The Truth Behind ROI in Email w/ John Barrows

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This is a podcast episode titled, The Truth Behind ROI in Email w/ John Barrows. The summary for this episode is: <p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">ROI? More like RIP. Special guest John Barrows joins the Gong Labs Live fam to get to the bottom of why mentioning ROI in cold emails can prevent you from booking meetings. Uncover the brow-raising data behind this powerful insight on Friday.</span></p>
Why salespeople get ghosted
01:21 MIN
Doe ROI in cold emails book meetings?
00:46 MIN
A look into the data: Does ROI language help emails?
03:20 MIN
What you can do instead of ROI
03:41 MIN

Devin: What's up, everybody, what's going on? Happy Friday. All right, now, you might be asking, what is Gong Labs Live? Gong Labs Live is the only show on LinkedIn bringing you real talk and data on sales. Every week, I'm going to sit down with different sales leaders and different sales pros to share data- backed sales insights that you can add to your sales approach. Now, if you want to increase your earning potential, if you want to break sales records at your company, or maybe you just like to add a little edutainment to your Friday, then this is exactly where you want to be. We meet here every Friday at 9: 00 AM Pacific, and you can sign up for future events using the link in the comments to make sure you don't miss an episode. Be on the lookout for Nehal. She's our show producer. All right, let's see who we got. We got people calling in from Irvine, California, Maryland, south Florida, Sacramento. Shout out to Sacramento. I went to school there. I'm from there. We got Denver. We have Germany, Luca. You might be the furthest caller. No, we've got Ukraine. I'm not great with geography. Someone's going to have to tell me if Ukraine or Germany is further from the Bay Area, but fantastic. Keep putting the shout- out there from where you're calling in from, and we'll go ahead and get into today's episode. We've got a legend on the line, folks. I want to introduce my friend. He's like a quasi mentor. He doesn't know he's a mentor to me, but I've been following him on LinkedIn for so long it feels like he is. Everybody, go ahead and give a shout- out to John. John Barrows. How you doing, man?

John Barrows: Yo, what's up, Devin? How you doing, brother?

Devin: I'm doing good. I'm doing good. I want to give you a shout- out, not just to thank you for being here, but I know yesterday you were in the hospital with kidney stones.

John Barrows: Yeah.

Devin: How you feeling, man? Are you bouncing back a little bit?

John Barrows: Yeah. First time I had them two weeks ago, and when I tell you it was literally the worst pain I've ever felt in my entire life, knocked me out for a whole day. Then, I was dropping my daughter off at school yesterday, and the same pain started to creep in. As I'm driving, I'm like, shit. I'm like, this isn't going to be pretty, so I just went straight to the emergency room, and had them hook me up on an IV, and drugs do a lot. Drugs do wonders when it comes to pain, so I'm doing fine now.

Devin: Man, I had to say, I saw the... I think you put it on LinkedIn, on your story-

John Barrows: crosstalk Yeah.

Devin: I just saw a picture of you. I think you had the air tubes in, and you're laying down, I was like, " Yo, first of all, is John okay? Is he dead? Is he good?" Then, I'm grateful, 24 hours later, you're here on the show, so shout- out to the perseverance you have and all sales pros have to make it happen.

John Barrows: Thanks man. I appreciate it, and I apologize to the two clients and one webinar I had to bail on yesterday, because I was a little bit either in pain or too hopped up on the drugs to actually have a conscious, coherent conversation.

Devin: Well, it's funny, because when salespeople miss a meeting, it's because I had a kid, I'm getting married, I had kidney stones, which are very important things, I will say, when prospects and buyers will like, nah, I didn't want to show up today. I'm curious, I didn't put this in the script or anything. I put a post onto LinkedIn this morning, and it said, " People ghost salespeople because," and then a blank, so, fill in the blank, John. Why do people ghost salespeople?

John Barrows: Because most meetings suck. Most sales reps suck at running meetings. They straight up... I mean, they ask a bunch of basic, inaudible oriented type questions. They pretend like they're listening. Then, after, say, at least 50%, so they'll make sure that the client talks more than them, they then kick off into this generic pitch, or they open up a slide deck, or they start droning through a PowerPoint slide, boring the crap out of everybody. There's no value to it. Half the time, these people, like the prospect doesn't even really remember why they're on the call. Say I'm cold calling, or whatever it is, and somebody's like, " Yeah, yeah, sure. Fine. I'll meet you next week. Send me an email," right? Invite goes on. I just know how I work, my calendar is bananas. Every hour is booked. Every half hour is booked. I color code all my stuff. The ones that are in gray, those are vendor meetings. Green is client meetings, prospect meetings, trainings, all that other stuff, and gray is vendor meetings. Well, guess what? When I look at a day of 15 meetings, and I need a break to go to the bathroom, to eat lunch, to do whatever, 9 times out of 10 I'm going to delete that one, because, why not? Most of the time when I open it up I don't even know, again, what's this meeting about? Reps don't prep right. They don't send an agenda beforehand to remind me what we're here to talk about. Then, they drone on through some piece of crap, going through the motions thing, and so easily push that one off until I have more time. Then, I'll usually forget about it after that.

Devin: I have to imagine a lot of buyers think and operate the same way, which is just a priority list, right?

John Barrows: Yup.

Devin: One of those meetings is making you money. The other type is going to cost you money, which is a perfect segue. You would have thought I did this on purpose, but that's what we're going to talk about today, which is about using ROI in cold emails, or getting emails to stick, booking meetings, however you want to think about it. For those who don't know what Gong Labs is, really quickly, Gong is a revenue intelligence platform. What that means is that we capture all of the different sales interactions from email, phone calls, and Zoom meetings, and we share what works, and what doesn't, and insights at scale. Now, what we do at Gong Labs is we take all these different interactions, hundreds of thousands, millions of different touch points, and we run analysis on it with the goal of understanding, again, what works, what doesn't at a macro level, so we can share those insights with you, and you can be more effective. Now, John, me and you, we're hanging out. I think maybe you just emailed me, and I picked up the phone and called you, because it was a really good idea. We wanted to know, does using ROI in cole email help book meetings?

John Barrows: Yeah.

Devin: Yeah. You remember this, okay. crosstalk-

John Barrows: Well, I was more curious. I was curious, because the easiest way I used to come up with messaging, from a prospecting standpoint, was to tell reps, " Hey, look at the bottom of a case study, and pick the result, and then use that," so to say, " Hey, you know what the reason for my call, Devin? We showed this company in your industry how to drive these type of results. You fit a very similar profile. I'd love to have a conversation with you about it." I used to default to that as that's the easiest way to come up with a message. You don't have to pitch it. You don't have to anything. You just have to explain it. But, I was noticing, over the past three or four years, that using numbers wasn't as effective from a response rate standpoint. That's why I punted it over to you. I was like, " Hey, could you have the team take a look at this and see if my hunch is accurate here?" I'd love to see the data.

Devin: That's become also my life on LinkedIn, which is totally fine, which is like anytime two people I may or may not know are like, " This is the way to do something," someone's like, " This is the way to do something," they're like, "@ Devin, data please," and that's who I am now. I'm the data genie in a bottle, I guess. Was happy to do that, and it was a great idea. Here's what we did for the research portion. We specifically wanted to know, when it comes to email, does ROI language help, or not help, hurt, right? We looked at things like 2X, 15% increase revenue, 25% lower operational costs, that sort of thing. Here's how we measured success. We did not look at response rates, because response rates can give you a false positive, right? If you're just looking at your emails, and your cadence success, and you're looking at response rates, I tell people, " No, thanks," all the time. That doesn't mean it's a success. We looked at, did you book a meeting within 10 days from that email? That's how we looked at success. Here's what we found. There's a 15% decrease in success rates when sellers used ROI in their outbound emails. If you're listening to this, maybe it's the first time you're seeing this. Maybe it's the second, because I did publish this a couple months ago on our blog. Go ahead and through it into the comments. Are you using ROI today in your outbound emails, or are you not using it? Go ahead and throw it in there. John, let's get into it a little bit. I have a hunch, but what was your first thought when I showed you this slide?

John Barrows: My gut was right, right? I think the reason is, is because I think numbers have just been so overused. They've lost their meaning. For instance, when I used to be traveling all over the place, I'd go to San Francisco. I'd be driving down the 101. How many billboards do you see that says, " 98% of the Fortune 500 use our shit."? It's just like, why, because one user in there downloaded a free application of your software, that means you're in one of the Fortune 1000? It's like, come on, right? Or, when people are like, " An 85% increase in whatever it is." Okay, so you picked the one way outlier of your entire organization of the result you did, and then that's the number you're using, right? The other thing is marketing over- uses numbers, too, right? Marketing always uses phrases like, " Hey, up to 35%," or, " On average, we see this," and those just don't mean anything. It goes back to another post that you did a while ago, which I thought was really interesting. I don't know if you're going to bring it up here, but it's the one where it talked about using use cases and how the reps, we focus so much on the outcome. Hey, look at all this wonderful stuff that we've done for this business, but what you guys came up with, which I firmly believe in, that if I don't believe in the before scenario, I'll never believe in the after. For instance, if I don't fundamentally believe that my situation was the same situation as whoever you did that for, if I don't believe that first, whatever number you put in front of me, I'm not going to pay attention to. That's, I think you guys used the great example of Alcoholics Anonymous, right? When you go to Alcoholics Anonymous website, you don't see somebody being like, "Hey, I'm 10 years sober. Thanks, AA. My family life is fantastic because of you." You see some guy, sitting there, going, " It started with one drink. Then, I was drinking at work. Then, I was missing my kid's soccer game." What the whole point of that is, when you see that, is you want to... Man, that's me. If you can get the that's me, now, you can sell me on the outcome. We focus too much on the outcome, and we don't focus enough... That's where discovery comes in and all that other stuff. I know we're talking about prospecting here, but that's the key piece here that I think a lot of people are missing.

Devin: Yeah. Yeah, and for reference, for folks who might not know the article John's talking about, Chris Orlob wrote that one, so I just want to give him proper credit, was he looked at calls. We were looking at emails a moment ago. He looked at calls and saw that when reps use ROI language, they actually have a decrease in win rates. He suggested a couple ideas, which could be, one, ROI, doesn't work. TBD there. The other one was like, it backfires when it's done incorrectly, which is what you're talking about, John. When you came with the idea, I'm like, hey, it has to be the same psychological levels. It's just in a different scenario in the sales process. One's late, deep funnel, and one's at the very beginning. The way that I took it was, look, I think ROI can work. It has to be done correctly. It has to be done together, collaboratively with your buyer, because, fun fact, anyone who's using an ROI calculator, have you ever punched in your ROI numbers and came out in the red? Like, wait, you know what, Miss Buyer? You're right. You shouldn't move forward with us, because the ROI says it's actually going to be a terrible decision for you.

John Barrows: Never.

Devin: Right? That never happens, so ROI calculators are biased. That's okay. Just acknowledge that. They should be used as a reference point.

John Barrows: To jump in there, I also think there's a big difference between who you're selling to when you're using ROI calculators, further down the sales process. People below the power line typically need that to feel comfortable that they can present that to the executive. Look, there is an ROI to this, but most executives could care less about an ROI calculator. They don't believe it at all, you know what I mean?

Devin: Yeah.

John Barrows: Look, I think there's a gap here. There are actually, in major enterprise accounts that I've worked with, there's actually somebody in them that does high- end, baller ROI stuff, but it works so inclusively with that organization that it is, it's their numbers. It's totally unbiased. There it is. Everybody else, when you hit that executive suite, they're not looking at an ROI calculator. I mean, somebody asked me to do an ROI sometime recently, and I was like, really? Fine. I did the whole thing. I used their numbers. The number was so absurd. I even put in, at the bottom, I put in 85% bullshit factor. Literally, in huge letters, it said 85% bullshit factor, and the number was still insane. I'm like, you can use that if you want to. I don't have how to really tell you, you either believe this is going to make a difference for your business, or you're not. If you don't, then no number on a spreadsheet is going to help you determine that, at least at this level.

Devin: You're not going to hit an ROI button on your desk like the easy button and be like, " Okay, in that case, because you showed me such a nice ROI or a spreadsheet, I believe you." John, what should people be doing instead? In the article, you mentioned it was before and after stories, which is someone like you, in your geography, with similar challenges was trying X. It was causing Y problem. Here's what they did in stead, and here was the outcome. I went through that very quickly. You're taking them through this journey. The goal is for them to identify with the protagonist, the person in that story, and go, " Hey, that sounds a lot like me. Therefore, I can see myself going through this process." Then, they're interested. That's easier to do on a call, because I have a lot of back and forth. I have more time. What can people do who saw the ROI stat in emails and going, okay, I don't want to do ROI anymore? What should they do instead?

John Barrows: Actually, I'm going to point, Lydia has a great point. Sellers don't have control over the buyer's ROI. That is a fact. I can give you any number you want, but you're the one who determines ROI, so you tell me what you want to look at here. I always laugh when somebody asks me about ROI. " John, what's the ROI of your training?" I'm like, " I don't know. Do you want me to give you a random- ass number that will make you feel good at night, or do you guys want to actually figure this out for your own? You should be the one telling me what the ROI is. If I can impact that, I'll tell you." I just wanted to pull that out, because that's a great point by Lydia. I think what I have been doing, as opposed to using ROI metrics and those type of things, is thinking about telling a story through your context strategy. One of the things about your story is asking questions to help people self- discover their current situation. We talk a lot about challenger sale, like how can you challenge somebody? I think challenger sale is a little tough, especially if you're not somebody who literally is an industry expert, you know what I mean?

Devin: Yeah.

John Barrows: Because a lot of times, challenger sale can come off quite arrogant, right? Hey, I'm smarter than you, blah, blah, blah. The way I get away with that is by asking questions that get you to think. If I can ask a question that gets you to think in an email, it pulls you through the rest of this conversation. Let's go old school here a little bit. Glenn Gary, Glenn Ross, right? AIDA. Attention, interest, desire, action. Well, our email framework is that. Attention, there's a subject line. You got to get your attention, right? What do you put in there? First sentence tells me whether or not I'm interested or not. Now, what am I interested in? I'm interested in me. Don't say, " Hey, I'd like to introduce myself to you." I don't give a shit. Recent surveys say, who cares? We're the leading provider... No, you're not. How do you make it about me? Well, you can be personal. Say, " Hey, John, I was on your website, and I saw this thing happen," whatever, but that takes a little bit of time. As it relates to this, what we're doing right now is we're asking a question." Hey, Devin. How are you keeping your reps motivated and engaged now that everybody's working from home?" If that is pointed to you and your persona, right? I'm not just asking a general question, like, what are your priorities, or any of that crap. It's like, " Devin, you're a VP of sales. I'm going to ask you right now, how are you keeping your reps motivated and engaged now that we're in this environment as opposed to the on site?" The goal there is to get you to go, " Why'd you ask that? Because that is on my mind right now." " Well, the reason I'm asking is a lot of the clients that we're working with right now are using our live training," and then your value proposition there, right?

Devin: Right.

John Barrows: Basically, and you might throw in a statistic there to say, " Hey, if you are having that problem, well, here's an account that we were working with recently that was having low engagement and low motivation. After our training, this is what happens. If that's your problem, here's something." What you do is, the easy way to think through this is you take a persona that you're going after, like, call it CROs, okay? You google, " What do CROs care about today?" Ideally, CROs in an industry, like CROs in SAS, right? Literally google, " CROs SAS industry priorities challenges 2021." See what that laundry list of challenges and priorities are that they're faced with today. Come up with three or four questions based on each one of those priorities. Then, put together a contact strategy that sprinkles those questions through. You don't want to ask question, question, question, question, but you might ask a question, and then share a piece of content after that as a suck and touch that shows a little bit more meat on that one. Then, maybe share a webinar that you're doing. Then, maybe ask another question and have an answer to it. That's the way, because it's that self- discovery piece that I'm trying to get on. I'm trying to have you say, " That's an interesting question. You know what? I'm going to read the rest of this. Yeah. I'm going to follow up with this person."

Devin: I love that. Step- by- step framework, actionable. If you want more tips to help you be more effective with your emails, Nehal, our show producer, is going to drop it in the comments. There's seven tips for highly effective sales emails, and what we're talking about today is part of that. All right, JB, I want to move on. We're going to go into our two lightning rounds. Are you ready?

John Barrows: All right, yeah. Go for it.

Devin: All right, the first one, I want hot takes. I'm going to read you an email CTA, and I want you in one sentence, grammar up to you, how you make that one sentence, what's wrong with this email CTA? Are you ready?

John Barrows: All right, yup.

Devin: All right, email CTA. Last thing in the bottom of my email, " Can we hop on a call tomorrow so I can show you X, Y, Z?"

John Barrows: That's interesting. I like the pseudo- casualness of it and the avoidance of the, " Can I get 15 minutes of your time," which has been so overplayed it hurts, right? By the way, I was the biggest offender of that for 10 years, so I'm going to throw myself under the bus there. Can we hop on a call? It's tough, because I'm going to say this is going to be based on the persona that you're reaching out to. If the persona and the person that you're reaching out to is a little bit more casual in nature, so, for instance, marketers, and sales, and those type of things, I don't hate that, but if you're going after finance, if you're going after somebody who is probably, in general, a little bit more professional with their approach, I think that's going to hurt you.

Devin: Got it. Mirror your buyer, folks. Mirror your buyer. All right, second one. Last sentence on the bottom of your email, " Feel free to reach out if you have any questions."

John Barrows: Okay, so this one, not terrible if it's part of a story, okay? Again, I think all of this is in context. If you say one email, I think that's horrible, but if you put it in context of a cadence, right? 3, 4, 5, 10 touches, however many touches you want to go for, and one of them is just more of an informational one, I mean, you guys have that great data that CTAs during COVID, the interest CTA was the highest responded one. There's three types of CTA, the direct CTA, hey, next week at 3: 00, the open- ended, hey, when are you free? Then, hey, is that something of interest of you? Are you already using something like that? That one falls in that range. I think it's fine, as long as, and I go back to Gary V's Book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, right? That's a jab. That's a, hey, let me know if you'd be interested in having that conversation, whatever it is, but then I'm going to come at you with a right hook, eventually, after my next two or three more touches.

Devin: I like it. Last one. Would you be able to join me for a 30 minute call so I can show you how our SAS tool can help you increase LTV 30% while decreases CAC by 40%?

John Barrows: Well, that one falls. That one's the worst. I mean, look, again, I used to use something similar to that for a while now, but after paying attention to all the data, that one is probably the worst one. That was definitely the worst one of all three, right? Because, first of all, you're making a lot of assumptions right here about what you can do for me, right? Don't ever assume that you can save me money, you can do this. I think, make it a little bit softer. Just say, " Hey, man, we've got some really cool stuff. You have a profile here. If you'd be open to it, I'd love to show you what we're doing for some of the other clients we're working with, see if that resonates. Let me know if you have some time." Something like that, but that one has... If you put all the Gong data together, that one's like literally the worst data- driven worst call to action you could probably put together.

Devin: It was. It was a bad trick. It was what not to do. All right, that round's over. We're going to go into a rapid fire, so you have to answer each of these questions in five seconds. I'm just going to keep firing them at you.

John Barrows: All right.

Devin: This is that gut response. It's like word association.

John Barrows: Yup.

Devin: All right. Here you go. John, who's your sales role model?

John Barrows: Jeff Hoffman.

Devin: Okay. Hurt my feelings it's not me. That's okay. What's one sales book everyone should read?

John Barrows: Influence by Robert Cialdini.

Devin: Plus one.

John Barrows: It's not a sales book. It's a psychology book.

Devin: Great distinction and also true. What's your go- to song when you close a big deal?

John Barrows: Biggie, Hypnotize.

Devin: That's a good one and a classic. What's your definition of value in sales?

John Barrows: To you? I need a clarification on that. I would say... Five seconds. Value is whatever you think value is, honestly. Value is in the eye of the beholder, so it's whatever the client sees value in.

Devin: That's what I say, so I'm glad that you say it, too. I say it's in the eye of the beholder. It can't be defined.

John Barrows: Yup.

Devin: All right, last one is... No, second to last one. What's one question you get asked most often by salespeople?

John Barrows: Can you be my mentor?

Devin: What's your answer?

John Barrows: Don't look for singular mentors. That's a dangerous game to play. Plus, unfortunately, that puts a lot of burden on my shoulders, so I can't do it. I'm happy to answer questions. I'm happy to be there, so Instagram, johnmbarrows. If anybody is looking for feedback from me or have questions, that's the way to go, but please don't ask me to be your mentor, because there's way too much pressure involved in that.

Devin: That's a good point. There's so many great folks like you, JB, are putting out content for free, where you can have digital mentorships and networks, where you can still learn a lot, and ask questions. It doesn't have to be formal.

John Barrows: Yup.

Devin: All right. Last one. What do you do every day to get better at either life or work?

John Barrows: Do you really want to know this one?

Devin: I really want to know this one, and now I really want to know, because you asked me if I really want to know this one.

John Barrows: Smoke weed.

Devin: All right. There you have it.

John Barrows: I'm not joking. It kicks my mind into a different mind zone. I think about different things. I get more creative in different ways. It's legal in Massachusetts here. If you drink alcohol, and you judge people who smoke weed, you're a hypocrite, so I smoke weed to put myself in a different mentality, to think about things in a different way, and yup, it helps me improve every day.

Devin: Hey, we wanted unfiltered conversations. It's not illegal where John lives. It is what it is.

John Barrows: Yup.

Devin: All right, John, thank you for hanging out with us, for your expertise, for your hot takes. In the spirit of making mistakes, because that's what we talked about a lot today, what to do, what not to do, we have a video that you could call a highlight reel of sorts, so here we go. Tell me when.

Speaker 3: Action.

Devin: Whoa, hey. Hold on. These tickets will sell out, so go to... P. S., stick around for after the video. Not your fault. Don't worry, Ohan. Sorry. Who else helped you make the purchasing? I don't know if there's room on the frame here or whatever, but if we could do some sort of like, ding. It goes one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, ding and then ... Ding. All right. I got this. Just need to get warmed up again. What's the next line? That's actually what's written. That's what's written, if I would just read what I wrote, you know? Caught on camera, so now that's going to be used on a... That's going to bite me. Everything I say at this moment, it's getting worse, because you could just let this play, and it's like, why am I still talking. All right. If all the answers are the same, then great. If the answers don't align, then great. I had it. How fun is this? How fun is acting? I can see you smiling through the crack in the thing sometimes when I start to... No, it's perfect. I love working with you, man. This is fun. This is fun. All right. Here we go. Ask all your stakeholders questions that unpack these responses to make sure you have true... All right. We're rolling? Don't ever use that for a thing. Also, this whole thing is just prime to make me look like a... It's going to look ridiculous.

Speaker 4: inaudible Yeah, like right around there. Yeah. Exactly. crosstalk-

Devin: I'm just going to keep it still. There's your blooper reel. This question builds trust with your buyers because it reflects your thinking of the long term, instead of the short- term game of assigning contract. That was it. That was it. That was all I was trying to say for 10 minutes. All right, folks. You can call it blooper reel. I call it learning opportunities. Make sure you trust your camera crew, if you're ever doing it live.

John Barrows: Devin, have you ever seen my eff you video?

Devin: No, but I need it now. I need it.

John Barrows: Yeah. It's on Instagram, so there's a johnmbarrows, scroll down and see not safe for work. It's pretty deep on it, but it's 100% that video, but it's all eff yous. It's done to Black Sheep's, the song, Eff You, just( singing) ... It's just me, just reel, after reel, after reel, being like... Go take a look at that one.

Devin: I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it. Well, hey, that's our show for today. Thanks, everybody, for hanging out for us on Gong Labs Live. We'll be back, same place, same time, Friday at 9: 00 AM Pacific. You can RSVP for next week's episode in the comments. Make sure you follow us on LinkedIn for more data- backed insights. Follow John, follow me, if you liked what you heard, and you'll get a notification when we go live next week. Have a good one.

John Barrows: Love it. Later, everybody.


ROI? More like RIP. Special guest John Barrows joins the Gong Labs Live fam to get to the bottom of why mentioning ROI in cold emails can prevent you from booking meetings. Uncover the brow-raising data behind this powerful insight on Friday.

Today's Guests

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John Barrows

|CEO, JBarrows Sales Training