An Interview With Anna Talerico: Aligning SDR and Sales Teams for Success

By: Teresa Weirich

March 11, 2019

As one of the leading SaaS industry sales and marketing advisors, Anna Talerico is an expert on aligning teams for long-term success. As the founder of Beacon9, a management consulting firm based out of Nashville, TN, Anna works directly with sales and SDR teams to create positive team engagement and build efficient sales organizations.

Ahead of her upcoming panel appearance at the 2019 SalesLoft Rainmaker conference, Anna chatted with the Costello team about how the role of the SDR became so important in the last few years, how SDR and sales teams can be better aligned, and what a well-planned account infiltration strategy looks like. We hope you enjoy the following conversation with Anna!

What’s your number one piece of advice for new SDR teams?

I’m a huge believer in how SDR teams can help drive growth, but I’ve found that many companies I’ve worked with don’t give their new SDR programs enough time to get off the ground, and they aren’t tracking anything. There’s an impatience, like a company hires SDRs and thinks they will instantly deliver new customers. I lived through that when I started my first SDR team. It just felt like it was taking too much time to get traction. That’s really common. Many times, new SDR programs can feel like there should be more conversations, more pipeline, and more momentum right out of the gate.

My advice is to set a new SDR team up for success. You have to give them an ideal customer profile, a place to source good leads from, a value proposition and some messaging that resonates with your audience, even some sample scripts or talk tracks in the beginning. And then, you have to measure everything so you can establish your benchmarks. If you aren’t measuring, it can be hard to diagnose what’s going on. When I look at an SDR team I want to know how many new leads each rep is working, how many attempts per lead to make a connection, how many calls, how many emails, how many opportunities are generated from how many leads, how many appointments are qualified, closed lost reasons from SDR opportunities, etc.

You need visibility into the whole thing. And when you get some benchmarks, then you can really start to figure out if the program is working, and which aspects need to be tweaked or optimized. Maybe it’s the quality or quantity of the leads, maybe there isn’t enough activity, maybe the reps need more training, maybe your messaging isn’t hitting the mark.

Why has the role of the SDR become so important in recent years?

It’s not a coincidence that SDR teams are usually found in tech-focused startups and SaaS companies. SaaS companies tend to follow a pretty similar demand-generation and sales model because it works. There is a playbook for a modern sales team that is a solid foundation, and part of that is using an SDR team to generate qualified pipeline for the sales executives. It takes a lot more effort to get a prospect to engage these days. And SDRs are an efficient way to expand the bandwidth of a sales orgaization.

If it takes 100 leads to get 10 qualified opportunities, and 3 of those close, you can do the math on how many leads needed, and how much activity to yield a certain number of customers, and it’s pretty easy to see that a high-performing SDR team is much more efficient and scalable than having your AEs doing that. You would need many more AEs to get the same results, and they are a higher cost resource. Do you really want your closers making 80 calls a day and sending 80 emails? They wouldn’t have any time to actually sell in that environment.

I think it really comes down to the fact that modern buyers now have so many choices, it takes a lot of work to break through the ‘noise’ in the market. It’s not as easy as it used to be to get a buyer to pay attention to you. And if sales teams are spending all this time trying to break through to buyers, they don’t have enough time to sell. This is where the functional value of the SDR comes into play.

How does data play a role in SDR success?

Well, everything has to be tracked and measured. Everything. Data does play a crucial role in sales management, but the flipside is that humans are messy. The qualitative aspects in play can be really hard to measure and quantify.

It all comes down to merging an understanding of your data with empathy for your prospects & customers. The metrics of your SDR program are really going to be around the number of leads, number of dials, emails, conversations, etc. The human side is all about coaching and development, how to build rapport and trust, how to answer questions, how to demonstrate value, and things of that nature. And really, how to quickly understand where a buyer is—meeting them at their point of interest. Not through a series of specific questions, but through curiosity and empathy and active listening. Metrics might reveal what to focus on (quality of opportunities, close rate, pipeline conversions) but personal coaching and skill development are what actually optimize these metrics.

What does SDR and sales team alignment mean to you?

I’m a big believer in playbooks and processes because they help ramp up new reps and provide day-to-day guidance to sales teams. You have to have a documented process and a robust playbook. But if sales teams are too process-driven, it’s not going to be a good buyer experience because you’re trying to force your buyer into your process instead of meeting the buyer where they are in their process.

A sales team only run by process is going to lead to robotic reps just checking boxes because they are scared of finger pointing and blame if they don’t.

I think SDR and sales teams must document their alignment strategy and make a process, but allow the flexibility to meet the buyer where they are. Alignment occurs when everyone can acknowledge and understand that working with prospects can be messy, it won’t always fit into a perfect box. It comes down to getting both teams to be empathetic with their buyer and with each other and to realize that while all the boxes might not be checked every time, everyone is working towards the same goal: closed deals. SDRs want to hand off the best opportunities so they close. And sales reps want that too. Same team, you know?

As long as leadership, sales reps, and SDRs remember that everyone is on the same team, you’ll be fine. It’s okay for sales teams to adjust as they go, but there needs to be strong sales leaders in place to manage this process.

Why is it so important for SDRs and sales reps to collaborate on an ‘account infiltration strategy’?

Account infiltration means attacking a single account from multiple angles, and there are several ways this can be extremely high-impact for sales teams. If a sales rep is trying to bring more stakeholders into a conversation during a deal but they’re stuck with a single stakeholder, the rep can collaborate with an SDR to figure out how to reach different departments or different contacts.

While some sales reps get nervous when multiple people are working a single account at once, I believe that having lots of conversations and attacking an account from multiple angles is a great way to help the idea of your service or product grow organically inside a prospect organization. Suddenly people are talking about it at the virtual watercooler. That’s fantastic when that happens and can really build momentum inside of a prospect’s company. If there is an account that needs a little bit more phone time or a little more personal attention, the one-two punch of an SDR and a sales rep can be incredibly effective.

How can SDRs and sales reps execute a great account handoff while still keeping the buyer top-of-mind?

I believe in having a documented process for the handoff. But, in all honesty, I think it’s less about the handoff and more about making sure that everyone in an organization has the skills needed to meet the buyer wherever they are in the purchase process. When both SDRs and sales reps know how to do this, sales teams are so incredibly elegant in their process that customers never even realize there is a handoff. When the entire sales team is really collaborating to make for a great buyer experience, they know what to look for or ask for without having to make the customer feel like they are taking conversational steps back or answering annoying, irrelevant qualifying questions.

For both sides of a handoff, it’s about reading between the lines. SDRs should inherently know how to tell the story of an account that hits the right points, while sales reps should listen to what SDRs are saying – and not saying – about the account. SDRs and sales reps have to listen to each other, ask great questions and tell good buyer stories. That makes for an elegant handoff.

How can sales leaders coach their teams to ‘put themselves in the buyer’s shoes’?

Sales leaders must be constantly reviewing playbooks, listening to calls, evaluating reps, and monitoring conversations between SDRs and AEs. Then, managers can determine whether they like the way information is being shared and passed or what should be changed. Sales leaders need to observe and know what’s happening on their sales floor. Another part of this coaching is role play. Run through new scenarios with SDRs and AEs alike to determine great questions to ask, the best responses to buyer questions, and more. It’s all about constant reinforcement and training.

What can Rainmaker 2019 attendees expect from your upcoming panel discussion?

I’m on a panel with two other sales leaders, and one thing that is really cool is that while all of us are from different backgrounds and work in different industries, there is a shared sales philosophy that runs through all of us. Whether you’re selling B2B or B2C, or Enterprise or SMB, or if you have a big team or small team, there is still a commonality around the sales function that brings all of us together. Our panel is going to bring together different experiences and I am confident there will be relevant ideas and information that will be applicable to everyone in the room.

Don’t miss Anna’s session at Rainmaker 2019, “The Perfect Pass: Optimizing Sales & Sales Development Alignment,” on March 13th @ 1:30 pm ET. You can learn more here.

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    Teresa Weirich

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