My prejudice of sales and cold outreach
How I made friends with my inner enemy
If you followed my previous stories you know that as an introvert (or rather an ambivert) I always avoided all possible jobs that had anything to do with sales. As that meant talking to strangers and bothering them… at least that was my perception.
You also know that we are working on our first start-up ChartPixel. But what I have not told you yet, that there was another variable in my agreement to go ahead with it. I told my partner Jack that I do not want to do sales, especially cold outreach. So the plan was to avoid it at all costs and focus on marketing.
Where does the reluctance to sell come from?
My mum used to sell clothes in the local marketplace in Hungary. When I was a teenager I often went to help her out during peak periods such as Christmas, Easter and during summer too. My mum was an excellent saleswoman - I always admired that. She knew how to approach people, gain their trust and understood well how to find out their needs. There was, however, me, very shy and did not want to bother people with questions.
Truth to be told, whenever I go to a shop, I don’t like to be spoken to immediately. Often I just want to look around, but when I feel the pressure of the salesperson, I definitely leave. I much rather prefer them saying things such as “I am here if you need help”. Of course this is just me and might work perfectly for others.
How would you sell me an apple?
I recently joined a Sales Funnel 101 workshop by Jess Pashosas part of the Bootstrapped start-up community. She showed the famous sales interview question from the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” where Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio) asks his salesmen “Sell me this pen”.
I knew what the right answer was, but it immediately reminded me of an interview question I got for a travel agent job at the start of my career. I did not realize that I would need to have any sales skills for the role. In any case, one of the questions was “How would you sell me an apple? I was shocked as I expected to at least have to sell a trip or a destination, but an apple? I was too immature to understand why they asked this question.
Of course back then, I said all the usual silly things such as how good the apple tastes and how healthy it is bla bla bla… Instead of trying to understand who I am selling to and what are their needs. I did not get the job and I was actually happy about it.
What about cold outreach? My experience as a recipient
In my professional career as a Business Analyst, I have received thousands of cold emails in my work inbox, companies trying to sell solutions related to Salesforce CRM. I tend to read the subject and the first line, if that does not capture me, I press DELETE. Some would chase several times which makes me block them.
Most of them would go straight into pitch just like the one in this picture. Not really interested in what our pain points are, they do not even mention the company at all. However the bigger problem is usually, I am not the right person to reach out to for their product anyway. More research needs to happen on their side who has the problem they solve with their product.
However it’s easy for me to claim all this, I can understand them as well, it’s hard to find the right target audience, use the right words and spend lots of time researching your target. Maybe they do reach out differently to their most important prospects.
120 degree mentality shift
As mentioned at the beginning, one of my criteria was not to have to do cold sales with our start-up. However, in the last few months, I have interacted with other founders, participated in masterminds which helped to upskill my thinking and stop considering sales as a taboo. All this helped me understand that sales is more about building relationships, understanding customer’s needs, researching their pain points and establishing if a product indeed can help them. There should really be a new word invented to remove the negative taste from it.
A few weeks ago, I received a cold message on Twitter from Ben Putanoabout launching his Great Founders Write cohort which is why I am now writing this article. I read his landing page and a snippet from his book. I immediately connected and felt I needed to do this course as writing was never my strength. So I wrote back that I might be interested. In the end I didn't even wait for him to chase me up if I join, I just signed up a couple of days later. He also created a nice urgency, as the course started a few days later. The analysis on my own behaviour also convinced me that cold outreach in many cases can be effective.
Why not a 180 degree shift?
Sales including cold outreach requires a lot of time and effort so it’s done right. Otherwise I can just spam many people, the same way I am spammed.
However our product will be in the lower price range, so the question is at what price point is worth spending lots of time researching your prospect and crafting a personalized message? Not to mention, there are so many emails going to spam. Luckily there are other channels as well where there is a higher likelihood your message arrives and gets read. So while I am convinced for many companies it works, for others it might not be as effective. You also have to find the right channel where your audience is active.
I feel you can never copy and paste other companies' strategies, but experiment and make it your own.
With ChartPixel, along with other marketing strategies, we started to experiment with cold outreach. For us the most important thing is to be transparent, authentic and show the willingness to understand and help even if in the end our product is not right for them. We only want to sell to those, who we truly believe our product can help solve their pain points.
Stay tuned to find out what worked best!
To focus on the main subject of this story, I did not go into analysis of the B2B (business-to-business) / B2C (business-to-consumer) viability of our business in this article.