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!