Managing an Inside Sales Team During COVID-19

You have an inside sales team who is now working in a distributed manner, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many companies have employees who work from home, very few have a fully distributed inside sales organization.

The question is how to manage a distributed team and ensure success during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Across the country all non-essential businesses are empty as their employees have been forced to work from home. This creates several challenges for a call team.

One of these new challenges is reaching prospects—now it is more difficult to reach people by phone, especially if they don’t have VOIP systems that can be set up anywhere. Additionally, distributed inside sales teams are not used to working from home, so it can be challenging to track team productivity. Managers will need to find a way to measure their success and productivity. It’s also challenging keeping teams engaged. Most inside sales team members sit within the same area in an office. They share ideas and hear their team members on the phone. Working from home, making dials day after day, especially when very few prospects answer, can be a very isolating experience. Putting the Covid-19 pandemic aside, sales teams are struggling to achieve revenue goals—they are finding it increasingly difficult to reach people on the phone. In 2018 over 8 billion robo-calls were sent to consumers and businesses. This, coupled with email over-exposure, has made selling more difficult than ever. 

The Fundamentals

Successful inside teams utilize sales fundamentals to ensure that they achieve their revenue targets. I will outline, briefly, these fundamentals. More information can be found in my book “Teleprospecting for Executives who Sell Complex Solutions.”

Successful teams during COVID-19:

Successful teams are driven to success by proven Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and metrics. These KPIs and metrics are built utilizing funnel math to determine the number of inbound leads (HQLs or highly qualified leads) that are required to hit revenue objectives. Once the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) is determined to achieve 3x the revenue objective, managers have the data required to build out other weekly and monthly metrics to achieve the following objectives:

  • Total dials/day.
  • Number of key conversations.
  • Total HQLs (high quality leads that came from the MQLs). 
  • Sales funnel, per rep, that must be built to hit 3x of revenue target. This can be tracked, each month.
  • Quarterly revenue target required to hit an annual revenue goal.

Successful teams also track leads through the sales funnel to determine the number of quality leads that are coming into the sales organization. Leads should be given statuses that makes sense to sales. I use the following statuses:

  • Untouched: Lead has never been contacted.
  • Pursuing: Lead has been called with no connection.
  • Contacted: Someone answered the phone, but the person wasn’t the right contact and/or couldn’t move the sales process along.
  • Key Conversation: The sales rep had a quality phone call with a decision maker or influencer, which leads to a HQL or another call or a demo.
  • HQL: Rep has qualified the lead and it is ready to be converted to an opportunity.
  • Disqualified: After 10 attempts, or other issues, the lead has been disqualified. It is good to have disqualified reasons, such as a wrong number, no contact, etc. 
  • Nurture: Leads that aren’t ready to purchase now will be put back into the buyer’s journey. 

Teams should ensure that everyone has built a quarterly GOSPA or other mini-business plan that enables them to track their own success. Each manager should meet with each team member weekly to track how reps are doing against their plan. Weekly team meetings should be held to review issues, highlight successes and to train the team. These can be done through any web meeting service.

Managers should hold a daily morning check-in to see how team members are doing during this pandemic. I recommend that these be group meetings. Managers can take a temperature check of team morale, address issues with systems, and determine what each team member has planned for the day (number of demos, scheduled calls, contracts to write-up, etc.). These daily check-ins allow the team to meet as a team and provide ideas on how to work from home and stay engaged, each day. My team members came up with a few suggestions, including using a timer to ensure that reps are taking breaks, eating breakfast and lunch and are exercising; doing deep breathing techniques to stay alert; and stretching regularly to ensure that reps are leaving their chairs, regularly and throughout the day. 

Additionally, in a successful team, marketing should be working hard to write content that will attract buyers. Now more than ever, search is the way buyers get their information. Your company should be writing content that makes your company a thought leader in your space, so that HQLs flow into sales. 

It is the manager’s responsibility to keep the team engaged and to solve problems as quickly as possible. During this unique period, managers may find that they are in back-to-back web meetings. They need to ensure that some of these meetings are with individual reps and with the inside sales team. 

This is not an easy time for anyone.  Keeping the team engaged, and providing the tools that they need, will help your inside sales team to meet their objectives and stay in good spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more about sales metrics and KPIs.

Sales Productivity In the Digital Era

The increasingly blurred line between B2B and B2C has inevitably changed the nature of sales, with customers demanding a more personalized selling process. Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report recently found that 58% of consumers and 77% of B2B buyers believe technology has changed their expectation of how companies should interact with them.

As sales mandates and productivity quotas rapidly change, sales teams often fall short of these rising expectations and are unable to meet their job quotas.1 The easy solution for companies is to replace sales reps. The more effective solution, given the high career turnover rate and cost of hiring a sales employee, is to take measures that increase the productivity of existing sales teams.

Impact of High Turnover Rate On Sales Productivity

The turnover rate for sales representatives has remained much higher than that of other roles.

According to Bridge Group Research, there is a minimum 20% annual turnover for sales talent and an average annual rate of 34.7% per year in the United States; this is almost three times as high as the average turnover rate for all roles, which LinkedIn reports as 13%.2 Further research also suggests that one out of ten B2B companies experience sales turnover rates of above 55%.3

This contrast in turnover between sales and other roles can be attributed to the difference in perspective between the representative and company with job performance, as well as an increasing competitive landscape for talent. SiriusDecisions also lists deficient compensation and lack of connection with leadership as top reasons why high-performing representatives leave their organizations.3

General Costs of Hiring a Sales Representative

This high sales turnover rate means that firms are continuously spending money to hire and replace those representatives who leave. On average, US firms spend around $15 billion a year training salespeople and $800 billion on incentives, only for attrition and other factors to reduce the return on those investments.4

The key to improving employee retention is first understanding the cost of employee turnover.

There are a few general estimations of the upfront costs behind hiring a new sales employee. A report by DePaul University states that it takes an average of $97,690 to replace a salesperson, while SiriusDecisions reports that the average turnover cost of a B2B sales representative can range above $200,000.5, 6

However, the true cost of hiring an employee in 2020 is much more complex with additional hidden costs. Employers must consider the full cost breakdown of recruiting, onboarding, and training employees until they both reach full productivity levels and cover intermediate loss in overall company efficiency.

Hidden Costs in Sales Turnover

Hidden turnover costs come from the time and productivity lost in two places: recruiting, and training and onboarding new representatives.

Recruiting

Businesses are constantly searching the market to fill vacant positions with top sales talent. Recruitment during this period often draws time out from human resources and sales leadership and impacts their respective productivity. After considering commission for external recruitment firms, McKinsey estimates that some organizations spend roughly $15,000 in internal productivity to select a mid-level sales position.7

Companies also suffer costs from supporting a vacant position during recruitment. The average vacancy costs $500 per position per day, meaning that a vacant position itself costs at least $22,000 for the average recruitment period (44 days).7 This number often increases to anywhere between $25,000 to $50,000 when lost productivity and customer dissatisfaction are also considered.8

Training and Onboarding

Once a new salesperson is hired, they often undergo training and onboarding processes to establish expectations and mentorship until they reach full productivity..

CSO Insights research found that 71% of companies take 6 months or longer to onboard new sales reps, while a third of all companies take 9 months or more.2 This indicates that a majority of B2B sales representatives are not operating at full productivity and are unable to sell complex solutions for at least half of their first year on the job.

A majority of B2B sales representatives are not operating at full productivity and are unable to sell complex solutions for at least half of their first year on the job.

companies can spend up to 2.5 times of the average salary just to fill an open sales position

Onboarding also involves time invested by managers, outside trading companies, and co-workers to train new hires. By assuming that the cost of a loss in internal time and productivity is $500 per day, conservatively approximating a salesperson will take 6 months until full productivity, and estimating that an average rep receives $3,400 in training a year, onboarding a new employee alone can cost a business over $93,000.7

Therefore, the total cost of recruiting and onboarding a new sales rep conservatively ranges between $133,000 and $158,000 when considering the upfront and hidden costs. Given that an average annual salary is $60,000 per year for a US sales rep, companies can spend up to 2.5 times of the average salary just to fill an open sales position.

How to Increase Sales Productivity

The data above show that hiring more personnel to increase the productivity of a sales team comes at a significant cost. A more effective solution is investing in efforts to improve the existing sales team’s employee satisfaction and provide better high quality leads (HQLs).

Improve Existing Team’s Employee Satisfaction

Improving the onboarding process and providing digital sales technologies are two ways to improve employee satisfaction and decrease turnover.

According to Forbes, ineffective onboarding is a major reason why companies lose 20% of new hires within the first 45 days and 17% of new hires within the first three months.9 Employees who leave during the onboarding period results in a company suffering training costs at a loss; early employee turnover also contributes to the turnover cycle by increasing the costs of replacing sales talent for a single position.

Instead of stretching the onboarding process to last as long as twelve months, businesses can accelerate their onboarding process by organizing their roadmap into a three month formal timeline. A positive three month training process not only results in 69% of employees being more likely to stay with a company for more than three years, but also leads to reps who drive more sales.10, 11

Providing technology that supports virtual selling can also improve productivity. CSO Insights states that 88% of sales professionals cannot find critical sales material on their smartphones, while 60% of sales organizations experience longer sales cycles from lack of proper tools.1 As a result, one of the top reasons high-performing sales people leave organizations is concerns about ability to meet market needs.

Virtual selling has increased in popularity as technology, transparency, and efficiency play bigger roles in the sales process. Research shows that sales reps build 3.2 times more customer connections in front of screens than meeting with customers in person. Equipping sales people with new software and technology can improve employee satisfaction, reduce costs, and improve long-term sales success.3

A positive three month training process not only results in 69% of employees being more likely to stay with a company for more than three years, but also leads to reps who drive more sales.

88% of sales professionals cannot find critical sales material on their smartphones, while 60% of sales organizations experience longer sales cycles from lack of proper tools.

Sales reps build 3.2 times more customer connections in front of screens than meeting with customers in person.

Increasing the Number of HQLs

A sales person is only as good as his or her leads. When sales reps receive poor leads, the total time and effort they waste in qualifying, engaging, and selling to low-interest prospects is significantly more expensive than the time and money spent in pursuing better quality leads.

Low-quality leads have many hidden costs: wasted time, resources, and human capital. On average, bad lead prospect data costs sales departments 550 hours and $32,000 per representative.12 Assuming the average cost of $60,000 per year for a sales representative, not including additional payroll-related expenses, this means individuals are spending over 50% of their time and payroll working with low-interest customers—for SMEs, this number can often be higher at 85%.

Companies can focus efforts on increasing lead quality to increase the number of annual closed deals. High-quality leads not only increase conversion rates but shorten the overall sales cycle, leading a representative to increase productivity by closing 10 times more deals in a single year. For more information, read our previous article on “The Cumulative Impact of High and Low Quality Leads.

Works Cited

  1. https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2018/05/sales-future-trends-research.html
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2016/06/18/how-leaders-can-engage-retain-top-sales-talent/#15470bb55cbb
  3. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-turnover-so-high-b2b-sales-anthony-chaine
  4. https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/employee-turnover-rate
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffhyman/2018/10/03/merrygoround/#3924ef44313c
  6. https://www.truesalesresults.com/2019-b2b-sales-predictions/
  7. https://www.membrain.com/blog/how-much-are-you-spending-on-lost-sales-talent
  8. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/maximize-the-lifetime-value-of-your-sales-force
  9. https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/3319111/ConnectLeader_June2017/PDFs/CL_DePaul_Survey_2__3_.pdf?t=1505990163541
  10. https://blog.atrivity.com/how-to-shorten-new-hire-time-to-productivity-with-90day-onboarding
  11. https://www.process.st/b2b-sales-management/
  12. http://www.marketingprofs.com/opinions/2015/28122/what-is-bad-data-costing-your-company

Five Factors Affecting Revenue Growth

five factors affecting revenue growth

A study by Bain and Company shows an alarming trend: the cost of sales and marketing is growing faster than revenues. Half of the companies surveyed experienced their sales and marketing costs rising faster than revenues. Ironically, when companies achieved high revenue growth, their costs of sales and marketing, as a percentage of sales, remained flat or even declined.

This study, along with others, proves a fundamental shift in the B2B world: Buyers have dramatically changed how they buy, while sellers continue to sell as they always have.How do sellers adapt to the changing demands and preferences of the modern buyer while pursuing continuous revenue growth?

Through the Five Factors that accelerate revenue growth; these factors are:

Factor 1: Chose the Right Market Focus for Revenue Growth

This first factor advocates that you select, market, and sell to the right industry segment for your unique business’ products and services. Of all of the five factors, this segmentation and focus has the greatest potential to increase or decrease your revenue growth.


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Factor 2: Remove Friction from the Sales Process

The old selling process is being replaced. Today’s buyers want to work exclusively with vendors who align their selling process to the buyer’s preferences. Buyers prefer to research and reach out to companies that the like. To capture the attention of this new brand of buyers, sellers must align their sales and marketing processes with their buyer’s expectations and preferences.


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Factor 3: Tightly Align Sales & Marketing

To achieve high revenue growth, companies should perceive their marketing and sales efforts and departments as intimately linked. If your marketing and sales teams see themselves as a united force, at least 75% of your leads should be directly generated by marketing.


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Factor 4: Leverage Intelligent Sales & Marketing Data for Revenue Growth

With the overwhelming amount of data present in sales, you must be careful to only provide sales reps with intelligent data. Intelligent data is numbers and figures that enable sales reps to be relevant, engaging, and convincing in their interactions with buyers. The targeted capabilities of intelligent data enables your sales team to more effectively speak to leads and prospects, increasing the likelihood of their conversion into buyers.


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Factor 5: Manage Sales & Marketing Operations by Metrics

Most B2B companies today track some form of metric, but usually only in regards to sales departments. To generate revenue growth at a faster rate than costs, companies should invest in tracking the performance of their marketing campaigns. Factor 3 informs us that marketing is just as important, if not more important, than sales at generating leads and revenue growth.


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In short, buyers are demanding more from sellers. They want a real partner that can ceaselessly add value to their own offering, enabling them to renew non-stop their own competitive advantage. In other words, they want to work with a top tier provider. This is no easy demand—which is why, for most B2B companies, the cost of marketing and selling is growing faster than revenues.

To fully learn how to best leverage these Five Factors to reduce your costs and grow your revenue, download our full whitepaper.

Read more about revenue growth strategy here.

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The Cumulative Impact of High and Low Quality Leads

The B2B industry is infamously known for its time-consuming sales cycle. While B2B sales are challenged by more decision-makers than B2C, they are also impacted by varying-quality leads that make the process even more unpredictable. 

A sales person is only as good as his or her leads. When sales reps receive poor leads, the total time and effort they waste in qualifying, engaging, and selling to low-interest prospects is significantly more expensive than the time and money spent in pursuing better quality leads.

High Quality Leads vs. Low Quality Leads

Marketing and sales departments are now more intertwined than ever in the sales process. Marketers, pressured to meet individual quotas, often turn over low-cost, low-quality leads to the  sales organization. However, these leads don’t convert well and instead make the company suffer hidden costs that can damage interdepartmental trust.1

High quality leads (HQLs) are sourced from buyers who have shown more interest in finding out more, mostly by consuming quality content provided by the seller, have expressed interest in following-up, come from within the right market space and types of accounts, and have the right buying roles. Low quality leads (LQLs) are often scraped online, mass collected, are primarily collected as a result of email opens or clicks–there is no real reason to believe they have purchase intent. 

Experienced sales people are able to ask the right questions in order to identify a potential customer’s true interest in the solutions provided: Are opt-ins based on content downloads, or were they sourced from promotions that incentivize responses? Is there detailed research activity for each account? Does the data illustrate high probability for conversion?

The False Economy of Low Quality Leads

The current sales process exposes the false economy of low quality leads, or the notion that more low-cost leads lead to higher conversion rates at a fraction of the cost. Ultimately, if these leads are mostly made of false-positive LQLs, it can cost more to blindly pursue a number of leads in hopes of engaging the small percentage of companies who are genuinely interested in a product.

Below is a breakdown of lead conversion rates for low, strong, and top quality leads throughout the marketing and sales processes using data from SiriusDecisions.2

Lead quality has a progressive effect on each conversion rate throughout the sales funnel. The total closed deals per 1000 leads for average is only two, maybe three if lucky. Assuming the average lead quality is mostly composed of low-cost LQLs, the number of closed deals for every 1000 leads per year for HQLs is five times greater than deals closed form LQLs.

What the data shows is that while low-cost leads may present upfront savings, it can cost up to five times more to convert than HQLs in the same time frame; even if low-cost leads cost a third of what a quality marketing offers, representatives will still spend almost twice as much to convert them in the long run. Starting with HQLs can result in lower cost per conversion and increased number of closed deals, both factors that contribute significantly more to a company’s revenue.

Hidden Costs of LQLs

The hidden costs associated with LQLs come from wasting time, resources, and human capital. On average, bad lead prospect data costs sales departments 550 hours and $32,000 per representative.3 Assuming the average cost of $60,000 per year for a sales representative, not including additional payroll-related expenses, this means individuals are spending over 50% of their time and payroll working with low-interest customers—for SMEs, this number can often be higher at 85%. According to SiriusDecisions, each bad lead can also cost as much as $100 per record.2  For instance, the cost of 5,000 bad leads is about $500,000. These numbers can add up very quickly.

The Solution to Meeting Sales Projections

The big B2B question: How can companies consistently meet sales projections?

The solution to this problem statement is not hiring more people, even though this continues to be the traditional response. At its core, sales projections are caused by insufficient high quality lead generation. Salesforce reports that 57% of sales reps expect to miss their yearly quotas, with the actual average quota attainment rate falling slightly lower at 54%.4, 5 Employee dissatisfaction stems from potential low opportunities for commission ultimately caused by inability to close deals. These are all likely factors contributing to the 27% annual turnover rate among US salespeople—twice the rate in the overall labor force.6

Given the data, there are two potential solutions. The first is hiring only stelar sales reps experienced in differentiating between low quality and high quality leads. The problem with this approach is that stelar sales reps are at a premium–there aren’t enough of them to fill a sales organization, even if a company could afford paying top prices for all its sales reps.

The second solution lies within the data: focus efforts on lead quality and the cumulative nature of HQLs to potentially increase the number of annual leads by tenfold. In other words, build your sales organization based on the average sales competency level, but feed all your sales reps with HQLs. The difference is dramatic, as we shall see below.

Cumulative Nature of HQLs

As demonstrated, HQLs have an undeniable effect on conversion rates that trickle down to revenue, profit, and valuation.

Not only do top HQLs increase the number of closed deals, but they also often shorten the overall sales cycle. The data below has been modified to reflect this change in each respective buying cycle, assuming that strong and top quality leads take the upper and lower range bounds for the average B2B buying cycle, respectively.2

These numbers illustrate the full, cumulative effect of HQLs in the sales pipeline. Given the higher conversion rates and shorter buying cycle, top HQLs can lead to a representative closing 10 times more deals in a single year. Another way of putting it is that low quality leads can cost as much as ten times more than high quality leads.

Next Steps

Contact us to discuss how we can help you begin generating High Quality Leads to significantly improve your sales productivity and profitably hit your sales targets each quarter. Read more bout the impact of High Quality Leads on sales and profits here.