Aaron Ross is the author of Predictable Revenue- one of the best books ever written on sales and Outbound Marketing.
In this book, he has described the framework that they created at Salesforce, which added another $100 million to its revenue. Here is the complete transcription of the interview I did with him.
Gerard: Welcome. Please keep sending emails with love. You have to share everything. I learn so much from you man and one of the things I learned from you is love. One thing that really changes my life that I learn from you is you share pictures of your family to your day to day and thank you for being in the show.
Aaron: That hat is hilarious!
Gerard: I will give one to you on Friday. Please tell me a little bit about you.
Aaron: I know you said everyone knows me but not everyone does know me. If you have heard of or read the book Predictable Revenue, that’s what I am most known for. That came out 5 or 6 years ago and I told the story of how I started a business and it failed. Went to Salesforce to learn sales and created a whole outbound prospecting system and I was very successful there for Salesforce. Then a couple of years ago I wrote a book with Jason Lenton of Sangster, this book is called, From Impossible to Inevitable. Neither book is in Spanish or Spain yet but we are going to change that soon.
Another interesting fact, I have a large family.
I actually have 9 children. Four are adopted. 9 kinds, 8 of which are in the house from ages 1-19. The older is 20 this year. It’s just fun sharing. I will do maybe a picture in our business newsletter and actually in emails and keynote talks. Depending on my energy level I try to include pictures of the family to help tell the business stories. There is a Sangster conference in Paris on Friday and I have included 6-10 family pictures. I think it’s more personal than stock pictures and I think it helps people to know me better. Plus as my wife says you just want to put that cute picture in there.
Gerard: It’s like you said before, it’s building that rapport, making that impact. You also have a family who can be amazing. You can be an amazing salesperson and have an amazing family as well.
Aaron: People buy from other people. Everyone gets busier and there are more apps and more messages. One thing that helps cuts through the noise is that human connection, including putting a heart hat over your head.
Gerard: One thing -I heard you are fond of guns. Tell us a little about it
Aaron: In the United States they are some gun freaks. I love guns but that is a little strange. my wife gave me the rifle. I only get to shoot it every 2 years because with the family it is so busy.
Gerard: who is the world’s best shooter?
Aaron: Terrin Butler who is a world class shooter. In Los Angeles, we have all kinds of interesting people. We’ve got to shoot guns with this guy Terri Butler. He has won all kinds of championships. He is crazy good. Here is a picture of our family car. We have a sprinter. I have 9 kids, 3 dogs. I don’t do much, you are referring to a little video I did, a snapshot or Instagram story of my day. I didn’t include many pictures of my world. Sitting in front of a computer and a phone isn’t that interesting but I really do blend. I juggle work with family time. I work at home most of the time. Between the driving, school and the babies, I wouldn’t be able to go to the office.
Gerard: Do you miss those times when you had to go to the office?
Aaron: Yes. we have a headquarters. we have an office, it’s just not near me because I am in Los Angeles and there are definitely times I would like to go in and see my team in person and it’s not practical.
Gerard: I am curious about that. Not just on the business field but sometimes when I think of apartments I think yes but if I want to grow… I think once you have that problem solved then you can do kids. It’s very inspirational.
Aaron: People want to make money first and then have kids. We did a little of the reversal. We had kids and then made money.
Gerard: I know your beginnings were very tough also before you went to Salesforce and I think it is a good inspiration for everyone. If you can share it with the team, how was that process?
Aaron: Salesforce, I think that’s why Gerard chose me, I know a lot about outbound prospecting in building teams but I never expected to be in sales, I didn’t expect to write the best selling sales book. I didn’t really appreciate sales until I started a business before I went to Salesforce.
This was in 1999. I had gotten into Stanford business school. It was an internet business start-up company and that business failed. One of the reason was that I was the CEO and didn’t know professional sales.
It wasn’t the only reason but it was one of them. One of those lessons was if I am going to start a company I need to know how to sell and build a sales team. Sales is a life skill for anybody. No matter what you do, whether you start a nonprofit or if you are looking for a promotion, whether you are starting a company, whether you are in any place in life sales is a life skill. It is hard for you to accomplish anything in life if you can’t sell yourself an idea or a product. That was when I first realized the value of sales and how I had to learn how to do it.
Gerard: I think one of the things you can share is, does a sales guy have to do it all or shall we specialize?
Aaron: Working at Salesforce I didn’t let my ego stop me. The only job they had at Salesforce is sales rep junior.
Gerard: After you closed the company did you raise some money?
Aaron: I went from being an intern, CEO to the most junior sales person, inbound lead qualifier answering the 800 line. That’s all they had. I didn’t want to do anything else. I wanted to learn sales by doing it. I figure I just wanted to learn it. Through there and at Salesforce, I learned a lot about creating an outbound sales team but what I truly appreciated was when I left Salesforce, let’s say about 2006 and I was consulting with other companies I didn’t realize how important this next idea is and how mandatory it is. It is required to do it if you are going to grow your company or have a chance at growing.
It is this idea of sales role specialization.
Where you need to break your prospectors out from your closers, you have inbound leads of someone else you qualify as which is where I started as at Salesforce and the fourth team would be the account management or customer success if you have that.
What I have seen is that if you specialize this way which in Silicon Valley everyone does it now but there is still not a number of companies that do sales specialization or go far enough.
When you do it makes everything easier for the team.
The idea is how to get focused and do fewer things better. When people are juggling too many things like a salesperson who is trying to protect as well and close it never works in a team.l Even if they can prospect, which a lot of the salespeople aren’t that good at it, once in a while they might be. Even if they do it well and generate pipeline then they get too busy closing to prospecting so they get this up and down. Rarely, once in a while you can find a unicorn salesperson who can juggle both but you cannot build a team out of them. If one out of ten people can do that.
The answer is getting prospects who prospect, closers who close, inbound qualifiers if you have leads and account management or customer success. Just like any sports team you have attackers, defenders, midfield, goalie, they all work together. That’s step number one if you want to create a company that can grow.
Gerard: I know some people in the group may say, yes but I am only one person.
Aaron: Everyone always says I am only one person or two people so the way you apply that is generally through your time. You focus blocks of time on account that you reschedule. If you don’t have time to prospect because you are just busy.
You can’t do that in 5 minutes, people create blocks of 2 hours, 3 times a week from prospecting. When I was writing a book, the last book and trying to write a book with a big family, while we were growing the family because we went from 0 to 9 in kids in 6 years or 7 years. It was fast. The only thing book got written is because I blocked out Wednesdays to write. I schedule everything around that or it wouldn’t have happened.
Gerard: About your wife, you said on Monday she was prospecting, on Tuesday she was doing the job and she was the account executive and she was closing the deals.
Aaron: Not my wife. For some people, a day works for one thing. For other people it’s different. The way you get organized is going to be different for everyone. I need to do something for a whole day.
Gerard: Nowadays we have things like virtual assistants everywhere in the world. Out of those things you mentioned which are all important, which are the most important and why would you say that?
Aaron: In both books, we actually talk about the idea of how they are different types of leads. SO there are three types, seeds, nets and spears. This is important because what I saw was executives or boards would plan and say last year we did $5 million dollars in revenue with 5000 leads say we want to double next year to $10 million in revenue so we need twice as many leads.
This wouldn’t work because there are different types of leads. There are seeds, nets, and spears.
The seeds are word of mouth and they are going to be the best leads but they are hard to grow. The nets are marketing leads, you are broadcasting one too many. A lot of leads but the quality is low. One Word of mouth lead can be worth ten or a hundred marketing leads and the third type is spears, outbound prospecting whether it is for customers or partners and that’s where you have a human or person for sales or business development with a targeted list and they are making phone calls or they are emailing to get a relatively small number of appointments or leads but they should be high quality.
Each type of lead, the seeds, nets, spears, they all have the pros and cons. Some company should do all three. Most should do all three. Sometimes they are companies where outbound is not a fit. It is important to know they are all different. For example, the ideal customer profiles are actually different through each type. The sales cycle length could be different, the average deal size can be different, the process to generate them and the metrics can be different. That is why we say a lead is not a lead. When you look back, if you said we did $5 million with 5000 leads to double next year to 10 million, you have to know what type of leads did you generate last year. If they are 5000 outbounds leads you do only need to double that or if it is pure 5000 marketing leads, you need to double it. You know the leads you generated and you know the different aspect of them and it makes it easier to project what kinds of lead to generate and have those correct expectations.
Gerard: I love it. I have applied what you are saying for a few years and it takes time to do. I think as you said know your leads, get your product out there and I think spears focus most of the time on leads but you do not forget to do inbound work. We didn’t do much inbound in the past. I think a little bit of a circle.
Aaron: You do need time to get outbound started. It can be for 6-12 months. To get inbound state can be 6-12 months. If you are a small team it is hard to do both well.l You usually end up doing one really well and then when you can hire the right leader you can do more than really well. You often pick, you have to prioritize your energy and not do all at the same time when you are getting started.
Gerard: One of the things you described is spending too much time on the wrong lead which happened to me and I think too many people who are listening right now and I think that is a common mistake from any sales site.
Aaron: It’s probably one of the biggest waste of time in doing outbound. So my company, Predictable Revenue, is the outbound success company. We helped lots of companies. We do two things. companies who are building their own outbound team we can tell them how to do that and coach them on it and for companies who want to prospect in the United States we can offer them outsourcing which is usually an interim step for 6-18 months until they are ready to build their own team. We see a lot of this and the biggest waste of time and money is targeting the wrong leads. On the list building side, you have a low chance of closing. Whether you are a salesperson calling all those accounts and you are just spending too much time with companies who are probably not going to buy.
With Salesforce we had 20-30 industries. we had customers across all kinds of industries but there were only like 4 industries that we did outbound for and so all of the industries we did outbound only in [Inaudible]. We did outbound to most of the other industries like hospitals or garbage collection. It wasn’t the best use of our time. When Salesforce got bigger and bigger at some point they did start to prospect to more industries but that is not where they started. Really focus on to nail the niche and focus on what kind of companies are going to need you the most versus which one is nice to have.
Gerard: I think that is very important. In your books, you talk about nailing your niche. If you can share a little bit more about it that would be great.
Aaron: The number one lesson I learned after Predictable Revenue came out was nailing a niche. What I saw was there were a lot of companies that would struggle to grow. They were trying to grow in almost anyway. It’s usually outbound prospecting. That is where it shows up. I think it is the most obvious. Companies may prospect and they just couldn’t get results. Looking back after some of these different projects and really what that was the companies that struggle they realize that it is not just prospecting.
I would see it in different areas but the most obvious one was prospecting really what it means is that companies didn’t really do the insightful work, they didn’t know who their best customers were and they don’t know the pains of those customers and they didn’t know how to talk to the customer in the language of the customer. There is so much information out there. The way companies have usually created marketing, pages, emails, and outbound techniques is you sit on a whiteboard and you just come up with your best guess. Usually, especially if marketing is doing it, a lot of the words and phrases that people came up with is not that interesting. “we have the leading network, scalable, architecture with a social plugin”
Gerard: It’s the human touch, it’s the knowing what they need.
Aaron: What is missing is how do I speak to my prospects in the way that they think of the way that they speak? It usually doesn’t happen. How do I put myself in their shoes? One of the best ways to do that is if you haven’t had that job before because that is the best to work in the same job that you sell to. It’s just to interview some of them to understand really what their needs are, what their priorities are and what kinds of keyword and key phrases do they either use in their day to day there and how do they think about it. You want it to listen for the way they speak and write.
That doesn’t happen enough that it such an important technique or tactic to do to ensure that if you are creating a marketing material or sales outbound material. What you are creating is actually interesting to your prospects because the more energy it takes for them to interpret your content the less likely they are going to read it because there is so much of it out there.
One more important idea is observing the difference between when people know you and they have heard your brand or you as a person, they are willing to give you a lot of time and attention to understand your business, who are you, what can you do. When you start doing outbound prospecting and the people don’t know you and they don’t know your brand they give you barely any attention. It’s like you have a tiny shot. This little slice of a wind of attention and if you don’t hit that, that bullseye they are just going to ignore that. Seeing that and how do you start finding the message that fits in that little slice of their attention is where the nailing the niche came from.
Gerard: Just to finish up, the emails, I think there is the point you recommended in your books. If you can take me through this, how you make a perfect email which I think is beautiful.
Aaron: First let’s just point out there are multiple types of emails. Just like there are multiple types of calls, you can do cold calls and follow up calls. With emails there are direct emails, they are referral emails and follow up emails. let’s just stick to the one main difference. Direct emails imply I want an appointment with Gerrard, I know he is the person so I am going to email him and try to get an appointment with him. a referral emails I might know who the right person is or maybe I don’t so I am going to send an email hi to the CEO executives and try to get referred down to the right person. That was a technique that was incredibly successful at salesforce.com for us. That email lookalike :
I am looking for the person who handles accounts payable for your company. Do you mind pointing me in the right direction, please?
It can be that simple. You can google cold email templates and find hundreds of emails. Here is the thing with an email that works, one, short and sweet. less is more. The easier that you make it for them to read it and understand and easy to act on the more likely they are going to read and act on it. If you make it hard to read, it’s confusing or long they are just going to delete it or pass on.
If you have a block of text, even breaking that into one sentence with whitespace to make it more visually easier to read on a phone helps. So short and sweet. Don’t ask more than one question per email. If you are in a sales cycle and you already have a relationship, we are not talking about that situation.
I am talking about they don’t know and they are getting to know you so just one call to action or one question per email no more. Having two calls to action would just confuse them. The third is you want to find your own voice and your own stories. so many people copy templates and yes you can do that. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t but what does work is when you can put some of your own personality into your email which could be the way that you write, it could be your language, a certain picture you use. I tend to write my emails in lowercase with a happy face emoticon. So there are all these kinds of style you can use.
Some people use video emails or gifs. I don’t know if I have seen that successful but I have heard of it. We have interviewed people on our podcast that have had success there. It’s finding what works for you and standing out from all the stuff that sounds the same. So those are three simple tips that can make your email much better.
Gerard: I love everything you are telling me. If I am a company and I want to use your services where do I go?
Aaron: It’s predictable revenue.com. we do two main things if you have and want to build your own team of outbound prospectors we can help you get that right the first time. Also if you are not ready to build your own team and you want to start with outsourcing, only in North America and the united states then we can help you with outsourcing to generate leads for your sales team until you are ready to build your sales team. It tends to take 6-12 months as an interim solution.
Gerard: What kind of company can use this services?
Aaron: It’s mostly technology companies, anyone that has sales people could. It’s mostly technology companies or technology services company that probably have a million or two in revenue which means they know who their customers are, they have a chance of closing deals, they have some momentum and they have so budget to invest in things like this. For outsourcing, I only do that if you are targeting the United States. If you are building your own team we help companies with that worldwide, China, Brazil, Australia and all over.
The main course is if you already have a team but you want to help train more people like if you want to save your manager time or if you want cold call training, we have a cold calling course as well because not a lot of people make a cold call these days. Right not it is in English but the next class is going to have a Spanish component as well because we have some prospectors from Columbia who speak Spanish joining.
Gerard: I would be happy to help if you need help on that. I have two questions. If you had to be on a top magazine what would be on it and it cannot be promotional revenue?
Aaron: I am not sure what I would want up there. When it does happen … we have had a lot of people who say our family should be on a reality show. I do think it’s this combination of making a lot of money while being a very active father. I have to make money. I made enough money at Salesforce to pay off some old divorce debts from my first marriage so I have to make a lot of money with a big family. The family has been an incredible motivation to grow my income. That’s why the kid came first and then the money. I did have the Predictable Revenue book planned, I was prepared and the kids just help me to do that.
Gerard: I heard it just took you some time from Predictable Revenue?
Aaron: When I left Salesforce I thought about how I wanted to help people. I did some personal coaching to help money through enjoyment called Unique Genius, I tried executive team building called CEO Flow and then when I had a family and I needed to make more money and I grew that money Predictable Revenue was one of the niche I already nailed and the easiest place to make a lot of money for the family. These are all things I have been through personally. This is where the best lessons come from when your experience it. I think it is a blend of being an active father while making money would be the magazine cover.
Gerard: Question 2 is what motorcycle do you have?
Aaron: I have a 2001 Suzuki GSXR 600.
Gerard: Do you have time to ride it?
Aaron: Not these days. Anytime I go someplace I have to drive the kids around. My wife has a 2015 Ninja 300. I ride it. I am going to ride to my interview today.
Gerard: Send me a picture. I would love to send it to the group. One next question, is there any book you would recommend?
Aaron: There is a book I read and it came up a couple of times when I was at Salesforce. It was one of the most influential books on my management style and the book was called Wooden. it was about the most winning basketball coach in the United States, this guy named John Wooden. He won championship after championship. It’s a very simple book. It’s not about basketball it’s about his style of coaching and managing people and working with his team. That is what I would recommend to anyone especially if you manage people already or want to manage people.
If you don’t have any interest in managing I would recommend if you haven’t read it, The Four Agreements. More of like a personal growth book but a great one.
Gerard: I am not a big reader but I love your books. I love Predictable Revenue and From Impossible to Inevitable because both of them has a been a value. It’s been a pleasure and see you soon.
Aaron: Thanks, Gerrard.