MicroConf 2015: How to build a solo SaaS sales machine
MicroConf is the conference for self-funded startups and single founder software companies. That's why Steli gave a talk at MicroConf on how to build your own SaaS sales machine if you don't have piles of money from venture capitalists lying around.
In this video, you're going to learn the core principles of selling, how to write emails that get opened, why 90% of sucess is in the follow-up, and a ton of other useful things!
All right, let's talk about sales. So, first off there is a little bit about my background for people who have never heard of me. How many people don’t know who the fuck I am? Just, raise your hands. Be proud. That is the right level of humble pie that I need to start a talk. Nobody gives a shit about you. Nobody knows who you are. That is good. There's still a lot of work to be done. So, for you people let me tell you just a little bit about myself so you know why you should care, listen to me or why you should not.
I have been an entrepreneur my whole life. I'm completely unemployable. I have no credentials. I have no college education. I do not have anything else. I am originally from Greece. I was born and raised in Germany. I have built multiple businesses there and they were all self-funded.
I was just about to say bootstrapped but Hiten is kicking my ass every time that I say that. Self-funded is the new term. It was all self-funded businesses. It was eight years ago that I sold everything that I had. I bought a one way ticket and I moved to Silicon Valley to start my first technology company.
How ElasticSales turned into Close
It was five years into that when it turned into a massive catastrophe. There are a lot of entertaining stories about that. Some are public that I can share if you are curious. But, what I did-three years ago I started a business called ElasticSales. At ElasticSales what we did there basically [sic] offered SaaS businesses, specifically venture backed SaaS businesses in Silicon Valley. It was an outsourced sales team on demand.
We would sell on behalf of you to customers and ramp up your sales process for you. We did this for about 200 venture backed start-ups and we became one of the best kept secrets in Silicon Valley because no one knew of our existence but we knew everyone was doing in the B2B space.
And with a lot of companies that you know that became real big SaaS success stories, some little part of that success we had a role in terms of their sales scale, growing and moving really fast. So, we got a lot of exposure to everything that works, doesn't work, how it works and from the get-go from day one we built an internal little tool called Close. A little sell software tool to allow us to do better, close more deals, make more sales and ultimately avoid the pain of using Salesforce or any other CRM that was out there at the time all day long. So, we built a little internal tool. We never intended to release that tool.
We are kind of an interesting case study in the sense that we went from a consulting and outsourcing business, a services business, to a pure software business. The whole thing with us is that we did not do this on intention. There was no strategy where we said, “We want this sweet SaaS money. We want this scalable stuff.” What happens was that we built this internal tool. It started to become better and better.
Then it was eventually our salespeople would show our sales software to their salespeople friends and go, "ha ha. You can't have this. This is only for us." Then we started getting salespeople giving us sales calls trying to sell us on the idea of us selling them our sales software. Once that happens it is a pretty strong signal in the market. Then what happened was that a small group in our team started lobbying for us to release the sales software. It was every single day.
I did not want to do it. I knew that we had an amazing product and eventually we would release it but I was so busy running a services business that was growing that I really did not want to launch another business in parallel. It is a rule that is always true which is the person with the highest level of clarity always wins. I was not as clear and not wanting to launch that this person in the team wanted to launch it.
So, at breakfast, lunch, dinner and every fuck meeting. It was every fuck day that person would be like, "When will you release the software? We need to launch the product. When are we launching the product? We need to launch the product. When are we launching the product?" Until eventually I said, "Oh, fuck it. This is a room. You have four people. There is a three months launch. I don't want to hear fuck anything about it anymore." He was like, "all right." I do not see him for three months and they released the software.
As an entrepreneur, I have been wrong my entire life about everything. I can't think of one time in my life when I was not wrong about something. Once in a while, very rarely I'm really happy that I am wrong. This is one of those cases. I thought it would take forever for us to scale up to the revenue level that we are at in the services business.
It did not. Close was a pretty big success from the get-go. We are a very profitable business today. If you are doing inside sales to big companies you want to check out Close. Check it out and let me know what you guys think. Enough of that. I don't just release sales software and give sales advice but I also launched baby boys.
So, on the left. That is my oldest one. We launched him two and a half years ago. On the right from your perspective, it’s my youngest one, we launched him year ago. We launched, it was more of my wife [sic] who is the technical founder here. I am more of a support and business development role in the whole relationship. But, those are my bosses. The reason why do what I do and I need to show them off whenever I can.
Sales is simple—but too many people mess it up
All right, let's first talk about salespeople. So most of you when you think about sleazy douchbaggy salespeople you think about someone who looks like me right now. Rob he saved me. I had one more button up. I have the whole douchbag look. But, the role model that I want you to have when it comes to sales is this guy.
This is one of my favorite salespeople. Make no mistake in no room that Patrick ever walks in people say “This must be a sales guy.” Right? Nobody whatever mistaken for that but he is a fuck sales hustler. I fucking love Patrick because he understands a few things and if you understand these things you are a dangerous when it comes to sales.
He understands how to sell based on value. He understands how to not fizzle around about features, pricing and cost. He understands what to truly know what the values he can provide and then refocus the conversation on that. "Can I help you fix something? What is the value that it represents in your life, let's talk about that." Because that completely changes the equation and re-frames the conversation completely differently.
The other thing that he understands is to truly qualify people. This is something that engineers really know well which is to ask questions until you arrive at a level of understanding that needs the least amount of interpretation possible. So, a salesperson when they are on a call and somebody goes, "Well, we need email marketing system integrating with your tool. Do you have that?" The salesperson goes, "Yes, we do email." Or it could be that the salesperson will goes, "Well, what do you need to buy our product?" And the prospect goes, "Well, we really need something that does email marketing as part of your CRM sales solution."
The salesperson will hang up and go to the engineer room and go, "Hey, do we do email marketing? Can we do email marketing? What can we do in email marketing?" Then the engineer goes, "what do you mean by email marketing? Is it a fucking newsletter? Is it a drip email? What is it? Email marketing is everything and nothing." The salesperson says, "I do not know. I will call the customer again."
Then he calls the prospect and says, "What exactly did you mean with email marketing?" The prospect says, "Well, we want to do drip emails based on the actions that people would do on the website." The salesperson that said, "Okay, let me go and check with my engineers to see if we can do that." The salesperson will say to the engineer, " I now know what they need. They need drips based on actions that people take on our website."
"What kind of actions? What is the exact thing that they need? What are they using today? Why? What kind of technology do they need? Do they had engineers on the team? Like, I can't give you any answer on that question because it is to generic", says the engineer.
Which is why engineers are also good at sales. If they truly understood the power that they had. If you know how to ask questions to arrive at truly understanding the prospect and all that you have to do at the end of that is to decide if I can help this person or not. If the answer is yes, then you just have to tell them. "Based on everything that you said I can fuck help you. Here is how." That is it. That is all the sales education that you need in order to be really effective.
The problem is that most people do not ask the questions. Most people start selling. They say, "We can do this. We can do this." They were throwing darts into the dark and hope that something will stick. They say, "Hopefully, if I say 20 positive things about my product something is going to be in there that they like." That is a waste of time. That is really bad salesmanship. You can be an amazing salesperson by asking the right questions, qualifying people correctly and then if you can help them you tell them. If you cannot help them. Say, "I cannot help you." That is it.
One thing that Patrick learn recently made him even more dangerous is how to follow up. I'm going to speak about that later on. But, that is my religion. That is probably the single highest advice that I give.
Today it's almost daily that somebody sending me an email telling me how they closed deal, raised a round, got press, got married because they follow up indefinitely until they got a result. That is until they got a yes, or no. Patrick sends me emails once in a while that like say, "Oh, shit Steli Efti. I just closed this deal because I followed up several times." I go, "Oh my gosh. Sick" He is my favorite.
Whenever I get an email from Patrick I'm so excited because it is going to be some deal that he closed or some fucking awesome stuff that he's done. He is not your atypical salesperson. So, you can be really dangerous in sales without fitting the mode of what you're preconceived notion of what sales really entails.
Content is also for sales
Right, let's get more tactical. So, they are couple of things. I'm going to try to share as many tactics when it comes to you if you are small team how to build a sales machine. One thing quickly to touch on is that content is not just for marketing. Content is also for sales. If you content right, it can be your invisible salesperson in the cloud.
I was not aware of this myself. I always thought of content as an marketing activity. All the marketing that we do at Close is content marketing. We out teach our competitors because we think we know more-we do not think, let me not try to attempt to be humble. We know more about sales than any other company in our space. So, all we do is that we try to educate people on sales.
The one thing that I did not realize is that I thought that-we do that so that people know about us. They build a relationship with us, then they discover our software and they become customers. The one thing that we learned is that a lot of our customers buy our software. They make a buying decision of the software before they know if the software can do everything that they want based on the content that we give them.
So, a person will sign up for a trial. They will get the email course that I have. They will read a few blog posts. Within the first two days they would decide-that person will decide that these people really fuck know sales. So, I want to really know sales so I should buy from them. It really bumps our conversion numbers dramatically up in terms of our trial to customers.
The other thing that is awesome about content is that it compounds. It took me two years to figure this out. Just like SaaS revenue you start and it is fuck nothing. You do it consistently for two years or 20 for some people. That little, little shit compounds to a really massive amount of traffic, customers and sales. Think of content as potentially as salespersons. The content can convince people of buying the software. That you are an expert. Your company and your product is really the best tool to help them solve a certain problem.
Three steps to writing emails that get opened
Let's talk a little bit more about sales emails. I know that you guys know shit about email. So, I'm going to try to be focused on the things that might have not being covered as much. To me, emails are simple. It is a three-step process. It is really a fourth but whatever. Three steps. Someone needs to open that fucking email, read it and respond. That’s it. That is how I approach emails.
Write the right subject line
The first is I think what do I need to write to make somebody open that email? Now, you know a lot about subject lines, right? The subject line should not be all caps. It should not read like it is written to a-it is not a newsletter or something. If it reads like it comes from a human being to a human being it is going to get a lot higher open rates.
Some hacks here, sometimes I see people get better open rates when they have a misspelling in the subject line. It is crazy. If you do something that is weird or wrong it seems more human. So, people will respond to it with more humanity and open it.
Then the other thing that you need to be concerned about is that you can do a lot of hacks to make people open your email but then you want to deliver what you promise. It's about starting the relationship on the right foot. Some people asked me, "What is the most effective sales email line that you've ever gotten?" I ask, "What is effective? What is the definition of effective?" Well, if you open it immediately. I want to tell you the most effective email in terms of me opening in it immediately was a subject line that started, “really disappointed."
I open my email box and there are 150 emails. I zoom in instinctively to the title I'm really disappointed. I am the CEO of a business. I am like, "What did we fuckup? Did I fuck? I am like what the fuck." I instantly open that with a very high level of intensity and urgency. The email continues-it started by saying, "I'm really disappoints" and then it continues, "that we were not able to connect yet. Our outsourced blah blah blah…" Then I go, "mother fuck" I'm like, "Jesus, that is brilliant. My gosh. That is a great subject line." Delete. Then I say, "Fuck you, if you want to trick me."
Somebody else had a re- as if this is a reply to an email chain. They did a re- sign but it is really a trick. I was like yes delete. Yes you get me to open but that is not all there is. But you do want to do things. Not capitalize, write like human beings and short is good. Quick question is not deceiving if you really have a question. If you have any quick question subject then your entire email is a pitch then you are an a*hole. You promised me something that you did not deliver.
Every sentence is a pitch
The next thing is that I need to read the shit. So, here is the way that I think about copy in general but email copy in specific. Every sentence is a pitch for why I should give a fuck and read one more sentence in this.
Now, there are exceptions to this rule. If your email is just two sentences it is harder not to read than it is to read. Reading your email is less work for me than having the cognitive energy to decide not to read these five letters. So, when something is short, people will just read it.
But, in general if you have a little bit more content then you need to understand that you can't bury the lead. You can't put the most important shit at the bottom. You have to start with it. After every sentence at the end I need to go, "and why should I waste one more second of my life with this email."
One call to action is all you need
Then I need a response. So, you need one clear call to action. You need just one. You guys know this. Don't ask me for three things. Do not have a pdf attached, a PowerPoint, 12 links that I should click and a question that you have for me. Don't make me work too hard. That is simple stuff.
You're not sending enough emails
For people that have SaaS products and people that are in trials, you are not sending people enough email. Here is the deal. Whatever amount of email that you sent multiply it by two and by the end of today, this conference was fucking worth it. If a certain amount of people don't think that you are spamming them, then you not sending enough email. You are not. You are not.
Don't optimize your business on not offending anyone on this planet. If I get three out of 10 people to love me and I get them successful. And seven out of those 10 people to hate me than I am okay with that. I would rather have that than 10 people who are equally indifferent about me and I have made no difference in their lives. This is not a popularity contest. It is about creating by value.
So, send more email. In our trials, people get seven emails during the 14 day trial. Those emails are all personalized. It is going to be like an account manager that reaches out and says, "Hey, I am your account manager if you have any questions let’s chat." Then a day later you will get an email from me saying, "Hey, I'm the founder of the business. I want to walk in you. If you ever need anything." Then two days later, based on what you do or you don't do with the product you get a few emails. Two days before the trial is over, you will get an email that will ask you, "If you want an extension. We should chat."
At some point I will send you a really fuck email that tells you the entire history of humanity with parts of it as our story. It is a fuck humongous email and it converts really well for us. We send a ton of email in different formats. The reason why we do that is because we want to communicate with you. We want to start building a relationship. We take it is our responsibility to make you engaged during the trial. All that we try to do with the emails is to get people to respond.
We built a sales machine where we send a shit time of email and all that we want you to do is respond. The moment that you respond you are now part of our sales funnel. We would jump on a call-maybe we won't reply to your email, if you think it is a big enough opportunity. If you responded with three questions, the next second you're getting a phone call from us. We'll answer those questions on the phone. Send emails that are always personalized.
You guys know that there are some hacks. I don't even know if I want to do this anymore. They used to be a time and some people used to do this successfully. It is where you do automated emails. You can send it via iPhone or something at the bottom. Again it gets response rates up because it makes it more human. It makes it more real. It is a little bit of a "gray thing". But that is it. Most of this shit you guys should already know. So, cold emails. For people that don't do SaaS trials. If you want to start cold emailing people that don't already know about your business, there's a book called Predictable Revenue. It is written by a friend of mine named Aaron Ross. Somebody here knows it. They gave it two thumbs up.
Predictable Revenue, the book for enterprise sales
If you really want to do enterprise sales, you should buy this book and read it. Just buy Predictable Revenue and read it. He developed this process where if you really wanted to go up into the enterprise he would try to find somebody that is a few levels above his buyer. Instead of trying to convince the buyer directly in the enterprise. He would go to levels above the buyer asking for a referral down. So, it would be like, "Hey, CEO of the business. I am doing this one sentence thing that is really valuable. Can you point me in the right direction. Who in your organization is the right person to chat briefly about this?"
Then at 30% to 40% of the time if you write that email correctly the CEO doesn't give a shit, so they would just forward it to the right person which will then gets you a call. It does not mean that they will buy but you would know who the right person is and that person will respond to your call. It is a much better process to go from the top down versus the bottom up. That is something worth exploring. That is if you're doing enterprise sales and cold emails.
90% of winning is following up
So let's talk about follow-ups. This is my favorite thing. Winning-90% of the time when I win it is because I follow up when no one else is. I have a very simple follow-up philosophy in life. I never ever, ever, ever stop following up until I get a response. [Clap] You are my man. You said it at the right point. Yes, I get all the love. That is awesome. Here is the thing. Here is the basic philosophy.
Most people think that silence equals rejection. And that’s wrong. It is as simple as that. I am not a mind reader. If we had a positive interaction we have a call, a meeting or something and you say, "Yes, your product looks really good and I really want to test it. I really want to have a call or something", then you go silent on the me, I am not going to make up a story for why that is.
I send you one email and I don't hear anything. I send you a second and I do not hear anything. Then a third email and I don't hear anything. I'm not then going to go, "He, really hates me. He thinks I'm ugly." I'm not going to make up stories for what has happened. I'm just going to keep following up. My assumption is always going to be that you got busy. You have another life and I'm not the center of the universe. You got busy. My job is to manage this relationship. If it is important to me is my responsibility to keep up, follow-up until something happens. There are many stories for me.
We raised a shit ton of money from a billionaire investor. It took only 48 follow-up emails after he said yes to meeting us to then get the meeting. I got a press article the other day on Tech Crunch. It only took nine months and 12 emails to different people pitching that article until somebody responded saying, "Yeah, this is great." I am like, "No, shit it is great. I know. I've been pitching it to you for nine months."
There is magic that happens when you follow up. That is where everyone else drops the ball. You are the only person left in the race. The race starts really crowded. Everyone wants to get started, show up, do the first pitch, send the first email, have the first call and everybody-it is so crowded. It is so competitive. Then after a little while when requires a second or third follow-up, you are alone now. You can walk as slowly as fuck since you are going to win.
Every day I get a case study. I'm going to write a specific book just about follow-up. Trust me this shit works. Just keep following up relentlessly. Magic will happen in your life. This only one thing that kills companies. It is not success or failure. It is not a "yes" or "no" that is going to kill you in sales. The thing that is going to kill you is the maybe. It is the I don't know what the fuck is going on with this deal. That is what fucking companies, careers and lives. That is what I fucking hate. I can deal with a no. If you reply and tell me to fuck off, I will leave you alone. That is a result. I can deal with the results. But, when there's nothing and I have to come up with stories that is where really bad things happen.
The break up email
I'm going to give you a hack that speaks against following up endlessly. But, if you want to do follow-up at scale then it might be a tactic that you want to use. It is called the breakup email. So, here is what you do. A lot of big companies do this really successfully. You send a bunch of emails and you don't get any response. Eventually, instead of doing what I say with big important things-investors, large accounts, press or whatever it is that you want to do. What you do at some point is you send a breakup email.
The breakup email basically says, "Hey, I've been trying to get in touch with you for fuck ever. I'm just going to have to assume that you don't care about this. I'm going to take you off my list. I'm going to delete you from the list of people that I need to get in touch with. Here is all my contact information. If you ever want to talk about this I'm excited. Goodbye forever from my side." That email is incredibly effective. I will give you two quick examples.
This is from HubSpot. So, I got four emails from HubSpot salespeople once a signed up for the trial.
The first four were all like, "Hey, I'm your account manager. Hey, how can I help you." The third email was like, "Hey, I have a discount coupon and only have two. One is already spoken for." Bullshit whatever… Like it was all kinds of shit. I always was like archive and archive. Then I received this email which was basically saying that I'm taking you off of my list. I responded to it. I was like, "No, no, no… I am interested. I just did not have time." If you email me at Steli @ Close, I will give you the slides and everything else that you want except my children.
So, the other thing is-this is another email. This is from Trunk Club. It is an end consumer product. It is the exact same fucking thing and timing. First it said, "Hey, I am your stylist. I am your account manager. Hey we had this discount card. Blah blah blah… This and that." I did not reply. The fourth email is like, "Goodbye from us." I responded to that email. It is a very, very effective method. If you take something away from people they will snap into action. Even if it is that you will stop hearing from me. They will say, "No, no, no. I want to keep hearing from you."
Demo better, close more deals
The other thing that I want to highlight. So, this is about emails. Now let's talk a little bit about you demonstrating your product. If you are B2B and you have to do sales calls and demos. These are few things that you need to do.
Demonstrate value, not features
Stop wasting everybody's time. Your product demo is a demonstration of value, not the features. It is a sales call, not a training call. I see this all of the time. 60 minute demos where the person goes, "Hey, I'm now going to show you everything that I know about my product." Then they will go into details that are painful. For example saying, "Here is where you can update some information. Let me do that." Then they will update the information right in front of you. Then they will also push the button that says update. They will say, "Ppdate." Next, the spinning wheel spins. Then the'll was say, "Now, the information is updated."
Really? Do I need to sit here and watch you click the fucking update button? Is that really what you want to demonstrate? Just get to the fuck point. Qualify me, understand what I care about, what is the problem that I have, what is that thing that I need and give it to me. Demonstrate how your product is going to deliver the value. How it is going to be the solution to my problem and then stop. Demos need to be seven, eight, nine minutes and then you give them a few minutes for questions. That's it.
They will not remember anything, anyways if you do anything that is longer than 10 minutes demonstrating a product. Don't "clickety click" around. Just go, "This is the page where you do this. This is the page where you solve this problem. And here's the thing that is going to change your life. Does that sound fair? What are your questions?" That is it. Don't go into, "Now, let me going to settings to change the avatar." I'm like what the fuck. I see this consistently. The CEOs and people who are very successful, very junior people and everybody thinks that it must be 60 minutes of me talking. Don't do that.
Be prepared for when shit hits the fan
Also when something goes wrong and it always goes wrong, don't be rattled by that shit, you should expect it. Something will go wrong. Here is what we do when things go wrong and we do a product demo. We go, "This is a perfect opportunity to show you how to deal with problems." So, I got an error message in the application. What should you do when this happens? You go up and to the right of the screen in Close then you click on support chat. Do you know that the chat goes directly into our engineering room. Let’s do that together right now. Do you see that chat room. 'Hey engineers I am doing a demo with this company and we just got this error message how do we fix this?'"
That will demonstrate how to solve the problem versus being like, "Oh, it is an error message. This never happens. Let me refresh the app. Oh, shit I just lost my internet. Uhh...well...let me call AT&T while you wait or Comcast to try to fix this fucking problem." No, you just need to move on with life, expect it, turn around and embrace the shit that happens. Then go on to say when shit happens this is how you deal with it. If you are Comcast, call us and we will call them for you. It is whatever that you want to do but don't get rattled by that. Here is some more advice.
How to build a sales team for free
How am I doing on time can somebody give me some kind of approximation?
Oh, that is great because I have a great story that I want to end on. The much time that I can get for that the better. Alright, so let me finish with a last thought that I think hopefully is useful for some of you guys. That is how to build a free sales team. Build a massive sales team without hiring anyone or paying anyone anything. So, that might be interesting for some solo founders. Here how I want you to think about a virtual sales team. Anyone and everyone that you know are now part of your sales team. I am now part of your sales team if you are smart enough to make me so. Here is what I mean by that.
I have two older brothers. My middle brother when he was 5 years old came home one day. We had a neighbor and she was there at our place having dinner with us. Our neighbor asked my brother. Hey, Nick do you have a girlfriend yet? My mom and her were laughing. You would expect- my brother is pretty shy and you would expect him to be super – that why she asked, embarrassed and turn red in the face. My brother was like, "Yes." My mom and the neighbor was surprised. They were like, "really? You have a girlfriend? What is her name." My brother is like, "I have four." Our neighbor is like, "You have four girlfriends. Really?" Then my mom was like, "Wait, do they know that they are your girlfriends?" My brother is like, "No."
This is exactly the same deal here. So, your customers can be your extended sales family. They actually have to. Every person that buys from you could be part of your sales family. They could be your lead generation team. Here is what I mean by that. Ask for referrals. When I close a deal, I’ll close the deal and I will go, "Now, that we got this amazing amount of value that is going to be traded on both ends who else do you know that you like that should know this exist?" Here is what happens. It is 9 out of 10 times that person will go, "I need to think about this." This is where most people leave it alone. You go, "Okay". That is back to the old thing. You do not want to be an ass. You do not want to inconvenience people.
But, this is business. It is not about being liked. So, here's what I do when someone tells me that I need to think about it. I am like, "I want you to think about it every day, any day and for the rest your life but just for right now one name. It is just one person who you really like. Come on help me out here." Out of the nine people that said no, four or five will say, "All right this is a name." It is just because I miss them one more time.
The rest will say in a nice or not so nice fashion will tell me, "Really. fuck off. I said that I need more time." Then I will back off. I would say that I would not be doing my job if I did not bother you just one more time. "That is fine. I'm totally excited about it."
Once you get a referral from a customer. You need to get referrals from customers. Once you get it and it works out and they become customers. The moment that they become customers you need to ask them, "Who do we need to thank for this? Who do we have to thank for this deal happening?" They always look at you like, "Do I have to thank you?". I say, "No. Who got us in touch in the first place? Bob, right?" They will say, "Oh, yeah.". Then I say, "Can you do me a favor? Let's write Bob a thank you note right now so that he knows you and I appreciate that. I'm writing it right now please do the same." The moment that the initial referral gets two emails from both sides saying that this was amazing. Do you know what happens? You get more fucking referrals.
Now, you can turn this into an engine, a process something that can help grow sustainably and repeatedly your business versus something you ask in a shy fashion and you run away when they cough or something. So referrals get you more great leads from your best customers. If there's a customer that you do not like, don't get referrals from them. He will get you more that type of customer. But, if you are really successful customer you can get more of these referrals from them.
Also, when you are trying to close really big deals, you should use your customers as a virtual salesperson that helps you close the deal at the final stages, not at the beginning. You don't want to burn them out as a resource. But, when things are really hard and eventually you want to get in touch with the customer that you love and have a great relationship with.
You go, "Hey, it will be awesome. I'm trying to close this big company and I know they totally respect and love you. They appreciate you there. They are very aware of your brand and everything that you guys have accomplished. It would mean so much if you can send them a quick email letting them know how your experience was." Or asking them, "Would it be fine for me to put them in touch with you? You could just jump on a five-minute call and tell them how your experience was authentically."
You do not tell them to say nice things. You know they are going to if you choose the right customer. You just tell them can you make yourself available to help me with this. If you do that correctly it is going to make all the difference in closing really big deals.
The other thing is if you do it correctly and you don't burn your customers out on this. Only do it when you think you can close the deal if the customer gives a really strong referral. If you do that the customer will get more and more positive reinforcement that they are on a winning team every time they talk to a prospect.
A week later, you go back to them and you go, "Hey, they became a customer." When they become a customer you tell them, "Do you remember when you talk to John who is a customer of ours. Was that helpful to you? If it was helpful could you send them a quick thank you email telling them that you are a customer now too." All of a sudden they are on team winning. They are like, "yeah, I want to talk to more people about why we're winning with this product because every time that I talk to somebody they turn into a customer." That is a great feeling. You need to be really resourceful and turn anyone and everyone that you know as part of your extended sales family.
Now that you know me and you have my email address any time that you are in negotiation with a big deal, small deal or any deal and you need help or advice or anything else then send me an email. What is the worst thing that could happen? I will ignore you. It is purposely because I want to see if you will follow up. Then you send me another email. Then I will go, "Fuck yeah."
You are all the kind of people that I cannot say no to. I say no to so many awesome people. I say no to investors every day, "No, fuck you." I say no to the partnerships from a big corporation. "No fuck you" but, when an entrepreneur is like, "I struggle can I get your time." It is hard to say no because all my people and I have been that person. So, make everyone and anyone a part of your extended sales family. Here's a story that I want to end with.
The millionaire junior sales intern
So, this is Flavio. He is a really good friend of mine. Flavio is originally from Switzerland. He is a computer science graduate, entrepreneur and he built a few start-ups that did not go anywhere. Then he built one startup and Switzerland that he sold for millions of dollars. He is today what you would call a growth hacker. He is an engineer and he can code. But he is more in the marketing side of things.
The other day he came to a sales workshop that I gave. He was setting up the camera and I was joking that, "This is the most overqualified cameraman." He is the only guy in this room that sold a company for millions and millions of dollars. That is how I roll. At the end of the sales thing he comes to me and he goes, "You know what I'm really on this sales shit. I should do a sales internship with you. Man, I should just-can I be your junior sales guy for a month?" I was like, "That is a pretty cool idea. Let's sleep over this see if we’re still excited about it tomorrow."
So, the next day we go, "Yeah, all right would do this. Hustle internship. A multimillionaire startup founder is going to fucking intern as a junior sales guy for me." It was kind of cool. All right let's do it. I really like him and we are really good friends. So, he starts his internship. On day one he starts making calls by calling new sign-ups for Close. He welcomed them to the trial, qualifying them and all that good stuff.
I hear a few of his calls and do you know when you had an expectation, you trusted somebody deeply and then your heart is broken. You know then it was the wrong decision. I hear him on the first two calls and internally I am dying. Externally I am saying "Good job buddy." Internally I am fucking dying. I am like, "Oh my gosh he is so bad. How can he be so bad at this? I have talked to him before." He is a loud guy so how is he so nervous? He was horrible on day one.
Then three days later I was like "Oh, my gosh I can't believe how good he became. I can't believe how fucking awesome he is on the phone." He had the biggest turnaround from horrible to amazing in just a few days. It was exceptional. The cool thing is is that he credits all of this to me. It is good. I have one guy was running around telling every founder he knows that he needs to be an intern with our company. So, he became really good really fast but he is a really cool example-and what I want to share is his attitude that you should apply to your life and your business.
So, it is date eight on his hustle internship. He calls new trials. Our trials go on for 14 days. He calls these people. The purpose of the call is to help them with answers, figure out why they came to us and what they're looking for. To see if there is a real opportunity that we need to focus on. If they are the wrong type of customer then we need to point them in a different direction. It is all of that good and early stuff.
So, he calls the new sign up in the morning. He qualifies them. He goes through all of the questions and figures out that, "Yes I think we would really be the right solution for you guys." No, sorry this is not even a trial. This is somebody who filled out the contact form. So, we got a contact request about some information about our product and he calls them to qualify them. They're not sign up for trial yet. He calls them and he qualifies them.
At some point they start off with objections. They say, "Well, what about this. What about that? Well Salesforce has all of these integrations." He says, "Why do you need integrations? What kind of integrations? How do you do things today?" They are like, "Yes. We're not really using integrations but eventually we are like five salespeople and if you want to scale to 5,000 then we worry about this specific integration."
Then at some point he goes, "All right buddy. There's a reason why this is not call fuck around.io but Close." If you want to fuck around go to Salesforce but if you want to close fucking deals let's move on with life and not worry about these things. The person on the other line starts laughing. They say, "You're so funny… Blah blah blah. You know everything there is to say. Okay, we’re going to do it."
I heard that line and we all got really entertained at that the company. We tried to buy fuck around.io. They did not sell it to us. The Indian Ocean thought it was probably improper. They’re going to do some bad things on the URL website. They said no to us trying to buy. So, we had a lot of fun in the company.
He said, "This is a cool line to say." He had another call scheduled with a co-founder of that guy. So, they jump in on of the call and he does a demo with them. He does a demo. He asks a bunch more questions. At the end of the call he goes, "I see you still have not started the trial. Start the trial guys. Let's get going. I really want to champion you. I really want to have you start making calls, closing deals. Let's do this." They are like, "Yeah let's sign up. Within the next hour and if we have questions will get back to you." Then he hangs up.
9 PM and we go for dinner. We come back to the office and we are chitchatting. He goes, "Oh, let me check if they signed up for the trial." He checks it and goes, "Motherfuck they still haven't signed up for the trial." I am like, "Yeah, some people are blah blah blah" I'm the aggressive salesperson. The guy is like, "I am calling them." Then I'm like, "All right, I'm not going to say anything about this. If you want to call them then go ahead and call them."
So, he calls them. And he says, "Dude, I just came back in dinner with Steli the founder of the business. I told him all about you guys and there is no trial. Why have you not signed up a new for trial yet?" The guys goes, "You know we have these questions about the integration how to get all of the data migrated into it and really didn't want to use up a day of our 14 days free trial. We really want to wait until we had everything figured out." Then Flavio goes,"You can't stop fucking around can you?" The guy starts laughing. He goes, "Yeah, okay I'll sign up for trial."
Then Flavio goes, "Yes, you are right now. Let's do it." The guy goes, " Alright, I am signing up for a trial. Do you see it yet? " Flavio says, "Yes, I see your trial. Alright awesome. So, let's get your data." All of this is like being aggressive, flamboyant, a hustler and all of that. Now, he does everything that a normal salesperson would not do to make them successful. He does not go, trial is sign up my job is done. He goes, "Let's get your data into this." That guy does a data import and gets an error message. They do a screen share. Then Flavio debugs the shit. He gets the CVS file. He makes the columns correct. It takes 35 minutes. It is 10 PM at this point. 45 minutes. Now, that he gets all the data in. He goes, "All right buddy."
The guy clicks on a random lead and the one thing that we do really well is that we integrate email communication automagically. So, when you put in a lead in Close a few seconds later you see all of the historic email threads that you have with him in our product already. We can give you data analytics on that. So, the guy looks at a lead and sees the email threads pop up. He goes, "Wow. This is awesome."
He goes, "Do you think that is awesome? Let's do something else. Let us go to the lead page in Close. and now I want you to type this into the search bar. Show me all leads where the last thing that happens is they get email from us they did not reply and it has been two weeks ago. The guy selects all these options from the 500 leads it goes down the 43 leads. Flavio was like, "Do you know what this means?" He says, "I need to fucking get in touch with these 43 companies." Flavio was like, "Right. Are you ready to buy right now?" He says, "Yeah. fucking let's do it. Where can I put my credit card in?"
All of this magic and literally I was like, "Wow. This is awesome." One day closed turn around. They did not get to really trial anything. That's the magic when you start stop fucking around. Sales at the end of the day is you being the most decisive person in the room. Once you really are truly convinced that you can help them it is your responsibility. Is your duty. It should be your religion to make them successful with your product.
You want a hustle internship. Look to join a kick ass team. We are just six people. We are tiny. We are profitable. We are going insanely. We are kicking ass. Our nearest competitor is 150 people. We are kicking their ass every day. So, let us know. If you want me to be part of your extended sales family just shoot me an email at Steli@Close. Thank you so much.
Audience: My name is William. I'm with GreenRatio. First of all thank you for advice. About 10 minutes ago, we had a potential trial customer that I just said, "Okay. I will give them another two weeks to wait for sign up." While you're talking I sent them an email and about two minutes later they signed up. So, thank you.
Steli Efti: This is why this conference is awesome. You're awesome. Send me an email about this.
Audience: I feel like I want to go and make a cold call or something. I'm all pumped up
Audience: Hi, Steli. Thanks for the talk and the motivation. I think everyone here needs to follow up more and I am the most guilty of this. I have six months old leads that I have not touched. But, anyway with that confession aside your title is-your presentation is titled Solo SaaS sales machine. How does this change for non-SAAS products. When you do not have trials. When you just have software. When you have volume licensing customers that you are nagging to buy your stuff. You're dealing with enterprise. You are doing with budgets and you know how it is. How does this change?
Steli Efti: Philosophically is the same thing. There are some different tactics. There are different things that you need to anticipate. You need to have a different customer lifetime value. You need to have a different approach and patience for how much time it takes to get something done. But, at the end of the day you are always selling to human beings. You always selling to people. There is no IBM that can buy software. There's only fucking people that are working for IBM.
So, once you understand that. Once you have made that into a shift. You realize the complexity that comes with enterprise sales is that you not just convincing one person. You need to understand their needs and their problems but also 20 people’s problems and needs. And they are all conflicting. They are all not perfectly aligned with the overall needs of the business. So, that a lot of technical differences but in approach and philosophy it is very similar stuff.
With enterprise sales, you have to follow up very religiously. You have to manage the entire process all the way to the pilot after the pilot and everything. You need to sell them what to do at every single step. When it comes to negotiation, you need to know what your price is and the value that you provide. A lot of these things are not universal but tactically maybe there are some differences.
Audience: Thank you very much.
Audience: I just want to echo you on persistence. I had a $20,000 deal close in six months. I emailed them every two weeks. It was finally closed and you're right on the money. Follow up. You get it done. Do not be afraid to follow up. Here’s a question. Do you map out your follow-up emails? Like you say, "Hey, here's email one, two, three and four or do you just fly.
Steli Efti: It depends. When it is automated you mapped out. So, for sign up for our trials there certain followers that we do and they are all automated and mapped out. Personally-if it is a big deal and I want to close the deal than I do not map out I just do it. I make sure that I have a system in place that reminds me that a week or two has passed and nothing is happening. So, I keep doing things.
There are all kinds of cool-on a blog, if you go to blog at Close this is a shit ton of information. Also, on follow-up you can put something fun in your follow up. I learned about using really funny gifs like a cookie monster that is waiting. After about four or five emails and you not getting anything back just send them a waiting cookie monster gif. People will respond. They will laugh. There's all kinds of cool little things that you can do. Yeah, I don't map it out. Whenever I do it personally I just do it by gut.
Audience: You mentioned making your customers part of the extended sales team and making them feel part of the sales team. Do you ever offer them any sort of reward or affiliate type of relationship?
Steli Efti: No. I personally do not pay for referrals. Now, that is different if you are an end-consumer application like Dropbox or a bunch of other apps that you can do some affiliate referral magical things. But in B2B when I'm talking to somebody that is the CEO of a business, I'm not going to offer them a small shit thing or little bit of money. It is going to devalue the referral.
Now, sometimes people ask me and they say, "Hey, if I bring you this customer will I get something?" I tell them once I got the customer, yes we can figure something out. But usually I do not offer something proactively. The value proposition here is that you're getting value. You are successful. Who else do you know that you like that should also know that this exists? That is you providing information and giving somebody something of value not being selfish. I find that will make less people excited about it.
Audience: Hi, Steli. It's good stuff. I'm curious what are your thoughts are for methodology for hiring salespeople. I have rejected salespeople before just to see if they actually follow-up.
Steli Efti: Nice. Yes that's not bad. So, the methodology for salespeople. This is actually interesting. I have a lot of content around sales hiring and I was surprised how many people were asking me about sales hiring stuff because it did not fit my solo sales machine theme of the presentation. I do have shit to give you. I have a lot of videos. I have a lot of presentations around that. But, my basic philosophy on the hiring part is that you cannot ask a question to know somebody is going to be good at sales.
It is like saying what is a question that you going to ask to know if somebody is a really amazing basketball player? Somebody yesterday told told me, "How tall are you?" That is not bad. But, that does not exist for sales. The thing is with sales it is a performance art. So, you need to see the person perform.
You need to make them sell and I will get that person-if somebody interviews with my company that person has to do sales calls on the first fucking day at that interview. They have to pitch our CTO. They have to pitch our intern. They have to pitch anybody and everybody. If they are not comfortable with that then that is fine. Everybody is nervous but I want to see how do they do with that? Do they have a little bit of a hustle? Do they like it or how do they overcome their nervousness?
The other thing is that when it comes to salespeople I interviewed a lot of salespeople. Some think I know a lot about sales and I would never say when I hire somebody in the first day I would never say that I hired an amazing salesperson. Because I don't know. It takes me three months to know someone if someone is going to be really good at sales. Because, what makes the difference from somebody being okay at sales and somebody being truly great is consistency.
Can they bring it every fucking day? That's a hard thing about sales. Every morning that you show up. It does not matter if you had a fight with your wife, your children hate you or whatever. You have to bring it today. It does not matter if yesterday was a great day. You have to bring it again today. It does not matter if it was a bad day. Every day, that is hard. Most people don't want to or cannot do this. The ones that do that you want to hold on and never ever in your life let go of them. These people are amazing.
Audience: If you don't get a response to the breakup email do you stop or keep going?
Steli Efti: Honestly, I'm not sending the breakup email. So, I don't know. I just showed you HubSpot and Trunk Club are doing it. If you ask me for my opinion and not my experience. The answer is no. If I tell you something in the email. Again, it is part of our relationship. If I say that you would never hear from me again then I usually will follow through. If I don't then I need to make it-now that I think about it I might follow through but it depends. It better be something good. Then I would have to start with the email saying, "All right, you got me. I was bluffing." This is all just a joke. If you have not seen the email don't read it. Now, that we got that out of the way let me tell you while I'm emailing you today." You need to address it. You can't just ignore the fact that you told me something then you’re acting completely different.
Maybe you sent me email and you say, "Listen, usually I would not break my promise but here is why I decide to do it today. I told you that I would never send you email. I am breaking the promise. I feel horrible about it. Let me tell you why I decided to do it anyway." Now, you have my attention. I'm intrigued. All that good shit but now you better have something very interesting to say. So, make sure that you can deliver on that promise. I don't have exact experience myself. The most companies that use the breakup email. They use it in an automated fashion for really high volume stuff when they cannot have every single rep do follow-ups indefinitely for every single lead. Any more questions?
Audience: So, just a scenario. There are 1,000 outbound emails with one of my salespeople. All were customized that converted into about 10 demos and 5 sales. So, churning through outbound emails and outbound leads pretty quickly and I'm wondering if I'm just doing it wrong. We should have started with just outbound calls first?
Steli Efti: So, you did 1,000 cold emails. Yourself? You said something that I did not catch the second part…
Audience: It turned into about 10 demos.
Steli Efti: Okay, 1,000 emails and 10 demos. Is that just you or how many people did it take to send 1,000 emails.
Audience: Just one guy.
Steli Efti: How long?
Audience: Using, Close btw.
Steli Efti: Okay, so you did it in bulk?
Audience: It was about a week long. It was 70 emails a day.
Steli Efti: So, it took you a week to send 1,000 emails to people. You got 10 demos out of it and 6 closings.
Audience: It was 5 closed so far.
Steli Efti: What is a deal worth to you?
Audience: It is about $3,000 a year at $297 a month.
Steli Efti: So, it is $,3000 a year. So, it is close to $20k a year worth of volume to you. Am I doing the math right? That is four weeks worth of work. Not bad? You are concerned that you are running through a 1,000 emails just to get to that.
Audience: Yeah, I am just concerned that it was a great pop because obviously that is a high closing ratio for just 10 demos. So, I think we are reaching only the most highly qualified or high intent people.
Steli Efti: Here is what I would do if I was you. Those six that bought. Did you ask them? Why did you open my email? Why did you respond to my email? How do you typically buy shit? Who else do you know that is similar to you that should know we exist. Did you really get more than just the sales but you got a lot and insights about the internals?
Audience: Yeah, we do a great job of understanding of what their intent was but we do not do a good job of saying like what are your other buying habits.
Steli Efti: Also, the thousand people were they also exactly the same or where they within a range?
Audience: It was in a range so we had some warm follow-up for previous product that was much higher. It was a $20,000 purchase price. We did some you utm parameters for all of that so our open rate was astronomically higher on the warm follow-up versus the cold follow-up.
Steli Efti: Did they turn into a high percentage of the sales?
Audience: Yeah, the warm was much much higher.
Steli Efti: How many of the six were from the warm?
Audience: Actually, the warm turned into more demos but it was actually 50-50...Cold versus warm.
Steli Efti: Here is what I would tell you. Not to make this too long. We can chat later. But you need to separate what you did with the warm list from the really cold list. Everything that you do in outbound you really need to segment and separate and to look at the results and in a fashion that is not convoluted and with a million different things happening at once. Then, because it took a lot of leads to get to these results. I think the results are good to begin with.
But, you do outbound stuff it is high volume which is the name of the game. Now, if there is hundreds or millions of these types of leads you might be in good shape. If there is 3,000 of them and you are in shit. You can’t do this more than another few weeks. So, 10,000. Now what you need to do is we need this segment-since it is a small list overall the complete list in humanity that you can reach is 5 or 10,000 people then you need to segment that list and write up a lot more targeted emails to these people. Do a lot more targeted things to get the maximum ROI.
Audience: What you think about switching tracks? When I follow up with people I found to send them something physically like when I can't get them to respond. But, all the other ways? What you think about sending-mailing out and things like that?
Steli Efti: There are a million creative things that you can do. I think of these things like black belt in follow-up. So, as long as you have not mastered the basics in follow-up which is to just send 30 follow-up emails. Don't worry about the magical things. You can do humor. You can do physical objects, gifts. You can send them articles but that is so overused.
You can send them articles. I get all these people sending me articles. I care not two shit about them. They say, "Oh, I found this article is really important for you." You can tell that they have done this at scale. If they truly knew who I am they would know that I do not give a fuck about. You need to be careful with these things but try to be helpful. Give a gift and there are creative things.
We got a billionaire to invest a long time ago. The 48 emails that it took for me to get that done. They were not creative emails at all. Here’s what they were: "Hey, another beautiful day in paradise. We released this new feature. When can we meet this Thursday or Friday at this and this time." I didn't hear anything so next week it said, "Hey, it's another beautiful day in paradise. Did you see this article about our company? When can we meet this Thursday. I have time from this and this time." I did not get anything back. "Hey, another beautiful day in paradise. Let me ask you can you do this Friday?" That is it.
Then after 40 emails his reply was, "I'm so glad you follow-up. I'm so sorry there's a big thing overseas. I was traveling. Can you come tomorrow at 1 PM. I am going to be in the office in San Francisco." So, even in a lack of creativity you can get shit done. Don't be needy. Don't reference back to the original email, "I sent you three emails why have you not replied?” Don't make me feel bad or guilty. You will never get a reply from me. Just keep it clean, simple, friendly and move on with life. In terms of all the ninja stuff we can talk about that. I can send you some cool stuff.
I don't want people to start thinking, "Oh, this is my third follow-up email, I better send them a fucking book. That I know that they always want to read but their mom did not allow them. Like to say let me do some three months research to send them a gift. Just, keep it simple. Keep following up. If you follow-up at least 20 times with everyone magic will happen in your life. That's it. Thank you so much guys.
Transcript Audio End
A crash course in sales hacking & deal closing
Steli’s talk has been called “hands down the most useful stuff I’ve seen in year’s” #Pioneers13. Learn how to close your first customers, drive revenue and negotiate partnerships for your business. This is going to be an essential talk for everyone who is serious about transforming their idea into reality and is willing to hustle hard to make it happen.
Hustle Hard: Pioneers 2014 startup sales talk
The "Hustle Hard" talk at Pioneers Festival 2014 is the ultimate startup sales inspiration talk. In this talk, Steli shares some never before shared tactics and stories and helps you get some insights into the inner game of hustling.
Sell it, baby! - Pioneers Festival 2015 startup sales talk
This is the talk for people who are ready to stop wasting time and start selling! Here's how to provide value to people you want to connect with, the secret phrase that will get anyone to help you, and why you should never take the first "no" as a no.