Blow the Doors Off of Inside Sales Performance in 2016

Inside sales is becoming a preferred channel for organizations to drive sales conversations and pipeline growth. It offers major efficiencies over traditional direct sales models, including the ability to specialize sales reps on certain activities and areas of the funnel, and provides major scale in increasing the volume and improving the conversion of deals.

Sales leaders are also experiencing major challenges with traditional tele-sales models. On average it is taking more than 8 contacts to get to a prospect (up from 3-4 just a few years ago). At face value this makes sense given the shift of buying behavior and consumer preference to digital and the web. However, organizations can react in surprising ways to this new buyer behavior.

One organization I spoke with recently was presented with this data by their outsourced tele-qualification vendor. The vendor suggested that this meant they needed to double the investment in tele-sales resources (i.e. it takes 8 calls instead of 4, so we need to put twice the capacity against the problem). Sounds like a great deal for the tele-qualification vendor, but not in the best interest of their client!

The real question sales leaders should be asking is “how can we better understand and anticipate the buyer journey, using channels that matter for our customers?” This has lead progressive companies to invest in technologies, data, and new channels to improve the productivity of their existing teams (as opposed to simply hiring more reps).

In recent posts, I’ve talked about the convergence of three technologies which have changed the way we sell and improve the performance of our sellers. Social selling, digital content, and predictive analytics have the power to transform both how we engage and convert prospects. With this in mind, I wanted to share some major trends we’re seeing as we talk to Inside Sales executives about where they are focusing to improve their results in 2016.

1. Sales coverage
At the core, this is trying to answer the question “what combination of traditional and digital coverage is required to engage more prospects more efficiently”? By examining the current process, digging into what is working well, and ensuring that sellers have the right technologies and data, we are seeing improvements in both prospect conversion and in the ability for sales people to cover more leads/accounts. This is leading to improvements in cost, both the number of sellers required to cover the market opportunity, and reducing costs associated with inefficient use of various data and technology spend. Some firms are able to rationalize 10% of their cost of sale and re-invest that resource into incremental growth based on their ability to improve coverage.

2. Sales capacity
Give low value time back to reps so they can re-focus on higher value activities…like selling! This means automating portions of the workflow like research, customer profiling, and account/customer prioritization. There are technologies that can help here, but also basic process and behavioral shifts that organizations can make to support their reps and give them back time. We see estimates that only 25% of seller’s time is focused on selling. Imagine if you could double that…huge potential impact.

3. Sales conversion
With the first 2 areas focusing on efficiency, this final area is really about putting more opportunities in the funnel and closing them at a higher rate. We see some real innovation here as organizations look to leverage predictive analytics, not just to prioritize who to focus on, but to predict what matters to those prospects, how they want to be engaged, and what content or offer is going to compel them to become a customer. Even small improvements here can have a really big impact. For a $50M sales organization, we are seeing 5% improvement in both opportunities into funnel and deal conversion, which can add up to 14%+ in revenue growth without adding incremental headcount.

As organizations look into 2016, they recognize the importance of evaluating how they can improve performance across their inside sales teams and are focused on three key levers in that effort – coverage, capacity, and conversion.

How are you thinking about improving your team’s performance? We would love to hear from you.

Sales Teams Must Adapt to the New Customer Buying Journey

Customers have clearly changed how they conduct their buying process. Their expectations have changed as it relates to their process of evaluating product or service options, self-educating, participating in decision making groups, and ultimately deciding on and making a purchase.

Customers now spend significantly more time doing online research, they expect to be served up content aligned to their buying process and on their time frames. The last thing that most of them want to do is talk to a salesperson.

As a result of this change, sales teams are struggling to engage with customers and meet their targets leading to a loss in sales productivity.

The customer is increasingly difficult to reach, leading to sales productivity metrics dropping off a cliff. When sales reps finally speak with their target, they are viewed by the customer as woefully under-prepared, primarily because today’s customer is privy to endless amounts of information and perspective prior to ever engaging with sales. Customers who are under-whelmed aren’t inviting sales reps back to take the process forward, which means the money and effort invested in reaching those customers have been wasted. As a result, sales performance is suffering, with an estimated 67% of sales reps not meeting their quotas.

This infographic outlines the trends and changes in the buyers and also provides some resources to get sales leaders started on the changing journey to realize the potential of re-envisioning the way they engage customers (and achieve improved performance).




Cold Calling is Far From Dead

Type “cold calling is dead” into a basic Google search and you receive over 50,000,000 search results. Many of which are provocative thought pieces around the shift in buying behavior and how technology has made the cold call obsolete.

I agree that cold calling has forever changed, but it certainly is NOT dead.

Even in today’s fast-paced digital environment, inside sales teams still maintain their core function – pushing leads through the pipeline.

It’s true that inside sales reps no longer “smile and dial”. Those days are long gone. We now operate in the era of digital engagement and customer analytics, an environment where customer expectations have changed around the level of intelligence a sales person brings to the conversation.

The reality for sales teams, however, is that implementing sales and marketing technologies is no longer just IT or marketing’s problem to solve. Sales teams are beginning to recognize this and are embracing Digital Sales Coverage as a means to accelerate pipeline velocity and make better use of SG&A funds. You can find an overview of Digital Sales Coverage in this previous post.

The Shift from “Smile and Dial” to Digital Sales Coverage.
Here are the four steps that an inside sales team can take in order to stop chasing bad leads within a dated inside sales model.
Side note – these four steps can also apply to direct selling teams.

1. Establish prescriptive call lists that identify accounts and targets which are worth sales time RIGHT NOW.

We believe that the average inside sales team can reduce their dialing lists by 15% or more. That is not to say that inside sales teams necessarily need to be 15% smaller, but it is to say that your reps are wasting significant amounts of time by chasing bad leads and accounts. A good predictive model should prioritize call lists by looking at specific types of data in one comprehensive view of the customer – demographics/firmographics, transactional and behavioral data, and digital footprint data.

2. Build dynamic lead scoring models that manage lead quality.

Lead scoring has been covered in detail by every expert out there, so I will be brief. The two common items often overlooked within a lead scoring program are lead recycling and consistent innovation. Selling teams need mechanisms to recycle the leads that are thrown back to nurture pools, and need to constantly adjust the scoring system to align with changing customer behaviors.

3. Build the digital infrastructure to support a new customer coverage model

When a lead is handed to inside sales by marketing, the sales rep often has no idea how that lead became marketing qualified. If a lead enters the call list of an inside sales rep (ISR), does it do so automatically? Can the ISR easily understand how it became a lead? Does the ISR know how to tailor the message to the lead based on their recent behaviors? Does the ISR have the ability to quickly recycle the lead if required? The technology exists to enable this entire process, you just have to properly piece it together.

4. Focus on the content required to feed the beast.

Many companies have turn to content marketing to generate leads. In their haste, they have severely overlooked setting the right strategy. It is of critical importance that this content is both persona-specific and influential across various stages of the buying cycle. We see few companies doing this well. Content marketing is not about thought leadership alone. It needs a sales focus.

The “New” Version of Cold Calling

I was twenty years old when I made my first cold call. The only piece of modern technology on my desk was a hardline telephone.

Outside of that I had four other pieces of equipment –

  1. One pen
  2. One piece of paper, numbered 1 through 100
  3. One “shoebox” of 3×5 paper leads
  4. One waste basket

I used the pen to cross off 1- 100 for every dial I made and threw the garbage leads in the waste basket. I started with #1 at roughly 7:00am and ended with #100 at 7:30pm. I could catch the 7:47 train if I was succinct in telling my manager how many leads I found that day.

That version of cold calling is certainly dead.

I was finding leads the hard way, whereas today’s inside sales teams are qualifying leads by serving as the human buffer between marketing and sales technologies, such as marketing automation and the CRM.

Today, our inside sales teams are smarter about who to dial, when to dial, why to dial, and what to say. These teams are also honest, however, in saying that they have a long way to go before creating an optimal coverage model suitable for today’s customer-led buying process.

Yet, today’s inside sales reps still have to pick up the phone, introduce themselves and offer a unique proposition in a matter of seconds, and manage objections in real time.

Call me crazy, but isn’t that still a cold call?

To learn more about Digital Sales Coverage, listen to our webinar on “How to Improve Sales Productivity in 5 Steps”.