When you’re prospecting, having just a little bit of information can be the key to getting your foot in the door and growing your pipeline. Timing your call or email just right or having the perfect conversation starter can make all the difference when it comes to making a sale. If you know that the company you’re looking at has just launched a new project that can benefit from the products you sell or is getting ready to evaluate solutions for the type of service you’re selling, you’re better able to strike while the iron is hot.
Today’s guest is Alex Greer, the founder and CEO of Signal HQ. Signal is a type of technology that you can use to help you get the kind of information that you need to make your sales pitch more effective and help you strategize more easily. Listen the episode to hear Alex explain what Signal HQ does and how it can help with sales.
- What Alex did before becoming the founder and CEO of Signal HQ
- What Signal HQ does
- Why Alex started Signal HQ
- Which types of signals Alex’s company focuses on, and which types of signals might also get focus as time goes on
- How Signal HQ can help prospectors prioritize and make the most effective decisions about how to use their time
- Why sales teams are slower than other departments to pick up on some newer technologies that can help them sell more effectively
- How the data provided by Signal HQ can help sales people start conversations with prospects
Marylou: Hi everybody. It’s Marylou Tyler. This week’s guest is Alex Greer. He’s the founder and CEO of the company called Signal HQ. When I first heard that term, I immediately thought artificial intelligence. But I’m here to tell you that Alex’s work is just far beyond that piece of the puzzle. I’ve asked him to come on the show today to talk to us about what he’s been working on, where he’s come from in order to be able to present this great solution set that he’s coming up with, and also to set some of the misconceptions about what’s happening in the future for us in sales as it relates to these new technologies. Welcome, Alex, to the podcast.
Alex: Thank you, Marylou. I’m so excited to be on your podcast. Thanks for having me.
Marylou: You obviously are the founder and CEO of Signal HQ, but you’ve had some sort of path to get to this point. Tell us a little bit about your background, what got you so passionate about this topic, and the work that you’ve done prior to starting your company?
Alex: Sure. About 10 years ago, I graduated from UPENN with the degree in Mechanical Engineering and as most engineering undergraduates go, I haven’t practiced engineering since. I have been in sales my whole career.
It’s only recently with starting up Signal HQ that I’ve really put those engineering skills fully back into practice. But that engineering and kind of the mathematical problem solving mindset has landed itself well to my sales career and the way I view the world.
I spent six years selling architectural lighting. My parents are both architects and I found my way into the lighting business before deciding to switch into the tech industry. I got my big break in tech working at Cloudera in 2015. That was two years before we went IPO. I was there through the IPO which was a very exciting time.
I joined the team right when we were starting our inside sales team in Austin. I went from being an outside sales rep to just getting my foot on the door as an SDR, a sales development rep, setting meetings for the closing reps at Cloudera and was responsible for booking meetings at the $5 billion and up commercial accounts in north central regions like Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and places like that, Detroit. I got some really great exposure to some great AEs and lots of great mentorship internally within the company.
An opportunity opened up to join our growing enablement team because we were really expanding our sales team worldwide at the time in early 2016. I’ve been developing quite a few techniques to help our team be a lot more efficient with our prospecting techniques, so that we could generate pipeline more quickly and more effectively.
They wanted me to teach everybody––all of the new hires we were bringing onboard, as well as the team abroad internationally. Over time, my skills grew and was promoted several times within Cloudera to senior manager of inside sales enablement.
In 2017, I joined Medallia as a Director of Inside Sales Strategy and Enablement to help them get started with the new Austin, Texas based inside sales team before deciding to venture out on my own and start Signal HQ.
Marylou: You’ve definitely earned your stripes. It sounds like, especially, the feet to the fire in build mode and learning new things. Tell us what led you to this path now with Signal HQ. Tell us about what Signal HQ does.
Alex: Signal HQ is really a manifestation of two really big things. One is my kind of engineering brain’s desire for maximum efficiency and the other part is born out of a frustration with the inability to—I don’t know if inability is the right word—but our teams, at the last couple of companies that I worked at, we invested, as many companies do, in a variety of different sales acceleration and sales intelligence technologies, and being a practitioner and diving into these pieces of software, I knew how to use them inside and I knew the value that they brought and would teach it to everybody else. But when I looked at the user statistics, I saw that only a very small percent were really actively using these technologies on a regular basis.
Most of the team would use it maybe once or twice a month. Then there would be another 10% that never logged in at all. There was a lot of money that was not really being utilized even though we have this valuable information.
I felt like there was an opportunity in the market to really capitalize on the variety of different, what I’ll call “buying signals,” that ordinarily you’d have to set up across a number of different systems––four, five, six different websites and pieces of software and cobble together the insights in your mind and figure out which ones to prioritize.
I felt like there’s a way to pull all of those together in one place and also to more proactively deliver this information in the hands of each individual contributor and build it in a way that’s part of their workflow as opposed to requiring them to log in to a more static database and pull that information out.
That’s at a very high level of what Signal HQ is about, it is capitalizing on all of the buying signal so you can, I like to say, prospect smarter and not harder.
Marylou: I know for me, personally, when I have a number of different channels and people talk about me and I see all of these, what I call, signals pop up, there are so many of them. It’s like the email engine. I get so many emails per day, I can’t really weed through them all. The same things happening in a lot of respect with these signals and I don’t even know how to prioritize them, where to begin with that? How that works? What I should be doing? Can you explain the intent of a system like this? Is it that you fitted your topic counts, for example, is that one way to use it so that anytime, anything of value, however that’s defined, becomes newsworthy that you’ll get that notification or somehow it tells you that this has happened, so you can act on it quickly as opposed to weeding through 150 tweets and trying to pull the ones that you think might be relevant?
Alex: A point of clarification and I’ll expand on the question about accounts is Signal HQ, as of today, is really focusing on intense data which is data about if people at a company are actively researching solutions across third party sites or even on peer review sites, it’s a really, really exciting new piece of data that hasn’t been operationalized very effectively in the sales landscape, that’s where we’re starting.
The intent over time is to pull other types of signals such as major project initiatives, financial events, job alerts and promotions and that sort of thing, so that we can fulfill that vision of having that centralized signal system.
Now, when it comes to how exactly you start getting the information about your accounts, one of the really big drawbacks of a lot of the systems out there is this notion of having to feed at existing accounts in your CRM and then getting results back against only those accounts.
Alex: The problem with that is when you’re working with a company’s internal CRM, everyone’s CRM is not perfect. There is various levels of really good, good, bad, or total disaster. Depending on what seat you sit in and how realistic or cynical you are, one of those words will resonate with how you feel about your team’s CRM.
But the fact of the matter is, it’s really tough to have every single company that fits within your ideal customer profile, or I know you like to call it ideal target profile, have it already all filled out in your CRM, perfectly organized by location, and then allocated perfectly across every single rep.
Signal HQ is designed to really be a very dynamic tool as opposed to a static tool in that you can set a couple of different parameters, you could say, “Okay, give me information on only accounts owned by Marylou,” or we can also set a criteria based on some thermographic settings, we could say, “Okay, Marylou is responsible for midwest states with annual revenue above $1 billion,” and you’ll be able to see results come back that are across all companies, whether they’re in your CRM or not.
This is so important because you’ll be able to say, “Okay, this signal is coming from an account that’s already a customer system, great, here’s a couple from some prospects, but wow, this company is doing something really interesting and it’s not even in our CRM at all.” I really want to make sure that our customers are gathering information on companies and their market regardless if this exists in their CRM or not, so that they can make the most use out of their time and capitalize accordingly.
Marylou: I love that. I love that because one of the exercises I do with clients is to determine the segments, tiers of accounts because we have some clients with have lots of accounts, some not so many, but we are able to take the sweet spot accounts, put them in the bull’s eye, the next layer out would be nice to have account, but we’re not going to spend a lot of time on them and then there’s this everybody else category.
It’s great for that if you’ve categorized, you can also see what you think if you have those accounts. But like you said, a lot of times, when we start working on the list, one example is my co-author Jeremy, we did a profile on the ideal buyer for his product and we came out with Betty was the name.
Betty, we’d looked in their database, they were 500 Betty’s that they could sell to. But then when we went to LinkedIn and just did a very—and you’ll teach us more about this—but a very simple search on the role of Betty, there were 50,000 potential Betty’s that we could go after, but our database, our house list only have 500. It’s like, “Oh, we’re in trouble here,” but you’re saying not to worry about that because you’re looking at in aggregate, holistically, the parameters that fit that criteria regardless where they reside, whether it’s in your in house list or they’re out there in the world, if you need to go after within your defined parameters. Love that.
Alex: Exactly. This problem becomes especially acute for companies out there that are selling to smaller businesses or startups. The thermographic lists that are out there are mainly tailored for capturing the largest companies in the world. That’s where the most abundant information exists.
But even the little teeny tiny companies are posting jobs or making announcements that are relevant to you and your solution. If you haven’t set up the system to tune in, so to speak, to those signals, then you’ll completely miss them if you’re just relying on a kind of set account list that you pulled into your CRMs, so really, really important.
Marylou: Definitely. We were talking offline about marketing and how some of these advanced methods and systems technologies are being adopted or at least looked at by marketing and we were talking about the disconnect with sales, why do you think sales is a little bit slower on the uptick to start using some of these technology or getting an understanding of how this can benefit them in maximizing efficiency or like I like to say, return on effort, what do you think is the disconnect there or the alignment issue there?
Alex: A great sales mentor of mine early in my career had a really great word that he used whenever there was a problem or a disconnect, he called it an opportunity. He’d say, “That’s an opportunity right there,” so I’m going to use that word because it’s spins it into a positive way. There’s an opportunity to help with this alignment and again, equip sales people with information that aligns better with their workflow and kind of meets them where they are.
I’d say the marketing organization, especially in demand gen has become very technologically savvy, understands the importance of a conversion funnel and maximizing every step along the way of a potential buyer’s journey when they’re exposed to your marketing materials so that you gather up the most qualified leads.
Alex: There’s a lot of technology that goes into that. As a result, they’ve become very technologically astute. Sales people, on the other hand, their focus has been more primarily on the written and verbal element of sales and focusing on maximizing those conversations. That’s not a bad thing, that still needs to occur.
But what is happening, especially here in 2018 more than ever, is we’ve tried a lot of venture backed companies where the pressure for growth and pipeline acceleration is more important than ever and the sales team really can’t just sit on their laurels and wait for marketing to deliver these precious good leads. Even then, not all of the leads are necessarily that great.
It really becomes an incumbent on the sales person if they’re going to hit their number whether it’s the number of meetings, new opportunities or closed business, if they want to meet or exceed their quota, they’ve got to hunt for new business themselves, they can’t just wait for marketing.
That’s where the opportunity lies to really equip sales people with informational way that makes sense to them, it’s easy to interpret, it’s part of their workflow. Frankly, above and beyond that, you could create a feedback loop back to marketing and have a dialogue where the sales team shares what they’ve been finding successful with their prospecting techniques, marketing shares, their insights, and then you have this wheel of innovation happening internally within the company.
Marylou: Yeah, that would be great. I think a lot of times too, there is this notion that they’re talking to the masses so the masses gives you a bigger data set and statistically more relevant results or information so that you can proceed or since we’re not as large of a data set for us, you’re not sure if you’re really going down the right path by the results you get back.
I think that’s another thing that sort of keeps us from like, 30 records versus 30,000, I think that that has a lot to do with adoption and that we have a limited number of accounts to work with usually.
Alex: Exactly right. For the sales listeners on this podcast, put yourself in marketing shoes for a minute. You may want to have a conversation with your marketing team and learn what tools they have at their disposal because I think you’ll find it shocking, the amount of information they have on an account level basis that you have no idea existed.
Speaking of these large numbers, from a marketing team’s perspective, a lot of them, whether they’re comped on it or not, they look at the number of leads they’re ultimately producing. The tools they have at their disposal now include things like they have visibility into the number of emails that are opened versus how many are delivered, that’s their open percent, that’s a conversion metric they track, also the number of clicks on links within those emails, that’s called a click-through rate or CTR, that’s true with the emails, that’s true with advertising.
They’ll look at the amount of traffic to the website and the tools that they have at their disposal now often are broken out by company. There’s technology that’s able to tell, “Okay, this traffic is coming from a computer that’s associated with this particular company, so we’ll chalk up that statistic to Acme corporation.”
Another thing that marketing teams are increasingly investing in is intent data. I mentioned this earlier. There’s data that’s now being packaged up and being made available to marketing organizations that says, “Hey, people from this company have shown a recent spike in activity researching solutions in your space.” What the marketing team does is they say, “Okay, let’s take this big huge data set that tells us the amount of interest on a company by a company basis on these solutions and let’s spend our marketing dollars on the companies that are showing recent interest.”
They’re not really looking at the account by account basis of this interest, they just say, “Okay, here is a big data set that says all these companies are interested. We’re going to spend out marketing dollars on these companies.”
Meanwhile, sales is none the wiser that the named accounts and accounts in the territory that they’re responsible for, there is all of this information that’s living in the marketing team’s house that has very rich data on their specific accounts. That is the really exciting opportunity that I’m excited to tap into and really make easy to put in a sales person’s hands for their set of accounts that they’re responsible for, so they can make better prospecting decisions.
Marylou: Yeah. That’s great. Love that. I think what’s really cool about that, too, I’m working on a speech right now for a follow up and a lot of the push back I get from sales reps as to why they don’t follow up is that, “I have nothing of value to say. I feel like I’m bugging them.” With this type of data, they’re conversation starters. For whatever you’re seeing there, they are a reason why––I call it “reason why conversation,” that’s coming through that allow you to pick up the phone if you’re a phone person, or send an email, or do a direct mail, whatever it is, whatever method you’re going to be using. I would mix and match to those methods. But this gives you that conversation opener that you’ve all been wanting.
Alex: Yes, yes. I get this question a lot from customers of, “Okay, I have this intent data.” Let’s say I’m selling data science solutions and a company is showing strong signals around big data machine learning and IoT, internet of things, connected devices. They say, “I’ve got this information like what do I say to the person,” and it can be a very innocent statement, you just say to the person, “Hi, Marylou. I’ve been doing my homework and I understand that there has been interest from your company in solutions around data science, machine learning, and IoT. We offer solutions that cater specifically to that. I believe we’d really be able to offer a great solution and value for that. Would you be open to having a conversation?”
Something along those lines, I’m sure there’s better way to phrase it. But you don’t have to pretend or hide the fact that you know this and you also don’t have to outright say, “I have access to a tool that gives me all of this information on the cookies that track you across all these websites,” you don’t have to get into that. But if you just say, “Hey, I’ve been doing my homework and I understand you might be interested,” that’s usually what’s needed and people understand.
Marylou: The other thing is, we are masters of the conversation. Once we’re given a little piece of information, we run with it. We’re not fearful of starting conversations with people we don’t know. We’re open minded to getting whatever little crack we get of information, just a little tiny bit that we can formulate into an opener, so I don’t buy that we can’t do it, I just think we’re stymied by the fact that we receive this information, no different than if you are in a golf course, if you’re in a bar talking to colleague or whatever and they gave you some insights into an account. You’re going to use that information to further your plans, it’s no different than that.
Alex: Here’s the really key distinction though which is again what I’m so excited about offering this with Signal HQ is most organizations out there, when a salesperson is reaching out, they’ll look at a couple of things. They’ll make a decision to reach out to a company based on some type of thermographic fit which usually includes an industry and/or a company size.
If your company has had success selling to financial services firms, you might start selling to other financial services firms. If you have a lot of success appealing to the VP of Marketing or the CMO, then you’ll try to reach out to other people that fit that. But there’s not much more that goes into that other than they happen to be a good fit from that standpoint. But you have no idea whether there’s any type of compelling event happening within that company that makes your solution timely; whether they have announced the project, or a new initiative, or currently evaluating solutions, you really have––given the current paradigm of the way people work, they really have no clue.
Maybe one step beyond that, you might go to what’s called technographic fit. If you’re selling a solution or a technology, you might check and see, do they have some type of legacy technology that yours is better at solving, replacing, or a competing technology?
But again, if that’s all you’re relying on is that thermographic or a technographic fit, then you’re still kind of shooting in the dark, hoping that you maybe caught somebody at the right. Whereas it’s really exciting to be able to have a very solid idea that there’s some type of compelling event, a new project, a new job post, a new spike in research intensity that will inform your decision and to make sure that that precious amount of time that you’re spending selling to folks, you’re reaching out to people that are actively looking for a solution.
Marylou: Yeah. Definitely. Wonderful. We’re getting to the top of the hour here and I want to make sure people know how they get a hold of you. We talked a little bit about a potential place they can go and get a checklist of things to get started, why don’t you take it away and let us know how to reach you and what’s on the horizon? What do you plan to do for our audience in order to get them started along this path of figuring out whether this is a good solution for them?
Alex: Yes. I’d say first and foremost, I’d love any of you to reach out to me directly, LinkedIn is a really good place, linkedin.com/in/alexanderpgreer. I’ll also create a landing page TBD on what the link name will be, but I think it will probably be signal-hq.com/marylou, but we’ll include that in the show notes, too and that will include some content in there for you that you can use to assess your readiness for this type of solution internally or just some techniques you can adopt right away.
Those I’d say are the two best things and of course, we have a contact us form on our website if you’d like to learn about our solution in particular, just go to signal-hq.com and you’ll find a really nice, shiny obvious button for you to contact us.
Marylou: Okay. We’ve mentioned the checklist, there’s one to three things that you can get started right away and start seeing immediate results, probably more so than you ever thought, just simple things that Alex put together for you. Then there’s some near and long term options for you as well.
It’s always good to have a conversation if you’re getting serious about this concept of maximizing the return on effort, getting a high level of impact with least amount of steps, then this is really the type of process that you’re going to want to review and perhaps deploy in your organization.
Alex, thank you so much for your time. I very much appreciate you coming on the podcast today.
Alex: Marylou, I had a blast. Thank you so much.