Building an Outbound Pipeline
It comes down to knowing who your target audiences are. What are the target companies, what are the profiles, and how do you sort through the list of potential suspects to prioritize where your top targets are?
And then within those organizations, you have to figure out:
- Who are the target personas?
- Who are the players within those organizations?
- What's the value proposition?
- How are you different?
- What's the motion to reach those people?
We refer to it as demand generation - the things you're doing on the front end before sales even get involved, including marketing and events.
We're a larger company now, we're 2,500 employees. So we do things like events and webinars where we're educating potential prospects and following up with a business development function.
So we have a whole team of BDRs responsible for following up and developing people who have brand awareness and are willing to converse with us. And that's a journey in and of itself. It's that whole business development process of creating awareness, making contact, and trying to deliver the right piece of content.
What we're doing right now is shifting to a very vertical focus industry focus. So we've created targeted industries in financial services, CPG, retail, oil and gas, and high tech so that we can have a team of folks, develop some more targeted content, and reach out and deliver our story to those targeted audiences. So that's a journey in and of itself.
And then, our business development folks make contact to initiate a conversation, and then we hand it off to sales. And at that point, they're getting introduced to an account executive or a seasoned industry person who can dive a little bit deeper to see if there's a value proposition or that we can strategically align what we're doing to the priorities of the business.
It's a lot of moving parts, and it takes a lot of expertise, but I think at the end of the day, you've got a universe of suspects, and then you have to try to figure out who are your most likely targets within that universe, and that's where it all starts.
It's easier said than done, but it's hard work, and we've got tools helping our BDRs manage campaigns. Sometimes you're touching somebody 6, 8, or 10 times before you get a response. A lot of it is timing.
There is a campaign strategy that we follow. And sometimes, depending on how people react to the content, that may divert the subsequent content or how we approach them.
So we do try to tailor the content and deliver an experience. It's not just about delivering content. We have to make it more thoughtful and educational because we're offering something that people don't even know exists.
We're very focused on customer experience, but we also have a mass marketing strategy, and then we also have very strategic account selling.
So we've got strategic account executives that are coming from these industries. These are guys that have 15, or 20 years of sales experience in oil and gas or financial services. And they know the businesses, they know the clients, and they are familiar with needs and pain points and technology landscapes where they can reach out to those leaders.
And because there's so much noise out there, you're always competing for mind share, and we have to deliver the right message to the right person. So we try to take a rifle shot approach, do the research, understand the business mode, and understand their strategic priorities. And if you can align your messaging to those things, you're much more likely to get a response.
We're doing webinars on improving your working capital and managing supply chain challenges to prioritize delivery for high-priority clients. Many manufacturers are now experiencing challenges.
And we've recently invested in an exciting strategic research technology. This research tool provides us with some insights and maps the intelligence you're getting back to our use cases and our keyword so that it even makes recommendations on which solution we should be promoting and which executives we should be targeting.
It's a company called DataBook. We've implemented it recently and we are very bullish on what we think we can do with DataBook. We'll develop a preliminary business case where we implement this use case in other companies in their industry. We show them we can deliver something like this for their organization.
Bringing the Right Leadership
Company culture is critical, but sales culture is not necessarily company culture. It is a reflection of the company culture, but there are other aspects to it and it has to do with the leadership that you bring in depending on the personality of the leadership.
- What's the sales motion?
- What's the experience level?
- What's the complexity of the motion?
- How many people are contributing to that process?
- Is there a real sense of sort of teamwork and collaboration?
- Or are you in a sales environment where you've got people who are very much individual contributors and that can also contribute to it?
You want to understand what you stand for and find leaders that represent that. Industry experience is super important. I've seen situations where you've had sales leaders come into a small, high-growth company, and they come from a big company where they had the business card and the company logo. They're now going into an environment where nobody knows who you are. And that can be a culture shock for the leader.
So find somebody ready for the environment they're gonna be leading. And certainly, when you're in the earlier stage company, you want somebody that certainly has a vision for where you want to go as an organization, but I think on a day-to-day basis, they have to be able to operate in and function in an environment where the sellers are having to survive and be successful.
And when you're working for a company where your brand is just not known yet, that creates a very different dynamic. So certainly an important consideration.
Leader's Attributes to Look For
Self-awareness is crucial. One of the things I've seen is that there are leaders who can do the very early stage thing and are really good at taking a company from A to B to C. And then there's another type of leader that can get you from C to D through IPO.
I worked for a great sales leader in the early days at one company and he was there for three or four years. The beauty of this was that he knew exactly what he was there to do. He was there to get the company from here to here, 0 to 200 million. And he was very good at that and successful with that.
And when they got there, he knew it was time to go and do his next 0 to 200 million. And so part of it is them knowing what their strength is, knowing what their sweet spot is. That certainly is part of it for us in what we do.
The other leadership quality is that the sales leader has got to be trusted and has to be really seen as a real partner to the rest of the executive leadership team. So they've gotta be able to operate as a unit.
Building a team
Within sales specifically, we have to look at how complex is the sales motion.
- Is there a presales function?
- Is there a technical function?
- Is there a security function?
- Is there a variety of sort of specialized skills that oftentimes need to be involved?
For example, we have salespeople targeting specific industries, but we also have solution engineers supporting them and providing technical expertise on the product.
But we also have customer value managers who begin to get involved during the sales cycle. Because in anticipation of them becoming a customer, our goal is to create a value-based proposal that we can then use as the model for the implementation plan that we can use as then the model that we use for ongoing communication with the customer.
You have to know what that journey looks like to ensure that you understand who the players are. But it's also a good idea to bring in what they call a rainmaker. They're the people who don't need a lot of structure.
But they come from the industry; they're well connected, they know the business, they're people who are used to coming into sort of high change environments.
And so, in the early days, when you're just starting out, you can bring in rainmakers, early-stage people who can produce on their own because they're well connected. They're going to learn about your product. But that's not a scalable model. That's a good model for getting started.
But I think once you're ready to build out a sales organization, that's when you need to think about structure and having more clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and building a sales playbook.
We need to bring in talented people because when we operate consistently, we can scale consistently, forecast, and predictably grow the business.
Typically there's a funding component to it. When we've proven this thing out, we know we've got a real product, we've got some customers, we think that it's time.
And I think when you're ready to take those funds and really scale the business, oftentimes that's where at least a percentage of the funds can go is into really building out and investing in building out the sales organization.
But I think it typically happens after you've really validated the solution, you've got a viable product. There's clearly market demand for the product. You've had some successful implementations, and you've got some referenceable customers. So if you feel like you've got some of the basic pieces in place and you ask yourself if you are ready to scale.
As the marketing matures and becomes more targeted and more intelligent, and the messaging improves, you begin to scale that. A lot of organizations have the business development function as that sort of that thing that sits in between sales and marketing.
I think one of the mistakes that people make from a sales perspective is that as they begin to scale, they sometimes try to cover too much or they try to address too many markets or too many industries.
And I think maintaining a high level of focus early is really important. It's easy to get diluted and that can hurt your marketing efforts because now you're trying to sort of be all things to all people.
Keeping people motivated and accountable
Motivation is hugely important. On the one hand, you have to think about the acquired leader, you've got to provide your people with a clear vision of why this is happening and where we're going, and why one plus one equals three.
I think as the acquiring company, the motivation comes from helping people to understand that there's a cultural fit, that this is a good thing that we're going to be better together. And I think that having a well-orchestrated communication plan is super important.
When it comes to motivation, there's conventional thinking, which is the carrot and the stick, or the stick and the carrot. And that can work for a little while but that is not a long-term strategy.
There's a guy by the name of Daniel Pink who's an author. He did a lot of research on motivation and he basically identified three key areas and essential ingredients to motivation.
- Vision - everybody needs to have a clear and shared vision of where we are going.
- Autonomy - people, thrive on it. They crave having the ability to make some of their own decisions. We know the destination, we know what we're trying to get to, but you need to let me decide and figure out what's the best way to get there. And so, I think I think that autonomy is an important part of it.
- Mastery - people want to do what they're good at. And so, help people, provide ongoing training, but help people to get good at what they're doing and what they wanna do. And when you combine that with purpose and autonomy, you can really provide an environment where there really is sustained motivation.
Expanding from Single product to portfolio
There are a couple of things to consider. First, the best place to start is with existing or past clients. Sharing with them that you have expanded your portfolio is extremely valuable.
When you look at the new offerings, you also have to look at the plan. I think you have to decide if the objective is to sell these as a suite. Is this a suite of offerings being sold together, or is this a series of individual solutions that can be sold individually?
You need to look at the competitive landscape. Who are the competitors? You may have different competitors for each of the solutions. But also if they could be sold together, maybe that can also represent some differentiation.
That's one of the things that people need to think about is how are you different. What's your differentiation and what's the value? So to me, those are just some kind of off-the-cuff thoughts on packaging and moving from a single product to a suite.
I will say that many organizations talk about value pricing, but very few do it. But generally, what we hear from customers is that they want something simple. They want a simple flat rate, all-you-can-eat pricing.
And so, I think you can start with, I don't know if you guys do pilots, but I think paid pilots are a good way to validate the technology. But then beyond that, I think ultimately, customers prefer a fixed fee flat rate, but you can look at the variable components.
For us, it's the number of transactions.
- We have the computing power.
- We have transactions specific related pricing components.
- We also offer flat rates.
Quite frankly, we're still trying to figure out what the optimal pricing model is; it's a little bit of trial and error.
There are many considerations. Because when you acquire, there's the question of, is the technology additive to what we're doing?
We're purchasing something that's gonna be incremental to our current portfolio, which means that we need the originally acquired salespeople to either overlay or assimilated into the sales organization, in which case they have to learn the acquired acquiring companies products and the original sales reps have to learn the new products. So you've got that to deal with. So you need to be clear on what your strategy is.
When I was with Sprinkler, they were acquiring companies, not necessarily for the tech, but companies for the talent. And they were bringing the talent in and they were essentially recreating and rebuilding those enhanced functionalities in the core product.
And it took time. It took them an entire year of additional development work before that functionality was in the base product.
But they did that because in technology, if you just acquire another company and bolt it onto yours, you can say that you have the functionality, but it's not integrated. It's integrated, but it's not natively embedded in the core product.
It doesn't work with everything else seamlessly. And it becomes difficult to manage and maintain.
And I still see this today where we have competitors. So Celonis is actually creating a new market space and we're seeing competitors going out and purchasing the pieces of technology that they don't have.
So that they can say, they can do what we do, but the reality is that they can't. So they would have to go back to the drawing board and rebuild that code in the core product for it to have the same level of robustness.
I think that it was impressive to see the commitment that Sprinkler had made to the quality of the product that they were developing in the core. They were acquiring the know-how, but they were building out a very robust core product, which made the product much more scalable.
And the end of the day, it delivered a better offering to the end customers. But it, also took a more significant investment and the return on the investment took longer.
There were probably, sometimes 6, 8, 10, or 12 months before we really saw the benefits of the acquisition. So those are hard decisions.
In those cases, the sales team came over initially as overlays, as specialists. So they were helping. So there were times when they continued to sell the standalone product separately.
And then, eventually, those customers reported to the new platform when it became integrated with the mothership. So you had a team that continued selling to their legacy customers while we developed a new product.
To successfully transition to the company, number one is the manager connection. Because the reason people leave the most common reason why people go is because of the manager. So the manager of the acquiring company must connect with those individuals that are joining. People need to understand what it is that they're responsible for.
Next is connectivity. People are so connected today and are so reliant and dependent on their communication systems, and connectivity, if you don't get it right, if you don't help those people to get connected to their new environment, that can be very detrimental.
And then I think; obviously, things just helping them to get people to connect socially, colleagues, buddy programs, there's a variety of things that we've done to help people that are coming into the organization feel like they're a part of the team and a part of the family.
So anything that you can do in that regard.
For us, it's cultural. It's a core value for us. Our number one company value is we live for customer value. And there's a self-serving reason for that. It's because we know that when customers are successful with our product, we have lots of opportunities to expand the relationship.
And so, there's a real vested interest for us and for the customer in their success. And clearly, I think that's a cultural aspect, but there's also a real business driver there.
Organizationally, you got to make sure that you have the resources to be able to provide the level of support that they need. We've recently made significant investments in really helping to enhance what we call our CVG, the customer value group.
And within the customer value group, you have customer value managers who are like your success managers. And then also more technical resources that are available, that can be contracted for either professional services or customer value architects that are there to be able to basically help drive adoption and to help get the value out of the solution.
I think management commitment, culture management commitment, and then I think another big part of it is the communication from leadership. One of the things that I think has been inspiring for our company, for our people has been to actually hear from customers.
Tactics to emphasize customers
Logos is a great idea. We've done contests for customer success stories.
So we've had customer value managers responsible for trying to collect customer success metrics. And so, we've done some sort of fun competitions.
Because customer success isn't necessarily automatic, it's not something that customers volunteer for, and they call you and tell you how much they love your product. And I want to share with you some amazing metrics and business improvements we achieved from doing business with you. That doesn't happen very often. And so, it takes a concerted effort where we need to go in and ask.
I've found customers forget what it was like before they had your product. Unfortunately, it doesn't take them long to forget. Because now they're living in this new world and doing this new thing and they've got this new process. And sometimes, they lose sight of the benefits they're achieving.
And so, I think it helps to have somebody that's there to help. We call it mining for metrics. So it's let's get in there and ask because once you do that, once you develop these success stories for the customer, now you're giving them content that they can use internally.
Mining takes a little bit of work. You got to swing the pickaxe and dig it out. And I think if you can encourage your people to do that, sometimes it can be anecdotal, it can be a story and it should be a story.
But I think that if you're working with a cooperative customer and you're working with somebody that is motivated to work with you, and we mentioned the concept of champions, I think it's extremely important for you to not only have champions to win the business, but you need champions to keep the business.
And one of the ways that you keep the business is by being able to dig out those success stories.
This is a very common mistake. You think that just because the person that helped you to win the business is going to be the same person that's going to help you to expand the business.
And that's not necessarily the case, today people are changing jobs, and there's mobility. So we see it time and time again, where the person or people that really helped us to win the business. We're now dealing with new people and we basically have to develop them, almost start over in terms of the process of developing them into champions, into people who want this to succeed.