A Conversation with Chris Beall, CEO of ConnectAndSell
In today's MarTech leader conversation, we chat with Chris Beall, CEO of ConnectAndSell, a unique phone technology service that connects your marketing and sales teams with targets instantaneously. We discuss Chris's approach to marketing, including his belief in a “talk to engage” approach, the two main roles of content, and the future of building trust.
The value prop of ConnectAndSell is simple: It's very hard to get a hold of people today on the phone in B2B. We reduce that problem to pushing a button and waiting two or three minutes and talking to somebody on your list. It allows you to talk to many more targets than you otherwise would. You can think of it as sales tech or as marketing tech. In fact, with our biggest customer, everyone in the company who uses ConnectAndSell reports directly to marketing.
We have about 650 people in the company. It's put together in kind of an unusual way: We have a lot of people offshore in various centers in India and the Philippines, plus US-based home workers who navigate phone calls as part of the company's offering. That's all done silently in the background.
The company started 16 years ago. We're now north of $20-plus million in ARR, and we're growing steadily—around 15 to 30% a year.
Our main technical competition is dialers that merely get you to a phone number, whereas we get you to an actual target. Then, of course, there are outsourced appointment setters, but they're actually talking to your target for you. Our differentiation is that we take care of everything to get you a conversation with your target, but we never talk to your target—we just connect you, within milliseconds, to the person you want to talk to. From your prospect’s perspective, they answered a normal phone call. From your perspective, you pushed a button and got a conversation with someone you wanted to talk with.
We have been very successful. We have one company that I can't name, but they were acquired by another very big company, and they were told to grow from 400 million to a billion dollars in the small- and medium-sized business sector in America. It had taken them 22 years to get to 400 million. And they were given four years to grow to a billion. They only had 52 people working the top of their funnel. So, we showed them how to use ConnectAndSell to get the job done with the team they had instead of hiring 400 more people.They beat their number by more than 11% without having to hire anybody. So that's what we're all about.
I started with ConnectAndSell 10-and-a-half years ago as the VP of product. I've had a lot of different titles in the company; I was even the CFO at one point. My roles and responsibilities now are mostly around marketing and sales. In fact, I am the nominal head of marketing. We have an SVP of sales and marketing, but our funnel is so full that he focuses mostly on sales. We don't have a full-time VP of marketing, so I take on the marketing role personally.
We do a lot of different things that are unusual to take advantage of the fact that we can talk to so many people. The number-one thing that I've got to do is make sure that we have enough money and enough resources to service our customers and our growth. Given that our system has about 600 human beings inside of it, that's a fairly substantial thing to pay attention to. But mostly, what I'm looking to do is some selling, because I believe the best information about where the market is headed can be found by directly working with customers. This year I'll probably sell $6 to $7 million of both new and renewal revenue.
I'm a big believer that in order to be successful, companies have to make their customers truly successful. The thing we're providing helps our customers set more meetings, so that's what I pay a great deal of attention to: How are our customers doing in producing results with ConnectAndSell? And some of our customers actually allow us to connect to their CRM in a way that we can see their pipeline that's created. I was just looking at one company's CRM yesterday. They've been using ConnectAndSell for only about five months, and they’ve produced $5.35 million of pipeline directly from ConnectAndSell and $16.629 million of pipeline after having a conversation with a target using ConnectAndSell. They've paid us roughly $65,000 to get those results. That's success to me.
The first thing I do every day is kind of unusual. I'm 67 years old, and I like to make sure that I have some time where I'm in motion and doing routine things, because it allows my mind to work properly. I make breakfast every morning for my fiancée and myself. And, for example, today, it's 8:46 in the morning, and I've taken 6,876 steps, burned 1,425 calories, and had one hour and 11 minutes of cardio. The number-one tool I use is the body because your mind is in your body, so you need to take care of it.
Next, I very quickly go through my email. I also check all the Test Drives from the day before. We run our business on these experiences called Intensive Test Drives™, where we let interested prospects have a full day of production with ConnectAndSell. Our product is so simple, but it's also very fast, so people just can't understand it. It's like being in a world where everybody has a bicycle, and we're selling a Tesla. So, we just let them use it in production for a day. It’s part of our sales process, but I think of it as a type of “experience marketing”: not just a demo, but instead, direct production experience that usually generates a measurable pipeline. So, I check the Test Drives’ results and then check out those companies to see if they look like high-potential customers.
And then, I often record one or more podcasts with somebody. I try to be a guest on podcasts every other day or so. And I have my own podcast to record. I also go onto LinkedIn every morning. I have a pretty substantial LinkedIn presence with about 22,000 connections and another 21,000 followers. Then, late in the morning, I go into a session that normally lasts between an hour and an hour and a half with my data concierge. We have all the company's data and all the data from all of our customers collected in PowerBI, using Microsoft Synapse. It's not efficient for me to go in and make my own reports. I get insights by working interactively and iteratively with the data. And then, I can also publish those insights on LinkedIn or on our blog and use them in my Market Dominance Guys podcast, in addition to improving things for our customers and business. Then, of course, there's working with customer situations. And I usually spend an hour to two hours a day selling.
Over the next few years, our goal is first to help other companies who have the goods and the will to dominate their markets by having a lot of trust-building conversations very quickly, before their competitors can even move. With regard to the numbers, we don't really have numbers goals. We think that this is one of the biggest markets ever, and if we help enough companies dominate, making a billion-dollar-valuation company should be straightforward for us. We're pretty sure that we have the only thing like this. We also hold key patents in this area that makes it very difficult for anybody else to make another connection.
The LinkedIn and podcast channels have been the most effective for us, beyond the most obvious channel for a company that navigates more than 60 million dials per year: outbound calling. We see calling people as a key marketing activity. I know most people think of it as a sales activity. But to us, when you're introducing your company and your product to somebody and setting up a meeting, you're doing the same thing you would be doing with trying to get inbound. We like doing this with outbound lists, because this way, we can centrally manage all of our lists of targets. And this is unusual—a lot of people leave it up to their sales reps to do it. We've transformed it into a centrally managed marketing activity.
The strategy is executed by reaching out and talking to people first. We do use other channels, but only after we've had a conversation. And the reason for that is very simple: There is an uplift of about 14x when you send an email to somebody immediately following a conversation. That email that says "Thank you for the conversation" is read every time, whereas the email that has some tricky subject matter line in it, as HubSpot is telling us to do now, is considered to be noise. So, at the top of the funnel, the first marketing touch is a conversation. And, just to give you a sense, my small team had 7,111 conversations with targeted prospects in the month of October.
What hasn't worked well is search. And I think the reason is that we're not in a category. There’s only one ConnectAndSell. We have one little competitor that chases us around, and they pay a ton of money in order to be the first result when people look for ConnectAndSell. And then their ad just says, "Well, we're like ConnectAndSell," so I don't have to buy that ad. They basically advertise for me.
A big trend that we've noticed is also something that our customers are noticing. Email open rates and response rates are going down, down, down. HubSpot has been reporting this. That trend appears to be going on with outbound. The trend that we're also noticing is more people who are in sales and marketing and B2B are coming back to the voice, back to the phone.
I think the future of B2B will be dominated by people who understand the key role of trust and trusting relationships. It sounds wrong, but I think it's correct: The future will be about industrializing the manufacturing of trust and then reinforcing that by providing high-quality, insightful content to somebody who already has a trust relationship with you. I think that is what's going to make B2B work for companies that dominate. And I think it's not done very much. We're still in a phase where people think that content is used to soften up the market and get the conversations. But we happen to have hard evidence from 3 million conversations a year that you can start with conversations and then build trust. And in B2B, buyers do not buy until they trust the seller more than they trust themselves. So, I believe the industrialization of the manufacturing of trust, and then the nurturing of that trust through content, is going to be the big thing.
We see content as having two roles. The first is reaching out broadly to the community of people who are in sales and marketing to let them know there's another way—that you actually can hold enough high-quality conversations fast enough to completely pave your market with trust and dominate your market. Our podcast, Market Dominance Guys, is a big part of our content output. It's incredibly valuable, as it gives us both a whole podcast episode and snippets to share.
Other people's podcasts are another content generator for us. Tony Safoian, the CEO of SADA, has a podcast called Cloud N Clear. So he and I traded podcasts—I went on his, and he came on mine. And when I was on his podcast, I got to ask him, "Hey, Tony, didn't you guys create like a million dollars of pipeline just during your three-hour Test Drive with ConnectAndSell?" And he laughed and said, "Chris, we made tens of millions of dollars of pipeline in those three hours." Well, that is a nice little snippet to be able to send as a link to somebody as a follow-up to a conversation.
The other big content play we have is on LinkedIn. I publish content in the form of, "Here are the numbers; here’s some commentary about them." And then there are some people who actually publish videos of themselves using the product to make calls.
The role of content is a big deal for us because we believe in this thing we call “talk to engage.” You talk to somebody first, and then you engage them digitally, because you're engaging them within the context of a relationship you built in the conversation.
My biggest challenge in terms of content is creativity. I end up being a focal point of our content, and as a result, it comes in little waves. I have the steadiness of the podcast; that's good. I have that promoted by my podcast producer; that's good. But I sometimes feel like we're still underplaying the great content about the actual success that customers are having with ConnectAndSell—or better, deep insights that come from the data that's generated.
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