Sales, sales prospecting, and outreach. They’re always tricky. Agencies and consultancies rely on them, especially in the early stages of their business, but trying to figure out how to make these activities effective is a constant uphill battle. In addition, it's difficult to get it right without coming across as too salesy, and in a way that gets the right value in front of the right people at the right time.
Meet Brooklin Nash, the Head of Content at Sales Hacker. Sales Hacker is a website that offers discussions, articles, podcasts, videos, and sales training. It's a community that is "100% geared to helping salespeople gain new skills or improve their game."
If you're running an agency, are a freelancer, or are part of an agency sales team, that means you. So don't miss today's podcast. Sales are integral to agency success and Brooklin has some great insights from his experience and community.
The importance of researching prospects, and how to do it
Brooklin stresses that anyone engaging in the sales process should spend a lot more time on research than they probably would otherwise think to.
"Don't just do a light search on LinkedIn Sales Navigator, pull up a list, and then reach out to blast the whole list. Taking time to really qualify who you're reaching out to and why will be time well-spent before you ever send your first email."
As for what you're looking for when you do all this research?
"One, you're looking for a company matching your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). If most of your clients are of a certain size and in a specific niche, start there."
The other thing you're looking for is a signal that they might be ready for help with their marketing.
"They have a new Director of Marketing or a VP, and the new executive came from a place where they ran a strong content marketing presence the new company doesn't have, for example."
Brooklin says hiring can be another signal.
"If they're hiring for their marketing team, there's a good chance they're going to be looking for external help too. They might not just be hiring those content marketing managers. They may be looking for contractors and agencies to actually execute on the work. You can look for those signals pretty easily with LinkedIn Sales Navigator, and build your list from there."
Finally, Brooklin says you're looking for information that can help you with your outreach efforts.
"A podcast they just did. An article they just published. A question they asked. Something that puts the value first and the content first. Instead of: hey, you're in marketing. We're a marketing agency. Can we help you out? Start with where they're at, first."
The right amount of time to spend on research
When we already have so many demands on our time, all this research can feel like a lot of wasted effort. So how much time is optimum for making the process work?
Brooklin admits it’s hard to quantify.
"It's going to depend on how much you're reaching out. But unless you're a giant agency, you're going to be better served reaching out to ten dream clients than even a few hundred clients that maybe don't fit your ICP or who might be harder to work with or might be past your niche a little bit.
So take the time to focus on the right prospective clients and I think you're going to have better conversations down the line."
Brooklin has spent up to 30 minutes on an email in the past.
"Quite a bit of time from a cold outreach perspective, but it paid off. We were only looking for a handful of new clients, so it didn't matter that it didn't scale well."
He has also tried other strategies where he sent out hundreds of emails and tried to automate the process.
"I spent a couple of hours and only used intent data. When I sent hundreds I got a 15% reply rate. Only one of them became a client."
Where a cold email strategy starts to go off the rails
"The number one place a cold email strategy goes off the rails is when you make it about you vs. them. And that's something you can scale. Not as well as those hyper-personalized emails that take 20-30 minutes. You can take the time to make it about what their problem is, and then as the footnote what your potential solution is."
Brooklin stresses that you really can't make it about what an amazing agency you are.
"It's: hey. I noticed you were working on this. Or you started this campaign. Or you just started this new job. How's that going? Make it about them first.
This is essentially Sales 101, but I think content marketers often forget that, whether they're reaching out for new clients as a freelancer or as a small agency, or even reaching out for backlinks and earned media spots."
Good strategy for cold emails
"I think mentioning a specific piece of content will always work well.
Saying: I checked out this article and really loved this piece of it. Or: I heard your podcast interview on this. Or even from a brand perspective: I saw your LinkedIn ads for your brand and they look great, I like this about them.
Anything that makes it legit I think will at least get you an open and probably a response."
And if you do send cold emails like this to thirty people?
"I think you will at least get an open and probably a response, vs. a generic: ‘I checked out your blog and I loved the quality of your articles’ line to 300 people.
You might not even get 30 replies. It's not the number of people you reach out to. It's taking the time to engage with what they're putting out and taking the time to ask how you can help them."
How Sales Hacker approaches content
Sales Hacker is a content-heavy site. Here's how they approach building out their content.
"We run almost entirely off contributors. Our webinars are from panelists. Most of our articles are from contributing authors. We have our podcast guests. We have a lot of opportunities to work with partners. Sometimes paid partners. Most of the time, just organic, relationship-based partnerships."
He says there's a lot in common with accepting content for his site and the kind of cold outreach salespeople might need to do.
"If you're taking the time to really look through what our guidelines are and you have a specific question or a specific point or a specific topic that meets those guidelines, then you're going to get a reply.
I'm never not going to reply to you, even if the specific topic isn't a great fit. If you're putting in the thought that shows me we can go back and forth and land on something, great.
If you're reaching out, it's very obviously cut and pasted, that's not personalization. That hurts your case. You're not getting a reply because I know they're going to 300 other people. I'm not going to put in the work to reply to you if you're not going to put in the work to start this partnership off on the right foot."
The most successful pieces at Sales Hacker
Brooklin says the most successful pieces of content on his site are detailed, action-oriented, and offer either a template or a visual framework, things people can apply directly and right away.
Here's a list of the most successful pieces on his site.
As a result of pieces like these, a large percentage of Sales Hacker's traffic is purely organic. They also see a lot of engaged traffic from social.
Brooklin's Favorite Outreach Tools
"You can spend less than a couple of hundred bucks a month on cold outreach and see a really big return. You don't have to use best-in-class tools meant for a large sales team. You can use self-service, less expensive ones."
What's your right now cause?
"It's actually a tool instead of a specific cause."
The tool is Let's Go Give, a B2B platform for charitable giving.
Instead of sending mousepads, pens, t-shirts, bottles of wine, and Starbucks gift cards, you can offer your prospects the ability to make a donation to a charity that they care about. The donation is paid for. They just choose the charity.
It's proven to be a lot more effective and valued by prospects than all that other stuff, and allows you to change the world a little bit at a time, while you're at it!
Connect with Brooklin Nash
Want to learn more about Brooklin and find him online?