Six rules for more effective sales lead follow-up

brucedickinsonEarlier this week I highlighted some good & bad lead follow-up experiences I had first-hand last week. I listed a couple implications, but wanted to go deeper and get more specific on a few rules I believe constitute best practices for sales lead follow-up.

1. Document the best practice sequence (no matter how you define that)
Ask 10 inside sales managers and they’ll give you 10 different lead follow-up sequences – # of touches, mix between email and phone, voicemail or no voicemail, etc. No matter how you define it, make sure you have a consistent best practice sequence that’s trained and reinforced throughout the organization.

2. Draft email templates & VM scripts
Give you smart, trained reps flexibility to customize their prospect messages, but give them a baseline template for each email as well as explicit script for voicemails. Ideally these include your best practices around messaging, format, offer, etc.

3. Diversify channels beyond email & phone
At minimum, your lead follow-up should include both email and phone/voicemail. Leaving voicemails has been proven to increase familiarity and awareness, which increases response rates of future outreach. But diversifying channels further will accelerate the path towards response. Think social, discussion boards, Twitter “favorites”, LinkedIn Groups, their blog comments, anywhere you can generate a value-added impression with them that increases your engagement rate.

4. Automate & queue up the preferred outreach sequence as much as possible
Save those templates in, or better yet queue them up as a Program in ToutApp. The advantage of the latter is real-time notification of opens and clicks, as well as rolled-up reporting on response rates, sales rep usage, etc. This also helps save your reps time and increases their productivity.

5. Minimize recording and admin requirements for your reps
Speaking of productivity, make sure that increase in rigor and precision for the follow-up process doesn’t come with an increase in administrative work for your reps. The more time they spend recording each and every voicemail, the less time they’re actively selling.

6. Create a post-disposition nurture and trigger event program
Once your reps get through the full follow-up process without successfully reaching or qualifying the prospect (which will happen the majority of the time), develop a process that’s more than just marking the lead as “nurture” and sending it back to marketing. Ask the rep to send a LinkedIn connection request, follow them on Twitter and watch their activity via a column in Hootsuite, as well as any other tactics that help your reps notice and respond to daily trigger events and buying signals your prospects exhibit down the road – tomorrow, next week, next month or later in the year.

Curious to hear your lead follow-up best practices as well, especially those that have been implemented and optimized across deployed inside or field sales teams.

Four lies (and four truths) about social selling

pinocchioI’m thrilled to be joining Mike Weinberg and Tibor Shanto this Thursday for a webinar hosted by Kitedesk, featuring eight specific sales strategies to finish 2014 strong. You can register for the event here.

As we prepared our content for this event, the topic of social selling came up again and again, and it was clear that there’s quite a bit of misconception and over-hype about what social selling is, and what it really means for sales & marketing in today’s environment.

In my opinion, there are four lies about social selling that are causing the most confusion.  Here are those lies and what I believe to be the “truths” hidden behind them.

Lie #1: You can use social media as a sales channel
The Truth: There’s no such thing as social selling. Rarely if ever can you actually make a sale purely using social as your channel or medium. Social is a marketing tool, not a sales tool. It’s fantastic for engaging people, exchanging ideas, nurturing prospects, increasing value-added impressions, etc. But it won’t help you close. It won’t help you clarify your value proposition. In short, it won’t help you sell.  And by sell, I mean close.  Most everything else is still marketing.

Lie #2: Social selling is replacing traditional sales
The Truth: Social channels are a tool, not unlike email and the telephone. Social channels are highly efficient means of identifying and exchanging information, but they don’t change the way we fundamentally make decisions, how we experience pain and needs, or how we experience the psychology of buying and selling. The nature of the buyer/seller relationship is changing, sure, but that’s not because of social media. The tools and process by which buyers buy is changing, but the fundamentals of what works in sales – value, relationships, tenacity, activities – those aren’t going anywhere.

Lie #3: Social media leads are warm leads
The Truth: I’m all for building relationships with prospects well before you need them, and well before the prospect is ready to buy. But the implication that social leads are warmer leads, that because prospects are talking to you earlier in the process that they’re more interested in moving forward, is fundamentally flawed. Those socially-generated leads aren’t much better than your white paper or webinar leads. There’s nothing inherent about the channel that makes them any more or less ready to engage.

Lie #4: Prospects are easier to reach on social media
The Truth: In sales as well as marketing, we will always be in search of the white whale. That magic tactic or tool or channel that makes things easier. I’ll send a bunch of tweets and LinkedIn requests instead of talking to prospects! It will work better, faster and easier! Not true. Prospects on social are just as hard to reach, just as crazy busy, and just as cold. You will have to work just as hard to earn their attention and respect over time, else they will still ignore you.

I hope you can join us this Thursday for more commentary on what’s working in sales, and what can help you hit your number in Q4.

A tale of six data providers: Who wants my business?

headinthesandA week ago today, I needed a small email database appended with title and company information. It was an opt-in email list with just email and first/last name, so I needed a bit more information for first-level sorting.

I’m what you would call a highly-motivated, ready-to-buy buyer. If I find the right product for the right price, I’m ready to buy right now.

I’m also what you would call a crazy-busy buyer. I know I probably need to shop around a bit to see who has higher record completeness and reasonable prices, but I really don’t have time for a full RFP process or six complete presentations.

So, a week ago today, I sent Web and/or email inquiries to six companies that offer database and/or list append services.

Here’s what happened.

As usual, they were highly responsive and happy to work with me completely via email. They offered pricing immediately, and even took a copy of my database and provided a precise idea of what percentage of my list they could append not only with title and company information, but also with business phone, industry and other important filtering data.

I submitted a Web inquiry with detail about what I was looking for. A week later, I’m still waiting for a response.
Their “contact us” form didn’t give me an opportunity to give detail on what I was looking for, and the “thank you” page made it clear I’d hear back from someone within 48 hours (a loooong time for what I was looking to buy immediately). Two days later I got a call from a rep leaving me a voicemail and asking what I wanted to buy. No mention of (in case I didn’t know the two were related). No email follow-up.

I submitted a Web inquiry with detail about what I was looking for. A week later, I’m still waiting for a response. In their defense, they may have actually called. Someone left me a message mid-last week saying they were from “the service department” but didn’t identify what company they were calling from. No email follow-up.

I submitted a Web inquiry and got a response within 30 minutes. Highly-engaged rep with exactly the availability and pricing detail I needed.

This was actually a referral from a colleague I was speaking with later last Monday. Immediate response, all via email, clear pricing & availability.

Three things stood out to me in particular about this process:

  1. I’m surprised that two of the companies failed to respond to me at all
  2. Three companies called me just once or twice, then stopped trying.
  3. Those same three companies clearly wanted me to communicate via phone. I didn’t have time for that, and would have been far more responsive to an email vs. having to reply to a voicemail.

And, of course, a couple lessons here for those of you managing or working within demand generation or sales teams:

  1. Make sure leads don’t fall through the cracks. I wasn’t going to be a huge transaction, but I was a highly motivated buyer with money to spend.
  2. Even if the prospect initiated the contact, keep trying beyond 1-2 phone attempts. Your prospects are incredibly busy. And if they wanted something from you, they will appreciate your persistence.
  3. Don’t count on just one channel of communication. Use at least phone and email, if not social as well, to allow prospects to respond with their preferred method of communication. For your crazy-busy prospects, email and social are often far easier and more convenient.

Matt’s App of the Week: Litmus

appoftheweek-300x284I almost didn’t include this one in the series.  Everyone’s heard of it or is using it right?

Turns out that’s not the case. But if you’re doing email marketing as part of your job or marketing mix, I highly recommend adding Litmus to your QA (quality assurance) process.

Simply put, Litmus will show you how your email will be rendered across email platforms, browsers, devices, etc.  It’s a quick and easy way to identify design or layout problems, and to ensure the carefully-constructed design/message/offer comes through the way you want it.

They also have features for interactive testing, spam filter testing, landing page previews and more.

Worth a look if you’re not using it already.

B2B Reads: easy fixes, power pitches & ingredients

best-blogsIn addition to our Sunday App of the Week feature, we also summarize some of our favorite B2B sales & marketing posts from around the Web each week. We’ll miss a ton of great stuff, so if you found something you think is worth sharing please add it to the comments below.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we’re reading:

7 easy fixes for common sales follow up problems [infographic]
The way you treat sales follow ups can be compared to relationships. You don’t want to be nagging or too demanding, but rather trusting and understanding. Fun comparison by Anum Hussain.

How to pitch the power of content marketing to your boss
Content marketing has proven to be successful for businesses across all verticals and industries. However, a lot of companies are missing out on this great opportunity. Why is that? Great article by Arnie Kuenn.

The “3 P’s” of a killer drip campaigns for sales
Selling in today’s environment can be really tough. How are you standing out and getting the conversions that you want? Great tips from Jason Wesbecher.

The successes of the CMO and CIO are intertwined
Previously, the relationship between the CMO and the CIO was rated the lowest in the whole C-Suite. That’s not great. Here is a great opportunity for growth. Are your CMO and CIO relationships growing? Good stuff from Andrea Fishman.

The 3 key ingredients in a successful influencer pitch
When you are contacting an “influencer”, it doesn’t really matter the specifics because the same components of your pitch need to be present. What would you consider the top components? Good post from Jay Baer.

20 of the best interview questions for sales hires
Asking candidates the right questions during a job interview is always important, but that’s especially true for sales roles. Are you asking the right questions? Awesome tips from OpenVIew Venture Partners.

Asking for advice makes you seem more competent, not less
A lot of people shy away from asking questions because they are scared they will look dumb. That right there is dumb. Asking more questions actually makes you look smarter and more capable. Great advice from Melissa Dahl.

Subject lines that work for sales emails
The best email subject line for salespeople is no subject line at all. At first, that sounds crazy. But, does it really work? Great infographic Jim Keenan.

Top 6 keys to closing big, difficult to close sales
When you look back on all of your really big, hard to close sales, can you find some common themes? I am sure you can. What are those trends that you are finding really do work? Good stuff Dave Kurlan.

Ridiculously Good Content with Ann Handley (live in Seattle – Oct 2, 2014)

everybody-writesWe are a planet of publishers, yet many of us are squandering our opportunity.

That’s because in our content-driven world, writing matters more now, not less. Our online words are our emissaries: They tell our customers who we are.

Join Ann Handley, MarketingProfs’ Chief Content Officer and best-selling author, live in Seattle on October 2nd, 2014 as she brings fresh life to content strategies with advice from her new book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.

Ann will explain how our writing can make us look smart or it can make us look stupid. It can make us seem fun, or warm, or competent, or trustworthy—or it can make us seem humdrum or discombobulated or flat-out boring. That’s true whether you’re writing a listicle or the words on a SlideShare deck, and it’s also true of the words you’re reading right here, right now…

In this talk, Ann Handley will:

  • Tell you why you need to put a new value on an often-overlooked skill in content marketing
  • Give some practical, easy ways to become a better writer, and how to tell a true story well.

This isn’t a talk on grammar and usage (boring). This is a fun talk about the future of marketing and how you can get the edge by making your own writing ridiculously good.

Everyone who attends will receive a copy of Ann’s new book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.

Don’t miss out, registration is available here!

“How I Work”: Ann Handley, Founder/Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

“How I Work” is one of my favorite recurring features in Inc Magazine as well as via Lifehacker’s This Is How I Work Series, and recently several sales experts (including  Anthony IannarinoDave Brock and Trish Bertuzzi) participated as well.

Periodically moving forward we will feature a new B2B sales, marketing or business leader here answering what have become the standard “How I Work” questions.  You can catch up on everyone we’ve featured thus far in the “How I Work” series here.

This week I’m excited and honored to feature Ann Handley, founder of MarketingProfs, author of the forthcoming book Everybody Writes (Wiley) Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content and one of the preeminent content marketers working today.  She’s in constant demand by B2B marketers while running a multi-media empire that includes her blog, subscription service, amazing events and more (all while raising a family).

Ann, suffice it to say, gets stuff done.  Here, in her own words, is how she works.

Ann tiny house final

Surprise photo cred goes to @carolineeprice

Location: My Tiny House ( and wherever books are sold. (…and maybe on a few nightstands. Is that creepy? Sorry.)

Current computers: MacBook Pro. I’m a one-machine kind of girl.

Current mobile devices: iPhone 5. Pining for the 6. HURRY UP APPLE. iPad (currently uncharged and I have no idea where it is at this moment)

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? 

Well, I could live without most apps/software/tools. But would I live as well as I do? Probably not without these:

  • Moleskine – for early drafts of things
  • WordPress – for later drafts
  • Scrivener – for big writing projects (books!)
  • iPhone – “Hi, I’m Ann. And I’m an addict.”
  • Instagram – For igniting my latent love of photos and visuals
  • Facebook – This is more love/hate. Love it for keeping me in touch with extended family; hate it because it ignites conflicting feelings of irritation toward the platform itself, which is irritating for a lot of reasons.
  • Sococo – Because it replicates a cool office environment for MarketingProfs.
  • Snapchat — As a parenting platform (if you have teens!)
  • Timehop — For reminding me that life speeds up as it moves along.
  • Chromecast – To bring Neflix magically to my big screen

What’s your workspace like? It’s a 12 x 12 square foot wood structure with a tiny porch on the front. There’s a slight cross-breeze now, as I type. I can see the yard and the pool and my dog rummaging in the garden. It’s a simple, pared down, refreshing place to get things done. Sometimes people stop by and we have a glass of wine on the porch. It’s like working at home without working at home.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or lifehack? When I was in middle school, a teacher once commented on my report card: “Tries hard but works slowly.” At the time, I was incensed… and I wondered if I was perhaps impaired in some way but never knew it. Decades later, I realize she was 100 percent right — I do work slowly and carefully, and I do try hard. So my only hack is knowing when to let go and knowing when to say no: Surrounding myself with great people who are incredibly talented, and offloading tasks to assistants when I don’t absolutely need to handle it myself.

What everyday thing are you better at than anybody else? I just asked my daughter (via text!) this question: “No one embarrasses me like you do.” I’ll take that as a point of pride.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Jess Ostroff. (

What do you listen to while at work? Nothing. I like silence when I work.

What are you currently reading? The Giver by Lois Lowry. We just saw the movie this past weekend, and I realized I’ve read a lot of Lowry, but never that one. In also just finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (I have mixed feelings about that one, but generally enjoyed the epic-ness of the experience) and I just finished the FINAL DRAFT of Everybody Writes. I was quite happy to be done with that one, finally. (Did I mention it was the FINAL!?)

What’s your sleep routine like? I sleep like a toddler. I fight going to bed, then when I finally drag myself there I sleep two hours, lie awake thinking about things, drift back off, wake up, drift, wake, drift, wake, drift, wake, drift, wake, drift, wake. Then by noon I’m ready for a nap.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? To not take myself too seriously. My family taught me that (collectively). And still I’m allergic to anyone who takes themselves too seriously. We’re usually not friends.

Anything else you want to add? Is anyone still reading?

Fill in the Blank: I’d love to see BLANK answer these questions. I’d love to read what Tim Washer would say.

Get a copy of Ann’s book:

See Ann live in Seattle! On October 2, Ann will share how marketers can get the edge with ridiculously good writing. Learn more about the event and register now! It’s going to be awesome.

Making a case for rational optimism (in business, sales & life)

rationaloptimismI’ve been thinking a lot lately about perspective.  As a sales professional, as a business owner, as an entrepreneur.

It’s one thing to have a plan, set goals, to know what you want to achieve.  It’s another thing entirely to have the right mindset to get there.  Your approach, your mindset, the way you handle the ups and downs of business everyday – it’s critical you have this nailed to succeed long-term.

Many people succeed or fail because of this but without giving it a second thought.  They either have the right mindset for their environment or challenge ,or they don’t.

So I’ve been thinking lately about what the right, intentional mindset would look like.

Earlier in my career, I’d been accused of being far too optimistic.  Too trusting without enough skepticism peppered in.  Perhaps true.

On the other hand, I distinctly remember one member of our management team back in the day we called “The Angel of Death” because everything he discussed was negative.  Every decision, every market condition, every perspective (with a few exceptions) was negative.

The most appropriate mindset for most business situations is likely somewhere in between.  For me, I’ve come to describe this middle ground as “rational optimism”.

I still generally prefer to have a positive mindset.  I prefer to expect the best of people.  It’s a much more pleasant way to live, and I’ve come to believe it also not only brings out the good in people but also accelerates relationship-building and pass-along interest.

But blind positivism will get you hurt.  It can keep you from seeing roadblocks ahead, from seeing or expecting obstacles that can or are likely to appear.

Rational optimism means assuming and expecting the best, but within reason.  There’s a big difference between negativity and rationalism.  I prefer to use the latter to help me anticipate, address and react to obstacles in my path to success.

There will always be plenty of barriers to success.  There will always be conditions, competitors and more that want to see me fail.  I need to be aware of them, to counter them, but not let them affect my approach and disposition to the opportunity, business and world overall.

That’s how I prefer to see it anyway.  Would love to hear your perspective, and/or what’s worked well for you.

Giving advice: Should, could, would vs. did

stoptalkingWe all have opinions.  But oftentimes the best advice we give is based less on opinion and more based on experience.

When you say “you should”, you’re implying a level of expertise and understanding of the situation that you rarely have.  And even if you’re in a position to give forward-thinking advice based on opinion, our “you should” statements most often come far too early.  We don’t nearly have the input or data or perspective to provide a meaningful, well thought out opinion.

When you say “you could”, it sounds better but is pretty much the same.  You’re giving the receiver an out, implying that they have an option to stay their own course.  It’s a softer way of giving direction, but it still means “should” in most cases.

When you say “I would”, it’s potentially worse.  You’re not only implying you have a better idea, but implying that the receiver has been doing it wrong or thinking about it wrong all along.

All three of these are opinions.  Again, the better you understand the situation and data, the more incrementally appropriate and valuable your opinion becomes.

But what’s always valuable, in almost every advice-giving situation, is experience.

When you say “I did”, you’re helping the receiver understand their situation or problem or challenge in the light of something you’ve already faced, already done, already struggled with.  When you give advice based on experience, it doesn’t matter that much if the experience was positive or negative.  It’s still valuably additive to the decision the receiver has to make.

Sharing experiences is not only a valuable form of advice, it’s often far better received and appreciated.  Lessons learned are incredibly valuable, and the receiver benefits and appreciates the fact that the giver has “opened themselves up” with a story that may have been very personal or intimate or vulnerable.

This isn’t to say that “you should” and “I would” statements don’t have their place.  I’ve just come to believe that the moments when a window into our own experiences is more valuable to others is far higher than we give credit.


Will you work or play on Labor Day?

allworkandnoplayHopefully you’ll do a little of both, and be intentional about both as well.

I’m blessed (as likely are you if you’re reading this) to have a job that’s not ruled by a factory whistle.  It’s a blessing and a curse that I don’t work a 9-5 job, and I can honestly say (as can my wife!) that I’ve never worked as hard as I have since starting this business six years ago.

But every day I get to work and play.  I get to make that choice, on a Saturday and a holiday and a Tuesday.

The work gets done, but you know what they say about all work and no play.

You’ll probably check your email today.  Probably get a few things done before Tuesday.  I’ll likely do the same.  But I’ll also spend plenty of extra time with my family, try to catch a mid-day nap, and take a moment to appreciate what I get to call “labor”, along with the work others have done (and continue to do) to make this possible.