There are sales organizations with anemic pipelines and too few opportunities struggling to find growth. Some of these companies have decided to separate prospecting from the rest of the sales process, believing they will improve their sales results by having an SDR do the prospecting, handing-off a “qualified” prospect to a senior salesperson. The idea is that by eliminating prospecting from the top salesperson’s duties, they can focus all their time on “closing” deals. Like a lot of ideas, it sounds good but comes with unintended consequences.
Other sales organizations suggest that they can’t make their salespeople prospect and that they don’t know how to make their salesforce do the work of calling prospective clients to schedule meetings. Some of this is the result of the over-hyped idea that the internet, the social channels, and inbound marketing were going to eliminate real prospecting forever. A more substantial part of this may be the normalization of deviance and the lack of accountability that plagues too many organizations—and not only in sales.
Prospecting and Opportunity Creation
There is much confusion about prospecting as SDRs and opportunity creation. Most of what SDRs are required to do is calling leads (not the same thing as targets) to qualify them, handing the “qualified prospect” to a more senior salesperson who handles the rest of the process. Most of the B2B sales forces who use this approach also use the BANT approach to qualification, checking to see if the lead has a budget, authority, need, and a timeline, a strategy that, for many reasons, is inadequate for a modern sales approach.
The words and concepts we use to talk about sales are essential. “Prospecting” and “Creating Opportunities” are not the same thing. “Qualifying” and “Opportunity Creation” are different, and intentions and outcomes are too essential to confuse these words and ideas.
Prospecting is the act of reaching out to leads and targets to schedule a meeting. Qualifying means verifying that your lead will benefit from what you sell. It means making sure the lead has all the right attributes to make them worth your time and attention, preventing you from wasting time with people who can not—or will not—buy what you sell (one of the reasons targets are better than leads is because you have already done the work to eliminate much of the need to qualify them).
For most of us in complex sales or consultative sales, Opportunity Creation requires a conversation where we help our prospective clients explore change, developing their need, helping them understand why they might change and the implications of doing nothing. These conversations don’t in any way resemble qualifying, an important idea, but not something that creates a tremendous amount of value for the prospective client. The conversations that develop opportunities are conversations that create value for the client, helping them make sense of the world and learning something about themselves and their company that was, at some level, unknown to them.
Taylorism Taken too Far
If there is confusion about roles, there is even more confusion about efficiency. Because the technology companies have sliced the role of sales into thinner categories as a way to specialize and gain efficiency, many have forfeited effectiveness as the real measure of profitability. Efficiency means creating the results using less time, energy, and resources. If you don’t create the intended result, then you are inefficient, with the effort put forth wasted.
There are a lot of good reasons to have SDRs prospecting and working to help create opportunities (something more than merely asking a set of qualifying questions). There are even more good reasons to have your very best and most experienced salespeople prospecting and creating their opportunities, mainly if what you are doing now doesn’t produce enough opportunities—or the right opportunities.
The more experience the salesperson has, the higher the likelihood that they have the skills necessary to create value for the prospective client early in the sales process. They are also more apt to have the business acumen and situational knowledge that comes from having worked in sales longer than the SDR.
The linear thinking about roles models that of an assembly line, conflicting with the nonlinear nature of sales conversations, especially in complex, consultative sales where winning big deals means building consensus and controlling the process.
Not all problems of opportunity creation belong to splitting sales into specialized roles. As many issues stem from an unwillingness to require professional B2B salespeople to prospect.
Salespeople only do two things: 1) Create new opportunities, and 2) Work to capture opportunities. The creation of new opportunities precedes the work necessary to obtain and win deals. The idea that one needs only to hold salespeople accountable for the capture of opportunities is poor thinking—and why so many sales organizations fail to reach their goals and the root cause of why more salespeople don’t reach theirs.
Accountability for both creation and capture is necessary. Too many sales managers and sales leaders worry about not micromanaging their sales force. Only the weakest of sales managers believe that all that is necessary to produce better results is more activity (the very idea that leads to the Taylorism that suggests activity is better than productive activity).
What sales managers and sales leaders should worry about is succeeding in reaching their goals and failing the people in their charge by not holding them accountable for everything necessary to succeed in their role, including prospecting.
The belief that prospecting is beneath a salesperson because they have too much experience, that it is a waste of their talent, or that it is too expensive, is weak—and costly—thinking.
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