Are you still basing your company’s go-to-market strategy on hand-raisers? You know what I’m talking about; those inbounds that self-select into your sales funnel.  I’ve analyzed enough pipelines and lead source data over the years to say that doing so is dangerous.

More bluntly, your reps might be wasting time and resources talking with unqualified leads—most of which will never close and are not indicative of your true opportunities. Even worse, you may be lulling yourself into a false sense of security thinking you have a rich pipeline, but in reality, it is a pipeline filled with distractions.

Ten years ago I took on the siren of hand-raisers and one of the risker challenges in my career. I deleted almost the entirety of a company’s lead, contact and account records and proceeded to build from scratch a go-to-market strategy based on market research and buying signals—a concept we called contextual prospecting (and eventually got patent # 8,948,272 issued on it too).  

Although it was a huge investment in time, money and resources, we experienced enormous increases in productivity. Our pipeline and bookings went through the roof, and we cut months off our sales cycle.  Every sales productivity metric soared and the skeptics became converts.

But here’s the best news. We’ve come a long way in 10 years. Today you can identify your best prospects—the individuals and organizations most likely to benefit from what you have to offer—faster and for 5% of the cost that I committed 10 years ago.

Welcome to LeadGenius and the Age of Personalization!

My Heretic Self Takes a Leap of Faith

I can’t believe it’s taken me two years at LeadGenius before I made the connection. But as I read through a dozen recently-created case studies of our clients and heard about some recent wins, I was bowled over with a wave of deja vu.  It dawned on me that I had insourced a LeadGenius-type machine 10 years ago.

Circa 2010, I was working in a SaaS start-up in a hybrid role that touched on sales, marketing, product, and strategy.  One of the first things I did was look at the effectiveness of the GTM strategy. And it wasn’t pretty.

Our reps were wasting over 50% of their collective time talking with folks who would never buy…individuals who had raised their hands as interested via an inbound or form fill or similar reactive, self-identified method.  Upon discovery of this market mismatch, I made the heretical decision to delete 90% of our existing SFDC database and rebuild our lead generation from the ground up. I will admit, clicking the delete button in SFDC did cause my heart to skip a beat.  As risky as my decision was, I felt the bigger risk was the colossal waste of energy going into the distraction of non-qualified leads and the false sense of security reps had got a steady flow of weekly inbounds.

My team and I set to work building an internally insourced prospecting machine with the help of a data engineer (¾  time) that I hired through Craigslist, five offshore data wranglers, a sales operations person and a project manager (both ½ time). The project took us six months to build with lots of care and feeding.

I was sure we could identify prospecting best practices and even analyze our top customers to build an ICP. What no one believed, however, was that this could be scaled on an institutional level.

But I’ve always loved a challenge. And I like nothing more than someone telling me I can’t do something. Here’s what we did:

Step 1—Identifying Prospecting Best Practices: We started by interviewing our best sales reps to learn how they approached their prospecting. We found that they pretty much-ignored inbounds and data in SFDC and followed their own identification methods. They were self-sourcing leads using very specific identifiers —either doing it themselves or, in one case,  hiring someone on the side with their own money to do the legwork.

We also analyzed the origins and sales process of our best customers. We wanted to understand how these accounts came to us and how we had sold them. The key was to find similarities we could replicate and use to replicate these circumstances proactively.

Step 2—Gathering the Buying Signals: To scale our reps’ best practices, we needed a way to collect and process what they had identified buying circumstances.

The signals they came up with told them when a viable prospect should be most receptive to engaging in a buying conversation. What we found was that the historic information collected, such as the number of employees, location, industry, revenue, was almost inconsequential to our reps analysis.  Rather, they were focusing on signals of timing, such as business events, activities, news, and even on serendipitous mutual connections – to determine the possible ‘in market’ people and companies for their outreach.

Here are some of the buying signals we used:

  • Decision-makers who purchased products that complemented our offerings.
  • Recent promotions or hires of executives with budget oversight.
  • Hires or purchases suggesting that a company was gearing up its business in an area compatible with our product offerings.
  • Companies that announced a relationship with a company that was already our client.
  • Companies securing B and C rounds of financing, debt financing or going public.
  • Former clients (people) who’d moved to companies not currently using our products.
  • Companies receiving awards or recognition, such as making the Inc. 500 or similar accolades.

Early in my career (think pre-internet, if you can imagine it), we relied on newspapers and journals for business information. You could even hire ‘clipping services’ to collect this kind of information manually on your behalf.  Fast forward to the 21st century and we could go digital and collect information by signing up for emails, newsletters, Google Alerts, and scraping websites like CB Insights and Sandhill.com. By going digital, we had created an intake methodology we thought we could scale.  The tricky part has minimized the bycatch and turning unstructured and semi-structured data into useful information that could be validated and appended before going into our system of record.

Step 3—Wrangling the Data: Once we had the data structured, we turned it over to our offshore data wranglers. They had the painstaking task of validating the accuracy of our collection methods and appending contact names, email addresses and phone numbers to turn the raw signals into actionable, contextual information.

Step 4—Engaging the Prospect: Finally, with leads in hand, we had only to decide which leads were hot enough that they could go directly to reps for follow up and which should be put into a nurturing campaign in preparation for a rep’s call.

For Best Results Reach Out to Your Best Prospects

If you’re thinking that this process sounds a lot like account-based marketing, you’re probably right. But call it what you want: ABM, fishing with spears not nets, contextual prospecting or smart outbound. For some of us old-timers, what’s old is new again, albeit with a new name.  What’s different, of course, is the technology.

Ultimately the proof is in the numbers. And our results were stunning:

  • We increased total opportunities in our pipeline by 228% and total dollars by 294%.
  • Our net new opportunities in a month rose 1,663% and net new dollars were up 1,120%.
  • Bookings $s increased 91%. 
  • We cut 7 months off our average sales cycle
  • And we did it all 30% fewer sales reps.
  • Best of all, our customers were happy. The number of booked deals that canceled in the previous six months fell 100%.

And here’s the best news of all…you don’t need to hire an engineering and Ops army to replicate this strategy.  Today, LeadGenius is doing this exact sort of custom data research and account personalization to meet the needs of the largest corporations—the IBMs, Googles, Microsofts, Amazons and SAP’s of the world. Lots of fast-growing start-ups too.

Bringing a Luxury Item to the Masses

“I will build a motor car for the great multitude…constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise…so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one-and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

More than 100 years ago, Henry Ford used the assembly line to drive down costs and put automobile ownership within reach of most Americans. In a similar way, LeadGenius is democratizing a prospecting methodology that could previously be accomplished only through a huge investment of forethought, money, and staff.  But unlike the Model T, you can get your LeadGenius in any color you like. Matter of fact, that’s the whole point.