Sales Demystified: A Simple Roadmap for Newcomers
I used to hate selling. Well, actually, what I hated was the association I had with the idea of selling: excessive effort, friction, rejection, and even shame. But this association changed when I understood what truly lies behind a successful sale: Stop focusing on selling and start focusing on helping!
According to Kently (a recognized sales engagement platform), C-suite executives can receive up to 200 emails per day. If you add to this the LinkedIn messages and incoming cold calls, getting their attention may seem difficult, right? Well, after 6 years of sales experience and a master in the topic, I can tell you the key lies in transcending the stereotype of the typical salesperson by adding genuine value. Success will not only be achieving a transaction, but a long-term relationship that will result in secure future sales.
If you’re an entrepreneur who is just starting out with your business, chances are you don’t have a dedicated marketing department yet, and the dream of inbound sales may still seem far away. While you work towards that goal, you’ll need to acquire your first customers through outbound reach, and the first thing you must understand is that anyone can sell if they set their mind to it. All individuals have the capacity to develop sales skills, and today as Part 2 of the Day 24 article, I want to share with you six sales steps that I would follow if I were on your position.
Step 1: Identify the problem you solve and who is seeking to solve it.
The correct term for this is ICP (Ideal Customer Profile), and I want to mention it in case this is your first time delving into the sales world. The ICP is a set of characteristics that describe the best customer for a company. Since you are probably starting a new business and don’t have enough information to understand yours yet, you will have to do it through hypotheses, considering factors such as industry, company size, role, pain points, among other things. The ICP should represent the story of a customer, and to better illustrate how this looks, I’ll share an example from Superhuman:
You might not need this yet, but I want to write it down for when you start generating sales: the idea is to test the hypothesis about your ICP with information from real customers or prospects. For this, you have to find a meeting where you can understand their story, their decision-making process and their expectations of the product. Here are some ideas of questions you can ask:
– What were you doing/using before knowing about us?
– What made you think that you need/needed a new solution?
– What is the main value you feel you will receive/you have received from the product? If you would like to learn more details about the process of building the ICP with real information, you can check out the article “A Step-by-Step Guide to Interviewing Customers to Build an Ideal Customer Profile” by Cience, a lead generation software.
Step 2: Understand where to find your ICP
Once you have a clear idea of the people you want to reach out to, you need to know where to find them. In addition to this, you have to be productive and make an effort to reach out only to qualified prospects (people who match your ICP). That’s why the ability to filter based on characteristics or triggers related to your product is crucial.
The three most popular channels for outbound sales are LinkedIn, email, and cold calling. There are others, such as comferences, the use of other social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, or even SMS), door-to-door visits, among others. However, the first three are the most commonly used due to their reach, volume, and efficiency. I recommend starting with them.
I recommend using the filters provided by the platform itself. LinkedIn functions as a search engine where you can enter the keyword of the person you are looking for (for example, lawyers) and then use filters such as locations, industries, titles, and others. For example, you can see that there are 32,000 lawyers in Spain.
LinkedIn also offers a sales solution called Sales Navigator. One of its features is advanced search filters, which can be useful for this step as it allows to segment deeper and consequently improve the quality of leads. Among its filters, you can find company size, seniority level, years in the current company, headcount growth, company revenue, among others. The tool offers a one-month free trial, so I encourage you to try it out and decide if these additional filters provide value to you.
Emails & Cold Calling
There are many software options on the market with larger databases than LinkedIn as the latter depends on the number of registered users and the accuracy of the information they provide. Tools such as ZoomInfo, RocketSearch and Apollo gather information not only from LinkedIn but also from websites, emails, social media, among others. My favorite is Apollo due to its ease of use and pricing.
Apollo offers a 14-day free trial and provides filters similar to those in Sales Navigator, but they can be more advanced depending on the chosen plan. Here, you have the possibility to filter by investment round dates, new hires, software used by the company, buying intent for solutions similar to yours, among other things. For each chosen lead, the tool will provide you with a verified email address or phone number.
Step 3: Decide what you will say to your ICP
Once you know the people you’re looking for and have found them, you need to reach out. The most important thing in this step is to find a balance between personalization and automation. Too much automation leads to a low probability of response, but too much personalization results in reaching a small number of prospects. Remember that sales is a game of numbers and probabilities; not everyone will need your product, so volume is important.
LinkedIn & Email
In a world saturated with automation, personalization is the key that unlocks doors. Tailor your communication to address the specific pain points of each ICP. For example, CEOs are interested in revenue and growth, while COOs are interested in creating efficiencies and optimizing processes. You should also go above and beyond to stand out from the crowd by incorporating elements like videos, pictures, memes, and a touch of humor into your outreach. Your leads should feel that they are engaging with a real human being, not another automated message.
I love to compare selling to flirting because I believe they have a lot in common. When you’re flirting, do you ask the person out on a date in the very first sentence you say? I’m sure you don’t. Usually, we try to get a response and engage in a conversation before reaching that point. Do the same with your prospects. Don’t shoot a calendar link immediately; be wise in how you build a cadence in order to push prospects through your sales funnel.
– don’t use long paragraphs or words. The shorter the better since a long email means a lot of time.
– Avoid very specific words. You may think they are obvious but they may not be clear to external people.
– Briefly mention your value proposition (but not the whole pitch). you’re not trying to sell at this point.
– Add numbers, percentages, or quantifiable benefits. This helps to understand the magnitude of the impact.
– Feel comfortable using an informal tone. People like to interact with real human beings.
– don’t send a calendly link on the first approach. Wait until the leads respond first.
– PS sections are good. Use this space to add a personal touch.
Call to Actions (CTA)
You must also craft clear call-to-actions that guide your prospects to the next step. If you’re a small business, consider scheduling demos with every potential client, as it provides invaluable market research. Treat each interaction as a hypothesis, gathering data, and deepening your understanding. In the future, direct small companies toward free trials, while larger enterprises may benefit from comprehensive demos.
The most recommended CTAs are those in the form of a question because, by nature, humans find it harder to ignore someone when a response is expected compared to when they are faced with an announcement. I often receive emails that end with “If that sounds like you, let me know” or similar statements, which I consider a poor practice. The closing should be a question like “Is this worth exploring?” where the recipient feels the need to respond, even if it’s a “no, thank you”. If that’s the case, ask if it would be okay to check in in a couple of months, which will help you clean up your pipeline and determine if it’s a matter of bad timing or a definitive no.
If you want detailed tips on crafting compelling emails to C-level executives that get replies, I suggest reading the following article from Klenty: https://blog.klenty.com/cold-email-to-ceo/
We’ve already discussed the importance of volume before, so I didn’t want to skip this automation section. Nowadays, there are software that can do outreach for you using copywriting templates you choose. The risk here is the level of personalization, as the customizable fields are still limited. Balance is important.
Personally, I recommend MeetAlfred for LinkedIn and Apollo for emails due to their cost-effectiveness, but there are several other tools out there. If the process works as expected, the initial emails and follow-ups for non-response (typically recommended between 4 and 5) can be sent automatically while you focus on continuing the conversation with those who have already responded and shown interest.
The first thing to understand here is that your main goal is not to pitch and close the deal, but rather to create interest and get them to book a demo. People are often busy, and chances are you won’t be lucky enough to call at a moment when someone can give you their undivided attention for at least 20 minutes without prior planning.
Here are some techniques that have worked for me in the past to achieve this goal:
- Mirroring: Listen to how the person speaks (fast, formal, assertive) and try to respond in a similar manner. It has been proven that mirroring generates high levels of empathy.
- Open-ended questions: Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” as they can end up the conversation and hinder your ability to delve deeper.
- Other vendors issues: It’s possible that some leads are using your competitors. If that’s the case, ask them to rate their current solution on a scale of 1 to 10 and then inquire about what would be needed to make it a 10. That becomes your entry point.
Step 4: Do engaging demos
A good demo can look completely different depending on the type of product/service, the level of formality of the company, the stage at which sales interacts with the potential customer, the salesperson’s style, among other factors. However, here are certain tips that have served me along my whole career:
1. Turn on your camera. People buy you first and then they buy your product, so you should allow them to see you and build a connection with you. Don’t worry about being dressed up in a suit and tie (business meetings have evolved a lot, especially in the digital world). If you’re interested in why turning on the camera is more than just virtual etiquette, I invite you to read the following blog by Julie Hansen: https://juliehansen.live/camera-on-in-sales-its-more-than-virtual-etiquette/
2. Do a company and profile research. Conducting prior research will allow you to find common points with the potential customer, such as shared connections, industry-related news, or notable LinkedIn posts. This will help you to generate rapport in the first few minutes of the meeting, which will break the ice and make the conversation flow. For example, “I noticed you guys launched a new product last week. Tell me more details about it!”
3. Let your lead speak more than you. Yes, you read that correctly. Remember we need to shift our focus from selling to helping. People usually go to a psychologist for help, where the therapist practices active listening skills to understand how to assist. This is exactly what you should do. Focus on asking thought-provoking questions that reveal the deep “why” behind the person’s needs and goals. Did the lead reach out to you because they want a solution to automate processes? Or because they’re tired of staying up late every day and even working on weekends, to meet their tasks?
4. Use the information the lead shares to deliver your pitch. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve observed in salespeople with lower conversion rates is that they focus on addressing the main selling points and showcasing the product’s features only. If you’ve managed to get the lead to speak more than you, you’ll likely have valuable insights and the deep “why” that you should use to showcase why your solution is the perfect fit for their specific situation.
5. Anticipate objections. You will encounter leads who will give you a “maybe” to your solution due to certain doubts. Having studied your competitors will allow you to clarify your distinctive value in comparison. Additionally, having prepared responses for other objections will demonstrate your expertise and create trust with your prospects.
6. Do a good closing. Never leave a meeting without clarifying doubts, confirming the prospect’s initial impression of your solution, and identifying clear next steps.
Step 5: Implement effective follow-up strategies
Nailed the pitch? Great! But now’s not the time to get complacent. There are many perspectives regarding the number of follow-ups, the channel, and the timing between them, but they all agree that they are crucial within the sales process. In fact, according to Sopro, 80% of sales require five follow-ups after a meeting in order to close.
You should test your follow-up style based on your sales cycle and what makes you feel comfortable. I just want to emphasize that it’s important to do them without becoming a spammer (more than three times a week is an exaggeration). Additionally, you should use the preferred communication channel of your prospect and take into account the next steps mentioned in the demo (for example, if the solution will be presented in a executive meeting the following Friday).
Beyond that, my only recommendation is that the first follow-up should occur within a maximum of 24 hours after the demo and should be done in written form. The lead will be “warm” after speaking with you, and it’s important to capitalize on that momentum. Moreover, having the information written will help them remember the details, easily refer to it, or forward it internally if necessary. You should also consider including the following in that outreach:
– A summary of your value proposition
– Answers to any questions that arose during the demo (and are consequently important to them)
– A product deck and/or proposal (that can be presented to the decision maker internally)
– Additional materials that you believe add value (an online demo, a case study, a press article, etc)
Step 6: Ensure proper documentation and measurement of progress
It’s important to effectively document the process of prospects and customers, which is typically done using a customer relationship management tool (CRM). Even an Excel spreadsheet can function as a basic CRM system if you’re just starting out. The key is to have a repository of relevant information where you can map your numbers and quickly check the status of each deal.
Documenting the information will allow you to measure results and progress through key performance indicators (KPIs). These will provide insights into the effectiveness of your sales process and identify areas for improvement to optimize strategies and achieve better results. There’s a quote I love that says, “What cannot be measured cannot be controlled, and what cannot be controlled cannot be improved.“
Here are some examples of the insights and decisions that can be made with the right information:
I reached out to 300 people on LinkedIn, of which 24 showed interest + I made 300 cold calls, of which 6 showed interest = LinkedIn seems to be a channel with better results, so I will focus my efforts there.
I reached out using the same channel and copywriting in the US and Canada + My response rate was twice as high in the US = The US seems more interested in my product, so I will focus my efforts there.
You have to decide which KPIs will help you make your decisions and the frequency of tracking them, but here are some of the ones I use the most (tracked in total, but also by segment, channel, copywriting, and any other variation I’m testing):
|# of Prospects||# of New Users|
|Open Rate||New Revenue|
|Response Rate||Prospect to Demo|
|Demos Booked||Demos to Deals|
|Demos Taken||Demo Quality|
Bonus: Use your CRM to assign yourself the task of diligent follow-ups. At some point, you’ll have a lot happening simultaneously so remembering this important part of the process can become challenging.
Selling for the first time can seem incredibly challenging since it requires stepping out of our comfort zones and pushing through the discomfort of interacting with strangers and some “no’s”. However, if you implement the steps we just went through, the process will become easier as you develop a rhythm, find your footing and discover the rewards of bringing long-lasting customers.
Remember that selling is an art that thrives on uniqueness and adaptability, which means that what works for one company may not necessarily work for another. So, keep in mind that you’ll have to test different strategies to find the one that’s ideal for you, your company, and your product. Everything you can think of must be tested, so eliminate any biases you may have, and above all, genuinely be interested in a world where everyone wants to appear interesting.