Predictable Revenue

Aaron Ross & Mary Lou Tyler Also available in audiobook: Download our app for free listening.

Does your company make "Predictable Revenue"? That is a fairly common question when you work in B2B startups and venture capital. This method was developed by Aaron Ross at Salesforce, which helped generate more than $ 100 million in new contracts. Along with Mary Lou Tyler, Aaron wrote the acclaimed book that is a must-have reference for entrepreneurs and executives who want to accelerate sales in the corporate market. In this microbook, you will learn a new process of active prospecting that is different from the old-fashioned businesses practice of cold calling. According to Aaron, the new customer does not want to receive cold calls and is tougher than ever. Predictable Revenue is the strategy to make your sales team capable of generating more leads, predictability, and thereby reaching your goals, always.

The Biggest Myth of B2B Sales

Most companies believe that to sell more, you need to hire more salespeople and keep them motivated, but this is the biggest myth Aaron tries to dismiss in his book. Bringing in a steady stream of new salespeople and growing the team does not solve the problem. The biggest problem is in creating new people interested in a product or service, that is, in generating leads. Adding more vendors is important to meet demand, but just adding new vendors does not generate demand for your company. The truth is that sellers do not know how to prospect and if you understand this, you are ready to start changes that will revolutionize your sales process.

The Aaron Experiment

At the beginning of Salesforce, the company had salespeople doing the entire business process from start to finish. However, Aaron began experimenting with a small team, where roles were specialized and adopted an innovative process of lead generation. They did not make cold calls to potential customers but focused on using email as an essential prospecting tool. Aaron's team had a simple mission. Generate new qualified opportunities from companies that previously had no interest in Salesforce products. Once the disinterested companies became potential customers, then they were passed on to sellers who were responsible for the closing and who were responsible for a financial goal. In a few years, this team discovered many things that were later described in the Predictable Revenue and managed to add more than $ 100 million in Salesforce revenue. Ross' team and process have been so scalable that they are still strong at Salesforce to this day, several years later.

The Pillars of Predictable Revenue

If your business goal is to create predictable revenue, you need to know the 3 key aspects of Predictable Revenue which are:

  • Understanding your sales funnel and what the conversion rate is for each step;

  • Have clarity of the size of each contract you seek;

  • Set realistic deadlines to achieve your goals;

These 3 pillars must be combined in a standard process, and without it, you will never be able to make your sales predictable. The process is important because it gives the team independence and makes people capable of managing themselves without over-reliance on company managers.

Cold Calling 2.0

In addition to a scalable sales process, one of Aaron's key discoveries was a process he called Cold Calling 2.0. If in the old way of selling, customers were irritated by a salesman making an unexpected call in the middle of the afternoon; in Aaron's case, things were very different.

  • While in model 1.0 all members of the sales team had to prospect, in the Predictable Revenue approach, only a specialized team was responsible for prospecting;

  • While the seller's attitude was "always closing," on Aaron's model, the prospectors' approach was "can we really help this company?";

  • In model 1.0, companies measured how many people a vendor was able to connect per day; in model 2.0 the key metric was how many new qualified leads were generated per day.

  • In model 1.0, the leads were cold, while in model 2.0 they came from recommendations and this made them much better received;

Building Your Team

For all these differences between the classic approach and Cold Calling 2.0 and because salespeople do not know how to prospect, Aaron suggests that to have the best results, teams and specialized professionals are needed. The main reason for specialization is that you can put your best and most experienced professionals into low-volume, high-value activities (e.g., building relationships with large accounts) and specialize the remaining roles for professionals who are not yet mature and can take tasks of lower value and high volume (Example: Prospect cold companies). They propose 3 main roles:

  • Qualifiers: It is the professionals who have the first contacts with the leads, be they active prospecting or to give the first response to leads generated by marketing actions. If they are qualified, they are passed on to the closers. They are measured by opportunities generated per day.

  • Closers: They are responsible for effectively selling and closing customers after qualifying. Each Closer has a revenue goal, and they are measured by converting opportunities into new revenue for the company;

  • Farmers: Account managers are responsible for retaining and expanding the customer account with the company.

To start adopting Cold Calling 2.0 you need to have at least 1 person 100% dedicated to prospecting and, despite the possibility of starting with someone partially dedicated, this will make the results take longer to arrive. The ideal is the total commitment of someone focused exclusively on generating opportunities.

Predictable Revenue Emails and Calls

For the specialized team to be able to thrive, it is important that its members use effective techniques and approaches that align with prospect expectations. That's why a key part of Cold Calling 2.0 is knowing how to use outbound emails effectively. When Aaron Ross tried cold calls with companies with no interest in Salesforce products, he almost always failed. Either he was blocked by the secretaries, or when he could talk to the executives, they did not want to buy any of it at that moment. Instead of continuing to try something that did not work, he started asking for references of who the right person would be in that company. Aaron and his team found, for example, that some of the emails they created had as much as a 10% response rate when sent to executives from the top 5,000 companies in the United States. To have similar results in your company, the first step is to create a list of ideal customers that you would like to approach. Aaron suggests that you send a short, simple, unambiguous email or visual customization to the executive, just asking who the best person in the organization is to talk about the subject matter related to your product. Try different texts, closely follow your response rates and keep track of your results. When you get a connection with someone through a recommendation, it is best that you set up a discovery conversation to understand your needs and whether your solution would really be useful to them. At that point, you need to create a vision of that person's problem and its solution and connect that vision to your product. The next step is to challenge this person about how seriously they are committed to solving their problems. If you are really committed to it, it has become an opportunity and should be passed on to a closer, who will then take the communication to an eventual closure. This process needs to be repeated and refined over time, and as your business learns, you will notice that there are market segments or departments in the companies that have more adoption of your product, and gradually you can adjust your spiel to them.

The Onion Layers

The relationship with your potential customers and consequently the stages of your sales process are described by Aaron as the layers of an onion. Customers want to get to know you and be in control of the process. Your role is to find baits that will help you take the next step. Still, before giving something free to the customer, you need to make them really want that and understand where they are in the decision-making process. Some of the tools you have to advance the prospect on this journey are:

  • Recommendations: One of the most important and effective channels out there. Both offline and online recommendations through positive reviews and testimonials.

  • Free Trials Tools: Includes trial periods for your product, free training videos, etc.

  • Organic Search: Comes from the strategic use of keywords that lure the reader to your page, quality content and consequent good rankings on Google. Once consolidated, it generates very positive results at very low costs for the company.

  • Blog: Very important means of communication in which you can establish a conversation with your reader and pass on information that is relevant to your business, at the same time drawing attention to the business itself.

  • Email marketing: Email marketing, when authorized by the customer, is the most effective tool for acquiring new prospects and nurturing old ones. The possibilities are endless. With them, you have an official way to promote your products/services, new blog posts, webinars, events, promotions, building and strengthening your relationship with the public.

  • Webinars: Great to further engage prospect interest in you. In them, you can do a series of seminars, in which each one is like a new chapter for who watches you, as a TV show. In this way, it is possible to instigate curiosity by keeping the solutions to the needs of those who watch you for strategic moments. By helping them with useful information, you bring them closer to your company and establish trust.

  • Affiliate Marketing: Publicizing your product/service through partnerships, reaching a possibly different and untapped audience.

  • Social Media: Social media has proven great tools to promote your product, giving a face to the business, adding a more personal touch.

Common Error When Specializing Your Team

Often, when setting up active prospecting teams, companies make some common mistakes. Find out what they are and how to avoid them:

  • Expect immediate results: When starting an active prospecting program, we need to understand that it may take 2-4 weeks to get the first results.

  • Do not focus in depth: It is much better to focus on fewer accounts with depth than on many shallow accounts. For example, you'll get more results if you try to connect with 10 companies 10 times than trying to connect 1 time with 100 companies.

  • Accepting an early NO: If you are working with a list of ideal accounts, you need to be malleable and not take an early no. Be kindly persistent, ask the reason behind each no.

  • Not giving up on unfit customers: If your company is not so relevant to that account, it's okay to give it up and clean it out of the pipeline.

  • Do not focus on conversational quality: Many companies measure how many call attempts have been made per day. Ideally, you should measure how many relevant conversations the sellers are having.

  • Wrong Team: Hire the right people and make sure they are committed to the vision and values of your company. Your sales process needs to be customer-centric, and so you need the right people.

Tthe Greatest Bottleneck

According to Aaron, one of the biggest discoveries of the Predictable Revenue was to discover that the biggest challenge is not to sell to the final decision maker but to find out who he/she really is. Often, the final decision maker is not the first person you've connected and talked to. That makes it crucial to be able to create internal champions of your product in the client company. Another important aspect is being able to coach with your advocates so they can help you get into the organization. If the buying process is in the hands of the prospect, the tactics to accelerate it are in your control.

The Sales Process of 3 Hours and 15 Minutes

For Aaron, there is a simple recipe for creating your sales process. You should spend 15 minutes to qualify/disqualify an opportunity, 1 hour to understand the decision process and who are the key people in the organization and 2 hours to create a joint vision of how your company can help the prospect overcome their challenges.

The Most Important Question

"Why?" The best sales professionals know how to use this question with mastery. Many times the prospect has not yet thought about the cause of their problems and challenges, and their role is to help them reach these causes and understand what kind of solutions they should seek. Questions that start with "why" help you find these answers and get you on the road to selling.

Leadership

To turn a business into a source of predictable revenue, you need to make some changes in the mindset of the executives. One of the most common mistakes made by CEOs and sales VPs is not being up-to-date and not understanding how the lead generation process works. Studying and understanding the role of specialization is a key decision for this. Also, company executives must constantly be educating themselves on how to hire, train, retain, and encourage their business teams. Aaron offers a variety of advice to help executives put the Predictable Revenue into action:

  • Focus on the customer rather than the product: Executives should spend 25% of their time together with customers, understanding the impact of their product on them;

  • Constant follow-up: Choose 3 to 5 sales indicators and follow up diligently, week by week;

  • Focus on After Sales: You need to be present to the customers after purchase. Invest in customer success.

  • Sales through channels should only come after mastering direct sales: Do not let other companies sell to you before you master direct selling.

How to Help and Develop Good Sellers

The best source of dealers, in the long run, is to create and develop them within your company. Hire smart people who are capable of learning, organized, and who enjoy the business. At Salesforce, Aaron Ross created Salesforce University, a weekly meeting for in-house training. To be an effective sales manager, treat your sales team as you treat your customers. Ask for feedback, build a relationship of trust, make joint decisions, and help them succeed. If you work for the success of your team, they will work for your success and success of the company.

Final Notes:

Setting up an active prospecting team can be a high-return investment for your company. However, you need to know that sellers are not necessarily good prospectors and expertise is the answer. Separate your team between qualifiers and farmers to ensure shorter sales cycles and higher productivity of your team. Always remember: if something is not repeatable, it is not worth doing!

12min tip: Read also the book The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge if you want a slightly more current view of sales for the B2B marketplace.

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