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Sales Hacks for Startups (Part 2 of 3)

Last week I posted Part 1 of Sales Hacks for Startups where I covered how to Catch People at the Right Time. This week we’re digging into Conferences and Events. To give some context to how we think about sales at Parse.ly, I’m reproducing the introduction to the series below. If you’ve already read Part 1 then feel free to skip the My Perspective section.

My Perspective

One of the hardest things, arguably, to do at a startup is to sell. And selling isn’t limited to just trying to convince someone to pay you money for your product; it’s a pretty big umbrella. The concept of selling includes convincing talented folks to join your company, bringing on investors that believe in your company, partnering with other companies to get an edge up in the market, and, yes, getting people to pay you for your product. And even when you just limit it to the latter you still are encompassing a lot of variables. Is it B2C? B2B? Freemium? Rev Share?

So before we get into the details of hacks that I’ve found or heard of, let’s limit the scope of what I’ll be discussing here. Over the past three years my company, Parse.ly, grew into a data and analytics platform for the web’s best publishers. Though we work with some smaller publishers, the majority of our client base includes the biggest producers of content on the web. For the most part this means that we’re dealing with B2B direct sales focused on large companies and large contracts. That said a lot of the hacks that are discussed in this series of posts can be applied to other areas of sales or startups in general. The point of the series is to showcase tools and strategies that startups with small (or nonexistent) sales teams can leverage to sell into the biggest companies (or investors) out there.

There are three parts to this series that focus on the intersection of important areas of the sales process and opportunity to “hack.” The three are: Catching People at the Right Time, Conferences and Events, Staying Persistent.

Let’s get started with part 2…

Conferences and Events

There’s a reason why companies, both big and small, spend time and money on conferences and events: they drive sales. However, as an early stage company, you can’t afford to spend too much time here. Mainly, because attending events can easily become a rabbit hole that doesn’t always produce the ROI that you’d expect. The key to success with events is knowing which ones to go to, doing your homework before you attend, and participating in events even if you don’t attend. There are three hacks that we use at Parse.ly to accomplish all three of the tasks above.

  • Knowing Which Conferences to Attend – There are thousands of conferences across the globe that are relevant to your company and you could most likely attend, but does that mean you should? The best ROI we’ve seen for conferences are when we know that there are people that are attending that we’d like to connect with or if someone from our company is presenting. Sifting through the thousands of relevant events are daunting, to say the least, so how can you find the best ones for you? Enter Lanyrd. Lanyrd leverages your existing social networks to figure out what events your colleagues and peers are attending. It then gives you a breakout of the most relevant conferences given your connections. The prerequisite here is that you are already connected to individuals you’d like to meet at the event, but that’s as simple as a twitter follow.
  • Doing Your Homework Before You Attend – Though Lanyrd helps in letting you know what conferences to attend, you really need to do your homework before you get to the event. This includes looking through an attendee list (or building one through twitter / LinkedIn / Facebook) to prioritize who you want to meet. Again, this can be a time intensive task that you most likely don’t want to have someone doing at your company. Instead, you can use the awesome services of FancyHands to help you on the research and data entry task here. FancyHands is cheap, quick and super effective at tasks like this. You can send them the list or create Google Doc for them to enter data into. From there tell them what data you need (i.e. Person, Company, Title, Industry, etc.), and BAM, you now have a sortable spreadsheet to build a plan of attack for the event. FancyHands can do a slew of other things as well, but a task like this should help you get your homework done!
  • Participating in Events Remotely – Just because you’re not at the event doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the conversation and build strong sales relationships. Here’s what our Sales Director, John Levitt, suggests for remote participation. “Most conferences and events will have an official hashtag where people at the event will live-tweet and generally discuss what’s happening. Even if you’re not at the event, this is a clear opportunity to contribute to the discussion and get some visibility for your brand. We’ve seen many quality leads come through our door by tweeting from the @parsely account during events. Since Twitter allows you to see a list of all people that have posted to the specific hashtag, you can also use this as a lead gen opportunity. Find a relevant discussion and contribute something meaningful to further the conversation. It may or may not relate to the product you’re trying to sell, but you’re not directly selling at this point as much as you’re creating an opportunity to build a relationship. After a few tweets back and forth, suggest meeting for coffee at some point where you can talk more in depth. If accepted, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to build a personal relationship and get the sale!”

How do you handle events and conferences? Are there hacks that you use that aren’t listed above? Let me know in the comments happy sailing!

Parse.ly is hiring a sales person in NYC! If you’re interested take a look at here and send us note mentioning this blog post and your hack to work@parsely.com.

Sales Hacks for Startups (1 of 3)

Our Perspective

One of the hardest things, arguably, to do at a startup is to sell. And selling isn’t limited to just trying to convince someone to pay you money for your product; it’s a pretty big umbrella. The concept of selling includes convincing talented folks to join your company, bringing on investors that believe in your company, partnering with other companies to get an edge up in the market, and, yes, getting people to pay you for your product. And even when you just limit it to the latter you still are encompassing a lot of variables. Is it B2C? B2B? Freemium? Rev Share?

So before we get into the details of hacks that I’ve found or heard of, let’s limit the scope of what I’ll be discussing here. Over the past three years my company, Parse.ly, grew into a data and analytics platform for the web’s best publishers. Though we work with some smaller publishers, the majority of our client base includes the biggest producers of content on the web. For the most part this means that we’re dealing with B2B direct sales focused on large companies and large contracts. That said, a lot of the hacks that are discussed in this series of posts can be applied to other areas of sales or startups in general. The point of the series is to showcase tools and strategies that startups with small (or nonexistent) sales teams can leverage to sell into the biggest companies (or investors) out there.

There are three parts to this series that focus on the intersection of important areas of the sales process and opportunity to “hack.” The three are: Catching People at the Right Time, PR, Marketing and Events, Staying Persistent.

Let’s get started…

Catching People at the Right Time

As with most things luck plays an important role in finding, massaging and closing deals at the enterprise level. One of the most important processes of selling is getting responses from the prospective customer. Getting a response, can often times, be difficult because purchasing software from a vendor probably isn’t the highest thing on the decision maker’s priority list. That said, if you happen to find that person at the right time, then there’s a good chance you’re going to get a reply back – either by phone, e-mail or in-person. How, though, do you know the right time to contact that person? There are a few hacks you can use to figure out exactly this ranging from direct input from the customer to implicit signals:

  • Tout – This tool is one little ingenious piece of software that really allows you to create your own luck when it comes to reaching out to prospective customers. Tout, without requesting anything from an e-mail reader, can tell you, the sender, whether someone has read your e-mail or not. Further, Tout can tell you when someone has click on a link in your e-mail, whether they downloaded any attachments, and whether they visited your company’s page. They do this by embedding an image pixel in your e-mail that allows them to track these things in the e-mails you send. This tool has been great in allowing us to understand whether there is any engagement at all from a customer, and to reach out to them when we are top of mind. Tout has some other great features as well, but the tracking alone has allowed us to close more deals.
  • Newsle – Newsle is a newsletter / webapp that finds news about the people you’re connected to through social networks. I connect Newsle to my LinkedIn account only (to ensure less noise) and I have a daily newsletter about all the important things that are happening within my network. The great part is that it’s not just status updates, but it’s actual news that’s coming about my network. For customers this gives me a great lead-in if I want to reach back out to someone or if I need an update. In this case, I’m not just reaching out to do business, but also to congratulate them on a job well done given the recent news. The response rate is as close to 100% when this method is used.
  • Rapportive – Social media, as it turns out, can be a great way to contact folks, learn more about who they are, and to ultimately work your way towards a sales conversation. Rapportive is a nifty GMail plugin that allows you to figure out, in a snap, who a person is really is. Rapportive will give you that person’s LinkedIn and Facebook profile, and will give also give you the most recent tweets for that person. Most of the time Rapportive saves me the step of trying to find the person on LinkedIn, but in some cases I’ll be able to leverage what the person was tweeting about to wrangle them in for a call or meeting.

I realize that some people might find these services sneaky or even creepy, but they without a doubt give you a one up when you’re on the sales hunt. Having as much information and context as possible can only help you as you move the lead through the funnel. Let me know of any hacks you use for Catching People at the Right Time in the comments and happy sailing!

Parse.ly is hiring a sales person in NYC! If you’re interested take a look at here and send us note mentioning this blog post and your hack to work@parsely.com.

Why I Decided to Spend More Time Working from Home

At Parse.ly we pride ourselves on having a distributed team. In fact our CTO, Andrew, wrote an excellent piece on whether fully distributed teams are viable. Two-thirds of our team is distributed across the US, Canada and Europe. However, we also have a “home office” in NYC, and this is where our business team typically works.

That all changed when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City. The outer boroughs were cutoff from our office in Manhattan and all subways were shutdown. That meant everyone in NYC at Parse.ly was forced to work from home for the entire week. This post is less about the affect on the Parse.ly team and more of what it meant for me to move from working in the Parse.ly office to working from home.  

A quick history of Parse.ly first. When Andrew and I first started the company we were, for over a year, working from home and in coffee shops. We couldn’t afford an office and were forced to work around the city when we wanted to meet, and at home when we didn’t. Thinking back, it’s quite amazing to me how much we were able to get done in some of the worst working environments possible. Neither of us had large apartments and shared it with other people. When we did want to meet up, it was actually pretty difficult to find a place that offered wifi and had space to work. A lot of meetings that were originally intended as productive work sessions ended up unproductive brainstorm sessions due to a lack of wifi. And back in 2009 there weren’t really as many opportunities to co-work with other startups, work in startup spaces, or find like-minded folks. In fact there was only one place, Gramstand, that we found through Cooper Bricolage (sad to think this hasn’t been updated in over 2 years), and that was shutdown within months. Suffice it to say, the caveat here is that though the working environment matters, an amazing one is not necessary to work. Parse.ly was built in the crappiest conditions possible and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Yet, there are clear reasons why working from home works and doesn’t. The week after the Hurricane reminded me of many of the advantages and disadvantages. The single largest realization (reminder, even) though, was that working from home takes a serious amount of discipline.

One of the easiest ways to discipline yourself is through routine. Toms Baugis, a Parse.ly engineer living in Berlin, talks about how routine can strength your ability to work at high level of productivity in his LifeHacker post, Find the Right Routine to “Surf” Productivity. I found this was critical for me during the week of working from home due to Sandy.

The first couple of days almost felt like a lazy Sunday during a typical week. When I have a free Sunday I usually spend the day lazily responding to e-mails, finishing admin tasks, and straightening out my schedule for the week. During the first few days of working from home I began to find myself in a rut of just completing menial tasks and not getting serious work done. I quickly came to the conclusion that this was because working is modal, and I was just not in the right mode. I was in my lazy Sunday mode, and not in the I’m going to kick some ass at work mode that I usually am during the work week. I quickly changed some small things to help jumpstart me into the right gear. I wouldn’t start working until I showered, left my apartment to get a coffee, and wrote down three things I wanted to complete in the morning. This had an effect of getting me ready for my workday and setting my mind on accomplishing the tasks at hand.

Probably one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from people working from home is that there are just too many easy distractions. There’s TV, a fridge full of food, a bed to nap on, video games to play, no direct pressure to work (through co-workers or managers), etc. Distractions are waiting around the corner, urging you to take the bait. And, if you don’t keep them in check, they can certainly win. Thinking back on the early Parse.ly days though, I remembered how I used distractions to my advantage. I was the most productive when I use some variation of the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique uses small sprints of work broken up by short breaks. I used to employ this all the time when I was working from home, but found that I no longer required it at the office. Being back home made me realize why – it’s the distractions. The Pomodoro Technique gives you the ability to take all of those distractions and embrace them. You can work for 30 minutes and then take a five minute break to eat a sandwich. Or work for an hour and then take a 15 minute break to play video games. Essentially, you can work and play all in the same space – it’s actually quite amazing.

Because working is modal and your body and mind gets used to working “at work.” You limit yourself to exploring how different environments can influence how you think about problems. Working from home, though, gives you full reign over your environment and that means the change in environment can change your approach. Deciding to work from a desk vs. on the couch vs. outside vs. at a coffee shop can all have a strong effect on how you react to the task at hand. I found that the more rigid my environment (for example working at the desk in my chair) the more I was inclined to work on concrete tasks, while working outside or on my couch gave me the flexibility of exploring the problem.

Finally, and almost overlooked, is the fact that working from home just means more time. I spend almost 1.5 hrs commuting to and from work everyday. That 1.5 hrs is saved if I stay home and can be dedicated to a variety of things; for example more work, health, or leisure.

Working from home, at first, was a cause for concern. I was troubled by the fact that I couldn’t concentrate as well as I could from work, when it used to be a snap back in the day. However, after a few days of getting into the swing of things, I realized not only how working from home was plausible, but why it can be beneficial. Moving forward, I plan on dedicating a day every week or two to strictly working from home. Unfortunately, because almost every day is filled with in-person meetings, I can’t afford to do more than that. After a month or two, I plan on doing a quick update on the value of working from home sporadically.

Let me know what your tricks and thoughts are about working from home in the comments below.