Trying to successfully scale B2B sales can raise any number of challenges; yet for many B2B organisations it is the need to rapidly scale sales that becomes a major stumbling block to future growth. What is the most effective and efficient sales model? How best to source good quality leads and fuel a strong sales pipeline?
From misaligned sales teams to inadequate CRM contact data, few B2B companies have a model that can scale effectively. Change is essential if organisations are to create an efficient, scalable outbound B2B sales team that can meet ambitious growth targets.
From the creation of a metrics-based, performance driven sales culture to integrating fresh, real-time individual and company profile data into sales and marketing platforms, there are very significant opportunities to transform the efficiency of outbound B2B sales.
Benchmarking the B2B Sales Process
For B2B companies looking for rapid growth, there is a huge temptation to recruit a top sales person; an individual with great experience and, in theory, strong contacts. But is that wise? This individual will be looking for the big wins, the enterprise accounts that deliver great kudos – and commission. But these deals have long lead times. They are time consuming and expensive to deliver. Is that really the best way to scale up a B2B operation?
The truth is that multiple smaller, quick wins can be a far more effective road to growth, and that means reconsidering the sales operation. It means moving away from the traditional model where each sales person is responsible for every stage of the sales cycle, from prospecting through to closing, to one where each individual has a well delineated specialist role with clearly defined metrics. Essentially, to systematically bring in new business requires an operational process with a strong focus on data, metrics and science.
Science Trumps Art
Splitting the prospecting, lead validation and deal closing into distinct operations is not only more efficient, it also supports the creation of a far more science-based approach to B2B sales. Sales is a numbers game, plain and simple. It is not about spending hours on LinkedIn researching a prospect before making the call and finding he is on holiday for the next week. It is about creating an incredibly efficient process that leverages top quality, up to date and accurate data to support a slick lead generation and sales process. It is about dedicating one team to prospecting and securing meetings; and another to presenting the proposition or demonstration and closing the deal. It is about measuring every step of the process to ensure individuals are correctly incentivised. And it is about driving the continual process and performance improvement required to meet ambitious growth plans.
Sales is not an art; it is a science. A successful and scalable B2B sales operation will be underpinned by a performance-based culture where individuals are focused on and driven by metrics and benchmarks.
So how does that work in practice? Here are the five key steps to successfully and rapidly scaling a B2B sales team.
Step 1: Understand Team Capacity
There is nothing mystical about an effective sales operation. A good sales model is based on a very clear process: source good leads, contact them, make the sales pitch and manage the deal to closure. By splitting the sales process into its component parts, a company has a chance to better understand and hence optimise each stage. A sales development rep’s (SDR) job, for example, is selling demonstrations or sales meetings, not the product or service. It is the sales person or account executive who is incentivised to make the full sales pitch and close the deal.
Understanding the metrics that underpin this model is essential – and every company will have different metrics to benchmark. How many calls can an SDR make each day? How many hours of the working day can be dedicated purely to demonstration or visits – and how many will be required for administration, product training or strategy meetings? Being realistic about actual working hours – and the time that should be spent on each demo or visit, whether than is 30 minutes or three hours, depending on product complexity, will provide an accurate and workable benchmark for sales activity.
Step 2: Track and measure the entire sales funnel
A company needs to understand the sales funnel in detail. How is the activity of the sales person activity supported? How many calls must a development rep make to secure one demo appointment or meeting? Ten, fifty, one hundred? Combine this with the number of calls an SDR can make each day and you have a figure for the number of development reps required to feed leads through to the direct sales team.
Extending this insight to track the number of demonstrations that are converted into qualified opportunities and, ultimately, sales provides a company with a very clear picture of the size of the sales team required to meet growth targets.
This can then support the correct structure of a sales team today and, with accurate forecasting, drive effective recruitment as the business scales. Ensuring the correct number of SDRs are in place before adding another sales person, for example, is key to ensure skilled individuals can hit the ground running with a full list of qualified leads. And never overlook quality – it is essential to measure the quality as well as the volume of leads to optimise sales performance.
It is also important to understand the effectiveness of the lead generation campaigns: is marketing creating enough leads to support the SDR activity? If not, the entire process will grind to a halt. Is there an opportunity to do something better? For example, rather than rely on single channel outreach campaigns – typically via email – a combination approach is proven to be far more effective. While an email campaign will typically achieve a response rate of less than 5% – either positive or negative, a blended prospecting model that combines emails with phone calls and social connection will lift the response rate to 80%.
Step 3: Scale B2B Sales Efficiently
Understanding call conversions versus capacity provides an essential guide to correctly structuring the sales team. It also provides a chance to closely assess the process and check opportunities for performance improvement. Could the demo time be reduced without compromising the sales experience? Could SDRs make more calls each day? Is their time being spent on other tasks, such as admin or updating the database, that could be better spent elsewhere?
Certainly, any B2B sales organisation still relying on the traditional sales model, with individuals tasked with completing every step of the sales process, has a very clear opportunity to become far more efficient. Creating a new sales model with dedicated roles can transform performance and rapidly eradicate bottlenecks.
However, without a fresh stream of accurate and timely contact and lead data, talented sales people will be constrained – from the wasted effort of calling individuals who are no longer in the role to the time spent updating CRM systems with the latest information.
It is essential to reinforce the concept of quantity versus quality. For the past few years, sales teams have been encouraged to explore public data – such as social media – to support a more personal first contact. But this is simply not a productive use of time. Spending 30 minutes reading a prospect’s last blog post or checking company finances may seem like a great idea – but when that contact is not available, or worse no longer in the role, that time has been completely wasted.
And it should not be necessary – with a source of accurate, fresh contact information, the CRM should be automatically updated with many of these key data points that reps can then use on the call. As a result, the emphasis should be on increasing the number of calls made – even leveraging tools such as automated VoIP dialling to further streamline the process and dramatically increase productivity. It is the ability to have as many conversations as possible that is key to achieving sales scale: rather than fifteen or even thirty minutes between calls, a slick sales operation can ensure there is no more than a two minute gap.
A metrics-based model reinforces the performance culture essential for successful scale, but the emphasis is not on quantity alone. Companies must leverage incentive models to ensure quantity is never achieved at the expense of quality – an SDR’s reward must be linked to the quality, not just the quantity of meetings booked.
Step 4: Improve Data Sourcing Quality
Poor quality contact and lead data is one of the most frustrating aspects of any B2B outbound sales campaign. Time wasted trying to contact people who no longer work for a company is a given but what about the missed opportunity of not targeting these individuals in new organisations and roles?
Far too many sales individuals lose hours every day chasing bad leads. Yet with CRM data degrading by the minute (approximately a third of data degrades every year), most sales teams are using data that is up to 60% out of date. Improvements to the sales process must be supported by a completely different approach to data sourcing: static CRM is no longer good enough. B2B sales organisations need access to fresh, accurate and GDPR compliant data. In essence, a stream of real-time data.
Despite acknowledging that much of the existing data resource is out of date – and the sales process therefore inherently inefficient – most firms are unwilling to embark on the traditionally manual process of continually updating the CRM. Yet the latest AI can be used to seek out and target stale data in real-time. Whenever bad or outdated records are discovered, a seamless blend of AI and human intelligence delivers an accurate and up to date database of hundreds of million profiles, transforming the quality of the sales experience. With this quality of data resources, organisations can also explore sales acceleration tools to achieve faster sales cycles, higher close rates and bigger deals.
Step 5: Run Targeted Lead Generation Campaigns
Of course, for sales teams used to the prop of social media research to flesh out CRM data, the accuracy and timeliness of contact information is just one part of the equation. What SDRs need is a deep data resource. Access to profile information that also includes individual skill sets, education and time in role as well as company profile, even specific technologies in use, delivers the essential data confidence required to support an effective sales call.
With real-time updates of data resources, the problems that have traditionally dogged sales teams – namely prospects moving job – suddenly become an opportunity. Timing is everything: it is not only important to know that someone has changed role and organisation but when. Contacts who have changed job can be flagged, enabling the SDR to contact this lead at the optimum moment in the sales and buying cycle.
In addition, filters can transform targeting – such as Chief Commercial Officers of Software companies, headquartered in London, New York or Berlin, that have received Series B funding in the past six months. Who needs to spend time on a LinkedIn profile with access to this timely and focused information that provides not only email addresses and telephone numbers but a brief profile with anything from funding to industry or technology platforms being used?
Essentially, this is sales intelligence: a business profile data source that extends across the globe and across every industry. It totally offsets the need to spend hours researching a lead, enabling sales teams to increase productivity and rapidly scale up sales activity. Targeted B2B lead generation campaigns can be based on a number of highly specific triggers, enabling the sales team to hone the pitch and further improve response. And the timeliness of this data is key, enabling sales teams to exploit specific events, from funding rounds to geographic expansion, even a purchase of a technology – sales trigger data enables sales teams to target the right prospect at the right time.
Optimising a sales organisation is a fundamental requirement for any B2B business looking to achieve sustainable, scalable growth. And while companies have addressed aspects of this process, few have achieved a truly scalable, integrated and harmonised B2B sales operation that maximises opportunities.
B2B sales success is all about the metrics; about understanding and refining the process and ensuring the right team structure is in place. With the right model, a company can quickly and effectively explore and exploit a source of accurate, fresh, real-time data to achieve fast, targeted and timely B2B lead generation and sales activity.
James Isilay is the founder and CEO of Cognism. An expert in lead generation, sales management and alpha discovery using algorithmic technologies, natural language processing and machine learning.