In 2012, WhatCounts, an email marketing company based in Atlanta, with almost 1000 customers (usually $50m – $1b in revenue, like including Red Lion Hotels & ShoppersChoice.com), was in a common situation.
WhatCounts specializes in helping marketers (esp. in media / retail / e-commerce / travel & financial services) send personalized messages to increase engagement rates.
They had a great $20 million business with about 100 employees, but their CEO, Allen Nance, was still bringing in most of the leads. This had been working for 10+ years, but it also limited their growth.
Allen wanted the company to be able to scale, and to do that, WhatCounts needed to design him out of the sales system – starting with lead generation.
In early 2012, JJ Imbeaux was brought on to help build the lead generation program, and they hired two prospectors to make a focused outbound effort for the first time. Everyone on the sales team before was autonomous. They’d have meetings with 8 or 9 people, with 8 or 9 different ideas, and after an hour of talking nothing got solved.
In August 2012, Allen came in one day, dropped the original Predictable Revenue book down on the desk and said, “this is the system we’re going to follow, and if it’s not in the book, it doesn’t matter.” He bought copies for everyone, allowing the team to all reference one central point and finally be consistent.
Within months, on a consistent plan, growth sped up:
- “Sales Qualified Leads” have been increasing by 30-70% quarter-over-quarter – every single quarter since Q4 2012.
- Outbound is now sourcing 43% of the revenue from new customer sales.
- Total New Business Pipeline generated grew from $878,066 in 2012 to $3,819,870 in 2013…a 435% increase.
- WhatCounts generated 37 “Sales Qualified Leads” in 2012, and then 109 in 2013…a 294% increase.
- Outbound added an extra 651k in revenue in 2013, or an extra 26% to their new business growth rate, which should grow even more next year now that they have a larger pipeline backlog.
More importantly, they finally have control over their growth. JJ says “we can mathematically predict what a new sales hire will do at a basic level, and map out their next 6 months.”
Sales Team Setup: Salespeople & Roles
- 7 closers, called “Business Development Managers”
- JJ – Sales Development Manager
- 5 outbound prospectors (called BDAs = Business Development Analysts). They are doubling the team to 10 in 2014 because of its success.
- 2 “inbound BDAs” that only respond to inbound leads coming in through the website or phone.
What’s Expected of a Prospecting Rep at WhatCounts
- Read Predictable Revenue within first two weeks at company
- 1000 outbound emails per month
- 52 Initial appointments per month
- 24 Discovery Calls with AEs with interested prospects
- 6 Sales Qualified Leads passed per month (A Sales Qualified Lead is more than an appointment; it means a prospector passed a new lead to their salesperson/Account Executive, who qualified it through a demo or discovery call, and then ‘accepted’ it into their pipeline.)
- Average outbound deal size of $27,000 ACV/Annual Recurring Revenue
- If the deal size is under $4500 per year, they pass it to their Small Business sales team.
Note: WhatCounts prospectors set up a lot of Discovery Calls for their closers (24 per month), with 25% (6) converting to Sales Qualified Leads. This is very different than my standard recommendation of prospectors doing more of the initial disqualification by themselves, to set up fewer, better Discovery Calls for closers, and thus see a higher qualification rate (hopefully 75-80%). WhatCounts competes in a crowded space – email marketing – so they have a different kind of funnel than a company that is growing in a newer market.
Every company, market and team is different – ultimately you have to try things yourself to see what works best for your particular situation.
Main Sales Apps Used:
- SalesLoft: primary list-building tool to get clean prospecting data.
- Insideview: mostly to get prospects’ phone numbers.
- Rivalry: to encourage friendly sales competition.
- ThundrLizard: call coaching.
Favorite App: SalesLoft’s “Prospector” Tool To Get Clean Data
Data is always a pain in the butt to deal with in lead generation.
JJ makes each prospector responsible for his or her own list & data (which is what I did with my team back at Salesforce.com as well). JJ says “Each of our reps build their own lists. They’re accountable, have an intimate knowledge of their territory, and can’t complain that way about the quality of the list.“
WhatCounts originally used Salesforce.com’s Data.com service (which is a respectable one) to get all their data. But they weren’t happy with the 30% bounce rate they were seeing, and how often data wasn’t correct.
They tried out SalesLoft’s Prospector tool, which allows them to build a targeted list, with contacts’ emails directly from LinkedIn, which has the cleanest data of all, and their email bounce rates dropped to single digits.
SalesLoft has became their primary prospecting contact-gathering tool, with InsideView as a complementary one used mostly for getting phone numbers.
JJ says he loves the “google like” search and filtering parameters on SalesLoft, which they can use to find titles by regions or by industry verticals, to do very targeted lists for specific campaigns & pushes. Then with a click they can easily pull the data into Salesforce.com.
It’s not a replacement (yet) for other data services like InsideView & Data.com, but a valuable complement to them. More info: SalesLoft.com.
WhatCounts’ Superpower: “7 Touches In 7 Days”
One big change WhatCounts made when adopting Predictable Revenue was beginning their prospecting approach with short and sweet emails, not long and windy “value proposition” ones.
They also created their own approach of “7 Touches In 7 Days” which they were kind enough to share with me, and you, here:
7 touches over 7 days:
- Day 1 – AM: Short and sweet email looking for a referral. PM: afternoon – voicemail
- Day 2 – Anytime: Call, don’t leave a voicemail
- Day 3 – AM: Call, no voicemail
- Day 3 – PM: Leave a voicemail
- Day 4 – Anytime: Send a funny email (theirs includes a bit about farm animals in Latvia)
- Day 5 – Nothing
- Day 6 – Nothing
- Day 7 – Send a “break up email”
Examples of these emails and voicemails (and others) will be in the full book, and I’ll be sharing samples early through my newsletter, which you can get onto at PredictableRevenue.com.
Results: Beforehand, in using long ‘value proposition’ emails and not having a persistent way to make contact, the team just couldn’t get prospects to say “yes” or “no” – and so they were left hanging in the muddy middle of “I’m not sure”.
Now they’re at least engaging so WhatCounts can overcome objections and know one way or the other, to move them into a sales cycle or move on to a new prospect.
JJ & the team saw a big increase in engagement rates from prospects, which meant that instead of dropping 30-50 prospects into a “Nurture” bucket every week (usually when they didn’t really know one way or the other if there was interest or not), they dropped less than 10 a week into it.
JJ said “Marketers are constantly hammered with sales messages. Getting straight to the point with shorter emails made our targets more apt to engage in response, whether it be positive, negative, or with a referral. That allows our reps to spend more time working appointments and not wasting time with prospects who are not in the buying cycle. The long value proposition emails were too wordy and were deleted instantly. Statistics show that you have eight seconds to get your message across in an email and the value proposition emails were much longer than that before a call to action was requested. We also have many more prospects telling their buying cycle timing, like “We evaluate every October, or our contract doesn’t end until 2015.’”
90 Day Timeline To Onboard a New Prospecting Rep
- The first 14 days are intensive learning on the space, Predictable Revenue and general Sales Principles, and sitting with each individual department to learn how they work
- Days 21-30 are Learning and practicing with the tools, working to set calls to execute with other lead gen reps
- Days 31-60 are Executing, going from learning to doing
- Days 60-90-Breakout period where reps make significant individual impacts
WhatCounts’ Keys To Outbound Success:
- The CEO was not only bought into the concept, he introduced the book and required it as our new growth ideology.
- They hired inexperienced, hungry, competitive, and coachable reps that wanted to prove themselves and beat their own results quarter after quarter.
- Had a team-wide, consistent plan & approach among everyone in sales in making Predictable Revenue required reading.
- Identified and focused on our Ideal Customer Profile, rather than blindly trying to prospect any company willing to talk.
- They found some great apps (see above) and figured out how best to get value from them – which greatly helped the quality of our prospecting, combined with the Predictable Revenue process.
- They have a well-defined path for our prospectors to grow as Small & Medium Business Closers, then Mid-Market Closers and finally Major Accounts Closers.
A Painful Lesson Learned From A Six-Month Delay
WhatCounts lost six months with their first two prospecting hires, who didn’t work out. In July 2012, before reading Predictable Revenue, they’d hired two people with a lot of prospecting experience, gave them a bit of training and then set them loose. But – it turned out they were set in their ways from prior jobs (which wasn’t working) and they couldn’t adapt.
In hindsight, WhatCounts would have hired different people, who had less prospecting experience and were more ready to learn and prove themselves.
Be careful about hiring people with a lot of prospecting experience and who haven’t moved up in sales. Once in awhile there are people who love prospecting, but BY FAR for most people it’s an interim job to do for a year or two while learning and growing, before moving on and up.
If someone’s been doing the same kind of prospecting for more than 3-5 years, they may lack a passion for sales (red flag), lack skills (red flag), not care about learning/growing themselves at work (red flag), or they keep switching around with a “grass is greener” syndrome, never being satisfied anywhere (red flag). Don’t judge people too fast out of hand, but be aware here.
JJ’s Advice To You – “It Takes Time”
I asked JJ what would he most wants others to take away from his experiences so far, and he said “it takes time – plan for several months, not several weeks.”
If you’re starting from scratch, you have the hiring cycle, training, ramping, sales cycle times. It will take you 4-6 months to have consistent, quality leads coming from your outbound team, and another six+ months to see regular new deals coming in, depending on your sales cycle lengths.
And this assumes everything goes smoothly, avoiding any major fails like bad hires.
You can speed things up by a month or three by beginning with an internal transfer(s) rather than a brand-new outside hire.
Outsourcing is another way to try speeding things up, and check out the spotlight around Zenefits and LeadGeni.us for an example, but it doesn’t work for everyone and has it’s own challenges.
The fastest way to begin is to transfer someone already at the company into outbound, but even then it will take 3 months of ramping + however long your sales cycles are to see business begin to close regularly.