Building, training, and growing a sales team can be expensive and time consuming. New businesses and especially growing businesses will need a team to move the sales and business process foreword and generate revenue to continue the growth. Our guest today is someone who has come up with a solution to the problem of creating and growing a sales team.
Today, I speak with Stephen Hayes the founder of Inside Sales. Which is a group of on demand sales professionals that assist growing businesses with the sales process and with additional sales team help. This process is cost efficient with ready to go sales professionals that also bring tools, techniques, and technology that can be plugged into a growing business to accelerate the process.
- How companies were struggling with building an inside sales model
- Stephen noticed the need and created the service solution for inside sales help
- They will often augment an existing sales team and help them scale
- They also help businesses that have no team or a sales bottleneck
- Demand generation, lead generation and opportunity generation
- With new companies they help build the entire go to market and playbook
- Importance of having systems in place to measure if the strategy is working
- They only work with products they like and believe in
- How being in too much of a hurry causes false starts and loss of credibility
- Having a full program up and running in 45 days is the timeline
- Sales cycles and learning curves could extend the timeframe
- It’s important to treat SDRs well and keep them motivated
- Tools used are multi touch, multi channel including phone and email and social
- They also have micro and macro events and direct mail
- Customized landing pages and video and animation are also used
- They also focus on great data sources that allow them to work at scale
- Revisiting lost leads
- Rewarding and empowering all representatives
Marylou: Hi everyone, it’s Marylou Tyler. This week I have a guest, Stephen Hayes. He’s the founder of Inside Sales, and what’s really cool about Stephen is that we’re gonna talk about supplementing sales teams. His organization is all about – some people call it the agency model, but it’s a sales agency model. It’s focused on the sales conversation. Some people call it outsourcing, and some people call it sales augmentation. I’ll let him describe what it is that they do.
This is a great conversation for us because a lot of times when we’re either in hyper growth mode or we’re starting up and not quite sure about the types of sales roles we want to have in our organization, it’s sometimes very helpful to have a third party come in and help us supplement our team, grow our teams, and get to a point where we have a consistent engine. Stephen, welcome to the podcast. Great to have you.
Stephen: Good morning Marylou. Thank you for asking me to join you. It’s terrific to be here.
Marylou: Wonderful. Tell us. What got you going down this path of creating an agency that really works on becoming an extension of a sales organization?
Stephen: Well back in 2010, we actually offered technology and sales operations as a service, and we didn’t include the people part of the salesperson part in the actual offering itself. But in 2010, when we were helping a company build their technology stack and helping them innovate within their technology stack within their companies, they were hitting a wall on their outside sales team. The economy crashed in 2010, if you remember. Companies were really eager – and aggressively eager, I would say. There was this sense of urgency to change the way they were going to market, and many of them needed to change from a pure outside-sales model to a hybrid model, which includes inside sales. They really didn’t have the people or technology or operational capabilities to do that inhouse quickly.
Many of our customers were asking us to help with that transformation. Finally, enough of them asked that we built the offering to include people, and we turned it on in 2010. We launched insidesalesteam.com. Our parent company at that time was Be Relevant Group. What started off as really answering a demand in the market has skyrocketed ever since, and the Inside Sales Team offering has really taken off. It’s become the majority of our business. The majority of our business used to be technology consulting and implementation, and now this whole service agency model has just really skyrocketed and inside sales as a function has also skyrocketed. We were at the forefront of that and have really enjoyed a nice surge in growth and name recognition across the country as a result.
Marylou: Wonderful. My first thought is – I work with a lot of clients, various shapes and sizes, various tenure in the market. Is there a sweet spot of a client that is going to immediately benefit from having a conversation with you, or are there various flavors of offerings that clients might want to consider in looking to a service like yours in order to help bring in opportunities? Then the third question is, is it opportunities that you work on, when you say “inside sales,” or do you actually do inside sales, prospecting, closing as well? What is the main emphasis there?
Stephen: I’ll try to answer them in order. We work with two types of companies. One is a company that’s already having tremendous success. They’ve really already figured it out. They have product market fit. They know who wants to buy their products, and people truly do want to buy their products or software application. They look to us to scale that effort in a way that’s very hard to do internally alone.
We’re often an augmentation to an internal team. Someone might have 10 inside sales people, or 20 inside sales people. They might need to go to 40, and to have 20 of those people in Buffalo, New York with an engine that’s ready to go makes a lot of sense for companies. The first version is one that’s already figured it out, and we’re helping them scale like crazy in a very disciplined way.
The second version is someone who has something really interesting to bring to market. They know that it should be successful, and sales and marketing is the barrier to their success currently. They don’t have an engine, or maybe the engine that they built is not performing the way they need it to. We can help them figure out: will people buy the product, what types of people will buy the product?
In that scenario, we’re helping them really build the go-to-market strategy, execute in a very disciplined way that gives them the feedback that they need to change the product, change the product positioning, change the product pricing, make the iterations that they need before they scale the business.
We work successfully with both types of company. As long as everyone is really transparent about which one they are and where we are in the evolution of the company, we can have tremendous success and add tremendous value in both of those scenarios. A big part of our business is demand generation, lead generation, opportunity creation; and a smaller part of our business is full-service, full-cycle revenue, so actually taking a sales cycle from start to finish.
Marylou: Here is the devil’s advocate in me because when I work on clients that are the second bucket – the people who have a great idea, they’re suffering from lack of marketing and sales. Either there’s not just enough bodies or they really haven’t had the time to put together a good plan. How do you come in and get them up to speed because I find that sometimes they don’t even know why they matter: why change, why now, why us? I’m going all the way back to the SWOT 6 to try to get them to understand and articulate their position in the marketplace, so the devil’s advocate in me says, “Boy, until we get our ducks in a row internally, how can we outsource this? How can we get someone else to do that for us, when we don’t even know what we are doing?” How do you address that?
Stephen: Together we’re usually building a go-to-market and a playbook. That’s very disciplined and very rigid. Because when you’re testing, you have to be somewhat rigid and disciplined with your measurements, so that you can offer feedback to say, “What should we change, when should we change, then how should we change, how will we measure it again next time when we change it?” I think it starts with “Do you have the aptitude to build those kinds of go-to-market and playbooks?” You have to have that.
We offer that as a service to our customers because we feel like we need to control our own destiny, too. If we’re going to take on the accountability and the responsibility of success, we also want the responsibility of having the input to build successfully on the front end. We’re probably wired a little bit differently than most companies in our space to have the aptitude and the passion for doing that. It’s a very exciting process to be a part of, and it’s an honor to be given that responsibility, so we take it very seriously.
Then the back end of that is “Do you have the systems and processes and place to measure whether something is working or not? Are you disciplined and rigorous with your measurement? Do you have the technology in place to measure? Do you have the database in place to measure? And then do you have the people in place that are willing and able to do the things day in and day out that are required for accurate measurement of whether a campaign or a go-to-market strategy is working or is not working?”
From the differentiation standpoint, we’re probably wired a little bit more consultative on the front end. We have really great expertise in that area, and then our people and our processes are very disciplined to measure the back end. That’s what allows us to do that. Then the other thing is we don’t do it with just anyone. We have to truly believe in the product. We have to see that the product has legs. We have to get excited about it. We’re also pretty selective with where we are going to devote our energies in that regard.
Marylou: That’s interesting. I like that. I’ve heard a couple of things that I want to make sure that our audience listened and heard, too. There’s specificity around the actual process that you put in place. Let’s face it, folks who are listening in, we’re not all great at looking at our analytics and then deploying the learnings from those analytics right back into the marketing and sales conversations. It sounds like you close that loop as part of just your standard offering, which is leaps and bounds beyond what I’m seeing out in the field a lot.
A lot of times we have issues with compliance to actually track the right data and then take that data and actually analyze it, whether it’s qualitative or quantitatively in order to feed that back into the marketing engines and the sales conversation messaging, so that we can continually improve and optimize our frameworks. How do you pull this information out of the teams? Let’s take again that second bucket, then we’ll talk a little about the first bucket. The second bucket, where literally we’re herding cats in some cases. They are scattered, they’re busy, multiple hats. How are you able to grab them and actually get them to talk with you about what this thing is and how to put it into play?
Stephen: I think it starts with mutual respect and understanding that if we’re going to do this, we’re going do it right. When we build this business, we wanted to build a business that could attract the types of people that spend their own money and then aren’t just checking a box. The bar is high. The enthusiasm is high. The commitment is high. I think our customers sense that our commitment level is so high that – theirs is too – but we really don’t have that problem.
I think when you are attracting the right types of customers and building the right type of service that attracts truly committed people, it seems to work. I think the other thing is people don’t come to us when they’re not excited about an idea or a product. They come to us when they’re incredibly excited about an idea or a product, and they can’t imagine not making the most out of the opportunity. I guess people are almost wired that when they are coming to us, they are pretty darn committed. It takes care of some of that.
Then we have a really great process. We have a customer success team that has a very robust onboarding program, that is detailed and structured, and really the right balance of a great process that is a process that affords the opportunity to bring in the creativity, the culture of our customer, to incorporate what makes our customer different, but also leverage the standardization that we are bringing to bear, to get things done effectively, efficiently, accurately in a way that scales like crazy, once we crack the code. Those things typically are coming together pretty darn well for us and for our customers.
Marylou: Let’s talk a little bit – so my audience gets a feel of timelines. I can share with you the timeline that we put in the books, and it’s typically to get from crawl to walk stage that they’re actually producing qualified opportunities. Is anywhere on the short end for them doing it – this is a six-week to nine-week type of timeframe, twelve weeks on the outer reaches of producing qualified opportunities that might not yet make goal, but are pretty darn close to goal. That’s three months of their life that we’re in assembly and activation mode. How are we cutting that down, or is that analogous or similar to what you’ve experienced with your offering?
Stephen: It’s similar in that there is a perception that people are in a hurry, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what we find is if you are in too much of a hurry, you’re going to have violent false starts, and they’re very expensive. The one cost of a false start that some people don’t measure truly accurately is credibility. If you’re in a company and you have a violent false start, you lose credibility. You lose momentum. It’s very hard to get that back sometimes.
The other challenge you could have with doing it too fast and doing it the wrong way is you can get a false negative. If you do something the wrong way, it’s very easy for someone else to say, “That’s never going to work,” and that’s a false negative that’s also very hard to recover from. Because a lot of times, you get a false negative and people say, “That won’t work,” but no one has another idea of what will work either. So now you’re in a really bad spot. You’ve lost credibility, and you have a false negative.
So we really encourage people to do the right things in this onboarding, set-up phase so that we can have great success and accurate measurement of what is and isn’t working. A lot of times people change on half-measures, and you don’t really know the answer and you’re chasing your tail on the wrong answers.
In our world, our brand commitment to the market is that we will have a program fully onboarded, up and running, producing opportunities within 45 days, and believe me, people think that’s a long time. It’s 45 days. It goes really fast. There’s a ton of work that gets done in that period. It’s very disciplined and rigid and organized, but it still takes 45 days. It’s a monumental effort to do it in 45 days the right way.
Just to give people out there perspective – we have tremendous resources. We have amazingly talented people with great experience, and we have the world’s best technology. We have an inhouse ad agency to support these efforts, and it still takes us 45 days, and we are running hard that whole 45 days. If you are looking for some perspective on how long it should take you to do it internally without all those resources, give yourselves a break, when it is taking 4 or 5 months because that’s probably the right amount of time.
Marylou: It’s usually double or triple from my experience. Now does this matter – because another question I’m sure my audience is asking is “Does it matter – the sales cycles or is it…?” With segmentation, when we’re talking about tiers of accounts we have in our innermost circle, probably our dream accounts that we want to go after, that maybe have a longer sales cycle. The next tier out – maybe what we call ‘extended universe.’ These are accounts that are not quite sweet spots, but there is still quality. And we really want to close those guys, but there may be some issues where they’re not in the sweet spot and then there’s everybody else. “Does it matter what type of accounts we throw at you to get that first opportunity? Or is there also a sweet spot on the sales cycle side?”
Stephen: I think it does matter. There could be an extension. You have learning curves. Learning curve could add a month to the program launch. It takes truly a month longer to learn the product, the market, the used cases, the competitors, the verbiage, the technology and terms, so that can extend.
The other is “Who are we going after and how many touches does it take to get that person and what’s the cycle and the rhythm of touch in the campaigns?” so I absolutely should take those things into account of how long it’s going to take you to launch a program internally. Then it’s this idea around “What are we measuring in the first six months for success?” Those things are different in a really large account with C-level targets versus medium-sized accounts with manager level targets. I think the answer is different in every program. It’s just really important to keep score in an honest and transparent way.
A lot of times if you’re keeping score in a way that there’s an ultimate goal that six months away, the way you keep score in the short term can seem like excuse-making. You can seem like a wimp, if you are not willing to take on the task, so I think honesty and transparency is really important in that period of time.
If you are building – which we build account-based marketing programs for customers. If you are building an account-based marketing program and you’re only keeping score on appointments set, then that’s a disconnect between the goal of the program and how you are keeping score. It’s a disconnect between the resource allocation and how you are keeping score. I think the program design, the goals of the program – all of those nuances have to be taken into account to come up with an accurate way of how you should keep score because people deserve to feel good when they’re doing a good job. And if you’re doing a great job in month 3, but you’re keeping score as if you’re in month 9, you’re not going to feel good.
As you know, the SDR function is wildly important in the ABM world. How you train and treat your SDRs that are running a sophisticated ABM program is really important to keep them motivated, to keep their education up, to keep their enthusiasm up, to keep their connection with their AEs at a very high, intimate level that is strategic and not only tactical. All of those things are super important, so that’s a great question you asked. There is a lot of nuance.
Marylou: I know that I hear way too often that we lump types of accounts into one bucket. I’m not a fan of that, so I wanted to make sure the audience understood that it’s gonna depend based on sales cycles, based on the type of account, and, as you’ve mentioned, the personas or stakeholders within that account. These are all variables that need to go into the calculator, if you will, to start working on how long things are going to take.
The other thing I wanted you to talk about with this bucket – and probably works with the other bucket too – is what are these touches look like? What is the blend of touch? The use of phone – do you use direct mail since you have an agency there? Do you do phone and e-mail? I know it depends on the client, but what are the various tools and the toolkit that you use in the actual structure of a sequence and the cadence of that sequence to help your clients?
Stephen: We do believe in multi-touch, multi-channel. We do use phone extensively for sure, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. Phones, emails – and email, we use cadences to outreach, so we’re building sophisticated cadences and playbooks. Those are persona-based account-specific programs. Then we are using social touches as well. We do a lot of event series for our customers. We come up with micro-events and macro-events – large events that are vertical or association type events, and then events that are specific to companies that could simply be a lunch and learn for one department within one company.
We also do direct mail. Our in-house team does a lot of great design work. Our direct mail is getting more and more extensive as we grow that and integrate that into the program in a smart way that honors the fact that everything still has budget considerations, and when and how do you do direct mail needs to be justified for sure.
All of those things are part of the program, and then we build customized landing pages, personalized landing pages. We build videos. Sometimes we’ll build videos even for one account that we’re going after, with unique research on that account within that video. We have an inhouse animation team and videographers, so we’re doing video for customers that’s really awesome and very creative.
Then we have great data sources like DiscoverOrg, as an example, that allow us to personalize at scale, that allow us to do great marketing programs at scale, that still are intimate in nature and personalized, so that when you have a data provider like DiscoverOrg, you can really rely on – you can get creative and leverage all your tools and technology in a way that you’re comfortable with knowing that the data’s of high caliber and accurate. It’s going to enhance your relationship and not hurt your relationship by using bad data.
Marylou: Definitely. For the second bucket – that’s really the Soup to Nuts story. Let’s go to the first bucket, where they’ve got success. They’ve really done a great job in understanding who they are, why they matter, why people should care, why the sense of urgency. What are some of the common mistakes when they go to you and say, “Okay. Here’s our open kimono. Here’s our playbook. We’ve been successful here.” What are you still finding as the quick wins that you can get for them because they’ve missed the boat?
Stephen: I think one quick win is revisiting lost opportunities. If you think about why people buy and that people still buy from people. I did a keynote a few months ago about – in the SAS world, the product and the person you buy it from are intermixed. It’s very hard to have an experience that’s delivered through a sales person for a product. It’s very hard to separate those two, so it’s very few people that buy a product and say, “I’m buying the product, even though I don’t like the salesperson.” That happens once in a while, but the experience that’s delivered by the salesperson is often – your opinion of that often goes to the product as well.
If you’re a company that is generating thousands of leads or hundreds of leads, you’re going to trade shows, you’re giving your salespeople lots and lots and lots of it back. Your product might be a good fit for the customer. The person who is delivering the experience might not be exactly the right fit for that specific person, or at the time they were looking at the product, it might not have been the right time. Or the person you are showing it to – the customer – switch jobs, and now there’s a new person, and you continue to market to that other person. They’re not even in the job anymore. There’s lots of leads. There’s lot of opportunities that need to be revisited in a very professional way and also in a way that’s different maybe from the person who they were involved with originally.
That’s one area that our customers – we usually always incorporate into our programs, the reliven program. It generates a huge spike in revenue. It plugs into their ongoing programs. It’s a way to drive tremendous value without additional cost, because the cost of the lead’s already been done. They’ve already spent the money. They’ve already spent millions of dollars to generate those leads and run through sales cycles that gets stalled, stuck, or lost. Absolute great way to get started in a program. If you’re new to a job, new to a position, don’t forget to revisit your lost leads and opportunities.
Marylou: Wonderful. Good. Where else do you pick up and help augment an existing force that’s got a pretty good message out there and really wants additional assistance?
Stephen: I think another way is the ratio. You might have an SDR team that’s simply too small, and that’s a common mistake. You have not enough SDRs. You don’t produce enough meetings. Your AEs are running meetings, but their meetings are here and there. There’s not a rhythm to the program. Also, you might have a lot of turnover in your SDR team, so that it’s hard to get momentum. Your AEs lose faith in the organization being able to produce enough meetings that are of high enough caliber. Sometimes it can be as simple as, “I don’t have enough SDRs.”
And when you don’t have enough SDRs, sometimes the other thing that happens is they’re supposed to be outbounding, but they end up taking inbound. As you and I both know, the percentage of inbound leads that are a good fit are very low. You can actually get way out of whack on your SDR team, and I call it mission creep. You build an SDR team to outbound. You build an SDR team to run strategic programs against very targeted accounts, and they end up managing inbound. They end up managing chat streams, and it’s just mission creep.
I think another area of opportunity is to have enough SDRs that are committed to out-bounding, to support the sales organization and really hit the number. I think that is just another area of opportunity – is to look and say, “Do I have the right number of SDRs? Do I have them focused on the right accounts? Have I equipped them and given them the programs, the technology, and the skillset to go after the accounts that I am declaring I want to win?” Because sometimes we don’t have the right SDRs, or we haven’t equipped them properly to go up market, which is a common thing these days of going more up market. I think revisiting that is another really smart thing to do as well.
Then that leads into – have my SDR sat down with my AEs and done account plans? Which accounts are we going after? How are we going to do it together? When you do that, you’ll see that you’ll keep your SDRs longer, too, because they’re more strategic, they’re more involved. As humans, SDRs want to be involved in the planning. They want to be involved in the outcomes. I think that’s another great internal opportunity – is to revisit how you think about your SDRs and treat them as strategic partners in the sales cycle, and you will be wonderfully surprised with how they respond because they have a huge appetite for that type of inclusion and for that type of professional development.
Marylou: Totally agree there. I’ve seen it in action, and I’ve seen it when you can take the SDR and have them help with the account planning – we call them value grids for essentially working and marching those accounts from opportunity down to close even. It’s a great team effort, and I really love that notion.
From a standpoint also, a lot of times SDRs come into the role with the idea of going into the account executive role at some point. Not everybody wants to stay in the SDR role, so when you can see this upward mobility, so to speak – and we talked about that a lot in predictable revenue of the career path of going from a marketing account role to SDR to AE. And then finally if you want to go and manage and grow accounts – to do it that way. I love that idea. I think a lot of people, too, need to look at the revenue and work it backwards, as you were alluding to, Stephen.
Am I working the right types of leads to get to the revenue objectives that I have? We had a call a while ago, Daniel Barber, and he talked about how he sees this over and over again that we’re not looking at revenue, working it backwards to see what types of accounts drive that revenue, what the sales cycles are that drive those accounts, and what the leads that drive the sales cycle. You nearly need to work that math all the way back up, and it sounds like your organization can help with that, as people are looking to supplement or augment or create a sales machine, but not necessarily all internal sales, by actually having people like Stephen’s group help get that going. I want to be respectful of people’s time, but go ahead and tell us what you think about that.
Stephen: I think it’s perfect. I think one way you can get started doing that today is every win that you get as an AE that is the type of win that you are thrilled about – the kind that if you are a child, you would go home and put it on your refrigerator for your parents to see – go sit with your SDR and together find 10 accounts in your territory or in your assignment that look just like the win you just had. Teach your SDR why you won, why the customer loves you, and why all of these other 10 companies should consider interacting and engaging with your company. Just every time you get a win like that, do a 10, just like it, exercise with your SDR.
You will be amazed at what they will bring home for you when you invest that amount of time with them, and it will be a thrill. Mark it, when they come in – when that SDR sets a meeting, have a special category for 10 just like it and celebrate together, however you do that in the office. You guys will have tremendous success with it. and it will be a lot of fun. I would encourage every AE and SDR to get together and start doing that, refrigerator 10 just like it exercise, and it’ll be a blast.
Marylou: That’s great advice. I love the idea of this rhythmic, constantly looking at how do we get more like these and make it part of your workflow. I think that that’s another thing that you bring to the table or any agency like yours is the concept – I know you kept using the word “discipline,” but it’s actually even better as “habit” because you’re doing something habitually that you don’t have to grit your teeth and get it done. To me, discipline really means you’re still doing a little bit of teeth grinding, whereas habit – it’s part of your DNA. You’re coming in. You’re doing this first 10 thing. You’re working on these value grids. You’re doing your calls. It’s all part and parcel to your daily rhythm. It’s like an athlete, who’s gonna get out there every day and do something to eke out that percent improvement on their performance.
Stephen, how do people get a hold of you if they want to further these conversations? I’m hearing that you’re very picky on who you select as clients, so how do we go about that process, if we want to learn more about you?
Stephen: The great way to learn more about us and get a feel for our culture and our capabilities and whether or not we would be good to work together is to go to insidesalesteam.com. Our inhouse agency has built a beautiful website, and our amazing customers are on the site telling their story of what it’s like to work with Inside Sales Team. If you like to be in Inside Sales or an SDR and you’re looking to get a job with insidesalesteam.com, our Careers page does a great job of telling the story of what it’s like to work here. Yes, we are growing like crazy, hiring like crazy, and we are excited to meet new and exciting companies to work with, and eager and motivated new employees.
Marylou: Wonderful. I’ll be sure, everyone, to put that in the show notes in case you’re driving somewhere and can’t write down and can’t remember that – all of Stephen’s contact information. I think this is something to explore for everyone, at least to have those conversations, to understand the process behind a successful and consistent sales machine.
Machine – I use that in a loving way. I don’t mean it as a way of saying, “You are just a brute force getting it done.” But you’re getting to this high performing assembly line that consistently generates the revenue that you’re looking for as a company, so that you can grow, you could scale, you can go into different verticals – whatever it is that you’re looking to do with your growth path. Having that machine in place, having that assembly line in place, and constantly feeding it with quality is gonna get you to where you want to go.
Stephen, thank you so much for your time today. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Stephen: I did too. Thank you, Marylou.