There’s a common debate out there, it goes something like this:
“Our sales development representatives (SDRs) need to look for pain: finding business owners with a problem and the ability to get budget to go fix it.”
“No, our SDRs need to look for projects: finding budgeted projects where our software is needed, and ideally an evaluation in the midst of being set up.”
As once was once taught to me, the answer to every marketing question is “it depends” and the genius is knowing “on what.” This question is no exception. The answer is: it depends. And on:
- Whether you’re in a hot or cold market.
- Whether your SDR is working an inbound or outbound motion
I first encountered this problem decades ago rolling out Solution Selling (from which sprung the more modern Customer-Centric Selling). Solution Selling was both visionary and controversial. Visionary in that it forced sales to get beyond selling product (i.e., selling features, feeds, and speeds) instead focusing on the benefits of what the product did for the customer. Controversial in that it uprooted traditional sales thinking — finding an existing evaluation was bad, argued Bosworth, because it meant that someone else had already created the customer’s vision for a solution and thus the buying agenda would be biased in their favor.
While I think Bosworth made an interesting point about the potential for wired evaluation processes and requests for proposal (RFPs), I never took him literally. Then I met what I could only describe as “fundamentalist solution seller” in working on the rollout.
“OK, we we’re working on lead scoring, and here’s what we’re going to do: 10 points for target industry, 10 points for VP title or above, 10 points for business pain, -10 points for existing evaluation, and -10 points for assigned budget.”
I’d read the book so I knew what Bosworth said, but, but he was just making a point, right? We weren’t actually going to bury existing evaluations in the lead pile, were we? All because the customer knew they wanted to buy in our category and had the audacity to start an evaluation process and assign budget before talking to us?
That would be like living in the Upside Down. We couldn’t possibly be serious? Such is the depth of religion often associated with the rollout of a new sales methodology.
Then I remembered the subtitle of the book (which everyone seems to forget).
“Creating buyers in difficult selling markets.” This was not a book written for sellers in Geoffrey Moore’s tornado, it was book for written for those in difficult markets, tough markets, markets without a lot of prospects, i.e., cold markets. In a cold market, no one’s out shopping so you have no choice but find potential buyers in latent pain, inform them a solution exists, and try to sell it to them.
Example: baldness remedies. Sure, I’d rather not be bald, but I’m not out shopping for solutions because I don’t think they exist. This is what solution sellers call latent pain. Thus, if you’re going to sell me a baldness remedy, you’re going need to find me, get my attention, remind me that I don’t like being bald, then — and this is really hard part — convince me that you have a solution that isn’t snake oil. Such is life in cold markets. Go look for pain because if you look for buyers you aren’t going to find many.
However, in hot markets there are plenty of buyers, the market has already convinced buyers they need to buy a product, so the question sellers should focus on is not “why buy one” but instead, “why buy mine.”
I’m always amazed that people don’t first do this high-level situation assessment before deciding on sales and marketing messaging, process, and methodology. I know it’s not always black & white, so the real question is: to what extent are our buyers already shopping vs. need to be informed about potential benefits before considering buying? But it’s hard to devise any strategy without having an answer to it.
So, back to SDRs.
Let’s quickly talk about motion. While SDR teams may be structured in many ways (e.g., inbound, outbound, hybrid), regardless of team structure there are two fundamentally different SDR motions.
- Inbound. Following-up with people who have “raised their hand” and shown interest in the company and its offerings. Inbound is largely a filtering and qualification exercise.
- Outbound. Targeting accounts (and people within them) to try and mutate them into someone interested in the company and its offerings. In other words, stalking: we’re your destiny (i.e., you need to be our customer) and you just haven’t figured it out, yet.
In hot markets, you can probably fully feed your salesforce with inbound. That said, many would argue that, particularly as you scale, you need to be more strategic and start picking your customers by complementing inbound with a combination of named-account selling, account-based marketing, and outbound SDR motion.
In cold markets, the proverbial phone never rings. You have no choice but to target buyers with power, target pains, and convince them your company can solve them.
Peak hype-cycle markets can be confusing because there’s plenty of inbound interest, but few inbound buyers (i.e., lots of tire-kickers) — so they’re actually cold markets disguised as hot ones.
Let’s finally answer the question:
- SDRs in hot markets should look for projects.
- SDRs in cold markets should look for pain.
- SDRs in hot markets at companies complementing inbound with target-account selling should look for pain.