William Wickey is the Senior Manager of Content and Marketing at LeadGenius and co-author of the e-book, Bridging the Gap: The ultimate guide to account based marketing and sales alignment for predictable growth. In this episode of The SaaS Revolution Show, William gives us a lesson in Account Based Sales and Marketing.
Alex Theuma: Welcome to the SaaS Revolution Show. I’m your host, Alex Theuma. And after a few weeks break for summer and having babies, we’re back with a bang, hopefully.
Welcome to the show, William.
William Wickey: Thanks a lot, Alex. Appreciate you having me on.
Alex Theuma: Who is William Wickey?
William Wickey: I am, as you mentioned, Senior Manager of Content & Media Strategy at LeadGenius. Prior to that, I’ve had a variety of media and marketing-related experience before LeadGenius. I was working in brand management for consumer packaged goods, worked in PR both at large corporate firms and small digital firms, worked in radio, worked in newspapers.
I have my Masters in new media. I like to get my hands on a lot of different things when it comes to marketing media, startups, and SaaS is an exciting place to be right now.
Prior to LeadGenius, I was doing a lot of consulting, crisis committee consulting, crisis communications consulting for law firms and then also doing book launches for people like Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss, Neil Pasricha, people who have written some successful books.
After that I’ve been working at LeadGenius for about 2 years. I came on right after the company got their Series A, and just this past month they’ve gotten their second round of funding and Series B. So that’s a slice into my life.
Alex Theuma: Exciting background and exciting times at LeadGenius as well. Congrats to you and everybody on the Series B raise.
I’m no expert on LeadGenius, so tell us a little bit more about what LeadGenius does? Maybe also tell us why you moved there. Why did you start to work at LeadGenius?
William Wickey: LeadGenius today is a custom lead generation and account-based marketing platform. There’s a lot of talk about account-based marketing. There are a lot of similar services who at least play in that messaging space. The thing that’s unique about what we do is we use a combination of machine learning and then also real human researchers distributed across the world to quality-assure information and then also collect custom data points that you can’t simply get from a database or by scraping. We’ll put sort of the loving care to getting you the information that’s really going to help your marketing or sales process or either messaging and targeting.
So a little bit of background on LeadGenius. LeadGenius was a Y Combinator company in 2011. It started out very much as an alternative to the crowd workroom that was going on with Mechanical Turk and oDesk. Since then, we’ve really fine-tuned not only the focus of the suite of services and products that we’re selling but also the way that we’re doing the work.
When people think of working with a crowd, usually it’s an outsourcing conversation or anonymous distributed labour or it’s conflated with the gigeconomy and how Uber and Lift are doing some interesting stuff with that.
For us, the crowd is really more of a value-add and as an extension of the team where we’re based out of Berkeley. We’ve got about 500 people working in 50 countries. Those folks work in teams with like a management structure similar to what you would see in a regular office. When a client comes in and works on a project, they’ll typically be working with point of contact at our headquarters in Berkeley and then also a team getting them the information they need. Real-time feedback loop with humans involved in the processes, an element that our customers like.
Alex Theuma: I introduced you as obviously your role at LeadGenius but you’re also the co-author of an ebook. I don’t know if you’ve printed, I guess, a physical version of that, but a book called Bridging the Gap, which was kindly sent to me and I’ve recently read. You’ve written that together with some folks from Ambition and PersistIQ, if that’s right.
William Wickey: Yes, that’s right.
Alex Theuma: And this book is around the basics of account-based sales and marketing which, as you said, is hot right now. I’m hearing about it all the time. I guess kind of a couple of years ago, I never really heard of it. This year, I’m hearing about it a lot.
Before we get into the book and account-based sales and marketing, why the collaboration with Ambition and PersistIQ, the guys, I forget the name of the co-authors, but why didn’t you do it yourself? Why the power of three? Was it better than one?
William Wickey: In this case I think three heads are better than one. The folks I wrote the book with are Jeremy Boudinet at Ambition. He’s the Director of Marketing over there. And also Brandon Redlinger who heads up Growth at PersistIQ. These are guys that I just know professionally, know to be super smart and sharp in this conversation about account-based sales development specifically, rose organically because we’re in contact about a lot of different things from content sharing to events. These guys are involved with the SaaS media out here in the Bay Area.
We’re sort of just kicking around the idea of well, a lot of our customers are looking for direction and guidance specifically in this one piece of account-based marketing which is broad, there’s a lot of misconception or at least noise and buzz around it. Let’s try and cut through a little bit of that and focus on this key role of sales development which we view as the bridge between marketing and sales. And alignment between marketing and sales is a key benefit of people using account-based marketing strategy. It’s also almost a prerequisite.
This book definitely gets into some of the details of that. It’s around 63 pages. You can find it at accountbasedebook.com. It’s free. Go download it. Check it out. But it’s also intended to be a primer.
I know a lot of folks in your audience they range from people just getting started with their own ventures and getting a company off the ground to people who are a little bit more mature and larger companies. 10 people, 50 people, 200 people. We with a wide range of audience, a wide range of your audience and hope that this book will be relevant to each of those tiers.
Alex Theuma: Kind of answers the next question about who is the audience.
This book is relevant for the founders that are maybe early stage or sort of seed stage and growing their SaaS businesses but also beyond that. We get a lot of people in sales teams and marketing teams, sales marketing execs and even SDRs and just generally sort of folks within that sales and marketing area. This is relevant for them because this is potentially a new way of doing things and improving the sales process and marketing process.
William Wickey: Absolutely. At the small level, co-founders and founders should be aware of what’s happening in the market. This account-based sales development role actually, for the customers we work with, about 50% of the time lives in marketing, 50% of the time lives in sales. There’s some interesting overlap there between the two.
People who I’m hoping this is the most relevant for are marketing managers, sales managers, people who are managing email marketing programs or managing small teams of SDRs, also VPs of sales and even the boots on the ground guys, the STRs who are actually making calls or doing lead research. Hopefully, this book will tell them where things are heading and be able to speak intelligibly about what is happening in the industry.
Alex Theuma: Let’s go into it a little bit. Why does bridging the sales, marketing and account management gap matter?
William Wickey: Let me start by just giving a definition of account-based strategy that I think myself, Jeremy, and Brandon agree on. There’s a lot playing around that there and I wouldn’t necessarily quibble with people who take a different approach to it, but let me make it clear sort of what we’re talking about.
An account-based strategy is an approach to B2B marketing and sales where highly personalised messaging to multiple decision makers at key accounts through multiple channels helps align marketing and sales efforts to close qualified accounts quicker. There’s a lot in here. And a lot of that lives in marketing and a lot of that lives in sales. But aligning marketing and sales efforts is an incredible component of that because your targeting and your messaging needs to be in sync in order to close these qualified accounts quicker.
Alex Theuma: Is this only for key accounts or shall we say corporates or large enterprises or can we be selling, using account-based sales, account-based marketing sales into smaller accounts as well?
William Wickey: I think you can definitely do it from the SMBs all the way up to enterprise. I guess to go back to your original question, why are SDRs a key component of this and why bridging the gap? Bridging the gap is just a reference between that chasm between marketing and sales that exist. A lot of companies like to… this is a big sticking point for many companies. A lot of companies don’t want to admit it but there is misalign between marketing and sales that sometimes that can cause issues, especially for B2B companies where you’ve got a customer who’s going to be involved in a longer sales process typically involving a higher total contract value where it’s not just a one-and-done transaction.
Marketing team will send out an email and then collect the payment. A person who’s going through that buying process is going to be exposed to some ads. They’re going to have a little bit of awareness with a company hopefully from either press or social or organic mentions and whatnot. And then they’re eventually going to be exposed to marketing messaging and then they’re going to be talking to sales. The sales development rep is the bridge between those two and it is typically the point where the messaging breaks down.
Key accounts can be used by people who use a full-blown account-based strategy or by people who have in the past used a funnel or other type of demand generation strategy. Key accounts give marketing and sales teams an opportunity to fine-tune who they’re talking to and hone in even tighter on messaging and who they’re targeting. If you’ve got say 500 accounts that you’re really going to spend your time and resources attempting to close in the next quarter, you can be very personalised and customised with how you approach those.
Usually below that, people who are doing an account-based strategy and have a list of key accounts still have a broader list of named accounts where people are bucketed into marketeers, buyer personas, industries for mass personalisation.
The principles of targeting people with messaging that is timely and personalised is relevant regardless of whether or not you have a dedicated account list or you’re simply trying to move people through the marketing and sales funnel faster.
Alex Theuma: You talked about SDRs there and SDRs bridging the gap between sales and marketing. I think we’ve probably both seen the rise of the SDRs in importance especially in the SaaS space over the last few years.
You touched upon it in the ebook, but why are SDRs more important now than ever? Is it because they’re bridging the gap?
William Wickey: I think that because just marketing and sales alignment is important, they play a key role in the overall function of most SaaS companies. I think that the reason this role is becoming so important though is because you have a lot of the small companies that are attempting to go up-market. They want to sell to larger companies. They want to sell to companies that are going to stick around.
And SDRs are usually the tip of the spear in either qualifying or generating leads that are likely to stick around for the long term. They’re the ones responsible for taking the people who have been exposed to a certain marketing message and transitioning that person from sort of awareness and this decision-making process into a qualified prospect who is ready to make a sale.
And we’re seeing a lot of SaaS companies that really want to make sure that people who get into the funnel are qualified and are likely going to stick around and have the characteristics for long-term success because a lot of the revenue opportunity for a SaaS account is, post acquisition, it’s in growth. You look at just the big guys, big example is Salesforce. I believe that 80% of their revenue comes from post sale. Upgrades, cross-selling, all that stuff.
The SDR is the gatekeeper and they’re also the person setting the tone for the user or the buyer’s experience with the product. That is why they’re a key piece to that SaaS process.
Alex Theuma: The SDRs are working with the leads that they are finding or are given. How, in your opinion, do SaaS startups get better quality or find better quality leads? Obviously, LeadGenius probably have some experience around this. Maybe can we use you guys, use LeadGenius as use case. What do you do to get better quality leads?
William Wickey: A couple of things. I will first start by saying that it is our contention that SDR’s time is probably better spent on selling activities rather than purely lead generation. And right now, most companies some SDRs are purely tasked with prospecting. Some give us the split between prospecting and then communicating with people who are sort of halfway through the funnel and qualifying those people and doing demos. It depends on the sales process.
There’s a lot that can happen with lead generation that requires a human touch. It requires an SDR to go in there and say, all right, this person fits all the characteristics that I want beyond just a name, a title and where the company is located. I’ve got their email address. That’s enough for a start.
But in the selling process, the SDR then usually needs to do a little research. They’re going to pull up their LinkedIn page, they’re going to see what this person’s previous experience is. They want to know where they fit within the decision-making panel at the organisation. They want to know what technology that company is using. They’re going to look for key integrations and your SaaS platform that’s a marketing and sales example integrates with Salesforce and Marketo. You’re going to want to know if those two specific pieces of software are able to integrate with whatever the customer is using. Or if they’re using other competitive software, you need to know how to sell against that. All that at the time of research an SDR typically does.
What we do at LeadGenius is remove that piece from their plate. We do the custom lead generation that requires a human touch and put that information right into the hands of the SDRs so they can start a step further down the road, work with the qualified lead that was generated on the criteria that they have set forth and then go into a selling conversation hopefully right off the bat. That’s one way an SDR can be used more effectively. They can just spend more time in the selling process rather than doing lead generation.
The other piece of the quality of lead generation in general which is something that we offer at LeadGenius is data, quality data.
There’s a few components to what makes a high quality lead. It’s fitness for purpose. Is this person the right fit or my product is a product market fit there? It is timeliness in terms of when that lead was generated not necessarily in the buying process but how old is the lead. Is it a year and a half ago? If so then there’s a good possibility that much has changed in that company or that person has moved up or they’ve moved on. The company has been acquired.
You see contact records at B2B companies decaying at about 3% a month which adds up over the course of the year. You’ve got a pile of leads sitting around for a year. You want to make sure that that data that you’re working so hard to collect: email addresses, people who are interested in your product at some level at some point isn’t just falling out of date and decaying.
The SDR is the key piece of that process. High quality data helps them do their job better and the more you can put it in their hands rather than make them go out there and get it, the more efficient they’re going to be. Because it’s not cheap to hire a self-development rep in Silicon Valley, as we all know.
Alex Theuma: A lot of guests I’ve had on the show I would say certainly this year, when I’ve been talking to them about tactics in sales and marketing, inbound seems to be the predominant model for most of the folks that I’ve spoken to.
As we’re talking about leads and tying that to inbound, are all inbound leads hot leads? What’s your take on that?
William Wickey: Inbound is great. The past 5, 10 years we’ve heard a lot about inbound. A lot of that is coming from the biggest proponents of inbound. People who have inbound platforms like HubSpot. They’ve done a great job talking about the benefits of inbound marketing. And there’s no doubt that salespeople love inbound leads. They’re warm, they’re hot. It’s easier to sell to someone who goes and finds you and is interested.
What is not necessarily the case, though, with all inbound leads is is that person qualified. If you have a highly transactional sales model where you just enter your credit card or… say you’re just Hootsuite and you’ll take $15 a month from whoever wants to sign up. Then you want those hot inbound leads, by all means, like let those trickle in. The problem is though that when you get to a company where you really want to make sure that that person is a good fit for the product, whether there’s high marginal cost associated with bringing on a new customer and you’re spending a lot of resources on retaining that customer, you want to make sure that person is qualified.
For example, at LeadGenius if you have a sales team under five people, you might get value out of our product but, more likely than not, you’re not going to have the internal resources to capitalise on the information that we’re able to give you. One of our biggest benefits is scale. When we go into big companies, we can scale up an outbound program very quickly. And a very small company might not be able to take advantage of that.
When someone inbounds, we want to know how big the sales team size is. This can be something we’re asking on a form or something we enrich for after the fact. And many of the people who are coming through that inbound form field are not necessarily going to be qualified.
The thing about outbound is that not necessarily everyone is going to be interested but you know that everyone you’re sending that email out to as long as you have the right data for the leads you’re collecting, is qualified. They fit the characteristics of your ideal customer profile. Moreover, outbound allows you to smooth out inconsistencies in the lead and sales pipeline. Inbound can be predictable but oftentimes there are elements of feast or famine. You get a big bump press or funding announcement one month then the next quarter leads are down a little bit. You don’t necessarily have a good way to project what lead volume is going to look like for the following quarter that can affect that only projecting sales but that’s hiring also and some other things.
Outbound adds an element of stability, consistency to a marketing and sales process.
Inbound is great. Outbound is often neglected. These two have to work together to build a predictable, smooth, marketing and sales process. And I should say every time, 10 times out of 10 that’s the case. But for most companies, a healthy mix of those two is going to allow you to move people through the funnel faster, it’s going to allow you to capitalise on warm leads as well as qualified leads and have long-term success and scale in a healthy way.
Alex Theuma: Is there a simple formula to optimise outbound?
William Wickey: Well, there’s a lot that goes into outbound. Any particular elements that you’re considering optimising?
Alex Theuma: Say you’re an early-stage SaaS company. You’ve been using inbound, only-inbound, but you’re getting this feast or famine kind of reaction to this only-inbound approach. Right?
Now we want to start and try outbound. But we want to be optimal. We want to have it up and running and working, working well and fast. What’s your advice around that to get it done and do it right?
William Wickey: I gotcha. Getting started with outbound actually it’s pretty easy. Another good benefit of outbound is that it’s immediate. You’re going to see results pretty much instantaneously whereas building great content with inbound or working on press efforts, there’s a little bit of a lag time in there. Granted with inbound, you are sort of planting seeds that are going to continue to yield fruit further on down the road and that’s important. But with outbound, you can run a campaign and pretty much immediately see who is interested.
And a very simple level just to make it clear for most people what an outbound marketing or sales effort would look like is generate a list of leads. Send out emails in an automated way, get some positive responses in the hands of your sales team and immediately start working them through the sales process. That’s pretty simple to do.
There are a couple of key elements in there though that I would recommend looking at and optimising to make sure this product works for you especially at startup level. The first is the lead generation. Making sure that when you’re generating the data associated with all these contacts or accounts that there’s enough in there for you to segment so you can create different campaigns with emails focusing on different messaging for different audiences and then also reporting later on down the road.
Most startups, even big companies, they want to know if one industry in particular is performing better than another. They want to know if one industry is closing faster but not sticking around after a year and a half. You’re not able to track all that unless you have that industry field for your lead generation. So being deliberate in the kind of data you collect for lead generation is the first key component of that.
The second component is actually sending out those emails. It is very time consuming for an SDR to go out there and essentially do one-offs, to write a little custom template, to write a template but then customise it for each of these prospects on their list and that is a way that many SDR today still send out prospecting emails. This can really be done at scale. Again, if you have good data and then the right software.
With LeadGenius we have a built-in email platform where you can easily do mail-merge style, email templates, arrange them into sequences and send them out. Persist has a tool that does something very similar and it’s great. Many of our customers choose to use our email tools, some even take our data and go to Persist. So if you’re interested in seeing how the software works out, go to leadgenius.com, sign up for demo and check it out. Do the same thing with Persist.
Getting this automation piece right is key especially for small companies because when you’re doing email at scale, there are still going to be a lot of human touch points. Removing those as much as possible, making it automated, making it scalable form industry to industry or segment to segment, creating sequences that are easy to adapt and send out is a really key component of that and there’s a lot of technology out there that can help you do this. It’s sometimes daunting to figure out what’s the best fit for you. Just go out there and try them. Sign out for the demos on that.
The final piece of that process is getting the positive responses in the hands of the SDRs so they can start working out. There’s a couple of important things about this, or things to note that I’ll point out. The first is that getting those positive responses in the hands of the SDR means that they’re either combing through all the autoresponders and “Hey, I’m not interested” replies from a big old batch of emails or you can use a tool like LeadGenius where we actually go in the bulk of the replies.
But getting the people who are interested in the hands of those people in a timely manner, so like right after that person replies making sure that there’s a process in place for the SDR to get right back with them. Typically an outbound email is sent out and then the name of the SDR so there’s no disruption between the experience of the person being contacted and saying hey, I’ve got a product and service you might be interested in or usually warm them up with a piece of content saying, hey, I’d like to learn more about your business. Here’s something that is interesting and helpful to some of our customers. Let me know what you think. That would be a typical first touch in an outbound email sequence.
Making sure that there’s a process in place for that component on the sales side to capitalise on the messaging and segmentation that’s typically taking place on the marketing side of things. That means you need to have a sales team in place that means you need to have pretty close conversation between the leaders of those two teams and that SDR piece’s the key component there. That’s why we call it “Bridging the Gap” in our ebook.
Alex Theuma: Should every B2B SaaS startup have an account-based marketing strategy in your opinion?
William Wickey: I’m going to say no. I don’t think that every company needs to have an account-based strategy. Like the smaller your deal size, the smaller and more transactional your sales process, the less important an account-based strategy is. If you’re attempting to move up-market and you’ve got an expensive monthly price point, like let’s say $1,000 or $2,000 per month, then it starts being worth considering who your best possible customers are, building an account list and attempting to cut through the noise of all the marketing and sales messaging the decision makers of those key accounts get by your own targeted approach.
I would say the longer a sales process, the higher the lifetime value of a customer, the more important it is to keep customers in the pipeline and using the product that are less likely to churn and you have a lot of opportunity to upsell and cross-sell then it’s worth considering an account-based strategy.
Even with that being said, you don’t have to do an either-or really. You don’t have to dive again whole hog with an account-based strategy and abandon what’s working. I would never say like hey, an account–based strategy it’s going to help you bring more qualified buyers to the funnel faster. Believe me, there’s all these benefits. Ditch what you’re doing and try what I’m talking about. Data driven marketing and salespeople are not interested in that sort of maybe. Don’t get rid of what’s working. Rather, add in the component of just building an account list of these people and just tracking that for the next quarter and seeing if the people you want to close or move through the sales process are actually doing that. And then when you review your strategy the following quarter it’s like, okay, well how do we actually start closing and seeing better numbers on this?
That’s one of the things we do at LeadGenius for people. Sometimes people come to us with a target account list. Sometimes people come to us with targeting criteria. We help them build out that list which contains target accounts but then also the decision-making panel, which includes people at various tiers in the decision-making process. Usually there’s a user or a primary beneficiary of a product or service and then there’s a check signer or several people at these positions.
If that doesn’t sound like a fit for your company it’s like well, there’s not. There’s only the one guy who buys my product. He pays every month $15 then it’s not necessarily a good fit for you. But if you’re trying to move up-market and you’re trying to keep people around then I would say an account-based strategy is definitely worth considering. Definitely worth understanding the benefits and how it fits into your marketing and sales process if you currently have a team of SDRs working to either generate leads, give demos or just generally move people through, be that bridge between marketing and sales.