Point of Contact Discovery

18 minutes, 6 links

You’re reading an excerpt of Founding Sales: The Early-Stage Go-To-Market Handbook, a book by Pete Kazanjy. The most in-depth, tactical handbook ever written for early-stage B2B sales, it distills early sales first principles and teaches the skills required, from being a founder selling to being an early salesperson and a sales leader. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Now that you know how to find promising accounts, either by company-centric or people-centric demand signifiers, your next question is “Who should I be engaging at this company, and how can I reach them?” You want to find the right point of contact—ideally, the relevant decision-maker for the account. Note that this is different from people-centric sourcing of accounts. In that case, you were looking for potential users of your solution, like data scientists or field sales reps, at the account in question. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those data scientists or sales reps are the correct points of contact to sell to. This goes back to your sales narrative: you want to target and engage the person who is responsible for solving the pain your solution resolves and who has the decision-making authority, and budgetary control, to resolve that pain. You may also choose to involve people who would be users of the solution, but that is more for the purposes of marketing to them to build a groundswell of support and help convince the decision-maker in question.

How can you identify these decision-makers? Conveniently, it’s often their title that gives it away. By extension, you can use LinkedIn (or Data.com, or others) to search for those titles, constrained to a given account. You should be paying attention to what these titles look like as you are prospecting, and you’ll eventually converge on the right set. If you’re selling a recruiting solution, perhaps it’s the VP of Talent, Director of Recruiting, or Recruiting Manager. Or if you’re selling an e-commerce solution, it might be the Chief Marketing Officer, Digital Marketing Manager, and so on. If you sell sales tooling, it could be the VP of Sales, Chief Revenue Officer, VP of Sales Operations, Director of Sales Effectiveness, or Sales Operations Manager. The right title can vary based on stage—an early-stage company is less likely to have a Sales Operations Manager, so the responsibilities of sales operations might fall to the VP of Sales.

As such, I typically like to take the approach of cascading points of contact. If an account has a VP of Sales, a Director of Sales Operations, and a Sales Operations Manager, I prefer to grab all of them as potential points of contact. This can be even more scaled at a later juncture—perhaps you’ll grab not just all the decision-makers, but potentially all the users too, for later engagement via drip email marketing. LinkedIn is very helpful for finding these individuals. Just do a boolean title search, like (“account” OR “sales” OR “sales operations”) AND (“Director” OR “Vice” OR “VP”),” which will return people that have any of the words in the first set plus any of the words in the second. That will give you a good list to start with. Then look more deeply at each profile to figure out which person, or group of people, you really want to target.

If I thought that Zendesk were a good account to target for a sales enablement or acceleration solution, I would go looking in these contacts, which were uncovered by the search referenced above.

Figure: Digging Into LinkedIn Search Results

Source: LinkedIn

There’s a concept of complementary decision-makers as well, who are typically internal customers of the primary decision-maker you’re seeking to target. While the VP of Talent is the person responsible for solving the business pain of hiring more engineers, it is the VP of Engineering, or CTO, that has the downstream business pain of shipping more software. Or even though it might be the Director of Sales Operations who is responsible for making sales reps more effective, ultimately it falls to the VP of Sales to generate more revenue. That CTO or VP of Sales definitely has a stake in solving the business pain you’re looking to address. Sometimes you can target these complementary decision-makers, with the intent of being referred to the appropriate primary decision-maker. You might even engage with these complementary decision-makers to make the case for your solution and, having convinced them, join forces with them to convince their colleagues, together.

Of course, you can take this logic to its end point and say, “Well, the CEO or founder of the company is the one who is ultimately responsible for all of these problems, so maybe I’ll just go to her.” There is a bit of truth to this. In fact, another fantastic sales-learning resource is the book Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler, which advocates for what they term “Cold-Calling 2.0.” The upshot of this idea is that CEOs or other very senior staff are highly identifiable, attuned to receiving ROI-based arguments about budgetary spend, and used to delegating investigation to subordinates. So if you just target the CEO or founder of a firm with an email that delineates your product’s potential value to the organization in a crisp, dollars-and-cents fashion, and ask to be directed to the relevant delegate, the thinking goes that the CEO can refer you—and now you have tacit executive sponsorship, plus the name of the correct decision-maker. If it works, that sounds great. But this approach can be good and bad. It certainly made sense in the pre-LinkedIn world, when the proactive discovery of relevant decision-makers was much tougher. But the risk of this approach is that these individuals get amazing volumes of email and often have a delegate, like an executive assistant, assisting with email triage and ensuring that your outreach gets deleted promptly. So there are downsides.

I am a bigger fan of first determining who is most likely to be the decision-maker, and the individual most excited about solving this business pain, and appealing to her directly. If this doesn’t work, then you can potentially cascade back to her internal customer (her complementary decision-maker), like the CEO. This is a more advanced form of prospecting and outbound lead generation, so for our initial purposes here, I would constrain to targeting the relevant decision-maker.

There’s the opposite approach as well, in the form of bottom-up prospecting. In this approach, you target the individual users of your solution—the sales reps, recruiters, data scientists, engineers, and others. The goal of this approach is to convince them of the validity of your solution and how it will improve their lives by making their jobs easier, making them more money, making them better at their jobs, and so on. From there, you can enlist them in making the case to their management, who ultimately control the budget that would be used to purchase your solution. Again, this is another more advanced form of prospecting and is something to consider when you’re looking to scale your prospecting and lead-gen efforts, which we’ll discuss more later. Some great examples of this approach are actually products that lend themselves to individual or team usage, where the “free” version of the product is really just a form of lead generation—the registration for which is used as a signifier to sell into an account. Box, Yammer, Slack, Yesware, and others are good examples of this; all, eventually, end in an enterprise sale to a relevant decision-maker. For now, though, we’re going to skip this.

One piece of information that can be very helpful when engaging these prospect decision-makers is to see if you potentially have an in with them. If you’re using a professional network like LinkedIn, or any of its premium tools, you can see if you have a shared LinkedIn connection with the decision-maker in question. This is not the same as selecting the accounts you’re going to target based on who you know. In this case, we know the account has the business pain we’re trying to solve and have identified the person(s) who should care most about this, and only then are we seeing if there’s a potential warm intro to that person. This can be in the form of someone who is directly connected to both of you (look on LinkedIn and Facebook—you’d be amazed who you went to college with that is friends with them) or the broader version, where you can see if anyone you know is connected to the organization. Say you’re trying to engage the head of Sales Operations, and you don’t have an in there. But you happen to be LinkedIn connected to the VP of Marketing or an engineering manager. They likely know the other person, and even if they don’t, they can still forward along your outreach materials (more on this in the next chapter) with their commentary on how you’re good and worth paying attention to. Mark these up in your CRM or a column in your prospecting list, for example, Potential Intros.

Once you’ve decided which individuals, or set of individuals, you want to target, it’s time to find contact information so you can actually engage them. This will typically entail email addresses, and potentially phone numbers. Later, when you have market development staff, switchboards will be helpful for cold-calling, and you may do some of that yourself here. However, email addresses are typically the most beneficial, in that they allow for better automation via templating and lightweight drip marketing (more on this later), instrumentation via open and click tracking, and prospect progress tracking. So we’ll focus on email outreach to start.

Later we’ll discuss how you can use offshore resources via work marketplaces like Upwork to assist with this, but in the short term, finding emails yourself is good practice to get really intimate with how available these email addresses actually are in your vertical. If it turns out that it is nearly impossible to surface the email addresses of decision-makers in your market, you’ll have to reconsider parts of your go-to-market—much better to know that information earlier than later! One of the best ways to surface email addresses is to just search around. Depending on the decision-maker in question, you may find a fairly substantial digital footprint. So simply Googling for their name and email address can sometimes provide a hit. Looking for personal websites or LinkedIn profiles can be helpful. If you’re selling to sales people or recruiters, they tend to include their email addresses and potentially desk and mobile phones on their LinkedIn profiles, so prospects and candidates can contact them easily. Let’s make use of that! This can extend to personal email addresses as well. Some people are concerned about outreach to personal email addresses. I find that concern overblown. If you are doing a good job of pre-qualifying, and have excellent outreach materials that document why you’re engaging prospects and how your solution will make their lives better, that information is still relevant delivered to a personal Gmail address. And they actually might have less email traffic in that inbox, anyway!

If you aren’t able to find an email address via searching around, the next approach is email address formation. (Sometimes called “hacking.” Lol.) The nice thing about corporate email addresses is that they typically follow a given pattern, whether first.last~@domain.com or flast~@domain.com or whatever. Once you sort out what that pattern is, which can often be done by searching around for other people’s email addresses from that company, all you need is your prospect’s first and last name to form his email address. Services that help validate email addresses, like Rapportive or FullContact for Gmail, can be especially helpful. When you enter the correctly formed email address, social profile links will populate in those plugins, showing you that you got it.

Who wants to sell sales tools to New Relic?

Figure: Email Address Verification in Gmail

Source: TalentBin

This approach can be a little manual, but there are some tools that help accelerate the process. Folks like Datanyze, Data.com, and SalesLoft can help; they’ve logged those patterns for a large number of companies and streamlined the export of prospect name, title, and email address information from places like LinkedIn directly into a CSV or your CRM. And there are a handful of products that help you permute email addresses quickly and validate them against social APIs. Just to be helpful, this is a Google Sheet that includes some quick and dirty logic to take a first name, last name, and known company email address domain and spit out all the relevant permutations.

Who wants to sell technology to Home Depot?

Figure: Creating Email Address Permutations

Source: TalentBin

Then take those, drop them into Gmail or Outlook, and quickly mouse over them to determine which one returns a hit in social lookup tools! Looks like Matt’s got a helpfully formed email address for us.

Figure: Finding the Right Email Address

Source: TalentBin

Lastly, there are a host of modern prospecting tools that can assist you in finding email addresses tied to a given LinkedIn profile. Lusha and LeadIQ are two popular ones that make finding an email address associated with a LinkedIn profile as easy as clicking a button.

While email addresses are the piece of contact information you’re going to want to start with, phone numbers also have a place—either personal or desk line, potentially discoverable through LinkedIn or sources like Data.com, or just the main direct switchboard line for the company. The latter is typically very easy to find just by Googling for “company_name contact,” which will usually resolve to the company’s contact information page. Later, as you bring on market development resources and do more substantial cold-calling, switchboard lines will be more important. Capturing them at this stage is also useful, so make sure to do that as you’re building your initial list.

Phone numbers are particularly important for local businesses, which are typically an exception to our email-before-phone rule; the acquisition of email addresses for those decision-makers may be more challenging. For local business go-to-markets like Yelp, Groupon, GrubHub, Redbeacon, and more, acquiring phone numbers in order to reach out via direct dial is key.

And while grabbing this data once is the way you start out, over time, it will get more and more out of date, as decision-makers move from company to company. While this is something not to be concerned about to start with, later on something that refreshes those records automatically, like a LeadGenius, or otherwise, can be helpful to make sure that those contacts are always fresh.

At this point, you will have a targeted list of 50–100 prospect accounts—all of which represent the demand characteristics of your ideal customer profile, are in your local geography, and are in the sweet spot of company size—along with one or more potential contacts to engage at the prospect company, and their basic profile data (name, title, and so on).

Now it’s time to go hunting! You’ve got your sales narrative, you’ve got various materials encapsulating it, and now you have a rich list of prospects for whom your narrative should resonate. So go sell.

Further Reading on Prospecting

If you found this post worthwhile, please share!