Bringing the Human Touch to Sales

March 9, 2016 Mark Emmons


Add value to someone’s life before you try to sell them something.

That’s Business 101, right? And that strategy is repeated, over and over, at every sales seminar. But here’s an example of what the philosophy means at e-commerce intelligence company BloomReach.

Jeff Tai, a Sales Development Representative, recently noticed that a contact at a target account was about to go on maternity leave. Tai had an idea. What if we send her a baby onesie and bottle with the BloomReach logo along with a best-wishes note?

“Of course it was a great idea,” said Steven Boone, the sales strategy and operations manager at BloomReach. “So many SDRs approach their job as ask, ask, ask. Gimme, gimme, gimme. But give before you ask. That kind of personalization is what works in the long run.”

It should be common sense that people generally prefer to be treated like, well, people. Social-selling expert Jill Rowley preaches that nobody wants to be hunted, farmed or prospected by pushy salespeople. But everyone does want to be helped. And creating one-to-one connections with potential customers is a bedrock principle of the budding Account-Based Marketing (ABM) movement where businesses focus on high-value accounts instead of leads.

That’s also the lynchpin to newer concept of Account-Based Sales Development (ABSD) — a term popularized by Lars Nilsson, the vice president of global inside sales at Cloudera. ABSD is the latest innovation in specialized sales development teams. It’s a structured process of hyper-personalized, SDR-driven campaigns directed toward best-fit targets. The goal is to book meetings with high-value accounts and set the stage for Account Executives.

For Nilsson, SDRs are the campaign “quarterbacks.” Manuel Medina, co-founder and CEO of high-frequency sales platform Outreach, sees them as something else: the infantry.

BR sdr

The BloomReach team

“The SDR needs to be smart and shrewd on how to get the proper intelligence of an account,” Medina added. “He is your infantryman who is penetrating an account by creating multiple landing points. He’s creating the beachhead. Then the AE comes in and closes.”

That isn’t done with mass-produced emails or read-from-scripts calls. Yes, the industry is called B2B. But it’s really H2H — human to human.

“I love personalization,” said Chris Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of sales accelerator Groove. “When I work with my team, I stress making our messaging as personalized as possible. People are just getting blasted with so much information that it’s becoming too much for anyone to process. At some point, more of everything is not good.”

Boone doesn’t exactly consider what his BloomReach team does as Account-Based Marketing or Account-Based Sales Development. It’s just good sales technique.

“I read about this stuff and I think: ‘That’s just how we’ve been doing our jobs all this time,’ ” he explained.

BloomReach faces the challenge of a small, well-defined universe of potential customers. So they had to concentrate on select accounts long before the buzz about ABM began. Once the key people inside those companies have been identified, the trick then becomes opening the doors.

It’s all about patience, persistence and ingenuity. Boone’s message to his team: figure it out.

“If you only have a limited number of accounts, you should delete all of your templates and be writing really super-personalized stuff,” Boone said. “If you’ve been reaching out to them for a year, they probably know what your product does anyway. Instead, just try to connect with them as people.”

At BloomReach, SDRs are expected to meet a set number of sales activities. But Boone quickly added that they are more guidelines than rules – paraphrasing the line from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He is much more interested in the quality touches that result in all-important meetings. And the higher the value of the prospect, the greater the customization.

So Boone expects team members to be creative. Don’t put them in a box, he said. They need the freedom to use their best judgement on how to break into accounts

“People often talk about SDRs like we just need to get more out of them,” he added. “If they do more, the right things will come. Well, I challenge them to do less activities, but accomplish more. You can only run faster two ways. You can either take more steps or longer steps. I want them to maybe take 45 minutes to research and write the really personalized email. Once you’re good at it, then you can figure out how to up the amount of tasks.”

That also can mean spending a couple hours preparing a custom sales deck or report that’s tailored specifically to a prospect’s business. Boone said that when BloomReach SDRs do ask for something in an email — that meeting — it’s important to

BloomReach photo

BloomReach SDR Stephen DiSibio with an example of a personalized campaign

have demonstrated that they’ve invested a significant amount of time into understanding their challenges.

The SDRs also work with the larger BloomReach marketing team to customize campaigns. For instance, BloomReach recently created an ebook about how natural language processing can help e-commerce retailers. The SDRs identified their best prospects who should receive printed copies and prepared copy text for individualized messages. Marketers then handled everything else — including the handwritten notes.

“We just let the SDRs do the really heavy-lifting with the how-does-this-relate-to-the-person stuff,” Boone explained. “That’s pretty successful for us.”

Another example is the BloomReach “book club” where key prospects periodically are mailed business books. It’s a novel campaign — so to speak. But what’s also unique is how the SDRs orchestrate it.

“We tell them not to send an email that asks if they got the book and are they ready to talk,” Boone said. “Instead they say: ‘Here’s why I thought that book would be interesting to you.’ Then let that apple grow on the tree. If you get a bad meeting right after the book was sent because the person is still a cold lead, it won’t turn into anything good downstream. But if you’ve just been helpful to them for six months, they’re going to crack and ask for a meeting.”

Then there are the myriad of one-off ideas — like those baby gifts suggested by Tai. BloomReach will have made an impression with that, Boone said.

“She adds no immediate value to my SDR’s life,” he added. “But Jeff is going to add value to hers. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

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