RevOps Therapy Podcast: Rage against the template machine (ft. Will Allred from Lavender)

Will Allred joins RevOps Therapy to discuss the difference between templates and frameworks and how to help your reps personalize at scale.

Show notes

Since the start of COVID, the number of emails that people are getting has more than doubled, but the number of replies has almost halved. How do you overcome such a staggering statistic?

RevOps therapist Erika Davis, VP of Go To Market Strategy at Greaser Consulting, and Will Allred, co-founder and COO of Lavender, discuss the difference between templates and frameworks and how to help your reps personalize at scale. 

We can all agree that personalization is key when sending emails. But if your reps are just sprinkling a random line about something they found on LinkedIn into an otherwise form email, written by someone else, all they have is a disjointed message that won’t get a response.

Giving them a framework, though, that teaches them what is working in the messaging, and why, will help you, and your reps, get the reply rate you’re looking for.

Transcript

Erika:

Before this conversation with Will, I used the word template to refer to a mass email that was more about the sender, not so much about the recipient, probably too long, used language that was too complex. That was what I thought of as a template.

Erika:

Another thing I thought of as a template, was an email that was constructed from sales leadership, but also gave the rep a ton of autonomy, to prospect and enter manual information.

Erika:

These emails are typically shorter. They use simpler language. They refer to something very specific about the company or the prospect that’s on the other end of the message.

Erika:

Now, the same word, template, was what I was using to refer to both of those things. Obviously, they’re not the same thing. It kind of makes talking about email outreach, kind of confusing.

Erika:

After this conversation I had with Will, I had this new word, which is framework, to distinguish from template, which has been really helpful.

Erika:

So, if you’re someone who’s working with a team to send out emails at scale, or if you’re someone who’s sending emails and prospecting yourself at scale, I hope you find this conversation just as helpful as I did.

Erika:

My name’s Erika. I’m the VP of go-to-market strategy at Greaser Consulting. And you’re listening to RevOps Therapy. (singing)

Erika:

All right. Well, thanks Will, for joining us on the podcast. Can you give a brief and introduction before we get into it?

Will Alred:

Yep. My name’s Will Alred. I’m one of the co-founders at Lavender. Lavender is a email writing assistant for sales people. We help sales people write better emails, faster.

Will Alred:

One of the really cool things about my job is I get to talk to fun people like you, Erica, and explain, based on the millions of emails that we see per month what works, what’s not working. Hopefully provide some context behind the numbers and say, here’s how to actually write a better email.

Erika:

Right on. Yeah. I know our team uses Lavender and we’re loving it. So, we like what you guys do.

Will Alred:

Well, thank you. I appreciate that.

Erika:

Absolutely. I know we have on the calendar, that says, raging against the template machine.

Will Alred:

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. A topic near and dear to my heart.

Erika:

Yeah.

Will Alred:

Do you want me to just unload, because-

Erika:

Yeah. Go for it.

Will Alred:

The idea of a template, it came about during a time in which volume was the only differentiator between sales reps because tools like the SalesLofts and the Outreaches or the world, hadn’t come to dominate the sales stack.

Will Alred:

Being able to actually spin out 250 emails in a day was a crazy cool, competitive advantage.

Will Alred:

It’s no longer the case. Since the start of COVID, the amount of emails that people are getting has more than doubled. The number of replies has almost halved.

Will Alred:

You look at the current state of affairs, you’ve got to change something. So, we have to almost have this reversal of what we used to do, back to these more thoughtful, personalized notes.

Will Alred:

When you hear template, the classic thing that comes to mind is these automated emails. I know when we originally started talking about this, it’s like a template doesn’t have to be that, but that is typically what it is.

Erika:

Yeah. Yeah. When I think of a template, I think of something that’s 80 to a hundred percent of the way completed for the rep, and that the rep just sort of sees it as a plug and play kind of message.

Will Alred:

Yeah. I think there’s something to be said for that, because a template gives you the ability to scale. The template’s going to give you the repeatability that you need, but we don’t update our templates often enough.

Will Alred:

When you think about, actually, what has to happen in order to update a template, you kind of need to understand what’s happening behind the scenes.

Will Alred:

So, when I’m talking to reps, when I’m talking about what it is to write a template, I actually like to lean on frameworks.

Will Alred:

Frameworks wasn’t a term that I actually came up with. I actually read it within a blog post, from the VP of sales at Segment.

Will Alred:

If you’re not familiar, Segment is one of those B2B software companies, that probably powers all of the B2B software companies that you know about. They got bought by a company called Twilio for 3.5 billion.

Will Alred:

The blog that you put together, was all about the fact that they have never sent out any kind of templates to their sales reps. They scale to three and a half billion dollars, on the backs of what she calls frameworks, which is awesome to sort of conceptualize.

Will Alred:

It’s like, okay, well, what is a framework? Well, here’s the types of information that should be going into this email. Sort of like structures out what the template should be, without actually writing it for the rep.

Will Alred:

So, the rep has to think through it. The rep actually has to ask intellectual questions, like, what does this sentence need to accomplish?

Will Alred:

We think about what an email should do, what questions it should answer. It should answer, why am I reaching out? What’s the point of this email? What’s the point of this sentence? Does that sentence serve the point of the whole email? Creates a question, or does each sentence logically lead to the next one?

Will Alred:

These are questions that we don’t really ask ourselves when we operate on templates. So, when the market pushes us to personalize…

Will Alred:

The hot topic right now is, do we need to personalize our emails? Yes, you do. But if you’re relying on templates to do that, you don’t have the flexibility or the knowhow to actually apply it. So, you’re just inserting a one-liner that doesn’t necessarily flow into the rest of the template.

Erika:

Yeah. I think the word framework, in comparison to template, I think it’s really helpful for making a distinction between something that doesn’t require a lot of deep thinking from a rep, and something that is going to require a lot more interaction.

Erika:

I mean, I know there’s no way to tell on this podcast, right now, but I’m curious to know the ripple effects of asking a rep to put that much thought into a framework.

Erika:

I would imagine that, if you’re really engaged with the why of your customers and how you really solve problems, you’re probably having better phone conversations, too.

Erika:

You’re probably able to better speak to problems on the phone or in social media. You’re probably better at all of your outreach, if you put that type of effort into your emails, too.

Will Alred:

Yeah. Well, and if you think through… Pausing my Slack notifications. If you think through, what’s the career path for a sales rep, we’ve kind of set it up where they either become an AE or they become a manager.

Will Alred:

So, if you want them to be able to go ahead and teach, well, they should probably understand what’s happening behind that template. If you really want them to be a good manager, which really, what a manager has become these days is a coach, they should understand what’s going on behind the scenes.

Will Alred:

If you want them to become an AE, well, they really should probably have a deeper understanding of the prospect.

Will Alred:

The ripple effect thing is a really interesting idea. I think, someone listening to this though, they’re probably going to have this… they’re like, “Okay, frameworks sound cool, but I don’t have frameworks. I’ve got templates.”

Will Alred:

I don’t think that’s necessarily something that has to stop you, in this process. And honestly, it’s not something you have to… you don’t have to derail your entire sales process because like we’re saying, frameworks are better. Just read through your templates and actually understand what’s going on behind the scenes. That’s all you have to do. Right?

Will Alred:

A template is something that’s supposed to be temporary. It’s a tool within your tool belt, that will help you speed up your output. You can get more emails out the door, faster.

Will Alred:

Well, if you don’t actually understand what’s going on behind the scenes, your ability to test, your ability to effectively come up with new copy is limited, because all you know how to do is mirror what you’ve seen.

Will Alred:

But if you can actually dissect that email, if you can actually understand what’s happening, you’ll be able to quickly understand what kind of tweaks you want to make. You’ll be able to get those out the door faster.

Will Alred:

You’ll be able to apply things like personalization, much more effectively, because you’re like, okay, well, I’ve got my framework here. I make an observation. I tie that observation back to a problem or an insight. Then, I provide some credibility for why I’m talking about that problem. I offer, here’s what we do as a solution. And then I ask them a question.

Will Alred:

That’s a classic template, but I actually know what I’m doing behind the scenes. And if you take it a step further, you understand why doing what you’re doing. So, you’re like, okay, I’m trying to provide credibility here. What are some ways that I could do that?

Will Alred:

I could offer up a case study, or maybe I could tell the case study as a story. Maybe I could just reference the fact that we’ve got customers in their space. Maybe it’s a specific customer story.

Will Alred:

All of a sudden now, I’m thinking. I have the ability to flex whatever the email is, to the situation and what it calls for.

Will Alred:

Maybe your template leans in heavily on two main problems. So for us, maybe it’s the fact that reps are slow to write emails, and management doesn’t have visibility into what’s going on.

Will Alred:

So, the personalization, whatever’s happening there, maybe it lends itself to both problems and the template is fine, but maybe it doesn’t.

Will Alred:

One of those problems is just awkwardly floating there. I’m just hoping to dangle a carrot and get a response. That’s not logical, and it shouldn’t be how we write emails.

Will Alred:

One of the things, when you brought this up was, it’s like having friends over for dinner and serving them a microwave meal. I’m like, why don’t you actually cook something for them, to come over? Just put that extra level of thought, as a writer in.

Will Alred:

Yeah. I don’t think we think through the logical progression of the sentences that we’re putting out, nearly enough. It creates these weird, jarring experiences, that you just don’t reply to.

Erika:

Yeah. Yeah. You brought up a good point too, that a template is supposed to be temporary, and we don’t really reiterate on templates enough.

Erika:

So, a lot of times when we’re talking about B2B, SaaS companies, I mean, how you talk about your product and between A and C Series funding, it could change week to week, depending on the feedback you get from your customers, depending on the direction you get from your investors.

Erika:

I remember when I was in my first SDR role, at Outreach, we would change… every single week, it just seemed like we had a different way of talking about what we were doing. And then eventually, it sort of leveled out. But for a while there, it was just sort of like, try whatever feels compelling, and then let your teammates know what’s working and what’s not.

Erika:

One of the things that we really focus on at Greaser, is we really focus on a two-way feedback loop between management and sales reps.

Erika:

I think, so often, when people are really dependent on templates, it’s a sales manager or a marketing person that’s writing all these templates, and then giving them to the sales team. The sales team will see those, and I’ll be like, I’m not sending this. This isn’t what I would say on the phone.

Erika:

I used to say this, too. I said, “My name is at the end of this email. I’m not going to send this sequence, or I’m not going to send this cadence. I would not say this.”

Erika:

What you get, is you get people who think that they’re implementing a process, and then they’re measuring the success of what they’re doing on this process that’s not actually being run. So, they don’t have any meaningful data.

Erika:

And then you have end users, who are just disregarding the process that’s in place for them and just sort of going rogue. So, you have no idea what’s working and what’s not.

Erika:

If you have a two-way feedback loop, the SDRs or the AEs or whoever’s at the end of those messages, can actually say, “Hey, this is garbage.”

Erika:

You actually arm them with frameworks, then they can say, “Hey, this is a really compelling case study, I’ve been sending out for this point here.” And then you can sort of get that learning, get that scalability, get that transparency, within a framework on your team. That can also go up to management.

Erika:

I think a lot of the reasons why people like templates, can also be true of frameworks, but you have to have that two-way feedback loop because the sales people are sort of given a lot more credit for being able to have original ideas of value, basically.

Will Alred:

Yeah. Oh, I think there’s definitely something you said, from just a retention standpoint. The job becomes much more rewarding.

Will Alred:

You were talking on a few things that are on our roadmaps. Shameless plug. We are totally building out all of those visibility factors, like, hey, this template’s performing pretty poorly. Well, it’s performing poorly when people don’t personalize it.

Will Alred:

The reps that are doing well, they actually change 99% of it. So, it’s a signal that you need to just go ahead and change that template. It’s time for a refresh. I couldn’t help myself.

Erika:

No. [crosstalk 00:15:13].

Will Alred:

It was like, I see this problem and I as like, we’re going right after it.

Erika:

Sales people listening to this, so shameless plugs are encouraged.

Will Alred:

No. I think about frameworks, man. It’s just like, no one actually teaches anyone how to write an email. It’s not hard. Once you figure it out, you’re like, oh, that wasn’t a difficult thing.

Will Alred:

I think one of the things that we experience in the process, is there’s a pain point of personalizing.

Will Alred:

You talk to reps, the classic thing I hear back is, how do I do this faster? How do I get through personalizing an email, in a quicker period of time?

Will Alred:

I’ve got very specific recommendations for it. But one of the first things that I say is, if you don’t actually commit to building a process, you don’t actually commit to going through the pain of doing it, you’re not going to actually get anything out of it. You’re just going to quit. you’re going to go back to sending the same automated emails.

Will Alred:

It’s like any sort of new activity. It’s going to be awkward at first. You’re going to get better with it at time.

Will Alred:

One of the keys to getting better with it, is understanding how all the pieces play together. What’s actually happening behind the scenes? Because you’ll be like, okay, I’m going to go find personalization. It’s like, what is personalization?

Will Alred:

You should probably understand that, you’re actually trying to find an observation. And then you’re trying to have a relevant tie in to the rest of your email.

Will Alred:

Personalization is not always one line. It could be two. And really, what you’re trying to build is a reason for reaching out.

Will Alred:

We get so wrapped up in this output or just doing personalization for the sake of personalization.

Will Alred:

It’s not one or the other. It’s not like, I’ve got to go down this rabbit hole and find this gem of a gem, for a reason to reach out.

Will Alred:

We find ourselves like, Erika’s second cousin went to my rival high school. I’m going to weave together a narrative. That’s a waste of your time.

Erika:

Yeah.

Will Alred:

I always tell folks, build a process, understand why you’re doing it. Cal Coleman, who’s an advisor for us over at [Clary 00:17:48], he’s got his, take five minutes to find five facts.

Will Alred:

Take it a step further. Take the five minutes while you’re finding those five facts, what resources are you going to? How could you line them up in the appropriate order, where you’re getting all the information you need faster, and you’re not going to any new resources?

Will Alred:

Build a template on the backside of that, where you understand what you’re doing, quote unquote, like framework. Where even if you don’t have that golden nugget to personalize it off of, you still have a fallback option, so that you’re not spinning your wheels being like, “Well, I guess I’ll just congratulate them on being in this job for six years.” They’re like, that’s just a weird reason to reach out.

Will Alred:

It’s not a reason to reach out. Instead it’s like, without a personal observation, I’m going to start my email by leaning in on credibility for why I’m here.

Will Alred:

Because what you’re doing, is just interrupting them in their inbox. So, you might as well have a good start.

Will Alred:

If you don’t have an observation and a valid reason for reaching out, lean on credibility, lean on relatability.

Will Alred:

A bit of rambling, but just some of my thoughts on this notion that, well, I can’t do it because output. I can’t do it because no one’s given me a framework.

Will Alred:

It’s like, okay, well just take your template and dissect it. What’s happening behind the scenes? Think through it.

Erika:

Yeah. Well, I think you’re getting at the mindset of a really high performing sales rep, which is, I have everything I need to be successful. It’s just up to me to make it happen.

Erika:

I think, we work with a lot of sales managers or process owners, that could be a program manager, something similar. So, if you were to give good advice to a manager level, who’s actually creating the process for reps, how could a manager or process owner set reps up for success? So, reps don’t feel like they have to really go against the current, in order to apply these methods.

Will Alred:

Yeah. I think what you’re getting at is, how do you get managers to create individuals that are self-motivated? I think one of the keys to doing that is giving them ownership. It’s not micromanagement, which templates kind of are micromanagement. It’s like, you send this and you do this. Right?

Erika:

Yeah.

Will Alred:

You fit into the box because I don’t trust you to go ahead and put your thoughts out on paper.

Will Alred:

This generation of SDRs, that doesn’t fly. They like to feel that their ideas are validated. I don’t think it’s necessarily a generational thing. I just think it’s in general.

Will Alred:

As a society, we’ve come to value the opinions of younger people, more and more. So, if you’re operating in a landscape where you’re like, yeah, I just don’t trust what they’re going to put out, maybe you need to look at your hiring process.

Will Alred:

Maybe you need to look at how you ramp reps up, because there’s so much time and attention put towards call coaching and none put towards email coaching. They’re just like, “Here’s your templates. See you.”

Will Alred:

The only way that someone’s going to learn in that scenario, is either through mimicry or frankly, looking at LinkedIn and finding people like us, talking about these topics.

Will Alred:

I think we have pretty good advice, but there’s also folks that aren’t giving good advice. There’s folks that are giving advice that’s not always applicable.

Will Alred:

I think about enterprise deals versus S&B deals. There’s a lot of advice that’s more geared towards S&B. It doesn’t make any sense if you’re in the enterprise world or it doesn’t have context. It’s just content without context.

Will Alred:

It’s the manager’s job to set the system up for the reps to succeed. I think one of those things is giving them an environment in which they are personally motivated to go seek out these resources, seek out these pieces of information and experiment, try things, fail, share those learnings with the team. Ownership, I think is key.

Erika:

Hmm. Yeah. It’s almost like embodying the spirit of the framework. It’s like a whole training process. Which is like, here’s the why, but it’s up to you to put your brain on and go in and use your own personality.

Erika:

I mean, I think too, social selling is becoming a really… I don’t know. It’s hard to argue against it anymore, that it’s really effective and valuable, especially if you’re selling to anyone in the revenue space.

Erika:

We’re all on LinkedIn and we’re all active. I think just that idea of the SDR bringing themselves as a whole person to the space, and actually having ideas and thoughts to share, I love that, that’s becoming just more agreed upon.

Erika:

It’s kind of silly that, that even needs to be said. But I think if you look at the process and the way that sales reps have been trained, it has very much been like, here’s what you say, here’s how you it and do it 200 times a day. Statistically, that’ll lead to a meeting and then we’ll grow revenue.

Will Alred:

Yep. Yep. Well, there’s two things I want to touch on. One is especially valuable in social selling, if you’re selling into the revenue space.

Will Alred:

But even if you sell into a space that’s never touched LinkedIn in their entire lives… say you’re selling to teachers, what you’re doing is actually setting up a recruiting funnel for sharp thinkers, so that you can continue to have really good SDRs going through your organization.

Will Alred:

Because the people who are going to find your content, engage with it, and eventually come ask for a job, are the folks that are self-motivated and are interested in learning.

Erika:

That’s a great point.

Will Alred:

Other piece I was going to touch on is, if you were trying to set up an onboarding program for these reps and trying to think through, how do I teach them how to write email, the way I would do that is start with pure frameworks. No template provided.

Will Alred:

It’s just like, when you are thinking about writing an email, this is a great framework to use. We start with an observation. Here’s why we start with an observation. Then the next sentence, it’s going to be an insight based on that observation. This shows the reader that you have a brain, and you’re not just regurgitating something that you read online.

Will Alred:

Take them step by step, to that process, and then start to show them the templates that you have in place. Break down those templates, back against the framework that you initially taught them.

Will Alred:

That way, they know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They’re not just hitting send on yet another template and you’re “hitting ramp.”

Will Alred:

It’s not just like, yes, we ramped them up because they sent this many emails. And then you’re sitting there wondering, why did their performance plateau?

Will Alred:

It’s like, well, because you didn’t actually teach them how to optimize and get better. You just taught them how to hit send in Outreach.

Erika:

Yeah. I love that. One last question before we ramp up or before we ramp up. I’m just like, I want to go change a bunch of stuff, after talking to you.

Erika:

Before we wind down, I’m curious if you could speak a little bit to limitations of the framework or common mistakes that you see people make.

Erika:

If I’m a sales manager and I say, “All right, we’re going to scrap templates. We’re going to implement the framework thing,” what should I be careful of? What should I just really look out for?

Will Alred:

Okay. If you’re like, let’s swing the pendulum, the other way, don’t give your sales rep a blank slate template where it just says, write an email.

Erika:

Yeah. Yeah.

Will Alred:

There’s nothing more anxiety inducing than, I’ve got to get X number of things out, and there’s just a blank screen in front of me. Help them get started. That’s key.

Will Alred:

We’re building some stuff to help with that, where we’ll do a lot of the research for you. And at the click of a button, we’ll get the email started for you.

Will Alred:

But just thinking through, what I would typically see is, they’ll just put in parentheses, write a personalized email. That’s just lazy. Give them a sense for what that looks like.

Will Alred:

It could be a framework. But there’s also going to be things that happen within your cadence, sequence, whatever you want to call it, that do repeat.

Will Alred:

So, while in the onboarding and ramp up period, you want to explain why you’re doing it this way, but just give them that language up front. Don’t make them go search through the snippets folder to be like, “Okay. This is the term I use for this.” Right?

Erika:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Will Alred:

Just put it there and explain to them, here’s why we say it the way we say it. This seems to work. Then, if you understand why and you want to go edit it, go for it. You have that freedom.

Will Alred:

I think one of the things with swinging the pendulum towards personalization, towards framework kind of thinking, is this notion that you’re just going to leave your sales reps out to dry. That can be a real efficiency, just suck.

Will Alred:

So, recognize where patterns repeat. Recognize, it’s not a rip and replace activity. It’s a learning activity. Framework teach. Templates, well, they kind of scale.

Erika:

Yeah. I think that’s a great place to leave it. Thank you so much, Will. It’s really good to talk to you.

Will Alred:

Yeah. Erika, I appreciate you having me on.

Erika:

Absolutely.

Speaker 3:

Hot dog, that was a great episode. Thanks listening. If you want to learn more about Greaser Consulting or any information you heard on today’s episode, visit us online at www.greaserconsulting.com. Be sure to click the follow button and the bell icon, to be notified on the latest here at RevOps Therapy. Thanks. See you real soon.

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The Greaser team is made up of sales engagement natives; many of our consultants, including our founder, were early employees at the companies who created sales engagement. We are passionate about supporting revenue generators, empowering them to grow their companies and serve more customers.