Billions are spent each year on focus groups, surveys, and other customer and market research projects. But what if we told you the best source of customer data costs you almost nothing?
We’re talking about your sales reps. Let’s face it: every day for an outbound sales rep is a focus group.
That’s why revenue leaders that create healthy internal communication channels, which encourage reps to share feedback, ideas, and insights “from the front lines,” reap significant benefits.
But we said that it costs almost nothing for a reason. Though it sounds simple, creating a culture that welcomes and leverages these insights is not always easy.
Many sales team cultures are not open to hearing “this sucks” or “we were wrong about this” from their reps, but they should be.
If total honesty is welcome, you will get a lot more than complaints about the messaging reps (or customers) don’t like. You’ll also hear what is resonating, and with what specific personas, markets, and decision-makers.
Insights like these inform better sequences or cadences, refine customer profiles, confirm which value propositions appeal to what industries, and other data points which can shape the entire go-to-market strategy.
If you’re ready to do the work, and a ton of listening, then here’s how to tap into this treasure trove for your revenue org.
Is your sales team culture ready for a healthy dose of honesty?
If your sales team’s culture isn’t open enough that reps can give open, honest, (and even critical) feedback, then figuring out why has to be your first step.
Your sales managers have to be open to hearing reps’ input on the messages in your SEP, the salesplays and strategies they’re using to engage prospects, the prospect lists and personas they’re targeting, their performance metrics and enablement, and the feedback they’re hearing from prospects.
Let’s face it. It requires a humble manager to eagerly accept the feedback that the sales plays they’ve either created or sponsored aren’t working. If your managers aren’t open to hearing that they may (like the rest of us) make mistakes and have a lot to learn, then you should address this.
You need your reps to “manage up.” If they’re not comfortable doing this, then you should work with your reps and managers (and HR, if this is a big problem) to move past these interpersonal and cultural issues.
If you can’t, and your managers aren’t on board with your priorities here, then you may have to identify new leadership that empowers rather than dominates your reps.
If you need help here, our team is here to be an objective third-party, helping to identify and sort out the reasons your sales team culture isn’t ready for a healthy dose of honesty.
Does your sales messaging creation process include a two way feedback loop?
If your sales team is relatively healthy, and you don’t have toxic managers who are silencing your sales reps, then you can take more proactive steps toward creating new internal communication channels.
A great place to start is your sales messaging program. If you’re not yet to the point that you have a program, per se, then think about your current process for creating sales messages (sequences, cadences, templates, snippets, phone scripts, etc).
It should include a two-way feedback loop, meaning a defined process through which reps contribute ideas, requests, and reactions to sales messages, and messaging creators respond to that feedback, offer context, and make sure sales reps understand why messages were created.
If you’re not here today, then don’t panic. It just means you’ve identified a high priority opportunity to improve your team.
The easiest way to get there is through a content creation committee (CCC). We covered this extensively in this piece, but here’s the gist: a CCC is a cross-team, collaborative group that creates sales messages (and sometimes content for marketing and customer success, too).
CCCs ensure that reps’ voices are heard. Reps are the ones who will be putting their names on the emails going out of your SEP, using the phone scripts you give them, and dealing with prospects who are unhappy with either.
If a value proposition doesn’t resonate, your reps will be the first to know. Or, if there’s a persona that just isn’t interested in what you’re selling, they will be able to tell you that with battle scars to prove it.
Giving them an avenue to directly apply those first-hand experiences to adjusting and creating sales messages benefits them and your bottom line.
The messages that result will be better, and your reps will be more engaged, leading to higher levels of tools and messaging adoption. Not to mention, you will have taken a significant step toward opening up internal communication and empowering your reps.
Do you really know how they feel about your SEP and other sales tools?
Messaging is one of the most obvious starting points, but it’s not the only priority area on which you should be listening to your reps.
Tool adoption is one of the most common issues that leads teams to come to us for help. Revenue leaders allocate a lot of budget to buying and launching an SEP, and reps don’t always use it.
This is a challenge with roots both in enablement and technology. If your reps are putting a lot of prospects into a sequence or cadence, but errors are causing those prospects to “fail,” then the people they think they’re contacting are never hearing from them.
Or, if they’re using sequences or cadences they don’t understand, then they might send the wrong message to the wrong person. For instance, a decision-maker at a high priority account might get a generic sequence or cadence intended for lower-value prospects. Instead of provoking a conversation, it will probably end in an “unsubscribe.” Ouch.
With enough mishaps like this, your reps will lose trust in your SEP. Because they have a quota to hit, they will get creative and find ways to go rogue.
It might work some of the time, but it will be impossible–especially if the mutiny is a large percentage of your team–to measure or monitor what they’re doing. At this point, your investment into sales execution has very little return.
If you want to avoid this, and unlock the benefits of sales execution that made you seek out an SEP in the first place, you need to create a communication channel for reps to share their questions, ideas, suggestions, and requests about the technology itself.
They will find any bugs, errors, unproductive settings, access issues, or other technical problems before you will. And, if you let them, they will likely help to solve them.
Do product, marketing, and customer success seek out feedback from your reps?
By now, we’ve established that reps have some valuable things to say. But it’s not enough for only you to be convinced.
Your next feat of change management is getting to a place where their insights are also benefiting product, marketing, and customer success. At first, you’ll have to be very proactive in making sure you share your reps’ most valuable ideas, questions, and suggestions.
However, with time and proven value, you can create a culture that encourages product, marketing, and customer success to come to you, looking for the latest and greatest from your reps.
Here are a few ways you can help your counterparts on each team:
- Product: Your sales reps will often hear questions like, “does your product or service do X?” And it’s them, not a product engineer, who hears right from a prospect, “sorry, we went with X company because they offer Y feature or service.”
Your product team should be tripping over itself to hear these insights. This is especially true if your team makes a strong effort to track not only the requests or objections, but also how many people have asked for them.
If you can give your product team a sense of what the market is asking for, then you’re delivering value they would have to pay dearly to receive through any other means.
- Marketing: Your marketing and sales messages should be aligned so your product or service is described consistently, across the buyer’s journey. If they are not, then your sales reps will lose deals because of misplaced expectations.
Your marketing team also spends a lot of budget generating top of funnel prospects. If sales isn’t consistently following through and closing those prospects, it damages marketing’s metrics.
While marketing might not know directly why either of these problems are happening, your sales reps do.
Their input on personas, marketing messages and copy, product or service descriptions, MQL criteria, and target markets is invaluable. Your time invested in gathering and sharing these insights will pay dividends not only in your team’s relationship with marketing, but also in your own opportunities to influence the go-to-market strategy.
- Customer success: Customer success and sales have a lot to gain from working together, particularly in facilitating smooth handoffs and retaining customers.
Your team can share a lot with CS about the expectations customers have for the product or service, retention risks, and upsell opportunities.
These insights may be account-specific or general themes but, in either case, sales has a lot to offer CS. If you develop a pattern of sharing information with CS, you can influence the strategy for upsells, crossells, retention, referrals, and other opportunities to grow your revenue.
If you can successfully build the process to gather feedback, filter it for the most valuable insights, and pass that onto the right teams, then you’re killing two birds with one stone.
You’re helping to unify your go-to-market strategy, which results in higher sales, and you’re also making your reps feel like they’re doing a lot more than placing endless cold calls or sending emails into space.
Suddenly, a role most people can’t wait to leave behind becomes a fulfilling opportunity to contribute to organization-wide change management. This is not just a change in perspective, it’s a shift to a cultural model that appropriately values the people who are most directly responsible for keeping the lights on.
Okay, so your culture is ready. How do you build the processes to sustain it?
It’s one thing to make it safe for reps to (productively) say, “this sucks.” It’s another to figure out how to organize and apply that feedback.
The tricky reality is that every company’s existing cultures are different. There are probably spontaneous, back-channel communication channels already up and running between individual reps and customer success managers. And there’s probably at least one product engineer who gets a ton of unsolicited Slacks every day.
The key here is not creating new internal communication channels and feedback loops out of nothing. Instead, the most successful new channels will imitate or follow known routes and processes. It might add formality or complexity, but it shouldn’t compete with what’s already happening organically.
With this in mind, here are the five main questions you and your team should ask yourselves, as you build:
- What are the existing, internal channels reps are using to express their thoughts or make requests?
- How can that be scaled without sacrificing whatever makes this accessible or appealing to end users?
- What are your end users’ expectations for how their feedback will be used? How will they know if it’s been implemented?
- How can you marry that feedback with quantitative data?
- What is the best way to package, share, and follow up on that feedback within the sales organization and beyond it, in collaboration with other teams?
Identify existing feedback and communication channels.
The best way to ensure a communication channel is adopted is to build it onto an organic workflow or feedback stream your sales reps are already using.
It’s hard enough to get people to adopt a modest change or do something more regularly. Creating a new process out of nothing will just be another thing reps hear about in a meeting and then never do.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself, in identifying the existing habits you can build from:
- How do you know if there is a sequence or cadence reps aren’t using?
- If they want a new message or piece of collateral to be created for them, how do they ask for it?
- If they are losing a lot of deals for a specific reason, how do you find out what it is?
- If they are going rogue, following their own processes, how do you know what they are doing instead of your processes?
- Do you know why they are going rogue? What about your processes do they dislike?
Designating a Slack channel, or a form on a company’s intranet site, are common methods we see for teams that already have a systematic feedback process.
Other teams encourage sales managers to gather this sort of information either in team meetings or one-on-ones. (Note: This isn’t a bad idea for identifying themes into which you should dig further, but we don’t encourage this as your standalone strategy. The trouble here, of course, is that you’re unlikely to get complete honesty if it’s a direct report talking to a superior).
For yet others, they lack a process altogether. The feedback is either not coming in, or it flows from so many directions that it’s virtually impossible to trace.
Even in these cases, however, it’s not impossible to identify themes. For instance, are your reps seeking out more anonymous opportunities to share their candid thoughts? Or, are they broadcasting them somewhere visible to the whole team? Are they communicating most openly with each other or with their managers?
If you ask enough questions, you will start to identify some commonalities that you can build from.
Figure out how to scale existing feedback channels without stifling them.
The toughest part of this process may be figuring out how to take a process, which has likely arisen organically, and formalize it without killing the spontaneity that has made it work until now.
That’s why you will probably have the most luck here if you take baby steps. For instance, if your team uses Slack a lot for sharing ideas and feedback, then you can designate a new channel, assign an owner to curate the messages, and follow up with reps who offer particularly insightful information.
If it becomes someone’s job to become a referee, or information manager, of that existing channel, then that person can be the source of formalization. Allowing people to do what they were doing before, knowing there is now an added step of follow-through, can encourage them to continue sharing information through that channel.
But if you’re starting totally from scratch, or piecing together a bunch of different habits, then the best place to start is probably with rep interviews. If you take a few reps aside, particularly those who are more keen on sharing feedback, you can ask for a lot more detail about their existing workflows and preferences.
Inviting them to co-create a solution will not only create a new process that fits within their existing habits, but it will also encourage them to champion the new process with the rest of the team. Change management 101 is that anything new feels less threatening from a peer.
Here are a few questions you might consider asking them:
- If you have an idea or want to suggest a change, who are you most likely to share it with? Why?
- What is the most natural way for you to share that?
- Do you communicate with anyone on other teams, like marketing, customer success, or product?
- What are those collaborations like?
- What is the best way you can get in touch with them?
- What tools do you use most every day?
- Would any of those tools or platforms be a natural way to have these conversations? How?
- If you were going to design the ideal way to share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas, what would it look like?
- Would you prefer to share insights anonymously, or are you okay with being associated with the idea?
- Lastly, do you have ideas for new sequences or cadences, salesplays, markets to go after, features to request, or any other feedback about how we can improve, based on your conversations with prospective customers?
Earn trust by following through on the feedback.
You can spend years perfecting the perfect culture and process for receiving feedback from your reps but lose their trust overnight by not following through on it.
Even if they have an idea you know won’t fly, it’s important to respectfully close the loop. If you don’t, then you may create an even more stifling culture than the one your team had before.
This is where designating someone to become an information manager, collecting and tracking that feedback, really pays off. If you have an eager rep who is willing to do this, acting as a liaison between leadership and the rest of the team, that will pay dividends. A hands-on sales manager can also work really well in this spot.
No matter whom you choose (even if you do this yourself), you need to be sure someone is collecting every idea, insights, suggestion, and criticism, tracking it, and getting back to reps with whether or not you’re able to do something to address it.
If it’s being acted upon, and change is happening as a result, then these are the small victories you want to broadcast in team meetings, team Slack channels, and anywhere else you share recognition.
For instance, if someone requests a sequence or cadence for a specific persona, and it’s rolled out, you will want to give that person credit for bringing the idea. This sort of recognition will encourage others to come forward and start to build trust that you actually mean it when you say you want to hear from them.
If it’s a smaller idea, or it’s not being executed on, find a way (through Slack, email, one-on-ones, etc.) to share what’s happening with their suggestion. Do your best not to allow for loose ends.
Validate and enrich insights with data.
If your team is faithfully using your SEP, then, in many cases, there should be plenty of data to back up their feedback.
For instance, if they’re saying a sequence or cadence isn’t working, then you can look at conversions, like reply rates and attribution to see what meetings have been booked. If there’s a lot of volume, but few results coming from it, then it’s validation that the sequence or cadence either needs to be refreshed or retired.
Or, if they’re telling you a certain persona or market segment just isn’t buying a certain message or showing any interest in a product or service, then you can ask your ops colleagues for a report showing what’s going on with a particular industry or persona. Tracking opportunities, or looking at unsubscribes or opt-outs, will show you a lot about that particular audience segmentation.
If you notice that you are getting feedback in a category that your ops colleagues aren’t prepared to report on today, then this may be a sign that it’s time to create a new field in the SEP–which talks to your CRM–to capture things like product requests, decline reasons, and other specific data points which would be very valuable not only to your team but to the broader go-to-market organization.
Keep in mind that you’re attempting to build a culture and change the way your team 1) values reps and 2) shares value with the broader organization. Focus on the long game here, and work with your colleagues to find the best reporting dashboards and data collection methods to gather, validate, and share the most valuable feedback as you can.
Decide how you will broadcast insights across and beyond your team.
Knowledge sharing within your team should be much easier than building a process across teams. Internally, you should work with whomever owns sales enablement to build key insights and learnings into team training, announcements, and documentation.
Beyond your team, our best counsel is to start informally and organically. How do you currently share information with other sales leaders and counterparts on other teams?
To start, introducing useful tidbits and findings into those existing conversations will naturally open up more opportunities to communicate. As you provide more and more value, you will identify clear opportunities to expand upon that knowledge sharing, offering the insights your colleagues need, when they need it, and how they will best receive it.
For instance, you might start sending a weekly or monthly digest email with your top three to five findings or ideas. Or, you might pick one or two top insights and bring them up at a leadership meeting. If they’re well-received, pursue an opportunity to make this a regular part of a regularly-scheduled meeting.
If you don’t have an established open line of communication with product, customer success, or another related team, then this might be a great opportunity for good old-fashioned networking. Establishing a genuine relationship with a counterpart on another team within the go-to-market organization is a great way to listen, learn what those teams need, and supply it through an informal channel.
From there, you can find avenues to formalize that process, share more information, and eventually directly collaborate on projects that act on the feedback you receive from your sales reps.
Don’t forget: Your most important goal is to value and listen to your reps.
If you don’t execute on any other idea in this entire piece, then make sure you do this: listen to your reps and acknowledge that their input is valuable.
Starting with this assumption, even if you don’t formalize any processes for another six months, will help you naturally move in the direction of opening up internal communication channels, encouraging reps to contribute, and recognizing those reps who step up and offer their ideas.
This is the basis on which any healthy internal communication channel is built, and it’s the starting point for an empowering team culture that brings out the best in your reps.
Sales execution is an emerging field, and we’re all listening to reps to learn about the best ways to empower them to reach the stars.
That’s why rep-driven discovery is the foundation of every project we take on. So reach out and let’s listen together.