How to Crush Your Sales Goals by Aaron Ross

Speaker background: Aaron spent 2002-2006 at Salesforce, where he built out the outbound prospecting team. He is also the author of Predictable Revenue. [affiliate link]

Aaron talked about common sales mistakes and how to fix them.

Fatal mistake #1: not having a sales system

Indicators of this mistake include high (>10% per year) churn on the sales team and/or missing your goals. You need to have a process in place, be able to describe your ideal customer, etc.

Corollary: at large companies, missing quotas is often blamed on salespeople, who are then fired and replaced. But if recruiting, training, and other processes remain the same and quota continue to be missed, the problem is with the processes, not the salespeople.

Fatal mistake #2: confusing your prospects

When people are confused by your pitch, they default to saying “no.” Don’t pitch your product as a kitchen sink or ask your prospective customers what features they want. Instead, try to understand each customer’s problems, then give a very focused, targeted pitch which makes it easy for them to make a yes/no decision. Confusion always defaults to a ‘no’ reply.

Make the pitch about what customers want. They don’t care about what you do, they care about what you can do for them. For example, don’t talk about your “scalable platform,” because a prospect won’t care; they only care that you can solve their specific problems.

Tips for improving messaging:

  • Instead of telling someone what you do from your point of view, pretend they asked you: “How do you help customers?”
  • Review your own pitch. For each bullet point, ask yourself, “so what?” or “what’s so great about that?” Your answers are what you should be pitching to prospects.
  • Selling ideas is better than selling benefits, which is much better than selling features. Aaron used a great analogy:
    • Selling a feature: “This is a drill.”
    • Selling a benefit: “You need to put a hole in the wall, and this drill makes that possible.”
    • Selling an idea: “You’ll be happier if you can cover your walls with family photos, and this drill makes that possible.”

Fatal mistake #3: driving growth by growing the sales team

It’s less common today, but the way people used to think about growing sales was “I have 10 salespeople, and I need to double sales, so I’ll double the number of salespeople.” The real lever is lead gen. If you have great sales but terrible lead gen, you’ll struggle; if you have great lead gen, you can mess up the sales process and still succeed.

3 types of leads: seeds (word of mouth), nets (marketing), and spears (outbound sales).

Tips for word of mouth:

  • Improve referral rates by hiring customer success reps. Happy customers will recommend you to others.
  • You should hire a customer success manager (CSM) by the time you have 5-15 people, and should have one CSM for every $1m-$2m in annual revenue.
  • Two baseline metrics: customer churn should be <15%, revenue churn should not be negative (if you lose customers, you win more revenue from upselling to existing customers and growing your customer base)
  • Triggers for having a CSM engage a customer: support/help desk interactions, billing/payment history (i.e. someone is paying on time), survey feedback, engagement with marketing materials, levels of usage of the product and specific features.
  • GainSight offers great dashboards for customer success management.

Tips for marketing:

  • Just like the VP of Sales has a sales quota, the VP of Marketing should have a lead quota (with some balance of quantity vs. quality).
  • Most important metric to track: lead velocity rate. This is a measure of how much qualified pipeline is being created each month and helps you estimate growth/company health. Ideally, the velocity is high and growing every month.
  • Make your marketing emails personal. Messaging that sounds more human gets much better results. For example, use text emails instead of HTML with a lot images, and include a one-sentence story about yourself (even if it’s something trivial like “I just finished my coffee and wanted to send this to you.”) This advice is probably simplest thing you can do to make your marketing better.

Tips of outbound prospecting (Aaron’s specialty):

  • Your funnel should be to identify target customers, prospect with cold emails/calls/appointments, then start the sales cycle on qualified leads. For example, 1000 emails => 100 calls => 20 appointments => 15 sales qualified leads, each worth $50k/year.
  • Common sales email fails: too long, confusing/lots of jargon, filled with lies, boring, vague calls to action. Aaron’s mantra: “make it simple to understand and easy to answer.”
  • If you’re vague, like “let me know the best way to reach you,” it’s easy for a recipient to not respond. Simple, specific questions are much more likely to get answers. For example, “Are you free Thursday at 3pm for a phone call?” Even if the reply is ‘no’, at least you’ve gotten the prospect talking.
  • Keep it short. Relevant HubSpot study result: the highest response rates were for emails that are 300-500 characters (1-4 sentences). Keep emails personal, but take out filler material. Don’t beat around the bush.

Fatal mistake #4: not specializing and trying to do too much

Salespeople often avoid prospecting because they’re either not good at it or don’t like it.

Over time, you want inbound and outbound salespeople who qualify leads, account execs who close sales, and customer success managers who increase the value of existing accounts.

If salespeople own the entire process, customers get horrible service because salespeople focus on deals they’re trying to close that month, and prospecting and customer success suffer.

Even if you’re at a small startup and you own the entire sales process, at least separate functions by day of the week so that you’re not neglecting anything (e.g. Tuesdays are for prospecting; Thursdays are for customer success.)

Most marketers try to do too much (webinars, events, white papers, etc). It’s better to do a few things very well instead of a lot of things poorly.

Specialization leads to predictability: you will get insights on what works and what doesn’t, better scalability for each layer, and a talent/farm team system where you can hire more junior people and help them grow into more impactful roles. You will struggle without specialization.

For some parts of the process, outsourcing can be effective if done right. See: LeadGenius and Carburetor(Aaron’s company).

Salesperson churn is usually due to unrealistic quotas, poor management, or lack of coaching. It’s rarely about compensation.

Online resources that Aaron recommended during the talk:

How to Crush Your Sales Goals by Aaron Ross

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