Zoominfo Beats Back the Summertime Sales Blues

Zoominfo analyzed their Out of Office (OOO) emails and phone call connection rates over the past year to determine whether there was a dog days of summer impact on their business or whether it was a convenient excuse used by sales reps for taking their foot off the pedal in July and August.  It turns out that there is a sustained drop off in phone connectivity and an increase in OOO messaging in July and August.  For Zoominfo, the potential income loss was equal to $400,000 in monthly new Annual Contract Value (ACV).

Brian Setzer as Eddie Cochrane playing “Summertime Blues” in La Bamba

If we extend that loss over the last week of June and the first week of September, the summer lull would result in a million dollars in lost ACV (half a million dollars in 2020 revenue, but that is only because subscription revenue is recognized over the length of the contract, not when booked).

But a firm like Zoominfo has a very high retention rate, so stratifying the million dollars over the lifetime value (LTV) of the lost opportunities means that the cumulative LTV is likely in excess of $5 million (their 2019 dollar based net retention rate was 109%)

For a company that went IPO in June after touting strong new ACV growth in their May S-1, new revenue growth is key in maintaining confidence in your revenue teams.

“How did we respond to this data?  By stepping on the gas – we sent out an additional ~14k+ emails (~10% of normal volume) over the past two months and making an additional ~23k dials (~35% of normal volume) per month. 

Sales is — and always will be — a contact sport. 

This is just one of the reasons why it’s so important to have a vast array of contacts at prospects. Without being able to tap into our own data this wouldn’t have been possible.  That’s not cheap promotion, it’s a fact.”

Zoominfo CEO Henry Schuck

Around 90% of Zoominfo’s revenue is domestic, so they aren’t dealing with the long August vacations taken in Europe. The strategy of working harder over the summer allowed them to maintain new ACV growth during a soft period, but it might not be effective in Europe when business activity is reduced much more significantly.

OOO messages often provide alternate contacts that may be part of the buying committee. Acting on this intelligence and extending relationships to additional decision makers and influencers may improve both current and future close rates.

Zoominfo has a reputation for effective revenue operations management. They assumed the summer doldrum lore to be true and double downed on their outbound communications. But they also measured their sales and marketing efficiency to better understand the nature of the summer slowdown, allowing them to model and refine their summer sales strategy in the coming years.

Source: Zoominfo Blog, “Leveraging Sales Intelligence in the Dog Days of Summer

Quora: What are the most typical ways in which a salesperson will push self-interest (and decrease trust) onto a prospect?

The Full Question

What are the most typical ways in which a salesperson will push self-interest (and decrease trust) onto a prospect? ‘Wanting to talk about their product’ is common, but what other less obvious ways crop up?

My Response:

Not all of these are self-interest, but they all are ways that sales reps undermine trust and fail to establish a relationship with their customers and prospects.

Bad mouthing a competitor — it shows a lack of belief in your own offering. If the statement you make is incorrect, you look dishonest and you have blown the deal. I generally suggest that when reps are asked about competitors that they say something positive (but not highly relevant to the prospect) about the competitor and then pivot back to their offering by highlighting an area where their product offering excels). This allows them to stay above the fray, avoid badmouthing the competitor, and quickly shift back to their value proposition.

Misrepresentation — if you don’t know the answer, don’t wing it. Be honest and follow up quickly. Reps aren’t expected to be technical experts, but they should know the basics of their offering.

Likewise, if your products are not well suited to meet their current requirements, then don’t push solutions that will leave them disappointed. Either they will figure it out after wasting a lot of your time (and theirs), or they will purchase your product, be disappointed, and never buy from your firm again. This kills future deals at the company when their needs shift (or your product capabilities are deeper). It also kills future deals at other companies when they change jobs. Honesty may not win you the deal today, but dishonesty will kill future deals when you are a better fit. You can’t win back trust once it is lost.

Not being prepared — There is little reason not to know the basics of your customer and prospect. You have access to LinkedIn and the company website. You can also gather firmographic information (size, industry) and industry information from subscription services (e.g. D&B Hoovers, InsideView, First Research, Vertical IQ, etc.).

Failing to listen — Good selling entails listening to their needs and concerns.

Pitching too early — It is ok to talk about the product, but only after understanding the customer’s needs. You should start by listening and understanding their requirements and then discussing your value proposition and how you can help meet their needs. Focus on value. When discussing features, tie them to relevant benefits, but avoid a feature deep dive unless that is what the client wants. Reps often are too quick to demo.

Slow Follow up — If you offer a client samples or a service trial, turn those around immediately after the call (or within a few hours if you have other calls). If you need to get back on technical items, send them a list of the open items and cc or bcc the technical team. If you offer a quote, SOW, or RFP response, then let them know when they will be available. If you can’t close the loop when selling, what confidence will they have that your firm will deliver on time, swiftly support technical issues, or provide proper training?

Slow Response — Likewise, slow response to website or chat requests can be a deal killer. If you are unable to respond immediately, then send a quick email acknowledging their request with anticipated follow up. Slow responses erode trust and provide time for them to consider your competition.

Being Creepy — Being overly familiar, contacting somebody five minutes after they’ve visited your website (unless they have requested to be contacted), being inauthentic.

In short, we are talking about honesty, authenticity, listening, good follow up, and knowledge about your products and prospects / customers.

Drift: Chat Qualified Leads

Josh Allen, CRO of conversational marketing vendor Drift, doesn’t believe in Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).  Chat Qualified Leads (CQLs) are more valuable, argues Allen.  CQLs are “the best leads that we have in the business.” CQLs show immediate intent as they capture prospects as they come to the website and interact with either a chatbot or sales rep. This moment is when they are “at their point of highest intent” and ready to engage with the company.

Allen said that CQLs are the highest converting lead source at Drift.  They are often driven by outbound marketing campaigns and events.  Chat conversations can also be driven by B2B social sites such as executive articles on LinkedIn.

“Because we’re able to engage when they are really trying to learn and are most interested in what Drift has to offer, there is a high conversion rate.”

Drift is a leader in conversational intelligence, a quickly developing market for chatbots, which support sales, marketing, and customer support. Drift also offers chat enabled video.

Cien Hidden Revenue Assessments

Cien contends that a sales rep is only as successful as his or her weakest skill permits.  Therefore, it is best to determine skill deficiencies and coach for them.

Cien announced the availability of its Hidden Revenue Assessment report which analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of sales reps to determine which qualitative factors are limiting their success.  Cien ingests data from Salesforce Enterprise to “reveal the factors that are preventing their teams from achieving their numbers.”

Cien Head of Marketing Damien Acheson noted that firms such as Gong and Chorus are more prescriptive while Cien is diagnostic, helping managers identify skill gaps and determining where reps add or destroy value during deal flow.

Presented as individual scorecards, Cien employs over 100 AI models to identify issues in sales enablement, training, and onboarding.  Cien does not believe in cloning the best sales reps as reps have different strengths and weaknesses.  Instead, reps are assessed for value-add across the pipeline, helping determine where reps need coaching, which reps are creating value, and which reps are benefiting from a rich set of leads but not adding significant value to them.

Furthermore, their models indicate that addressing weaknesses is the best method for improving sales outcomes and reaching quota.  If a rep is weak at any of the key sales skills, he or she is unlikely to reach quota.  As reps are only as successful as their weakest skills, it is better to identify gaps and coach accordingly.  Cien holds that the best path to driving revenue growth is focusing on mid-level success reps as they are the ones with the greatest opportunity to improve their performance.

“When it comes to managing sales teams, it’s important to understand that no sales rep is created equal, and no opportunity is created equal,” contends Cien CEO Rob Käll.  “To date, Cien’s Hidden Revenue Assessments have uncovered between 20-40% worth of lost revenue due to gaps in selling skills.”

“Cien’s AI models search for correlations between reps’ skills and attributes and their impact on the final value of opportunities.  This is the basis for a set of patented algorithms called the ​Cien Value Chain​.  Cien determines the relative value of each lead as it enters your CRM and tracks its value at the end of the sales cycle.  The Cien Value Chain measures the value-added at each stage of the opportunity and the skills and attributes that drive incremental value.“

Cien FAQ

The Hidden Revenue Assessment is available as a free report to technology companies with at least ten sales reps and a minimum of one year of Salesforce data.  It provides an assessment of a few sample reps across work ethic, product knowledge, engagement ability, and closing ability.  The Hidden Revenue Assessment also evaluates CRM data quality to provide a level of confidence in the assessment.  Firms that have deployed Sales Engagement Platforms such as Outreach and SalesLoft often have complete data as they automatically gather activity data and sync it with their CRM.

Cien “Baseball Card” Profile

The Hidden Revenue Assessment includes a 30-minute walkthrough.

The Cien app, available for $49 per month per rep, provides mentor prescriptions that help prioritize coaching.  While flagging weaknesses can be demotivating, Cien inverts the model and calculates the revenue opportunity available to reps who focus on developing their skills.  Being told that you are weak at prospect engagement is unlikely to motivate a rep.  Being told that focusing on prospect engagement can retire $200,000 worth of quota is much more likely to motivate the rep to focus on his or her weak-link skills.

The Cien app provides data on all of the reps and covers a broader set of skills.  The app also provides dynamic data indicating how the reps are performing over time.

Cien is Privacy Shield certified and does not gather Personally Identifiable Information beyond rep names. Cien received a $3.5 million seed round in June.

I’m Kvetching about Grammar Again

“Schoolmarm” Royal Daulton figurine (Source: WannabeEditor on Wikipedia)

I’m starting to feel like the schoolmarm* calling out grammar and spelling errors. I am not normally a stickler about such things, but sales reps and marketers need to do a better job on the basics. I called out marketers a few weeks ago (“How Not to Write a Press Release“) and this week it is sales reps. Here is my letter to Sales Reps:

As you adopt sales engagement tools, you will be sending more emails, but writing fewer words for each email.  Your email templates should be perfectly grammatical, so the 20% that you write to personalize your messages should also be perfectly grammatical.  I’m not seeing this.  Saturday, I received emails from two different tactile marketing companies (the bizarre category name of companies that send direct mail gifts) with run-ons and missing punctuation. 

You do yourself and your company no favors by failing basic grammar checks (I use Grammarly) before hitting send.  Good grammar supports clarity, displays professionalism, and signals that the small things matter.

Here is an example from earlier today:

“Call a play to connect with me for a quick overview and I’ll send you an example NFL team swag item (your team) or a $25 Dinner eGift if you are more of an NHL fan, like myself.”  

The Call to Action from a tactile marketing vendor

If you received this sentence in an email, would you be more or less inclined towards their call to action (CTA) due to the poor grammar and twisted syntax?

Yes, the $25 gift is a strong CTA, but the poor grammar undermines trust. If you can’t do the small things right (e.g. proofing your email), then why would I assume you would get the big things right (e.g. managing the logistics of thousands of individually packaged and personalized eGifts)?

We all make mistakes when writing, and some of us are better than others at the mechanics of the written word. I’m simply suggesting that you do a quick readthrough of what you write before you send it. Using a grammar checking tool is a good backstop.

Another trick: put on our headphones and use Microsoft Word’s read aloud function. Close your eyes and listen for clarity, word choice, and messaging. Yes, this is a timely step; you may want to reserve it for key decisionmakers at ABM accounts, but sometimes you want to slow down to ensure you get things right.

Word choice is also important. When you are unsure whether you are properly using a word, select a different word or type Define <word> into Google or Bing. For emails, simple words should be employed and jargon avoided.

Bing’s first response to Define Kvetching

And to sales engagement vendors, how about some tools to flag style and grammar issues? As you develop AI tools for email, flag both best practices (e.g. Subject line too long, CTA not in the top third of the body, bullet points lower click through rates) and grammar issues.

Let’s write well, not good.


* Readers of the future: In 2019 the term schoolmarm was a bit antiquated and slightly pejorative, but not on the politically incorrect list of phrases. If in 2022 the term enters the list of micro-aggressions, mea culpa.

How to Write a Press Release

A few days ago, I provided a case study in how not to write a press release. Here are a set of tips and samples from Jennifer Saragosa at BusinessWire on how to write a press release:

  • Determine who your audience is and write appropriately for the audience. For example common goals of press releases are media pick-up, attract new customers, educate current customers, attract investors, populate Google search, etc. Write for the specific you are targeting and use vernacular they are familiar with.
  • Keep the release short – 400-600 words max
  • For best Google results, headline should be 70 characters or less (or else Google will cut it off)
  • Make sure company name is in headline
  • Make sure important keywords (that their readers would be searching on) are in headline and first sentence of release.
  • In headline, frontload the keyword at the beginning of the headline
  • First paragraph should include the 5 Ws and a good lead sentence
  • Have a boilerplate that is titled “About XYZ company.” Keep that paragraph fairly short and include a written out URL for their corporate website. Include social handles if they have them.
  • Add anchor text to first paragraph on first mention of company name or product so that reader can quickly get to their site
  • Add bullets for key points
  • Include your contact information including phone and email
  • If there are multimedia assets, consider linking to them in the press release

Examples:

Release written for customers: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190225005005/en/Analog-Devices-Unveils-SHARC%C2%AE-Audio-Module-Platform

Release written for media coverage and to boost sales: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190225005005/en/Analog-Devices-Unveils-SHARC%C2%AE-Audio-Module-Platform

See other sample releases sorted by subject here: https://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/home/news/subjects/

Practice + Authenticity = Modern Sales Excellence

The Greek orator Demosthenes was said to have treated his speech impediment by talking with pebbles in his mouth and shouting above the roar of the ocean waves.
 
In high school, Larry Bird would shoot 500 free throws every morning before his first class.
 
When I started my professional sales career in 2004, I wrote out every opening, iteration, objection handle, and closing approach. I then recorded myself speaking them until I was comfortable. I iterated on each talk track 20+ times until it was authentic and the language flowed naturally. Then I ditched the scripts and went to work.

What can you do outside of your day to day operations to be exceptional at your craft?

SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter (LinkedIn Post)

SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter is a strong advocate for authenticity. Simply knowing your pitch is insufficient. Sales reps have to master their craft and infuse it with authenticity. This means developing a deep understanding of how to sell your product and service but then combining what is unique about your story (both personal and corporate) with passion for the product or service you sell.

It also means that you cannot be giving a robotic pitch or a one-size-fits-all spiel. Great salespeople adjust their message and approach to the prospect. This adjustment is across many dimensions:

  • Job Function – What is their department and role within the department?
  • Job Level – How high in the organization are they?
  • Industry – What is your value proposition with respect to the purchaser’s industry? How do they benefit?
  • Buyer Role – As part of a purchasing committee, are they the economic buyer, technical buyer, influencer, etc.?
  • Prospect Knowledge about Your Offering – You need to understand how knowledgeable they are about your offering and those of your competitors and then speak to that level.
  • Concerns – The larger the value or strategic importance of a B2B purchase, the greater the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). FUD is also higher if the total cost of ownership or switching costs are high. If you are inauthentic, you can raise the level of FUD. If you can connect authentically with the buyer, you build trust and drive down the level of FUD.
  • Individual – What are the individual concerns of the buyer? What is the buyer’s communication style?

Scripts work well for novice reps and those learning a new product category or vertical, but they should be viewed as building blocks towards a polished, authentic sales voice.

One should also avoid focusing on features. A feature-focused monologue says to buyers, “you figure out whether my product / service will help you because I don’t understand that myself.” The focus should always be on benefits and value with features only used to justify your value proposition or to address concerns of technical buyers.

And the conversation needs to be interactive. Meeting intelligence analytics display who is talking during a call. A sales rep can visually review whether he / she controlled the conversation or it was a true conversation.

Sales trainers have begun emphasizing the value of storytelling as a way to connect with the emotional buyer. Marketers long approached consumer sales as an emotional pitch and B2B as a rationale pitch, but are now arguing that rational B2B pitches ignore the inherent FUD involved when making strategic purchases.

As sales reps begin to be coached by sales engagement analytics (directly and via feedback from managers and trainers), they should shift away from controlling conversations and become more interactive, present, and empathetic.

Sales Lead Best Practices

In their recent Information Industry Outlook 2019, Outsell provided the following “last mile to the sale” recommendations for sales lead best practices:

  1. Be at the top of organic search results
  2. 1-2 sentence company description on Home page
  3. Home page links to Services page
  4. Zero dead links on Home, About, or services pages
  5. 2 clicks max to get to contact pages
  6. Person answers phone in 1-3 rings
  7. Zero routing to right person
  8. 5 seconds or less to reach the right person

“If you are doing all the marketing in the world and you’re not picking up your phone or there’s no phone number on your website, you’re not going to have the results that you want,” said Outsell CEO Anthea Stratigos.

While the above recommendations were made for the information industry, they are broadly applicable to businesses regardless of size or industry.

Stratigos did not discuss conversational marketing bots such as Drift, but rapid response times and appropriate routing should be goals when implementing those tools as well.

Don’t Disparage Your Competitors

I much prefer looking at competition as a set of parries and thrusts. Competitors are to be respected. Disparaging competitors only serves to undermine your case and is indicative of fear.
I much prefer looking at competition as a set of parries and thrusts. Competitors are to be respected. Disparaging competitors only serves to undermine your case and is indicative of fear.

I wanted to call attention to an excellent article written by Dave Kahle in Industrial Supply which aligns fully with my philosophy on B2B competitive strategy and sales training.  For nearly two decades I have emphasized the value of staying above the fray with a focus on a company’s unique value proposition and strengths.  While the easiest route is to disparage a competitor, it generally conveys fear and a lack of confidence in your own offering.  This tends to undermine trust in your company and its people.

“Disparaging the competition – speaking badly about the company or the individual salespeople, using little innuendos and side comments – all of this says more about us to our customers than it does about the competitors to whom we are referring. It reveals us as small-minded, petty, smug and far more interested in ourselves than we are in our customers.”

  • Dave Kahle, Author and Sales Trainer

Instead I have advocated only discussing competitors when directly questioned about them.  In that case, I have recommended a fast pivot where the rep recognizes a strength and then quickly segues back to their offering.  The strength should be real and non-trivial, but not applicable to your customer.  For example, if selling to an SMB, saying that the competitor offers highly customizable solutions for enterprises, but your offering is designed for small businesses with a straightforward user experience.  Such an approach is honest, differentiates yourself from the competitor, and avoids mudslinging.

Kahle offers several alternative, but equally valuable strategies for staying above the fray.  Instead of speaking directly about a specific company, generalize the competition.  Generalization “provides you a means of pointing out your distinctiveness without being negative about your specific competitors.”

Kahle also suggests posing statements in question form to help frame the prospect’s thinking;

Don’t say, “Y Company is a small local company that doesn’t have the systems or technology to support you in the long run.” Instead, say, “One of the questions you should ask of every vendor is this, ‘What technology and systems do you have in place to assure that you will be able to support us for the long run?’”

Another strategy is a feature list between companies, but I am not particularly fond of this approach for tech firms as the table needs to be assiduously maintained and it shifts the focus from value to features.   Furthermore, such lists aren’t tailored to the needs of individual prospects and prospects are likely to view such collateral as biased.  When I used to put together such tools, I avoided simple checklists and instead focused on workflow stages and framed the discussion as features and benefits in the context of each stage.  Each comparison was dated and I told sales reps that I would perform a just-in-time review of the tool if it was more than several months old.

“While we can’t change the competition, we certainly are responsible for our attitudes and behaviors toward the competition,” wrote Kahle.  “What we say and how we act about the competition can have a daily bearing on our bottom lines. An appropriate attitude and set of practices for dealing with the competition should be an essential part of every salesperson’s repertoire.”

It is easy to disdain the competition and crow about your product or service, but competitors should be respected.  They also have well qualified sales reps and some feature advantages.  “From the 10,000-foot-high perspective, if your competitors were as flawed as you think they are, they wouldn’t be in business, and your customers wouldn’t be buying from them,”  said Kahle.  “So, bury those attitudes of superiority, and cast off that disdain for the competition. If your customers didn’t think they presented a viable option, they wouldn’t be buying from them.”

Kahle suggests that if a company is truly focused on its customers’ needs, then competitive offers are irrelevant.  “Your mindset, from the beginning, is not a bit focused on the competition, but rather is 100 percent targeted to completely understanding the customer’s requirements. The conversation is not about how you compare to the competition, but rather how you meet the customer’s needs.”


DoD photo by Master Sgt. Lono Kollars, U.S. Air Force.  Public Domain.

Magic Johnson on Business @ Zoominfo Growth Acceleration Summit

I had the distinct pleasure of attending a keynote by Earvin “Magic” Johnson at Zoominfo’s Growth Acceleration Summit.  As the summit was held in Boston, there were numerous anecdotes about Celtic great Larry Bird and their rivalry, but the key business-related anecdote was  that you have to continuously improve.  Bird was a great competitor that forced Magic to up his game.  They were great rivals that made each other better and raised the quality of the game.

There were also a set of business insights as Johnson has taken his game discipline to business.  A few of his tips:

  • Find underserved markets and tailor your product to those markets — For Magic, the biggest underserved market was the inner cities.  He knew that there were few movie theaters in urban America even though the per capita theater spend of African Americans was high.  His first theater in LA had the 10th highest gross in the country.  He then convinced Starbucks that they should open coffee shops in marginalized inner city communities (and opened the first non-Starbucks owned shops).  Magic tailored the music and food to the community (e.g. sweet potato pie) and his stores had a higher gross than Starbucks owned locations.  The key to business success is “you have to know your customer.”
  • Out deliver — It’s not enough in today’s market to meet your customer’s expectations, you need to out deliver.  There is no lack of competition.  If you want customer retention, you need to out deliver.  If you want brand ambassadors, you must out deliver.  Magic Sodexho (food service) passed on its first Disney RFP and waited three years before bidding on the Disney Land contract.  His firm realized that due to the size of the park, many employees had little time to eat.  To support the contract, they developed kiosks and carts to bring food to the staff during their breaks.  This example of out delivering helped them win the larger Disney World contract when it came up a few later.
  • Culture is important — Magic emphasized the value of a winning culture whether helping bring back teamwork to basketball or encouraging principles such as everybody gets onboard, no hidden agendas, and do your job.  Furthermore, employees are better motivated if their company has a social mission such as bringing jobs and opportunities to Urban America.
  • Hire self starters and reward them — Look for young employees that come in early, leave late, and ask a lot of questions.  Then give them opportunities to grow with your company.  His COO began as a secretary and proved herself at each level.  He also emphasized the value of rewarding all employees and not falling into the trap of rewarding only the executives.  You can win the big contract, but if you only reward the execs for the victory, then you won’t have a team ready to out deliver.

Not many people have the pleasure of excelling in one field of battle.  Magic has had great success in both Basketball (Hall of Fame, 5 NBA Championships, 12 All Star Teams, NCAA championship, Olympic champion) and business.