How (And Why) We Built A Sales Engagement Machine

Think Shift

Sales and marketing alignment is a lot like Dark Matter: it’s incredibly interesting, a lot of smart people have written about it and it’s entirely theoretical. So, when we wanted to accelerate our growth, we decided to start experimenting, and — a few Cronenberg monsters notwithstanding — we’ve found some success.

In the interest of peer review and scientific rigor, we decided to share our theories and methodology with you.

Our hypothesis was simple: there is an appetite for our content in our target audience, but they’re not searching for it.

Our experiment was…less simple. We wanted to reach a list of likely prospects with a selection of our content in a scalable way. Mechanically, this meant we needed to:

  1. Identify our prospects
  2. Create our content
  3. Find platforms that would make it scalable

Step 1: Identifying Our Prospects

We’re an agriculturally focused agency, and earlier this year, we were nominated for several National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) awards. It was a proud moment for us, but also a fantastic opportunity to identify and reach our prospective audience. We knew everybody attending the annual conference and awards presentation would be in our target audience and that NAMA shared the attendee lists in advance of the conference. We also had the attendee lists from previous years and knew a lot of folks went year after year. Prospects, identified.

Of course, you don’t need to be nominated for a national award or be attending a trade show for this approach to work for you. You just need a rigorously vetted (read: not purchased or bulk exported from your CRM) list of contacts you can reasonably assume have an interest in the content you want to share.

With LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Google and a lot of time (or a platform like LeadIQ and a little bit of time), you can pull together a list of prospects. For our experiment, we started with ~300 agrimarketing professionals pulled from the NAMA attendee lists.

Step 2: Creating Our Content

We’d been thinking through an “Agri-Culture” narrative for a while and the NAMA audience felt like a natural fit. So, we set out to create a 5-part content series that laid out our thinking on a variety of issues related to how agriculture meets corporate culture, a.k.a. Agri-Culture.

This was exactly the kind of thinking we hypothesized our list of prospects would have an appetite for but wouldn’t be proactively searching for. And by making it a content series, it gave us a reason to reach out to people a few times in the lead up to the NAMA event.

Our call-to-action for this campaign was to meet with us for a conversation, but it could just as easily have been to book a demo, download a resource or schedule a 15-minute introductory call. As long as you’ve freely demonstrated value to the prospect before asking for the conversion, the actual CTA can be for whatever makes sense for your audience.

3. Picking Our Platforms

Technically, we didn’t need to build a suite of automation apps to reach out to our ~300 prospects individually. An afternoon with Excel, Outlook and Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V would’ve seen our emails hit the same number of inboxes…but that would also have meant inconsistent follow-up and a lack of reporting. We went ahead with building our growth engine.

The essential tool for this type of campaign is a sales email automation platform. We use, but there are many options out there. Some are standalone products (Yesware) and others are baked into a CRM (HubSpot, Pipedrive). Either way, these tools allow your sales team to set up sequences of emails based on templates and rules.

These tools aren’t like MailChimp, Constant Contact or other bulk email tools that marketers use. Although all allow you to send emails to a list of people at once, sales email automation platforms don’t allow for richly designed emails. Instead, personalized emails are sent individually and come directly from the salesperson, rather than through a third party.

Once we had our platform, we set up a four email, 16-day sequence. When enrolled, a contact would receive a lightly personalized email offering up the first piece in our content series. Our platform keeps track of opens and clicks, automatically pausing the sequence if somebody replies (or opts out). Similarly, our lead capture system would notify us if somebody used the form on the content page to book a meeting with us.

With all that in place, all we had to do was simply enroll our prospect list, turn on the machine and wait.

So, how did our experiment do?

4. Results

ResultsIndustry Standard Best of NAMA
Contacts​ 348
Open Rate​ 23%​ 41%
Click-Through Rate​ 2.7%​ 17.6%
Avg. Time on Page​ 3:57
Form Submissions​ n/a
Opportunities/Meetings​ 14 meetings; 6 proposals

In the end, we netted 14 meetings at the 2019 NAMA conference and sent out 6 proposals. We feel these results reveal strong support for our hypothesis: Although many of our prospects weren’t finding what we were offering on their own, the high engagement during our email campaign shows there’s a definite appetite for this type of content.

As to why our target audience isn’t searching for this type of content…well, that’s a question for a future experiment. We’ll keep trying to crack that nut as we tinker with the next iteration of our outbound marketing machine.


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