A word of advice about working at a high-growth company: Don’t get too comfortable.
Anthony Johnson wasn’t the first Sales Development Representative (SDR) to learn this lesson the hard way. In the fall of 2015, the young sales rep was burned out, disheartened, failing to meet his quota, and on the verge of losing his job.
Fast-forward a year: AJ is now in a leadership role on an inbound sales development team with a remarkable 40% conversion rate from inbound lead to appointment set.
This incredible conversion rate and the change in fortune of Anthony Johnson are two parts of the same story. Unflinching self-analysis, openness to change, and creative thinking helped change AJ’s perspective, propelling his career and inspiring leadership. That same willingness to change led DiscoverOrg to split the sales department into inbound and outbound focused teams – bringing lead response times down from a day or more to under ten minutes – and more than doubling the conversion rate.
Here’s how an experiment in sales development revolutionized an organization – and changed lives.
An SDR team in transition
There’s a reason that the average lifespan of an SDR is two years. Sales is hard. Anthony Johnson began his career at DiscoverOrg with a lot of enthusiasm: In his interview, he said, “Start me in the mail room, and I’ll prove it to you!” But over the next two years, as one of just three SDRs, his enthusiasm faded. As a husband and father of infant twins, Johnson had a lot on the line – but he was burned out, and mentally checked out.
And it showed.
“I hadn’t closed a demo – or anything – in awhile. I knew they were going to fire me,” Johnson says. “I was coming up on my 17th or 18th month at DiscoverOrg, and I was being overlooked. My counterpart got promoted (and rightly so). We were growing fast, a lot was going on, and I admit it – I had checked out. And my numbers reflected that. I knew that I probably wasn’t going to have a job much longer.”
Like most sales teams, DiscoverOrg’s sales reps were responsible for both inbound and outbound sales teams, and it’s easy to see why Johnson was so burned out.
The sales team consisted of a circle of SDRs responsible for outreach and booking demos; and Account Executives (AEs), responsible for leading the demo and closing the deal. Everyone was assigned accounts alphabetically. When a warm lead came in, an SDR would book a meeting with whoever happened to be available. And when those coveted inbounds web leads came in, the team responded as soon as someone could get around to it – often hours later.
Additionally, the process of booking demos was drawn-out and inefficient, with the SDR acting as a go-between from client to AE, making introductions and trying to book and confirm appointments after the call ended, and enthusiasm waned.
“We knew there had to be a way to be more efficient,” Johnson says. “We spent a lot of time on low-priority accounts. And sometimes, we weren’t able to respond to those web leads until the end of the day.” By then, many of the leads had grown cold.
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Embracing Account-Based Sales Development
At the beginning of 2016, Anthony had a heart-to-heart talk with his supervisor and was inspired during the company’s annual January Sales Kick-off. He fell back in love with his job.
“I asked myself, ‘Do I want to go start over at some other job with stick-in-the mud people? Or do I want to push myself at a job that isn’t as comfortable?’ I already chose the harder path, and I know I’m capable of following it!”
During the Sales Kick-off, Johnson pulled aside DiscoverOrg’s CEO, Henry Schuck, and CRO, Patrick Purvis. “I told them, ‘Hey, I know you’re going to fire me,’” Johnson says, ‘“but please don’t. I’ll show you that I can do this. I’m going to do this!”’
And he did.
Over the next eight months, Johnson averaged 110% of his quota. He booked the most demos and was among the top three performing SDRs at the company, winning the company’s Golden Phone award. And he didn’t stop there.
Splitting outbound & inbound sales for faster response time
In August of 2016, DiscoverOrg’s leadership decided to split the sales in into dedicated inbound and outbound teams. “It was an experiment to split the sales team and give bandwidth to individuals, so they could finally prioritize,” he says, “and focus!”
As DiscoverOrg found itself in uncharted territory, learning a new tech stack with a newly divided sales team, AJ also found himself in a new landscape – with new opportunity.
“As one of the original, most experienced, and reignited top-performing SDRs, I was asked to help mentor during the transition,” Johnson says, “but I wanted full responsibility. I knew what we needed to do to go even higher. I used the sales tech stack to ramp up.”
The team embraced account-based sales development (ABSD):
- Splitting the sales team by outbound and inbound for improved response time.
- Investment in a serious sales tech stack.
- Heavy training to ensure the technology was fully adopted.
“My main goal as Inbound Sales Development Team Lead,” Anthony says, “was to improve conversion rate. When we began, it was 15-20% conversion rate (hot MQLs). My goals was to increase to 30%.”
Response time – defined as the time between an interested lead completing a web form and a sales representative contacting them – is critical to conversion. Research shows that responding within the first five minutes increases the likelihood of conversion by a factor of 10. But you need a focused sales engine to achieve that.
Over the next few months, Johnson helped implement and train the newly formed inbound sales team to focus on rapid response. Adding new tools to the sales tech stack took the team to the next level.
Adding to the sales tech stack
After extended research, Johnson and Chris Hays, DiscoverOrg’s head of sales operations, identified two areas where the team was losing prospects: booking demos, and responding quickly to web leads.
With the previous configuration, the SDR would email the Account Executive and the prospect, introducing them. The AE would then follow up with another email including a calendar invite, often later in the day. With each step a potential customer had to take – two emails just to book a meeting, in this case – many great prospects simply dropped off before an AE could even talk to them.
Automating tasks was critical to increasing the number of leads the sales team responded to each day. To solve for these problems, both inbound and outbound sales teams got FrontSpin and Chili Piper.
Frontspin is a VoiP (Voice over IP) dialer that syncs to Salesforce. When a web form is filled out – requesting more information, for example – the SDR immediately receives a notification, along with a pop-up VoIP number – so they call the prospect on the spot. The notification also includes all the data in Salesforce on the prospect, including notes on other contacts from the same account. Everything is automated. The DiscoverOrg team liked it because they didn’t have to cross-referencing names and numbers to get customer information, or CC multiple stakeholders on multiple emails.
With these time-consuming logistics off their plate, the inbound team was able to focus on one thing: Responding quickly to hot leads and speaking intelligently to their individual situation.
Chili Piper is an intelligent calendar tool. This tool allowed the inbound SDRs to send out calendar invites quickly, complete with all the stakeholders and everyone’s contact info; more important, it allowed the prospect to accept the invitation with one click – while they were on the phone with the SDR. This drastically improved retention.
After the new sales tech tools were implemented, a prospect could go from browsing the website, requesting information via a form-fill, getting a call from an SDR, and getting a meeting booked with an AE – all within 10 minutes.
Marketing and sales alignment
In addition to splitting the sales team and developing the sales tech stack, a third change added fuel to the fire of the sales team: marketing support. Marketing and sales alignment is the dream of many a company, but that’s easier said than done. Sales and marketing goals are usually very different: Clicks and views don’t always translate to quality leads.
At the same time that Anthony Johnson was leading the newly formed inbound sales team through new sales technology, the marketing department doubled down on boosting web leads – and ensuring those leads fit the company’s ideal customer profile.
With the support of marketing and a technology boost, Anthony Johnson and his team increased their conversion rate all right – it went from 17% to over 40%!
Sure, flexibility and a willingness to experiment with technology play a major part of conversion in the sales cycle. But as Anthony knows well, the truly important part of a high-functioning outbound sales team is a frame of mind.
“Our culture here is that you don’t want to let your co-worker down. If I don’t hit my numbers and pull my weight, I let down the whole company family. We’ll fire someone if they don’t fit the culture a whole lot faster than we would if they didn’t hit their numbers. We cherish hustle, because that’s something you can’t teach. When we see people on the edge, we help them pull their shit together. That’s how we all win.”
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