The Future of B2B Sales is Here: What I Learned at Sales Stack 2015

Posted in: Conferences, aaron ross, jason lemkin, jason green, sales stack 2015

I rarely attend talks at conferences. Time is in short supply as a startup founder, so I prefer to consume talks on my own time - by either reading others’ notes or watching video recordings played at 1.5x speed. This one was different: instead of skimming the highlights, I sat typing notes furiously through the three talks I attended.

The trailblazers in B2B sales gathered yesterday at San Francisco’s Pier 27 - from Aaron Ross, the author of Predictable Revenue, to John Barrows, who trains every new Salesforce rep on best practices, to Jason Green, who has invested inseven unicorns on behalf of Emergence Capital. Dozens more next-gen software providers, including Salesforce IQ (CRM), InsightSquared (Sales Ops), and Infer (Predictive Marketing) joined their ranks.

The event: Sales Stack 2015.

As the CEO of a sales intelligence platform and the manager of a crack sales team, I found the conference incredibly relevant to both my customers and my employees. Here are the parts that struck me the most:

TL;DR

  • The last decade was all about Marketing Automation. This decade is all about Sales Enablement.
  • Sales triggers are critical to reaching a prospect at the right time, but Sales Development Reps (SDRs) spend too much time (up to 20% of their day!) looking for them.
  • Phone calls are still critical ingredients in the B2B sales process. Calling a prospect within 10 minutes of them signing up can increase conversion 15x.
  • To investors, 2x annual growth isn’t enough. To be interesting, startups need to grow at 3-5x per year.

Strategies and Tactics to Power the Top of the Funnel in 2015

John Barrows trains sales reps at LinkedIn, Salesforce, Zendesk, Marketo and more. He moderated this panel on the State of Lead Gen in the modern sales process.

Panelists:

  • Bill Binch, SVP Global SMB Sales, Marketo
  • Lesley Young, GM Commercial Sales & Operations, Box
  • Andrea Austin, VP, Enterprise Sales, InsideView
  • Ralph Barsi, VP Field Operations, Achievers

Notes:

  • Too many sales reps use ineffective, generic phrases and questions, such as:
    • “Hey, I’m just checking in..."
    • "What are the top things on your list of priorities for 2016?"
    • “Tell me about your business...”


  • In B2B sales, personalized outreach & context make all the difference.
  • Sales triggers are critical

    • At Box, 20% of SDRs’ time was spent doing research and looking for the answer to the “Why You, Why You Now?” question.
    • Why? It’s not about how many calls you make - it’s about the quality of conversations you have.
    • The more you know about a prospect’s activities, goals, funding, partnerships, etc., the more likely you are to close them.
    • When armed with good information, SDRs can get creative in their pursuit of a prospect because they have so much more insight. They also become much more confident.


  • There are lots of great sales technology tools out there...

    • Reps are using a combination of tools purchased by their managers and (free) tools they find on their own.
    • The days of having 10 browser windows open at the same time are over - but most people don’t know that yet.


  • Will technology and automation kill off the sales rep?

    • There’s certainly slack in the system… but companies that sell a “considered purchase” (one that requires a consultative sale) will still need someone to come in and understand their customer’s business, how they go to market, etc.
    • “Pursuing” vs “attracting” are very different sales tactics: technology can definitely remove friction in attracting prospects, but pursuing them requires a top-notch/well-trained/crack sales team.


The Playbook for High Performing, High Tech SDR Teams

Aaron Ross, Author of Predictable Revenue and the original maestro behind the Outbound Sales team at Salesforce, moderated this panel with three of the best in the sales development space. This was a deep-dive into what directors need to know to build maximum efficiency sales development sales teams in 2016.

Panelists:

  • Aaron Ross, Predictable Revenue
  • Brian Walton, Head of Global Sales Development, LinkedIn
  • Kyle Porter, CEO, Salesloft
  • Armando Mann, VP of Sales & Customer Success, Salesforce IQ

Notes:

  • As a sales manager, invest in great tools and listen to your reps’ needs:
    • Avoid the temptation to decide what your team needs at the leadership level. Those that do later discover that reps have deployed a different portfolio of tools.
    • Don’t delay investments in core tools like Salesforce and LinkedIn Premium.
    • Two of the panelists mentioned the efficiency brought by shortcut tools:A-Text, Phrase Express, Texter.


  • Optimal management structures in sales depend on the extent of standardization:

    • With SDRs you could have 1 manager per 10 SDRs.
    • AEs perhaps closer to 1 to 8.
    • Customer success, if nuanced, perhaps 1 to 6 or 7.


  • How to write thoughtful prospecting emails with high response rates:

    • Social prospecting is incredibly powerful. One rep at LinkedIn knew a prospect was an avid scuba diver, so he mentioned that in the subject line… that level of personalization has a massive impact.
    • Brian (LinkedIn) routinely hears that his reps send among the best personalized emails in the industry, because they’re trained to go to such lengths.


  • Phone calls are still critical.

    • Typically, inbound reps spend more time on the phone than outbound reps.
    • You want to make sure your reps develop phone skills. When you’re just getting started, you can blast out emails and get a decent response rate, but when your company and market penetration grows, you should focus your efforts on specific accounts, and move from a spray-and-pray approach to a more targeted one
    • At Salesloft, the BDRs with the best performance are those working the phones really hard.
    • At Salesforce IQ, trial signups receive an email after 5 minutes and a phone call within 10. The close rate goes up 15x when someone has that first conversation within 10 minutes. Why? The prospect is in front of the computer, they have 30 minutes between two meetings, this is the time they have to check out your solution. They may not have seen the automated email yet; your rep calls offering to help, and more often than not, they’ll take her up on it.
    • Every email should be about getting a B2B prospect on the phone. Never identify one’s pain or discuss pricing or really do anything by email.


  • Where can you find great SDRs?

    • It’s hard, because it’s usually a brief position.
    • Look for strong communication skills, work ethic, and tenacity (a.k.a. “pleasant persistence”).
    • Good stories to look for: someone who sold magazines in school, or knife sets… some history of selling, although their post-college work experience doesn’t have to be in sales.
    • Recruiters, bankers, non-profit fundraisers - all great profiles for SDR candidates.


How to Grow 20% Month over Month, from Top SaaS VCs

Jason Lemkin, the King of SaaS himself, led a panel of accomplished SaaS VCs. They discussed what their most innovative companies are doing, and what they see on the horizon.

Panelists:

  • Jason Lemkin, Storm Ventures
  • Jason Green, Emergence Capital
  • Tomasz Tunguz, Redpoint Ventures
  • Stacey Bishop, Scale Venture Partners

Notes:

  • On finding the best sales acceleration companies:
    • Most sustaining value are companies that become a platform of record, not just a solution on top of a platform of record. Examples mentioned: Salesloft (pre-sale, SDR workflow), Steelbrick (post-sale, quote-to-cash software).
    • He relayed a word of caution to companies building solely on top of Salesforce: you don’t own your own destiny and Salesforce could build something to replace you.
    • In terms of growth rates, 2x annual growth isn’t interesting anymore. To be interesting, startups need to grow at 3-5x per year.
    • “Land & expand” where accounts grow into bigger and bigger customers, can be critically valuable.


  • How aggressively should a startup spend its cash?

    • If you’re going the venture-backed strategy (as opposed to bootstrapped), grow as fast as possible.
    • It’s good to know that you can cut expenses in a downturn, but don’t do that as long as capital is available. Many markets are winner-takes-all.
    • A good example of a winner-takes-all market was enterprise communication, where Yammer beat out dozens of competitors, because it raised more money faster and used it to hire 250 sales reps in two years.
    • Tomasz (Redpoint Ventures) noted that private markets currently value SaaS companies at around 15x forward price-to-sales ratios, while the median public company trades at 7x.
      • When evaluating companies, his rule of thumb is that, if multiples halve, the company still needs to be able to raise an “up-round”.




Interested in more takeaways like this?

I’m biased, but here are some resources for more insights like this:

  • Sales Hacker: run by Max Altschuler, lead organizer of the Sales Stack Conference
  • DataFox Digest: our new daily newsletter containing curated articles from sales and marketing thought leaders, "sales triggers" and other good stuff.
  • If you’re interested in learning more about sales triggers & the future of B2B sales, contact me on Twitter @bastiaanjanmaat - I’d love to chat.