Even in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, sales professions were predicting the worst. The latest LinkedIn data shows that more than half of salespeople anticipated a decrease in pipeline, and 44% predicting a drop in responsiveness to outreach. 60% said this would make hitting quotas and closing deals tougher.
Companies everywhere are finding out just how accurate such predictions were right now. It is a situation compounded by an already shifting buying landscape, with B2B buyers doing more of their own research, reaching the decision stage quicker and spending just 5% of their buying time in the company of sales reps.
Of course, the pandemic has shifted the role of salespeople further – particularly for sales development reps (SDR). They have traditionally spent their time inhouse, on the phones, behind computers, focusing solely on outbound prospecting and moving leads through the pipeline.
But now, the rules of the game have changed. Here’s how…
For SDRs, many barriers have fallen down
The lockdown saw 88% of companies worldwide make it mandatory or encourage their employees to work from home. With 83% of employees in the UK claiming not to need an office to be productive, it’s a trend that will continue even after the virus passes.
However, high-potential and capable SDRs have used this period to good effect, proving their ability to qualify and develop deals remotely. Many have got over their ‘fear of heights’ and used the opportunity to speak to prospects higher up in their accounts. By encouraging their SDRs to adjust their messages and shift their language accordingly (adopting the ‘you get to talk to who you sound like’ principle, for instance), many organisations have reaped the benefits.
Now is the time to revisit your expectations as to what can – and cannot – be sold remotely. It is also a point at which to recognise that the need for face-to-face interaction is more prevalent in highly considered, complex, multi-stakeholder sales processes (which are typically higher value), rather than linking this distinction purely to the value of the deal.
Human-guided AI is the future
Using technology has become an essential part of the workflow for most salespeople. For SDRs, who commonly perform an average of 60 activities a day, automation is so important.
Gartner predicts that by the end of this year, a third of all B2B companies will employ artificial intelligence (AI) to augment at least one of their primary sales processes. HBR says that those using AI for sales can boost their leads by more than 50% and reduce call time by up to 70%. McKinsey says 85% of all sales tasks will soon be automated.
Of course, AI presents huge opportunities to overcome human biases and to rationalise big pools of data into valuable insights. AI’s ability to seamlessly handle more transactional engagements in ways humans can no longer detect as being computer-driven is hugely impressive.
However, executing on those insights in a way that is meaningful to a prospect or customer will still demand significant human intervention. When it comes to deciphering and interpreting the complexities of human interaction (e.g. understanding inflections of voice, etc.), the limitations of AI are there for all to see. While, none of these is insurmountable in the coming years, right now it’s unlikely we’ll see technology initiating complex and ambiguous conversations with human beings.
For your SDRs, the front-end of the sales process is increasingly automated, with chatbots doing plenty of the heavy lifting, for example. But this is an opportunity for them to push the levels of qualification up – something that is crucial if they are to reach for higher-value deals.
SDRs are jack-of-all-trades – and that’s a good thing
The debate as to whether SDRs should sit within a company’s sales or marketing function is as old as the function itself. Most continue to report into sales managers, while in larger firms, more than half report into marketing. But has the changing landscape made the question any easier to answer? Not really.
But the need for an SDR to be a jack-of-all-trades is more important than ever. They should be malleable enough to perform a diverse set of tasks – from refining a territory, carrying out market research and gathering account insight, to developing messages and qualifying problems and needs. They must maintain momentum across a prospect engagement at the same time as handling myriad internal demands on their time.
This diversity, therefore, offers scope for SDRs to be successful to similarly high levels in a number of different ways along a spectrum – from the highly creative to the highly organised and detail orientated.In solving the SDR sales/marketing conundrum, you should consider which team has the requisite skills and time to maximise the delivery from your SDR team. Also, think about where on the spectrum of qualification expectations the handover needs to take place. The closer the handover is to a sales-qualified lead or sales-qualified opportunity, then the more likely the skills will lie in sales.
Collaboration is key
While opportunities bound for SDRs, they must be enabled and given the tools to succeed. Understanding changed personas and customer needs, especially in the context of the pandemic, is key. So too is developing a focus on curiosity and getting the balance right between question-asking and information-sharing.
Think about how you can foster greater collaboration between your SDRs, AEs and marketing teams. Use a virtual ‘war room’ to create a plan of attack based on the insights, knowledge and experience from all three areas. To make this work, you are going to need SDRs that are comfortable, motivated and able to collaborate effectively when working remotely.
Get your $#&t together
In this new world, what targets should SDRs be focussed on? Whether you’re considering making target adjustments for your remote SDRs (as has been noted by others), the days of just creating volume to deliver value are dead (or at least dying).
Yes, there’s a need to keep an eye on the numbers, but with more insight and intelligence available – and increased buyer expectations – SDRs must be smarter. Value ($), conversion rates (%) and timing (t) are more important than sheer volume (#) of inputs.
– As part of this, greater collaboration and coordination with AEs will be beneficial. Use the insights and intelligence of the wider market to ensure the right volume – and value – of inflow to the sales pipeline. Make sure your SDRs are involved in accelerating the pipeline when deals stall or when AEs are swamped closing deals. Your SDRs have a unique skill set and focus to do this, by accessing other stakeholders and gathering insights that can unlock a stalled deal.
We all need chameleons
SDRs must be chameleons, combining their sales, marketing and IT competencies to be the eyes and ears of your organisation. Technology will help them in this endeavour, using call recording to monitor performance and get unbiased feedback, or ‘deep learning’ platforms that use neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and linguistics to understand what people actually mean, not just the words they use, for example.
But to be the best, SDRs need the values, motivations and mental dexterity to do much more in their roles – to move into AE positions and beyond – rather than being purely a means to an end.
Clarify has generated hundreds of millions of pounds revenue for the world’s most impressive brands and brightest scale ups. We’ve done it by crafting differentiated propositions and intelligent go-to-market strategies that deliver highly valuable Sales opportunities, leading to very significant ROI.
To chat more about the state of how technology companies are going to market, get in touch with David Meyer, firstname.lastname@example.org.