Guest Post by Steve Woods, CTO & Co-Founder, Nudge.ai
At Nudge.ai we think a lot about the future of sales. That often means thinking a lot about the past of sales. The last few years have been a very interesting and instructive time as we’ve seen the dramatic rise and fall of sales approaches that, in their failure, lead to interesting lessons on where the future of sales might lead.
A decade ago, we had a pretty good idea of what made a good salesperson. They were diligent – persistent, even. They spent a lot of time on outreach and raw activity. They were not shy to reach out to a broad group of potential buyers.
Out of this rare breed of sales professional came the one thing that mattered – results. They turned in quarter after quarter of quota-busting performance. They were the reps that everyone was told to emulate.
A Challenge Of Measurement
So, what exactly was a team to emulate? In a classic challenge of measurement and management, we manage what we can measure. In this case, sales leaders generally measure raw outbound activity; emails, calls, and voicemails. If you want results like the top rep, you should deliver outbound activity at the level of the top rep.
If sales management has a priority, you can be sure that sales technology will quickly follow. Delivering, and measuring, outbound activity at unprecedented volumes was a core theme of sales in 2015 and 2016. The idea of “hustle” became sales management dogma. It made sense, it had shown results in the past, and it was simple to measure.
The Things We Cannot See
In the years leading up to this transition in sales, B2B marketing had gone through a reckoning with regard to spam email from both a legal and a technical perspective. Most, if not all, B2B marketing groups had evolved to become very permission-based. Suddenly, sales teams, appeared to be working with a loophole and felt that they could disregard this respect for the buyer in the interest of hustle.
In parallel, the addition of automation meant that more and more inexperienced sales reps could be added to a team. Sequences were prescribed, and sales was mainly an act of pushing the buttons to begin automation of sequences. The nuance, context, and relationship-building activities that the top rep had known to do were washed aside. The experience of what made a sale happen was replaced with the comfort of feeling that sales could now be measured.
Seeds Of Failure
Anything that is overdone quickly sows the seeds of its own destruction, and the automation of sales was no exception. Spam filters quickly picked up the patterns of the “did you get my last email”, “are you stuck under a rock”, and “just following up” emails. On the rare circumstances where they got through, most buying executives feel they can “sniff” that type of email in milliseconds and delete it.
In 2017 the wheels fell off of the “hustle” approach; response rates cratered, complaints grew, and the brand damage suffered by the worst practitioners began to raise awkward questions at the executive table.
Measurement As A Guiding Force
If poorly thought-out measurement of raw activity caused the challenges of the “hustle” era, well thought-out measurement can be its saviour. A simple shift to measuring relationships, instead of activity, causes a ripple of behavioral changes that have important, positive, ramifications.
Relationships rely on back and forth between a buyer and a seller. Automation does not cause this to happen – only thoughtful outreach does. Reps focused on relationships work on finding ways to add value, be thoughtful, and inspire new thinking in the buyers they hope to serve. Automation is not a goal as it does not contribute to the outcome.
Measuring relationships means measuring the sales funnel differently, the entire way down. Whereas raw activity is somewhat useful as a top-of-funnel measurement, it has no bearing on success at the bottom of the funnel. Relationships, however, are crucial. Measuring whether the sales team has strong enough relationships, with the right level of executive, in the right functions in the buying center gives a sales leader tremendous insight into the likelihood of a forecast deal closing.
Masters Of Our Own Destiny
In sales and marketing, as with any discipline, what we measure, we manage. It’s time to #HoldTheHustle and think about whether we are measuring what we should be measuring. Shifting a sales team’s core measurement from activity to relationships might seem like a small change. However, the follow-on effect in terms of how we treat our buyers, how we staff our teams, how we build our reputation, and how we grow sales can be significant.
This is the year where sales teams are asking themselves whether they are “hustlers” or “builders”. The answer can be seen in what they measure.
Experienced SaaS CTO. Founded and guided the building of Eloqua to a market leading position in Marketing Automation. Now Co-founder and CTO at Nudge. Author of the book “Digital Body Language” with a passion for innovation, cloud computing and software evolution.
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