How to keep moving forward in the face of existential threats to your business.

I’m going to tell you about a few recent junctures in my company that looked and felt like existential threats — and what I did about them.

This really isn’t about outbound sales or pipelines per se. It could be a blog post you read about some deep-pocketed competitor who’s going to buy their way into a niche where you’ve bled for every dollar you’ve earned for 10 years. Or you just got notice from the client who pays 40% of your bills.

The instance matters less. What matters is the “no way back” mindset where we figure out quick-response, low-cost ways to respond at the first sign of serious trouble.

What matters is the “no way back” mindset where we figure out quick-response, low-cost ways to respond at the first sign of serious trouble.

Here was my serious trouble: We saw a precipitous dropoff in responses to a sales technique that had more or less performed like clockwork since I launched the company. I calculated what my revenue and pipeline would look like in 90 days if I didn’t figure something out. It wasn’t a reassuring picture.

Much has been written about growth hacking, and I’m not going to pretend to be a heavyweight on the subject. But I did find something useful to borrow from the growth hacking mindset that filled my calendar with new prospect calls. My business and my clients’ businesses depended on it.

LinkedIn was one of the many channels I was considering for a new approach. You and I both know the typical approach, where people blast their contacts with cold offers from a template. Do you respond to these? I don’t. (You can blast your way to a few new contacts, but this approach will not generate new revenue on its own..)

Exhibit 1: How NOT to Run a LinkedIn Campaign

Hey, Larry:

I’m reaching out to people in my network with the hope of adding some value to the community.

I’m testing a new tool that grades a website’s marketability and thought you would like to try it since you’re a leader in your business.

If you are interested I just need your website’s URL and i’ll send you the report here via PDF.

Thanks so much,

Forgettable Pest

So I started querying people in my circle to figure out what they were trying on LinkedIn that was different. A friend of mine in California was having some success reaching out to people one at a time with personal notes and an offer of value: Could he help them find a job? An employee? And maybe offer some feedback on his new business?

This was good because it focused more on what the recipient wanted and less on the sender’s agenda. But I didn’t have the bandwidth for one-off messages to hundreds of people or to spend a bunch of time brokering employment conversations. What was the twist that would work for my situation?

Jiggering the Approach for Fruitful Conversations

We employed slightly different approaches for first-, second- and third-degree contacts. The general approach to the first-degree message: Networking, but with a tangible action step that would help people learn something important for free — and a request for a pass-along to somebody that might use it if the recipient couldn’t.

Here’s an example of the messaging for first-degree contacts:

Hi (First Name):

Our team recently created an “action session” phone call for business owners interested in finding and closing new clients. We’re basically taking people through the step-by-step methodology for our own sales/marketing process.

Could you (or somebody you know) benefit from this kind of thing?

If so, please feel free to introduce me. Or reach out if this is something you’ve been working on and are interested in. Happy to listen and offer any ideas I have. We do not charge for this work.

Thanks in advance for the help!

Thanks so much,

Guy Who Actually Gets a Response

42 people responded within the first two months and said they wanted to take us up on our offer to talk. My calendar filled up with calls and new opportunities. We also signed a paying client that we’re onboarding as I write this. We quickly rolled it out in service of our clients, giving us a great “quick start” option to deliver results while larger campaigns got up to speed. Not bad.

My calendar filled up with calls and new opportunities. We also signed a paying client that we’re onboarding as I write this. Not bad.

How does this approach change from first-, second- and third-degree? The first-degree outreach gives you a wider messaging space. (Note: The biggest issue was the administrative burden. It’s easy to do these one at a time. At scale is very difficult. We had to set up a viable process, and it wasn’t easy.)

For second- and third-degree contacts, we needed a way to do it without paying LinkedIn for a bunch of InMails. (Growth hacking is supposed to be low-cost, right?) So we had to write messaging to not only make the recipient want to connect, but take us up on a talk. We are still going strong and see a steady stream of meetings and at least 1,000 consistent profile views using the LinkedIn 90-day tracker.

We’re still tinkering with ways to grow the concept, including a way that our clients can use the same approach for their prospects more tightly customized for their unique situations. But this was strictly tactical. I still had to come up with a sustainable response to the next looming issue: I was running out of gas trying to be my own CSO and sales manager.

I was running out of gas trying to be my own CSO and sales manager.

I’m a pretty good salesperson. But I’m trying to build a company that’s better than “pretty good.” So this year I onboarded three key people to shore up my limited capabilities and bandwidth in marketing, sales and product leadership. Now our approach to sales campaigns is completely changing because they’re coming up with ideas I never would have — including a new campaign that landed four clients from the UK. If every good idea in your business has to come from you…well, you’re screwed.

I’m more confident than ever that we can weather the cruel shifts of the B2B sales landscape with our clients because I locked on to the number one flashing light on my dashboard and did something about it.

What is the next threat to the business? I’m not sure what that is. But then again, I don’t necessarily have to, because I recognized where I was hitting the wall and got some help.

Takeaway:

Don’t wait. Try something today. You don’t have to have all the answers first.

If you can measure the time until DefCon One in weeks or months, I’d rather spend that time trying something (borrowing ideas counts) that crashes in three days and then build something else than spend a week huddling about it and going blind with panic when my one response doesn’t knock the problem out.

Have you struggled to stay agile in ever-evolving sales landscapes? Reach out and let’s talk.

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