How do you set up a pipeline that leverages all types of channels and technology, but also keeps that human spirit alive? Today’s guest will help answer that question and others.
Joining the podcast today is Jonathan Soares. Jonathan is the founder and CEO of Agency Labs and has a background in both technology and consumer sales. He’s been at this for 15 years and he covers the entire pipeline. Listen in to hear.
- Jonathan’s background and how he got to his current position
- How to leverage cold calling with newer technology and how that can advance prospects through the pipeline
- What a typical warm introduction looks like and what technologies to use
- How many opportunities can be generated from Jonathan’s process
- Different roles within the funnel
- Influencer mapping
- How the GDPR affects Jonathan’s work
- How to get started leveraging LinkedIn
Marylou: Hey, everybody. It’s Marylou Tyler. This week’s guest is Jonathan Soares. I asked him to come on to the show because he has a lot of background in both technology and consumer sales. He’s been at this for 15 years and he covers the entire pipeline. Our conversation is going to ebb and flow through the entire pipeline, but he really has a great background in the prospecting side of things and also how to leverage technology with social selling.
As you all know, I’m a process person, but there are points in the process where it amplifies, accentuates, points out, whatever you want to call it, skills and also mindset. Jonathan is going to help us navigate how to set-up a pipeline that’s going to allow us to leverage all types of channels, including social, and then take those prospects, leverage technology where we can, but also keep that human spirit alive so that we don’t have what we used to call cold calling. We’re trying to eliminate that in all facets of our selling and leveraging technology to do that.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce Jonathan to the podcast. Welcome, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Marylou, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be on your podcast and I look forward to our conversation.
Marylou: Tell the folks where you’ve been over the last 15 years and what got you to where you are today in your company, the founder and CEO of Agency Labs. What caused you to get to where you are now and work in this process with your company?
Jonathan: I started my entrepreneurial career in the consumer products world. I had an idea 10+ years ago that natural and specialty foods would eventually become mainstream national brands, and decided to take our family barbecue sauce recipe and prove out that concept. Within three years, my products were featured in over 15,000 stores nationally, and I spent the earlier part of my 20s doing headquarter calls and working with national category buyers, distributors, retailers across major supermarkets, club stores, mass merchandisers.
That really gave me a very unique perspective into the client relationship management experience, the prospecting experience, how to go against the grain when an industry has been doing things a certain way for years upon years, and how thinking outside the box and being a bit more creative can enhance prospecting. I took all those experiences and I said, “All right. Once I transition to that business in 2010, I decided to get into the technology word.”
People always asked me, “How did you get from sauce to software?” With any entrepreneur, it’s all about solving a problem or fixing a pain point. In technology, I saw a huge pain point in the agency world, where agencies were all competing against this $80 billion digital ecosystem. There are 30,000+ agencies in the country. Instead of me being another agency, I said, “Well, instead of competing with everyone, why don’t I collaborate?”
I created this infrastructure, a technology house of sorts, where we help agencies on a project-basis, very senior US-based team, and we empower our agency partners to succeed in the digital world because the more we empower them to deliver amazing results to their clients, the more work we get. Our clients end up being our biggest business development vehicle, based on the success we had with them with our projects.
It’s all come full circle and I’m looking forward to taking a deep dive and discussing that in a bit more detail.
Marylou: That’s great. For those listening, an agency is going to be similar in scope in what you guys do on a solo level. What I want you to think about as you’re listening to Jonathan talk today is how you can apply this to your daily workflow. A lot of what agencies do is a repeatable task that they set up for their clients, that’s consistent, that if their clients want to, they can scale. That’s what we’re trying to do on a solo level, but also if we were in teams, trying to get our team to do the same thing. So, it fits really nicely.
Let’s talk about the idea of cold calling. As we all know, there are three channels we could focus on for business development. There’s an inbound or attraction channel. There’s this outreach channel where we’re targeting accounts that we want to go after, we haven’t necessarily started conversations with them yet, we’re trying to start the conversation, or we’re trying to extend a previous conversation that may have gone dormant. And then the third lever that we can pull is referral networks where we’re taking our clients, our partners, and working with them to get more business opportunities in our fold.
Jonathan, taking that into consideration, tell us what your concept is of cold calling and how we can leverage that with these newer technologies to advance prospects through the pipeline.
Jonathan: Cold calling is one of the most highly debated topics in the […] sales outreach process. I like to take the ‘best of both worlds’ approach where cold calling can work if it’s part of your overall funnel. I don’t believe that it should start with cold calling, but I think that after you had a sequence or a targeted set of outreaches, cold calling can be highly effective. It also really depends on the industry.
When I was in the consumer products space, I cold call all the time. Before that when I was in college, I was a loan officer and that’s what really got me moving on cold calling because I was there literally with my prospecting list calling hundreds of people on a daily basis. When I decided after college to start this consumer products business, it was already ingrained in my head. I was fearless, I can deal with rejection, and most of the category buyers, grocery, CEOs out there, weren’t really exposed to the digital world because we’re going back over 10 years ago. Cold calling was a necessity to really break down certain barriers and get in front of folks.
Before I started with cold calling, I always started with a personal letter. I would create my prospecting list, at that time 50 or 100 grocery prospects, and I would send each of them a letter introducing myself and my products. I played on the young entrepreneur angle. I was 20–21 at that time starting that business and most of the individuals that were in that industry at the time were probably 20–30 years my senior. I knew that angle was going to work really well for me.
I sold them on my vision and philosophy for where the industry was going. After that, I would follow-up probably two weeks thereafter with a cold call. Two weeks after that, I would follow-up with sending some product samples, and then from there I would start sending them an email which I had pulled here online or through other industry relationships.
It’s like a 3–4 sequence outreach process that I would do. Eventually, we get to the point where it was a warm-enough lead that I will feel comfortable having someone in my network potentially expedite introduction if I had no ability to do so. In that situation, even in the early days, cold calling for me was always something that’s part of the process.
Now, in the digital world, working with agencies—by agencies I mean advertising digital creative agencies—everything is so digitally enabled and everyone’s time is so valuable. Not to say other industries their time is invaluable, but in the agency world, it’s very production-driven. As a production, project managers, producers, developers, designers are constantly in campaign mode either designing or developing a website, an app, you name it. So, when a random cold call comes through, it really throws that person to a tizzy.
Oftentimes, from my experience in the early days of the business, the rejection was detrimental to my outreach. After a few of those, I really realized that there has to be a different way. That’s when I started leveraging social media because that demographic was actively tweeting, they were actively posting photos on Instagram, they were engaging on LinkedIn. I thought to myself if I can create a warm introduction by engaging with their content or sharing content and developing my own personality, it would allow me to further enhance my outreach. Then, once I felt I had established a warm relationship, I would incorporate cold calling into that mix as part of my overall strategy. But I had to turn the monologue’s head a bit so that I could target people there more effectively.
Marylou: Give us a recipe for what you consider to be a warm relationship. There’s a lot of context around that particular topic and in the past, we’ve had scoring system that score engagement. If I downloaded the white paper or if I clicked on a link that you suggested or if I viewed a page on a website, those all count towards engagements. Help us understand the recipe that you use on average.
Again, the caveat here for everybody listening is it depends on the vertical. It depends on the persona, the person that you’re trying to get belly-to-belly with, but overall, there maybe a rhythm here I want you guys to come away with from this conversation with Jonathan because he is my kind of guy. He is the test-test-test scenario. Put your ego in your pocket, not worry about rejection, and let the data help you decide—what’s statistically relevant data, that is—which way you need to go. So, give us an understanding of a typical, warm introduction. What that looks like.
Jonathan: Typically, I’ll start with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is amazing for B2B sales and there’s two primary tools that I will use. The first is eLink Pro. Basically, what eLink Pro is, it’s a Chrome extension. Once you have LinkedIn account open, you’ll download eLink and you can go through LinkedIn and do a targeted search.
Let’s say I want to target agency owners, for example, in the greater inner city area that have 50–200 or whatever the metric is, company size that are in the marketing and advertising industry, they’ve been in their role for X amount of years, and I’ll get a very granulated targeted search. From there, I will engage eLink, enable auto view their profiles. I get what I thinking like, “What’s the relevant CO or the importance of viewing a profile?” Unlike any of the social networks, LinkedIn tells you who’s looking at your profile. I’ll get a notification when someone looks at my profile. There’s a good probability that if I think it’s an intriguing individual, I’ll probably look at their profile back.
Increasing your profile visibility is an effective approach to really building up that warm lead. I’ll probably send data anywhere from 200–300 profile views on a daily basis and usually, I’m getting probably 10%, 15%, 20% of that of people that are actually engaging back and looking at my profile. Sometimes, they’ll send me a connection request. Other times, I might say, “You know what? I want to add them because we’re looking at each other’s profiles.” That’s the first step.
From there, I’ll use a tool called LeadIQ, and what LeadIQ does is it’s the same kind of a Chrome plugin, but it will actually scrape that search query in LinkedIn into a prospecting list. There might be 500 or 1000 individuals on there I’ll go through and I’ll pull their data, first name, last name, title, email address, phone number, industry, company, it pulls everything for you, and it cross-references it against a global database that they license out to some data provider. It provides a very robust prospecting list.
I’ll take that prospecting list and then I’ll queue it up into a Drip campaign. Typically, our outreach is anywhere from every 4–6 weeks. It’s highly targeted outreach, but it’s also at scale. It’s not spamming to the point where we just randomly emailing whoever their brother, but it’s an approach that allows us to efficiently target individuals at a very granular level. I use LinkedIn Sales Navigator in different types of search approaches to really get that list or point where we have prospects that I know that are going to yield a high conversion rate.
Once that’s done, I’ll take that prospecting list, I’ll run it through a verification tool called BriteVerify that will output all of the valid email addresses that are provided to me through the platform. If any email addresses is invalid, I have an email permutation application that my team built for me, that I will actually take those invalid emails, it will create 15 potential variations of that email, and then I’ll run it through the verification tool again to see if that will yield a valid email. There’s multiple steps in making sure that I cleanse the data that I’m using to outreach.
Once that happens, I’ll go through that list and then I’ll start looking for those prospects on social media. I’ll go to Twitter, Instagram, and I’ll either follow them on those accounts or engage specifically on their content. Typically, it’s sharing feedback, “Hey, I love that photo,” or if it’s a topic that they’re talking about engaging in that conversation.
So, there you go. It’s already a warm outreach if they’re responding back to you. From there, it’s a one-to-one email that’s hyper personalized, directly from me to that person. I’m not a fan of newsletters or blast/mass email marketing. I think it’s highly ineffective. […] what the data shown me, but I do believe in that targeted approach and that’s the workflow that I go through. Typically, the cold call is probably a step for or so in that process of email outreach in Drip that have actually occurred prior to leaving either voice mail or talking directly to that individual.
Marylou: Let’s talk waterfall. You started giving me some numbers. I’m curious from the standpoint of this process starting with LinkedIn, the eLink Pro from the Chrome extension. About how many opportunities would an individual in your organization, using your process currently, generate per month? You don’t need to give me the exact amount.
For example, the Predictable Revenue waterfall that we work with and still work with, yields 8–10 qualified opportunities a month based on 1000 touches per month or some sort. It could be 1000 unique touches or it could be 1000 touches over the course of what we call a sequence which is multiple touches over the course of time.
Do you have goals like that? If so, going through this process, how much time is spent on prospecting, typically, and what’s the yield at the end from this funnel that you’ve created?
Jonathan: It’s a big question there. It’s timing-driven. Part of our process and relationship building, most of these agencies that we’re working with are getting inbound from a lot of offshore development firms. Hundreds of them email me on a weekly basis. Being able to stand out and be very genuine is very important.
The first step in our email process is relationship building. Going through capabilities, maybe 10% of the time there’s an active project that timing work in our favor and, “Hey, we got a project we want to talk to you about.” But realistically, we usually use anywhere from 2–3 months out from actually having a project that is to a design or that they’ve just closed.
Once we have that initial capabilities call, it’s important for us to check in every six weeks or so, just to check on the production schedule, how things are going, and what’s on the horizon. There’s a broader funnel that happens around there.
What typically happens for new account managers that come on board, is usually there’s a 4–5 month curve, whereas after you started the first wave of outreach, after 4–5 months, we start seeing the actual opportunity funnel filling out. Our goal at that point is about 10–15 opportunities on a monthly basis and typically, the close process is around 2–3 weeks. Oftentimes, there might be opportunities that an agency is actually working on being on, so it’s a longer process. That list ends up increasing over time and piggybacking on itself. Out of that 10–15 opportunities, it’s kind of skewed on our close rate.
Generally speaking, once we’ve established a relationship and we have our capability discussion, our close rate is very high, but we have to take into account internal capacity. If an agency all of a sudden has internal bandwidth that freeze up, it’s out of our control. If their client ends up with a different vendor through an RFP process, that’s out of our control. It’s most effective for us when there’s a signed, sealed, and delivered project, and we know that within 1–2 […] is actually going to be active opportunity. That’s something, too, that we have to take into account as we’re going through that overall sales […].
The frequency of outreach and the volume of outreach is really important, so that we can keep top of mind and build up those agency relationships on an ongoing basis. Ideally, out of the 10 or 15 opportunities on a monthly basis, where our goal is for anywhere from 50–60 touch points, which is generally an initial capabilities meeting or an email exchange of our portfolio, on average about 10–15 of those on a weekly basis, based on weekly campaigns that we’re sending out.
Marylou: This is great. Also enlighten us on the actual prospect team that you’re working with. Are there going to be multiple roles that are engaging with you or do you focus on a singular role and then work out from there?
For example, in the book Predictable Prospecting, in Chapter 3 we talk about this influence map and we want to be able to engage in conversation with a variety of people because we’re not always going to get to the decision maker day one. We look at direct and indirect influencers as well now.
With the agencies, are you typically talking to the principals of the agency? Or are there multiple roles that you set up with these funnels in order to engage via the LinkedIn process?
Jonathan: It’s interesting that you brought up the influencer map. We actually built out a software application for one of our clients that consults and advises multinational, global corporations, primarily the oil and gas industry. We created this influencer mapping software that allowed them to create a data visualization solution so that when these larger organizations want to go into Mexico, for example, they can see the President of Mexico and the broader web of the 30 or 40 influencers from his family to his colleagues and other people on his cabinet, and see what’s the best approach to getting into that political system.
Marylou: That’s awesome. Love that.
Jonathan: It was a very cool project. So, I’m with you on the mapping. I keep saying ‘it depends’ because with sales and in prospecting, there are so many variables, but it’s […]. Oftentimes, if I’m doing the outreach, we find much more success if I’m reaching out to the C-suite because it’s founder-to-founder, CEO-to-CEO, and they’re more likely to engage in that with my account manager. Typically, he’s reaching out to either head of production, a project manager, creative director.
There’s about five or seven profiles within an agency that are either decision makers or influence decision makers on the overall production schedule, and those are people that are in the day-to-day production function and typically are dealing with a lot of the BS and headaches of—in the agency world—the very inefficient model when it comes to technical production.
A lot of agencies try to do it and many of them have horror stories working with development firms. I can spend the whole show talking about all those issues that would go with that, but […] the role that have the biggest pain points and during our sales pitch, that pitch resonates with them the most, and from there it’s either passed around or we get to the point where we’re being engaged as a vendor or bidding on active projects.
Marylou: This process that you’ve developed is wonderful. It complements the work that I do in terms of having multiple decision makers or influencers, and then you’re hyper personalizing the conversation once you have technology help you warm up that chill campaign—that’s what we call it—and basically trying to get to the point where it makes sense to have that belly-to-belly conversation, virtually via phone or whatever medium works best for your prospect and have it on a hyper personalized level, meaning you’re personalizing the conversation, you’re not leveraging it through a mass media contact or the mass marketing net of old which has gone out of the scope now for most of us.
How are you handling with you European and non-US clients? This GDPR issue and the ability to leverage other channels besides email or opt-in versus non-opt-in. Have you come across that yet with agencies that you work with abroad?
Jonathan: All the agencies that we work with are US-based, mainly because of cost. Most of the European agencies, or South American, or Asian agencies are typically feeding into Eastern Europe, India, South America, for offshore and nearshore developers, and there’s just a huge cost disparity where we might be in the $150–$200 blended hourly rate. Those firms are generally in the $20–$60 an hour range, though. It’s been highly inefficient for us to even explore global agencies. So, for us it’s all US-based. Luckily, no GDPR issues.
Marylou: Not yet. It’s coming. LinkedIn we’ve seen a spike now in people who started to utilize LinkedIn, but unfortunately, they are using it in a mass way to get connections. They get the connection, then they just “vomit” all over you with what they’ve got, and give you no reason why you should consider. There is no relationship being established. It’s just taking the mass emailing of cold calling and plopping it into LinkedIn and thinking that’s going to work for them.
I love what you’re doing here, really working on the relationship and looking at the relationship and engagement of the prospect with your content assets and your messaging, and then and only then you take them to the level of the one-on-one type conversation with hyper personalized.
I want to be respectful of people’s time. We could talk all day because I really enjoyed where you’re going and what you’ve done, but if we were to wrap up this conversation, if I’m sitting here thinking, “You know? I really don’t know how to use LinkedIn or don’t use LinkedIn, my boss tells me to get a list and start calling,” how would you get people to that next step of success in starting to leverage LinkedIn or what you mentioned also other channels?
I’m so used to B2B. Maybe it’s not right. Maybe we should be using Twitter, but if I had to pick one for a B2B, I have a relationship sale, that it gets that 10–15 ops per month, where would I leverage LinkedIn and how should I go about doing that?
Jonathan: I would start with LinkedIn, without a doubt. Googling is the first way to start, going to YouTube and LinkedIn growth hacking videos. There’s such an abundance of information out there. All you really have to do is start digging a little bit and searching for that type of content.
From there, I think it should be maybe 10%–15% of your outreach to start and build up some metrics and data that you can present to your supervisor/manager and say, “Hey, look. This is the outreach I’ve been doing per your guidance. Here is the outreach I’ve been testing and here’s the data as a result,” and like you mentioned before, let the data speak for itself. I think if you’re thoughtful about how you’re leveraging some of these platforms in tracking them effectively, you’re going to see pretty unique results.
Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a really clean and polished-up profile. That’s your digital representation of who you are and what you do. So, going through and cleaning up your LinkedIn, again, there’s tutorials online that you can look at to how to have an effective LinkedIn profile.
Creating content is something that doesn’t have to be part of the funnel per se, but it’s part of your brand. Each sales professional should be building their own brand because people want to do business with people they can relate to or people that they trust. The best way to do that is to put yourself out there. That could be through video content, talking about topics, talking about your industry, talking about anything, but putting it out there in a way that is not intrusive and you’re being thoughtful. That will add a lot of value to the overall system.
Again, testing different things. I advise someone not to do targeted email. I think it’s the worst. What most of them don’t realize about LinkedIn is that it’s first and foremost a recruiting tool. […] people find jobs. Most of the time, people sign-up with LinkedIn with their personal email address. When you’re sending them a direct email, they’re actually getting notifications in their personal email folder, and 9 times out of 10, people don’t check that as frequently.
They also think that, that outreach is about their career, so prospecting in that way creates a very erratic workflow for people that I work in to reach out to folks. I think that’s one you need to be thoughtful of, but for the most part, it’s really just putting yourself out there, searching, testing new things, letting the data drive all of the future decisions that you’re going to make with the rest of your team.
Marylou: So, again to summarize here, 10%–15% of your time, folks, so if you’re doing your daily workflow. There’s a process that I like to use, Jonathan, called first in 10. It’s not nearly as beefy as what you’re doing, but it gives people the workflow habit of connecting through LinkedIn. First in 10 is very simple. First thing in the morning or first break you have, go ahead and try to reach out to 10 people. They can be new people, they could be people who are already in your network, with whom you want to continue or restart a conversation.
If you do this everyday, 10 per day, 22 business days a month, you’re now generating 220 more thoughtful conversations. This is not spamming people. This is thoughtful conversations that you’re doing every month and over time, you’ll have that statistically relevant data so that you can start seeing the value of this type of connection. It’s all about repetition and consistency. This is not something you do whilst you’re drinking your coffee every once in a while. This is an everyday thing to get you in that habit.
Jonathan, how can we reach out to you for further information or get to know what your company is doing with agencies? What’s the best way to get a hold of you?
Jonathan: Well, first thing, go to LinkedIn. That’s the first step in the whole process. I’m on there, add me, follow me, whatever you choose. Feel free to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me @agencylabs.com on most of the other social platforms, Twitter, Instagram. I’m pretty active and I always respond. Feel free to reach out. I love to add value to your community and beyond.
Marylou: Wonderful. Thank you so much and I’ll make sure everyone that I’ll work with Jonathan in getting some of these links, to these tools that whiz by while you were listening, that I think would be very helpful to get started. If you are committed to leveraging this potential channel for part of your prospecting rhythm, I think it’s a wise thing to use some of these tools because they’ll really help you catapult your prospecting skills to that next level. Jonathan, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it having you on the podcast.
Jonathan: Thank you. It’s such a pleasure.