• Is there a better way for tech start-ups to do outbound sales? Kevin Hopp says yes. His consulting firm helps seed-stage companies coach and develop a strong SDR team from the ground up.
  • Even the most sales-savvy founders can struggle when it comes to teaching the skills of the trade. That’s why investing in outbound development to properly train and enable SDRs is a smart decision in the early funding stages.
  • With outbound, nobody wants what you’re selling — yet. Kevin advises being specific when creating prospect lists to avoid the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all approach. Then, adopt a curiosity mindset to learn what problems potential customers need solved and build trust with them.

For tech companies in the early stages of funding, outbound sales is the name of the game.

And when start-up founders need help creating an outbound sales culture, they call Kevin Hopp. A former SDR himself, Kevin started Hopp Consulting Group after he became fascinated with the idea that there had to be a better way to do outbound sales.

“In every sales job I had, I was given my new laptop and fancy title — senior account executive, account executive, whatever it was — and then told to just go build pipeline without any enablement or tools,” he explains on an episode of the 0 to 5 Million podcast. 

Kevin’s company helps venture-backed seed-stage technology companies lay the foundation for a strong outbound sales program — or, as he calls it, “go from zero to one.” He shares some of the insights he’s picked up along the way, along with valuable tips for coaching high-performing SDRs. 

Lesson for founders: Teaching sales is different from selling

The first 15 or 20 sales are do-or-die for any start-up, be they tech or otherwise. And usually, the founder or the founding team is doing the selling. Those initial deals validate whether it’s even worth bringing in a VP of Sales (or an expert like Kevin), so the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When a founder comes from technology or finance, you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be great at sales. But you might assume that if the founder is a good salesperson, that would automatically translate into things like a well-equipped SDR team, better onboarding, more effective training, and enhanced scripting.

outbound sales culture

Kevin knows better. “Even if it’s a founder who’s good at selling, the enablement is rarely there,” he explains. In fact, one of the most challenging parts of his job is helping founders realize that “teaching someone else to sell your baby is very different from selling it yourself.”

Kevin notices that founders often have trouble explaining what they do and which business problems they solve in an engaging way. “If you can’t explain it to me like I’m five years old, then it’s going to be very hard to properly train and enable a sales team,” he says. 

Even if the founder has a background in sales, Kevin thinks they’re generally not the best people to build out the enablement and training of SDRs. “They pitch it from the heart,” he says, and that passion isn’t always easy to teach — or especially useful compared to concrete strategies. That’s why specific efforts to develop a strong outbound sales program are a fantastic investment for early-stage tech companies.

Pro tip: Specificity sells

One of Kevin’s best pieces of advice for companies trying to focus on outbound sales — which he essentially boils down to “talking to strangers” — is to be specific. Even if the company website presents multiple verticals and solutions, when it comes to building a prospecting list, companies should focus on just one. 

Kevin learned this lesson the hard way, back when he was the one working outbound as an SDR. He described the sales strategy like this: “We can do 14 different things for 14 different people, and I would try and pitch 14 different things on the phone.”

His goal was to serve every department in the company and to get everybody from customer support, sales, and marketing on the call. Unfortunately, he admits, that approach wasn’t very effective.

“[Getting specific] doesn’t mean your entire go-to-market motion has all its eggs in one basket,” he explains. But it does mean limiting your prospecting list to people with the same use case or specific value. Then create another sequence and another cadence for each separate vertical market.

This can be very challenging for an early-stage company to nail down, given the enthusiasm and hunger for those crucial first deals. But when it comes to outbound sales, limiting the scope is actually the key to widening the net.

A theory: Trivia buffs make great salespeople

Kevin says that the most important thing to keep in mind in outbound sales is that the prospects aren’t interested. “If they were interested, they would have called you,” he points out.

In fact, he puts it even more bluntly: “Nobody wants to buy your stuff. Everyone wants to solve their problems.” So taking a product-first, Are you ready to buy today? approach is the wrong way to go. Instead, Kevin believes that curiosity needs to be one of the key tenets of any good outbound program.

Kevin has a theory that some of the best salespeople in the world are also great at trivia. Why? Because they always follow their curiosity and look for information. 

This trait comes out in how they sell — in their tones, inflections, and questions. Faced with a prospect, they never blindly push a product, but rather, they take the time to figure out what problems exist and whether they can help.

Kevin also teaches his teams that curiosity is one of the basic elements of trust, and trust is how outbound sales goes from “talking to strangers” to building a relationship. 

“Humans innately like to be asked questions,” Kevin explains, noting this is very apparent in children but less so in adults. In sales, asking basic questions about the information being provided — even things that have nothing to do with the deal — is a great way to build rapport.

For instance, if a prospect mentions they won’t be available for a call on Monday because they’re taking a vacation, ask them where they’re going. Mention a sports team local to their destination. Follow up on the next call, and ask how the trip went.

“All of a sudden we’re talking about something in common. All of a sudden the curiosity has led to a basic level of trust,” Kevin explains. “The more you can ask questions about someone’s process, their work, their life, what’s going on when they close the laptop, the more they’re going to naturally trust you.” And trust is the first step to closing.

Talking to strangers: The essential outbound skill

“Talking to strangers” can be intimidating — I mean, weren’t we all taught not to do it? — but it’s an essential element for any tech start-up to get off the ground. 

It’s not enough for a founder to be passionate about their product. To really empower outbound sales, they need to find and develop a strong team of SDRs and give them the training and enablement to turn strangers into customers.

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