B2B Sales
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This is page eight of a handbook on Startup Growth. Begin here.

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Modern B2B sales

If you're a business-to-consumer app with a low average revenue per user (ARPU), skip this page. Sales labor cannot be justified by low margins.

This page teaches you to acquire customers through semi-automated sales outreach.

If you're a business-to-business (B2B) company, sales will likely be your largest source of user acquisition. More so than ads — even ads done spectacularly well.

Like the rest of your growth funnel, sales can be optimized. I'll give you the tools and scripts to do so.

Let's get to it.

The sales process

Sales splits into two pipelines:

This page focuses on outbound sales. That's the harder part — getting new leads.

Outbound sales consists of:

This is a significant amount of work. And because this isn't a full-fledged sales handbook, I will focus on finding and pitching prospects. 

We're going to learn it damn well. Let's get you some customers.

Finding prospects

There are three primary ways to find prospects:

Warm intros

This is almost always how you'll begin building your list:

Until you're a polished company with social proof and a refined sales pipeline, don't expect anything other than warm intros to efficiently acquire you new prospects.

Conferences

The right conferences are by far the most efficient way to make meaningful relationships within your industry.

Trust plays a huge part in sales. And you trust the people you've actually met more than those you haven't. In fact, you'd do business with them even if their product is worse than its competitors.

Do three things when networking at conferences: 

Outbound lead generation

List generation is an automated approach to prospecting. 

Building quality lead lists is the second most important element in any outbound sales strategy focusing on cold emails. (First is writing email copy they care to respond to.) 

You’re shooting for quality. Not quantity. 

The process boils down to using Clearbit's Discovery and Prospector tools, which are the most up-to-date sources of employee contact data. 

With Clearbit, you can select industries your ideal customers fall into. Then you can narrow into those companies' employee lists to identify job roles that'd best to pitch. 

For example:

And so on. 

Be sensitive to emailing the CEO (unless it's a small company). They won't have the bandwidth to listen to your pitch and will likely ignore you — even if you're a good fit.

If you're wondering why I'm plugging Clearbit so much, here's the backstory: I was a customer of Clearbit's when I was VP of Marketing for Webflow. Their product completely overhauled Webflow's onboarding flow.

I was intrigued enough that I became a growth advisor to them, which allowed me to see first-hand how many other companies also deeply depended on them.

Outbound lead generation process

You can do the entirety of your prospecting within Clearbit. It'll help you prospect (find people) and enrich (provide you with firmographics).

Or:

Industry news

Here's your final key channel for customer prospecting: Subscribe to the RSS feeds of your industry's major blogs. 

For example, if you're selling to tech companies, subscribe to TechCrunch

Then be on the lookout for when a company with investor backing launches. Or when an existing company's growth suddenly skyrockets.

In either case, they'll have money to spend on expensive B2B services! 

When you find a company that fits your ideal prospect type (I'll discuss this momentarily), track down the email for the most appropriate contact to pitch.

Use Clearbit Prospector to get an accurate email instead of guessing at one or having to contact a generic inbox such as support@company.com. 

Many competing B2B companies will be using this approach, so don't expect miracles from your outreach. And work hard to stand out.

Optimizing sales labor

The labor involved in outbound sales is not minimal. 

So don't prospect anyone and everyone.

To get an idea of how much time you can justify closing a lead, you should bound it by your average annual contract value (ACV). 

Here are the rules of thumb for ACV-based sales labor justification (source):

Incentivize new customers to purchase a year's worth of services upfront. (Motivate them with a steep annual discount.) This helps reduce sudden churn, which helps stabilize the labor estimates above.

Emailing prospects

So now you have a list of prospects. It's time to contact them.

Determining your audiences

Bell Curve's client, UsabilityHub, is an online design testing platform. They have multiple personas they can target. Here are two:

Determine your audiences with this process:

  1. Identify the user personas that are most valuable to you.
  2. Identify the key pain points your product solves for them. 
  3. For your own reference, describe in detail how you solve their problems.

By defining user personas and their individual intents, we can tailor our pitch to each . 

For example, you should never pitch a UX designer the same value propositions you’d pitch a marketer. 

Once you've segmented your cold emails into personas, you can:

Got it? Now you’re ready to start writing. 

Email copy

Keep in mind people don’t know about you or your company yet. So, start by building your credibility. Otherwise you get reflexively sent to the spam folder. 

Credibility is one of your objectives.

And here's your second objective. People generally don’t care about how great your product or your company is. So, show the prospect you know about their world and that you’ve done your homework on them

Mention something they care about: a pain point, a priority, or something they’re motivated by.

For example, use a variation of this email template for your first outreach:

Hi Dean, 
I was looking into {{company}} and noticed {{observation related to priority or pain point}}. I know this is hard to get right. 
Companies like {{similar companies}} have turned to us to {{priority or pain point}} and have seen {{results}}. Based on my initial research on {{company_name}}, I have good data to support that you could see similar, if not better, results.

I have a few ideas and pieces of data to share that I think will help. Would 15 minutes tomorrow work?
Jane, Head of Sales
555-555-5555
Thanks to Close.io for some of their email template inspiration!

Follow ups

After sending your first message, make sure you have at least two additional touchpoints scheduled. I hate to admit my data has shown that the most effective sales teams generally have a half dozen touchpoints over several weeks.

This is a lot and you don’t want to be a pest, but the bottom line is data shows persistence wins.

You just need to do it right.

People often don’t respond to your first communication. Your follow-ups give you an opportunity to build more credibility. So don’t just “bump” or “check in” multiple times. That’s a meaningless nudge. It’s annoying. Instead, build on top your original value. Share relevant content. Provide demos customized to the prospect.

Provide unique value with each follow-up.

Remember your throughline: Keep demonstrating you care about the prospect’s pain points and priorities.

When sending multiple follow-ups, staying organized is key. Especially when emailing at scale. This is hard to do right. I use PersistIQ to help me with this. There are a ton of outbound engagement tools, but PersistIQ has won out among them. It helps build a multi-step campaign that's personalized for each prospect, and automatically detects when a prospect replies so they don't receive more steps.

That’s cold emailing done in a modern way.

Avoid emailing directly within Gmail. It’s impossible to stay effective within Gmail’s UI.

Metrics to track

After you send your first outreach email, you then track three growth metrics: 

Whatever your rates are to start, aim to improve them monthly.

Calling prospects

When a lead responds to your email agreeing to a call, it's time to switch from automated sales mode to a personalized sales discussion.

Calls: Preparation

Sales calls are about two things:

I'll talk more about showing off the product momentarily. But I want to start with addressing objections because it's what requires the most upfront work.

Before you place your first call, you must formulate responses to the likely objections leads will have. If you're not sure what these could be, go into your first couple calls with low expectations of success and simply be prepared to take rigorous notes.

After you've brainstormed objections, create a concise and satisfying answer to each. Then memorize them.

Common objections

Here are common objections to kick off your brainstorming:

Don't find customers for your product. Find products for your customers.
– Seth Godin

Researching prospects

The previous step of formulating answers to objections broadly applies across all your calls. This next step, researching prospects, occurs on a per-call basis. 

You must know who you're talking to before you pick up the phone:

Prepare yourself for the call, but don't proactively demonstrate your preparation in your introductory banter. It's a blatant attempt to show off that you did your homework, which is obnoxious because it just wastes the leads' time.

Calls: Mental prep

Before you pick up the phone, psych yourself into sales mode.

As a salesperson, you're an actor. Whether you want to accept that or not. It doesn't matter if you're having the worst day of your life — you better bring it. 

Smile when talking. People can hear it through your voice. Remember, on a call, your voice and your choice of words are all other people have to assess you by.

Calls: Script

I'm about to show you how to structure a sales call. 

You need to say all this without sounding like you're on autopilot. Pretend it's the first time you've ever spoken these words. 

Easier said than done, I know.

But here's the trick: The more tailored each your answers are to a lead's needs and concerns, the less salesy you'll sound by default — because you'll be off-script:

Hey, good afternoon!
I'll keep this short. As a recap, [our company] is for [whatever problem you solve]. How about tell me how you currently solve the [the problem] so I can avoid repeating things you already know. Can you tell me a bit about your process?
... Great, and where does solving this problem fit into your business priorities for the year?
... Got it. Here's how our product improves your current way of addressing the problem, and here's how we'd help fulfill those business priorities you highlighted: [better solution]. 
Now let's move onto the short demo so you can see exactly what I mean.

Demo your product via GoToMeeting screenshare. Take 5 to 8 minutes.

I'm going to cover [the following benefits] via screenshare. That's what you guys would like to cover, is that right? (If not, revise your demo on the spot.) 
Here's the big picture of how being a user of our product makes your life a lot easier: [big picture walkthrough]. 
Let's narrow into a few of the most valuable benefits of the product: [screenshare the relevant benefits].
(Don’t go into little details unless they're relevant and interesting. The purpose of the demo is to tease them; not to fully teach them how to use the product.)
What else would you guys like me to show you?
... What concerns do you have about whether we'd be a good fit for you?

Here's where you pull out your objections answers from earlier.

Calls: Addressing objections

After your demo, if they don't have objections or feedback for you to address, it's usually not because you did a great job demoing. 

Rather, they likely weren't invested in your presentation. Interested leads almost always ask questions. 

To break the silence and find ways to engage them, ask which of the tasks your product helps with they're already addressing through other solutions. Ask if they're currently suffering from inefficiencies with those other solutions.

If they say yes, ask for an example then explain how your product addresses it instead. 

When a lead shares an objection that isn't clear, pause to clarify exactly what they mean before rambling onto your talking point. Always err on the side of over-clarification — or risk boring them with off-topic answers.

Once you've successfully addressed an objection, segue the inefficiency your product resolved into a matter of cost: Estimate the cost of the employee hours needed to address the problem their current way. Then point out how much money would be saved by using your product.

To improve your call performance over time, record yourself. (Depending on your jurisdiction, it may be a crime not to ask for permission first!) 

Then analyze the recordings with coworkers who will give blunt feedback. Next, revise your call scripts and repeat this process until you're a sales guru.

There is no more effective way to improve than to face your own recordings!

Calls: Ending the call

As the call nears its end, if the lead seems interested in chatting more, propose a productive next step. 

Examples include:

Finally, end the call with a variation of this:

What materials or recaps should I send to make coming to a decision easier?

Always make it easy for them to get to a yes.

Sales call follow-ups

It's unlikely you'll close a lead by the end of your first call. You'll need to follow up. 

In today's day and age of endless SaaS pitches, less is more with follow-up frequency. If you avoid being annoying, you leave the door open to come back a few months later still in good graces.

So, I recommend following up at most in 3- and 7-day increments after the call. 

The three-day email can look something like this:

Hi Dean, 
Hope all is great. 
You'd mentioned you're dealing with challenges A and B and that you have concerns C and D. We've put up [a landing page] that explains which of our features solve those exact issues.
Is there anything missing from that page I could personally address?
- Jane

As referenced in the above template, it's worth your time to create landing pages that address common sales objections for each type of company you pitch.

Landing pages are the new PDF's! They're better for conversion because they keep visitors on your site, they can be updated even after they're handed out, plus they get you halfway to creating landing pages for your ads too!

If the lead doesn't respond to your 3-day email by the 7-day mark, consider sending a final email that looks something like this:

Title: Should I close our conversation?
Hey Dean,
I'm closing my email threads for the month. Typically when I haven't heard from someone, they're either really busy or are no longer interested. If you aren't interested, should I close out this conversation? And may I briefly ask why you lost interest so I can do better in the future? Just a quick sentence would be great.
If you are still interested, I'd love to be useful to you. I'd be happy to do a last quick call if you think it'd be productive. If so, does [time] on [date] work for you? If not, I am free [other times].
Have a great day!
- Jane

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The next page shares growth tactics for content marketing and virality.

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