A few days ago I had the pleasure of chatting with one of the best-known experts in the sales world, Aaron Ross. He is the author of the best-selling book on sales development titled Predictable Revenue and a co-founder of the sales consulting agency that goes by the same name.
Aaron went from having no business (after his first company failed) to having a multi-million dollar business — solely by applying sales principles he discovered while being down in the sales trenches at Salesforce.
After the first book was successful, he decided to go in-depth on the matter and co-wrote a book From Impossible to Inevitable.
But, who is Aaron Ross?
How would you introduce yourself to someone that doesn’t know you?
Well, I’m a co-founder of predictablerevenue.com, a sales consulting agency, and I’m also a writer of 4 books. But, people only care about two of them — Predictable Revenue and from Impossible to Inevitable. I’ve also written a children’s book with my son titled, Sons Love Drawing Mutant Robot Battles With Dads.
And a fun fact about me is that I’m a father of 10 children.
Can you tell me about your family and how it has impacted your career?
Interesting thing is that salespeople and business people consider family, at worst, a distraction from the career, at best, something they have a hard time juggling. You know, there’s work over here and there is a family over there, and they both suffer. For me, I do my best to sort of blend the two so that each can help each other. For example, having kids, I still remember when I got married eight years ago. My wife had two kids from her first marriage and then she got pregnant quickly after our wedding. I distinctly remember this moment where I knew she was pregnant, and I was like “I have to make more money”. Before that, for years I was single and I didn’t have to make much money. I didn’t spend much. I didn’t have an expensive, lavish lifestyle, but having a family and having kids, and then more kids, has been the number one motivator to light a fire under my a** to make a lot more money. By having kids and expanding the family, it forced me to grow my income by 10 to 11 times, you know, from a little under $100,000 to $800,000 a year. So for me, that’s one example of how kids and family made my career more successful.
Another example is that I take some of my older kids on business trips with me. So, I’ve had my 10-year-old daughter help me keynote a sales conference a few years ago — and the crowd loved it. Now she’s 16, and I take her to my headquarters. I took my 14-year-old son with me when I did the keynote at a conference in Florida. He had a great time, and the people loved it. It makes people see me as a regular person, a family man.
Again, my career and family are a blend and I always look at how the two can help each other.
Was your family the inspiration for writing the book Predictable Revenue and opening up a consultancy — or did that happen before you got married?
Yeah, I was doing sales consulting and then created a sales consulting company before I got married. It was how I supported myself since I left Salesforce.com. I created the whole outbound sales system at Salesforce and helped them almost double how fast they were growing – a couple of a hundred million in a few years. So I was doing sales consulting for a few years until I got married, and I already had the idea and a draft for the book at that time. But, having a fast growing family was the catalyst to force me to just do it.
It forced me to publish the book, to find a partner for my sales consulting and it’s forcing me to nail my niche. Because, before I did any general sales consulting, I had to focus on my best niche and making money in the easiest way possible. That’s when I started making more money.
A few years later, I had to keep the ball rolling. I’m naturally an author and that’s when I got the idea for the second book.
Supporting the family is hard in first world countries and in expensive cities like Los Angeles. Supporting a family as big as mine is insanely expensive. The costs for my family are close to $60,000 a month. I guess I’m financially conservative. I don’t like to spend money, but I like to invest. So, my family, we spend lots of money, but I always thought of it as an investment rather than an expense.
Do you use virtual assistants or something like that for your business or for your daily tasks?
A little bit. You know, I’ve had several virtual assistants and I’ve had a hit-or-miss experience with them. But, I have found someone to do financial bookkeeping for my personal finances and I use something called bench.co for my business.
If I had a struggling business, how would you advise me to switch from an old business strategy to the Predictable Revenue system? Would it be easy to do, and what would be the first step?
Let’s take two situations.
The first situation is: you have a business that’s already growing and it’s relatively successful, so it’s probably at least 15 million in revenue. But the business is not competent. You are confident in your product and you’re confident in most of your team members, but you’re not confident in your sales team and the way your sales team is working. So, in this case, the Predictable Revenue book outlines a couple of ideas that have changed people’s lives.
The first is sales specialization, which means, just like a soccer team, each player has a specialty. You know, you have attackers, midfield defenders, and a goalie. But in sales, there are still businesses that have one salesperson doing everything. They’re prospecting, they’re responding to inbound leads, they are signing new customers and managing customers. So that’s usually the first step – to specialize your sales team. Now, you’ve got the prospectors who can prospect, closers who close, and other teams that manage customers.
So that’s one. The other idea, outbound prospecting, can be a very predictable way to generate qualified appointments for the sales team. It doesn’t really matter how great your sales team is in the sales process and products. If you don’t have a predictable or regular way to generate leads for them, they will struggle. We’ll have that up and down a roller coaster. If you have a way to generate predictable leads for them, you can do really well. You can have a lot of things go wrong and still do really well. One way to generate predictable leads is through outbound prospecting. The book Predictable Revenue goes into detail around how we created a system at Salesforce.com. But even with GDPR, or wherever you are in the world, there are always ways to do outbound selling and prospecting in a way where you can have more control over how you grow the business.
That’s one situation.
The other situation is that your business is a startup. You’re going through some kind of transition. You’re not confident in the business or maybe you’re trying to grow it. Maybe you don’t feel you’ve really nailed the product niche. Maybe you’re just not that profitable and you may not even be exactly sure why you’re struggling.
So, for this kind of company, the book From Impossible to Inevitable, which is more of a growth bible, is the best place to start. This book will tell you why you’re not growing, what to do about it and how to keep it up.
The first most common reason similar businesses fail is that they don’t know who their Ideal Customer is. They are too dependent on the word-of-mouth, referrals, and relationships — but that is not enough to grow.
The first part of the book is called Nail a niche, and it describes the challenge that companies have with really identifying what kind of customer needs them the most — not what customers they want.
So there are two matrix exercises that walk people through on how to define the best niche.
- What are their opportunities, what are the best ones and
- identifying who are the people you want to target and what they care about.
What would you say are the key components to the Predictable Revenue system?
Having a structured, specialized SDR team is definitely a key component to predictable revenue and growth.
What are your thoughts on outsourcing roles, for example, an outsourced SDR VS hiring an in-house SDR?
That’s a great question. At predictablerevenue.com, we offer to outsource sales development for businesses that do business in the US. So, outsourcing can be great If you don’t want to hire new people, or if you feel you don’t know how to hire people and manage them. Outsourcing can be a good short-term option, usually like 6 to 18 months. But at some point, you want your own people internally. That is the best long-term option, having your own sales development representatives or outbound SDRs, the junior salespeople who are doing list building.
What is your favorite prospecting cadence?
I don’t have a favorite cadence, but I think it doesn’t really matter whether SDRs email or call, or call and then email, email and then do a social connection. It’s more important that people have enough touches like they do in a follow-up. I think it’s also more important that the SDRs are very thoughtful about which companies they are targeting. The great thing about automation is it makes it easy to do these cadences. The bad thing about automation is people are just throwing stuff out there without thinking about which companies they should be targeting and whether it is working or not. If it’s not working, what should they do next? They become a robot.
So again, it’s more about the amount of follow-ups and being mindful about what your ICP is and who to reach out to.
What would you say is the best number of follow-up emails?
For a SaaS company with revenue from $20,000 to $80,000, I’d say 8 to 15 touches.
For smaller companies, you might just do five touches.
If your company has special accounts, you might even do a hundred touches.
Again, this is that mindfulness for who I’m going after, what kind of company or which market. Just paying attention to those things. There is no copy and paste formula for everything we do. You can learn from other people. You can imitate, but you still got to do your own thing. I think through what and how am I going to do this in a way which works for me and my market. And if I’m going after the enterprise companies versus small companies versus mid-market companies, you got to use your brain. Yeah.
Prospectors give up too easily. You run a cadence of 10 touches with someone, write six emails, four calls and they don’t respond. Okay. Just put them on a list for next nurturing cadence. If it’s a great account, yeah pursue it. This is where you have to decide, well, do I really quit this? If they want to be great, it’s a decision an SDR has to make intelligently, and not be a robot.
Do you leverage cold calls in your prospecting process?
Yes, we do. Now if you have read the Predictable Revenue book, there’s a section in there. As I said, cold calling is dead. I was being a little dramatic. So there’s the classic cold call where I’m calling the decision maker and trying to get them on the phone. Our kind of cold call is actually a big difference. It’s really more of a research call where you call up the company, usually on the general line, You’d then want to talk to an office manager or an executive assistant. Get past them to their decision maker. You’d want to talk to people there who know what’s going on and that they know the people. They can give you valuable information about the business, and if you don’t get to talk to the decision maker, you did some good research.
What is your favorite sales book?
There are two books that were the most inspiring to me when I was at Salesforce creating the sales system. The two books that were most inspiring weren’t sales books. One is The Toyota way. It is really more about creating manufacturing systems, which is what I want to do with sales. And the other one is Wooden, which is more of management philosophy.
I remember there’s a book I liked a lot called Proactive selling. I feel like most of the sales books are all pretty similar.
What is the biggest failure you have ever had?
There are two. There’s one business failure that was by far the most painful. This was before salesforce.com, I started the company with a partner and we ultimately raised $5 million, but unfortunately, the company went out of business and we had to shut it down. That was really painful. I wrote about this in the Predictable Revenue book, about how I would go home on Friday, drink vodka and play video games. That was like the dream dying. The second failure was my first divorce, almost 20 years ago. That was incredibly painful as well.
If you had to put a quote on a billboard for everyone to see what would it be?
Like any quote? Yeah, just fucking adopt. Or, stop thinking about it and just do it. There are uncountable millions of kids around the world that don’t have families, it’s a crime.
What is your number one goal for 2019?
Move to Scotland.