An Interview With Dionne Mischler: Transitioning SDR Teams From Inbound to Outbound

By: Teresa Weirich

September 9, 2018

Dionne Mischler, CEO & Founder, Inside Sales by Design

With more than 20 years of sales experience, Dionne Mischler has made a name for herself in the field. She runs Inside Sales By Design, a sales consultancy she launched in 2014, where she helps mid-sized companies establish and grow their inside sales teams. Dionne began her career in the Chicago area and discovered the AA-ISP after moving to California. In 2009, she founded the Orange County chapter, calling it a journey that opened up a whole new world of inside sales for her.

In this conversation, Dionne shared the lessons she’s learned from helping transition SDR teams from inbound to outbound. She tells us why sales isn’t always about just a number, offers her definition of inside sales, and explains how the qualitative pieces of the sales process are just as important as a team’s revenue number.

What services do you offer with Inside Sales by Design?

Inside Sales by Design provides companies an infrastructure to grow successful insides sales teams. Using fundamentals that work for small companies to Fortune 500 enterprises, Dionne leads teams from a wide range of industries and needs toward scalable, effective sales teams.

“Setting up a sales team can be like a goat rodeo because nobody knows what to do first,” Dionne said. “But the fundamentals of building an inside sales team are always the same. Building a road in the U.S. is essentially the same as building a road in Rome because the fundamentals don’t change.”

Defining “inside sales”

Tell someone you’re in inside sales, and the image they conjure might not be terribly flattering. Dionne got into a friendly argument with an Uber driver last year after he asked what she did for a living. When she told him she builds inside sales teams, he replied, “Oh, like telemarketers?”

Not even close. “There’s a culture that says if you do anything via phone, you’re a telemarketer,” Dionne said, countering with Ken Krogue’s quote that “inside sales is professional sales done remotely.”

That definition can also depend on the maturity of a company. “Some mature companies look at inside sales because that’s how their customers buy,” Dionne said, adding that finding ways to meet customer needs can also save a sales team time and money.

How has the idea of inside sales changed over the years?

Professional inside sales took off during the late 80s — more than half a generation ago. Many of today’s sales leaders came up during a period of transition and, as a result, are now dealing with a natural demographic shift.

The internet has revolutionized the profession. “Information isn’t siloed anymore,” Dionne said, “and the cliche of ‘insides sales’ — meaning phone jockeys stuffed in a room somewhere — is in transition.” This shift has also led to a rise of professional associations, as well as the incorporation of digital marketing and social media.

Successful companies of all sizes are changing the way they think about inside sales to align with the way their audiences buy. That means if a company finds that their customer is happy renewing a million-dollar contract over the phone, there’s no need to fly a salesperson across the country to sign a deal in person. Inside sales can help cut the cost of field sales — and can make a significant bottom-line impact.

What advice do you have for an SDR team transitioning from inbound sales to outbound?

When Dionne consults with organizations about transitioning from inbound sales to outbound, she offers them two pieces of caution:

  1. Outbound sales deals are likely going to involve a longer lead time.
  2. Outbound sales is a quality numbers game.

In marketing, the rule is “visibility leads to opportunity.” Sales is different: “Activity leads to visibility, which leads to opportunity,” she said. “If sales professionals aren’t reaching out to folks and introducing themselves, it’s like wanting to be a billionaire without ever saving or earning any money.”

What metrics should sales leaders monitor when considering transitioning?

Inside Sales By Design’s tagline is “be deliberate, be intentional, be successful.” It’s a formula that informs the questions Dionne asks an organization’s executive team:

  • What’s your goal for the year?
  • What’s your new customer acquisition number?
  • Are your salespeople participating in a quarterly business review?
  • Are you targeting specific industries with a specific message?

The typical approach of giving a salesperson a phone book more often than not sets up a salesperson for almost immediate failure. Without a deliberate set plan for success, executives aren’t doing anything more than giving vague orders.

What are the differences in the mindsets of inbound sales versus outbound?

It’s a matter of interest. “In inbound sales, prospects are essentially raising their hands and asking to be called on, but sales professionals typically don’t know how serious they are,” Dionne said. Priorities also shift: one executive might want a product while another influencer doesn’t.

Outbound requires a different mindset, a high level of awareness for both the prospect and the salesperson on a call. The salesperson must acknowledge that they’re interrupting a prospect’s day and they need to be human. “People have this fear that sales reps are these Jedi ninjas that are going to trick them into doing things they don’t want to do,” Dionne said. “The more sales professionals can behave in ways that contradict that stigma, the better off they’re going to be on both a sales call and overall.”

Dionne also suggested that not every outbound call has to close a deal. “It’s okay for salespeople to say, “The reason for my call is to make sure you’re aware of us. I don’t want you to buy anything today.” Making the call about awareness — rather than a conversion — can help build a better relationship down the line.

How can companies best apply a hybrid approach?

Once a company reaches a certain size, it needs dedicated inbound and outbound teams. Teams with both inbound and outbound salespeople can be successful; but they have to be extremely deliberate, intentional, and disciplined.

Dionne believes outbound sales needs a more delicate touch. “An outbound sales message needs to be softer and more respectful of the prospect’s time,” she said. “In inbound sales, the sales professional better know their stuff and be prepared since the prospect is coming to them.”

Switching between inbound and outbound mindsets can be taxing. Hybrid teams that use a round robin technique can find success: a company can divide its team and have half do inbound for a day of a week, have the other half do outbound, and then switch at regular intervals.

What are the best ways to counter challenges when transitioning from inbound to outbound?

As with any transition, expectations must be clearly set, from process to comp plan. Outbound BDRs must understand their role isn’t closing deals; it’s connecting to companies, getting introductions, and setting appointments.

The next step, Dionne said, is setting expectations on what activity looks like. “Activity leads to visibility, which leads to opportunity. But we need to define what that activity is,” she said. “Is it phone calls? Texting? Posting on LinkedIn and social media? We need to be very clear and very specific about how the rep should spend their time.”

Sales leaders must provide training along with expectations. Too many salespeople are still thrown into the outbound pool to sink or swim. Investing in effective training does more than improve sales team performance; it also helps a company reach its revenue number. To that end, Dionne lays out these questions for creating and tracking good outbound call activity:

  • What’s the best way to open a call?
  • Which voicemails would be most effective?
  • How do I send the right emails?
  • How many voicemails and emails should I send to get a response?

How can you identify good inbound or outbound salespeople?

Inside Sales is a broad profession, and not every salesperson is built for every type of sales.

Inbound sales is more about fielding questions than being a driver of the conversation. “At a strategic level, an organization needs to identify the ideal candidate profiles for these different roles,” Dionne said. A company also needs to establish clear career paths for promotion, as well as a strong team culture that sets table stakes.

This kind of deliberate, intentional process clearly defines a team’s expectations and goals. Salespeople who know what success looks like and how to achieve it also know it’s open to everyone who’s willing to meet those expectations.

What resources and advice can you share with sales leaders?

Dionne believes it’s important for sales leaders to really work at being the kind of leader their team needs them to be. “When we move into leadership, it’s not about us,” she said. “We signed up to serve. If you moved into a leadership role without the intent of serving, you’re in the wrong role.”

Dionne’s list of sales leadership resources includes:
The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge
Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again by Dr. Christopher Crooner and Richard Abraham
Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath
The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, Patricia and Drea Zigarmi

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