Prospecting strategies, lead generation, and advice for new sales managers
Andy Paul: Hello, and welcome to the show. I’m amped up to talk with my guest today, Jeb Blount, bestselling sales author, speaker, consultant, as well as founder and CEO of one of the great sales resources out there for any sales rep, which is that online sales community salesgravy.com.
Now, growing your business in zero time demands that you have a steady flow of qualified prospects streaming through your pipeline.
I mean, you can always get orders from current customers, but harvesting existing accounts is not going to get you to your sales goals. How do you grow and accelerate your sales with orders from new customers? That’s the challenge.
And that’s what we’re going to learn about today from Jeb. Practical tips and simple sales strategies to help you prospect for new customers. So Jeb, welcome to the show.
Jeb Blount: Thank you. I’m glad to be here. This is the second time you and I’ve talked. It’s nice to be back together again.
AP: So you’ve just published an exciting new book called Fanatical Prospecting, not just prospecting, but “fanatical” prospecting. So what do you mean by “fanatical prospecting”?
JB: It’s a term that I coined many years ago and I’ve used it in training and especially in workshops. And we have a Fanatical Prospecting Bootcamp that we run for a number of companies.
It really stemmed from when I was the vice president of a region for a company I worked for. We had a lot of salespeople and we were failing miserably in sales. The only thing that we could do is go out and get more stuff in our pipe, because our pipeline was depleted and empty. And so I was trying to figure out a way to get the troops all fired up to go.
And I started talking about fanatical prospecting. And really the definition, in fact, one of my favorite definitions of fanatical prospecting is: “motivated by uncritical enthusiasm”.
And if you think about it, that’s how a lot of salespeople approach prospecting. They’re they’re critical of themselves. They project their own fears on their prospect and they’re hesitant to interrupt prospects and ask them for an appointment or for a next step.
And so I love the term fanatical prospecting because it defines what I know to be true, whether it’s inside sales or outside sales, the top salespeople in every industry that I’ve experienced are the ones that are absolutely fanatical about opening doors and getting people on the telephone.
Whether it’s via email, social, text messaging, or smoke signals, they’re working all the time to get people into the pipeline.
AP: So what you’re saying is that there’s not a market for a book called lukewarm half-hearted prospecting?
JB: I was gonna title it that, but my publisher had a little problem.
Why Inbound Marketing Alone Isn’t Enough
AP: So I find it really sort of fascinating that at the same time there’s this rising crescendo and buzz around marketing automation tools and focus on the soft lead generation activities, like inbound marketing and social selling, that you and other authors out there are beating the drum for proactive prospecting.
So what were you seeing out there that motivated you to write the book?
JB: Well, you know, I run a company, so I’m the CEO of Sales Gravy, we’re the largest and market share leader in employment advertising for sales.
I’ve got an inside sales team that’s right next to me. If you hear the bell ring, they sold something. They’re in there dialing.
And we have a robust inbound marketing process. My database has almost 800,000 people in it. I use HubSpot, which is one of the major inbound marketing programs.
And so I I’ve got a huge inbound marketing presence. I cannot provide enough leads for my people. If I did, we would be out of business. There’s just no way to do that.
And the concept, and this belief, that somehow you can generate enough leads without spending money is just ludicrous. So the only way that we win is a good balance between inbound prospecting and inbound marketing, which are two different things in a way, and proactive outbound prospecting, which is basically interrupting the days of people to whom we want to sell.
I call it pandering. It’s this group of people that are pandering to salespeople who don’t want to prospect.
By saying that you don’t have to, you can use social selling. That’s the easy way out. Or you can use this soft inbound marketing approach. That’s the easy way out.
And you can, but I don’t have a single client, and I have some really large inside sales teams that operate on an inbound model, and those teams still can not provide enough prospects to feed the hungry animal that’s their sales team.
One of my clients, in fact, spends $1.2 million a month on inbound marketing, and they still need to make outbound calls in order to maintain their sales numbers.
AP: And what’s their ratio?
JB: It’s about half and half.
How Having an Inbound Culture is Holding Your Sales Team Back
AP: So, what would you prescribe for, you know, a small to midsize business, listening to this show? What’s the right mix between inbound versus proactive, outbound prospecting?
JB: Well, the thing is with inbound marketing, for example, your marketing organizations should be running and managing that.
Now, to be sure, and you know this to be true, that in a small company, your mashup between sales and marketing is hand in hand, right?
So the sales organization’s gotta be out doing some marketing and some proactive work, distributing content along with the marketing department. If you work for a big company, stay out of the machine, because you’ll get fired if you get in the middle of it.
But with a small and medium sized company, the salespeople do have to do some proactive prospecting that is designed to bring inbound leads.
But I’ve got a small sales team who we were working with just last week. This is a smaller inside sales team for a company that distributes nutrition products.
If they spend a couple of hours a day doing outbound prospecting, they can generate all the leads that they need to keep their funnel full. And the inbound prospecting and their inbound marketing is just gravy.
The problem that they have is that they were sitting around waiting for someone to interrupt them, versus them interrupting someone else, which is why my firm got hired to help them, because they couldn’t get enough deals into the funnel. And in just one month of them working on outbound prospecting, we tripled the number of new accounts that they were bringing in the door. It’s that simple.
AP: And so what changed? What did they start doing then for, you know, use that as a case study, let’s say for the listeners, what did they change to their outbound prospecting methodology?
JB: They didn’t have an outcome at all, the change was we gave them a prospecting list because they have a pretty robust database because their inbound prospecting process, our marketing process, has been bringing leads to the door for several years.
Plus they have inactive customers, which is a fantastic place to go out and prospect to. Plus they have the ability, because they’re in a niche industry, just to get on Google and identify all the potential prospects they have.
So all we did was help them design better lists for their salespeople and then set specific time periods where they would be doing outbound prospecting.
We didn’t teach them any kind of stupid scripts or anything like that. We just taught them a five step process to pick up the phone, interrupt someone’s day, and ask for an appointment.
This is a long sales cycle. So getting an appointment is a logical next step. And then they can send samples out and do the things that they do from the inside standpoint. But it wasn’t that difficult.
In fact, it’s really, really easy to help organizations, not only double, triple, sometimes we help companies quadruple the sales that they’re making simply by helping them understand that creating a good list, setting aside specific time for prospecting and outbound touches.
At that point, then you’ve got your sales management team in this particular company has the ability to do pipeline management and actually ask questions about deals and help advance deals where before then have anything in the pipeline. So what were they doing, they were sitting around saying “Woe is me. We’re not making any money.”
AP: Well, an interesting question then is, were those same salespeople doing nothing before? I mean, you would think that if you have salespeople that unmotivated right, that they weren’t making the calls even though they had nothing coming in. I mean, how were they able to survive in the new environment that you created for them?
JB: Well, it wasn’t that they were unmotivated. They just didn’t know how. And by the way, the culture of the company, wasn’t an outbound culture. It was an inbound culture and the salespeople weren’t sitting around doing nothing. They were just sitting around shuffling paper. They were working on customer stuff.
They were doing a bunch of things that were non-sales activity that weren’t creating any revenue. And so all we did was to enlighten them to take the veil off of the fact that if you do a measured amount of outbound prospecting, balanced with your inbound leads that you optimize your sales productivity.
And these are good people. I mean, they are good sales reps, but if you don’t work in a culture where outbound prospecting is the norm, you’re not going to do it.
I mean if you take a group of salespeople and you say, you know, go out and make money, maybe 10%, 20% of them are going to go out and they’re going to beat the bushes and they’re going to pick up the phone, they’re going to send an email, they’re going to do research. They’re gonna do everything they possibly can to get in the door.
You know, another 10 or 20% of them, no matter what you did, they’re going to starve to death because there’s no way they’re going to do it. Then the rest of the people in the middle, if they have good leadership and they have someone working with them, they will, but without leadership or without a culture that demands that you do some level of prospecting, they’re simply gonna take the path of least resistance. And that’s to wait for the phone to ring or the email to buzz.
Ditch the Scripts: Authenticity Is Key
AP: Right. So going back to a comment you made about the dangers of being overly scripted. And you’re talking about stupid scripts, I think is what you said. So what’s your thought about how scripted inside sales reps should be when they’re out making dials?
JB: They should be unscripted. They should be authentic. The people that write scripts and organizations, and I’m going to get on my soap box for a second, are typically people in marketing who have never made an outbound call before in their entire life. And they write dumb scripts that make people sound like they’re plastic robots and they don’t work.
They create resistance because they sound so scripted, and that resistance creates a situation or a feedback loop to the rep that says, “This is really uncomfortable, don’t do it.” And so the key really with outbound prospecting is understanding first: what’s your objective. So for example, with this case study, we just had the objective to set an appointment and, and for most B2B sales reps, that’s the key, to set an appointment.
Now my sales reps next door, we’re much more transactional. We’re selling a subscription to post your sales jobs on Sales Gravy. If you have an opening right now, we’re going to try to close you right on the spot. We set some appointments, but our core objective is to interrupt your day, get past the initial brush off, and to move you directly into the sales cycle. In some cases, your call is simply to get information because you’re trying to qualify to understand what the buying window is.
And these three particular objectives are true both for outside and inside reps, with the exception that most outside reps are unlikely to be calling to close the deal. Although I have a group that does that as well, because they’re kind of a mashup between inside and outside which we’re seeing more and more lately. So once you understand what your objective is, then we just use a five-step process.
The five-step process is to identify yourself, tell them who you are. The second step is to tell them what you want, because if I call you up and you’re busy and I’m interrupting your day, if I tell you what I want now, it’s a lot easier. I would say, you know, I would say, “Hi, Andy, this is Jeb from Sales Gravy. The reason I’m calling is I notice that you have a job posted on career builder. And I want to find out how we can help you hire your salesperson faster.”
That’s it. I don’t need to have a long pitch. I don’t need to have a script. I just get your attention by saying your name. I tell you why I’m calling. I ask for what I want want, and then you’re either going to tell me yes, no, or maybe. So in this case, I might say, you know, “Do you have a few minutes to talk right now?” You’d say, “Yeah, I do.” Or “No, call me later.” In that case, I would say, “Well, why don’t we schedule an appointment for two o’clock.”
If I was calling to set an appointment with you, “I would say, “Hi, Andy, this is Jeb from Sales Gravy. The reason I’m calling is I notice that you’re hiring a couple of hundred salespeople over the next quarter. And I want to set an appointment with you so that I can learn a little bit more about you and your situation and see if Sales Gravy would be a fit. How about Thursday at two?”
Simple. No scripting. I’m just asking for what I want. It’s incredible when we take people through the process and they get on the phone, the looks on their faces, the “Wow, I can’t believe that they just said yes to something so simple.” That’s the best part of teaching them how to prospect, is when you break it all down, take all the complexity away, and take the stupid scripts away, and just teach people to ask for what they want and do it in a smooth and effective way that gets to the point quickly.
They’re just blown away at how effective it is. And they know you’re a salesperson. I mean, as soon as you go like this, this is one of the worst things salespeople do, they go, “Is this Andy?” Say, hello. “Is this Andy?”
“Hey, Andy. How are you doing today?” This is what people will do. So people go, “Hey, how are you doing?” And then there’s this silence on the phone. And the person goes, “What do you want?” Because they know they’re a salesperson. It’s the same thing.
By the way, on emails. Notice your prospecting emails. When you send me an email, you address it: Jeb comma. But when salespeople send prospecting emails, they address it: “Hi, Jeb.” I always know it’s a salesperson because nobody else addresses me: “Hello, Jeb”, or “Hi, Jeb”, or “Hey, Jeb.”
Right? So the same thing with emails. When you send an email to someone, just address it as Jeb comma, and then you got one line to get my attention. That’s it.
So your hooks gotta be up front. When you’re calling on the telephone, you gotta recognize that you’re interrupting somebody’s day. And when you interrupt someone’s day, they’re not happy about it. Even if it’s something they want, they’re not happy about being interrupted. So the key thing with interrupting someone’s day is get to the point quick. Get to, yes, no, maybe, whatever is going to be at the end of it, as fast as you can. So that either they’re going to say yes, or you’re going to turn around the objection or the reflex response, or the brush-off, and then you can get to the next step.
Motivating Your Sales Team As A New Manager
AP: Here’s a hypothetical scenario that I ask all my guests: You’re a brand new sales manager hired into a company whose sales have stalled and upper management’s really, really motivated to make some changes quickly. So what are the two things you do in the first week that could have the biggest impact?
JB: So, number one thing you do is you have to drive activity. I mean, you’ve got to start off day one. If you don’t have sales, the reason you don’t have sales is almost always a pipeline issue, almost always.
And, you know, unless you’ve walked into a situation where you’ve got a bad product or you’ve had some sort of a market turn down, there’s been some, you know, external issue beyond your control, 99% of the time, the reason that you have a problem and you’re not selling is because the pipeline is empty.
So the first thing that you do is you put a stake in the ground on activity and you drive activity. And the second thing you do is you meet with all of your salespeople and you get to understand what motivates them.
What’s important to them, who they are, and you begin designing your goals and your focus and everything you do around helping them get what they want. In the process of doing that, you’ll find the ones that need to move on to the next career in their life, and you’ll find the ones that are truly motivated. But having been in this situation far many more times than I’ve wanted to be, I can tell you that every single time, putting the stake in the ground on activity has been the one thing that produces results really, really fast. And given me the headroom that I needed to make the structural and organizational design changes in order to deliver longterm results.
AP: Great. So basically what you’re finding is, as you say, you put a stake in the ground with activity. People just aren’t making calls, fundamentally.
JB: I mean, I do this for a living. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I can’t think of a single situation in the last 30 years where I’ve had a sales team that’s failing, that I’ve walked in the door, whether as a consultant or whether they’ve been my own sales team, where I can’t draw a direct line to the failure to prospect, the failure to open doors, no matter how you choose to do that, and the pipeline being empty. I mean, the number one reason for failure in sales is an empty pipeline. And the number one reason for an empty pipeline is the failure to prospect.
The Best Method for Maximizing Your Prospecting Efforts
AP: Yeah, absolutely. So your number one recommendation then, to play on that term, as if you were going to get to an entrepreneur or a small business owner to structure and to maximize their prospecting efforts, would be what?
JB: I’d get them on the telephone. I mean, the easiest, fastest way to open doors right now is get on the phone. I mean, maybe in a decade, something changes. But if I were to sit down with a group of people and a great example is a software company that I’ve been working with for the last couple of years, when I first met them, they were $10 million behind their number and it was August. And what did we do?
We sat down, most companies have a database, we just went through their database and we started developing lists based on the highest probability that the deals at the top of that list would move into the sales cycle. And we got their people in a room and we picked up a telephone, and we started dialing. And four months later they hit their number.
The problem was prospecting. So the first thing you do, I mean this isn’t rocket science. You get a list of prospects. You try to put some thought behind that list to make sure you’re calling the highest quality and highest probability prospects first.
You work your way down that list, then you rinse and you repeat. And then once you’ve got stuff in the pipeline, then you can really start working on your sales process, on presentation skills, on your messaging, on making sure that you’ve got good buyer maps, and all of the things that drive a sale through the pipeline and create velocity through the pipeline.
You can do all that, but none of that matters if the pipeline is empty. I tell sales managers all the time: if your salespeople aren’t prospecting, you have no other options. There’s nothing else that you can do.
The only option you have is either get them prospecting or fire them, that’s it. But if they’re prospecting and they’re driving activity through the pipeline. At that point, then you can really put your gloves on, get in the trenches with them and you can start fine tuning the process and the messaging, the questions that you’re asking and, you know, the case studies that you’re building, all of that you can do if you’ve got a full pipeline.
And the nice thing about prospecting is when you’re consistently driving activity and consistently driving deals into the pipeline, the stuff that is naturally not going to close falls out because you don’t have time to play around with deals that are never gonna close.
Mastering Your Craft: Engage with Prospects on a Daily Basis
AP: Exactly, exactly. And also, I mean, the other benefit of this activity, to the point you were sort of making, is that repetition is how people get better. Practice. And so if you’re not talking to prospects, if you’re not engaging with them frequently enough, you’re never going to get better at what you’re doing. You’re not going to master your craft and your skill of selling if you’re not doing it at a certain level throughout the day and the week.
JB: That’s a really good point, Andy. It’s probably no different than sports. The more reps you get, the better you get at whatever your particular skill set is. And I think that, having heard you say that, I think that’s probably true for a lot of salespeople, their actual sales skills, the things that we’re, we’re really paid to do, closing business, those things get really rusty over time because they’re not engaging in enough sales conversations.
Metrics for Measuring Productivity
AP: Oh, absolutely. So, you know that I write about speed and sales and sales acceleration. You know, what key metrics do you use to measure the productivity of prospecting and the speed with which you’re building your pipeline?
JB: The answer is going to be specific to the group of people that you’re working with and the company you’re working with. Pipeline velocity, for example, is going to have a completely different meaning at the enterprise level than it’s going to have at say, you know, entry-level B2B where you’re, you’re working in a high activity environment.
So there’s really no way that I can answer that question so there’s one sure way of doing this. The thing that I look for though, when I’m, especially when I’m dealing with B2B reps, is when it comes to the pipeline. Let’s just take business services. I typically look at a 30, 60, 90 day period.
What I’m looking at is I want to see a lot of deals in 90 days. That means that I’m doing prospecting every single day. I’m opening doors. I’m bringing deals into the pipeline.
The qualification level of those deals is probably questionable at 90 days out. I don’t know all the buyers, all the influencers, all the coaches. I haven’t done complete discovery, but I should have a whole lot of deals in that column.
By the time we move to 60 days, and this is a typical B2B sales cycle over a 90 day period. By the time I made the 60 days, the deals in 90 had fallen out because I’ve disqualified them. They’ve disqualified themselves, my competitor beat me to the punch, I misjudged the contract X date, something like that.
And then by the time I get to 30 days, I’m going to have a smaller number of deals. And then by the time I move them into close, I’m at a smaller number of deals. So you’ve got a classic funnel type deal. In fact, you can take a pipeline and you can just draw a triangle around it and it’ll tell you whether or not the person is consistently moving deals to their pipeline.
Now what I’ll typically see, like a metric that I’ll use is if, for example, I’m looking at a pipe and the pipe is front loaded with a ton of stuff that should be closing. I was working with a rep last week, who said, yeah, I’ve got all of these things that should be closing.
And she started taking me through them and she goes, okay, I just can’t get this one to buy. And just, can’t get this one to buy. Can’t get this one to buy. Can’t get this one to buy.
That’ll tell you that the pipeline is completely stalled. And it stalled because none of those accounts are ever going to buy. And she’s been working on them and working on them and working on them and chasing and chasing and chasing in order to avoid doing what really needs to be done, which is to get them out of the pipe and get new stuff in the pipe.
AP: Yeah. I mean, anytime you see that it’s a failure of qualification.
JB: Well, not in this case. It wasn’t failure of qualification. The failure was to prospect. She didn’t have enough new stuff coming in. So she was holding on to deals that were never going to close and calling them over and over and over again, because in her mind, she believed that was working and salespeople get into this trap all the time.
AP: When I see that though, even with sales reps that, that do a high level of prospecting. Is, if they’re not doing a really good job of qualifying the prospects, they get this buildup because they’re feeling this pressure to have a certain level and quantity of prospects in their pipeline.
And so that whole quantity versus quality issue comes to the fore. And so rather than really qualifying them and disqualifying the ones that are never going to buy, as you talked about. They hold on to them.
The Art and Science of Sales
Getting in Front of Enough of the Right People at the Right Time with the Right Message
JB: They do. And the, you know, the science of sales is getting in front of enough people and the art of sales is getting in front of the right people at the right time with the right message. And so you’ve, you’ve always got that balance, but for me, pipeline velocity is about how long does it take from when a deal officially hits the pipe?
So whether that’s the first meeting, and that’s different for every company, the deal hits the pipe when a sample goes out and at that moment they’re in the pipeline. In some cases, especially in software, it’s when a demo happens.
So I’ve agreed to a demo, but there’s some place where a deal hits the pipeline and you’ve got to define in your own situation and your own company, what that metric is for how long that sales cycle should be. So in typical business services, B2B services is typically about 90 days.
It’s going to take you to get from the beginning to the end of the deal. And what you want to look at is the quantity of deals that are moving through that you’re closing in that period of time. And then from a prospecting standpoint, just on the telephone, I look for a typical B2B rep to be able to make all of the appointments that they need to make in about an hour of prospecting a day.
They ought to be able to make from 30 to 50 dials a day. Then you would like just see them making around, you know, 25 to say 50 outbound emails a day. Those emails can be scheduled outside of the golden hours outside of the sales time, because there’s so many great software programs now that will let you build all your email and your prospecting emails. And you can just push a button and they’ll send out any time of day that you want them to go.
AP: Right, and as a reminder for those emails: don’t use hi, Hey, or hello and then the first name, just the first name and a comma, please.
JB: Absolutely. When I’m sitting down with a group of salespeople, the first thing I start with is, um, you know, we can’t get a lot of prospecting done. And I use a little thing called the Horstman’s corollary of the Parkinson’s law. Parkinson’s law says that work tends to expand into the time that’s allotted for it.
Horstman’s corollary says that work tends to contract inside the time that is allotted for it. So if I say you have an hour and here’s a list of 30 prospects, I want you to call. You can typically make those, those prospecting calls in an hour.
Given that the majority of ’em are gonna go to voicemail. And you’re probably only going to talk to, you know, say 10 of them from a contact standpoint. And those calls, as we established earlier in this podcast are going to go really, really fast.
So if that’s the case, then, you know, you should be able to knock all of your prospecting out. And typically if you’re a B2B rep and you talk to 10 qualified prospects, most B2B reps have the ability to look into a database and pull out the most qualified prospects because most companies have invested in those databases.
If you talk to 10, you’ll set two appointments and for most B2B reps, if you set two good appointments every single day with qualified prospects, you can’t lose.
Rapid Fire Questions: Jeb’s Favorite Things
AP: Excellent. So we’re moving to the last segment of the show. Some rapid fire questions for you. Single word responses are fine, you can elaborate if you want. You ready?
AP: So what’s the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal?
JB: Ooh, that’s a good question. I’d say that it’s probably our telephones.
AP: Who’s your sales role model?
JB: Brian Tracy.
AP: What is your definition of value in sales?
JB: That’s a great question. Let me put it a different way. It doesn’t really matter what my definition is. The definition of value is defined by my customer, and my customer says that I cannot add value unless to them I am valuable.
AP: Okay. What’s the one book every sales person should read?
JB: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
AP: What’s your favorite music to listen to psych yourself up for a sales call?
JB: Don’t listen to music to psych myself up. So sales calls and podcasts.
AP: Okay, perfect. Which podcast?
JB: I listened to your podcast. How about that? I listen to Anthony Iannarino’s podcast. I listen to Joe DeSena’s Spartan Up podcast. I listen to Ted Talks. I love that podcast. I listen to the EntreLeadership podcast.
I’ve got a list that’s about a mile long. I love podcasts. A lot of people don’t know that podcast is a four letter word, F R E E. And I encourage sales people to listen to them. And sometimes I even listen to my own podcast because I need to get pumped up myself.
AP: No, I listen to yours. Yours is a good one to listen to. So what’s the first sales activity you do every day?
JB: Pick up the phone and dial 50 prospects.
AP: And do you do that personally every day?
JB: I don’t do it personally everyday. Cause most of the days I’m in a classroom or I’m standing in front of people speaking, but whenever I’m in the office, when I walk through the door, someone hands me a list and I sit in the middle of my sales floor and I dial with my reps.
AP: Excellent. Love it. Great, great example for people to follow. If you’re a manager, you gotta be in the game as well.
JB: Well, absolutely. Well, I built this company in 2007 and it was just me and a telephone and a desk in my house. And you know, what did I do? I picked it up and I dialed and I called and I sold and I built one day at a time. And today we have 16 people working in our company, but every bit of it was built through prospecting. Last question.
AP: What’s the one question you get asked most frequently by salespeople?
JB: How can I close better? Do I have any secrets for them to close? I mean, that’d be number one. I get asked that pretty much every day. You know, do you have any secrets for me?
AP: And your answer is?
JB: There is no magic closing pill. If you want to close more than you need to do one thing, and that is to ask.