I got one of those calls today. Not dissimilar to some of the other calls I’ve described in past posts.
The sales person called wanting to talk about sales performance management. I’m always interested in sales performance management and learning more, after all, the majority of Sales Manager Survival Guide is about sales performance management.
The call started well, she introduced herself, the company, and wanted to talk about issues I had with sales performance in my company. I responded, “Actually, I don’t have issues. The team is doing very well, we’re ahead of plan……”
She asked, “How do you measure and track performance?”
I responded, “There are two key sets of metrics that provide the leading indicators, and naturally we look at revenue attainment as a trailing indicator.”
She replied, “You may not be tracking enough things, you should probably be doing more. Often customers struggle because they don’t have the right tools to make it easy to track performance…”
Curious, I asked, “Why do you think we aren’t tracking enough things? We’ve studied they key drivers to our business, and the two that we track seem to be really good for us?”
She then started to talk about a whole bunch of metrics, number of calls per day, call duration, and more.
I responded, “We’ve looked at those metrics, and they really aren’t meaningful for our business. Here’s why we’ve chosen what we’ve done….”
At this point, the call was going downhill very fast. To the sales person’s credit, she understood. She was trying to get out of the call, suggesting a follow up call from an account manager or a demo—I have to give her credit, she went for the demo.
She clearly recognized she was way over her head. She wasn’t able to support her end of the conversation.
I asked her if she minded if I asked a few questions. “How did you identify me to call, who do you typically target for your calls….” She explained she was targeting CEO’s and VP’s of Sales for small to mid sized companies.
I asked, “How long have you been doing this? How much sales management experience have you had, what kind of training have you had?”
She responded, “I’ve been doing this for a little over a year, I started in inbound, then a few months ago moved to outbound. This is my first real job since graduating from college…” She described the training–basically some scripting, some provocative questions and challenges to the customer, some qualification questions, some rudimentary objection handling.
I asked, “Have you ever had the opportunity to spend time with your manager or your VP of sales to understand what they do for sales performance management and the issues they face?” She responded, “Wow, that’s a cool idea, but they never seem to have the time. They just tell me to follow the playbook.”
We talked a little more, I felt a little bad that I had taken so much of her time, she probably could have made another 10 dials in the time we spoke.
As I reflected on the conversation, I thought, “Is her management being fair to her? Are they making the best first impression they can make? What opportunities do they loose because of their inability to engage the customer correctly?”
This poor sales person was doing the best job she could. She was doing what she had been trained to do, she was following her playbook, but she was failing. She didn’t have the experience base to engage the target prospects in the way these prospects would have wanted to be engaged.
It wasn’t her fault, but she had been set up to fail, and in doing so was creating a bad first impression of her company and their offerings.
I’m all for specialization. I think there is a powerful role for SDR’s, but too often we set them up to do something they shouldn’t be expected to do.
In most organization, SDRs are entry level sales positions. In the best of cases, they have been selected correctly, well trained and have good tools. Then they are turned loose on customers. Typically, they are calling customers who may be very experienced in their roles. Whether it’s sales and marketing (if you sell sales and marketing tools), IT/Development, if you are selling IT tools, HR executives if you are selling HCM, and I can go on. You get the point.
These new sales people are expected to engage experienced professionals in discussions about their business or functions. They are expected to conduct conversations of sufficient quality to create a favorable first impression, and moving the customer to the next step.
Is that a reasonable or fair expectation?
Should we be expecting that of people in an entry level (or near entry level) sales role? Are we positioning them and ourselves for success?
For example in the case of the sales person who called me, I’m not arrogant or naive enough to expect her to have the depth of experience I have in sales performance management. After all, it’s taken me over 30 years of learning what I’ve learned so far, and I still need to learn more.
But it’s not unfair to expect a reasonable first level conversation. It’s not unfair to expect them to have a reasonable grasp of the issues people in the roles they call are facing. It’s not unreasonable to expect them to go off script a little and to go at least one level deeper.
If these entry level sales people can’t, then they are not likely to get their customers interested. If they can’t they risk creating a bad first impression of their company and offerings.
It’s no wonder so many SDR calls are calls focused on the product, “We have the hottest product to solve problems you face, are you interested in learning more, can I schedule a follow-up demo?”
They don’t have the experience base, training, support to engage the customer in discussions about their business, so they have to revert to “we have a product that solve problems that people like you have….”
In reality, we prepare them to intersect people that are well into their buying journey and are interested in discussing specifics about solutions. But we miss huge numbers of opportunities for people that are very early in their cycle or haven’t even recognized the need to change. While we may be contacting them, because we can’t engage them in meaningful conversations, we not only lose opportunity, but we create bad impressions. How likely are they to re-engage later in their buying journey, when the initial impression was so bad?
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