Ever wanted to drop to your knees and do one of those old-fashioned “unleash your pain into the sky” type screams?
Often, it’s when a rep just told me the person they’ve spent five weeks buttering up is ready to pull the trigger but “...just needs to run the idea past their boss...”
Many B2B startup sales managers know this pain. With limited resources and rapidly vanishing runway, it’s crucial that you don’t waste time chasing prospects that have a low probability of closing. You need a way to keep your sales cycle as short as possible.
So here’s exactly that: Six tried-and-true steps to make finding exactly the right decision-maker into a repeatable routine. Let’s jump right in!
Create Your Ideal Customer Profile
Your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) outlines the firmographic and behavioral characteristics of the type of account which has the highest probability of conversion.
Basically, what companies have a real need for what you sell?
No, this document isn’t a low-effort b2b buyer persona. Many companies have gone astray by treating it as such. This is going to be the core of your sales strategy, and even if you already have one, it’s probably time to revisit the details. After all, the startup game is one of constant iteration.
The importance of nailing this down can’t be overstated. It’s going to come up in pretty much every one of the following steps.
Your Action Item: Build an ICP
Startups need to create highly targeted ICPs that define the exact type of accounts that are worth targeting.
Below are some of the key characteristics I include when I build an ICP with a SaaS startup. Filling out your ICP based on these should help identify your most valuable and easily won accounts.
- Industry - Be as specific as appropriate. “Law Firms specializing in media law with large newspaper clients” works better than “Legal.”
- Size - This should approximate the size of the company that has the biggest need for your product.
- Budget - How much budget does the target account have, and what percentage are you asking them to spend on your services?
- Location - Geographical requirements can vary - maybe you can do business internationally, but only want to target NYC-based firms so you can do in-person relationship building.
- Position in the Market - What’s the ideal market situation for a company you want to target? Are they dominating, just filed for bankruptcy, came in under expectations last quarter?
- Pain Points - What problem is your ideal customer facing? (This should be the problem your product solves)
- Objectives - What are your ideal customer’s goals? What do they want to achieve?
- How You Solve Their Problem - How is your service or product going to be the one to solve their problem and achieve their goals?
You might also consider factors such as technology usage, or organizational priority for a certain solution.
For example, one of my clients sells software to data scientists. They tend to sell best to companies that view data science as an organizational priority, so one criterion of the ICP is that the business must have a high proportion of data scientists relative to their total workforce. This indicates that the business takes data science seriously and invests in these capabilities.
Use this profile as the guide for the rest of your strategy. That’s the account you’re trying to get to buy in - now how do you get to them?
Build Your Account List
Now that we have our ICP, it’s time to use those criteria to find the actual companies we’re going to be calling. This is where the semi-tedious lead generation work begins. Don’t worry, it’ll pay off when you get to prospecting!
Start by using your preferred data provider to pull your initial account list. This list should be based on the firmographic characteristics you already pinpointed in your ICP.
My Recommended Data Providers:
- D7 LeadFinder
Though these are the data providers I most often recommend to clients, the one you opt for should be the one that makes the most sense for you.
Once you have this initial list, your next step is to filter it further by the key behavioral characteristics that were identified in your ICP. Data providers probably don’t have info on these, so you’ll have to do it manually.
Action Item: Manually Filter Your Account List
Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds like a lot of work. But taking the time to create an airtight account list vastly accelerates your sales cycle and immediately improves sales performance.
Filtering accounts upfront saves your salespeople from wasting their valuable time on people with no control over buying decisions and focuses their attention on prime B2B marketing targets. It’s no fun wasting three weeks talking to a company only to find out they don’t even use the system your software is compatible with.
An example of this was a SaaS company I worked with targeting medical practices. The sales reps were frustrated by the large proportion of leads they were disqualifying during conversations.
Their product is built to sync with another common medical administration software, and they were getting pretty deep into chats with decision-makers before they’d find out the office didn’t even use the necessary software.
We altered the process to have the SDRs pre-screen each lead, calling each office ahead of any other type of engagement and just asking about their software - a question that could usually be answered by whoever in the office answered the phone.
By adding this relatively simple step of fine-tuning the list, we saved the salespeople countless hours of fruitless activities and engagements. As you’re probably beginning to see, each of these steps is all about increasing the efficiency of reaching your B2B buyer.
Enrich Your Account List With Your Target Decision-Makers
Once you have a solid account list, you need to determine who to target. This is where identifying key decision-makers come into play. You don’t want to spend a ton of time chasing prospects only to find out they don’t have any authority in the B2B decision-making process.
This step requires careful consideration.
As such, I always start with a top-down approach. Basically, target the job title with the highest amount of authority in the department you’re targeting. You’re trying to talk to the person who has the final decision in the whole B2B buying process. If you reach and convert your #1 DM on the ICP list first, you’re shortening the sales cycle by a big margin.
For example, if you're selling marketing automation software, you’d want to start with the VP of Marketing or the CMO. They might not actually be that involved in the nuts and bolts of marketing software, but if they think it'd be valuable, they'll refer you down to the real decision-maker in their department.
You may run into instances where there is no single person responsible for B2B purchase decisions. In some organizations, the decision-making process is spread amongst members of a decision-making unit. These influencers are high-quality leads and often result in high value conversations.
This process takes time but pays off with each and every enriched account. I often recommend that my clients who are just starting out begin their enrichment on LinkedIn.
Action Item: Decision-Maker Due Diligence on LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator (and any other resources at your disposal) to identify the correct decision-makers at your target accounts to give yourself the biggest possible head start. Here’s the basic process:
- Starting with the account, filter down to employees who work there based on department.
- Filter down further by Seniority.
- Identify the highest-up decision maker associated with that account.
- Use your preferred data provider to gather contact information for the people involved in purchasing decisions.
- Make any relevant notes and comments in the accounts as you go through this process (i.e This guy just started 6 months ago and he’s never been in a leadership role.)
With the hard work of enrichment done, you’re ready to dig into the details of each account and conduct research that will help you prepare for the eventual b2b sales pitch.
Conduct Research Efficiently
Research is one of the trickiest steps to your whole prospecting process. Many sales teams get caught in the weeds and waste tons of time on overly detailed, largely unhelpful notes. It’s equally common that they just don’t bother with this step in the first place (or think a quick glance at the company’s social media counts as research).
I don’t know which hurts me more.
Faster and more effective research really accelerates your sales success. Don’t skip this step.
To avoid the common research pitfalls, it again pays to be prepared. When launching into this step, I first create a research “framework” to guide the process of information gathering. This guide lays out exactly what I’m trying to find out, and I can just fill in the template as I go.
Action Item: Build A Research Framework (or Use Mine)
I recommend starting with a simple research framework I’ve used dozens of times: C.O.M.P.
C.O.M.P. stands for Customer, Organization, Media, and Product. These are the four pillars of effective research that will give you a holistic view of the target company.
Below is a table that lays out the content of the C.O.M.P framework - but if you want to jump straight into this step, here’s a blog post where I share the whole C.O.M.P strategy (including my 2x4 speed research tactics).
Feel free to use this information to create your own research template, or download one of mine.
By actually putting the data you gather to use, you increase the odds of conversion with every interaction. Now, let’s get going with those interactions...
Set Your Sales Cadence
Tempting as it is to jump right on a call once you have a phone number, there’s one last step to launching a truly efficient sales process.
Create your ideal sales cadence.
A “sales cadence” is what we call all the actions you’ll take during prospecting, and the specific tactics that you’ll be utilizing. Crafting a sales cadence increases the efficiency of your prospecting actions by focusing on the channels and tactics which have the most impactful results.
Action Item: Build Your Sequence
Your sequence is most likely to result in conversions when it is based on clear goals defined by specific steps, rather than something like “schedule a meeting with a DM.” For example, you might want a cadence targeting CEOs with the goal of getting them to forward your email to the person with real decision-making power.
Creating a successful sales cadence is a whole process on its own. I go into a ton of detail and walk you through the specific steps in this post, but here’s a quick rundown of the steps I take:
Steps to building a sequence:
- Decide how long your sequence needs to be.
- Pick how frequently you will be reaching out to the prospect.
- Select what outreach channels you will be using.
- Determine what messaging you will be using.
- Decide how long you would like your sequence(s) to last.
- Make the frequency of touchpoints within a sequence correlate to the urgency to make contact.
- Create a plan for the messaging for each outreach channel within your sequence.
Now comes the part you’ve done everything else in preparation for: get out there and get selling!
If All Else Fails: Bottom’s Up!
No, put down the whiskey! I may have phrased that wrong. We’re not misery-drinking just yet.
Top-down strategies are not the only answer (even though I always start there). If trying to get in contact with the decision-makers highest up the food chain isn’t working, you DO have an alternative - start searching for a way in at the bottom.
This can manifest in a number of strategies:
- Internal Champion - Sometimes, someone lower down is looking to make a name for themselves by being the agent of change - help them be that internal hero, and they’ll take you with them.
- Befriend the Gatekeeper - Make friends with the one person preventing information from reaching your #1 DM, then get them to open the gate for you.
- The “Mini-army” - Cause a mini-coup by getting literally everyone else except your decision-maker converted. Ex: the whole dev team, all the science teachers, etc.)
Often, there isn’t a pseudo-decision maker lower down, and you still need to find a way to get through to the top. That’s when you use a different approach to gather the information you need - bottom-up.
Action Item: Prove There’s a Problem
Sometimes, you don’t necessarily need the influence of the people in the rungs below your decision-maker, but you can still glean essential information from them.
One of these "bottom-up" strategies I've used successfully in the past involves going all the way to the bottom. Essentially, it goes like this:
Step 1: Talk to 10+ end users
Step 2: Gather details on the problems they report (and which your software will solve).
Step 3: Present these problems to your highest-up decision-maker.
Step 4: Follow up with how your product is the most logical and effective solution.
Note that you still have to get approval from that DM, but the route you take there doesn't have to be a straight line.
Take a deep breath. It’s normal to agonize over the inefficiencies tanking your sales process, but now you have the tools to remove those roadblocks to success.
This process for finding and reaching B2B decision-makers is designed to be repeatable, reliable, and most of all, effective - taking the stress and pressure out of one of the biggest question marks in the whole sales cycle.
In a nutshell, you're just being extremely thoughtful about every aspect of the sales process. You’re understanding the exact target account, cultivating an airtight prospecting list, conducting intensive research, and creating a finely tuned sales cadence.
That patience and precision will pay off. You’ll notice the improvement in every new sale. Trust me. I’ve made it happen dozens of times. Now you’re going to.