[3:05] So we’re gonna talk a lot about B2B sales today. Something that is near and dear to my heart, because I actually own two different companies; we use B2B sales for both of them. And I’m sure many of the folks in my audience also rely on B2B sales. But the thing is, it’s getting harder and harder and harder to get people’s attention and break through the door and so forth. So that’s really what I want to focus on today.
Before we get into that, for the folks who aren’t yet familiar with who you are, let’s start there because you’ve accomplished some pretty amazing things in the B2B space.
- YeS, so kind of fell into B2B sales. First thing in my career that I did, I was an entrepreneur and came across a company called Udemy, which is an online education marketplace. They were looking for their first sales hire, and it was really like building a two-sided marketplace. You’re kind of like an entrepreneur, have your own business inside of a business. And mine just happened to be the sales side of that business.
And when I came at that problem, I approached it as an entrepreneur would. How do I do this in the most efficient way possible? How do I generate more revenues and less resources?
And that was the impetus and the foundation of Sales Hacker. Started Sales Hacker from there, which is our media company for B2B salespeople. Grew that from 0 to 80,000 subscribers. We had conferences in New York, San Francisco, and London, meetups in five different continents across 32 different cities. And then, in 2018, we were acquired by Outreach, which is the leading sales engagement platform. I took over as the VP of Marketing. I’ve since transitioned to the VP of Sales Engagement, focus on our own sales engagement practice and evangelizing sales engagement to the masses. And yes, it’s been a fun ride. I love working with salespeople. I love focusing on B2B sales and the trends that are happening in our space. That’s me in a nutshell. I also wrote a book called Hacking Sales and a book called Sales Engagement.
[5:05] Which I’m assuming people can find on Amazon.
[5:09] Okay. So I’ve been in sales all my life. Back in the day, I used to make cold calls, I used to make so many of them actually, I got written up in James Clear’s book Atomic Habits as the paperclip strategy guy. Because I’d take two baby jars, and I move 120 paper clips, every time I dial the phone. Things have evolved a lot since those days because you didn’t have voicemail back then. And you didn’t have electronic answering service. I mean, it was really fairly easy if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease to get a number of people on the phone every day and book appointments and go out and do your stuff.
Those days are long gone, and now we’ve got electronics and social media and email and a noise—a lot a lot of noise. So why—what other ways or I guess the question is, it’s got a lot more difficult, especially in the last few years. What do you think the main reasons for that are? And then we’re going to talk about how to solve those problems.
- Well, there’s more companies, you know, selling than ever before. And that keeps growing. I think that we’ve created a lot of channels now for people to sell on. So it’s no longer just phone and face to face, but you’ve got email, you’ve got LinkedIn, you’ve got all these other places that you can go to develop relationships. You can go to communities where people live. So it’s definitely grown as a profession, sales. And the barrier to entry has always been low, but you’re starting to see more and more folks make a career out of it. So sales was also something that was kind of taboo, andwas, “Oh, that’s sales-y.” It’s a negative connotation.
And then, when SaaS companies really started to blow up, you started to see the people who went in investment banking that came out of Ivy League schools, that knew they can make like two or $300,000 right out the gate going in investment banking, but working 20 hours a day. Now going into SaaS sales, because they can make the same thing and log way less hours and have a really great career. So suddenly got really competitive, and, you know, even though you have more channels, they’re getting justice saturated.
And then when COVID hit, you had these two main channels: in person, and online And in-person got completely wiped out. So now everybody is, basically swimming down the same path. And, you know, it makes it even for more saturation. So you have to find ways to adapt, and pivot over time, and realize that there are no silver bullets in sales. I think people are always trying to find these silver bullets, like, “Oh, you know, if you make these calls after this time, or this thing and do this, it’s going to work for you.” And maybe it will, maybe it won’t.
But you have to find your own ways to A/B test the things that are working. You have to figure out what’s going to work for your variables, what is your industry that you’re selling, to what segment you’re selling to, the types of people that you’re selling to, the roles, whatnot. People buy differently across the board, and there’s so many different variables with your product and your timezone and your country, whatever it is.
So it’s all about A/B testing. It’s all about adapting and pivoting and not trying to fall into some trap where, you read a book or blog post and that’s the definitive answer, go just do that. It’s a great place to start. But then what are the things you can do to pivot on that, iterate on that to find the right thing for your business?
[8:31] All right, so takeaway number one is expect to experiment like mad because there’s no one best way?
[8:39] So let’s talk about SaaS sales. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart,being a SaaS founder myself. Actually, my company’s Flowster, and we are now going after a—we’re literally right in the middle of rolling out our new B2B first experiment, to be honest with you. And I’m super—I think this will make for great conversation.
So our target is the decision-makers at brands that make consumer products that are sold on Amazon. Because we offer them what’s called an Amazon Playbook, just a collection of standard operating procedures for running your Amazon Seller Central account. Very useful to a company that maybe doesn’t know how to do all of that stuff.
So walk me through—if you were my new VP of Sales, and we had this startup, and I said, “Hey, Max, this is our product, it’s this thing. And you know, we’re also in that business. So we created the product to scratch your own itch. So I know that it’s a very beneficial product. And that’s our target audience. We need to go get their attention, we need to go make, say our first 100 sales, 20 sales, whatever it is, so that we can then layer on paid advertising and SEO and all the other stuff on top of it.” What would that strategy look like? What are some of the experiments that you would run?
- I’m smiling because it’s a very smooth move to get like a half hour free consulting.
[9:55] I have a podcast.
- Exactly. No, it’s genius. You’re onto something here. Now that’s a great question. And I like the way you laid it out. And so obviously, set up selling your current base seems like a no-brainer. So that those would be your guinea pigs or whatnot. The next thing is there’s got to be a database or list you can scrape or something among the sellers on Amazon if that’s your target market, right? Those are the people. So you got that? So are there other common denominators that you can thread together with that list that’ll allow you to lead score it?
So, what is your low-hanging fruit? What are the people on that list that are most likely to buy? What do people have in common of your current customers that you can mirror to create some kind of data look-alike to the list of people who aren’t customers yet? And once you have that, how do you go about creating messaging to the different cohorts of that list?
So you might be able to segment that and say, like, “Okay well, we find that when a seller has this many reviews on their product pages, they’re more likely to purchase our product than if they don’t.” Okay, so now you have that list narrowed down based on their views. You tell me are there certain metrics that are publicly available, that you can decipher whether or not a company is a better fit for your product or not, right off the bat?
[11:26] Yes, there’s a lot of data available on Amazon. There’s all sorts of tools that allow us to see estimates of the sales volume of a given product. There are tools that allow us to see estimates of the sales of all of the products for that brand, and some of the trends, whether they’ve been going up or down, or what have you. And we can also see the number of sellers that are up for a given brand.
So our messages—because typically a manufacturer didn’t think about a direct to consumer strategy. They thought about selling into retail, and then some of those retailers put the product on Amazon. And then over the years, what’s happened is Amazon’s become this Wild West sales channel for the brand that makes ABC widgets, and it’s actually causing them a lot of problems. So our approach is saying to them, “Look, why don’t you just fire all those folks and have your own Seller Central account?” To which their response is, “Well, you know, we don’t really know how to do that.” And then I say, “Well, we’ve got all the procedures that you would ever need to be able to do that. And if you could live on a checklist, then this is the solution.”
This is a very different customer—like I’ve sold millions of dollars worth of this to a very different customer segment. So for us, I mean, the very first guy I told about this was ironically, a guest on my podcast. And he’s running a brand that is buying brands. And as soon as I told him, he said, “Sign me up,” and we’ve got calls. And so the very first customer loves it like crazy. Now we need to get customer 2,3,4,5,6. Well, we’ve actually got about five by now. But you get the idea. It’s still very, very new. But all that data is super available on Amazon.
So my thinking is that probably newer brands who don’t yet have a lot of traction on Amazon and might be struggling to run their own Seller Central account for a lack of knowledge could be one cohort. And then another cohort could be legacy brands that have been doing this for years. But all of their sales are handled by these third-party sellers, and they’re not doing it themselves. And as a result, they’re not making nearly as much money from the Amazon channel as they could be. Because if they cut out all the middlemen, that’s more income for their income statement.
- Good. So you’re able to build an entire list of what your TAM might look like. By polling everybody who has a seller account on Amazon. And then you’re able to create tiers of your ideal customer profile, which is not just your TAM, but also what attributes do they have that will make them look like somebody who would be a buyer in the near term. And then you’re able to tier that out, you might say like you’re your low hanging fruit, your five-star person has that plus these extra attributes. So we can tell you know, how much they’re doing in sales, how long they’ve been on the platform for, if they’re using a third-party seller account, whatever it is, then that goes into your number one bucket.
Number two maybe has some a few of the common denominators, but not as many number three, so on so on. And so when you go to market, you want to go after your low hanging fruit first. Obviously, it’s the easiest wins for you. So your success, you could have the best messaging in the world, you could have the best product in the world, but if you’re going after somebody who’s not likely to buy your product, then you’re wasting your time. So your success in the very beginning is contingent on making sure you’re going after people who are buyers. You don’t want to be wasting a second of your time, early on, especially.
So then you go from there, to the next step, I guess in your process. You’ve got your target audience. It seems like you already have somebody who’s happy with your product. That’s beautiful because you can pull so much information out of them to help sell your future customers. So like, what are the things that they love about it? What are the things that they like couldn’t live without? How are you framing the conversations with them in order to pull those nuggets of wisdom out of them, so that you can use that in your sales process? Or their customer? Is there a customer story you can create that you can use as supporting evidence? Like say, “Hey, real companies are getting real value out of this.”
So you’ve got that first one that loves it, you got another five signed up, you’ve got enough to go create those materials and start telling that story and reaching out to those companies and getting them to hear you know how much success that other companies are having by using you guys. I think for companies that don’t have any customers yet they have to go out and do customer development before they have the right to sell anything. And it actually is one of those interesting things where you know, they think the old expression is like, “If you need money, ask for advice. If you need advice, ask for money.”
If you start asking companies in your space for advice, like, “Hey, would this be interesting to you?” If you have any companies that you can ask that to, you might end up finding a customer out of that. But most importantly, you’ll get some information from them in saying like, “Well, here’s what we would pay for and here’s how much we pay for it.” And then you got to look at your product and say, “Okay, well do I have what they would pay for? Are they interested in this? Are there pivots that I need to make or iterations that I need to make in order to make this thing more viable?”
And I wouldn’t just do that based off one company’s opinion. But if you know, talk to five or 10, or 15, or 20 companies and you keep hearing that, then guess what you got to go make those moves. because what you have right now, people aren’t going to pay for. But what you could have people can pay for, and it might be just small tweaks and things like that.
[17:18] Okay, so let’s assume that we’ve gone through that exercise. And we’ve—through sheer hustle, have managed to sell maybe 10. And so we know that we’ve got pretty decent product market fit. Now we need to start scaling it up, we need to start building a team. So obviously, there’s going to be messages that we’re going to take what we learned from these conversations from these first 6, 8, 10 customers and try and weave that into our messaging as best we can. Where do we go from there? I mean, is it email? Is it LinkedIn? Are we gonna tweet at these people? What are the actual mechanisms of communication look like? And is it all manual, can we automate portions of it?
- This is where sales really starts to become, less and less, of a silver bullet over time. And it’s one of the things that frustrates me about some of the content that is produced out there and the education that is out there, because everybody thinks like one size fits all. Like, “All right, we’re going to load these people up into a sequence and then you do a phone call and an email and a phone call, then email,” and then they’ll do that for 14 days. And it’s done. It’s like, that’s not sales. We give you the technology to power successful sales teams. But you know, technology is a magnifying glass. So if you do things poorly, you’re just gonna be worse. You do things really well, it’s going to magnify, it’s gonna make it amazing. And that was I think, a direct quote from Bill Gates. That technology’s a magnifying glass piece. I mean, that’s like, it’s well known across the industry.
So you don’t want to just—you want to be able to start trying some things right out the gate and seeing what works. And then iterating on that. But I wouldn’t say that there’s any right or wrong answer to you know, what that next step is. What I will say is, the easiest thing to do is go find where those people live, and understand what those people’s day-to-days look like before you go and design any sort of sequence or process for reaching out to them.
So you’ve got these 10 customers. Can you talk to them and ask them what their day-to-day looks like? Where do they spend their time? And what you might surface is like okay, “I’ve never had a computer I only check email on my phone,” “I don’t listen to voicemails,” “I don’t have time,” “I do pick up cold calls,” “I don’t pick up calls from, you know, numbers outside of X, Y, Z.” And again, you might find some consistent themes there. There are some things that might be obscure, only to that individual. But there could be some really consistent themes.
Turns out your buyer never sits in front of a computer. They only ever read emails out of their phone. All right, so maybe that means you still email them. But your emails are completely different. You’re not including long emails, a ton of information, a bunch of PDFs and things like that. Maybe instead you’re linking out to stuff or you’re making it, you know, conversational, short, and sweet, different call to action. Whatever it is, like, understanding their day-today is very important for understanding how you’re going to get in touch with these people.
If you find out that, uh, you know, the vast amount of them. Don’t pick up cold calls, but do listen to voicemails, then like leaving voicemails should be a key part of your initial process. And again, you’ll iterate over time based on the success that you’re having. And the same thing with the channels that use. The people you’re selling to may never spend a second on LinkedIn. They don’t live on LinkedIn, they don’t spend any time on Twitter. You savvy sales people, maybe they all spend their time on LinkedIn online, but they don’t spend any time on Twitter. Okay, maybe LinkedIn is a good trial though, if they spend that much time on LinkedIn, to reach out to them to send a compelling offer.
What about communities? Where are these people living online during their day-to-day. So if you’re selling to Amazon sellers, are there communities that they spend time in on Facebook groups, on Reddit, on other threads that you can reach out to them on or start to build relationships on where you can find them and eventually sell to them?
And I think the biggest thing is making sure you’re delivering value and being a resource, and a trusted consultant, and not seen as a salesperson. You want people to feel like they bought, and not were sold to. And so how do you create that vibe, that persona? It’s really about creating value for people and for sharing industry knowledge, even if it’s not your content. It’s just, you can be an aggregator, that’s fine.
[22:29] So let’s assume then, for the purposes of this conversation, that we figured out that our tribe is looking at email on their desktop. And they don’t really pay attention to their phone. They’re not on Twitter, they’re not really on social, much. And so just hypothetically speaking, desktop email turns out to be the best channel for them. Now, obviously, that’s not going to be applicable across the board. But we’ll just go down that road for a minute. If that was the conclusion, what then—how then would you design your Outreach campaign?
- You can do longer subject lines on emails like questions, instead of just like one-word or two-word that I would do on mobile. Because they wouldn’t see the full question anyway, on mobile, they’ll see it on desktop. On desktop, you can get creative with things that you can send. So you can send PDFs and white paper and stuff like that.
But I’m a big fan of throwing images into emails, especially if somebody reads a lot of emails on desktop, and you’ve got a product that’s helping them directly with increasing sales, for example. So you can almost like set up a side-by-side of a customer’s dashboard before and after your use. Put it in like one picture and put that in the email, and try read the first email and just say, “Okay, would you take a call if I could do this for your business?” This is what we’ve done for other customers.
[24:04] And let’s assume now that they were a mobile email user and not a desktop user, what would you do different?
- Shorter subject lines, more conversational. Ask them questions about their business. Just try and get a response. Like, your goal is to start a conversation in that case. Because you’re probably not going to be able to get as much across with how they interact.
And in sales, you really need to remember whether it’s a transactional sale or like an enterprise super long cycle sale, the goal is to get to the next step. Like if you’re a salesperson, and you’re thinking about you’re you’re trying to get somebody on the phone to close a deal, you’re thinking the wrong way. You should be trying to get somebody on the phone to have a conversation. And that conversation point is to get a meeting and the point of that meeting is to get the next meeting. And the point of that meeting is to get the NDA signed. And the point of that is to get this.
You need to think about it in steps. And if you do that, you’ll be way more successful, because you’ll be thinking about the next step, and not like, “Oh, I got to close this deal.” So if you’re in that first meeting, and you’re like, “I gotta close this deal,” you’re going to oversell, you’re going to say too much, you’re not going to do the right things.
If you realize that you’re not going to close this deal in that meeting, and you need other stakeholders to be involved in order to eventually close this deal. And the next step is to get the stakeholders involved, then instead of overselling, you’ll actually ask the right questions, “Well, so who needs to be involved?” and, you know, “Can we get a meeting set up with those folks and X, Y, and Z?” You’re building the blocks to get to the deal long-term.
So when you’re, when you’re selling in this situation, even that first email or whatever it is, first phone call. It’s just to get a more informed meeting or more informed phone call. And if you’re in much more transactional sales, then a lot of times, these touch bases are just little bits of marketing, It’s like the law of effect of frequency or Law of Seven, or rule seven, I think it’s called, which is it takes seven times for somebody to see your brand before they recognize it. And whether that your brand is your company name or your name individually, it still could be a successful strategy to make sure you’re staying on top of these folks and being seen.
[26:29] So in the SaaS space, there’s product-led growth and sales-led growth, there’s varying opinions on which is the more effective based upon our studies. And we are attempting to go with the product-led growth strategy because the costs are lower. In theory, we don’t have to employ as many salespeople. Our product is, you know, you can get a 30-day trial, and then it’s just a relatively affordable subscription per month. So if we’re trying to use outbound to test our ability to get people to sign up without maybe even ever even talking to us, how would that impact the messaging approach that you would take? And when I say talking to us, I mean, talking in person, like an actual sales call.
- So it probably would change, just beginning with the end in mind. So you know, you don’t need as many meetings, it’s more transactional sales, getting somebody into the product. It changes your CTA. So instead of like, speak to a rep, “Try us out.” Other than that. It wouldn’t change things too much, you’ll still want to highlight other customers who’ve been very successful. You’ll want to highlight things with like no risk because you’re not spending time or money to get into it.
Just still customer development and talking to your current customers and seeing with them, like, “What stood out to you about trying our product, and how do we magnify that when we speak to prospects?” Put that in your messaging and see how that works. I think, you know, the whole decision of going product-led growth, or sales rep is, to me, less about the sales process and more about adoption and customer success and onboarding. You can do product-led growth, if people can get into your product by themselves and be successful.
If they get into your product by themselves and then they never go back. Or they turn, they don’t adopt, or they don’t know how to use it, or whatever. Then you need onboarding. You need sales reps. You need qualification. Because either the right people aren’t using the product and they’re just getting in there. And now like they’re wasting your time and wasting your support, wasting your bandwidth, whatever it is. Or the right people are but the product’s too hard for them to really understand how to get value out of and therefore they need some kind of hand-holding.
And whether or not you have product-led growth or sales people, you’re always going to have support or CSMs that end up being your salespeople for some sort of an expansion. Because they come in help the person that went in onboarded themselves, and then help them either expand from there or get better use of the product.
[29:35] So, setting aside what we’ve already talked about. Are there other significant mistakes that you see people making when it comes to their B2B sales efforts?
- Yes, well. The biggest thing I think, is the whole silver bullets thing. The second biggest thing is time to false attribution. So for the longest time, we’ve had reply rates as like a big metric that shows if the things that you’re doing there are right. Now finally, we’re able to tie that to meetings booked. And we can throw reply rates out the window. And so being able to tie attribution to the right metric is so important. Because reply rate was always for me the closest way we could get to seeing if something was directionally accurate or not. Like, “Okay, these people replied to my email”, like, “I know that my email works and I know that my email resonated in some way, shape or form.
But reply rate is not a great indicator of success, because those replies can be objections or negative replies So being able to tie to the fact that a meeting was booked from that email or sequence or phone call, or whatever, is so valuable to understanding if the things that you’re doing are working. And so when we say there are no silver bullets means you’ve got to test everything that you’re doing, gotta iterate on your process.
And even once you find something that works, you have to understand that like, at some point, it’s not going to work anymore. Other people are going to copy it, it’s going to get saturated people are used to hearing it, and then you have to find the new thing that works should always be A/B testing towards that end goal of that metric that whatever that metric is for you, whether it’s a meeting booked or it’s conversion, which might be in your case. That’s the new number one for me.
[31:45] Okay. Do you have some favorite sales hacking tools or books or training resources that you’d like to list off?
- Yeah. So I wrote a book called Hacking Sales, which was for you know, all things early-stage sales and kind of went over a lot of the tools and technologies that exist in sales today. And that was a book I wrote early in 2015. So kind of like midway through the sales hacker journey. And then, more recently wrote a book called Sales Engagement, which is how to engage with companies in this ever changing environment.
But some of the other ones I like range from, you know, the more tactical stuff. Like, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge and Sales Development by Trish Bertuzzi. I think I forgot the full name of her book. But if you type in Sales Development, Trish Bertuzzi, you’ll find it. Then there’s Gap Selling by Jim Keenan. And a lot of the 32:48 Iannarino. And Jeb Blount books are fairly good. And then there’s the software Outreach, clearly got to get Outreach.
I think there’s, if you look at your stack, there’s your CRM, which is your system of record. And then there’s your sales engagement platform, which is your system of action. So you know, you want to have a CRM, you want to have a sales engagement platform. Obviously…
[33:13] Which do you classify Outreach as? The sales engagement platform?
- Outreach is the sales and digital platform. Yes, so we’re your system of action, data insights, and workflows. And then you want to have a net new data source. So like ZoomInfo, or LeadIQ or Seamless or those types of companies. They’re a bit what have you. And then in Dun & Bradstreet. And then you want to have—I think having chat these days is a must. And having an intent solution these days is a must. So having something like Bambora or Terminus, Demandbase, 6sense, one of those that tell you which companies are trending in your space, which leads are more likely to close, which companies you should be talking to, I think is a clear unfair advantage.
Conversational, intelligence forecasting, there are a lot of other categories that start to come from there. But we’re living in an age for the sales rep that’s like really interesting and really fun, because so much investment is going into technology for salespeople. And for so long it was just CRM, and maybe a data solution. So it’s a really cool time.
[34:39] So let’s finish up by talking about something that I know is you’re pretty stoked about these days. And that’s the new sentiment tracking for that Outreach has recently released. I have no idea what that is. I did not get a chance to read up on it. So I’m hearing it for the first time. So what is it? Why is it and why should we care?
- Yes. So it kind of goes back to that attribution piece. So, in the past, you were only able to go off open rates or reply rates. And so what that means is you send an email out or you set up a sequence of emails and phone calls, and you only understand if somebody opened your email. And if they’re replied to it. But you can’t really, at scale, open up all those replies and see what those replies were. So you can have a sequence that has an email in it that has a high reply rate. But after that sequence, it doesn’t actually book meetings, and you won’t understand what’s going on there.
Now, you can see, okay, well, are the replies objections? Are they positive? Are they unsubscribes? Or did they fit in some other bucket? And then in the positives, like, what were the what were the categories of positives and what were the categories of negatives? So was this an objection on price? Was it an objection on, you know, check back next year, what were those different things? And it actually gives you a percentage inside of each one of those to understand. “Okay, so I’m getting a high reply rate on this, but they’re all negative replies. I should get rid of this email in my sequence. It’s not working for me.”
And it also gives your managers a way to coach your reps towards handling some of these objections. So if you’re going to get budgetary objections based on this message that you sent. Here’s a way that you can reply to it. If you’re going to get timeline objections, based on this email set, here’s a way that you can respond to that. Or here’s how maybe we should be going and talking about this thing before we send it out, in order to knock out these objections.
So sentiment just gives you positive and negative intent from the person on the other end. And then we’ve also added attribution as the way to understand if sequences are truly working or not before, you weren’t able to understand what led the meetings booked, you were just able to rank things based on “All right, this one’s having a really good response rate. Let’s keep running with this.”
And we realized that I think it was like, some overwhelming number like 40% of the ones we tested their reply rates were actually a bad indicator of an actual successful sequence. So it’s pretty significant. We’re really excited to get that out in the hands of all of our reps and managers.
[37:40] Yes, no doubt. So for something that I can include in the show notes, maybe just send me a link, if you’ve got a demo video, white papers, something that for people who are like, “Hey, I want to learn more about that.” Make sure you get that all included in the show notes.
All right, gang, Max, it’s been a pleasure to have you on if you want to get in touch with Max, you can find him on Twitter @hackitmax, just like it sounds. I’m assuming that would be your preferred way people get in touch.
- Yes. Twitter, Linkedin, I’m there. I’m active. So yes.
[38:17] All right, Max, thank you so much for being on the show. It’s been a pleasure to have you here. Take care.
[38:23] All right. That’s it for this episode. If you enjoyed it, and you haven’t already done so we’d love it if you would take a moment to like, rate, and review the episode on your favorite podcast listening app. If you want to get to the show notes for today’s episode, go to brightideas.co/354. Thank you so much for listening. Take care. Have a great day. Bye bye.