Finding a way to hack sales and build a “high-velocity” sales pipeline is the holy grail of just about every tech startup and salesperson these days.
But if that’s your dream, I have sobering news for you:
While the idea of shortcutting your way to a “high-velocity pipeline” is an incredibly enticing one, it doesn’t work the way you think it does.
Take it from someone who has been leading the pack in sales for over 20 years… the “hacks” that drive real, sustainable, sales growth are NOT sexy.
Nor are they easy – you still have to do the hard work.
Sadly, no “expert” is ever going to tell you this because it sells about as well as Warren Buffett’s investment strategy:
A conversation between Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet
So if you’re looking for some magic cadence that will turn your pipeline to solid gold, you won’t find it here.
But if you’re ready for tried and true ways to work smarter – so your hard work actually drives a robust pipeline of real opportunities and sustainable long-term growth – you’ve come to the right place.
Take the red pill… trust me it’s worth it!
Good choice. Let’s dig in.
For reference, here’s a quick overview of where we’re going:
How world-class salespeople “hack” sales (and why most sales hacks are dangerous).
You’ve probably heard this phrase before:
This is the “secret” that the best salespeople take to heart better than anyone else.
They know that building real relationships with their buyers is the key to any long-term success in this profession… and they find unique and creative ways to do that.
That’s how they “hack sales.”
And that’s what the hacks I’m going to show you help you do better.
(BTW – Here’s the data behind the importance of relationships in business according to Bain & Co)
This is also why most sales hacks you’ll read about on the internet actually end up hurting you rather than helping you.
They cash in on easy short-term wins at the expense of a relationship.
“Most sales hacks hurt your business because they are strategic without building a relationship.”
Salespeople who are leading the pack year in and year out never do this.
They know that while that quick hit of business might boost their numbers in the short term, it limits them in the long run.
Remember… a “no” now doesn’t mean a “no” later. Or preclude the possibility of a referral!
And just like a raging river is nothing more than a collection of raindrops, the more relationships you work to develop (whether you make a sale or not), the more it will build for later.
It’s it’s not glamorous or easy in the short-term. But it does pay off – just like Warren Buffett’s investment strategy.
Here are the 5 hacks that have helped me build strong relationships and pipelines for the last 20 years.
Sales Hack #1 – Stay ahead of the knowledge curve
I believe it was Mark Cuban who once said something to the effect of:
“I used to go into meetings with clients and say ‘You’ve probably read this and that’. More often than not, they hadn’t read it… and they’re still not reading it.”
Don’t quote me on that (I can’t find where I read that).
Still, the point remains – Mark Cuban is well known as a voracious reader.
This was one of his competitive edges… using the things he was learning to help his clients with the things that were important to them.
That’s why this is one of the most important “hacks” you’ll ever implement.
Being THE expert your buyers can turn to for answers is a critical piece of building trust (an important piece of closing any deal).
Reading up on their world and staying ahead of them on the knowledge curve is how you do that.
Where to find insightful information on your buyers’ world.
Staying on top of these things regularly keeps you relevant. I recommend setting time aside each week to stay on top of these things:
- What are they talking about/publishing online? Check things like LinkedIn, Twitter, the company blog, industry blogs, where they’ve been mentioned/tagged and more.
- What kind of story are their online reviews telling? Check things like G2Crowd, Capterra, etc. to see what kinds of things their customers are saying about them and how you could connect the dots.
- Do they have investors? Investments often mean new budget for growth. How you use this is everything and I’ll get to it in Hack #2 below. Stay on top of their exit and investment strategy with tools like Pitchbook, LinkedIn, and more.
- What’s going on with their industry, marketplace, and competition? Industry blogs and news channels are great places to learn more about what’s on their mind.
- Can you identify their business challenges? Tools like Owler, Crunchbase (for startups) and the like make it easy to see who the players are. Taking that and digging in further to identify goals they all have in common or how they want to stand out is a great way to do this. Set up alerts to see important events that give you insight into what’s going on.
Tools I use to stay up to speed on my prospects:
The more I use it the smarter it gets! Nudge is an amazing tool that helps me stay on top of what my prospects and clients are talking about online and updates for their companies – super helpful as I browse online or create emails.
Owler is quickly becoming one of my favorite tools to research companies for all kinds of reasons. Whether you’re trying to learn more about a company you’re interviewing with or about your prospect’s competitive landscape, it’s brilliant to learn more about the competition, how you compare, what differentiates you, and more. Not only that, it’s FREE.
Feedly is a lifesaver. It helps me condense all of my content streams into one place so when it’s time to read up on what is going on in my prospects world, I don’t have to spend a lot of time digging around.
My LinkedIn sales weapon of choice – Premium on steroids for searching, building lead lists, kernels of juicy insights, company updates, and more.
Sales Hack #2 – Make “deposits”
You can’t start or maintain a relationship by trying to get something from them. Relationships aren’t one-sided.
Instead, you have to give something to them (or do something FOR them) first.
This video explains it really well:
My favorite ways to make a “deposit.”
You should know what their world looks like if you’ve done Sales Hack #1 above.
From this, you’ll have a good idea of how you can do something meaningful to add value to their world.
Some things I personally like to do that almost always work include:
- Sharing their content with my network to give them increased visibility
- Connecting them with a person they would benefit from knowing
- Sharing a piece of content they would find helpful and useful with them (whether it’s mine or not)
However, I’ve even done things as creative as sending an airplane repair guide to a CRO who was pilot and had just bought a plane (it got me in the door after 6 months of knocking).
Anything is possible, so get creative!
Just make sure whatever you do is thoughtful, authentic, and selfless (make that deposit count).
And of course, making sure it is exceptionally valuable to them.
Sales Hack #3 – Use a “golden nugget” when you connect
Please never connect with people on any platform and send them something like this right away:
Gag. There’s no way I’m clicking “see more” or “Reply”…
This isn’t human – it’s self-serving (very obviously so). And it doesn’t build a relationship, it just turns me off.
In fact, I don’t even care if their solution could actually help at this point because of the delivery and in this case quickly removed the connection.
That’s not what you’re going for, is it?
How to connect in a meaningful way.
The good news is, connecting with people in a way that makes it easy for them to get to know you and trust you is not that hard.
It takes more work, yes. But the return is so worth it.
Again, we’re going to return to the research we did from Sales Hack #1 to find a single idea that is:
- Relevant – How does it pertain to their current business needs, industry, etc.?
- Urgent – Why should they pay attention now?
- Connects the dots – Does it position you as an expert?
This is your “golden nugget” – an idea that starts a conversation with your prospect that they want to have.
And though it might sound complex, you don’t need anything groundbreaking for your nugget to be effective.
In this case, we’d been very loosely introduced via email first with the intent of discussing what their growth meant for their team.
I found that they were growing rapidly and looking to hire.
And since a lot of startups have trouble getting their hiring right, I used my experience and willingness to help as the nugget.
Here’s the first message I sent to connect:
I’m excited to get to know you better from [MUTUAL CONNECTION]’s introduction.
Congratulations on your remarkable growth in less than a year, I can’t wait to hear all about it!
Cheers to your road ahead,
Once he accepted the connection request, I followed up with another note:
Thanks for the quick acceptance [FIRSTNAME] and welcome to my network!
I’m looking forward to learning more about your mega growth. In working with other leaders experiencing the same growth you are, they’ve struggled with getting sales hiring right. I have some ideas that can help and happy to share.
In the event you’re facing the same challenges along with [MUTUAL CONNECTION]’s lovely introduction, shall we find a time to chat?
PS, knowing you’re on fire right now, I thought this might help as a precursor.
He got back to me and we scheduled a time to talk.
Notice here how the things I wanted to connect over didn’t focus on me… they were all about his growth and how to get his sales hires right (a big, frustrating issue for many startups).
This made my message much more compelling than a straight pitch like the screenshot above.
That’s what you need to focus on when you connect.
Great news… this works for cold calls, emails, and more.
One of the great things about this approach is it works with any medium you need to reach your prospects on.
Need to pick up the phone? This makes cold-calling sing.
Want to connect on LinkedIn? This is how you break the ice.
Prefer to send an email? This makes yours stand out.
No matter how you connect, the brilliance of the “golden nugget” is that it takes the focus off of you being a salesperson and puts it on your prospects needs.
And that’s what makes it work!
Sales Hack #4 – Do follow up like this
Most follow up I see salespeople do is formulaic or self-serving:
“I’m just following up on my last message here…”
“I’d love to schedule a time to chat…”
This doesn’t get you anywhere… it just annoys them. Because it’s about you.
Watch Alli McKee explain this in further detail:
Real followup is about putting it on the terms of your prospect with each touch point.
It’s about staying top of mind in a way that gives, not takes. And you do that by making another deposit or finding another golden nugget to connect over.
Here’s an example of how I do follow up (including a script I’ll often use as a base to heavily customize for the person I’m reaching out to).
Use this follow up script as a base:
I’ve used this script as a base for follow up in the past. You can steal it and tweak it as you like (please do, individualization is the key).
I just saw the news about [RELEVANT AND URGENT EVENT]. What an exciting time for you and the team! I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Following up on my previous message… I remember that sales was mentioned as a key area for growth – how are you prioritizing this today?
I helped XYZ company that was at your same stage achieve AAAA results and am curious to learn more about what this means for your team.
Can we find time to discuss the details together?
Notice how this is a lot more thoughtful than resorting to “just following up on my last message here…”
That’s what you want.
Remember… stay persistent.
On average, it can take as many as 7 “touches” to get a response from a prospective customer.
So stick with it and make each touch count.
Just make sure to space out your emails. I like to put at least a week between emails unless something actionable happens worth coming back to.
Sales Hack #5 – Start a conversation (on social)
Just about everyone in sales is on LinkedIn at this point. Which means you’re probably aware of how important social selling is to today’s sales landscape.
The thing is, very few salespeople know how to really use it well.
Let’s do a little experiment. Take a look at this posting below… what do you notice?
I’ll give you my take.
The first thing I notice is that the person is trying to pass on a valuable lesson from someone else.
This is good!
However, it takes a gnarly turn shortly after when the post turns into thinly-veiled self-promotion.
“I add value by doing all these amazing things I’m trying to advertise right now!”
Don’t do this. It doesn’t draw your prospects to you… it just looks like you’re trying to make yourself look more important than you are.
Here’s what to do instead.
How to create magnetic social media content.
Remember in elementary school how the cool kids never had to say they were cool and everyone just knew?
This is still true when you’re an adult too.
The moment you try to say you’re important/cool/a big deal, that’s the moment you lose all credibility.
That’s the real problem with using LinkedIn in a self-serving way like the poster above… it actually makes you look less credible.
Let’s take a look of an example of when it’s done right from one of the master’s of LinkedIn marketing, Gaetano DiNardi:
How different is that!
Sure, he talks about his success. But the thing that makes this posting better is that he gives the exact lessons that got him where he is to us.
Talk about starting with “real value!”
Notice the comments and likes he got as a result… think about what that does for reaching his prospects!
Try this next time you post on social.
The secret to creating great content on any social media platform is actually just a tweaked version of Sales Hack #2 – Make deposits.
Plus a little something extra.
Here’s a video from Gaetano that describes how he goes about creating content that always stirs up a conversation and delivers unique value:
Check the full interview here.
Moral of the story – it’s all about giving! And giving in a way that no one else can.
Find a way to do that each and every time and you’ll stir up a ton of conversation with the right people.
One last point…
When you write your post, make sure it is from a place of empathy.
People don’t respond well when you come in hot. So it’s important to write like you’re putting an arm around their shoulder.
Don’t talk “at” them… talk “with” them!
The most important takeaway…
It’s that the real way to “hack sales” is by building real, lasting relationships with your buyers.
That’s not easy and it doesn’t happen without a lot of sweat equity. But if you put in the hard work up front, it will pay off for months (and even years) to come.
"Now my buyers see me as a valuable person to know."
– Zach Hatterick, Account Executive