Sales and marketing can be very difficult, and the industry is constant changing. Paul Dreblow took some time to talk to Jake Atwood from Buzzbuilder, who has is active in helping salespeople learn how to navigate the changing sales landscape.
PD: Describe yourself/company in 2-3 sentences: tell us who you are and what’s important about you.
JA: I’ve been a sales coach and a keynote speaker for the past 15 or so years. I’ve trained roughly 50,000 sales people. In 2008 I founded Buzzbuilder which is a web-based software app designed to help sales people automate their prospecting efforts and make it easier to find new customers without the burden of cold calling. On the personal front, my wife and I just celebrated our 9th anniversary a few days ago, we have a daughter named Sophia who’s 6 years old, and we’ve got another girl on the way. My focus has shifted from the business to the baby’s room and I’ve got a honey-do list a mile long!
PD: You work in the sales software field or industry. How long have you been doing this? What got you into this industry and why do you remain in it?
JA: The big picture is SAAS software and then the niche within that is sales and marketing automation. We’ve shifted our focus toward what I call prospecting automation, which helps salespeople improve their efficiency and maximize their business development efforts. I got into the software industry somewhat by accident. I was a sales consultant for several years, and found that my all clients we were experiencing a lot of the same issues—their sales teams were struggling to reach decision makers, organize their territory, and generate enough leads. So in 2006 I started a search for a sales tool that would help them and was surprised to find out that that there was nothing available. I eventually realized this was an unserved market and I hired a developer to build the first ever cold emailing and prospecting automation tool for salespeople. I was fortunate to find talented people to turn the vision into a product and it’s been a fun ride.
PD: So you’ve seen quite a change in the whole field of lead generation and sales and marketing automation I imagine.
JA: Big time! When we first started out, we talked to marketers and even sales managers and they’d say “What? You want our sales people to be able to build content and do email marketing on their own? Are you crazy?” It was unheard of for sales people to do anything other than make a cold call or attend a networking event. So we had to spend a lot of time battling the status quo by educating them about new ways to prospect. That’s changed a lot. Today, the idea of cold emailing, lead scoring and web tracking is past the early adopter phase and it’s much more widely accepted. Now our focus is not so much on educating the prospect anymore as it is about differentiation.
PD: So you’re familiar I’m sure with the latest from Frank Rumbauskas Jr. “Cold Calling Is Dead”. Would you share in the sentiment?
JA: I don’t know that it’s dead, but it sure is rotten. 10 years ago, statistically it took you a little over 3 attempts to be able to get somebody live on a phone call, and now it’s over 8 attempts. And so you’ve basically tripled your workload to get the same results. Most sales people could never make enough cold calls to meet their sales goals. I’m a big advocate of having a multi-faceted prospecting approach that combines the phone with LinkedIn and social media, email marketing, content marketing, and other tactics. You want to build a lead generating machine that can produce repeatable, consistent results.
PD: Every industry or job has its like and dislikes. Can you tell me two of each?
JA: Well, I love the fast pace of the software industry. I love that it changes constantly. I actually thrive on change. I love the creativity of it too. You can take an idea, turn that idea into a new feature, and then that feature either ends up transforming a sales person or a whole sales team. To me, that’s a really compelling journey. As far as dislikes, I didn’t come from a technical background—I’m more focused on ideas than lines of code. Because of this, I’m not as energized by all of the technical discussions that are a necessary part of the process when you’re developing an app. Software development is also very process-driven, which tends to rub my creative side the wrong way. However, you learn that this is an important part of good decision-making. I live on a small lake and I joke with my wife that it was a lot deeper before I threw so much money into it because of mistakes and rash decisions.
PD: How has the industry changed since you started in it?
JA: I’ve seen a shift in the role of a sales professional and notice that they’ve become more empowered to create compelling content, write email campaigns, approach prospects with social media like LinkedIn and Twitter, and use tactics other than just traditional cold calling. Whereas we used to work mostly with marketing teams, today we work more closely with sales teams to roll out the application. The bottom line is that salespeople have become the new micro marketers.
PD: So what other changes do you think are ahead?
JA: Everything’s moving mobile. The fact that 51 percent of emails are opened on a mobile device is a good indicator of this. As a result, sales people are going to be more productive in any environment. It’s no longer about tethering yourself to your desk and banging out cold calls in front of your database. I think that anywhere Sales Reps are, whether they’re in between meetings or on the road, they’re going to be productive.
PD: Your industry interfaces directly with ours, the larger world of inbound or content marketing. Do you see any challenges or issues in working with those in the larger inbound marketing world? Does everyone appreciate what you do?
JA: You hear a lot of debate about inbound verses outbound as if they’re opposed. I think the best lead generation process is a combination of inbound and outbound working in unison. As an example, we see a lot of reps leveraging content from marketing team and using it throughout the sales cycle. I also think it’s difficult for a marketer to create a lead and have that lead convert itself. Usually it requires that lead to be further nurtured by outbound follow-up efforts from a sales rep. One of the challenges with inbound marketing is that it usually requires a lot of good quality content, which most businesses don’t have the resources to create. A lot of our clients have asked their sales team to contribute content and ideas and have made it a collaborative effort.
PD: We run into that a lot. A lot of these small businesses have 1 or 2 marketing people, and we wonder why they can’t write the content.
JA: From our experience, they wear a lot of hats, and most of them aren’t sure where to start with inbound marketing. We’ll often suggest that they look at 3rd party bloggers and publishers they could borrow content from—just make sure to ask for permission to use it.
PD: So where do you see yourself and the company in 5, 10 or 20 years?
JA: We actually just went through a 5 year planning project and my goal is to grow Buzzbuilder into a global organization over the next 10 years. Then I’ll take a serious look at selling the business or hiring a CEO to do the operations because I’m mostly interested in starting new businesses. I love the incubation period. Ideally, every 5 to 6 years I’d like to launch a new business, grow it, and then sell it and move on to the next. I plan to keep building businesses for the next 30 to 40 years, or until my body doesn’t let me do it anymore.
PD: Is there anything else you would like to tell this audience?
JA: Whether you’re a sales professional, marketer, or entrepreneurs, I’ve learned a fairly simple life lesson: Do what you love, and then never give up. About 2 years after starting Buzzbuilder, we hit a period where we seemed to plateau. It was like 2 steps forward but then 1 step back. I remember saying to my wife “This isn’t picking up steam as fast as I’d like it to. I’ll give it 6 more months and if things don’t get easier maybe I’ll just abandon the business.” You learn that a series of failures is part of any success, and I’m grateful that I had a lot of support from friends and family that convinced me to stay the course. Like a wise man named Joe Dirt once said: “You’ve gotta keep on keeping on.”