4 Steps to Shorten Your Sales Cycle and Bump Up Low-Touch Conversions by 70%

Shorten Sales Cycle

Here’s how we scaled our approach to converting low-touch leads at Appcues. We call them “low touch,” although you may refer to them as semi-qualified, self-service, low-ACV, etc. It’s a framework you can use to create your own product activity-based automation workflows. This will massively increase the effectiveness of individual sales reps and help you shorten your sales cycle.


  1. Define what a person needs to do before they buy
  2. Make it easy for the product to talk to salespeople
  3. Give one salesperson autonomy over the content + leads
  4. Measure results and iterate

The Background

At Appcues—as in many SaaS companies—our sales team operates on an entirely inbound model. One of our founders, Jonathan Kim, spent his early days at Hubspot and so our team is fully immersed in the content-driven, freemium, product-led world of new-age software sales.

Like many Software companies, we chose to allow anyone to trial the product, and so we opened the gates to about 1000 leads per month. This means hundreds of unqualified and semi-qualified leads (70%), alongside our target demographics and ideal buying persona (30%).

Fielding unqualified/semi-qualified leads alongside our ICP

Without proper safeguards, these leads can brutalize sales efficiency and create a big burden for support, but, we largely mitigated this with enrichment from Clearbit and predictive lead scoring via Madkudu. Big wins—and big growth—all around.

So, we’re able to assign our top 30% of leads to our Account Execs, and they close that business at exceptional rates. In 2017, however, hundreds of leads unqualified for personal outreach by an Account Executive were left untouched outside of marketing.

Low-ACV leads seldom justify a sales rep’s time

There’s a growing juxtaposition in software sales. As freemium and scalable pricing models become commonplace, addressable markets grow. The problem with these low-ACV leads, though, is that they almost never economically justify salesperson-time. The volume was there, but we needed to test a strategy for addressing these leads efficiently.

The Breakdown

We were averaging 700 low-touch leads per month with conversion sitting around 1% of the last 2 months’ leads.

If we could get conversions to 2%, that would mean a significant boost (in the six-figures) to ARR booked in 1Q’18.  

Now we’re talking.

Jason Lemkin said, “an inside sales rep who doesn’t have to generate his/her own leads can easily contact and further qualify 100-150 leads/month,” But we had way more than 150 leads coming in each month.

Engaging the low-touch leads

When they bought, they bought on small plans, without much individual time, but there was enough business there to make us wonder if we could be engaging these low-touch leads with a pseudo-sales process.

Historically, leads given to our sales reps converted at 20% higher rates than those that only get touched by marketing. We now needed to create a method by which our worst-rated leads would be given mostly-automated “sales” attention thus improving conversion.

Introducing the low-touch sales rep

I was hired to build out that semi-automation, scale myself to handle hundreds of leads moving through individual buying processes, and get the low-touch conversion from 1% to 2% in 2018.

We did it in 3 months.

Shorten Your Sales Cycle with the Low-Touch Sales Model

Shorten Sales Cycle: Sales Stack

1) Define what a person needs to do before they buy

Product/UX teams call this activation. David Skok has published invaluable content on this topic.

For us, this meant:

  1. Creating their first piece of content on Appcues.
  2. Viewing our pricing page more than once in a single day.
  3. Installing our SDK into their web app.
  4. Publishing their first piece of content live to their users.

If two of the above happened, then the expiration of a trial also counts as an event in the sales lifecycle. Otherwise: dead lead.

2) Make it easy for the product to talk to salespeople

We defined several of the key activities we knew were converting in our app (see above). And then created segments (in Hull.io) consisting of users who had completed each of them. A new segment was made for each activity, by lead owner (AEs and low-touch).

Shorten Sales Cycle: Hull(Hull.io Screenshot)

Now, when each user enters an activity segment, a ping goes straight to the Slack DM of the assigned rep (Hull does this). If the lead is low-touch, the low-touch rep gets a ping.

The result? Real-time product alerts for sales reps.

In this way, the product keeps the salespeople in the loop. This also opens the door for the kinds of semi-automated workflows that multiply the productivity of a single rep.

3) Give one salesperson autonomy over the content + leads

We iterated on many campaigns; gauging reply rates, open rates, conversion rates, and efficiency. We landed on the below strategy.

A note here: Bucket three is not fully “automated.” This is intentional. Over-automation creates awkward mistakes. Contacting leads at inappropriate times (when they have an active support ticket, or you’ve just spoken on the phone) reveals the impersonal nature of automation. It also removes the charm of the otherwise personal, relevant-feeling communication.

Bucket three—when done right—leaves the impression that there is someone keeping an eye out making sure trial users are successful with their product. Done wrong, it becomes a standard marketing drip. A highly enabled salesperson-gatekeeper is the answer.

Send a personalized tour of your product

Shorten Sales Cycle: Appcues

Everyone who enters our trial gets a personalized, role-based, automated tour of Appcues (built with Appcues.). This tour drives them to learn key functionality by DOING. This converts 20% better than email on average because the learning is contextual. Appcues builds muscle memory for our users.

Follow this up with a basic email drip

All low-touch leads receive a basic 3 email drip from the low-touch rep. It’s important this comes from a rep (even if the rep isn’t a real human) and gets distinguished from marketing emails. Sales attention feels different.

Here’s what our drip looks like (we built this with Customer.io):

  • Day 1, instant: A simple welcome message with a link to our on-demand video demo. If the lead requests a real demo, send a calendar link with the video link just above it. Most small leads opt for video when given the option again.
  • Day 3: A framework containing the first five workflows we think they should build with Appcues, with screenshots and explanations.
  • Day 7, if no replies: A final reach-out, mentioning that the lead has been silent and offering next steps in case they want to engage.

Shorten Sales Cycle: Customer.io(Customer.io Screenshot)

Add more context with another follow-up

Upon completing some intent-revealing activities, semi-automation allowed for a few more messages from the same rep. These were queued as drafts, vetted, and sent by an actual person in under a minute:

  • 3 Pricing page views: An email asking if the lead has any questions on pricing.
  • Installation of our SDK: An email congratulating the lead on successful installation and offering a piece of “custom” built content.
  • Content published: An email applauding the lead’s work and asking if there were any issues.
  • Trial expired + content published: An email asking if there were any final questions before the leads started their subscription.

Shorten Sales Cycle: Slack(Slack Screenshot)

4) Measure results and iterate

Using Hull segmentation, we can retroactively measure conversion between each of our different lifecycle buckets. This included conversion from lead to customer, time to conversion, MRR, ASP, and potentially dozens of other metrics of success around each of our experiments. At the end of the day, the important metric always depends on the experiment that’s being run.

Using the above process, low-touch sales conversion rate increased 70%, ASP increased 25%, and ARR closed in the quarter increased 60% over our 4Q’17 levels. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars converted to ARR.

Build Automation to Create a Highly Enabled Salesperson

Sales have fallen behind our counterparts in product and marketing when it comes to true capacity-creating innovation. With automation alone, you can get a few quick wins, but you can also rack up some very costly mistakes as complexity levels increase.

Using the framework above, you can figure out where automation works and where a highly enabled salesperson can hold the keys efficiently.

To summarize, the framework looks like this:

  1. Define what a person needs to do before they buy and get them there with the product.
  2. Establish mechanisms for the product to communicate with salespeople.
  3. Give a salesperson control over the content and the leads.
  4. Measure results and adjust.

Think I’m full of it? Reach out and I’ll show you how it all works. Already using semi-automated tactics of your own? Share them in the comments below!

Also published on Medium.

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