Guest post by Bryan Elsesser, Senior Director of Sales Development at Aircall. Bryan is not your average sales leader: In addition to his day job, he’s a Long Island volunteer firefighter, occasional opera singer, and proud husband and father of three.
What do opera and sales have in common? More than you might think.
There’s a synergy between performing on a stage and being a salesperson. Consider, for a moment, that cold calling and pitching are just other types of performance. I would know because I’ve done all of these things.
Pitching and closing provide an adrenaline rush. So does singing the national anthem in front of 5,000 people. And so does running into a burning building. I live for those moments.
But what does any of this have to do with sales metrics? Have you got a minute?
Where Metrics Fall Short
In the world of opera, a singer emotes a feeling that moves an audience. In the world of sales, a rep shares a better world with the buyer, awakening that person to new possibilities. Both types of performances are all about reciprocation.
But those exchanges are hard to quantify, aren’t they? So, we use metrics to gauge sales success, but those measurements don’t always tell the full story.
The traditional SDR metrics that leadership tends to value most are calls, emails, and social touches. But, let’s look beyond those for a moment.
What we never talk about are the lesser-tracked KPIs that really matter. Because they aren’t easy to measure, sometimes leadership loses sight of them:
- Do you have a team that’s promoting your brand well?
- Are your SDRs building warm relationships and evangelizing the company and product?
- Do they represent your brand energetically at trade shows and events?
- Do your SDRs know the talk track inside-out?
These things alone are invaluable because you can train those people to advance through your company, SDR org or otherwise. Having strong, ramped talent is always preferable to hiring a cold AE or CSM who’ll have to learn all about your product, your ideal buyers, and how to have the right conversations.
Metrics Can Lead You Astray
Sometimes we’re tracking all the “right” things and still not getting anywhere. Rather than doubling down in these situations, dig down to find the root of the problem.
At the beginning of my time with Aircall, we were following a strict BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) model in our qualification, but we weren’t doing a great job of identifying our ICP (ideal customer profile). Subsequently, we were opening up a lot of pipeline, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
It came to a point where we had 250 opportunities and nothing was moving. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What was going on?”
Were our reps just blowing conversations? Unlikely. We had to dig in, and in doing so, we found only ~40% of those opportunities were viable. If we never looked beyond the surface metric, we would have kept creating the wrong opportunities.
Metrics Don’t Change Behavior, But Leadership Will
Obviously, the only true metric in sales is revenue closed. From there, you work backwards in deciding what makes sense to measure.
Still, you can track countless metrics, but your teams will ultimately follow your leaders. What matters most is that leadership is beating the right/same drum.
For instance, the SDRs in my organization have a very strict schedule. We expect them to carve out their day and hold themselves accountable to it. The managers on my team further enable the SDRs with workflow enhancement and coaching, while also ensuring they’re following the plan to the letter.
If we have a rep prospecting during a call block, we’ll ask why. If you’re prospecting to make a better call, that’s one thing. But if you’re off in left field in an activity tangent, it’s time to get back to calls and you can prospect when the time is right.
Activity tangents make new reps wildly unsuccessful. The team knows the actions and activities they need to do in a day, and when to do them. With management reinforcing the same message, each SDR holding themselves personally accountable, and each SDR surrounded by another working the same activity at the same time, everyone moves to the beat of a single drum, operating at workflow efficiency.
What Sales Metrics I’m Tracking
In leading the SDR organization at Aircall, I’m tracking a number of things for myself, the sales managers, and the SDRs.
For myself, I’m looking at how I can make better long-term wins and quicker short-term wins, while mining for any blockers to team success.
I take full ownership and responsibility for the entire pipeline the team creates, and work closely with my colleagues in marketing and sales to ensure we’re meeting the demand of the business. I’m looking at created opps, qualified opps, stages, closed lost and closed won reasons, and identifying where we win, and even more importantly, where we lose pipeline.
For the sales managers, they’re focused on how many coaching conversations they’re having each month. They need to be meeting with and coaching each rep on their team for at least an hour every week in addition to individual one-on-ones to ensure progress.
And, by the way, all of our coaching is done on the floor when we are in the office. We don’t pull people into side rooms. It’s an expectation that managers spend the majority of their time, if not all their time, supporting SDRs on the floor. Even in our remote environment, we will group coach an individual call each week.
For the SDRs, I want to know how many appointments they’re setting, how they’re converting, and how they are getting there. And are they providing real sales-accepted leads? Are they prospecting for proper Aircall fit and vetting authority and need?
If they aren’t, maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe we as sales leaders need to look at the funnel to see where things are going wrong and and where they’re going right. And in some cases, maybe we need to challenge the teams that SDRs collaborate with to make changes.
Unsung Metric: Bringing Cold Calls Back
There’s this sentiment that the cold call is dead, especially if you sell to enterprise or midmarket and large companies.
By God, cold calling isn’t dead. What’s dead is cold call coaching.
It’s not like reps go to the Academy of Sales Management to learn sales management skills prior to leading teams. All we can do when we’re starting is take our experiences, mixed with any training we might have received through a company, and throw ourselves into the market and our teams.
You quickly learn as a leader that process drives everything. This is no different for cold calling. As a sales development leader, you need to have strong coaching processes to help your reps take advantage of valuable opportunities like the cold call. And from my experience, cold calling is by far one of the most successful and meaningful ways in which we book appointments.
Think of it this way. If you have the ability to get somebody on the phone and hear all of their objections up front, then all the honesty is on the table. And you can quickly help them understand your place, figure out their needs, and sort out where they fit in your world. It’s much easier to read someone on a phone call than it is to figure out where they’re coming from in an email.
We can’t allow our teams to only hide behind passive forms of communication like email and LinkedIn. And don’t get me wrong — LinkedIn is an amazing tool that I use a lot! But with electronic communication, we get less and less used to picking up the phone and having actual conversations. And humans are social creatures. We crave human-to-human interactions.
For all these reasons, I think cold calling is the most important input for SDRs. But no one is born with an aptitude to talk to strangers all day long. It takes practice to get comfortable with that.
Get your teams to 120 dials a day when first getting started. Get them to learn how to have a full conversation within 5 to 8 minutes. Push them outside their comfort zone and get them talking about the product, uncovering and understanding buyers needs, and accustomed to pushing themselves beyond what they think they can do (If you’re asking yourself “why 5 to 8 minutes?” send me a note on Linkedin, and I’ll be happy to explain).
Beyond Metrics: Honing Your Craft and Going the Distance
Ask any classically-trained musician the question, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” They’ll say, “Practice, practice, practice.” In other words, get obsessed with your craft.
To kill it in sales, you need the same type of fervor. So, every single morning, I nerd out with my team about best and worst practices and sales principles. We’ll dive into calls and dissect deals to understand where conversations went wrong and where they went right.
Being an SDR is a tough job. When many of these reps are starting, they don’t ever think that they want to be in sales, but I would encourage anyone entering this strange new world to stay open to possibility. Keep going and taking the next step because you never know what can happen.
There’s always a risk people face in abandoning their dreams — or even just augmenting their dreams — to make room for new opportunities. But I think that those risks are really important to take and they set you up for success. And what really defines someone’s character is how they react when life presents them with a new opportunity.