Outbound prospecting is the hardest job in sales. Not only do you have to get the prospect’s attention, but you also have to get them questioning their status quo.

It’s also hard to scale.

Many sales and marketing leaders abandoned the outdated strategy of adding salespeople in favor of demand generation engines because inbound leads provide an indication that the status quo may not be acceptable, increasing the likelihood of engagement.

That led to a decade-long reengineering of sales and marketing processes to align around lead generation, qualification, and closing (much like Aaron Ross’ Predictable Revenue Model):

  1. Marketing creates content and measures engagement–marketing qualified lead (MQL)
  2. Sales Development Reps (SDRs) pounce on the leads, qualify and set appointments for closers.
  3. Account execs run their sales process and close.

It worked beautifully. Except today (especially post-COVID) this methodology is also declining in effectiveness. Decision-makers receive too many email sequences, cold calls, and marketing dribble that they just ignore or delete, and too often, they unsubscribe.

Our targets know what we’re doing and have learned to avoid us.

The way that buyers buy has shifted yet again, and we’ve failed to match it. All we’ve done is retrofit our sales process instead of aligning sales and marketing to provide a better customer experience through the entire client lifecycle.

That only gets fixed by addressing the organizational prioritization and structure starting with senior leadership and permeating throughout.

The Predictable Revenue Model is Still Silo-based thinking

Sales and marketing alignment has been the issue for over a decade, and for B2B organizations that require a salesperson to touch a prospect before it becomes a deal, it’s a necessity.

However, because these two departments have traditionally operated in silos (vertical areas that serve their own interests, goals, and priorities) we’ve only changed the projects and tactics to force the two to work more collaboratively.

Prior to the emergence of the internet, marketing’s mission was branding and awareness.

They used their budget to place ads, build trade show booths, develop collateral, build websites and content, and so on.

Working as a marketing director in the 1990’s, I remember our sales team telling me that they simply wanted some name recognition when they made calls. That used to be enough for a quota-carrying salesperson to leverage off of to fill their calendars with appointments.

Back then, buyers got the information they needed about new products and services from salespeople and so everything we did in marketing was designed to grease the wheels for sales.

Once prospects were identified, they were put through our selling process.

Over time, the internet reversed this process by providing more control to the buyers who now believe they can do most of the necessary research for new products and services on their own, engaging with a sales representative only when ready.

In the past, we may not have wanted to talk to a salesperson, but we needed them. In today’s world, when you reach out cold, you not only have to move prospects past the disruption and annoyance but also get them questioning their status quo.

While the Predictable Revenue Model shed some light on the disconnect between sales and marketing, it only changed the departmental incentives:

  • Marketing is incentivized to generate leads (MQLs), so everything they do is toward that goal. It’s an improvement over branding metrics such as web analytics and social media engagement. But it’s less about the quality of leads and more about the quantity because they can wash their hands of it once it’s turned over to sales. When marketing develops content that doesn’t supply lead intelligence or buying triggers, it won’t help to further the sales process.
  • If SDRs are incentivized only to set appointments they’ll annoy prospects with BANT questions (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe) that are more about fitting the prospect into their sales process than helping a prospect solve a problem or ensure that the technology is applicable to their situation.
  • If account executives are incentivized only to close (and not to prospect) when the volume of appointments decreases, they don’t know what to do–they haven’t been trained in modern prospecting skills.

This system worked well for a decade (and still works to some degree today). But ultimately, it’s not agile enough to meet today’s buyers on their terms.

So if marketing thinks sales isn’t doing enough follow up on the leads they’re generating, and sales thinks that the leads marketing generates aren’t qualified, you’ve still got a silos problem.

Change the Incentives to Break Down Silos

It sometimes feels like we always have to be at the forefront of new tactics and technology, and so we try to fix the problems by changing the structure of sales and marketing operations to create new, repeatable processes.

We love repeatable processes.

But because each buying process is different and more complex, it’s next to impossible to create repeatable processes that are going to work predictably.

It’s certainly not linear, and won’t fall nicely into the compartments of the Sandler Submarine.

Therefore, trying to force our linear sales process on the buyer will continue to cause friction in the customer journey.

Again, it may work in the short term, but its effectiveness will peter out when prospects figure out what we’re doing and learn to ignore it if it doesn’t speak to them at that given moment.

When a buyer has a problem that they want to solve, they talk to peers, read blogs, watch videos and webinars and read reviews. This process is often assigned to team members who may be influencers but certainly not decision-makers (but you still want them recommending you).

To meet the buyer where they’re at, we need to help them find what they’re looking for as easily as possible and try not to annoy them by using standard sales qualification and closing techniques when they’re not ready.

Consider the demo process now in many of today’s SaaS companies:

A CMO needs to fix a project management issue and thinks she might need some new software. She talks to her peers and searches the internet for articles and reviews. When she finds one, she goes to their website, reads the content, and schedules a demo.

But she quickly gets annoyed with the sales rep because they don’t understand her business and the problems she’s trying to solve.

The rep is asking questions about her budget and timeframe and she simply wants to know if the technology is applicable.

But the rep needs an appointment.

Now he must overcome that annoyance objection just to get the CMO to take the next step.

Yes, you’ll still make sales this way–but it’s not what I would call focusing on “customer experience.”

If the organization is truly focused on customer experience all the way through the buyer journey, maybe you don’t have SDRs fielding the demos.

Some organizations have customer success representatives fielding demos because they’ll ask questions that ensure applicability before passing it along to a sales engineer. After all, they know better about how the technology is applied in similar situations, and won’t push for appointments until the prospect is pushing for it.

Some other ways that innovative organizations are reducing this resistance include:

  • Compensating sales, marketing, and customer success on overall revenue targets instead of individual sales quotas or departmental lead metrics.
  • Account-based marketing strategies where everyone works collaboratively to select proper targets and engage on individual levels based on inbound, buying triggers, and intent data.
  • Content that focuses on buyer education and not lead conversion, helping prospects find what they need faster and with lower resistance (fewer landing pages with forms).

How to Align Prospecting to the Buying Process

Today’s customer has higher expectations and requires you to put forth the effort to understand their problems and help them solve them.

Those companies with agile structures that allow them to engage with buyers in a meaningful and helpful way (without deferring to outdated sales and marketing tactics) will always create a superior customer experience to their competitors.

If you’re struggling to convert inbound leads into sales, the solution will most likely show up somewhere in your organizational incentives and prioritization.

For example, if your process requires a salesperson to speak to a prospect and prescribe a solution before it becomes a deal, then the organization needs to align around educating buyers and getting more qualified meetings and demos–not lead conversion.

Hubspot’s Flywheel concept is more indicative of the change that organizations need to make for organizational agility. It looks at the process of customer acquisition much more holistically and in line with how people want to buy today, and it moves away from the compartmentalization of “inbound” as a marketing function.

In short, any communications that aren’t highly targeted and contextual will fail to engage prospects–and worse is that you’ll annoy and lose them forever.

Yes, things are changing all the time, but to truly be agile, you have to work on organizational priorities and then how you incentivize departments to hit those goals.

But be forewarned, if you keep trying to retrofit 50-plus-year old hierarchical structures to deal with a rapidly changing buyer process where they have more control, these problems will persist, new silos will form, and you’ll continuously be outfoxed by your more agile competitors.