 16:30

The Secrets of Great Sales Follow-Through

by Kellie Courville


As a kid learning to play basketball, my coach never focused on the importance of the approach to the layup but, rather, the follow-through. A great scorer in basketball, the kind on display every night right now in the NBA playoffs, knows that how you finish your shot makes all the difference in the world when it comes to putting points on the board.

As a sales professional, I’ve learned acutely that the importance of the follow-through applies in many areas far beyond the basketball court. In particular, this crucial (but often minimized) practice for every professional seller frequently ends up as the primary difference between hitting aggressive sales quotas and falling short.

Just like in basketball, where there are statistics to prove the importance of following through on your shots, the same rings true for sales pros in terms of the importance of following up with prospects. According to this infographic from Propeller, 80% of sales require no fewer than five follow-ups after the initial contact.

80%!! Let that number sink in for just a moment.

Yet there’s so much more to this practice than simply calling people again and again. If you’re interested in improving your sales success rate, use these guiding principles and unlock the true power of great sales follow-through.

Properly Identify Prospects Worth Pursuing Right Now

For the most part, sales prospects fit into two categories: hot prospects and bench prospects.

Hot prospects: Just like in basketball, these are your go-to people at this current point in time. They are people who you have either spoken to on the phone or via email and they are ready to take action; all you have to do is follow up.

Bench prospects: These are people who have the potential to be great sales leads, yet at this point in time, they are not responsive and/or have a long buying cycle.

I have found that identifying hot prospects quickly is a key to success. Doing this helps me move along with the right people during the sales process (and relegate the lesser prospects to a future touch). If a prospect asks for specific information or for further discussion, call them back or follow up on that information you sent right away. Prospects seeking information are giving permission for increased engagement, and you should stay on the ball with them. They are much closer to a sale then the bench prospect.

Build a Strong Cadence

Cadence as a drumbeatMuch like my experience in basketball, having a good game plan is arguably more important than the game itself – and it’s especially critical in facilitating your follow-through efforts. In sales, the game plan is your sales cadence. You must develop a methodical plan to connect with your target audience. It is key to identify your hot prospects early, so you can create a road map to the sale that makes sense for that specific prospect.

As you schedule and plan your outreach cadence, be sure to map out exactly when (and how) you are going to get in contact with hot prospects. This road map outlines when you are making calls, sending emails, and leaving voicemails for everyone on your list. Also, when building your cadence, remember to keep in mind that it takes on average five to 12 “touches” (calls, voicemails, emails, etc) to truly close a prospect.

Make sure to vary the methods of communication you are using to reach your prospects — a combination of calls, emails, LinkedIn messages, social media mentions and more should all be in play. This will keep you at the forefront of a prospects’ mind and it helps you stand out from your competition.

This great article from the team at outlines the basic elements a sales pro needs to construct a great prospect outreach plan. There is room to be creative, but absolutely be intentional about this step of the process.

One other thing to keep in mind when creating your cadence is that it should be specific to your prospect and their timeline. Not every prospect will need the same approach, which makes it imperative to create your cadence to fit your prospect and not inundate them.

Be sure to routinely document touch points in your cadence. Your style to track this can vary (CRM software, Excel spreadsheet, or old fashion pen and paper), but recording the flow is vital. This act keeps me personally accountable to follow up with prospects and stick to my plan.

Pay Close Attention to Timing

A shot clock exists in basketball to keep the game moving and the action flowing, and all players know they must get the shot off before it hits zero. Once it hits zero, their chance has expired. There’s a shot clock in sales, as well. Sales pros have a certain amount of time to follow up with a prospect before the chance at a sale evaporates.

The follow-up period with a warm prospect is short and your outreach timing matters. Now that you know who to follow up with and have a game plan on how you are going to push them along the sales cycle, you need to understand precisely when to contact them. There are some key components to factor in when choosing dates and times to reach out to prospects.

Best Time to Call

Based on a recent CallHippo study, there are optimal days and times to reach a prospect over the phone. The study found that the best day to call a prospect was Wednesdays, with Thursdays being a close second. In fact, calling someone on a Thursday had a 46% better chance to reach the prospect then Monday, which was the worst day.

Overall, the study found that the worst day to reach prospects is Friday afternoon. This is something that I have personally found to be accurate. My connection rates drop on Friday afternoons. And when I do reach prospects, I get in inordinate amount of “It’s a bad time” or “Not right now” curt responses. People in “weekend mode” seem to be less interested in detailed business conversations.

The time of day was also examined in this study and they found the best bet to get in contact with a sales prospect was between 4pm and 5pm (in the prospect’s respective time zone). Reaching out during this time frame was 71% better than trying to reach a prospect during the worst time of the day, between 11am and 12pm.

One important caveat here: sales pros are constantly looking for data on the best time of day to contact prospects, so these results can vary and change as your peers and competition flock to align with the latest and greatest study results. Stay on top of the current trends and adjust your sails accordingly.

Best Time to Email

Email is another vital tool in your sales prospecting tool belt. And unlike the best calling times, some of these results might surprise you.

Based on this Propeller study, researchers found the best days to email a prospect during the work week is on Tuesdays or Thursdays. However, the very best days to email are not during the work week at all. You need to zig when everyone else is zagging, so to speak.

Saturdays and Sundays feature the very top open and response rates for email. The digital age and our “always connected” world impacts your timing. Keeping within this spirit, the study found that the best time of day to receive an email response was either first thing in the morning or right after business hours closed.

Always Get Next Steps

The worst thing that can happen in any sales cycle is to not get definitive next steps. It kills momentum and leaves all parties mired in uncertainty. And it’s flat out painful for sales pros practicing great follow-through principles.

As John Costigan, world-renowned professional sales expert and trainer, puts it, “Yes is a great answer, no is a good answer, but maybe stinks.”

When stuck in the maybe zone, you don’t know how to progress the sales cycle. This is why you should constantly ask for reasonable next steps throughout the process. This allows you to keep pushing the sale along (and close the deal), while at the same time not wasting anyone’s time if there isn’t a fit.

There’s another hidden benefit to consistently seeking next steps. It allows you to make sure you’re not needlessly bothering the prospect, which could push them away. If, as an example, your potential buyer is in a contract with another solution provider for one more year, contacting them multiple times per month is probably a very poor move (this is simply annoying and not the point of good follow-through).

Alternatively, you should be asking these prospects directional questions such as, “Do you mind if I reach out in six months to check in and see how things are moving along?”

By asking this at the end of your initial discussion, you eliminate the possibility of pestering them and it keeps you out of the dreaded maybe zone.

Stick to the Plan

Since finding success early in my sales development role, colleagues tend to ask me what my secret sauce is. The truth is, I don’t have a secret sauce – I’m persistent and I consistently use the core sales development principles outlined here. This makes my follow-through activities potent and it limits wasted effort.

If you can stick to it and follow-through with prospects the right way, it will pay off in the long run.

06 May 16:30

Use Smart(er) Content to Nurture More Leads Into Customers

by Autumn Sullivan

People like a little romance when they’re being marketed to. Or better yet, they don’t want to feel like they’re being marketed to at all. Smart personalization transforms marketing from shouting “I’m really great!” to positioning yourself as a helper who understands your customer’s problems.

Strategic personalization can increase the efficacy of your marketing dramatically. But it’s more than putting someone’s first name in an email. Good personalization takes into account behavior, interests, and lifecycle stage. That can be pretty daunting, especially if you have high lead volume. Fortunately, marketing automation and smart content make that pretty simple once you strategize exactly how you want to connect with potential customers.

Use smart content to nurture potential leads by showing that you understand where they’re at and how they relate to you.

woman typing

What is personalization?

On a basic level, personalization is the use of data to customize a viewer’s experience to best accommodate their needs. This information is typically collected through form submissions or from the information in your database (CRM). Some examples of general contact information are name, industry, phone number, address, website URL, company and email address.

You might not wow someone by demonstrating that you have this information, but it can still be used to your advantage — such as requiring fewer fields next time they fill out a form on your website.

Where things really get interesting is when you can personalize in subtle, helpful ways. We recommend using marketing automation software like HubSpot, so that once a contact enters your database, you’ll be able to gather information like this:

  • What emails they are opening
  • What pages they are visiting (on your site)
  • What links they are clicking
  • What social platforms are they viewing or following
  • What content are they engaging with (viewing or downloading)
  • When are they engaging (time)

Then, personalization can look like sending an email at the right time, providing more content around a topic they’ve demonstrated interest in, or following up with a sales call after they’ve engaged with several emails.

Using personalization tokens for smart content

Personalization with smart content can be used in a host of different settings within the buyer’s journey, but it should only be used if it adds value to a viewers overall experience. It’s important to avoid over personalizing content, as it can come off as creepy.

Hi {{first name}},

I noticed you were on my website at {{time}}. You’re obviously interested, so let’s chat tomorrow!

The best personalization feels authentic, not invasive.

Keep in mind these three ideas when using personalization in your content:

  • Authoritativeness: know that what you are personalizing is accurate.
  • Relevance: know that it’s going to add value to the viewer’s experience.
  • Timeliness: know that the timing is aligned with the relevance of the content.

Adding personalization to email is a great way to nurture potential leads by providing relevant content based on behavioral patterns. These behavioral patterns include:

  • Are they clicking on links in the email?
  • If yes, what links are they clicking on?
  • Do they find the information relevant? (clicking through to a landing page and filling out a form or downloading an eBook)

There’s nothing wrong with the basics. You can start by simply using a contact’s name in an email subject line, which can help increase open rates. Then, get down to business. Personalize the body of the email by providing relevant content, such as links to blogs/articles to help increase response rate and build a stronger connection.

Hi {{first name}},

Thanks for purchasing {{product}}! We thought you would enjoy this article on 7 different ways you didn’t know you could use {{products}}.

When creating personalization tokens always remember to set a null (or default value) in case the contact data is not applicable. Make sure the default value is in context with the content provided. For example, if a university is sending emails to prospective students, a good default value for {{name}} would be “Future student.”

Another example is for a custom {{coupon code}}, “Trouble seeing the code? Contact us to get it.”

Nurture leads with smart content triggered by behavior

To illustrate how you can next smart content to the next level, let’s introduce two prospective customers. We’ll call them Sally and James.

If your CRM indicates that Sally has opened your nurturing email and downloaded your premium content offer, you can create a smart content module in your next email that follows up on the content offer’s value statement and asks her to take the next action in the buyer’s journey (schedule a demo, call for a consultation, make a purchase).

James, on the other hand, opened the email but did not download the content offer. His email’s smart content module might nudge him to take the action (downloading the content) and offer new messaging around the value of the offer.

Smart content can also be triggered through lead scoring. When Sally downloaded the content offer, she indicated a greater interest in your product or service, and so her lead score improves. Let’s assume she’s one action away from being considered a Marketing Qualified Lead. It’s time to get her to take the next step, the Decision phase of her buyer’s journey.

Smart content modules, triggered by Sally’s lead score in your CRM, can let her know it’s time to schedule a call with one of your sales representatives.

Meanwhile, James did not open your second email. (You’ll want to look at your email marketing strategy if this is a common occurrence, but for now let’s assume James just missed your email.) His lead score indicates that he isn’t ready yet to contact a sales representative. His lead score might trigger Smart CTAs that direct him to watch the video. Entire sections of your website can be smart, offering James multiple opportunities to learn more about your content’s value proposition and take the next action.

Once James watches the video his lead score improves and the Smart CTAs on the site change to reflect his next expected action.

When it’s better to NOT use smart content

If personalization and smart content are so powerful, why not use them everywhere? Hang on there, marketing cowboy. There are a few instances where it’s best to keep the content as-is. HubSpot recommends against using Smart content in Thank You pages, for example. The CRM has a lag time between updating your smart content personalization tokens, and so a thank you page will often appear without your personalization.

While you may add a Smart CTA into a blog post, it is not recommended to use Smart content modules in blogs. A blog should already be personalized to one specific audience persona. Smart content in blogs can also interfere with RSS readers and negatively impact your SEO.

Smarter content equals smarter marketing

Smart content helps foster stronger connections between your prospective customers and your brand that help deliver a better user experience. Equally important, smart content nurtures customers more effectively, moving them through their buyer’s journey toward a purchase faster.

06 May 16:30

Properly Manage Internal Expectations

by Mladen Kresic

geralt / Pixabay

Almost every sales organization and every seller operates under some pressure associated with quantifying and then making their sales numbers. The instincts that cause this are positive – the desire to succeed by meeting or exceeding quota, or perhaps to be seen as a top performer within the sales organization.

There are three related manifestations of this pressure that negatively impact the seller’s ability to deal with complex buy cycles.

  • We may raise expectations of success with internal management on deals where some of the fundamentals are missing or will take more time to develop. Such expectations can be made through forecasting in the CRM system or by what sales reps promise to their managers. Regardless of how this occurs, not taking reality into account affects the seller’s credibility and results.
  • We rush, trying to speed up the process. If the deal is not moving at the pace we desire (or which is imposed from above), this leads to mistakes and a loss of credibility internally or externally. In either event, that loss of credibility will further prolong the sales cycle or result in a lost opportunity.
  • We make unprincipled concessions in an attempt to get the prospect to act faster. As I explain in an earlier article, unprincipled concessions are “giveaways” not tied to a credible business rationale. Our research shows that this simple negotiation mistake costs businesses between 9 and 18% of gross revenue and significant profit. This is a much too high a price to pay in any sales scenario, especially when it doesn’t contribute to revenue.

To overcome the negative impact of these manifestations, I suggest you deal with each in a conscious way, in order to eliminate or reduce the mistakes and frustration caused by internal pressure. Very few individuals operate more effectively while under pressure. Prospects can sense it, and managers can sense it, and neither responds well to the type of selling environment caused by pressure.

One of the often unspoken issues is that the buying cycle can be vastly different from the sales cycle. Sales management can choose to dictate a certain sales cycle; say four months. However, while this sounds ok, the buyer may have a far different perspective on the timing of the deal. This is a good example of the quote, often attributed to John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”

A few years ago, a friend was under some pressure to get a strategic contract done for his company. His executive called for status updates daily (sometimes more often). He had a contract draft ready for the customer that at least one person other than him would normally review (two sets of eyes before something important goes to a customer is a good policy).

However, he felt he could not afford a couple of hours that the review would take. The contract had a critical typo in it that caused an internal escalation within the customer. While the deal was done, it took a week longer as a result. As mentioned above, the motivation for going against standard operating procedure was sound: the desire to make the sale happen on schedule. However, in hindsight, the cost of the extra week was not worth the potential few hours saved.

Setting honest expectations and describing key dependencies and timing is always a good practice, though it may not be what the boss wants to hear. This does not mean making excuses – rather it means being factual and explaining what needs to happen and what you are doing to facilitate an optimal outcome. This may be a bit painful in the short-term, where the pressure to meet this quarter’s number is strongest – but it will definitely pay off over time, in terms of streamlined, less-painful and more profitable sales.

06 May 16:30

How to Use Surveys at Every Stage of the Funnel to Drive a Better Customer Experience

by kniemisto

You know that pleasant feeling when you walk into your local cafe and the waiter greets you as if he’d just seen a dear friend, leads you to your favorite table, and asks you if you’d like “the usual”? Personalization is not a new concept, though only recently has it become the standard customers expect from digital services.

There’s no doubt about the ROI of personalizing lead and customer communication. Amazon, which paved the way for one-on-one digital marketing, has recently reported that 35% of its sales come from product recommendations. The numbers on customer expectations look even more promising, with 56% willing to return to a website that offers a personal approach.

It’s only natural that the marketing world is now craving a slice of that cake.

So how can we effectively guide leads through the funnel and cater to their individual needs at each step of the buyer’s journey?

In this blog, we’re going to focus on one very effective method: Creating a cohesive survey strategy that will first help you understand your leads better, and, as a result, guide them towards a purchase in a natural, unobtrusive manner.

We’ll share survey personalization examples for all three steps of the buyer’s journey (so, the process in which a lead becomes aware of a need, and eventually purchases our product as a solution). We’ll also cover how we, at Survicate, recommend surveying leads that are either hard to qualify or have stopped returning to your website.

The pros of running surveys

Let’s start off with reviewing how surveys can exponentially support your lead and customer communication goals.

Surveys help you:

  • Increase communication relevance & quality: If you ask your website visitors about the reason behind their visit, you’ll be able to give them exactly what they’re looking for. In simple terms—if you provide value, they’ll want to return. Simple as that. We’ll show you how it’s done with surveys further on in the post.
  • Speed up lead qualification: A simple question about your visitors’ goals can help you understand whether they’re in the awareness, consideration, or decision stage. Here’s where a marketing automation tool with separate flows for each scenario will work wonders!
  • Make sure your sales team doesn’t get engaged too early or too late: Nothing hurts as much as a lost sale opportunity. If you notice a lead starts visiting pricing pages and answers surveys in a way that indicates they’re considering a purchase, it’s time to start acting. Which brings us to…
  • Drive conversion with customized follow-ups from sales and support: For SaaS companies, this might mean inviting your lead to a product demo or launching chat with a customer success team member. This can also take on the form of an automated email from one of your sales team members with pdf or article links relevant to the stage a given lead is in.

Another huge advantage of running pre-sales surveys? If you’re a user of other marketing tools such as CRM, customer feedback management software, and communicators, you won’t need to start with zero-to-none insights on your leads ( a.k.a. the cold start problem).

Using data from other marketing tools

If you’ve never used surveys on your website before (or have, but all responses were anonymous), then you’ll likely find integrating your survey tool with other marketing software invaluable. If you’ve been using a CRM, you may be able to not only segment your leads in your survey tool but also identify anonymous survey responses and assign them to the right lead account.

You might also benefit in checking your analytics tool, heatmaps, and user session recordings for anything that might shed more light on how your leads behave, and where they look for specific information.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect from your website visitors at each stage of the buyer’s journey, and what are the best ways to initiate contact.

Awareness stage

To put it simply, leads in the awareness stage are, well…unaware of being a lead, so to say. It’s an early stage when your potential client doesn’t even look for solutions to a problem your product might solve. So what lead them to your website in the first place? To use the medical analogy, a patient sees symptoms, and so he/she goes to a doctor for a diagnosis. Similarly, your website visitor might be looking for educational content on the ‘symptoms’, or pain points, they are experiencing.

Not a great time to display a pop-up with a Black Friday deal for a yearly subscription, right?

When you create surveys for leads in the awareness stage, make sure the content and goals focus on the key takeaways your respondent expects from interacting with your company. Not the other way around, no pitching involved. Your role here is to make sure your website visitor knows they’ve come to the right place and thinks you’re an absolute expert in the field they’re researching.

Here are some ideas on where you can embed your survey, how you can ask, and what you can do to make your lead aware of the problem (so, moving them to the consideration phase):

Touchpoints for surveys: Educational content on the blog, free downloadables, downloadable expert reports, checklists, newsletters.

Question examples:

  • “What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to…?”
  • “What information are you most interested in?”
  • “What topic would you like to read about the most?”

Action plan: Use survey results to create content that speaks to your audience’s most important challenges to keep them hooked. Build brand awareness and establish yourself as a knowledgeable source.

Consideration stage

At this point, your lead has already put a name to the problem or need at hand and is starting to research solutions (which also means your competition). As far as blog content is concerned, articles that focus on product features are more and more relatable. Most importantly, your lead is becoming ready to speak to your sales team so it might be time to take action. And so, your surveys should focus on underlining what makes you stand out on the market and why you’re the perfect solution.

Touchpoints for surveys: Landing pages of your services/products, product features, product content on the blog, comparison pages (your product vs. competition).

Question examples:

  • “Is there a feature you’d like to hear more about?”
  • “Would you like to participate in a free demo with our sales team?”
  • “Which service providers, apart from us, are you also currently looking at?“

Action plan: Use survey insights to deliver content that shows your advantages against the competition. Personalize sales team communication with your leads to highlight your services’ strong suits. Do thorough research of all the companies the lead has mentioned considering.

Decision stage

Similarly to the consideration phase, your lead might be open to scheduling a demo call. Although, this time the decision can be expected much sooner—right after or during the call. As our experience shows at Survicate, some leads become convinced you’re a good choice and become your customers even before the scheduled demo.

The point being, in the decision stage, things happen fast—it’s either you or your competition, so make sure you invest in your marketing and sales efforts till the very end!

Touchpoints for surveys: Pricing pages, product landing pages, registration page, as well as free user accounts for users who are on an unpaid or trial plan.

Question examples:

  • “Would you like to participate in a free demo call with our sales team?”
  • “Is there anything you would like us to focus on during the demo?”
  • “Which other service providers, apart from us, are you currently considering?”

Action plan: Display a contact form with a demo proposal. If the lead agrees to the call, send him/her a pre-demo survey similar to the one described above for the consideration phase leads.

Make it super easy to schedule the call—automatically redirect the respondent to your sales team’s calendar. Alternatively, launch a chat with a sales team member if the respondent is still online. Your sales team should personalize their demo plan by reviewing the pre-demo survey responses. It’s also worth checking information in other channels, such as your CRM, and view previous survey history to get the full picture.

Now, what about leads who are hard to qualify? Let’s assume there’s a group of site visitors, who haven’t returned to your site for a while, or abandoned the registration process? How can surveys take them further down the journey (if they’re still in awareness or consideration phases) or regain their interest in your business (if they’d decided not to purchase, or had gone with a solution from your competition)?

Getting leads back on track—a novel approach

Here’s a personalized survey example we’re huge fans of at Survicate. Each answer has a separate logic and provides solutions that align with the exact reasons why your lead stopped moving down the funnel.

To make use of this approach, you’ll need to derive a list of email addresses of the leads you’d like to reactivate.

Here’s a question to identify why your leads have gone missing and a breakdown of each response path: 

What’s stopping you from purchasing from us?

  1. I’m just looking around. Encourage your lead to subscribe to your newsletter, or provide links to your finest content at the end of the survey
  2. Too expensive. Arrange a call with a sales team member. Your lead might think you’re too expensive because they are unaware of how extensive your tool is. Alternatively, you might be able to negotiate a custom service and/or planning solution. Perhaps you run a startup or NGO discount program?
  3. I chose your competition. Ask whom they purchased from. Send a non-expirable discount code for your services. Follow-up in six months to see if your ex-lead is still happy with the competitive solution. Encourage them to sign up to your newsletter to keep some form of contact and maintain brand awareness.
  4. I don’t have the authority to make this decision. You can send your respondent an info pack they can forward to the decision maker.
  5. Still making the decision. Send links to comparison-to-competition pages on your site, offer a demo call.

Your sales and marketing teams should be kept in the loop for each answer that falls into this category and brainstorm a custom method.

What this survey does is:

  • Provides an immediate reaction to the problem/need declared by your lead
  • Lets you immediately qualify the lead to an appropriate segment, enrich your CRM data, not to mention drive your company towards a customer-centric direction.

Survey personalization at it’s finest! Wouldn’t you agree? And it’s just one of the many practical examples you can inspire yourself with!

Personalized surveys for improved customer experience

As you’ve seen in the examples above, a personalized survey approach will take your brand a long way. Surveys can be both the driving force of your lead generation efforts, as well as your go-to method for future personalization of services for paying customers. Like no other customer-centric approach, deciding on personalizing your feedback collection strategy brings everyone at your company to the table—your sales, customer success, and marketing teams. The result? A cohesive communication strategy and brand experience clients love and share.

The post How to Use Surveys at Every Stage of the Funnel to Drive a Better Customer Experience appeared first on Marketo Marketing Blog - Best Practices and Thought Leadership.

04 May 17:27

8 Data-Driven Best Practices to Get People to Respond to a Business Text Message

by Andrew Kimmell

Business texting, like any communication, is a psychological art. Use these science-driven tips to get fast, meaningful responses from your best prospects.

1. Send at different times throughout the day.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward centers. Texting has been shown to light up dopamine centers — and dopamine thrives on unpredictability. Don’t get into a routine. Switch up when you text your prospect.

2. Respond quickly to avoid information overload.

Your prospects are drowning in information, so respond before they forget you. And there’s a sneakier effect: studies have shown when you send a fast response, your prospect feels less busy and more on top of their workload. Bonus!

3. Stay warm by using casual punctuation

Formal punctuation undermines the authenticity of your message. In other words, watch where you add periods, which can feel like cold full-stops. Check out these response examples:

Thanks. Let’s set up a call tomorrow at 3 pm. I’ll send you the link to our Business Texting guide before we talk.

Compare this to the more informal, friendlier punctuation:

Thanks! Let’s set up a call tomorrow at 3 pm — and I’ll send you the link to our Business Texting guide before we talk

4. Use emojis!?

Prospects are more likely to respond when they see something familiar — like a smiling face or a friendly wave. Used thoughtfully, emojis make your messages friendly and approachable.

5. Mirror your prospect

Pay close attention to your prospect’s texting style and match it if you can. Called the chameleon effect, mirroring creates trust and warmth.

For example, if your prospect takes a formal tone, you should too:

Prospect: Yes, I would be interested in setting up a meeting. Please tell me when you’re available.

You: Thanks for the response! I’m available any time between 3 pm and 5 pm.

If they’re casual and lowkey — match them.

Prospect: Yeah!! I’d def love to connect. Will you check in tom w/ me? Thx!!

You: Totally! Made a note to txt you tom morning. Looking forward to it!

6. Start questions with the 5 Ws

Who, what, why, where, and the honorary W, how. Journalist Evan Ratliff discovered he received more meaningful answers when he avoided questions starting with the words “would, should, is, are” and “do you think.”

Instead of:

Should we set up a meeting tomorrow?


What time would you like to meet?

7. Use plain language

Text clear, specific information.

Texts are brief. No need for impressive vocabulary. Use plain, third-grade level language to keep prospects from glazing over your message before they’ve even read it.

8. And don’t forget to tell them who you are

Might seem obvious, but introductions are often lost in texts. Tell your prospects who you are to punch up your warm touch.

A great introduction text might sound like:

Hi, this is Eve from TextUs, a business text messaging software. We met at the trade show last month.

Originally published here.

04 May 17:25

Are There Magic Marketing Metrics in the Engagement Economy?

by Laura Patterson

Perhaps you’ve heard that we are in now what is known as the Engagement Economy. Nearly a decade ago, The Institute for the Future, an independent, nonprofit strategic research group, explored what they referred to as the “Burgeoning Economy of Engagement.” The idea has continued to gain traction, and today the basic premise is that every organization needs to create personalized experiences that foster genuine relationships with customers. A fundamental aspect of the Engagement Economy is everyone and everything is always connected, and therefore the focus is on how people interact with us, our brand, and our products across every touch point.

The Engagement Economy requires taking a different approach to measurement. The Engagement Economy is less about lead generation and more about retention and loyalty.

Marketing in the Engagement Economy is about more than Lead Gen

What the Engagement Economy Means to Marketing

It takes a different kind of Marketing organization to succeed in the Engagement Economy – one that is intensely focused on creating customer value. Organizations like this are committed to:

  • Reversing the value chain in order to deliver what customers truly value. The customer’s needs, wants, and priorities are the catalysts for developing products and services and selecting channels.
  • Creating mutually beneficial relationships designed to maximize the customer’s product and service experiences. The organizations have processes, systems, and tools in place to develop and optimize touch points and channels that create positive customer experiences.
  • Formulating a customer strategy focused on creating a state of purchase readiness and long-term loyalty.

The Most Helpful Customer Metrics for the Engagement Economy

Marketings most important metrics in the engagement economy

Marketing metrics for the engagement economy.

The metrics used by Marketing organizations seeking to thrive in the Engagement Economy need to demonstrate how Marketing strategies resonate with customers and tie back to the bottom line. The most common question we’re asked is, “What is the best metric for the engagement economy?” There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all list for every company all of the time, and it’s almost impossible to come up with one metric or a set of metrics that will be in place forever. However, here are three broad customer metrics that have financial implications that can serve as a useful barometer for your Marketing organization.

1. Share of Wallet

Growth comes from acquiring new customers as well as expanding your footprint with an existing customer. This expansion can be a result of a customer buying more of a product they already purchase to address an increase in volume, buying more of product they already use to utilize in a completely new application, buying additional products they are not currently purchasing from you, or some combination of these situations. The notion of an existing customer buying more falls into what is referred to as “share of wallet.”

The total amount that a customer can spend in a specific product category is known as the customer “wallet.” Share of wallet, then, is how much a customer spends with a particular seller. The simplest way to calculate share of wallet is to measure how much of a customer’s total category spending you own vs. what the customer spends in that category and then compute the resulting ratio.

Using share of wallet as a metric improves your understanding of where added value may exist among your existing portfolio of customers. By understanding the total wallet and the share of wallet, you can identify which customers are the most loyal and which customers have the greatest growth potential. Both the ratio and the actual difference are important: The first tells us the share of wallet, the second the potential value.

2. Customer Stickiness

Most research supports the claim that acquiring new customers is more expensive than retaining current customers. Some studies suggest that a 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect on profits as cutting costs by 10% and that a 5% reduction in customer defection rate can increase profits 25%-125%, depending on the industry. There is solid data that suggests that companies with high retention also grow faster. Therefore, you need to know how “sticky” your customers are.

You can determine your stickiness by measuring and monitoring both your customer churn and your customer retention rate. A simple way to calculate churn is by calculating the number of customers who discontinue a service during a specified time period divided by the average total number of customers over that same period.

Churn Rate = Customer loss during a specific period/total customers at the start of the period

While it is important to understand the rate at which you are losing customers, you will also want to calculate the revenue lost, or churned, as a result.

The customer retention rate calculation is slightly different. Take the number of customers at the end of specific point in time and subtract any new customers acquired in this same time period. Divide this number by the total number of customers at the start of the time period and multiply by 100.

Retention Rate = [(Number of customers at the end of a time period) – (Number of customers acquired during the time period)/(total number of customers at the start of the time period)] *100

The key is knowing how many are defecting and why, as well as how many are staying and why. The reasons customers leave and why they stay are often different, and a customer doesn’t necessarily leave for the exact opposite of the reason they stay. For example, a customer might stay because switching may be extremely difficult. Or, they might choose to leave because the technical support is poor. It is important to work both sides of the equations.

3. Customer Lifetime Value

Without customers there is no business. Therefore, customers are a company’s most valuable asset. The longer a customer is a customer, the more valuable that customer is and the more value that customer creates both in terms of real revenue and hopefully referrals. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a measure that reflects the value of the customer over the customer’s life cycle. CLV represents the value of your organization’s relationship with the customer. Determining which types/profiles of customers produce the highest CLV helps you determine in which existing customers to invest.

There are various approaches for calculating CLV. At its core, CLV is built from the following equation:

CLV = (Frequency of Purchase) X (Duration of Loyalty) X (Gross Profit)

Compared to their colleagues, best-in-class organizations are significantly better at impacting this metric.

Shift from Lead Gen to Customer Loyalty

It might take a little work to shift the focus from lead gen to customer loyalty. Often, companies have so many years of experience doing something one way that it’s hard to turn them in another direction. If this sounds familiar, hopefully the above mentioned customer metrics have given you some ideas on how to make a change.