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Episode #17: Close.io Women in Sales Series 

Listen:  Soundcloud  |  iTunes  | Your Favorite Podcast App 🎧
Watch: YouTube 
Previous Guests: All Episodes
 

Rebecca Kacaba is the CEO and Co-Founder of DealMaker. She was previously a Partner at Dentons LLP, a Partner at Aird & Berlis LLP, and a Secondee at the Ontario Securities Commission. Rebecca earned her LLB at the University of Windsor and a Bachelor’s in Psychology at Western University.

Episode Highlights:

  1. Rebecca got her inspiration to study psychology and practice law from her family
  2. When hiring, Rebecca looks for people with cold-calling experience
  3. Rebecca's father was an OG side hustle entrepreneur while running his own legal practice
  4. Rebecca and her co-founder, Mat Goldstein, on their experiences working together at a law firm and how they started a startup business practice there at the time
  5. How Rebecca uses self-awareness to manage stressful situations
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Here's the recording of today's webinar about how to increase your sales conversion rates (and stop leaving leads on the table). Tune in below!

One of the most painful problems that often haunts B2B founders and sales teams, is getting a high-value lead all the way to the finish line on a deal... just to see them change their minds or even worse, go silent.

In today's webinar, we brought together several top sales leaders to speak all about how to increase your sales conversion rates, so you're not chasing the wrong leads or leaving good deals on the table. We cover how to get better at prospecting so that you’re only bringing in the right leads in the first place, arming yourself with the right research & data, dealing with objections, having the right follow up strategy, how and when to ask for the close, and so much more...

Tune in to watch the full recording of our webinar right here:

How to increase your sales conversion rates (Q&A webinar) with Close.io - YouTube

A big thanks to our panelists today!

Predictable Revenue was founded by Aaron Ross, of the award-winning, bestselling book Predictable Revenue, where they teach companies how to double, triple or more—their number of new sales. Their framework helped Salesforce increase revenues by over $100 Million.

Baremetrics provides metrics, forecasting, analytics, insights and engagement tools for companies using Stripe, Braintree, Chargify, Recurly and more! With easy to use dashboards, they give visibility into important business metrics like MRR, LTV, and churn, while also providing actionable insights and reports around the health of your business.

LeadGenius provides custom B2B contact & account data, using a unique combination of data science and skilled human researchers to produce the highest quality data available on your prospects—with consistent volume, flexible targeting, and quality-assured results.

FullContact is an open, cloud-based identity resolution and insights platform that enables people to fully identify, describe, and authentically connect with each other, human-to-human, which enables a much deeper understanding of your prospects.


Still have sales conversion rate questions?

Ask away in the comments below!

We'll weigh in and get to the many questions that went unanswered during today's webinar.

Thanks for tuning in!

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Salespeople are an ambitious group. We want to close more deals. Blast through quotas. Beat the competition. But it’s not just sales ambitions that we set our sights on. We’re also ambitious about moving up in our careers. Unfortunately, in our rush to become great salespeople, most people ignore a critical skill that every startup CEO is looking for: Being a great manager.

As I’ve written about before, just because you’re a great salesperson, doesn’t mean you’ll be a great sales manager. Being a leader takes a completely different skill set. Yet too many startup employees think they can’t learn to start managing until they have “manager” in their job title. This is just wrong.

By using a simple method I call “managing up the ladder,” you can start practicing and building your management skills with everyone from your most junior teammate to your CEO.

How a new marketing hire started managing me (i.e. his boss)

The best way to explain “managing up the ladder” is with a quick story.

As the CEO of a fast-growing startup, I spend most of my time in a leadership position. I’m managing the people I work with. Making decisions about company strategy. And going out and building key relationships.

It’s a demanding role. And most people in a non-leadership position would be intimated and not want to “bug” me with requests. But not Ryan Robinson.

As a senior content marketer, Ryan’s been an amazing asset to our company. But one of my favorite things about him is that whenever he needs something from me, he manages me. Instead of just asking for a quote, intro, or feedback and then offloading the responsibility of that task to me. Ryan actively follows up, sets deadlines, and pushes me if I’m not doing what I said I would do.

He essentially becomes my manager for this task.

Here’s an example. When Ryan needed an intro to a CEO for our Virtual Sales Summit, he sent me this email:

Hey Steli!

Can you please ping [very important CEO] and encourage them to respond to my message so I can get him involved in our webinar series?

I’ve already written up the email and attached it. All you have to do is copy/paste and send it.

And Steli, I know you’re really busy. So I’m going to be checking in on you in two days to see if you’ve had the chance to send this as it’s a timely issue and needs to be done.

I appreciate your help!

Let me break down why I this approach is so good and why it stuck out to me.

Not only does Ryan send a message that clearly lays out what he needs. But he doesn’t let go of the responsibility to see it through. Instead of assuming I will take this task and run with it, he maintains the responsibility for getting it done. In one email and series of follow-ups, he shows me that:

  1. He respects my time: The ask is as frictionless as possible by telling me what he wants, how I can do it, and even preparing the text for me.
  2. He’s owning the responsibility for getting his job done: I know he’s set his own deadlines and how I fit into them.
  3. He has management skills without having a manager title: By telling me when he’s going to check in and following through with it, I see him acting as a manager.

And sure enough, if I forget I know that Ryan will follow up with me in two days and make sure this gets done. Just like a good manager would. He’s managing his project and his to-dos. And when he needs me as a resource, he’s managing me. And I love it.

Why most startup employees are afraid to “manage” their leaders

Unfortunately, not many startup employees take this same initiative. Startups are always pushing the rules of business. But for some reason a few very old ideas about working relationships have stuck around.

First, too many employees are stuck in the mindset that only managers can manage. They believe they can only manage people they’ve been given explicit permission to manage and base their relationships solely on the company’s Org chart.

Second, they have a lack of confidence in themselves. People aren’t used to maintaining responsibility. And so when they ask for help from a more senior person, they instantly offload the responsibility to them. They assume they’ll get it done and are afraid as coming across as annoying by following up and managing the relationship.

Lastly, there’s a fear you’re going to rub someone’s ego the wrong way. Not every leader takes kindly to being “managed.” And there’s always a fear that you’ll come across as demanding or pushy by following up with a more senior person.

These are all valid concerns. And while managing up the ladder isn’t something you can do in every corporate organization, in a healthy startup culture it should be totally possible. More than that, it should be encouraged.

When you learn to manage up the ladder, you get more than a lesson in leadership

There’s magic that unfolds when you realize you can manage anyone. When you manage up the ladder you have zero responsibilities to be a great manager. No one’s looking at you for your management skills. You can experiment and practice and learn and build the muscles of leadership, before being put in that position.

And without the power dynamics of managing someone who knows you’re their boss, you learn to treat the relationship very carefully. You don’t want to be aggressive or too demanding. Instead, you have to be tactful and learn how to work with people. Not just tell them what to do.

But this is the way you should manage people in all situations. And if you learn how to do this early on, people in leaderships positions will take notice and want to promote you asap.

Not only is managing up the ladder going to accelerate your promotion to management and leadership, but it will prepare you for it—something most people never get the chance to do.

Learning how to manage turns your ambition into action

When I look at my best employees, they’re not just people who put their head down and do their work. They’re the people who aren’t afraid to experiment, try new things, learn, and grow.

There’s nothing stopping you from learning how to manage before you have direct reports. And I can tell you from experience that the more you learn how to manage people above you, the more those same people will take notice of you.

Startups live and die by pushing boundaries. And if you want to succeed and truly thrive at one, you have to push your own boundaries as well. It’s not just about having the title and being told you’re a manager. You need to go out there, learn the skills, and prove you’re a leader.

Want to get better at managing others? One of the most important aspects of managing people is following up with them effectively! That's why I've written The Follow-Up Formula, a book filled with actionable advice for anyone who wants accomplish more.

Get The Follow Up Formula

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There’s a cold, hard truth about cold calling few sales reps want to admit: It doesn’t actually matter what you say. Sure, you can practice your script until your lips go numb. But those first few words out of your mouth are way less important than how you sound.

What am I talking about?

Take a second and think back to the last time you picked up a call from someone you didn’t know. Before they got to the end of their first sentence, you’d made a judgement call about whether or not you trust them and want to hear what they have to say. In fact, studies agree that communication is only 7% verbal.

That means that when you dial a prospect and they can’t see you, 93% of the potential success of your cold call comes down to the tone of your voice.

When it comes to cold calling, tonality can be one of your biggest strengths or your greatest weaknesses. So how can you make sure you’re doing everything you can to sound confident, smart, and enthusiastic?

3 simple hacks to sound smarter and more confident on cold calls

When you’re making a cold call, you’re already dealing with a healthy dose of skepticism. The prospect doesn’t know who you are or why you’re calling. And they’re looking for any excuse to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

Sales is all about quickly building trust. And your voice is what instills that trust on a cold call.

So, it’s incredibly important to sound good when talking to prospects. If your tone or style of speaking makes prospects confused, upset, or angry, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. They’re not going to buy from you.

However, there are a few simple changes you can make to your voice that can help you sound more confident and strong.

These aren’t magic tricks that will make your prospects want to buy from you or not get off the phone. But they are going to dramatically increase the attractiveness of your pitch:

1. Use the right volume level to sound confident and clear

The first thing a prospect is going to notice about your voice is how loudly you’re speaking.

If you’re talking quietly, most ears will interpret that as a lack of confidence. Your prospect will instantly think you’re being quiet because you’re afraid, nervous, and generally unsuccessful—all incredibly unattractive qualities on a sales call. Not only that, but if they have to ask “what?” over and over, you’ve already lost them.

On the other end of the spectrum, yelling at your prospect can come across as aggressive and like you’re overcompensating.

But there’s a sweet spot in the middle where you’re speaking slightly louder than average. Not only does this ensure they hear every word you’re saying. But even just speaking a bit louder than most people makes you sound more confident, in control, and authoritative.

2. Use pacing and cadence to sound intelligent and create a sense of attractive urgency

Close your eyes and imagine you pick up the phone and hear:

“Hello… uhhh.. This is Bob…… you don’t know me… But I.. ummmm. I’m calling from company X….. and…. Can I have a minute… umm… of your time….”

If that sentence was painful to read, imagine what your prospect is feeling when they hear that voice coming out of their phone?

The pace and cadence of your words is another huge factor in how prospects perceive your pitch. Again, if you’re speaking at a below average pace, most ears will interpret that as you being unsure or confused. They’ll think you’re taking your time because you don’t know what you’re saying. And if that’s the case, why should they trust you?

Ironically, speaking slowly also makes it harder to understand what you’re saying. We’re used to a certain pace in conversations and anything below that is frustrating to listen to.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to speed through your pitch. Again, you want to aim to speak at a pace that’s slightly above average. Not so quick that words and meaning get lost, but fast enough that you sound well rehearsed, confident, and smart.

3. Use body language to build confidence, even when you’re on the phone

You’d never sit at a meeting with your head slumped staring at the floor and expect to get the sale. Yet that’s exactly what so many sales reps do on the phone.

But body language isn’t just for your prospect. Changing how you’re positioned during your cold calls can give you more confidence and energy. And the person on the other end of the line will pick up on it.

When you’re making a cold call, stand up with your shoulders back and chest out. Look up from the ground and smile. Try it now. That energy you’re feeling is going to make its way into your pitch, making you sound confident and excited.

Listen back to your calls and learn how to master the tone of your voice

If you think cold calling is only about your pitch, you’re missing out on 9/10 of what people are actually listening to. When your tone doesn’t match the energy of your pitch, it doesn’t matter what you say, you’ve already lost the person on the other end.

Take some time to listen back to your call recordings and hear how you sound (Close.io can automatically record and securely store all your sales calls. If you haven’t tried our software out yet, start your 14-day free trial today).

Ignore the words and listen to the tone. Do you sound confident? Do you sound smart and strong and organized? Are you speaking slightly louder and faster than most people?

If so, you’re going to sound good. And your prospect’s going to like and trust you. Even if they don’t know why. 

Tonality in sales by @Steli from Close.io - YouTube

Want to take your calling game to the next level? We've created an entire email course for you that teaches you step by step how to become a cold calling pro.

Start your cold calling course today

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Episode #16: Close.io Women in Sales Series

Listen: Soundcloud | iTunes | Your Favorite Podcast App 🎧
Watch: YouTube 
Previous Guests: All Episodes
 

Zainab Allawala is a Customer Success Account Executive at Help Scout. Zainab worked as a Strategic Account Executive at Survey Monkey and as an SMB Account Executive at Asana. She’s also previously worked as a recruiting coordinator for the Kiva.org Fellow Coordinator, at Facebook, and Google.

Episode Highlights:

Zainab Allawala, Help Scout: Resources and FAQs on Diversity & Inclusion - YouTube
 

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If you want to beat the competition, you don’t necessarily have to be bigger or stronger. But you do have to be faster. Optimization is every SaaS company’s secret weapon. But where do you start?

Fine-tuning your SaaS sales machine is all about getting the most out of the resources you have today. By following these 5 steps, you’ll be able to outperform and out-sell the competition, even if they have 10X the staff and millions more in funding.

Step 1: Design a simple sales funnel

Your sales funnel is the backbone of your entire sales process. It’s the path your prospects take from having no idea who you are to becoming happy, paying customers. Yet so many SaaS startups don’t take the time to really understand and optimize their funnel.

Let’s start with the basics. Regardless of what you’re selling, every sales funnel follows the same steps:

  1. Understand who your ideal customer profile is: Who exactly are you selling to? (Everything else in your sales funnel doesn’t matter if you get this wrong, which is why we spend so much time talking about the importance of customer intimacy)
  2. Discover where those ideal customers spend their time: Where are they and how can you get in touch with them?
  3. Qualify them as good leads: Are these actually the right people who will get value from your product or service?
  4. Convert your qualified leads into customers: Can you successfully sell them on your value?

That’s the flow you want your customers to go through. But to make it even more clear, we use a simple framework called the ACQ funnel: Activity, Quality, Conversion.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re running a sales calling campaign and you dial 100 prospects, reach 15 of them, qualify only 10, and close 5. In this case, your sales funnel will look like this:

  • Activity: 100 dials
  • Quality: 15 reaches and 10 qualifiers
  • Conversion: 5 closed sales

The reason it’s so important to break down your sales activity into a funnel like this is that it allows you to see where you need help.

Let’s look at our example campaign again, only this time, let’s say we’re only closing 1 customer from every 100 calls. The problem might seem obvious (you’re not closing enough deals). But without a sales funnel, you don’t have enough information to pinpoint exactly where to experiment and optimize.

Maybe you called 100 people, reached and qualified 1, and closed that 1 person.

Or, you called 100 people, reached 30, qualified 20, and only closed 1.

In the first case, your reach rate at the top of the funnel is broken. While in the second, there’s something wrong further along when it comes time to close.

Your goal in both scenarios is to improve your close rate, but only by having a funnel and understanding where the issue truly is can you fix it.

2. Start at the top of the funnel

Your sales funnel will tell you where your sales process is breaking. But there’s one part of it that will always benefit from being optimized: the top.

I touched on it before, but none of your funnel matters if you don’t know your ideal customer profile.

When you know your ideal customer the downstream impact on your sales funnel is massive. It will be easier to reach them, qualify them, and close them, because you already know they’re a good fit for what you’re selling. Otherwise, you’re just wasting all that activity on low-quality prospects.

Look at your top customers and see what they have in common. What are their shared attributes or qualities? What size is their company? What’s their annual revenue? What’s their job title? Find out as much as you can about them and target them aggressively.

The better the quality at the top of your funnel, the better the results will be at the bottom.

3. Create never-ending learning loops

The more you know about your sales process, the faster you can optimize it. And there’s one incredible source of insight you’re probably not using enough: Your customers.

Your customers will tell you everything you need to know, from what you’re doing right or wrong to how to change your pitch or timing of your cold calls.

For example, let’s say a prospect booked a product demo. Before jumping into the sales conversation, ask them a simple question:

“Hey. I know you’re super busy and get tons of emails every day. Before we start the demo, I’m curious what made my email stand out to you?”

Let them tell you what made them curious and interested (and what might make other prospects interested). Let them educate you about what worked with your approach.

On the flip side, you can also find out what didn’t work. If a prospect opened an email but never responded, call them up and ask what happened:

“Hey. I sent you an email yesterday about our business. I assume you’re not interested and I’m not trying to pitch you. It’s just that as the founder of a small startup, I was hoping to get a bit of advice from someone as experienced as you about how I can make my pitch better. What was it about the email or my pitch that made you not interested in responding?”

All of a sudden, you’ve created empathy and a connection with a non-customer to find out what went wrong. Instead of just writing them off, you’re able to learn from them.

There are so many opportunities to bake this kind of customer learning into your sales process. When you close a deal, ask them why they chose you over the competition. If you’re getting pushback at a certain part of your funnel, ask prospects what their concerns were and why they said yes or no.

Don’t just sell to prospects. Make them the R&D department for your SaaS sales process.

Step 4: Eliminate all complexity

Complexity is toxic when it comes to the predictability and scalability of your SaaS sales funnel. It makes it harder to sell, lengthens your selling cycle, and confuses and wastes your sales reps’ time.

In my experience, there are three main places where SaaS companies usually introduce unnecessary complexity into their sales process:

    1. Building sales processes that are too reactive: Your reps have a number of tasks they need to do to be successful—lead gen, demo calls, answering emails, negotiations. However, if they’re spending all day zigzagging from one task to the other, they’ll end up working harder for worse results. Instead, bracket tasks by day of week or time of day (i.e. lead gen on Mondays and follow ups on Wednesday). Focus, flow, and excellence only happen when we’re able to repeatedly do a task and learn from it.
    2. Supporting a discount culture: Every time you give a customer a discount, you’re essentially adding complexity into your sales system. Yet discounts are still the most abused tool in SaaS sales. Not only do you have to track and deal with all these unique deals, but you’re also essentially telling your prospects you’re not confident enough in your product, company, and brand to charge them full price. You need to kill your company’s discount culture before it kills you.
    3. Closing bad deals: If somebody wants to buy your product, your reps are going to find a way to justify selling to them. But closing a bad deal is worse than closing no deal at all. Bad deals are going to ruin your business, by adding tons of noise, extra work, and negativity when they eventually churn (and they will). Your investors might be happy that you hit your monthly revenue number, but you’re setting yourself up for long-term failure.
Step 5: Shorten your sales cycle

It’s an old cliche, but time really is money. And one of the best ways to optimize your sales funnel is simply to close deals faster. The shorter the sales cycle, the less it costs you to close a deal, the faster you can learn, react, and improve, and the more profitable you become.

To shorten your sales cycle, there’s really just three steps you need to follow.

First, waste less of your reps’ time and attention. SaaS sales teams give away their time too freely. You don’t need 60-minute calls to do a demo. Thirty is more than enough. Plus, the longer you schedule for tasks, the more your day gets disrupted when something comes up. Rather than lose 20 minutes because a prospect didn’t show up for your demo, a whole hour is wasted. And that adds up quickly.

Next, use the power of now. When you’re talking to a prospect, make decisions right away instead of ending the call with a big to-do list for everyone. Is there a next step your prospect needs to take? Help them do it right then and there. Do they have questions or concerns? Answer them now. As much as possible you want to make prospects take action now. Not later when they can be easily distracted.

Finally, map out the buying process for them. If you want to get to the close faster you need to know what’s in your way. It might feel awkward asking what it’s going to take to get the deal, but if you’ve properly qualified your prospect this should be a no-brainer. Ask them to outline the process from now to the close. Then, map out every stage of the buying journey. Every stakeholder you need to talk to. Every hoop you have to jump through to go from where you are right now to them becoming a customer.

Once you know these steps, not only can you point out any red flags, but you can start to run steps in parallel. For example, instead of waiting until after a 3–6 month pilot to talk to legal, why not ask to send them your contracts now? That way, if the pilot is a success, you’re not delayed an additional 3–6 months while legal finds time to look them over.

To optimize your SaaS sales machine, you need to dig into the details, root out unnecessary complexities, and find where you can get the most return on the least effort.

Start by designing a simple funnel. Focus on improving the top of it. Create continuous customer learning loops. Eliminate complexity. And shorten your sales cycle as much as possible.

If you do all of these things, you’re guaranteed to have an incredible SaaS sales machine. But even if you do just one or two, you’ll still be doing more than the competition. The key is to just start. Every small step you take puts you that much closer to leaving your competitors in the dust.

5 Ways to optimize SaaS Sales Machine by @Steli from Close.io - YouTube

Want to fine-tune your SaaS sales machine? Get a free copy of our book "From 0 to 1,000 Customers & Beyond".

Get our saas sales book

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Episode #15: Close.io Women in Sales Series

Listen: Soundcloud | iTunes | Your Favorite Podcast App 🎧
Watch: YouTube 
Previous Guests: All Episodes
 

Megan Muldary is the Director of Sales Operations at TUNE. Prior to TUNE, Megan was a Sales Operations Manager at thePlatform and has worked at San Gennaro Foods as an office manager and at Salem Media Group in marketing and promotions. She graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in Journalism and Minor in History. 

Episode Highlights
  • How Megan has learned about communication and vulnerability through difficult life situations 
  • How the quote "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” manifests in day-to-day life
  • Sensitivity as a strength and compliment to empathy, rather than a weakness
  • Advice on communicating with colleagues that are reserved, hard-to-read, and tight-lipped
  • Initiating dialogue about an issue or area of improvement so that its clear that its a collaborative discussion, rather than one-way criticism
  • How to communicate when you feel undervalued 
Megan Muldary, Sales Operations at TUNE: Heart Forward Communication & Empathy - YouTube
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Everyone loves to complain about how competitive their market is. But I hate to break it to you, it’s not just you. Technology has made it easier than ever to create game-changing products and every single industry is only going to get more competitive. It’s sink or swim out there and if you don’t know how to compete, you’re going to drown.

Here’s one great example: Every year, an industry report analyzes every company in the marketing technology space. In 2011, there were 150 companies on their list. Today? That number has ballooned to 7,500 companies competing for those same customers!

This isn’t meant to scare you. It’s simply a reminder that there are no guarantees in business. Anyone can get into your space and start eating up your market share. So you better be ready to compete.

Why I thought it was crazy to enter the hyper-competitive CRM space (but did it anyways)

If you told me 5–6 years ago that I would be running a CRM business, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. Not only is the market crowded with options (including the billion-dollar behemoth that is Salesforce) but 90% of companies still build an internal CRM.

If you’re looking for an easy industry to succeed in, this would be last on your list.

So why attack a market that’s already flooded? To be honest, we inadvertently stumbled into it. But looking back in hindsight there were some crucial events and decisions we made that allowed us to beat the odds.

Today, I want to share some of those “secrets” that have allowed Close.io to compete in one of the most competitive industries. And how you can use these same lessons to stand out in your own market.

Want a step-by-step guide on growing your startup? Download a free copy of my book on B2B customer acquisition for every stage of your startup.

1. Find your unique product vision

You’ll never win in a market if you’re following what everyone else is doing. But still, so many companies are afraid to make bold, unique products.

Let’s use the CRM space as an example. In the beginning, every CRM was simply a contact database. Companies needed to store the information on their customers and who better to maintain those databases than the salespeople who were using them regularly?

Eventually, someone decided to start adding more sales-specific features and the modern CRM was born. But the problem was that this new software was being built by engineers who rarely interacted with or understood the pain points of the salespeople who would be using them. Even worse, they were sold to upper management who had very different needs than the actual sales reps who would be using them (such as forecasting and reporting).

In other words, the tool that was supposedly made for sales reps was made by engineers who didn’t understand, nor care for their needs, and sold to management who had vastly different requirements than them.

When we launched Close.io, we chose to do the exact opposite.

Up until that point we had been running an outsourced sales team for startups and Close.io was our internal tool. With more than 200 different sales campaigns from companies in every imaginable industry, we needed a tool that was flexible and focused on selling. So our product vision wasn’t to build the best CRM tool, but to empower our reps to be the best sales team possible.

By approaching our CRM from the user’s perspective (not the management that would be buying it), we developed a drastically different vision than every other company. This is how we became the first CRM with inbound and outbound calling baked in as well as two-way email syncing.

While every other competitor was just trying to keep up and copy the major players, we went back to the basics and developed a unique point of view for a specific user. Similarly, if you want to stand out in a crowded space, you can’t simply iterate on what’s out there. You need to be unique, different, and bold.

2. Understand who your exact customers and stakeholders are

It’s easy enough to say “make a unique product,” but how do you actually do it? It all comes down to understanding who your ideal customer is. Everyone wants to buy a product that feels like it was made specifically for them. But few companies do this.

And when you try to sell to everyone, you end up selling to no one.

Knowing your ideal customer will not only allow you to make those bold product choices you need to stand out, but also to create a powerful identity people can identify with.

At Close.io, we’ve committed to servicing exclusively SMBs. This means turning down Enterprise clients or people who don’t fit our ideal customer profile.

That’s a good start. But to be truly successful you have to take it a step further and understand who your key stakeholder is at that customer’s company. Even if you’re selling to startups with a team of 30 people, you’ll have different stakeholders to consider. For us, that means:

  • Company founders who ultimately make the buying decision
  • Sales Managers who run sales teams and help decide what software to use
  • Sales reps who actually use our software
  • Technical teams who need to integrate our software
  • Support & success teams who want access to our software
  • Marketing teams who want to make sure they can connect to our software

Most people would look at this list and pick the top two. Founders and management have the most decision power when buying your product, so why not build and sell to them?

Again, you won’t succeed by just doing what everyone else does—especially when you believe what everyone else is doing is wrong. To us, it only made sense that a tool should be built first and foremost for the people who would spend the most time using it. That’s why we chose to focus solely on the end user as our key stakeholder. While we want to do a good job for everyone at the company, our number one priority is always the sales rep.

Whoever you choose as your main stakeholder is up to you. But you have to pick one and make sure they always feel like their needs are your top priority.

3. Adopt a business model that supports long-term thinking

Your business model will determine how you can act as a company. And if you want to compete in your market for the long run, you have to have a business model that allows you to think long term.

Unfortunately so many “standard” business models don’t give you the freedom to do this. Instead of the freedom to build the business and product you believe in, a business model that relies on venture capital means someone else always has a say in how you operate. Who you hire. What markets you go into. The customers you chase.

In our experience, this is how so many companies die. You know your product, customer, and market best. And being beholden to someone else who wants you to chase buzzwords and trends won’t help you truly compete.

When it came time to grow and scale Close.io, we chose to stay profitable instead of taking more outside funding. We chose independence over investors and stayed small, lean, and remote. Because of this, we get to think long-term. Our customers support us and our responsibility is to them. Not investors.

If you want to build a business that can truly compete, you need to have the freedom to do it on your own terms. And while this can happen in some venture-backed situations, more often than not you lose that independence the second you take someone else’s money.

4. Build a brand that connects with customers on an emotional level

Your brand becomes more valuable and impactful as the marketplace gets more crowded. The less differentiated products become (because everyone can quickly copy good features), the more people start to ask questions like:

“What company have I heard about/do I trust more?”

“What company makes me feel the way I want to feel?”

The way you present your company and the brand you build is one of the most important factors in surviving in a hyper-competitive market. But I didn’t always think so. Before starting a company I thought all this talk about branding was a waste of time. I didn’t realize that human beings make decisions not based on facts, but emotions.

To stand out, your brand needs to connect on an emotional level. You can have all the best features in the world, but what you really want is for your customers to feel like the second they buy from you, they’re going to become better at the thing you’re promising. You want to give them inspiration and aspiration. Not just tools.

The most powerful way we’ve found for doing this is content marketing.

When Close.io first started, we realized we could never out-sell, out-market, or out-advertise the competition. But we could out-teach them.

Five years ago, every CRM company’s blog was full of outdated, 80s sales advice. So we set out to change that. Using our own experiences, we wrote posts full of real, honest, actionable advice that readers could see immediate results from. It was a high standard, but since day one, content has been one of our only two sources of growth (the other is word-of-mouth).

If you want to connect with your customers, you need to share what makes you unique and exciting to them. For us, that meant years and years of hard-earned and time-tested sales knowledge. Whatever that is for you, find it, share it, and grow naturally from it.

5. Compete on value. Not price.

When you’re faced huge competitors like Salesforce, it’s an attractive idea to try and beat them on price. You want their customers. Everyone wants to save money. So why not become the cheapest option?

But you’ll never win if you compete on price. The cheaper you price your product, the more your business model will have to change. You’ll need to raise more money, spend more acquiring users, and operate on razor-thin margins. In the end, you won’t be able to focus on and champion your users.

With Close.io, we knew we could never compete on price. So we decided to compete on value. We marketed ourselves as a premium product and charged a premium price. Were we missing features? Sure. But being profitable from the start let us talk to our users, build and grow with them, and continually provide value to them. And in turn, they told more people about us.

Not only did we make more money, but we attracted the right customers who were getting value from us and were more than happy to pay the premium price. It may seem counterintuitive to try to compete by charging more. But remember, even if you win the race to the bottom, you’re still nowhere near the top spot.

6. Ignore FOMO and be ultra-focused on your company identity

All of these factors will help you compete in a busy marketplace. But the most important by-product of following them is that it will give you an incredible amount of focus.

If you spend your days trying to copy the competition or chasing after the latest buzzwords, you’re going to zig-zag your way to nowhere. But, when you know who you and your customers are, why they want to buy from you, have a brand that people trust, and continually create value for everyone, you won’t get sidetracked with hacks and trends.

You need to have self-awareness and self-confidence as a company to stay the course when everyone else is drowning in the noise of the marketplace. When you’re confident in who you are, it lets you say no to opportunities that might sound exciting, but aren’t right for you.

For us, that meant turning down partnerships promising thousands of customers (which never materialized). Or saying no to Enterprise customers promising millions of dollars in revenue (which went against our brand and identity, and would most likely have required us to loosen our focus on the sales people’s productivity). It also meant focusing only on features we knew our customers wanted (not expensive nice-to-haves like a mobile app).

Focus will ultimately be what separates you from the hundreds and thousands of other companies in your space. Know who you are as a company and have faith that the path you’re going down was the right choice. This will help you clearly recognize where to invest your resources, and how to compete in even the most crowded markets.

If you’re going to play the game, play to win

The business software world isn’t getting any smaller. So why spend time complaining when you could be competing?

Don’t just look at what other people are doing and copy them. Look at what everyone else is doing and then turn around and look at your customer.

What do they need? Where are they being undervalued and ignored? How can you build something that brings them value and opens up a niche for you?

It won’t always be smooth sailing. Your competitors will copy your features, your strategies, and your unique vision. But if you learn how to compete effectively, build a loyal customer base, and constantly create value, the competition will never be better than second best.

You can’t change the game. But you can always change the way you play.

Want more tips on growing your startup? Grab a free copy of From 0 to 1,000 Customers & Beyond, a book on customer acquisition for B2B startups I co-authored with Hiten Shah.

Download our B2B Customer Acquisition Book

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Every sales rep hates hearing no. But it’s just part of the job, right? You can’t win every deal and when a prospect turns you down, it’s time to just move on. But hearing no doesn’t always mean you did something wrong. You might just be talking to the wrong person.

This small shift in thinking can have a profound impact on your sales outreach and follow-up success. And all it takes is trying one simple strategy I recently discovered: HUCA (Hang up and call again).

Today, I’m going to share a quick story about how I learned the power of HUCA and how you can use it as part of your own sales and follow up strategy.

How I learned to stop taking “no” as a final answer

Airlines are rarely known for their customer support. And as someone whose job involves a lot of flying, I should know this. But for some reason, I thought things would be different when I recently called up my airline and tried to change the details on an upcoming flight.

Within minutes, the support agent told me there was absolutely no way they could make the changes I wanted without it costing a ridiculous amount of money.

So, I did what I do best. I used every sales strategy and negotiation tactic in the book. But the agent wouldn’t budge. From their perspective there was absolutely nothing they could do to help me.

Like most people, my response to this sort of situation would be to give up. I’d called. Spoken with the right person. Did all the right things. And still didn’t get the response I wanted. But I didn’t want to give up. So I asked one of my cofounders what he would do in this situation.

Here’s what he said:

“You should just HUCA. I typically have to hang up, call back and talk to 4–5 agents until I find the one that will solve my problem.”

It seemed too simple not to try. And 3 HUCAs later, I’d spoken to an agent who didn’t just change my flight details, but did it for free and included an upgrade.

If you’re not getting the answer you want, try talking to someone else

Let’s think about this story for a second: I was dealing with the same company. Same support phone line. Same type of support agent most likely with the same training.

The only difference was the actual person I was talking to.

This is a powerful lesson for everyone, but especially sales reps. No matter what you’re selling, who you’re talking to, and how many times they tell you no, you’re still dealing with a human being.

A no from that individual person doesn’t necessarily mean a no from the entire organization. In fact, 99.9% of the time it’s been my experience that prospects are only speaking from their perspective and based on their experience of a call.

Once you recognize this, you’ll see how there are so many variables that are out of your control. From what’s going on in your prospect’s workday (or personal life), to simply the timing of your call.

If you’ve done the research and know what you’re selling will be beneficial to them, why give up after one no?

Using HUCA as a follow-up strategy lets you see if your product is the problem. Or if the prospect is.

Just because someone tells you no, doesn’t mean it can’t be done

I’m known for being persistent. I’ve written extensively about the follow-up formula and how you have to continue go back again and again to get what you want. But learning about HUCA reminded me that I still have blind spots where I accept ‘no’ as final and unchangeable.

Almost every interaction in life—from booking airlines tickets to making sales—comes down to a personal connection. This means the question you have to continually ask isn’t just “Is my product or service the right fit?” But also “Is this prospect the right person to talk to?”

Just because you got a no from a prospect doesn’t mean that company is a dead end. Hang up. Call again. And try to find the person who is willing and able to give you the result you’re looking for.

Here’s my challenge to you: For the next 30 days, I want you to try HUCA for yourself. Whenever someone tells you you’re not a right fit or their company “can’t do that” I want you to hang up, call again, and try your approach with someone new. Write up your results and let me know in the comments below.

Follow-Up Technique for sales by @Steli from Close.io - YouTube

Ready to take your follow-up strategy to the next level? Grab a free copy of my book, "The Follow-up Formula"

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