Dreamforce ’14: Fastest Path to Pipeline

Without a robust, constantly filled sales pipeline, Salesforce.com would not be anywhere near the multi-billion dollar behemoth it is today. And without its team of inside sales reps, that pipeline would not be so healthy. You could say that its team of Inside Sales business development reps, working hard to generate pipeline, has played a big role the success of Salesforce.com. But how exactly are they able to consistently be successful in generating pipeline?

That is the question that Megan Oleson, the Senior Manager of Enterprise Business Development, and Gina Whitmore, the Program Manager of Sales Development, sought to answer in their #DF14 session Fastest Path to Pipeline: Best Practices for Inside Sales Teams.

Everyone loves statistics, so Megan and Gina started off their presentation by elucidating and clarifying why inside sales is so important today:

  • Inside Sales is growing 300% faster than outside, or field, sales
  • Inside Sales hiring is outpacing traditional sales hiring 15:1
  • The average inside sales call costs 10% of an outside sales call
  • 85% of buyer-seller interactions will take place online

The structure of the Inside Sales team at Salesforce.com works with a team of Business Development Reps to source prospects and convert those to qualified pipeline opportunities, before handing those opps over to Account Executives to close, and the Customer Success team to keep happy. The keys to that team’s success are two-fold:

  • Hunting – as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company, Salesforce.com needs to hunt for new logos, or companies that would make good customers. In SaaS, without actively hunting and nurturing prospects, you’re stifling your growth potential. But just as you wouldn’t throw a hunter into the wilderness with no weapons or a plan of attack, Salesforce.com doesn’t just throw their reps out to fend for themselves. They are given:
    • Weapons, in the form of an extremely targeted message, with proven – and relatable – success stories. Reps ask, and explain, to prospects, “Why (am I calling) you? Why now (is a good time for you to think about buying this)?”
    • A specific territory. This allows for total territorial immersion so that reps can gain familiarity and craft better personalized strategies. They can better profile the territory to identify the right contacts with the propensity to buy.

But it’s not just about the reps. In fact, a big part of success for an inside sales team is in how they are managed. Salesforce.com has an incredibly data-driven culture, where the old axiom, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” is heavily subscribed to. Managing through metrics gives management far greater visibility and the ability to make more thoughtful decisions and put their reps in a position to succeed. To that data-driven end, the three most important dashboards to any manager at Salesforce.com are:

  • Activity metrics – There are two rules that are true in Inside Sales: sales is a numbers game, and you can’t manage revenue; only activities. The amount of activity you put in correlates directly to the amount of pipeline you’ll drive.How many calls is each BDR making every day? Each week? How many of those are converting to connects? What is the product mix of the BDR? Asking and answering these questions allows the sales manager to make quick, insightful decisions.

    Activity sales dashboards also serve as the “Dashboard of Shame,” where reps can’t hide behind their bad practices and poor performances; they will be exposed. Nobody wants to be on the Dashboard of Shame, and managers can use any reps’ presence on as a coaching opportunity. Which brings us to the next dashboard…

  • Sales coaching metrics – Without a dedicated time commitment and a data-driven sales coaching plan, your reps will falter on their own. There are many metrics to take into account when helping your reps improve but a particularly good one is % of pipeline progression, or how a rep’s pipeline opportunities are converting from stage to stage. If a rep is generating a ton of opportunities, but very few of them advance to late stages, perhaps he or she is qualifying them poorly.
  • Data quality metrics – All of the data in the world won’t make a lick of difference if it is poor or inaccurate data. You want to make sure that your reps are correctly updating the next steps in the opportunity field. If not, you have to quickly identify the gap and plug it, before you end up with a whole bunch of useless data.

The success of an Inside Sales team is all about structure, process and effective sales management. By following these best practices in developing and leading your sales reps, you could have a pipeline that – just like the one at Salesforce.com – is bursting at the seams and ready to convert to great deals.

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