Sell to Win

Not your dad’s SaaS: Prospecting tips for modern B2B sales reps

Ashwin Balakrishnan
Contributor, Sell to Win
Ashwin Balakrishnan
Contributor, Sell to Win
Vintage salesperson on the phone prospecting with their feet on the desk.

A new breed of B2B sales development representatives are laying kinder foundations and closing more deals. Here’s how they’re creating a top-notch buying experience.

Over the last few years, B2B companies have collectively pivoted to the concept of “creating value”, which is a shorter but more marketable way of saying “helping our customers." For sales, part of that pivot has been making revenue a byproduct of their approach rather than its primary objective.

It might sound counterintuitive, but it makes sense if you think about it.

Who are you more likely to buy a pair of shoes from: A pushy salesperson who recommends leather boots even though you live in a hot climate, or a friendly one who asks about your needs and recommends a pair that keeps your feet comfortable and ventilated?

In B2B sales, several factors have made old school techniques unviable:

  • People get too many pitches. There’s no way buyers can field every call and reply to every email, so they’re prioritizing only what’s most important to them. As a result, they’re setting the pace of sales cycles and the tone of conversations.

  • Communication ethics are changing. Privacy and boundaries are paramount in our digital world. Bombarding prospects is a one-way ticket to their spam folder. You can’t rush, trick, or bully your way to meeting quota.

  • Revenue teams got hooked on automation. Marketing automation isn’t bad, but it has been used in some questionable ways. ‘Set it and forget it’ drip campaigns are one example of how sales development sometimes forgets that they sell to people.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way around these challenges. A buyer-centric approach to business development puts conversation ahead of pitches, prioritizes support and education over the hard sell, and rewards a willingness to walk away from prospects who might not benefit from what you’re offering.

How the modern SDR playbook wins more meetings

Customers are, and always will be king, queen, and viceroy in any business. Modern sales development reps know that and start by understanding their buyers at a visceral level, such as the psychology behind how they make decisions.

Then they discard dated prospecting tactics such as buying lead lists that probably didn’t consent to their data being sold; bombarding inboxes with dry, impersonal, 12-step sequences; and using language rooted in guilt, aggression, fear, and pressure.

If you really want to book meetings that stand a high chance of closing, try some of these other prospecting tactics:

  • Do personalization the right way. Treat every prospect like an individual. Find out what challenges they’re likeliest to be concerned about, and connect the dots between that and what you can offer. No one opened an email because of that {Fname} tag.

  • Use these 7 pattern interrupts to surprise prospects. Most B2B and SaaS sales pitches are cold, selfish, and follow a very predictable script. Pattern interrupts change the flow, disarming people and allowing them to feel less defensive.

  • Minimize the weight of your ask. Winning someone’s attention isn’t easy. Don’t ruin a good result from your first touch by pushing a 30-minute demo. Gauging whether there’s further interest is more likely to keep the conversation open.

5 traits that define modern business development

Will Allred, co-founder of AI email assistant Lavender, says his team saw the number of outbound emails more than double in the months following March 2020.

“Buyers couldn’t filter through all the noise, and replies reduced by almost half. It woke sales leaders up. They said, ‘Wait, I hate getting this kind of outreach. Why am I pushing my sales team to produce the same?’ And sales leaders had to go learn how to be more thoughtful about email. I think many of them got good at prospecting during a time where volume was the core differentiator. It’s no longer the case.”

Whether you’re a practitioner looking to hit the next level or a sales leader on a mission to level up your team, these five skills will serve modern sales development reps well—the experts themselves say so.

Writing

B2B (and especially SaaS) sales reps will find that today’s buyers can spot impersonal automation from a mile away. The only solution is to get so good at writing that people have to notice you. According to Will, a big reason writing is necessary is because sales development is “being asked to be more and more”.

“They need to be experts in their field; they need to be social media influencers; they need to be prospecting on top of it all. Reps need to be able to take complex ideas (research about prospects, market trends, etc.) and articulate clear logic. Writing is the best practice for honing that skill. Practice putting thoughts down on paper. Do it in public. Do it in private. Do it.”

Alignment

Understanding your prospect’s priorities and how you can support them is important, but you also need to know your role as part of a larger revenue team. People are complex creatures and rarely make decisions on logic alone, and if they sense that something’s off, it probably won’t matter how great your offer is.

When SDRs and account executives are on the same page, buyers see consistency in what’s being promised, and that makes it easier for your business to both deliver a consistently amazing buying experience and grow revenue.

Abundance Mindset

Great salespeople often talk about the rush of closing a deal where the stars aligned, but not all opportunities are equal. Being willing to walk away from potential deals that don’t serve both you and your prospect takes courage, but it can be incredibly freeing when you no longer see every interaction as simply another opportunity to get closer to your quota.

Source: Dale Dupree via LinkedIn

Coachability

While modern SDRs need to adapt to the current market, there will always be more changes. The ability to mold yourself to suit what buyers of the day want is paramount.

Marianna Atrash from Chili Piper’s sales development team says, “The sales development world is constantly evolving, especially with technology advancements that leave people with smaller attention spans than ever before. We used to get minutes of people’s time and now we’re lucky if we get a full 30 seconds! The modern SDR playbook demands that you adapt quickly to any changes, but also be prepared to constantly learn. There is a basic formula to sales, of course, but a person should never stop learning about best or newest practices in their field.”

Focus

With so much software being built for every part of the sales process, it’s not uncommon to fall for shiny object syndrome and lose focus of what truly matters: people, product, and the connection between the two. Great SDRs know what to prioritize so that they meet their goals.

According to Saad Khan, a business development manager at Dooly, “There’s a new selling tactic and methodology every day. If you choose to master those, then it’s a race against the clock to burn out. Modern SDRs are mastering frameworks—choosing to talk relevance and problem-oriented questions rather than purely focusing on personalization. These problems have business-wide relevance and messaging that can be sent at scale.”

Also check out: 7 more soft skills every salesperson needs to succeed

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5 tools that bring your sales development playbook to life

Knowledge and ability are fundamental, but the right software can reduce the time and effort needed to reach the next level. Here are some tools (mostly) outside the unicorn club that can improve your prospecting and apply your skills at scale.

  • Sales Navigator is a classic for finding prospective accounts and people  in your target market. Its real value shines in today’s market where remote work and competition for talent play significant roles. Because it’s tied to LinkedIn, it’s easy to avoid situations like two reps from the same company (owning separate geographies) contacting different people on the same team.

Source: Morgan J Ingram via Twitter

  • Klue’s competitive intelligence offering lets sales development teams build better battlecards and prospecting playbooks. When you build those on top of cohorts of prospects that share similar challenges, your team will be able to personalize at scale.
  • Lavender is an AI email assistant that uses data from real SDR outreach to help you write emails that are more likely to get you the meetings you want. Lavender covers length, tone, readability, responsiveness, and many other aspects of email that alternatives neglect.
  • Nutshell’s no-frills, no-stress sales CRM is great for businesses that do things their way—especially if their way involves making sure their prospects and customers always have a fantastic experience. Of note are the collaboration features that let you deliver great handoffs between sales development and account executives.
  • Fireflies offers AI call transcription that lets you create a CRM-based library of sales intelligence. Search for keywords and phrases across calls, demos, and other interactions. Make coaching and handovers easier by highlighting key information.

Take your new ideas for a test drive

Sales development is a job that never ends, but finding your sweet spot—for the benefit of both your business and your own career—takes time. These last two recommendations are a great place for any SDR to get started.

First, remember to link up with your account executives, both to make sure your messaging is consistent and to have a plan to contend with the increased volume your new approach is likely to deliver.

Second, be sure to warm up your prospects before contacting them. Put yourself on their radar first to reduce the friction of introducing your product, and go straight to how you can help.

Save yourself the hassle of guesswork and use a winning campaign outline that hundreds of revenue teams have run together. And be safe carrying all those commission checks to the bank.

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