In his excellent book, Predictable Revenue, author Aaron Ross defines 3 types of leads.
The first type of leads Ross identifies are "seeds." Seeds are leads that develop from channels like content marketing and organic search queries. According to Ross, "Seeds take a lot of time to cultivate and ramp up, but once they get going, they are unbeatable with the highest conversion and close rates." Most SaaS companies like ours spend a lot of time, effort and money to fill the top of our sales funnels with "seeds."
The second type of leads Ross identifies are "nets." These are the classic marketing programs like advertising, trade shows and PPC (pay-per-click) marketing. The term "nets" reflect the fact that these types of program are broadly targeted with fairly low conversion rates - the lead generation version of "throw it up against the wall and see what sticks."
"Spears" are leads generated by outbound activities that are highly targeted like top 20 target programs and the Cold Calling (Emaililng) 2.0 approach advocated in predictable revenue.
While inbound marketing programs garner a lot of attention nowadays, most effective sales organizations supplement their inbound marketing efforts with a "spear" program. Here are some things to consider for sales teams as they consider implementing "spear" programs.
Who will throw your spears?
One of the things that most sales teams quickly learn when they implement "spear" programs is that the skill sets for prospectors and inside sales "closers" are very different. One of the first mistakes many companies make is either pulling a good inside sales person out of production to start the prospecting program or making prospecting part of the inside sales person's responsibilities. These approaches usually fail for two reasons. The first is that the person asked to do the job doesn't have the skill set to be successful. The second is that you're taking a productive sales closer out of the sales loop.
When starting the prospecting program at Salesforce, Ross created a dedicated team of prospectors whose sole job was to generating appointments for the sales closer. This approach allows you to hire based on the distinct skill sets for prospectors and closers. Once a qualified lead is scheduled for an appointment, the prospector steps away from the process.
How does the prospecting program fit into your sales process?
When you start a prospecting process, the first thing you should do is define your ideal customer. Define the industries, company size, geographies and other characteristics that define your best customers. Once you've defined your ideal customer, develop a target list of companies that you would like to do business with. Start with a relatively small number of targets (20 or 30) and replace companies that you disqualify in your sales process.
The next step is to thoroughly research your target list. Get to know who the people are that would be involved in buying your solution, their value proposition and their goals and challenges. Most of this research can be done on the internet and social media networks like LinkedIn. Look for trigger events like product announcements, mergers and acquisitions as signals for opportunites to reach out to your target list. (Here's a great post from HubSpot listing 30 trigger events for prospectors to watch out for.)
The secret sauce is how you reach out to your targets. The initial approach will be via email or LinkedIn InMail and will be unique for each company. There are many resources to help you start developing your outreach program (including Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross.) Here are some things to consider as you build out your prospecting process:
- You won't get it 100% right the first time. In fact, you will probably get it close to 100% wrong the first time. Use CRM and other sales technology to measure your results and iterate accordingly. ABE - always be experimenting!
- It takes time to get it right (or close to right.) Commit the time, patience and resources necessary to develop a prospecting program that will provide predictable revenue over the long term.
- Do the appropriate research before making your outreach. The goal of the prospector is faciliate a value exchange with the prospect and that is virtually impossible to do if you haven't done your research.
- Don't waste time on unqualified leads. The prospector's job is to first qualify the target and then set appointments for closers with qualified leads. If a lead is not qualified, take them off your target list and move on. If appropriate, pass them along to your lead nurturing process.
- Read the book! If you're a Kindle freak like me, it's a free download for your Kindle.
Some companies have a consistent flow of quality inbound leads that allow them to consistently hit their growth targets. Most don't. Inbound lead generation takes a lof of time, effort and dedication to consistently generate a predictable lead flow large enough to hit revenue targets. Most investors and C-level managers aren't satisfied with waiting around for inbound leads to scale up. That's why we recommend a "spear" prospecting program to predictably grow your business.