How To Use oDesk For Sales Prospecting

Gold Prospectors Looking Tuff.

Gold Prospectors Looking Tuff.

Sales Prospecting has very quickly become our core business at RevBoss.  We launched the product/service in January and we’ve quickly racked up some great results for great clients.  Because it’s more or less all that we do, we spend an awful lot of time refining and rethinking our process.

There are a number of things that we need to do well in order to deliver sales prospecting results for our clients, one of which is prospect list development.  In short, without high quality prospect data, your sales prospecting efforts are going to fall flat.  Like many things in life, sales prospecting is a “garbage in, garbage out” kinda thing.

We have several methods of developing high quality prospect data for our clients, one of which is oDesk — which is a good but not always great solution.  Here’s what we’ve learned so far…

FIRST OF ALL, ODESK IS PRETTY AMAZING.

In less than 5 minutes, you can spin up a freelance arrangement with someone living on the other side of the planet.  And the win/win is pretty fantastic — $3 per hour is incredibly cheap by American standards but a more than reasonable hourly wage for developing countries.  Thus far, we’ve worked with freelancers in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Philippines, and probably several other countries that I can’t recall because I’m not as deeply involved in the process as I was a couple months ago.

oDeskers are eager to please and they’re very grateful for repeat business.  We have several freelancers that we’ve worked with a number times because they are reliable, consistent, and honest.  The bench of reliable workers has been an unexpected outcome for us and a very pleasant surprise.  We get consistent results from people that we trust and that always communicate well with us.  The freelancers get a steady stream of work and a great client relationship.

I almost always give good reviews, even if the work is incomplete or not that great.  As long as the freelancers are responsive and honest, then I’m happy.  It definitely helps to have reasonable expectations for the quality of the work that you’re getting and the price that you’re paying.

USING ODESK FOR SALES PROSPECTING IS HIT AND MISS.

oDesk actually works fairly well for many projects as long as the prospect data is reasonably find-able online.  Industries like start-ups, government, university, and non-profit verticals are pretty easy to bang out.  As are prospect lists with fairly specific job titles like “Director of Marketing” or “Innovation Manager”.  In short — if a prospect is likely on a Team/Staff page or LinkedIn, then oDeskers can be reasonably effective.  We’ve had mixed results with other industries that require more detailed sleuthing and have used other methods.

Assuming the prospects are findable online, the next most important success factor is a very well-structured and well-articulated project specification for the freelancer.  Leave anything even remotely undefined and you’ll get weird results — guaranteed.  We clearly define as much as possible in the job spec and the contract offer, including project timing, payment milestones, review process, the exact data that we want, the number of records we expect to receive, potential pitfalls and how to avoid them, etc.  It requires more work up front, but I’ve found that it pays off.

Next, after we launch the project, we ask the freelancer to find 20 prospects initially and then notify us so that we can review/correct his/her work.  Upon review, we give feedback, ask the freelancer to correct any errors, find 10 more prospects, and then notify us.  If the work is on spec, we pay 10% of the contract and then ask them to complete the project.  At this point, the worker should be able to complete the project independently.

Even with the detailed spec, we still have to do a lot of back and forth with the freelancers because they have questions along the way.  They will ask about other job titles that might be sufficient, they will ask about hiring their friends, etc.  We’ve made an effort to be available and responsive via Skype, which is fast but gets unwieldy when you have 10 people working on concurrent projects.  In my experience, it is best to communicate only through oDesk so that you can keep everything organized and so that you can respond on your own time, not at all hours of the day.

SOME TIPS FOR KEEPING YOUR SANITY WITH ODESK…

Budgeting for projects has been fairly squishy thus far, In general, we like to pay $.10 per lead on our contracts.  We end up paying a bit more due to invalid email addresses, incomplete projects, etc.  But realistically the freelancer time is usually so cheap that our time setting up and administering the work is actually the biggest expense.  I quickly learned not to get frustrated when a project creeps up to $.20 per lead when the work is good and I only paid $20 for it.

At first, I tried to be very selective screening applicants, but I’ve since learned that you just have to pick a freelancer, see how it goes, and be quick to pull the plug on freelancers that aren’t working out.  Hours logged on oDesk and star rating seem like they would be good indicators for quality freelancers, but that isn’t always the case.  I’ve had 5 star, 1000+ hour freelancers completely flake out on jobs — which is obviously painful.  Being attentive and hands-on is important, but it can’t solve all the problems — sometimes you just have to be quick to fire the resource and re-staff the project.  It might seem calloused to have high expectations when you’re paying someone $3 per hour, but otherwise you risk wasting your own time, missing client deadlines, and putting projects at risk.

As much as possible, we like to multi-thread process so that instead of 1 person looking for 1000 prospects, we have 5 people looking for 200 prospects each.  The biggest issues with this approach thus far is our time — setting up the projects and splitting the data across different spreadsheets (or tabs) is actually pretty easy, just time-consuming to organize.

— RevBoss is on track to outgrow oDesk sooner rather than later.  But it has been a great interim sales prospecting solution for us thus far.  Reasonably fast, very inexpensive, and OK to good results.

I hope this is helpful.  Let me know if you have any thoughts or feedback.

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