Created successful sales program from scratch on a shoestring budget
Created and automated entire process as hybrid of mass personalization
Streamlined efforts to the point that inbound and outbound roles merged
Delivered numbers far above industry average
Ever wonder how companies like Amazon seem to read your mind and know what to suggest for similar products that 75% of other people have bought? Meet the engine under the hood – graph database technology. While behemoths like Amazon have their own proprietary technology, Neo4j is the industry leader for commercial solutions available to other public and private companies.
Neo4j‘s underlying technology was developed and tested for 17 years before being launched as a company nine years ago, making it the most robust and reliable graph technology available. But they needed to start from scratch when it came to building a sales program to get the word out and make their own sales graph spike upwards.
Science and analytics are the bread and butter of the Neo4j culture, so when math and tech wizards Jacob Barlow and Matzen Shirley (former Marketing Operations Manager and former Sales Development Manager, respectively) were tasked with building the sales team up and out, they attacked the problem with appropriate analytical zeal. And immediately hit a brick wall placed in their path.
Right off the bat, Shirley and Barlow faced a challenge that would make lesser sales & marketing managers fold. Along with a directive from the board to boost numbers and build an outbound sales team, they were saddled with major budget constraints.
They needed to find a way to do more with nothing, as Barlow recounts, “It was me, Matzen and two others at the time, and we were split two inbound and two outbound. Since we were supposed to be expanding in terms of team members but that was no longer the case, we had to find a way to grow and expand our reach using the same resources that we had.”
Necessity being the mother of invention, Barlow and Matzen, along with their colleague Angelica Ismailos immediately turned to technology to fill the human gap. The trick was finding the right solution for their unique needs.
They began with a mass email approach, hoping, as many teams do, that the law of sheer numbers would fall in their favor. Unfortunately, as Matzen describes, it wasn’t the tactic that fit their unique, specialized product:
“We mass blasted a bunch of people by email, followed up by phone and tracked all of our data on a Google sheet. And it turns out that cold calling that way for our specific product niche just doesn’t work that great—we were below industry average on outbound metrics.”
So they pivoted and turned to a hyper-personalized approach, literally typing each outbound email personally by hand. And sure enough the personalization effort paid off. The issue was efficiency and scalability. While the results spiked their response rate, as one might imagine, it was a slow, tedious slog.
“We went from a 3% to a 21% reply rate with these customized emails,” Matzen recalled. “The problem was – even though we were crushing the numbers with incredible results from a reply and meeting rate standpoint, it was excruciatingly slow. And that’s because we were slow. We would write really customized emails and eventually thought, ‘Couldn’t we write a number of different templates that would allow us to scale these great results?’
“Even if we could get half way there in terms of results, that would be a huge opportunity for us. We created a basic model that asked, ‘If we’re doing these three different activities and normalize for time, which one would produce the best results?’ And it turns out that if you take the mass scale of a ‘spray and pray’ approach vs. a targeted approach, you get roughly the same results over an extended period of time.”
They wanted the best of both worlds, the extensive reach of mass outreach coupled with the results of targeted, hyper-personalized communications. Applying their science background to sales, they went to work building model models and experimenting to create exactly that.
“We thought, let’s figure out if we can create a hybrid of the two approaches,” Matzen recalls. “And we did. We even call our program the Hybrid Outbound Program. We were taking the templates that we learned to craft based on what worked from writing them over and over again and trying scaling them up.”
As they tackled that main problem so many outbound teams do—trying to scale up personalized emails—finding the right platform to help them do it became top of mind.
Barlow describes their thought process, “We had access to Marketo, but it’s a beast with 1000 pieces you have to manage. It’s a big ship that’s really hard to turn. We needed something more agile to take these daily MQLs we were getting and reach out to them more efficiently.”
“We knew that our current tool set wasn’t up the job of such mass personalization,” according to Matzen. “And I remember talking to Jacob about what they were doing with inbound and said ‘Hey do you think Outreach could do something like this?’
“So we modeled out on the whiteboard what we wanted to do—which was create a bunch of personas based upon what people are saying on LinkedIn and then lining them up with the right technology references, use case references, and content based on who they are and what they’re saying. Then we thought, ‘Maybe Outreach could help us hack this job.’ and that’s when Outreach really took off for us.”
Sure enough, that sort of hybrid approach was almost exactly what Outreach is designed to execute, so once they were set up, the automation took off and their numbers jumped.
Barlow relates the process that led to their success, “We started off building out our Outreach, bringing the templates over, putting in different tags, creating different personas and matching it all up with our massive Google spreadsheet.
“Then we simply exported that spreadsheet right into Outreach which immediately recognized those fields. It just runs automatically because it’s set to detect those fields and recognize those personae. For example, if this persona is added then drop them into this sequence. If the sequence runs and they didn’t open it then pivot and drop them into this nurture sequence, just as one example.”
Right off the bat, they were impressed by the efficiency of the instant automation. According to Barlow, “Marketo used to take us 7-10 minutes to customize and execute each and every email by hand. But with Outreach, it takes a little work on the front end but after that it’s instant and automatic.”
With their usual scientific approach, both Shirley and Barlow dove headlong into the process, creating sets and subsets of personas and sequences with numerous variables and iterations. They were immediately impressed by the level of sophistication and control that Outreach sequencing allowed in terms of targeting prospects.
This was something they quickly mastered to drive their success, as Shirley describes: “We have something like 41 different sequences for one program alone, and there are around 17-18 personas or so, and then there are even sub-personas on top of that, so our Outreach setup is a really sophisticated piece of work…but none of it would matter if it didn’t help us. Right away starting out we had really incredible results. I haven’t had as much time to tweak and improve it recently, but at its peak we were at a 17-18% cold contact reply rate.”
“But the biggest win of all wasn’t even the stellar reply rates, it was a massive jump on opportunities booked,” Shirley continued. “I’ve done the analysis and using our hybrid personalized mass blast approach with Outreach, our outbound lead to opportunity rate has gone up 5x!”
For the Neo4j team, what really caught their attention was the expanded ability for personalization that Outreach tokens offered. Compared with other platforms they had experienced Outreach blew the doors off the hinges. “A big differentiator for Outreach is the quality of its tokens for personalization. They’re critical for us,” states Barlow. “Prioritizing keywords is all built on logic, and basic tokenizing just isn't powerful enough to get the job done right.
“For example, a Marketo token is incredibly basic. It’s a simple binary A/B or If/Then logic. If the data exists, insert it. If not, replace it with this other thing. Outreach tokens, on the other hand, offer something like 30 potential variables, of which we use 19. That allows you to construct much more complex logic, and therefore more robust and sophisticated personalization. And while that complexity means a bit more work up front, the end benefits far outweigh that, and once you get it right you don't need to mess with it anymore.
That underlying complexity on the backend translates into better control and fine-tuning of personalized messaging. According to Shirley, far from being a turn-off, that complexity is ultimately the key to simplicity:
“If you want dynamic messages, you can’t have static tokens that only include one or two variables. While simplicity seems to be the guiding philosophy these days, it’s not always best when it comes to technology. You might want to deliver a simple message, but it requires more complex tokens to achieve that cleanly and efficiently. And the sophistication of Outreach’s tokens are orders of magnitude more powerful and personal than competing solutions.”
With the process in place and numbers booming, Shirley and Barlow set their sites on streamlining their success for even greater efficiency. Using Outreach, they were able to actually transform their entire sales team and strategy.
Instead of having dedicated inbound and outbound SDRs, their programs and processes merged so seamlessly that they combined into a single strategy and single role across the entire team
According to Barlow, “At this point, Inbound is someone directly emailing me and saying ‘Hey, let me give you money for your product.’ Rather than us having to really work our inbound leads proactively, it’s become working the hybrid outbound leads. Instead of having to send a message to the team saying ‘Don’t forget to work these inbound leads.’ the outbound process is just too easy.”
And Shirley agrees, saying, “It’s just a weekly upload. On a weekly basis our SDRs work with two sales reps and each week they’re assigned two accounts in their territory. They pop those accounts onto their sheets, and then they don’t do anything. It runs itself. Then in about a week or two they get a call task directing them to call this person, and saying how to open the conversation. Something like, ‘You should talk about the fact they mentioned real-time recommendations on LinkedIn and they work for JCPenney.’ ”
It’s that seamless process of Outreach that has allowed the sales team to evolve into a single hyper-efficient entity that blurs the lines to combine inbound and outbound into a single integrated program.
“Now they’re merging, it’s all the same,” Shirley explains. “We view them as general ADRs because a lot of the taxing overhead discovery tasks like searching for people, reaching out on social, for example, has been worked out on an inbound perspective so now they’re just executing.”
Self-driving cars and automation being all the rage these days, with Outreach Shirley and Barlow happily stumbled upon their own new invention of sorts—the self-driving sales team.
As Shirley recounts, “Now that budget constraints are lifted, we’ve hired far more people and in the interview process one of the core things I touch on is to say hey part of my job is to get the ‘grind’ out of your job so that you can just execute and do the things you like to do to make money. Luckily because of our Outreach program that’s in place, even if I’m not actively engaging as much as I might want to as a manager because I’m so busy, our program makes it easy for team to just execute on their own. “
With the grind and guesswork out of the way and replaced by instant insights from Outreach, each ADR can approach each prospect with newfound confidence.
“They don’t have to research, they don’t have to wonder how to approach it,” according to Shirley. “Just put your companies in and upload a list. That’s it. And when you’re working through a call tree, you just look down a list and say, ‘Oh yeah this guy is this persona, I know exactly how I’m going to talk with him. Right now, with immediate insight.’
“It gives them confidence in their messaging. Instead of flying blind cold calling, they know what they’re getting into, who they’re talking to, and how to do it. And even if we miss the target in terms of the persona type in our research, it still boosts their confidence even in terms of tone and approach when they make contact, which is still worth something.”
As he sums things up, Barlow has nothing but praise for the Outreach experience, saying, “In the beginning we were completely at the mercy of massive constraints, facing a huge quota with the budget and hiring freeze, but we had to do something. And Outreach helped us big time.
And Shirley agrees, adding, “Outreach has been the backbone of our journey, taking us from zero sales plan or platform to full-scale execution. We had no true outbound program, and now we have something that is FAR better than industry standard. And we’ve done it on a shoestring budget.”