An Argument for Specialized Sales Teams — An Interview with Aaron Ross




hi res aaron headshot 300dpi for sales bookIn this article I interview Aaron Ross, co-author of a new book, Predictable Revenue. Aaron discusses his experience at starting a new group that used an innovative outbound prospecting approach (involving no cold calls) to create new leads. Aaron’s group came up with several important breakthroughs which enabled them add over $100m in incremental recurring revenues over a few short years. This article reviews some of those best practices which provide a recipe for others to make outbound prospecting a repeatable and predictable revenue generator.


As most of my readers know I am a huge fan of using marketing to develop the lead flow for sales people so they don’t have to do cold calling. The main reason for this is the high cost of salespeople, and as a result, the high cost per lead that is created using this technique. However in certain situations, it does make sense to augment marketing with outbound cold calling.

The right situation is likely to have the following characteristics:

  • Marketing is not producing the right kinds of leads, or enough leads.
  • You have a clear set of target customers that are likely to be the biggest, or best suited, customers for your particular product
  • Reasonably high lifetime value of customer that will justify the higher cost per lead. (If you can make $10k in the first year from a customer, this can be very profitable.)

Many companies expect their sales people to do their own prospecting, which can be thought of as doing their own lead generation. You are very clear that this is the wrong approach. Tell us why?

One of the biggest productivity killers is lumping together a mix of different responsibilities (such as raw web lead qualification, cold prospecting, closing, and account management) into one general “sales” role. This creates significant inefficiencies:

  • Lack of Motivation: Experienced sales people hate to prospect, and are usually terrible at it.
  • Lack of Focus: Even if a salesperson does do some prospecting successfully, as soon as they generate some pipeline, they become too busy to prospect. It’s not sustainable. Any individual that tries to juggle too many responsibilities, will have a much lower ability to get things done.
    Sales people have a reputation for being ADD – how does adding more responsibilities help that? For example, qualifying web leads is a much lower value distraction for sales people than managing current clients. And managing a large current client base is a distraction from closing new clients!
  • Lack of proper training and support: Their company doesn’t train them on how to prospect effectively, give them helpful tools or reasonable goals. Usually the guidance is along the lines of “make more calls!” Wow, that’s helpful.
  • Unclear Metrics: It’s harder to break out and keep track of key metrics (inbound leads, qualification and conversion rates, customer success rates…) if all the functions are lumped into single areas. Different roles makes it much easier to break out different steps in your processes, which means better metrics.
  • Less Visibility Into Problems: When things aren’t working, lumped responsibilities obscure what’s happening and make it more difficult to isolate and fix issues with accountable follow through.

What do you recommend as an alternative?

I believe in dividing up the roles into specialized functions. Here are the four basic functions or themes:

  1. “Inbound” Lead Qualification: Commonly called Market Response Reps, they qualify marketing leads coming inbound through the website or 800 number. The sources of these leads are either marketing programs, search engine marketing, or organic word-of-mouth.
  2. “Outbound” Prospecting/Cold Calling 2.0: Commonly called Sales Development Reps or New Business Development Reps, this function prospects into lists of target accounts to develop new sales opportunities from cold or inactive accounts. This is a team dedicated to proactive business development.Highly efficient Outbound reps and teams do NOT close deals, but create & qualify new sales opportunities and then pass them to Account Executives to close.
  3. “Account Executives” or “Sales”, are quota-carrying reps who close deals. They can be either inside or out in the field. As a best practice, even when a company has an Account Management/Customer Success function, Account Executives should stay in touch with new customers they close past the close until the new customer is deployed and launched.
  4. Account Management/Customer Success: Client deployment and success, ongoing client management, and renewals. In today’s world of “frictionless karma”, someone needs to be dedicated to making customers successful–and that is NOT the salesperson!

Chart 14 color four core functions specialize

As an organization gets larger, it is possible to get even more specialized. For example, it can often make sense to have different reps for different vertical industries that get to know and understand the customer problems, terminology, and specific vertical messaging. Another type of specialization that can make sense is based on customer size: one group for large accounts, and another for smaller, as their problems and required solutions and messaging are different.

When should companies consider specialization? Are startups too small for this?

I frequently hear “We’re too small to specialize yet.” It is always “sooner than you think,” even if you just have a handful of Account Executives. The second person you hire, after a salesperson who can close, should be a sales rep who is dedicated just to generating leads for your first closer.

A second rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule. When your reps, as a group, are spending more than 20% of their time on a secondary function, break out that function into a new role.

For example, if someone whose primary role is to generate outbound leads begins spending more than 20% of their time qualifying inbound leads, it’s time to look at specializing and creating a separate role just for responding to inbound leads.

Tell us how you uncovered your breakthroughs that led to success in cold calling

In early 2003 I was experimenting with cold calling, to see if it would work. It did – but far too slowly. I had been able to generate 2 qualified leads in a month. To meet my goals I needed to be able to generate 8 qualified opportunities. (This may sound low, but remember that a core principle is to generate fewer opportunities that are much higher quality.)

The First Breakthrough

The first breakthrough I had was realizing that the biggest bottleneck in prospecting into companies isn’t selling the decision maker/influencer/point person…it’s finding them in the first place!

Oftentimes the ultimate decision maker – such as the CEO or VP Sales in the case of, is not the best person for your initial conversations. I learned this through hard work – cold calling, cold emailing, plugging away. I realized I spent most of my time hunting for the right person – not trying to sell or qualify them.

If I could find the right person, I could usually have a productive business conversation with them. It was just a pain in the ass to find them, especially in the F5000 size companies!

In Desperation, I Tried An Experiment: I’d always assumed that mass emailing executives wouldn’t work. Don’t I need to carefully craft each email to them to make it personal?

  • I wrote one email that was a classic salesy cold calling letter: “Do you have these challenges? X, Y Z…”.
  • I also wrote a totally “short and sweet” different email simply asking for a referral to the right person at the company. (I won’t be sharing email templates in this book for two reasons, which I will describe in a section just on email).

I remember my experiment like it was yesterday. On a Friday afternoon, I sent two mass emails from

  • 100 of the “classic salesy” emails to F5000 executives, and
  • 100 of the “short and sweet” emails to the same kind of list.

Out of 200 emails I sent, I had 10 responses back! Again, these were from C-level and VP-level executives at large companies.

  • Response rate for the “salesy” email: 0%.
  • Response rate for the “short and sweet” email: 10%.

And at least five of the emails I received from the short and sweet campaign were positive, referring me to other people in the organization as the best person for a conversation about sales force automation.

The Second Breakthrough

I discovered that mass emailing C-level F5000 executives, with specific kinds of emails, can generate 9%+ response rates.  Those high response rates (8-10% or more) from high-level executives have held true year after year, even with my current clients in 2010, seven years later.

The Result: A 500% Increase

In the next month, April 2003, I increased my results by 500% and generated 11 qualified sales opportunities!

Hence the tipping point of the Cold Calling 2.0 process was born: sending mass emails to high level executives to ask for referrals to the best person in their organization for a first conversation.

What does the Cold Calling 2.0 Funnel look like?

This diagram from the book shows a sample funnel that breaks out the prospecting stages:

Chart 11 RGB

Here is another way to look at the Cold Calling 2.0 process that a sales development rep should be following:

Chart 1 color 5 steps cold calling 2 process

Give us your thoughts on the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)?

Getting clear on your Ideal Customer Profile, including how to describe them and what their core challenges are, is the most important exercise to maximize the effectiveness of your marketing and sales functions. It helps you:

  • Find great prospects more easily through smart targeting
  • Disqualifying poor prospects more quickly

…both of which lead us to faster sales cycles and higher win rates. If you are going to implement a cold calling 2.0 process, this is an critically important starting point.

Chart 6 RGB

The result of this should be a list of criteria that you want, with an explanation of the reasons why. For an example of one criterion:

Criteria We Want


25-250 Employees Our customers have to be large enough to need our service. However, if they are too large, they tend to hire someone in-house to do it full-time.

The book provides some great examples of how to work through this exercise, and what the output should look like.

What are some more of your guidelines for writing these referral emails?

  • It’s important to make it short and sweet
  • Don’t sell
  • You want to make sure you are asking for just  one thing, which is a referral
  • Give people enough information, but in a short way. The trick is to being specific enough about who you should talk to, or what you do, in a very short way.

The variables that make this successful:

  • Who you are sending it to ?
  • What is the subject line?
  • How are you asking for the referral?
    • How are you describing the person you want to talk to?
    • How are you describing what you do?

To get this right will likely require experimentation using A/B testing to optimize.

Don’t Sell

There is always some salesperson or executive who wants to throw in a bunch of salesy stuff (our value, bullet points, attached PDFs) – You have to prevent that. Just keep them away from the process. Trying to sell at this stage will wreck the conversion rate of these emails. It’s like going for coffee with someone on your first date, and you are leaning in for the kiss before you have said hello.  (Note from David Skok: I wrote on this topic here: When selling is the worst way to win customers.)

What is the profile of a person who would be good as an SDR?

If you don’t yet have someone doing this already, and you are looking for a person to set it up, you want to find someone who is a problem solver, and who is entrepreneurial. Ideally you want to have someone in your company who  would like the opportunity to do this. Best is if you can have two people starting this at the same time, so they leverage the buddy system.

After that, you really just want smart people who can figure things out, who know something about business. Some of my best people didn’t start as salespeople, they had other business experience. They were able to learn sales. They were good at having business conversations. They also need to be able to develop trust, and have high integrity.

They should have a good sense of process, because if you are disorganized, it is not going to be effective. And you’re going to have to like them.

Tell us about your ‘Layers of the Onion’ thinking


The Layers of the Onion idea is all about how to lead a prospect through to becoming a customer. You have to realize that customers want to get to know you in small steps. And they want to feel like they are in control of that process. Think of them as a squirrel. Your job is to lay out tempting morsels one after the other to get them to take another step forward. You can also think of that as being like peeling  back the layers of an onion.

The high level concept here is that people need to take multiple steps to get to know you.  Sales people need to relax, and stop trying to go for the close so fast. There is not enough patience in the world.  This is all about patience and baby steps.

layers of the onion_300dpi sales book color

The Internet has drastically shifted power from sellers to buyers. The old way of marketing and selling involved pushing information onto prospects and then working to control their steps along a sales process. Buyers had limited access to information, which they had to negotiate out of sellers. Now, buyers can do more research on their own before they ever talk to a human at a company (if they ever do talk to a human!)

Go with it – let prospects do the work!

Instead of resisting this trend and staying attached to how potential customers used to, or “should” get to know your company, go with it and give the prospects the control over how they want to get to know you.

Present them with a couple of logical next steps and let them decide how and when to move forward (of course, with some helpful reminders now and then if they’ve stalled).

Setting up progressive layers of the onion is key to “receiving sales” or “pulling sales” (much easier than pushing sales). Let the prospects do the work for you!

The layers are mutual – get to know your prospects as they get to know you

The layers enable prospects and vendors to test mutual compatibility with progressive steps of increasing trust and commitment, to minimize the risk and costs of a bad fit to both parties. With the layers of the onion, a prospect can engage right away at the level they feel comfortable with, and then can work their way up the trust & commitment layers as they and you see fit.

As a seller, now you can more easily test out how much of a fit the customer is for you, before you commit extra time or resources to them! Committing to a bad-fit customer is an enormous cost, and the right layers can help you avoid those landmines.

Let go

Give up trying to control how long someone takes to move forward. You’ll have to accept that most prospects that initially sign up for a blog, trial or demo just won’t be ready to do anything. That’s ok – don’t try to force them. But consider if there’s another onion layer you can create to offer to make it easier for them to take another step.

If you see prospects getting stuck somewhere in your “layers”, consider redesigning your next-step offers. What is the next “juicy morsel” they would want if you showed it to them, that would help them take another step forward? What new layers, content or products can you create that are compelling and relevant to who the prospect is and where they are in their evaluation & buying cycle?

Let go of trying to control prospects, and trust that if it’s a good mutual fit, and you keep nurturing them and your “layers” are relevant & useful, they will become a customer someday!

Can you summarize your thoughts?

  • You MUST specialize your salespeople, and have, at a minimum, at least one (better is two) outbound reps focused 100% on prospecting – and that means NO CLOSING or inbound lead qualification. If you can’t specialize today, make a plan on how and when you can. You don’t need to be big to begin to specialize; all you need is two people in sales.
  • Use a referral/researching approach rather than cold calling people directly. You can generate quality referrals from cold contacts who have never heard of you via short and sweet email templates.
  • Focus on QUALITY, not quantity, of actions, calls and leads (fewer, bigger, better). Measure results-based activities (“# Scoping Calls Completed”) as opposed to metrics like dials.
  • Train your outbound salespeople to be “businesspeople who can sell”, rather than salespeople. Not only do they need to have a multi-step outbound sales process that works, they also must be able to have an intelligent conversation with high-level executives, whether via email or phone. You can train young people (even out of college) to do this.
  • SIMPLIFY what you track in your CRM/SFA system (such as a, focusing on your few, best metrics (like new $ pipeline created per month, qualified leads per month, etc.) You have to get rid of all your extra junk tracking fields that clutter everything, and simplify your dashboards.

Unfortunately, too many companies won’t take the single most important step to make prospecting work – dedicating an inside sales team or role 100% to prospecting and generating opportunities to pass on to the Account Executives/closers. This is always priority #1!

Sell Ideas, Not Stuff

Aaron says that, in their marketing and prospecting, companies and people do way too much selling. Clients don’t want to buy products, they want help. The best way to help them is with both your product & your expertise So, you must educate rather than sell…as he talks about in this short video:

Selling Your Idea, Not Just Your Product


I have recently posted a slide deck that talks more about this topic here: Using Outbound Prospecting to reach highly targeted prospects.

If you found Aaron’s ideas above interesting, I recommend that you purchase the book. It has a great deal more detail than is covered in this short interview. Aaron was kind enough to share a sizeable sample of the book (the first three chapters) for our readers, which you can download by clicking here. Aaron and his co-author Mary Lou Tyler also run a consulting company Predictable Revenue, Inc. that is willing to help startups work through getting a program like this off the ground.

About the Author

David Skok

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  • A great post and very timely. I have tons of questions already but still need to gather my thoughts. 

  • This makes a lot of sense, and I am finding this out the hard way recently.  The question is: it is hard to find and keep specialized people when you have a startup.  This is especially true for entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping.  

  • Terrific. Thorough and practical. Makes a change from all the hope-is-a-strategy SaaS stuff. May not apply fully to us in the nonprofit sector, but the principles and discipline should. Thank you.

  • Great! I love the short-and-sweet email insight.

    We’ve been having success of late splitting inside sales into two teams. The first (webinar sales) focuses on populating webinars and the second prosecutes the opportunities generated by those webinars.  Even these activities are fundamentally different.

    I’m not crazy about the ‘qualification’ terminology because, it implies that qualification is something other than selling. In many cases, absent perfect information, the method is essentially the same — although division-of-labor definitely makes sense.

  • Love this comment, “Go with it – let prospects do the work!” and totally agree:)


  • Ben

    Really excellent and thought provoking interview. 

  • Anonymous

    David, very insightful post.

    Do you think that using social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, leaving a comment on the blog) would work better than cold e-mailing when doing outbound lead generation?


  • I believe the two things are actually different. Social media if used well can be a great way to connect with people using non-salesy materials as the discussion item to draw them into reading a blog, collecting a white paper, etc. You are then in a position to start a dialog with those prospects. I would refer to that kind of activity as Inbound Marketing. I am personally biased to believing that Inbound Marketing can be one of the most effective marketing techniques – but it requires very strong content creation skills to make it work. And those content creation skills must focus on creating materials that are not sales-oriented at all. (See my blog post:
    The value of outbound prospecting is when you know there is great business at a series of clearly identified target companies, and marketing is a less focused and reliable way to reach buyers in those companies.
    I hope this helps.

  • Mindaugas

    Great stuff. Already ordered the book from Amazon.

  • David – nice interview and quite interesting.  I agree with Aaron regarding his tactics around prospecting, I wrote about a few more last year –  There is absolutely an art to successful prospecting and you can employ A/B tests just like you do in marketing to determine the most effective way to reach your target audience.

    What I’m not 100% lined up with is the division of sales duties – that seems VERY expensive, especially for a startup (I didn’t feel the answer on how small a company can do this was adequately answered).  Similar to your excellent blog post last year regarding the cost of sale for different distribution models (Freemium, No Sales, Inside Sales, Outside Sales), there would need to be a deeper analysis of the overall cost vs. benefit, based on how much margin you are making per sale to justify the extra heads, no?

  • Hi Scott,
    Before I can help answer your question, I would need to know which are the important sales functions you think are important to your startup. If you do believe that you need to do outbound prospecting, and have a high enough price point to make this financially viable, I am actually strongly in agreement with Aaron about the importance of separating this function away from the salesperson. From a cost effectiveness standpoint, using cheaper sales development reps to do this work, with a singular focus, will deliver more leads at a lower price point than having your more expensive sales reps try to add this to their already heavy workload. So the answer is that the specialized function is both cheaper and more effective (due to focus). I hope this helps!
    Best, David

  • David,
    as usual great post and terrific ideas from Aaron. This is an important
    and timely discussion for B2B  sales and marketing leaders:
    – I
    just recently met with an outbound sales strategist and with all the
    noise from “inbound marketing champions” he finds it tougher to keep his
    piece of the lead generation budget pie. Your post confirms that in the
    right situations outbound sales is a key strategy to include with
    inbound marketing.
    – Aaron
    confirms that if you approach a “C”- level executive with specific and
    professional message, enlightened leaders will respect and respond to
    it. After all, they’re trying to solve problems and are on the lookout
    for partners with solutions.
    – I’m
    not sure if Aaron covers this in his book, but I’d like to hear more
    about the “prepare phase” of the cold calling funnel. I’ve not seen a
    lot of specifics in this area, but its very important and shouldn’t be
    done by the sales team. Outbound “sales research” is poorly executed and
    generally falls onto the sales team – an expensive mistake.  For
    example, how did Aaron build a target list of 200 profile accounts and
    emails?- Other
    ideas that I’ve used in these programs: Follow up emails with a
    “short”, informative voicemail and reference the email that was sent. I
    found this can increase response rates by 100-300%. This can even be
    done after hours with lower cost outbound telesales professionals. It
    takes the “cold” out of the call!
    – With
    tools like track the open rates. Many times these emails
    are forwarded along and it allows focused follow up and leadscoring.
    Unopened emails may also trigger an alternative telesales process.

    Looking forward to reading the book!

  • aaron ross

    Hi Kelley,

    On list building: the single most important thing about your list is to spend the time getting as clear as you can on your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).  It is so very easy to buy lists and prospect or market to them…yet they’re full of companies who aren’t a fit for what you do.  And salespeople keep calling on them rather than quickly disqualifying.

    To your question on how we built our initial lists at, in the beginning (which was before sources of emails like Jigsaw / / Zoominfo /etc existed)…we built our target lists by hand.   We’d run reports in Onesource (specific to our Ideal targets), getting lists of names and accounts, but no phone #’s or emails.  We added their emails by hand. by searching google to find the email convention, and then guessing at their emails (this works pretty well).

    Now you get more easily get initial lists from
    You ask about the “prepare” phase of a cold calling funnel.  At, we usually didn’t do any “pre call research” on a specific company until after we got an email response from them.  It was much more efficient to research 10 companies who responded to us rather than 100 companies who may or may not respond.  How?  With that short-and-sweet email template, we didn’t need to write anything in it about the company itself…it literally was just a couple of lines asking for a referral.

    The trick…is that you need to be able to ask for a referral in ways that other people understand you.  What’s common is asking people in “jargonese”…”who’s in charge of your social media platform extensions?” or some other nonsense.  USE SIMPLE ENGLISH.  For example, at, we never started a conversation by saying we sold CRM/SFA, we said “our system manages your sales contacts and accounts.”

    Here’s a two minute video on the issue and what to do about it:

    Enjoy the book!!Aaron

  • aaron ross

    Hey Ben,

    Glad you liked it so much!  It’s surprising to people how a few simple tactic changes can make a big difference with a lot less stress.

  • aaron ross

    Hey Horatiu,

    I agree with David, social media is complementary to outbound selling.  You want to do both – ideally.  However, for early stage companies, ones with a product that they can sell…outbound selling will be a more predictable driver of revenue and growth.  

    Social media and inbound marketing takes awhile to build up into something meaningful, for 98% of companies out there.

    If you read the book, check out the section called “Seeds, Nets & Spears” on the three different types of leads.


  • aaron ross

    Hi Scott,
    Great question about costs.  What do you mean expensive though? Isn’t it actually more expensive to have your highest-paid sales reps spending 50-80% of their time banging phones?

    And for startups, the time to specialize is usually with your second sales hire.  Usually, assuming you don’t already have a big flow of inbound leads, you need to hire one person to close, and the second to prospect for your closer.

    Once you build more pipeline, then hire another closer…etc.

    Literally, the division of sales duties is the #1 thing that can completely transform your sales productivity (and reps’ enjoyment of their jobs).   

    Here’s another video about it, please watch it!


  • aaron ross

    Thanks Clint, as always 🙂 

    Hey – I’m hosting a CEO discussion in downtown SanFran tuesday morning (Jan 31, 2012) at 8am…email my asst Kristine if you want to come.


  • Aaron – I will review the link and need to spend a little time thinking about your and David’s comments – will reply hopefully in a few days!

  • Anonymous

    Aaron, David, thanks for the replies.

    I was thinking of using social media for outbound selling, i.e. instead of sending e-mails to 100 people, sending twitter messages or LinkedIn invites to 20 people. From my (limited) experience, Twitter, LinkedIn and blog comments convert better than e-mail, but it requires a little bit more work, and you cannot do it at the scale of e-mail (i.e. sending 100 Twitter messages is difficult).

    The reason I am asking is because I am working on a start-up that aims to use social media for outbound selling, and I’m curious if you find it viable.

  • I think I understand you more clearly now. I believe that Twitter and social media is not the right medium to use for this. Unless you explicitly get permission to send Twitter Direct Messages to people, I think you will really be committing a major mistake by using them for outbound campaigns. Where this might work would be if you took people that were following you, and entered into a one-to-one conversation with them to learn about their interests, then developed that into a trusted relationship by proving that you can add value in their lives by giving them value that has nothing to do with selling. That is a very different approach to using one-to-one social media messages as a replacement for bulk email campaigns.
    Another thing that might work would be to ask them for permission to send them DMs. Then use those instead of email to convey personalized information of value (again avoiding sales pitches). Unless these were truly personalized, people would likely perceive these DMs as odd, given that they are already following you, and will see your broadcast Tweets.
    I hope I understood your question correctly.
    Best, David

  • Great article. Another resource worth checking out is Brian Zimmerman’s blog

  • I love the Onion approach “Think of them as a squirrel. Your job is to lay out tempting morsels one
    after the other to get them to take another step forward.” Serve as a trusted adviser for your prospects and they will buy from you.

  • aaron ross

    Hey Mark,

    Then you might also like this video on squirrel feeding!


  • Aaron, guess I missed this comment.  Please email me next time as I would love to make your next CEO roundtable.


  • Kamil Rudnicki

    We have 10% commision for sales, where there is single person which is searching for leads and closing. The question is how to divide commision between qualifiers and closers?

  • There are no hard and fast rules there that I am aware of. I think you have to use your judgment for how hard each job is relative to the other.

  •  Aaron,

    I did finally get around to watching the videos, I can’t believe I let so much time go by!  I still have to think about your idea some more – depending on what you are selling, the sales cycle, the difficulty of the sale, etc – these will all have a part in how you structure your sales team.  I can see how your process worked very effectively at salesforce, given their sales model.  But I’m not convinced an enterprise software company would be equally successful with this model, and certainly a product with a low ASP can’t afford expensive outside sales guys, and in that case their inside folks need to sell as well.  So, the business model will dictate the make-up of the sales team too.

  • Bud Boughton

    This is an excellent post.  Great ideas for marketing people and for sales managers alike.   

  • Igottechsolution

    This is an excellent post.  Great ideas for marketing people and for sales managers alike.  predictable revenue

  • Harrybolton Businessideas

    hey thanks for sharing this post its relay help … good luck for your next post


    Web  :
    Blog  : http://Businessprofitideas,com

  • Terrific post and right on the money. Comes as I am rebuilding me grand SOAR scheme.

  • We’re in the process of building our ideal customer profile right now for an outbound sales rep and this post has proved to be quite timely. I’ll also be picking up the predictable revenue book for more insights.

  • George Bullock

    Assessing how much each job contributes to the closing of a sale is probably a better way to approach this question than looking at the difficulty of performing each function.

  • lockce

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  • Ben Abbott

    I agree, do you hire a salesperson or trust that you can do it yourself?

  • I absolutely agree with you – and companies have to understand that you need to assign responsibilities based on what your employees excel at doing. You can not turn most “farmers” (your name for those who are good at maintaining relationships) into prospectors or closers.

    Technical people are lousy at selling. Marketers are rarely good at closing. While some can learn new skills, you will get far better results by letting people do what they’re good at and not trying to turn them into something they inherently dislike. IBM did that when I worked there and it was NOT pretty.

    Don’t be like many big corporations who are guilty of The Peter Principle (promote people until they are in a position they aren’t good at and leave them there) or The Dilbert Principle (promote the least competent into Management where you hope they can do less harm).

    This same issue applies to anyone who makes a living DOING anything. When they are doing they aren’t selling so they end up with no work in the pipeline once their current project is completed – and when they are busy selling they can’t be doing.

    We need to create collaborative systems that allow the very best to fill their pipelines and keep them full for micro-businesses that do not have the resources to hire people for each of the specialties you have laid out in this post. Any suggestions?

  • Guk

    Aaron, I bought you book and read it twice to better understand everything. However, your strategy seems to work very well to sell to enterprises. Do you have any tips on how this would work when selling to SMBs such as restaurants?

    At the moment we have field sales people and they go door-to-door to approach owners and then eventually setup an appointment. Typically they visit the place 2-3 times before coming to a close.

    Is there a good method (SMBs typically do not use emails in our case nor phones) to create leads for our sales people? We were thinking of sending out some young people, but what could they do to make the lives of our sales people easier?


  • AnniesCube

    Great article, thanks Aaron! For the prospecting representatives (SDR) what is a standard B2B conversion to sold? Our conversion is 7% and its hard to know if that’s within a normal range or if we need some serious improvement.


  • Sarah Khogyani

    If the call isn’t warm, don’t call at all.

  • Nuno

    they will buy if they really need it, just be professional and don´t let them get along with tricks…the worst is not paying. Rules are good to control, classify and decide the level of risk and costs a prospect can turn your business. Be aware of lawyers in particular.

  • Mark

    We have a large customer base that I want to cross sell new products into. Is this the role for “Outbound” Prospecting/Cold Calling 2.0″ person?

  • No, that name refers to people that call on prospects, not existing customers. For your purposes, companies usually use an account management type of sales person. In many cases a key part of their role is to make sure the customer is happy with what they have bought already, as that is usually a prerequisite for a cross-sell.
    The question to ask yourself is whether the type of work needed to get a cross sell is different to that done to close a new customer. Usually the answer is yes. It is typically harder to sell a new customer than it is to get a cross sell. Also if the Account Manager has to work to make the customer happy with what they have purchased, they may need business consulting and product skills. In this situation, I recommend specializing the sales teams to get the best productivity from them.

  • William

    “Scoping calls completed”? What does it means?

  • Hi Annie (?)…conversion of what to what? Are you talking about when a lead is qualified, how many of those close?

  • hi mark,
    david is correct here in his comments.

    sometimes you have one division of a big company as a customer, and to go to other divisions you basically need to prospect as if they’re totally new customers, because they have separate management teams.

    in those cases, you would use an outbound/cold calling 2.0 approach to “land and expand”.

  • “scoping calls” are another name for calls that an Account Executive holds with a prospect. everyone uses different labels…

    often times they are also demos, discovery calls, or one client even calls them “Stakeholder 60 Calls”, because they get multiple stakeholders on board for 60 minutes to go through discovery + demo.

    and for “completed”…we don’t care so much about scheduled calls, we care about completed ones!

  • Annie

    Yes- I’m curious if there is an industry standard around conversions of sold deals.

  • Scott

    Hi there, great article! Just a question, isn’t the technique he did to start up (Cold Calling 2.0) spamming?

    He said he mas mailed 2 lists of executives that were cold leads and didn’t personalize the emails. Is that not illegal to do? Is that not spam 101?

    Thanks in advance for your answer


  • Aaron Ross

    Hi Scott –
    No, you are allowed to send unsolicited commerical email, whether singly or mass.

    But – your email(s) have to conform to certain rules: you have to include your physical address, a way to opt-out, not be misleading, etc.

    More details:


  • Dom

    I’m from Italy and I just set up a SaaS company a year ago. I want to ask you a question about our organization chart. We have five different departments as Software Development, Partner Success Team, Sales, Operation and Product Development. These all five connected the one director and organization chart is horizontal. Do you have any suggestions to improve this chart? How can I change it to make effective?

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