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

Modern B2B sales

If you're a business-to-consumer app, this page doesn't apply to you.

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

The more your business-to-business (B2B) company targets enterprises, the more sales will be your largest acquisition channel. Because showing ads to employees at enterprise companies is much less effective than manually reaching out to them.

Further, if your potential audience is fewer than, say, 5,000 businesses, then traditional ads won't work at all for you. (Other than when retargeting, online ads aren't optimal for targeting so few people.) Sales will be your critical channel. 

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

I'll cover:

The sales process

Sales is categorized into two pipelines:

The outbound sales process loosely consists of:

  1. Generate a prospect list.
  2. Invite the qualified prospects (via email, calls, LinkedIn, or ads) to an online product demo, sales call, or webinar.
  3. Deliver the demo while addressing their objections and enticing them.
  4. Negotiate and closing their contract. (Not covered in this handbook.)

So let's start by covering that. Let's get you some customers.

Finding prospects

There are four major channels (and many secondary ones) for sourcing prospects:

Warm intros

This is commonly how you'll begin prospecting before you're an established brand:

Conferences

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

In sales, trust is everything. You most trust those you've actually met in person. In fact, you'd do business with them even if their product is worse than the competitors.

There are three ways to make the most out of conferences:

Buying lead lists

Buying lead lists is the fastest, most scalable approach to prospecting. 

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

With Clearbit, you select the industries of your ideal customers. Then you filter through their employee lists to identify the job roles that are best to pitch. 

Then Clearbit shows you their emails.

For example:

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

You can do the entirety of your prospecting within Clearbit. Clerabit will also help you enrich those prospects, which is the process of tying company and personal data to a contact so you have context on their needs when approaching them.

If you're wondering why I'm plugging Clearbit: I was a customer of Clearbit's when I was VP of Marketing for Webflow. Their product overhauled Webflow's onboarding flow. I was intrigued enough that I became an advisor to them, which allowed me to see first-hand how many other companies also benefit from them.

Manually comb through LinkedIn

Instead of using automated lead generation, you can hire a virtual assistant on Upwork to manually search LinkedIn and identify companies and their employees worth contacting. 

This granularity is often more accurate and surfaces better enrichment details. When you know exactly who you need to reach out to, manual is often the way to go.

You use LeadGibbon to find those LinkedIn users' emails. Or, use LinkedIn's paid InMail feature to reach out to your prospects directly on the platform.

Content marketing and advertising

Before I run through the modern sales process, it's worth noting that some of the other channels discussed in this handbook are also suitable for lead generation:

Optimizing sales labor

With your list of prospects, you need to build a process for reaching out to them. 

First, you don't want to reach out to anyone and everyone. The labor involved in outbound sales is not trivial. In fact, you can use your average annual contract value (ACV) to calculate how much time you can justify pursuing a lead.

Here are the rules of thumb (source):

If you incentivize new customers to purchase a year's worth of services upfront, it helps reduce their sudden churn, which in turn stabilizes the labor estimates above. You can motivate annual lock-ins by offering steep annual discounts.

Be conscious of how much time you spend with each lead. There's an ROI calculation in play; time is money and the opportunity cost of sales labor is real. With ads, you pay for impressions or clicks. With sales, you pay for every hour of lead interaction.

Emailing prospects

Let's get into the specifics of reaching out to prospects.

As discussed, you have many ways to do so: via email, networking intros, through direct ad targeting (see the previous page), or even LinkedIn InMail messages.

Email is the lowest-cost and highest-touch scalable sales channel. So let's dive into that. Because anything that's scalable can be heavily optimized, and the goal of this handbook is to teach you how to think about optimizing user acquisition.

The emailing process is as follows:

  1. Determine who you're emailing.
  2. Email them and respond.
  3. Track and optimize email metrics.

Let's cover these steps.

Determine who you're emailing

Step one is knowing who you're emailing before you hit send. 

If you treat emails as a one-sized-fits-all copywriting exercise, you will fail to entice.

Consider how much spam we all receive. Because of it, emails have to stand out. Gimmicks don't help, but being relevant to recipients' specific needs does.

Let's use UsabilityHub as an example. They're an online design testing platform. They target two key personas:

By defining your personas and their unique concerns, you can tailor your pitch to each. The more granular you get with your personas, the better.

For example, you likely shouldn't pitch a designer the same value propositions you’d pitch a marketer. That much is obvious. What's less obvious is that when you customize messages to personas, it becomes clearer to the recipient that you actually intended to email them — that you aren't just spamming everybody.

And when you make them feel like they were intentionally — or even manually — emailed, they're more likely to respond.

Notice how this advice parallels the Ladder of Product Awareness in our discussion on ad copywriting. Before writing copy, know your audience. 

Writing emails

When writing an email, keep in mind people don’t care how great your product is. 

Instead, what resonates is showing them 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. That leads into a pitch.

For example, consider a variation of this 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 research on {{company}}, I have good data to support that you could see similar, if not better, results.

I have a few ideas and some worthwhile data specific to you. Would 15 minutes tomorrow work to chat about it?
Jane, Head of Sales

That email actually reads too robotically. It feels like sales copy instead of something a friend would write you. But, it hits the key points. Focus on conveying those same points as naturally as possible.

And keep it short. Every sentence beyond the first two paragraphs will incrementally decrease your response rate.

Follow-up emails

After sending your first message, have two follow-ups scheduled. 

I hate to admit it, but my data has proven the most effective sales teams generally send multiple email over several weeks. You don’t want to be a pest, but the bottom line is persistence wins. And the marginal cost of each email you send is low. #YOLO.

But you need to do it right.

Few will respond to your first email. Each follow-up is an opportunity to build credibility to finally get to a "Fine, I'll respond." So don’t waste follow-ups on a limp “bumping this” or “checking in." That’s a useless nudge. And therefore annoying.

Instead, follow-ups should build atop your original message. For example, provide video demos visualizing what you originally pitched. Meanwhile, remember the objective: relate about their world.

When you're sending follow-up emails at scale, use a tool like PersistIQ to stay organized. It automates multi-email campaigns while personalizing emails for every recipient. It also detects when a prospect replies so they don't receive more emails.

Metrics to track

Track three email metrics so you can methodically optimize your outreach.

(You can use tools like PersistIQ and Streak to track these metrics.)

Whatever your starting metrics are, aim to improve them regularly. What you measure can be optimized.

Unrelated, to read handbooks (like the one you're reading now) a few months before I publish them, subscribe below. I'm releasing how to write well, think critically, and play piano. I email once every three months.

I have another handbook that's already available: The Science of Building Muscle.

Calling leads

When a lead replies agreeing to a demo or a call, it's time to switch from low-touch, semi-automated sales to high-touch, personalized sales.

This is when it's your job to go above and beyond.

Call preparation

To prepare for sales calls, first recognize the objectives of a call:

I'm focusing on the selling objective — as our focus is on acquiring customers. 

Sales objections

The first part of preparing for calls is to form responses to likely objections. 

If you're not sure what these objections might be, go into your initial calls with low expectations for success and take rigorous notes.

With your list of objections, write a resolution to each. Here are common ones to kick off your brainstorming:

Memorize your concise responses before you call.

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

Research leads

The second part to sales call preparation is researching your leads.

Whereas the previous step of formulating answers is mostly done once at the start of your entire sales process, researching is separately required for each and every call. 

Essentially, know who you're talking to before picking up the phone:

Resist the urge to show off the research you did before the call. It's obnoxious; it just wastes their time. Refer to it only when relevant.

Call attitude

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

As a salesperson, you're an actor. Whether you want to be or not.

It doesn't matter if you're having the worst day of your life — your job is to bring it. 

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

Call script

Now you have context to call. But what precisely do you say on the call?

Consider the template conversation below. Pay attention to the bolded sections as they indicate the key points you should hit:

Hey, good afternoon!
As a recap, [our product] is for [problem you solve]. How about you guys tell me how you currently solve [the problem] so I can avoid repeating things you already know. Can you tell me a bit about your process?

[They respond.]
Great, and where does solving this problem fit into your business priorities?

[They respond.]
Got it. Here's how our product improves your current way of addressing the problem, and here's how we'd help achieve the 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 a Zoom screenshare. Keep it to 5-15 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 small details unless they're relevant and interesting. The demo's purpose is to tease them — not fully teach how to use the product.)
What else would you guys like me to show you? And what concerns do you have about whether we'd be a good fit for you?

If they respond with objections, consult your formulated responses from earlier.

Tease out objections

After your demo, if they have neither objections nor feedback, it's usually not because you did a great job. Rather, they likely weren't invested in your presentation.

Interested leads almost always ask questions. 

To break the silence and engage them, ask which of the tasks your product helps with they're already addressing through other solutions. Then ask if they're currently suffering from inefficiencies, complexities, or obstacles with those other solutions.

If yes, ask for an example then explain how your product better tackles the problem. 

Ending calls

If the lead is interested in chatting further, conclude by proposing a next step that moves them through the sales pipeline. 

Examples include:

Finally, if appropriate, end with this question:

What materials or summaries should I send to make deciding easier?

Do the work to get them everything they need to come to a yes on their own.

Call optimization

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

Analyze your recordings with coworkers who can be trusted to give blunt feedback. Revise your call scripts accordingly. Repeat this process until you're a sales master.

There is no more effective way to improve than to confront your own recordings.

Call follow-ups

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

Less is more with sales call email follow-ups. If you avoid being annoying, you leave the door open to come back a few months still in good graces.

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 email, it's worthwhile to create landing pages that address common sales objections for each category of prospect you pitch.

Landing pages are the new PDF's. They're better for conversion because they keep visitors on your site and can be optimized even after they're handed out.

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:

Subject: Should I close our conversation?
Hey Dean,
I'm closing my email threads for the month. You're understandably busy or are no longer interested. No worries! If you aren't interested, should I close out this conversation? And may I briefly ask what made you lose interest so I can better use people's time in the future? Just a sentence would be great.
If you are still interested, I'd love to be useful to you. I'd be happy to do a quick quick call if you think it'd be productive. If so, I am free at [times].
Have a great day!
- Jane

Here's the point

Three sales takeaways:

Inbound sales

Inbound leads are those coming to you on their own. Don't neglect them.

If you identify a demo request or signup from a company qualified to convert into a high-revenue account, respond with proportionally greater support and sales.

Proactively reach out to them via email or phone. Discover and address their objections.

Inbound qualification

Step one is determining the likelihood of a lead being of high value. 

This is the practice of lead scoring, which consists of assessing company and job title data to determine the lead's product fit, financials, and readiness to purchase. 

For most SaaS companies, only a few data points are needed to qualify a lead:

Let’s consider how we'd interpret each data point to evaluate a lead.

Job title

If the lead works at a company who'd be a perfect fit for your product, but their job title is, say, HR intern, they’re not going to be worth the outreach. They don’t have the appropriate buying power within their firm.

Employee count 

The more employees a company has, the more likely they can afford your product's expensive pricing tiers. So spend more time selling them.

Company location

Only focus on countries you’re able to service.

Sourcing lead data

To source these data points, use Clearbit’s Enrichment API to automatically retrieve it from any user that signs up.

All you do is ping Clearbit’s API with the user’s email address, then Clearbit responds with up-to-date demographic and firmographic information. (Or, you can use their Salesforce plugin to sidestep any coding.)

Here’s a sample of the data Enrichment returns:

Emailing leads

When your data qualifies a lead as valuable (a VIP), write a custom email for them as quickly as you can. Shorter sales turnaround times increase close rates.

Based on the lead's job title, link to the resources they need to get started:

Let's look at an example. On the left below is an email sent to a developer. Look at the prioritization of a code sample.

That's what a developer might care most about at this time.

Next, on the right below is an email sent to a different job title: a marketer. For marketers, we prioritize non-technical integration guides:

Had we instead sent every lead the same email, the email would have been lengthy since we’d address all the potential value props that may interest leads. It would have been a spray and pray approach, and much of the email would have gone unread.

Beyond brevity, there's another benefit to knowing a lead's job title through Clearbit: it makes it look like your email was sent manually. You know who they are.

You can take it a step further and read up on their company to inject a relevant remark about how good of a fit they are for your product.

Going above and beyond

Once you've qualified a VIP, there are a few ways to get their attention in your email.

First, include a genuine offer of support: Since these users are VIP’s, make it clear you’ll respond to them within X business hours and that you’re providing your direct line if they need to talk any time.

Next, consider being extremely high-touch if you really want to convert them: Create a 2 minute personalized screen recording that walks the lead through your product from the perspective of their company's needs. This means focusing on which features are most relevant to them.

Bypassing spam folders+

Keep your VIP outreach emails as simple, raw text; don’t use fancy design templates. 

Fancy designs look like automated email marketing spam.

Further, if you go the raw text route, your email is actually less likely to be automatically sent to Gmail’s Promotions tab, which kills open rates

And while we’re on the topic, here are a few tips for staying out of someone’s Promotions and Spam folders:

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