I spent the first three years of my post-graduate life as an inside salesperson at the company I founded, PubLoft. At the time, everything revolved around one goal. This goal was to get customers and grow revenue. I never had a true sales role before that so I relied on my gut to tell me what to do. This led me to write cold emails, follow up on a cadence, be human on the phone, and ultimately close a lot of business. Through these experiences, I have learned a lot about sales and growth.
Are you wondering what the best inside sales tactics are? Wrong question.
This was a frequent question I got as I was scaling PubLoft’s initial revenue. People wanted to know the secret or the inside sales tactics that made everything click. The truth is, there isn’t really a secret to finding success in inside sales. There are various blog articles about the basics, and I am sure a majority of starting sales reps have read these articles. To position yourself to be a successful inside sales rep or inside sales manager, it’s important to make the commitment to go past the status quo when reading about how to improve your SaaS sales strategy or closing more business deals.
When writing this post, I wanted to write something that had some inside sales best practices that were tactical and unique. So with that, here are three counter-intuitive lessons that I learned at PubLoft that have allowed me to do what I love.
Inside sales tip #1: get to the best sales tools first
One of the most important inside sales tips I can impart to you is to get to the best tools before the market does. Everyone is obsessed with having the best tools, as we should be. Sales tools are what enable us to prospect leads, get their email address, remember to follow up with them on the right cadence, track their open rates, etc. If you’re in sales you’ll probably agree, that not all tools are created equal. When a new tool hits the market, it goes through what startups call the S curve adoption cycle.
This means that when the tool is created, it has early adopters who take advantage of the tool and reap the benefits before most other people do. At some point, the tool gets the critical mass needed to explode in popularity. Once the majority of people are using the tool, the market responds, occasionally shutting it off as a viable sales outlet. This then opens up the gap for a new opportunity. The best inside salespeople are looking out for these new tools and taking advantage of them before most of the market knows they exist. Those who are early adopters reap the performance benefits before the market begins to strictly regulate the tool. However, you should be aware that this phase of the products’ lifecycle can present some bugs too.
Some examples of the S curve in practice:
One example of this could be the Facebook page’s organic reach. 7 years ago, Facebook business pages got a lot of organic reach making it a viable marketing channel. Over time, they have pushed their ad product and promoted posts up, pushed down the organic reach of pages, and essentially shut off this outlet as a viable marketing channel. A more modern example could be LinkedIn automation.
Two years ago, there was a new crop of tools being built to help people automate their reach-outs on LinkedIn, and it worked very well! I was one of these users. I made thousands of dollars from these tools that only cost me $20–$40 dollars a month. I was early to these tools, and since there weren’t a lot of people using them, LinkedIn kept its functionality. Once these tools got popular, LinkedIn hunkered down and limited access to their API, effectively shutting down most of these tools.
That sales channel for me now doesn’t exist, but I sure took advantage of it when it did! The same goes for cold emailing software. When Mailshake and Reply first came out, I took advantage of them and got very high open and click-through rates. As those tools went through the market adoption cycle, the market responded by making it hard for that channel to exist (Google marketing emails as spam, people filtering out cold emails, etc.)
That’s the key here. Be an early adopter of new tools so you will be able to reap the benefits of them before the rest of the market and before they get shut down). But again, know that some tools use the early adopters to test out their products, which can present some problems themselves.
Where to find these tools
I find most of my tools on Product Hunt or Hacker News. Most software products launch on those platforms, so if you check their website once a day, you’ll find some really interesting tools to help you improve as a salesperson. Being active on Twitter is a good place to find new products as well, as long as you’re following the right people.
Inside sales tip #2: Know when to stop following up
In sales, they say one of the keys to success is consistent following up. There is data that shows the optimal cadence is 16 touches within 2–4 weeks. I completely agree with this take. With that said, there is a point where I believe that a salesperson will be getting diminishing returns. If you’re contacting someone and following up 100 times, is that considered working hard, or is that just lazy work? I actually think it's lazy. Why? For every follow-up you do, after the 20th touch, it is time that you’re spending working with a cold lead who hasn’t made contact. This is time you could be spent reaching out to new potential leads that might yield a better outcome.
Following up has an opportunity cost
This is tricky because what if on the 100th follow-up, they respond and become a $10,000,000 deal? Yes, in that case, it was a good use of time. However, large deals like this are typically based in outside sales. A best practice for this is to have a cadence that you stick to, no matter what.
For my current role, my goal is to make five different connections with a lead before I mark them lost. The reason for this is if I keep following up with them, I’ll be missing other hot and fresh leads coming into the pipeline every day. We all have 24 hours, so being disciplined with your cadence is key.
Five follow-ups seem to be the magic number. But how do you know what the number is for you? The honest answer is that it depends. These are the questions to ask yourself to find the right answer:
Do we have a steady flow of inbound leads? — If you have a steady flow of inbound leads, then I would reduce the number of times you follow up with a single contact. If you don’t have a steady flow, then increasing it may be a better option for you.
How large is our LTV? — If each customer that closes gives you an LTV (Lifetime Value) of six figures or more, then spending additional time on the follow-up makes sense. If not, then try decreasing your follow-up frequency.
What has already worked? — If your company has been around for a few years, you’ll have data on lead engagement. The suggestions above should be used to guide your answer here, but dive into your own CRM and see what has worked and what hasn’t to determine the best way to optimize the sales process for you.
Overall, I think following up between 5–20 times should be a good range. But remember, there are always exceptions to the rule. Find what works best for you, then implement it across your sales organization.
Inside sales tip #3: automate your follow-ups
You might hear from some resources that you should follow up all year long. As you know from my previous points, I disagree with this. With that said, I do think that a prospect should be getting touches from a company all year round, I just don’t think that that should be a salesperson's job to give someone their 193rd touch. This is where the marketing automation software comes in. With tools like Hubspot or Autopilot, this is fairly simple. Once a sales rep marks “lost” on a deal, they shouldn't just disappear forever. It should be entered into a marketing funnel that sends them emails from your company periodically. This could be a drip sequence, or it could be as simple as a weekly newsletter.
As the salesperson, it is your job to be in close communication with your marketing team to keep tabs on potential deals. When there are contacts engaging with the content, you can set up a trigger to send a message to the sales team to reach back out. This is why the cohesion between marketing and sales matters. Likely, this is the reason Hubspot coined the term Smarketing! A suggested flow for this could be if a contact clicks through the company newsletter, they are kicked back to the sales team.
This makes sure your sales reps are focused on the right tasks and not following up with contacts who have no interest in talking to them, although they could in the future. Let the leads’ activity define when that is, not your relentless follow-ups.
Inside sales is as much smarts as it is grind
When thinking about inside sales best practices, it is of course, important to hustle and work as hard as you can to work people through your pipeline. At the same time, it’s worth stopping to make sure you’re working as smart as you can. Is there a tool that can complete this job better? Is the 75th follow-up a good use of time? Can we automate more efficiently?
These are the types of questions that great inside sales organizations ask. You might be reading this post because you want a magic potion to grow your sales or revenue. The truth is, there isn’t one. It’s all just a market, and the players competing in the market. If you constantly question your inside sales tactics and have a culture of innovation internally, you're doing as good of a job as anyone.