As I wrote about in the last post, the data from Tiply and TaskCurrent showed us a model for a B2B application of our platform. This attracted us because we could get our hands around B2B, get closer to revenue, and grow with partners.
Our next goal became getting in touch with some brand-name customers in the online digital media space to pilot the use of our platform. The “brand name” piece was important because we want to prove our concept with a customer of record, positioning ourselves for either picking up lots more clients quickly or enabling us go to VC for a Series A.
What names come to mind? Folks at the level of NBC, Meredith, Bonnier, NYT, top travel sites, top health sites, etc. That’s the level we wanted to go for.
I looked for connections and networks into the industry and saw that the relationship pathways were either very narrow or otherwise would take a long time to develop. Therefore, we made the decision to reach out cold.
The end of this story (which is really the middle!), is that those cold calls got us in the door. We’re now in second and third meetings with top people at as many big name places as we can handle at present. While no pilot has closed yet, we’re feeling warm. So cold approaches have paid off, at least thus far.
So, for all you considering it, we thought we’d share some crticial things we learned when going B2B from a cold start:
1) Phone is the way in: The most important channel is the phone. While we’d all prefer email, rarely did we generate responses off of emails. Phone is the only way. How to get phone numbers? Sometimes of of course the company’s website lists a direct line. Otherwise, receptionists can be super-helpful in helping you identify the right person and get a direct line, as long as you’re confident and nice. You must know the person you’re looking for and confidently use their name as you talk to the receptionist or other colleauges. If you don’t have that try asking for “business development” or “marketing.” We often found direct phone numbers online as PDF’s from old events or program kits. Use Google to search for .PDF extensions.
2) You’re not Jeffrey Gitomer, so just be yourself: I looked for all sorts of books and advice on how to cold call. On one of my first tries, I tested out a Gitomer power question. I sounded like a fool – it wasn’t my personality. Gitomer would probably agree: the main thing is to be natural, somewhat apologetic (yes you are interrputing them!!), and get to the point real fast. I’m totally candid: “Hi Mike? I’m so glad to reach you. My name is Aharon, I’m the CEO of a startup that I think can drive alot of customer loyaltly for your digital content. I’m calling cold because I don’t know anyone there, but I really want to spend five minutes telling someone how it can help. I really appreciate you taking this call cold. I’m sure your busy, so I’m happy to arrange something some other time.” In there try and give them time to talk!
3) You’re an intelligence operation now. CRM is Critical: Usually you’re not going to get directly to the person you want at the first attempt. You’ll get to other people in the company, VM’s, or quick convo’s with receptionists. Along the way you’ll pick up info: when someone is out to lunch, who works for who, who is a better person to connect to. You need a CRM to track this. We built our own out of Asana, using title headings within a project to describe a pipline (prospecting, lead, reachout, contacted, initial discussion, advanced discussion, closed won/lost). Within each company we use subtasks for related people within company. We use the note and comment field to stay up to date on actions taken on that company.
4) Do not oversell: You just want to get to the next step in your process. Do not load up emails with attachments. Use two lines, three. Nugget length. Phone call? Stop the second they agree to schedule with you.
5) Be bold about your sales case: We weren’t getting interest from folks we talked and emailed with. So we took a bunch of their content and floated it for a day in TaskCurrent. We then came back and showed them real data on how our system compared to theirs. This included a table and a graph. I believe this evidence played a big role in getting people to open the door to us.
6) Drop the names. There were times where we called CEO’s cold. They would often mention that we should be in touch with someone else on their team. In that case, the email to that someone else has the CEO’s name in the subject line saying, “Hi Sarah – Julie suggested I reach out to you.” If you can do this, it never fails.
7) Space out Time Spent on Research and Reachout: They’re totally different states of mind. Focus on research when you’re a bit braindead at the end of the day. Build a lead list of 20 to 30 and keep it fresh, so you never run out during your call hours.
The most important thing that underlies all cold approaching is your own psychology. You need to sit down and force yourself to do something very unnatural and uncomfortable. Don’t give yourself a break. Hit 10 cold calls, and then push it to twenty. It will help to play out the calls with friends or sig-others, or just talk it out in the shower or in front of a mirror.
Contrary to what I expected, there is something very genuine and building about the experience. You’re putting yourself out there because you believe in something, and you refuse to let anything get between you and delivering that value to your future client.
And the best news: we’ve yet to have someone shut us down cold. Nearly everyone has been warm and thankful, even when they don’t want our product (yet).
Always happy to share specific advice: aharon at 40nuggets.com.
(We just released TIply. Create and share tips with friends. We’d love you to give it a whirl over at the app store.)