We've spotted sales teams are using real-time data to enable their sales teams. Using triggers from inside their product, their website, review sites, social, and more to automate personalized sales outreach.
These days, we see most teams have pretty advanced setups with their tools, teams & data:
- Powerful CRM like Salesforce, paired with their choice sales engagement tool like Salesloft, Outreach, PersistIQ, and more
- Teams with experienced sales leadership, reps, ops & enablement
- Data to enable sales to identify best fit leads
... but despite all this, we still see the same problems.
Sales reps still struggle to prioritize their time and are unsure how to move deals forward. Despite better tooling and more data than ever, we're seeing more batch-and-blast, activity-based selling than ever before.
Similarly, sales leaders have implemented all the tools, training & coaching but still struggle with encouraging and driving the right activities that generate value.
For both reps and leaders, there's still guesswork involved.
In this Spotted post, we're going to share the six tactics we've seen sales teams use to prioritize their time and focus on the right sales activities that drive deals forward using sales triggers, in context, to drive action.
Used together, we're seeing teams of all sizes (from as little as two reps) drive outsized results in sales productivity, opportunities created, and closed won. More of that at the end...
This is Spotted.
In our Spotted series, we break down and share the trends, tactics & techniques we see scaling SaaS teams do (not just what they say) on Hull and beyond. Subscribe below for the next article in the series.
It's not enough to be a "good fit lead"
Most modern sales teams know who they want to talk to. They have a clearly defined ideal customer profile grounded in data, and have the data they need inside their choice CRM. They have the measures of "fit" to exclude unqualified leads, and assign reps to the best fit leads.
Reps still need a reason to reach out. There's a library of tricks to drive engagement - we've all seen those "break up" emails, deliberate typos & follow-ups, and other invented excuses to reach out one more time, but these are generic and rarely adding value to leads, let alone personally relevant.
Like most marketing tactics, there's a law of diminishing returns to these sales tactics. Andrew Chen describes it best.
Over time, all marketing strategies result in sh*tty clickthrough rates.
Andrew ChenPartner A16Z, previously Growth at Uber
This is just as relevant to sales. The template your buddy shared on LinkedIn, or the "secret" email title formula, all have diminishing returns. Would you bet on it working at least as well or better in 12-18 months?
You need a way to bring value, context, and the next best move to your leads to open up sales conversations. That context lies in your data.
Introducing the TCA Framework for Sales Enablement
Frameworks give a simple way to ground your thinking and ask the right questions (which helps to lead to the right answers). The TCA framework lays out the questions you need to automate your sales enablement.
TCA stands for Triggers + Context => Action.
TCA comes from our wider personalization framework in The Complete Guide to Customer Data - how do you "orchestrate" your system of tools, teams & data to deliver a 1:1 personalized experience at scale?
The framework works backwards from delivering the perfectly personal experience to "join the dots" in your tools and data that your team manage.
In the same way as a chef uses raw ingredients and cooking equipment to make a dish, or a musician converts sheet music and an instrument into a performance, your sales reps need to use your tools and data to create the value-added sales experience.
When applied to sales and sales engagement, the framework poses three questions.
- WHO should sales reps talk to? This is controlled by segments & lists of leads & accounts
- WHAT should sales reps say? This is controlled by templates & dynamic content.
- WHEN should sales reps say it? This is controlled by workflows, sequences, cadences, chat bots, and "if this then that" tools.
The trick is to tie WHAT you say and WHEN you say it to actions your leads are taking in the buying journey. These are called sales triggers.
Tactical Takeaway #1: Find your sales triggers
Where are your leads and accounts taking action in the buying journey? And how can your reps know to reach out then?
Sales triggers come from actions by individual people that are tracked as events. There are five common forms of sales triggers that we see, ordered by the cost to setup the data sources)
Product Sales Triggers ($1k-10k)
For SaaS companies, offering a free trial or free pricing model enables leads to try-before-they-buy. The sales triggers here are when people take those in-app actions that take them closer to getting value from the product.
Sales engagement here should be focused on helping people achieve common jobs-to-be-done inside your product. As leads take actions, your reps should be reaching out - not to sell, but to make suggestions & offer help in how they can get more value.
There's likely to be hundreds of different types of events within your product. Within each part of the customer journey (like the free trial), there's likely to be a few key actions. For instance, activation events in a free trial:
- Have/have not used X core feature
- Invited users
- Created a project
- Setup integrations
Common data sources for this include product analytics tracking tools like Mixpanel, Amplitude, Segment, Heap - all which capture these events and store themselves or forward to other tools.
You also have your products own backend database. If you can fetch incremental updates at set intervals (to prevent overloading your production database and slowing your entire app), you can fetch the latest in-app actions as well as usage-based metrics.
Website Sales Triggers ($10k-$100k)
Your website is likely to be a key part of your buying journey. By tracking how leads and accounts engage with your website and web content, you can trigger sales engagement based on their recent interests.
Sales engagement should be tied to the content. There are some higher value or more product-focused pages (more indicative of likelihood to buy) than others. You need to understand your site map and content architecture. For instance, you might find:
- Blog post views for understanding interests
- Features and landing pages for understanding how much they know about your product
- Search queries for understanding how they express their problems
- Help and documentation views for understanding specific problems
Common data sources for this include Google Analytics, but you need to be able to associate the data here with companies (at least) and people (ideally) - Google Analytics does not allow storing of personally identifiable data, like emails.
To solve this, you need to supplement your Google Analytics with other tracking libraries like Segment, Hull.js, or any of your marketing automation tools so you can make these person and company-level associations.
Most website visitors are unlikely to be logged in or previous leads. This limits the number of accounts that can have website sales triggers
In B2B, one solution is to use reverse IP lookup tools like Clearbit Reveal to show the company most likely to be associated with that known IP address. Coverage is unlikely to be 100%, but it enables you to associate a significant proportion of your web traffic with accounts and progressively profile their interests for sales engagement.
Organizational changes ($10k-$100k)
Your sales cycles are almost certainly affected by internal organizational changes in your target accounts.
- Stages of financing
- Tools being used, not used, added or dropped
- Changes in the team size and seniority
- Offices opening or closing
We've seen all of these used to reach out to teams, but rarely does it tie to the context of buying your product directly. "Congrats on raising money! Let's setup a call to discuss buying our software..." lacks all empathy and association with your product.
You need to identify how these organizational changes tie to your product's value proposition. Fundraising might be relevant but is likely to be several degrees of association away from your value proposition. Conversely, if a lead stops using a competitor tool, that's a substantially more relevant trigger - the sales conversation is easier.
Common sources for this type of data include data enrichment services with change detection (like Datanyze for technographics and Crunchbase for fundraising data) and company news (like LinkedIn, press releases, blog posts, and other timely web mentions).
Review sites ($10k-$100k)
With more tools and more "consumerization" of software purchasing, review sites like G2 Crowd, Capterra, TrustRadius, and more have risen to prominence.
With very structured, buyer-focused pages, they make it straightforward to assess and compare tools. They also tend to rank well for competitive search terms with higher buying intent.
With all this "looking to buy" traffic, you can buy the intent data - lists of companies that appear to be looking to buy specific categories of tools (or specific tools) at the moment.
As with organizational changes, you may be flying in cold here. Being explicit about your intent data source can be majorly offputting too (you stalker!). Let the segmentation do the work here, not the template. WHO you talk to and WHEN, not WHAT you say. You just so happen to be reaching out when they're interested in your software.
Common sources for this type of data include G2 Crowd Buyer Intent data, which lets you see companies viewing your category and your product.
Social and big data signals ($10k-$100k)
Finally, there are signals higher up the funnel that can indicate interest like engaging with certain topics that relate to your software.
For example, teams that are exploring different options for their CRM and sales team's tooling will likely gather research from multiple different sources. This may be an intent data providers own content or that of their partners. All of this behavior can be tracked and traced back to individual companies with some level of abstraction and aggregation.
- Reading websites
- Following people or companies on Twitter
- Downloading whitepapers
As with review sites, you might not have an existing relationship here. Let the segmentation do the work, not what you say specifically unless you can tie it to an exact pain point and how you spotted them. "I noticed you were asking on Twitter here for recommendations over email tools"
Some services will be able to associate activity with people or companies for you like Bombora, LeadSift & TechTarget. Others can give you a feed of data to synthesize and associate with people or companies - like Mention (you could use FullContact Enrichment to match people and companies based on social handles).
Voila! You're now able to see when your leads are moving through the buying journey.
Tactical Takeaway #2: Combine sales triggers with all known context
Individual sales triggers don't make sense without the accompanying context of each lead.
The context of each lead takes three forms:
- Identifiers & contact details
- Measures of "fit"
- Past actions
Whenever and wherever you use your sales triggers, you need to bring the full context of your leads too. Without the full context, you end up implementing "blind" automation where your messaging and engagement doesn't make perfect sense. For instance, running sales engagement to existing customers, open sales opportunities, partners, or competitors who are triggering any of the actions above.
The full context for your leads lies in those three types of data.
Identifiers and contact details
The first part is to associate all known identifiers to "join the dots" between the sales trigger and all other data you know about that person or company - a unified customer profile.
Identifiers from different tools might include an
id identifier specific to each tool. With this, you should be able to associate all known contact details and people with companies.
Measures of "fit"
From your ideal customer profile, you'll have a definition you can tie to data of who is a qualified lead (or account) and who is not.
This data will likely be stored in your CRM and pieced together from various form fills, data enrichment, and data entered by sales reps.
You should be able to use this to segment and score your leads, but also give your sales reps the reasons why they're qualified and why they need to be talked to.
Yesterday's triggers are today's context. The actions people and companies have taken likely determine how you talk to them - for instance, if they've started a paid subscription, or requested a demo, or had a sales meeting of any sort.
You can map your customers (and buyers) journey to identify the key moments, your high-level tracking plan, and attribution model.
Voila! You've got the full context on each lead to avoid "blind" automation
Tactical Takeaway #3: Setup your data infrastructure to enable your sales reps in real-time
Since sales triggers are timely, your sales reps need to be able to react quickly. This means you need reliable, real-time data integration to transform your leads actions into personalized sales outreach.
If your data integration strategy does not work as fast as your leads move through the buyer's journey, you can't react with your sales reps. Real-time data integration is first and foremost about making sure your messages when they do go out have the complete context from the latest data.
CSV exports or pulling from a data warehouse doesn't guarantee your data is always complete and up-to-date. Remember, actions an hour ago set the context for actions now. Your sales reps should be able to take action on your sales triggers (automatically) in as close to real-time as possible.
The secondary benefit is that your sales reps can react "in the moment" via email, live chat, phone call or wherever (the exact timeliness you'll have to decide) with all the context on each lead.
However, most of these potential sales triggers (like web and product usage data) are captured as events in analytics tools. But it's hard for a sales rep (or anyone) to quickly get a good idea of WHO to talk to, WHAT to say and WHEN to say it from hundreds (or thousands?) of profiles in analytics tools.
You need to integrate each sales trigger with the tools your sales reps work from, whether that's your CRM or your sales engagement tool like Salesloft, Outreach, PersistIQ, or otherwise. These are the tools your reps are most productive in.
Your sales engagement tools and CRM need a "single source of truth" to trigger the right activities to the right leads - regardless of the data source or format. You need to compute the "golden customer record" to provide the truest, most up-to-date data to all your source. This requires three steps:
- Identity resolution - Unify data about the same person and company from different sources
- Data cleansing - cleanse identifiers, attributes, and incorrect data ready to use in your end tools (without giving up and putting "null")
- Fallback strategies - determine the "truest" data source for similar, competing fields (like company name or job title) for each person and account.
Learn more in our guide Creating a “Single Source of Truth” for Your Customer Data
Once you have a real-time data integration strategy in place to transform streams of events by your leads into sales triggers in the tools your sales reps use, you need to build out your data flows.
With sales triggers, there are often many moving parts. Unlike most developer tools, it is hard to setup a staging or "test" environment to see how your data flows without cluttering your end tools (like Salesforce).
This is why we recommend starting with triggering a notification in a tool that doesn't crowd out someone's workflow - like Slack. Setup your sales triggers to a dedicated channel in Slack where event-triggered segments plus all the context from your single source of truth can be sent in a notification.
It might take some iterations to get exactly the sales triggers you want first. By using a Slack channel as your initial endpoint, you can get a feel for the type of actions being triggered, spot problems, and share with your team members.
Then, when you're happy with the results, inviting your sales reps to view your Slack channel means you can show (not tell) them what this real-time sales trigger means. If they then ask how you can get that data feed into their sales engagement tool, you know you're onto something :)
With your data flow already in Slack, you can direct the same data into your sales enablement tool of choice and set your reps to work.
You can also use the same data to feed into marketing tools to provide additional "air cover" by triggering or personalizing marketing emails, live chat, website personalization, ad audiences, physical gifts, and so on.
Voila! You've now got real-time sales triggers flowing into your sales reps tool of choice
Tactical Takeaway #4: Organize your sales team to take action
With sales triggers flowing into your sales enablement tools, you need to organize and train your reps to take advantage of the data.
Sales triggers should prioritize who your reps spend time with, since the relevance of reaching out (with something more personal and contextual) is time-limited. This is potentially quite chaotic for reps however and involves a lot of context-switching between different triggers.
Instead, we see teams organizing their deal stages of sales opportunities by sales triggers like their progress through the free trial and what features they have (or have not) used.
Organize your deal stages by your leads actions, not your reps actions.
John ShererDirector of Sales, Appcues
This means reps can work similar sales opportunities who are at similar stages. Organizing by the buyer's actions also encourages reps to become more buyer-focused (how can I help them get to X stage?) instead of rep-focused (how do I move my deal forward?).
Fully automated vs semi-automated sales triggers
Depending on your lead volume and number of sales triggers, this may create an overwhelming workload for sales reps to follow up on manually.
The temptation to fully automate every step in the TCA process should be avoided. With fully automated sales outreach, your reps don't have a chance to see or review what is being sent. If there's anything incorrect (unclean data, wrong trigger, false data) then your reps will lose trust in the process.
Your reps will also lose the opportunity to add additional touches and context that they're aware of that might not be fed through a fully automated system.
Finally, a fully automated system is hard to understand and improve. A Trigger-Context-Action sales process has lots of moving parts, but (unlike a marketing campaign) also has a lot of people to view, review, and improve. Take advantage of this extra resource to review and optimize your sales-triggered messaging.
Automation is important for maximizing productivity, but best practice is to use semi-automated workflows where reps have visibility and veto rights over what is being sent out.
Voila! You've now a method to organize your sales reps to take advantage of sales triggers
Tactical Takeaway #5: Bring it all together into a sales automation system
How do you tie all your triggers, context, and action together?
Don't mistake sales actions for all triggers without context, or all context without triggers.
A classic example of this is attending conferences. Perhaps you've been on the receiving end of sales rep spam for a conference you're attending. Somehow, they've got hold of a list but they haven't added any context.
You need both triggers and context. The last conference we (Hull) attended, we bought tickets & flights three days in advance and had two days of solid meetings with high-value leads. Here's how we brought together triggers and context to drive action:
- Triggers from website page views (with companies identified through Clearbit Reveal) on Hull.io
- Context from Salesforce Opportunities & Accounts, MadKudu for identifying best-fit accounts, and the conferences public list of speakers, sponsors & featured attendees
- Action? Manual email outreach from Gmail.
You need both triggers and context from the outset.
Start with your best-fit, named accounts
You already know who amongst your leads you'd like as customers. You likely already have some form data, qualification call data, or enrichment data, and they're assigned to rep already. You have deep context here already.
Best practice we've seen is to start implementing sales triggers with these accounts to help drive them over the line. They've already dedicated resource, and reps are looking for the clues, cues, and conversation starter to move the deals forward.
Next, add your low-touch leads and scalable outreach methods
If you have a free trial model, or lots of website traffic, or otherwise have a lot of companies interacting with your brand or product, you might have a lead-rich environment where not every lead gets assigned to a rep. You might need to run additional enrichment to build enough context to be relevant, particularly on identifying best-fit accounts.
"Low touch" TCA sales triggers become a very effective means to nurture these accounts which otherwise go untouched by sales (and receive only marginally personalized messages from marketing). Appcues found a 70% lift in sales conversion amongst this cohort by dedicating a low-touch conversion sales rep to all these accounts.
Low-touch sales conversion rate increased 70%, ASP [average sale price] increased 25%, and ARR [annual recurring revenue] closed in the quarter increased 60% over our 4Q’17 levels. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars converted to ARR.
Your low-touch sales reps need to apply sales thinking to marketing-scale tactics (also, try getting marketing to act more like sales). With the right real-time data infrastructure and sales enablement tools, your reps here will be able to manage this.
You can also use the data you have to update other common touchpoints such as automated product emails. For instance, ProfitWell's daily report comes from a named person that you can reply to. Infuse your rep-assignment and email sending into all your outgoing communications.
Expand beyond just sales enablement to your entire customer journey
Triggers + Context => Action can be applied to all your customer-facing outreach (sales, customer success, support), as well as for managing your product and marketing automation.
You need to think of how orchestrating your entire customer journey, and all the tools, teams & data behind it - our 6-Part Personalization Framework shares how to apply this.
Sales enablement is often a good place to start since it can quickly influence sales opportunities opened and closed won, it often helps with sales & marketing alignment, and institutes a data-driven, data-triggered culture early on.
The final section will look at how to successfully implement the TCA framework in your sales team.
Voila! Now you can structure your tools and teams to roll out sales triggers
Tactical Takeaway #6: Implementing the TCA Framework for sales enablement at your company
Sales enablement with real-time data triggers can have many moving parts and seem overwhelming to implement. Best practice? Don't do it all at once.
Within sales triggers, it's usually easiest to start with product triggers. You already have the data in your product's backend database, and product are likely to have a product analytics tracking tool (whereas many other sales triggers require purchasing data - usually on annual contracts). This removes a hurdle to getting started this quarter.
Your own product data will also make the most sense to your reps, and nurture a consultive, buyer-focused sales attitude, and deeper product expertise.
Within your product data, you can start with a manual dump of data of leads who have (or have not) taking key activation events recently that you can reach out to. Beware: manually pulled data is quickly out of date (yesterhours actions are context right now) - you will need to figure out what sales outreach makes sense in the time you have to run your manual test. We recommend pulling and using the data within a day or two.
If you can prove the value of using sales triggers to drive sales outreach, you need to setup your real-time data infrastructure. You need to implement universal lead tracking to capture all the potential sales triggers into your single source of truth (to apply identity resolution, data cleansing & fallback strategies) ready to sync to your sales reps tools of choice.
Get one sales trigger working end-to-end at a time. The most successful teams apply TCA in an incremental and iterative way - not a "Big Bang" approach.
When buying data for new sales triggers you may often find these come with annual contracts. Ask for sample data before signing a complete contract. You want to have some estimate of the number of additional sales touches (and value of those touches) you will be able to make from different intent data sources.
Finally, make sure your TCA projects have an owner. In smaller teams, this may be your sales manager (who also owns all your tools, line manages each rep, and so on). In larger teams, you might have dedicated sales ops and data engineers. Follow the best practices we've spotted here in building and organizing teams around your tools and data.
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Best-fit criteria for TCA sales enablement
There are few pre-requisites we see that are needed before implementing a sales triggered process like this.
Dedicated sales reps
Your company needs to be beyond founders or sales managers who are wearing many hats. Since sales triggers are timely, its best to have people working these deals who don't have a split focus. Ideally, there should be some role-based division to sourcing and closing deals to assign specific triggers to.
Dedicated sales engagement tooling
Your sales reps need to be happily productive in a tool of choice like Salesloft, Outreach, PersistIQ, Close.io, Drift, Intercom, and others - wherever your reps spend time.
This usually means a tool separate to your core sales CRM, which adds an extra tool to consider buying and integrating.
Clear ideal customer profile
You know exactly what makes a good customer and what doesn't, and you can tie it to data. Your ideal customer profile is not a persona, but a clear, common, objective definition of your target buyer.
TCA sales engagement is not about demand generation, but maximizing the value of the leads and interest you've already generated - "demand capture"
This may involve lead generation in that you'll reach accounts who haven't otherwise raised their hand or shown interest (like G2 Crowd viewers or website visitors), but this more about casting additional nets. You need to have something there already.
Results we've seen
All of these results we've observed are from the same quarter they've implemented Triggers + Context=> Action sales triggers.
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'Ed of Growth at Hull, working on all things content, acquisition & conversion. Conference speaker, flight hacker, prev. employee #1 at inbound.org (acq. HubSpot).
If you've questions or ideas, I'd love to geek out together on Twitter or LinkedIn. 👇