By Scott Gillum
Estimated Read Time: 4:00 Minutes

A couple years ago during Gartner’s Sales and Marketing Thought Leaders roundtable, I asked the group, “Do we really need sales anymore?” 

The question was in response to research Gartner shared about the challenges facing sales in gaining a consensus from the internal buying group to move forward with a purchase decision. This insight, built on top of the previous CEB (now Gartner) research showing that buyers are 57% of the way through the sales process before engaging sales, prompted me to think about their effectiveness. 

Knowing that half of the room was filled with sales thought leaders, I asked the question in jest to provoke a lively conversation. This year, after seeing Gartner’s  latest research on B2B sales, I asked the question again with a twist, “Do we really need outbound sales anymore?” This time it wasn’t meant in jest, it was a serious question about the value of a Sales Development Rep (SDR). 

SDR’s according to Payscale, earn on average of $42,000 a year to “make outbound sales by reaching out to clients to obtain leads and schedule appointments for the sales team.” They are the voice on the other end of the phone after your download information off a vendor’s website. 

The data point that caused me to question their value is based on how little time buyers spent speaking with sales during a purchase decision. In 2017 Gartner found that only 17% of a buying group’s time is spent with sales. In the latest meeting Brent Adamson, vice president at Gartner, shared that in the most recent research the number is now down to 16%. And as you might have guessed (based on the 57% data point mentioned above) most, if not all, of that time is spent at the end of the buying process.  

That leads us back to the SDR. Their role is aligned at the front end of the process. Perhaps you could argue that they play a valuable role in creating leverage for the more seasoned and costly sales executives by screening inquiries, and as the definition describes, scheduling appointments for the sales team. 

So, let’s explore how effectively they perform this role using a recent experience I had with an SDR of a SaaS company. We were running an RFP bid process for a client. As a mid-market company, they are looking for an online collaboration tool that fits their unique needs. We collected a list of potential providers and I came across an additional vendor late in the process. Here’s my actual email exchange with the SDR after I signed up for a demo. 

You guessed it, he didn’t make it happen. As a result, I didn’t have the information needed to add them to the list. If his organization had allowed me to view the demo on their website without being screened, they may have been included in the bid. 

Ironically, the well-defined lead qualification process the rep was following killed the deal before he was able to qualify the opportunity. 

I’m not alone in my experience. Gartner’s research asked buyers to define the factors that contributed to a “High Quality, Low Regret” deal. In other words, what factors contributed to them feeling like they made a good informed decision. 

Interestingly enough, the factors that made buyers feel less confident about their purchase decisions are directly tied to the seller, specifically buyers didn’t trust  them to provide all the relevant and/or unbiased information needed to feel well informed. 

On the other side of the chart, buyers commented that they felt confident in their ability to ask the right questions, collect the right information and draw out the insights needed to make a good decision. 

Now the dilemma… 

We are at the intersection of inbound marketing and sales engagement. 

With the increasing sophistication of content management platforms and the risk associated with the sales person negatively impacting the information collection process, we face two very strategic questions for sales and marketing executives. 

The first — where do you draw the line between allowing the customer to direct themselves to the right information needed to make a “high quality and low regret” decision and inserting the SDR to help guide them? 

The second — when do you do it? Do you allow the buyer to self-identify and request help or do you proactively reach out to them? 

The answer may come down to simply how you view the process. If it is truly a “buying process,” then the buyer is in control.  You allow them to go as far as they need and allow them to reach out to sales.  

If it’s viewed as a sales process, then you reach out to them and help them find what you think they need, which according to the research, is the riskier path. 

Based on my experience, I think the answer is clear. And if you believe that sales is a “numbers game,” then the numbers in the research are not in favor of outbound sales.  

Let the debate begin. 

To hear the interview with David, listen or download here.

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