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Your product’s taking off. You’ve got traction in your market, and you’re looking to go even further. Your first basic sales model has accomplished wonders for your business so far, but after weighing the various factors involved and taking a close look at the market, you’ve decided to start building your sales organization. This is the time to determine which of the 3 sales team structures is best suited for you.

Now what?

This is a critical juncture for many startup founders, and one that people often struggle with. We like to paint a picture of salespeople as cowboys, who walk in with guns blazing. The best salespeople are go-getters, who seize initiative and take charge. You might think that it’s best to just hire amazing sales talent, and let them hit the ground running, and you got yourself a great sales team. 

You’d be wrong. A Harvard Business Review study shows that 50% of high-performing sales organizations have well-documented sales processes that are explicitly structured, compared to 28% of under-performing organizations. You can’t just haphazardly start hiring sales reps, and expect your business to grow automatically.

As a founder, it’s your responsibility to choose the appropriate sales team structure that fits your business and your culture. In doing so, you’ll cultivate a high-growth environment that will allow your sales team to truly shine.

Here are the three basic sales team structures that you can use to ramp up your sales game and build a high-performing sales organization.

(Note: We've put together a complete sales management toolkit for you: checklists, onboarding plans, meeting agenda's, comp plan calculators and more. Download your free copy now!)

Sales team structure 1: The island

The island model of sales organization leads to a more traditional, “sell-or-die” environment that people typically associate with sales reps. There’s actually very little organizational structure that goes into it. You provide your team with some basic back-end services: some training, a range of products they can sell, a commission structure, maybe an office—and that’s it.

In this model, every sales rep is essentially responsible for each step of the sales process on their own. They have to generate leads by themselves, qualify them, and close them. Reps within this framework tend to be more aggressive. They’ve got their elbows out in fierce competition—not just with the larger market, but their own teams as well.

Each member of your sales team essentially becomes their own entrepreneur.

This way of structuring your sales team dominates traditional sales operations, like real estate or financial services. Think about your average real estate agent. She’ll walk into her office each day, and nominally represent a larger real estate agency, like Coldwell Bankers, or the Corcoran Group. But she’ll promote her listings mostly on her own, by posting them online, calling prospects on the phone, and running open houses—all in hopes of a close.

Pros:

  • Very little managerial oversight required on a one-on-one basis
  • Good for simple sales processes, like a one or two call-to-close product

Cons:

  • Creates a very aggressive sales environment
  • You have much less control over how your brand is represented in the market, because it’s highly dependent upon each individual rep’s style.
  • Because everyone does everything, it’s difficult to keep track of key sales metrics and benchmarks
Takeaway

The island model isn’t great for most startups—it’s too aggressive, and too competitive—but there’s always exceptions. It typically suits companies that work in established markets, with high levels of competition. The island model works best for low complexity, high-transaction sales processes. Sometimes, simplest is best.

Sales team structure 2: The assembly line

The assembly line drove the Industrial Revolution, and built Ford’s famous Model T. It essentially specialized the labor force, and sequentially arranged production processes for max efficiency.

You can apply the assembly line structure to your sales team. Your raw materials are essentially your prospective customers, who are cultivated and refined during the sales cycle. The assembly line typically breaks down a sales force by function into four different groups:

  • Lead generation team: Responsible for developing leads, and gathering names, phone numbers, emails, and data.
  • Sales Development Representatives (SDRs): Also commonly referred to as Qualifiers/Prospectors. SDRs reach out to prospects and qualify them by asking questions that focus on customer needs, and identify the decision-making process.
  • Account Executives (AEs): Responsible for closing the deal. They call up qualified leads, give demos, manage objections, move the deal forward, and ultimately try to close the deal.
  • Customer Success team: Once a deal is closed, new customers are passed on to this team. They’re focused on account management and keeping customers happy, increasing lifetime value (LTV) for each customer. They also help upsell customers to higher plans.

If you want to more help managing your team better, download our free sales management toolkit.

In his book, Predictable Revenue, Aaron Ross breaks down one assembly line model you can use to structure your sales team:

The assembly line allows your sales team to specialize among different functions and roles. Each step of the sales cycle has a dedicated team. As customers walk through the funnel—from leads, to qualified opportunities, to new customers—they’re passed on to the next team.

Because each unit of the assembly line is so specialized in function, you can hold each team accountable to the various sales metrics they’re responsible for.

By specializing your sales team, it becomes much easier to isolate bottlenecks in your funnel, and fix them accordingly. For example, perhaps you set an overall sales goal of closing 12 deals out of every 100 leads sourced. If the results you’re pulling are five deals out of every 100, you can look closer at each stage of the funnel to find the friction. You might look at your AEs and see that they’re closing an acceptable 25% of qualified leads, but your SDRs are only managing to qualify 20% of raw leads.

You can dive right in, and see what’s up with your SDR team—whether an individual member of the team simply isn’t converting quality leads, or whether it’s a more global problem. You could institute further training and data-driven coaching, to boost SDRs up to 50% of leads qualified rate, and hit your broader sales goals. Looking at the segmentation of your funnel is one of the most powerful ways to fine-tune the engine of your sales machine.

Even with only two sales reps, you can still start specialization early. Have one focus on prospecting new clients, and the other on closing deals, based on their natural abilities and talents. Use the 80/20 rule to determine when to build new stations on the assembly line—when your reps spend 20% or more of their time on a secondary function, it might be appropriate to pass that role on to a specialist.

Pros:

  • This sales team structure creates predictability for your business
  • Makes it easy to isolate problems in the funnel, and laser in on them
  • More specialization in your sales organization equals more efficiency

Cons:

  • When you’re starting out with two sales reps, it’s difficult to split them into four different teams—you just won’t have enough manpower for the job.
  • By splitting up the funnel into different stages, there can be friction between the hand off of customers as they travel through the funnel.
  • Because teams are highly specialized, each team member becomes increasingly disconnected from the overall business goals of the company. They’re focused on their own specific numbers and metrics instead.
Takeaway

Most startups will find that some form of the assembly line will work best for them. It’s great for reducing the complexity of your sales cycle, increasing sales efficiency, and scaling your team. Your sales cycle is probably relatively complex—and will grow more complex along with your business. The higher your annual customer value (ACV), the more important it is to have specialized sales team members dedicated to each part of the customer journey.

The power of the assembly line sales team structure lies in creating a reliable and repeatable process for nurturing leads. In doing so, it takes your funnel and transforms it into a revenue powerhouse as you build your business to scale.

Sales team structure 3: The pod

A pod works along similar lines to the assembly line model of sales, but instead creates focused tight-knit groups, or “pods” that are composed of team members that play different roles. A podular organization is customer-centric.

For example, a six-person sales pod would be composed of three SDRs, two AEs, and one Customer Success rep. Instead of having large teams, you create little pods of specialized roles, and each pod is responsible for the entire journey of specific customers.

Dave Gray, author of The Connected Company, provides this diagram of the pod model:

You still utilize the specialist roles we outlined above, with SDRs, AEs, and Customer Success reps. But instead of having all of your SDRs or AEs compete against each other, with a podular organization of your sales team, pods compete with other pods. Each pod works together to win the customer, and keep them happy afterwards. They’re more fluid, and come up with ideas independently.

With the pod, you build a more modular and flexible structure than the traditional model. Since success is measured by pod, each member of the sales force has a larger, more holistic view of the entire company. Pods build more meaningful connections between people who are working together. You can specialize pods based on different industries, verticals, or countries.

Pros:
  • Because pods work in close-knit teams, your sales team doesn’t just care about their own step in the process, but about the entire customer journey.
  • High empathy and understanding within pods, less friction and better communication
  • Pods are more flexible and agile

Cons:

  • With the pod structure, there’s less opportunity for your individual sales reps to compete and grow, and push each other to excel
  • Less specialization with each role, as each member becomes more of a “jack-of-all-trades”
Takeaway

The pod structure of sales organization is essentially a refined version of the assembly line. It’s perfect for more mature startups trying to optimize existing sales resources to tap into new markets and verticals.

If you work in a competitive industry, with aggressive companies cranking well-run assembly lines, it can be hard to compete with a pod model—the pod trades efficiency for versatility. But if you’ve established your market, and have significant traction, organizing your teams into pods creates a highly flexible, agile sales team, ready to meet a variety of challenges, and pounce upon new opportunities.

Don’t forget the culture

There’s two simple goals you want to meet when it comes to organizing your sales team:

  1. Drive maximum results.
  2. Create the best cultural fit for your organization.

Take a look at the other competitors within your industry—how are their sales teams structured? You don’t have to imitate what they’re doing. But if everyone in your market is crushing it in a specific way, it’s worth asking why—and finding out if there’s a good, rational reason behind it.

As you structure your sales team, what’s most important is finding the right fit that will drive the results you’re looking for.

It’s critical that you constantly ask yourself: “What kind of sales team are we? What kind of culture are we trying to create?” The team you build and the way you structure it in the early-stages of your startup will leave a huge footprint on your sales process, as you further grow and scale your business. Don’t leave it up to chance. Choose the sales model and team that works for you, and you’ll build a sales organization capable of sustaining long-term growth.

3 models of effective sales team organization - YouTube

Want more tips on building winning sales organizations? Get The Sales Hiring Playbook - An actionable guide on building winning sales teams in 2017.

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Let me tell you a story about a friend of mine. We’ll call him Alexander.

Alexander was working with one of his company’s best clients—a high-value, long-term customer. That client was evaluating alternatives and considering leaving the company for a new vendor. Alexander had been negotiating with them for a few weeks, trying to keep them around.

I was serving as an advisor and helping him out with the process. He would call me up after his interactions with the client and let me know how things were going. I’d give him some advice each time, and he’d keep me in the loop.

At the beginning of the process, the client was 99% sure they would change to a competitor. We eventually moved them to 50/50, and even 60/40 in favor of Alexander’s company. I was sure they were going to stay on.

You might not have a seasoned startup CEO as a personal advisor by your side, but you can get a free copy of my book on negotiating better deals.

Then, today, Alexander called me with a confession. “Steli,” he said, “I think I made a big mistake.”

Even veterans make rookie mistakes

It’s worth noting here that Alexander is an experienced salesperson. He’s not new to this game. But he was under a lot of pressure. And that’s when people make mistakes.

He’d been going through this negotiation for weeks. He had other things to get done. He was tired of working with this client day in and day out. And he was under pressure to keep a valuable client on board.

Even veterans make easy-to-avoid mistakes when they’re under pressure. Sales negotiation is about avoiding dumb mistakes. It’s not just about doing everything right and getting the sale. It’s also about avoiding mistakes that make you facepalm when you see how easily they could have been avoided.

That’s the kind of mistake Alexander made. Here’s what happened:

Alexander had an in-person meeting with the client a while back. And in that meeting, he told the client that some customers who had left his company for other vendors had run into painful difficulties. Integration, implementation, pricing, and transitions had all been a source of serious headaches.

The day after the meeting, the client called and asked if they could get in touch with one of the companies that had gone through these difficulties.

Alexander knew he should think about this request carefully, but he was distracted. He gave it some thought while he was going through his email and doing other daily tasks.

He didn’t call me.

Instead, he thought of a company that had transitioned away from his, figured they’d be a pretty good reference, and made the introduction.

Then today, he learned that his company’s client was flying out to visit the ex-customer at their home office.

As soon as he told me that, I knew the deal was almost certainly lost. Why would they be flying out there if not to ask about things like tips on how to make the transition go more smoothly? Or to connect with the ex-customer’s consultants? Or get suggestions on which vendors to look into?

Alexander was so close to closing the deal, and he threw it away.

He should have talked to the ex-customer to set expectations, find out what they would say when asked about the transition, and see what they would recommend to his current client. He needed to be in control of the message—and probably should have also been on the call. (Despite these requirements, sharing references is a great tactic if you do it right.)

Now all he can do is call the ex-customer to ask about how the conversation went and why his client is flying out to their office.

This was a big mistake. Even the smartest people—like Alexander—make dumb mistakes under pressure.

How to not screw up your deals

Pressure comes from things like high-value deals, long negotiations, and high quotas. But you might feel pressured for any number of reasons. There are two things you need to do when you’re negotiating under pressure:

First, use an external advisor to check yourself. It might be a friend with sales experience. It could be someone else at your company. There are just three requirements: that advisor needs to be honest, sharp, and not invested in the deal.

That means you can use an engineer, a project manager, or an administrative assistant at your company. If you trust their wits and they’re not involved in the deal, they’ll make a good advisor.

The further along you are in the negotiation, the more crucial this is. During a grueling negotiation, you can’t trust yourself to think rationally. You’re emotionally invested, you’re exhausted, and you’re under pressure. That’s when you make mistakes.

Second, you need to be completely transparent with that advisor. Don’t do anything without talking to them about it first.

This is especially important if you feel uncomfortable about a particular idea or tactic. If you think your advisor will say “no,” be doubly sure to talk to them. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re probably about to make a mistake.

No matter how senior you are—whether you’re a brand-new salesperson or the CEO of a company—you need to talk to your advisor before making a decision.

I do it myself. Two years ago, I had a big negotiation with one of our clients, and I bounced a lot of ideas off my technical cofounder. He has no training or authority in sales—but he’s a smart guy and very honest. I used him as a sounding board almost every day.

I was feeling impatient. I just wanted to get the deal done and move on. But I knew that I couldn’t trust myself, because I was under pressure and prone to making a terrible mistake.

But with my cofounder’s help, I avoided making a mistake and kept the client onboard.

Check yourself

It’s easy to think that you won’t make a dumb mistake. Whether you’re a salesperson, a sales manager, or an executive, you think your experience will prevent you from doing something like Alexander. But trust me: when the pressure’s on, you will make a mistake.

So find someone to talk to about your sales negotiation, and be totally upfront with them. It will save you lost sales and a whole lot of headaches. 

How to avoid terrible mistakes in sales by @Steli from Close.io - YouTube

Want more tips on negotiating better deals? I've written an entire book on the subject, and you can claim your free copy here!

GET OUR SALES NEGOTIATION GUIDE

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We’re introducing more affordable plans, access to truly global calling for customers based in any country around the world and making the shift to usage-based calling costs.

We talk to our customers a lot. And we listen. That’s why last year we introduced automated , advanced predictive dialing, and allocated a ton of time, resources and effort into further improving our call quality.

However, it’s easy listening to just the things you want to hear. Feature requests are simple to digest and translate into action, because they’re all about adding what you want.

On the other hand, taking feedback about pricing and making potentially drastic changes to the fundamentals of the business took us a little more time to fully think through and come to what we believe is a much better pricing structure.

Note: All pricing changes will go into effect for new customers on February 1st 2019. And if you want even more detail behind all of these updates, check our new 2019 Pricing FAQ page here. Now, let’s dive in.

Drastically lower calling costs for sales teams around the world.

Over the past few years, we’ve very quickly grown from our humble roots in Silicon Valley, where we originally served a customer base made up mostly of US-based startups, to now helping a much more diverse group of growing sales teams at SMBs and startups from dozens of countries around the world.

While our customer base has grown and evolved over time, our pricing hasn’t kept pace.

Before today’s pricing change, the only option non-US companies had (if they wanted to make calls) was to either choose our Professional plan for making unlimited calls within the US and Canada, or upgrade to the Business plan if you wanted to make unlimited calls “worldwide.”

This pricing structure meant that US or Canadian-based companies who only made calls within their home country (the US/Canada), could get by with staying on our lower-priced Professional plan—whereas the same sized company based in Europe, Asia, Australia or otherwise that wanted to call only within their own countries, would need to be on our Business plan in order to do so.

Removing this barrier—to truly make access to Close an even playing field for sales teams based anywhere in the world—is one of the big shifts we’re making, and it was the catalyst for a few more changes happening here today as well.

Lowering the prices of Business and Professional plans.

This one’s pretty simple.

While our Basic plan will remain the same price, we’re lowering the per user cost of both our Business and Professional plans—making it more affordable to access even more robust features within Close.

As a reminder, these pricing changes go into effect for new customers on February 1, 2019.

Switching to usage-based calling and SMS pricing (plus free monthly usage credits).

Usage-based pricing (an industry standard model for calling within CRMs) for calling and SMS is finally coming to Close.

You’ll now only pay for the actual calls you make and SMS messages you send.

We were the first CRM to offer built-in calling right out of the box, and while our features still dramatically outperform competitors offering similar all-in-one CRMs with calling, we’re now switching to a usage-based pricing model for calling and SMS.

Everyone on any Close plan can now take advantage of calling and SMS—it’s no longer an all or nothing decision. Plus, you’ll be able to pay as you go, based on your own actual calling and SMS usage.

How much will calling cost on a per-minute basis?

The short answer is, it depends on where you’re calling, and the number you’ll be using to make those calls. Here are some averages you should expect to see (from our telephony provider Twilio):

**Pricing may vary based on the number you use to call. Billing begins after use of credits. Learn more here.

(Still) best in class sales calling.

Beyond just adjusting the cost of calling within our CRM, we’ve been working hard to bring new features and functionalities geared toward just one thing—maximizing your sales productivity. Our built-in calling features help thousands of customers close more deals in the same (often less) time than before.

For one, many CRMs don’t offer both inbound and outbound calling built-in; we do.

We also have the Power Dialer and Predictive Dialer, Voicemail Drops, Group Numbers, Call Forwarding, Call Recording and more that make Close the most robust calling-enabled CRM on the market today.

Free monthly calling & SMS credits.

Because we believe so strongly in the power of communication and calling within an effective sales process, we’re offering all customers $10 in free usage credits (per organization) each month before you’re charged for any calls you make or SMS messages you send. We even provide $5 in free usage credits to all 14-day free trials.

Still have questions?

As a reminder, these pricing changes go into effect for new customers on February 1, 2019.

We’ve already compiled a FAQ based on the experience of our early adopters, which describes everything in more detail and outlines more of the changes we're making today.

If you'd like to discuss how these changes may affect you personally, and see what your options are please contact our Success team!

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Dealing with sales objections is always difficult. But if you sell a product or solution that your clients could create for themselves, in-house, you face a unique objection:

“We’re already doing this in-house. Why would we hire you to do it for us?”


Even the most experienced salespeople can have trouble with this one—you need to tread carefully to not come off as dismissive, confrontational, or out of touch. But if you can determine what’s driving this objection, your response can turn into a great sales point.

Want to learn how to handle any sales objection? Download your free sales objection template now.

Before we look at tactics for dealing with this sales objection, let’s talk about something you should ask yourself first:

Is the lead actually qualified?

If a prospect is already solving this problem in-house, you need to know whether it’s worth your time to pursue the sale.

The ultimate question is this: should this sales objection disqualify a prospect?

The best way to answer is to look at your past customers. If some of them had in-house solutions and they switched to your solution anyway, there’s no reason to disqualify a potential customer just because they currently have a team or a piece of software that works.

Conversely, if you don’t have evidence that companies are likely to switch from in-house to your solution, reconsider whether you should pursue this prospect. Take some time to work on your value proposition and develop a stronger reason for companies to switch from an in-house solution to yours.

If you’ve seen a number of people switch from an in-house solution, think about what they have in common:

  • Is it about the size of the company?
  • Industry complexity?
  • A fast rate of growth?

If you can find common factors, it will make prospecting (as well as selling) much easier. And you’ll be able to use that information with the tactics below.

As long as you’re sure that having an in-house solution doesn’t disqualify a prospect, you can move on to determining the best course of action:

1. Put them on a follow-up list

Sometimes a prospect with an in-house solution won’t be interested in changing or supplementing their current method. In this case, your best bet is to put them into a follow-up sequence.

Ask a few more qualifying questions before the end of the call or meeting to get a better idea of their needs. Tell them about companies that have decided to switch after they’ve grown or increased the complexity of their business.

Then follow up regularly using an automated email sequence. There’s no need to email these prospects every couple weeks. You’ll probably get in touch every quarter, or even every other quarter, just to remind them that you’re still around and would be happy to help solve their problems.

If you’re using our inside sales CRM, you can set up sequences for specific time intervals, use templates to write emails faster, and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your email sequence.

Even if your prospect doesn’t respond, you’ll stay top-of-mind. When they eventually need help solving the problem that they currently tackle in-house, you’ll be the first company they think of.

2. Offer your solution as a supplement

In many cases, you’ll offer your solution as a replacement to the in-house one currently in use. But sometimes your prospects won’t go for that. They’ve spent a lot of time setting up their in-house solution, and they don’t want to just get rid of it.

That’s when you change your angle to focus on your solution as a supplement to their existing software or team. It’s not an either/or situation.

Ask them how they deal with specific problems that your product is well-positioned to solve. Tell them about other customers who have paired an in-house solution with your outsourced one.

The important thing here is to not position your solution as a threat. It’s a way to supplement what they’re doing already and get better results. You’re not looking to put them out of a job—you’re trying to help them improve their process.

Focus on what you’re offering. You’re going to help the manager of the in-house solution look better. Get more done with less effort. Superpower the results they’re currently getting.

That’s the best angle to take in this situation.

3. Make the case for your solution

This is the most confrontational option, and can be risky. Put simply, you tell your prospect that they should transition from an in-house solution to an external one.

Of course, approaching the issue like this can start the conversation off on the wrong foot. It’s better to present yourself as a provider of information. Share the percentage of companies in the field that are outsourcing, or the most common reasons listed for outsourcing.

Show your prospect why the most successful companies in their space have switched to an outsourced provider, share information on the wider market, and give the prospect enough knowledge to make the right decision.

Make sure to address the reasoning behind other companies’ external shift, too:

  • Is it because this type of software has become very complex?
  • Or that internal teams aren’t able to push out updates fast enough?

Find the reasons why this information is relevant to your prospect.

It’s important to note that you should only choose this tactic if you’re 100% confident in your ability to provide compelling information. If your prospect says “we’re already doing this in-house,” trying to convince them to do otherwise will be tough. You have to be able to back up your claims with data.

Provide help, not challenges

When a prospect tells you they’re already handling a challenge in-house, it’s tempting to tell them about why that’s a bad idea or why your solution is better. But you’ll notice that the tactics above don’t take that approach.

Instead, they aim to help the prospect solve the problems they’re facing (or will be facing in the future). In many cases, you’ll provide this help by showing them information about their industry and your company’s success in assisting members of that industry.

“We’re already doing this in-house” might seem like the death knell of a sales call. But if you’re prepared to offer useful information, you can turn this common sales objection into a launching point for an entirely new conversation.

B2B Sales Objection: We're already doing this in-house by @Steli from Close.io - YouTube

Learn how to respond to any sales objection by downloading our free sales objection template.

GET YOUR FREE OBJECTION MANAGEMENT TEMPLATE

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Booking high-quality meetings is one of the most underappreciated opportunities sales teams have. We all want to learn the best tactics for negotiating and closing deals. But try getting people excited about appointment setting. Yet, no matter how you look at it, there’s one truth in sales: You can’t win a deal if no one’s willing to talk to you.

B2B appointment setting might not be the sexiest topic to cover. But it’s the foundation that your entire sales process is built on.

In this post, we’re going to run you through everything you need to know about setting better appointments, from how to set more appointments, when and how often to send reminders, to what to do after the call and how to turn no-shows back into hot leads.

Want to up your cold emailing game and start booking more sales appointments? Download our free appointment setting email template here.

You have to sell the appointment before you can sell your product

Appointment setting is both a science and an art. Sure, there are tools and techniques that have been proven to increase your response rate. But the art is in how you sell the meeting.

Yet most sales teams don’t pitch the value of the meeting itself. We assume everyone knows what a product demo is and why they’d want to spend their time going through one. But why should that prospect give you their time?

Think about the last time someone called or emailed asking for a few minutes of your time. If you said yes, it was probably because they proved to you the ROI of taking the meeting.

That’s exactly what you need to do when you’re trying to set more appointments. Don’t give some long-winded request or backstory. Just get to the point and show the prospect that setting this appointment is going to save them time and help them get to a better decision faster.

The last thing you want is to fall into the trap of what Rachel Williams, Director of Sales and Partnerships at Calendly, calls, the “show up and throw up” appointment setting call or email. These are where you list all the ways your product is amazing in the hope that one of them sticks. But your prospect doesn’t have time for this. Plus, they don’t know you. So why should they care?

If you don’t sell the appointment, you can never sell your product. So don’t underestimate the importance of your appointment setting outreach.

Should you cold call or send a cold email when trying to set appointments?

One of the biggest questions in sales and in appointment setting is whether you should reach out by email or phone. The simple answer is both. The more complex one is that it depends on your team and your customer.

First, ask yourself how big of a sales opportunity is this? Is this a high-pressure situation where you need a response now and should call? Or is your sales process longer and it’s fine to email and follow up online?

Next, where and when is your customer most likely to respond? You know your prospect better than anyone. Do they respond better to cold calls or emails? Are they going to see your number pop up on their screen and take that call? Or do you need to email them when you know they’ll be sitting down at their computer?

Cold calls and emails aren’t your only option either. When you’re trying to set more appointments you need multiple touchpoints with your prospect. Add them on social media or comment on one of their latest updates. Let them know who you are and that you’re interested in talking to them.

Whichever method you choose, when a prospect gets back to you, set the appointment as soon as possible. Ideally, that same week. If you set an appointment too far in advance, you’re going to have to continually check back with them and get their buy-in. Capture the momentum of a quick call and push your prospect into your pipeline.

Appointment setting over email

Like all cold emails, your appointment setting messages will do better if you know exactly who you’re sending it to. This means having a deep understanding of who your ideal customer is and how you can sell the value of taking the meeting to them.

That means sending an appointment setting email that is:

    • Personalized: Show the person you’ve done your homework and know who they are.
    • Short and to the point: Your messaging needs to be compelling and attention-grabbing from the start. Don’t start with a weak “hope you’re well” or other throwaway statement.
    • Respectful of your prospect’s time: Get to the point quickly. Acknowledge your prospect is busy and tell them why you’re reaching out.
    • Clearly explain how you’ll solve your prospect’s biggest issues: What keeps your ideal customer up at night? And how is your product going to solve that problem?
    • Tell them exactly what they need to do next: Should they reply? Click your calendar link? Give you a call? Be super clear about what their next step is.

It’s a lot to pack into a few sentences. Which is why one great tip is to share your email with the ideal customer within your own company.

So for example, if your ideal customer is a VP of Marketing, then show your email to your VP of Marketing. Is it something they’d open and read? Does it make them want to connect with you? Ask for their honest opinion, because they’ll know better than anyone else.

And don’t be afraid to get creative, either. Scott Barker, Head of Partnerships at Sales Hacker and his team use a “Fake Cold Call” email template for their cold outreach. Not only has it helped them land hundreds of sales appointments and contracts, but they consistently get a 70-80% response rate.

When it comes to setting appointments over email, you also need a tool that lets you send personalized emails at scale and be incredibly organized so you can respond quickly and timely.

Close's integrated Sales Inbox lets you quickly see all your appointment setting activity in one place—including emails, calls, voicemails, tasks, and reminders. This way you can track every touchpoint with your lead as you set appointments.

And with our two-way email syncing, you can set automatic follow-up reminders, use personalized templates, and send bulk appointment setting emails, all from your CRM.

Appointment setting over the phone

Depending on your prospect and your industry, a cold email might not be the best way to set sales appointments. Plus, if you don’t have insight into the deliverability of your emails, you don’t know if they’re ending up in the spam or just being ignored. And with new data protection laws like the GDPR coming into effect, cold emailing lists might be a thing of the past.

That’s why cold calling is another fantastic option for appointment setting. But again, it comes with its own specific best practices.

For one, it’s always a good idea to let a prospect know who you are before you call them. This is as easy as following them on social media or checking out their LinkedIn page. Just a bit of engagement can go a long way in creating a “warm call” rather than a strictly cold one.

Second, you need to have insights into the success rate of your calls and how many it takes to land an appointment. This is where having a CRM with built-in VoIP calling like Close is so important for appointment setting.

Not only are you able to make more calls thanks to one-click dialing and our built-in Power Dialer call automation, but all appointment setting calls can be recorded and tracked to give you insights into how effective your cold calls truly are.

As Troy Logan, Founder and VP of Operations at Saleshuntr explains:

“Saleshuntr Inc. started out as an ‘appointment setting and tracking’ CRM product. We hired multiple software developers onshore and offshore to build the features we were looking for. But after a couple of years of mediocre results someone told us about Close.”

“Close had all the features we were looking for and more. Incorporating VoIP with a CRM changed our business model. We became an outsource appointment setting company. Today Saleshuntr Inc. uses Close exclusively to set appointments for our clients.”

For Saleshuntr, using Close to set appointments has changed the way they operate their business in a number of ways:

  1. They can track all their activity and know exactly how many calls it takes to land an appointment, giving them much more predictability.
  2. They can drop emails directly to the prospect while they’re on the phone (i.e. “I just sent you an email, it should be in your inbox now).
  3. They can make more calls and set more appointments every day thanks to its ease of use and sales rep-focused design.

“We tried a host of other CRM's and I can tell you, some VP of engineering must of have designed them,” explains Troy. “They are not sales friendly, it's cumbersome and an outright pain to use.”

We love Close. I can't imagine using anything else.”

What to do once you’ve set a sales appointment

Once you’ve set your sales appointment you job isn’t finished. No matter what a prospect says, you need to keep them committed to show up to the meeting you worked so hard to sell.

Right after you’ve booked the appointment send your prospect a high-level agenda of what you’re going to cover during the meeting. This should cover the essentials, like what you’re going to show them, as well as remind them why they took the meeting in the first place by covering how your product is going to solve their pain points. You can even embed this agenda into the calendar link you send over.

Next, if you haven’t already, send them a LinkedIn request to establish the relationship and show that you’re invested in it. LinkedIn is abused way too much by salespeople. And so sending a request after they’ve agreed to the meeting is a much better way to get into their network.

Lastly, if you’re selling to multiple stakeholders within a company, you’ll also want to send this information directly to the person you want as your internal sales champion. This is someone who will organize the logistics behind the scenes and make sure everyone who needs to be at the meeting is there. An easy way to do this is to just be transparent and ask:

“It’s probably going to be tricky to organize this meeting with all six stakeholders as they’re all C-suite executives. What’s the best way to get this done?”

Not only will your internal champion be able to navigate the politics of bringing everyone together. But they also have a vested interest in looking good in front of their bosses. So while it might take a bit of time to find and develop this relationship, it’s invaluable to have once you’ve set a meeting.

How and when to send appointment reminders

If you’re setting a ton of appointments, you’re going to live and die by your reminders. And your prospects are the same. The more you can remind them of your appointment and get continued buy-in, the less likely they’re going to no-show on you.

Calendly’s Rachel Williams suggests doing a minimum of 2 reminders before your sales appointment:

  • 24 hours in advance: A day out, send your prospect a personalized message with a link if they need to reschedule.
  • 4 hours in advance: A few hours before the appointment, send another message and reschedule link in case their day got crazy. This is enough time that it won’t completely derail your own schedule if they have to cancel.

It’s completely fine to send these reminders over email and you can even set them to go out automatically in Close. However, if you’re meeting in person and it’s a large time commitment, it’s probably a good bet to call in advance to confirm.

From time to time, you might also run into a situation where a prospect agrees to an appointment but doesn’t actually RSVP to it. In this case, reminder emails are a great option to tell them why they agreed to the appointment in the first place, and give them a chance to put it in their calendars.

How to handle no-shows and get them to set a new appointment

There’s nothing worse than doing the work to set the appointment, sending reminders, and then having a prospect no-show. But it happens. And the last thing you want is for a no-show to ruin your entire day.

Let’s say, you’re waiting for a prospect to show up for a virtual demo. If they haven’t signed on after 1–2 minutes, send them a quick email such as:

“Hey, I’m in the GoToMeeting/Zoom. Here’s the info. Let me know if you have any questions about getting logged in.”

Wait no more than 10 minutes. After that, send them another quick email saying you missed them and then use your CRM, such as Close, to send an automated reschedule campaign.

At this point, you’ve done the work to convince them to set the appointment, so your messaging should be super clear and to the point. Something like:

“We missed you and would love to reschedule. Here’s a link/Does Tuesday at 11am work for you?”

Days get busy, and in most cases your prospect will reschedule. However, if they don’t after a few tries, you need to close the loop so you can move on. As a last effort, you should send them a final “break up” email saying:

“We’ve rescheduled a couple of times. If you’ve shifted gears and this isn’t a priority or you’re going in a different direction let us know.”

In many cases, the prospect will still want to connect with you. And so these emails have a surprisingly good response rate and often give you much more insight into what’s happening on their end.

And while you might get a no from them (or more silence), a no is the second best thing you can hear from a prospect. It let’s you know this is a dead end and that your efforts are better suited elsewhere.

The anatomy of a good sales appointment

- Set the agenda and expectations for the call. “We have these people from us/you. We’re going to talk for 30 minutes about X, Y, and Z. There will be time at the end for questions. Etc…” This creates structure for the call and gets buy in.

- What you should know at the end of your call: Who they are. What they care about. Who owns the business outcomes. Pain points and challenges. How you solve them. Their next steps and your next steps.

- Take notes and book 10-20 minutes after your call to add them to your CRM

- Record calls if you have to, but you’re most likely not going to listen back through the whole thing to take notes. Good for training purposes.

- Every call should end with a future commitment.

What to do immediately after your call

- Send a high-level recap of what you talked about. Make it digestible. This could also be a personalized video summary (Scott said this is like “sending them a training video of how to position your product or service”)

- Include a commitment calendar - the key dates working backwards from the close. Ask them to confirm.

- Find creative ways to stay engaged. Rachel from Calendly says to work with your content team to put together and send over useful information 3 days after the call to stay top of mind.

Setting good appointments is the foundation of your entire sales process

If your prospect won’t agree to talk to you, you’ll never be able to sell them anything.

Setting appointments is the first step every prospect needs to take if you want to turn them into a customer. But getting people over that initial hump takes skill and creativity.

Explain why the meeting is valuable to them in a short, personalized, and clear message. Give them an easy CTA for setting the appointment. And then use your CRM to send reminders and follow-ups to keep them committed to showing up when they said they would.

It might be cliche to say you only get one first impression. But setting appointments the right way makes sure your relationship with your prospect starts off in the best possible way. And while you won’t be guaranteed the sale, you’ll be one step closer to getting it.

Want to supercharge your appointment setting outreach? Download our free appointment setting cold email template here.

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If you’ve got ambitions of becoming a top inside sales rep at your company, you’re going to have to build and sharpen these critical sales skills first.

Many of these sales skills can be relatively quickly learned and cultivated through self-education and a relentless dedication to bettering yourself in your sales role.

However, several of the other sales skills we’re breaking down here today are going to be best learned (and actually retained) by seeking regular mentorship from the right sales managers and fellow reps who’ve been around the block a few more times.

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12 inside sales skills you need to master to be a top-performing rep

First, we’re going to cover the soft sales skills you’ll need to master—personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively with others and navigate the complexity of your role.

Then after that, we’ll dive into the hard sales skills every rep needs to hone, like how to use specific tools & technologies, prospecting, lead qualification, negotiating and more.

Let’s get to it!

1. Problem-solving.

The most important sales skill you’ll need to master above all else, is the art of becoming a great problem-solver—one that can learn to navigate the ever-changing tools, tactics, techniques, problems and new relationships you’ll experience as an inside sales rep.

No matter how strong your other sales skills may be, it’s an inevitability that you’ll run into challenges, obstacles and failures throughout your career. That’s why it’ll pay dividends for you to develop a repeatable process for how to best solve new problems and work through foreign environments as they often present themselves.

In school, we learn about mathematics, history, grammar and a litany of other subjects, but the vast majority of us are rarely explicitly taught how to learn and solve problems on our own out in the real world after graduation.

Aside from luckily stumbling into a strong mentor you can learn sales problem-solving from out in the field, it’s easy to find yourself in a tailspin when a brand new challenge comes your way and your first couple of attempts lead to lackluster results. That’s when your problem-solving mindset needs to kick into high gear.

At its core, there are four basic steps in solving any problem:

  • Defining the problem: While on the surface this may sound like the most simple phase of problem-solving, it’s actually the most critical and often mistaken step. Why? Well, you need to make absolutely certain that you’re addressing the real problem at hand—and not just one of its symptoms. For example, if you’re not closing enough sales during a given quarter, your first inclination might be to think the problem is with the volume or quality of leads coming across your desk. However, if you look deeper and be completely honest with yourself, the real issue might be something like a lack of proper training or an unreasonable workload.
  • Generating alternatives: Another temptation when dealing with new problems, is to quickly go with the first new solution that comes to mind—rather than deliberately slowing yourself down for a moment (when time is on your side), to consider multiple alternatives. The best way to come up with alternative solutions, is to start with your own (and your organization’s) core beliefs to determine what the ideal outcome should eventually look like. Then it’s time to move into more specific brainstorming activities that can help generate creative ideas to eventually be tested once you’re ready.
  • Evaluating and selecting alternatives: The best problem solvers can identify the difference between the first acceptable solution and the best possible solution to a problem—and at this stage it’s important to use a series of different considerations when choosing your course of action. Consider factors like how a particular alternative may create other unanticipated problems as a byproduct, whether or not everyone else on your team accept the alternative at hand, and if the solution fits within the constraints of your job function and company policies.
  • Implementing solutions: Once you’ve chosen the right solution to test out, your mission isn’t complete until you’ve built feedback channels to ensure monitoring and testing of the future outcomes against your expectations going into the experiment. Know that future changes will be inevitable (as the nature of selling is always growing and evolving), so expect to update even your proven solution over time to continue adapting.

Training yourself to become an effective problem-solver will take time, repetition, and most of all—a willingness to proactively challenge yourself to be in a position of vulnerability, when solving difficult problems comes with the territory.

Look for new responsibilities, challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to take on a side project or two if there aren’t enough growth opportunities in the office.

2. Effective communication over the phone (and email).

While it’s an absolute necessity to have email and sales call scripts that address common objections and questions you’ll field from prospects who enter your sales funnel, there’s no replacement for being an effective communicator yourself.

How well can you quickly establish a connection and build relationships with the people you’re talking to?

If understanding the mindset of your prospect and being able to tweak your interaction style comes somewhat naturally to you, then you’ve already wrangled the foundation of one of the most critical sales skills you’ll need in order to become a top-performing rep.

On the other hand, if this sounds like more of a learned behavior you’ll have to acquire, then it’s time to pick up the phone and practice your cold calling—because the quickest path to improving your communication skills, is to do a lot more of it (and solicit constructive feedback on your call recordings from managers with more experience).

With repetition, feedback and experimentation, you’ll become a more effective communicator—but you still need to be trained on today’s best practices for cold calling and emailing.

Mastering the art of cold calling.

What happens when you dial a prospect and they pick up the phone?

You better have a plan (and a sales script to follow).

While it’s important not to come off as a robot just simply reading through each of your sales script, loosely following a script—and adapting as needed—will force you to really think your sales conversations through in advance.

Through the act of even developing a sales script and writing everything out word for word, you’re bringing structure and clarity to your thinking. (If you're not convinced that you should use a sales script, or you don't clearly understand why every sales person should have a script, read this.) You won’t always follow the exact progression of the conversation, but it provides a backbone to help you get to a place where you can achieve your primary goal of qualifying a lead and moving them to the next stage of your sales process.

Here are the basics of building a successful cold calling practice:

  • Develop a bulletproof sales calling script that can move your leads through the sales funnel and into the next stage of qualification.
  • Craft compelling answers to the most common sales objections you’re bound to face, like the classic email me your information, I don’t have time to talk, and we’re not ready to make a decision yet objections. By workshopping replies in advance to each of these objections that can still keep the ball rolling towards proper lead qualification, you’ll become much more successful in your cold calling.
  • Set activity goals, like the number of calls you need to make each day, in order to hit your key objective of closing a certain number of deals each week.
  • Learn to embrace rejection and celebrate the inevitable no’s that are coming your way as a natural part of your daily workflow. Not every prospect will be a good fit for becoming a customer, and that’s ok.
  • Understand the success metrics and benchmarks you should be aiming to hit with your cold calling efforts, so that you know when something isn’t working as it should—then it’s time to go back to becoming a problem-solver to get back on track.

Dig into our ultimate guide to cold calling for even more granular advice, strategies and workflows you can use to improve your cold calling game.

Mastering the art of cold emailing.

Just as when you’re starting a conversation with a prospect over the phone, it’s equally as important to make a strong first impression over cold email—one that isn’t riddled with grammatical mistakes or immediately asking them to purchase something without knowing anything about their business or their needs.

We all have overflowing inboxes, so it pays dividends to make your cold email stand out even from the subject line (because if they never open your email, that doesn’t get you very far). Within the body of your email, you’ll want to start establishing a connection and peak their interest with a clear value they’d be able to get from your solution.

Here are the basics of crafting a compelling cold email to your prospects:

  • Write a simple subject line that captures the recipients attention without tricking them into opening your email. Write like a human, avoid using silly slogans, use lowercase text, and follow our other best practices in these highly effective cold email templates.
  • Once you get to the body of your email, don’t waste your prospect’s time with long paragraphs of text (especially in your first email). Be very brief, but give enough context for them to properly evaluate your message, and always end your email with a single, clear call to action.
  • Finally, experiment with using creative formatting to your advantage by bolding important information, using bulleted lists to break up the visual flow of your email, and to generally make it feel easier for your prospect to actually read the full email.

For an even more detailed tutorial on implementing a winning sales email campaign, check out our in-depth guide to writing cold emails that convert.

3. Relationship-building.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about relationship selling as the “way of the future” in sales, but putting all jargon talk aside, the ability to build relationships with your prospects (and customers) will always be one of the most important sales skills to master.

Put simply, relationship-building is your ability to effectively engage with other people, and work to establish a level of connection that can last beyond just the prospect of a quick transaction and instead span the course of months and years to come.

This shift in mentality comes with recognizing that while there may not be an immediate need for your solution today, your prospect’s situation could be very different even just six months down the line.

Even more importantly, these relationships—when they’re genuinely built on a foundation of providing upfront value without the expectation of immediate reciprocation—can lead to exciting opportunities like getting referrals to their friends and colleagues, or being the first call when your prospect takes a job at a new company where they could use your solution.

4. Time management.

Time is consistently reported as being the most valuable resource to small business owners, making this sales skill of time management essential not only to your own benefit (and personal productivity gains), but to your prospect’s as well.

At the end of the day, your effectiveness as a salesperson is measured by your level of sales productivity—the amount of revenue you’re able to generate, for the number of hours you worked in a given period. That makes the ways in which you choose to manage your time, essential to delivering the results your team expects.

In my own personal time management system, this translates into focusing solely on doing one mission critical task at a time throughout my workday, rather than allowing myself to multitask or get distracted by inbound requests for my time. That means closing out of Slack, exiting out of my email inbox and putting my phone on silent so that I can go deep into the task I’m working on.

If I’m making sales calls or prospecting for new client leads, then that’s the only activity I’m doing for at least a solid one or two hour block of time, which allows me to get into a flow state, really feel like I’ve picked up momentum and achieve a sense of accomplishment regardless the end result of the day.

This level of isolated focus on one key activity at a time, paired with thoughtful scheduling of when you’ll be doing each specific task throughout your day, will buy you more time and make you feel significantly more productive as a sales rep—which should lead to stronger results in all categories of your work. That’s why this sales skill is so crucial to master.

Don’t forget that your prospect’s time is equally important as yours.

Instead of being on the phone talking through a potential new tool you want to sell them, your prospect could be fulfilling orders or following up with their own leads.

Stay respectful of the time your prospect is giving you while you’re on the phone, and tailor your conversation to strike a balance between showing genuine interest and giving the clear impression that you intend to take as little of their time as possible.

5. Team collaboration.

In a fast-paced selling environment, it’s often easy to forget that as a sales rep, you’re still operating within multiple different layers of teams—both at the sales organization level and from a company-wide standpoint.

Like it or not, as an inside sales rep, you’re not a lone wolf salesperson. Your success in your role depends partially on how well other people in your company perform their jobs too. And that makes being a strong team player a very important sales skill to master early on in your career.

Ultimately, this sales skill translates into how effectively you can work with your manager and fellow teammates to align your personal goals, quotas, tools, workflows, and schedule to function in a way that supports your entire team (and company) goals.

Embracing sales team collaboration includes proactively developing:

  • A willingness to work on tasks, leads and projects that you aren’t always excited about when there’s a clear team (or company) benefit
  • A readiness to pick up the slack when other teammates are out, under-performing, or in need of a little help and guidance
  • A bias toward personal action (and communication) when there’s ambiguity around ownership of a particular task or project

On top of cultivating these traits and behavioral characteristics within your role, today’s sales teams are more connected than ever with tools like Slack, CRMs that enable team transparency, Google Docs, and Zoom making it possible to easily collaborate across geographic locations.

Remember that company-wide sales success requires different roles and outcomes from each member of the team—and you’ve got a role to play in harmony with others. A lack of teamwork will often contribute to falling short on everyone’s sales goals.

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6. Storytelling ability.

Just about every great salesperson is well-versed at wrapping their pitch inside a compelling story that does more than just communicate the reasons why a prospect should buy.

Storytelling not only drives home the more entertaining, real-life examples that help prospects connect the dots to how a product or service could impact their own unique situation, but they also serve to build stronger connections that transcend the often transactional nature of a sales conversation.

Why are stories so effective at selling? Because we remember them.

When facts, data and examples are framed within the context of a captivating story, you’re much more likely to retain your prospect’s attention and guide them through the process of connecting the key takeaways from your story—into their world.

The perfect side effect of implanting a memorable story in your prospect’s mind, is better recall. When you’re able to accomplish this, and a prospect either is already or soon finds themselves in a situation like the one you described in your story, you’ll come to mind.

No, it’s not mind control. This is science.

Memory recall is a natural human response to a story that creates an emotional response when its taken in, and your prospect will be much more likely to recall your interesting story, over just a numbers & data driven pitch they got from another salesperson during the same week.

So, how do you become a better storyteller? Practice a lot. But getting started with improving your storytelling skills can be easier than you might think.

Here’s a framework we’ve worked to perfect over the years internally here at Close:

  • Collect existing stories from your team. Not just from sales reps and managers who’ve been around longer than you, but strive to include marketing, product, devs and leaders too. Get everyone involved.
  • Evaluate the stories you’ve collected. Do this together with your sales team and get the full scope on which stories have been successful at closing prospects in the past.
  • Figure out what’s missing. Are the stories you already have good enough to build on, or do you need new and more compelling stories?
  • Create new stories. Based on your current story inventory, you might need to create new stories that are better suited to tackle your most common prospect objections today.
  • Test your stories. Test both your existing and newly crafted stories on your leads. Start first with less important leads, and once you learn what’s working (and what’s not), begin using your most effective stories on more important leads.
  • Maintain your story inventory. Keep an inventory (a team-wide spreadsheet will do) of your most successful stories that can be accessible to your entire sales team.
  • Do consistent check-ins. Are the stories working as well as they used to? Can they be replaced with better stories? Are you getting new objections that warrant the need for new stories? Keep an eye on the use of stories to make sure they achieve your end goal of building better relationships and closing more sales.

Follow this process, repeat it with regularity, practice it on your calls and demos—then you’ll be well on your way to sharpening this sales skill.

Plus, over time as you grow in your ability to tell relatable stories that compel listeners to take action, it can become an integral part of your..

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When I first began selling, nervous doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt about sales prospecting.

Picking up the phone to call leads that didn’t know who I was, to pitch them on why they should hand over their hard-earned money in exchange for my product, was enough to make my stomach turn in my early days of sales prospecting.

But as with all things in selling... enough practice, the right training, guidance and a willingness to learn & experiment will help you push past the nerves and build a habit of regularly executing on the critical actions throughout your sales process. Your approach to sales prospecting should be no different.

Now, before we dive into our step-by-step approach to revamping your sales prospecting efforts, let’s cover a few key questions we’ve long fielded from readers when it comes to sales prospecting…

What exactly is sales prospecting?

Sales prospecting is the process of searching for prospective customers or clients from your pool of leads, with the goal of identifying qualified potential buyers that can move through your sales process and convert into paying customers for your business.

Sounds pretty simple, right? While the concept of sales prospecting is pretty straightforward, it’s much more nuanced (and individualized) in practice.

What’s the difference between a lead and a sales prospect?

Leads come first, sales prospects second.

Put simply, a sales prospect is a qualified lead.

While a lead is less likely to convert than a sales prospect, once that lead makes it through qualification during your sales process, they can then become a sales prospect—with a higher likelihood of converting into becoming a paying customer. Here’s a visual to illustrate:

How about the difference between lead generation efforts and sales prospecting activities?

We’ve established that by definition, lead generation comes before interacting with sales prospects (since a sales prospect is a qualified lead).

Lead generation, typically a process that’s driven more by marketing, represents both inbound and outbound efforts to gather leads—potential customers—who’ve expressed interest in your product or services through actions like visiting your website, subscribing to blog content, joining a course or downloading an eBook.

Progressing naturally, sales prospecting activities tend to be much more warm than lead generation, and are directed toward efforts that are intended to convert your existing leads into paying customers. Sales prospecting activities include outbound calling and emailing to your leads, with hopes of nurturing them into becoming buyers.

Looking for the perfect tools to manage leads and convert more prospects into customers? Try Close.io free for 14 days.

To help navigate this ultimate guide to sales prospecting for higher quality leads, we’ve included a hyperlinked menu—so that you can quickly click and jump down to the section of this guide that’s most relevant to where you’re at today in your sales prospecting.

5 easy steps to sales prospecting for higher quality leads 1. Research, qualify and prioritize your leads 2. Identify the key decision-maker 3. Reach out and schedule a meeting 4. Educate and fully qualify the prospect’s needs 5. Address objections and close the sale Bonus: 7 game-changing sales prospecting tools you need (today)

Without further delay, let’s get into it our ultimate guide to sales prospecting!

1. Research, qualify and prioritize your leads.

At this stage in your prospect research, the ultimate goal is to determine the quality of your leads—and gauge (on an individual basis) whether or not they appear to be a strong potential sales prospect that’s worthy of your time and effort to proceed with attempting to close the sale.

Step number one in the research phase, is doing a quick internal qualification check to make sure your leads tick all the major boxes of criteria you’ve set (as a sales team) to identify the most common qualities of strong potential buyers.

Important note: Run through these qualification questions before reaching out and starting conversations with your leads, in order to better prioritize your outreach efforts—some you’ll want to quickly connect with, and others you’ll immediately rule out.

10 quick qualification questions you need to answer right away.

  • How well does this lead match your ideal customer profile?
  • Are they in one of the key geographic areas you service?
  • What’s the size of their organization? (Revenue, # of customers, # of employees)
  • What’s the size of the relevant department you’re selling to?
  • Are they in an industry that’s a good fit for using your product or service?
  • Are they currently using a competitor product? If so, which one?
  • Have they already expressed an interest in buying your product?
  • Does their use case align with the way your product should be used?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • What would automatically make them a bad fit for your product?

Answering these questions—quickly and to the best of your ability—about your leads will force you into doing a bit of research, and will make doubly sure you’re capturing the most relevant data during your lead generation efforts (or inbound sign up process) moving forward.

Researching your leads.

Often the most reliable source of information, data and insights about your leads will come from, well… your leads themselves. What are they already telling you about their business?

Are you capturing the right data points on your leads when they sign up on your website? Are your business development reps gathering the information you need in order to adequately qualify your sales prospects? First and foremost, make sure both your inbound and outbound lead generation efforts are aligned with providing the answers you need.

Inevitably though, there will be gaps in your research—no matter how successful your lead generation campaigns are at collecting the right information.

To fill those holes, utilize technographic research tools like Datanyze to identify any competitive products your lead may be using. Leverage platforms like Crunchbase and AngelList to pick up key data points on company size, funding rounds and investors.

For even more (free & affordable) products and services you’ll want to employ during your sales prospecting efforts, check out all of the other tools we recommend at the end of this guide.

Prioritizing (and lead scoring).

After running through your list of quick qualification questions, you should have two clear buckets of leads—those who’ve been disqualified as not a good fit, and those who may be qualified sales prospects.

Now, because your time is limited, it’s incredibly important to prioritize the order in which you reach out and start conversations with leads. Otherwise, you can spin your wheels chatting with lukewarm prospects while your hottest leads grow cold and choose a competitor product.

In some cases, it’ll be obvious that a sales prospect needs to be elevated to the top of your list—if they’ve made it through your first round of qualification, have viewed your pricing page twice and have clearly already expressed interest in wanting to buy.

That’s where lead scoring comes into play, with the goal of ranking prospects and advancing your highest-value leads (and most likely to close) quickest through your sales process.

The most effective way to create a basic lead scoring system is by using data from your past leads—especially those who’ve become customers—to assign value to your existing ones.

  • Which qualities of your customers contributed most to them purchasing?
  • Which of these characterizations do your customers share in common?
  • What do your leads that rarely convert share in common with each other?

Then once you've taken a look at the historical data from both of these groups, you can decide which attributes should be weighted heavily (and assigned value) based on how likely those characteristics are to suggest they’d be a good fit for becoming a customer.

Here at Close.io, we automatically place a higher lead score on new trials that sign up from one of our top five countries where we’ve historically acquired the highest number of ideal customers. Other factors like team size, annual revenue and referral source also play into how a lead is scored—and how quickly our sales team subsequently reaches out.

You’ll also want to incorporate a lead’s implicit behavior through their activities like:

  • Viewing the pricing page on your website
  • Downloading a particular eBook from your blog
  • Opening or clicking on a sales emails (and the number of opens or clicks)

Your ability to properly score leads will directly impact the close rates for your sales team—when you spend more time on only your best leads, that’ll generate more conversions.

2. Identify the key decision-maker.

Yeah, I know… this isn’t your first rodeo.

It seems obvious that you don’t want to waste your valuable sales prospecting time on conversations with low-level managers that won’t be able to make an ultimate purchasing decision on your product.

However, it’s often easier said than done finding and connecting with the right decision maker at your prospect’s organization after you’ve qualified the company.

If the lead came inbound to your website and filled out a form or started a trial, that’s a strong positive signal that the individual who signed up could be your decision-maker, but not necessarily. Historically, what role does your typical decision-maker hold? Take a look at the trends to identify any insights you can to help support your prioritization.

And when you don’t yet have enough experience to point toward the types of roles your ideal decision-makers hold within prospect organizations, think about the end user of your product (the person who’s likely most motivated to champion the purchase) and make your best guess based on your product’s price point.

If the expense is less than say $100/mo to your prospect, any motivated member of the right team may be able to initiate the purchase themselves without going through levels of management approval. On the other hand, if you’re selling a longer-term engagement or higher-priced product, you’ll likely need to move up the chain of command to a director or department head for ultimate sign off on a pricier deal.

Either way, once you’ve identified the role your ideal decision-maker holds at your sales prospect’s company—it’s time to put your research cap back on.

My favorite (free) tools for finding the name and email address of a sales prospect is a simple combination: LinkedIn and their Sales Navigator for Chrome extension.

Thanks to to LinkedIn’s advanced filtering capabilities, you can enter a specific role title in the search bar, select to display only people with that (or similar) positions, and further narrow results by seeing only people with those roles at specific companies.

Here’s an example of viewing marketing directors at Google:

Once you’ve identified the person you want to start a conversation with, it’s time to track down their email address.

You can start with trying tools like Hunter.io and RocketReach to do a quick spot check and see if your prospect’s email address is easy to track down from one of those two databases.

But when the email search tools falls short, turn to the free Sales Navigator for Chrome extension. Once installed, it’ll add a new sidebar inside of your Gmail account that looks like this:

Now, when you type in a suspected email address for someone you want to reach out to, and hover your mouse over it, the Sales Navigator sidebar will populate a bunch of information about the person right there in your inbox—if this email address is at all connected to their LinkedIn account.

If the sidebar appears and pulls in what looks to be the right person's photo and description, you've got the right email address.

Cycle through testing the most popular email formats and verifying with Sales Navigator.

  • first@company.com
  • first.last@company.com
  • firstlast@company.com
  • firstinitiallastname@company.com
  • firstlastinitial@company.com

Nine times out of ten, you’ll get their email address in less than thirty seconds of this cycle and it'll be in one of the above formats.

If you’re not able to verify their email address with this method, find them on Twitter to see if they have contact information (or chase a link to their website from either Twitter or LinkedIn that might have their contact info).

As a fallback method I use when Sales Navigator doesn't populate the right information, I'll hover my cursor over their email address and see if they've connected a Google Plus account to the address. If they do, it'll look like this right here:

When all of these methods of finding your prospect’s email address don’t produce results, move onto the next best point of contact that has a likelihood of being a possible decision-maker in the name of keeping the ball rolling quickly.

And while it’s also fine to start your conversation with a sales prospect who isn’t a decision-maker in their organization, you’ll want to quickly breach the subject of involving someone else on their team who may need to join the conversation in order to make a final decision.

3. Reach out and schedule a meeting.

Persistence is the name of the game in sales prospecting.

Whether it’s over email or on the phone, committing to ambitious activity goals for the number of qualified prospects you start conversations (and follow up) with each day, will be the backbone of a strong pipeline for the days, weeks and months to come.

And depending upon the value of the product or service you’re selling and the lead’s score, the immediate goal of your initial outreach could be to do anything from quickly ask for the sale (lower priced offer), to building a relationship, establishing a need or asking to schedule a meeting and evaluate next steps together.

Either way, your #1 objective is to follow up with every qualified sales prospect until there’s a clear yes or no on the deal.

Dealing in maybe’s will lead to the eventual demise of your business. Always seek clear answers and learn to love the no, since it’s a hell of a lot better than ambiguity.

Providing upfront value as a means of standing out.

Most of all when sales prospecting, it’s your job to think about how you can stand out from the dozens of other salespeople showing up in your decision-maker’s inbox or on the phone each week.

You’ve only got one shot at making a first impression—and that relatively cold email template your prospect’s seen 13 different variations of this week isn’t exactly going to instill confidence in your abilities to deliver a useful product.

Download your free copy of Cold Email Hacks here to learn how to send emails that turn prospects into customers.

So, how can you best provide value to your decision-making sales prospect before opening up a line of communication with them? Well, in my experience selling products and services in the four to five-figure range, a personalized touch can go a long way.

Leaning into your (and your company’s) core competencies, think about some of the ways your sales prospect would likely want to receive value—what’s important to them?

  • Can you get them featured in a story you’re writing your company’s blog?
  • Do you have a referral you could send their way to help drive them more business?
  • How about a mutually beneficial partnership or joint marketing effort to start with?

Strive to look beyond just a “recommendation” styled email that can conveniently be solved by purchasing your solution; people who’ve been in business long enough to become a decision maker will see straight through that tactic.

On the flip side, when your conversation starts by letting them know about a cool thing you just did for them, rather than jumping straight into selling, your chances of building a meaningful relationship go up significantly.

Scaling your outreach to sales prospects.

If you’re managing a decent volume of sales prospects, then it’s crucial to employ the right tools to help make sure conversations don’t fall through the cracks, and that you’re not missing out on potentially lucrative deals because you’re not sending enough emails or making enough calls each day.

We built our here at Close.io to specifically solve for this challenge—our own sales reps were getting more inbound leads than they could follow up with each week, so we launched a feature to help automate your sales emails.

In just a few clicks, you can enroll your leads in an automated drip series of natural looking emails that’ll be delivered (from your actual email account) to your sales prospects over the course of days or even weeks—designed to encourage them to hit reply and keep the conversation going with you one-on-one.

4. Educate and fully qualify your prospect’s needs.

At one point or another, we've all probably been sold something we didn’t really need (or necessarily want all that much) and lived to regret the purchase.

Well, at least I have… In fact, I can still remember the name of the salesperson that pitched me hard on implementing an advanced marketing automation suite of tools, despite not actually being a good sales prospect for that company.

At the time, my blog was still in its infancy with practically zero readers, hardly any subscribers and only a couple of paying customers. The last thing I needed, was to automate a bunch of marketing processes I hadn’t even learned, built out, tested or optimized with my slowly growing community.

Yet still, that didn’t stop this talented salesperson from getting me excited about all the possibilities I’d unlock with their ($250/mo) tools. And as a result of being gullible enough, I was convinced I had to have this marketing automation software. Then, I churned after just 3 months—the minimum contract period I’d committed to.

Don’t close bad-fit sales prospects. It’s negative for customers and your business.

It’s your job to take responsibility for bringing in only customers that’ll benefit from using your product (or service)—and are ready to start doing that today.

So now that you’ve made contact with your sales prospect, the goal at this stage is to take a final pass at truly qualifying their needs for their specific use cases, and to make sure there’s a mutual fit for the prospect to become a happy customer.

This time however, the qualification process is much more hands on, in-depth and should be based on a back and forth conversation, rather than your initial upfront research (the former of which can often be informed by a number of assumptions about the prospect).

Whether you’re having a..

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The left navigation is present on every page you look at in Close. It provides the main way to move through the product. It also hasn’t been touched since about 2013! It was time to show it some love.

In this post, we'll share a bit of the work that went into the redesign our left sidebar, and how we arrived at the current version. As always, we'd love to hear from you, our customers, how we can build an even better app for you.

Challenges and constraints

There are always challenges when redesigning any area of the product. Even more when that area is always visible and used by every user, every day.

This project was not a rebrand but instead a look at the side navigation in isolation. This limits the scope of change as it depends on the other colors in the product, what the content looks like, what other navigation elements look like, and so on.

We also decided not to add new functionality yet so that we could ship the updates sooner and iterate based on feedback we'll receive from you, our customers.

Approach

There are some basic design changes that needed to happen to bring it inline with other—more modern—areas of the product. This also gave us a way to include new features in the future, which would not have worked in the previous style and size.

Here's what the left navigation looked like from 2013 until now:

We started by updating the icons and aligning everything a bit better. Changing the color of the background. This worked well but it still felt a bit drab. Smart Views also needed more thought as the edit icon still seemed a little squashed off to the right.

Experimenting with different colors and layouts allowed us to change the feel of the product. A white sidebar looks clean, modern and minimal. But would it fit with the rest of the product?

We then explored moving the top bar into the side navigation(but simply removing it at first) which has a dramatic effect and makes it easier on the eye. But when pairing it with real content pages (such as the Lead view and Settings pages) it was too much white. And we can’t touch those pages.

Remembering that this wasn't a redesign was sometimes a challenge. But constraints are good.

Could we create a similar effect by flipping the contrast on the side navigation and the top navigation? Maybe. We also tried to inject some color into the interface but that, as you can see, looks a little awkward. The goal of a great interface is to not be noticed by those using it.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. If we want to remove or change the top bar then we need to look at how those elements might fit back into the left nav. Moving the user profile and giving it more prominence certainly makes it feel more personal. Maybe it’s a bit too prominent though.

This was a great opportunity to surface some settings that are hidden (unless you know where to look).

There was a lot of discussion, and it’s clear that everyone on the team wants to make sure everything we do is because it will benefit our customers. Rarely is a design change not backed up by direct customer feedback, customer problems, or higher level rationale. 

The result
After all of the decisions, rationale, trade-offs, and introspection, the end result is a well-considered and thoughtful redesign of the left navigation.
  • Better icons
  • Better alignment of text
  • Wider and less claustrophobic
  • Easier access to Settings

A lot of customers (and our internal teams) call out specific Smart Views using emoji. This is a great idea so we’ve incorporated it into this update. We now display emoji in a deliberate way, when they’re used at the start of the Smart View name. Go ahead and try it out!

We have some additional features that will be coming soon. See if you can spot them. 

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