A Tool is Not a Strategy: “You’ve Bought Sales Execution Software. What Now?”

Without a strategy, you're missing out on the benefits of your new sales execution platform. It will take effort to build a strategy that fits your tool, but it's worth it because it will help you realize the value of sales execution software.

Something about the way we’re wired makes us chase the “magic tool” that will somehow make us “better.”

Like the shelf of books we’ve ordered on Amazon after a podcast, believing the author’s genius will change the way we think, approach relationships, or organize our lives. But then we don’t open them. They’re a reference library of what could be.

We’re not criticizing you; we’re describing ourselves. (But if you can relate, then maybe we should set up a book swap. We’re game, if you are.)

When we take this part of ourselves to work with us, we buy tools with hopes that they will transform our teams and working lives. And then we get “fussed,” as our CEO would say, when that doesn’t happen.

We hear this a lot about sales execution platforms (SEP), which are tools, not strategies. When used properly, sales execution software supports what you want to do. It doesn’t tell you how to prospect and sell. 

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So if your team is hitting roadblocks and getting nowhere with your SEP, or you believe it’s possible to go further with it, then we’re here to guide you on a path beyond some of the common myths that keep a lot of sales teams grounded.

Myth One: “Our sales execution software lets us set it and forget it.”

A lot of teams buy sales execution software thinking they can functionally replace a bunch of entry-level sales reps, and the people they do employ can just pop prospects into sequences or cadences and effortlessly book tons of meetings.

These teams may be surprised to find that their SEP is a blank slate with no sales plays automatically loaded in, with blueprints that still require effort to set up, and with eventual sequences or cadences that still include some manual activities.

We’re not picking on anyone here; this is extremely common. But it’s important to identify this misunderstanding early, as reps on teams guided by this philosophy may become burned out and turn over very quickly. The expectation for prospect volume that typically comes with this myth is unrealistic and even inhumane, both for the prospects being bombarded with generic messaging and the reps trying to keep up with call tasks.

Not to mention, if this goes unchecked, then a bunch of emails will land in spam and hurt your overall email deliverability. Your brand reputation depends upon a responsible use of your SEP, which includes a strategic approach that properly designates your SEP as what it is: a tool in need of clear direction and good aim.

Truth: Your sales execution strategy can help reps work smarter, not harder.

When you apply some strategy to the underlying goal behind this myth, which is most often a desire to automate redundant activities to free up reps’ time, then you can achieve the goal without sacrificing sanity or quality.

The majority of your strategy comes down to smart prospecting and intentional sales plays that suit both your prospects and your expectations for volume.

One of the first things you should do, when laying out a library of sequences or cadences for your reps, is to set levels of effort that are appropriate for prospect tiers or priority-levels.

Here are common tiers to consider:

  • Tier One: Mostly manual steps, with pre-written email templates to serve as guides.
  • Tier Two: A mix of manual and automated steps, with most emails either sending automatically or with limited personalization.
  • Tier Three: Mostly automated emails, with the potential for a manual step or two (call or social media step).

Your team will have to decide which personas and industries are appropriate for each tier, but once you do, your reps will have a very clear process to follow for deciding how much time and energy to invest into every prospect they identify.

If your goal is to increase your reps’ volume, with fewer manual steps, then you will want to focus most of their prospecting time identifying and engaging prospects suited for tier three sequences or cadences.

These will be more evergreen or generic, with mostly automated emails that send themselves with no effort from the reps. If there are any manual steps, they will likely be phone calls or low-engagement social media touches.

This leaves your reps open to handle the highest possible volume, while still following a strategic sales play that’s been written intentionally for the type of prospect they’re engaging. You won’t set them up for failure by asking them to simultaneously prospect a CEO and a director, with the same sequence or cadence and level of effort.

If you have different objectives, and want to more highly prioritize personalization, then you will focus more effort on tiers one and two. We will discuss more about degrees of personalization in the next section.

Myth Two: “SEPs aren’t personalized enough.”

“Sales execution platforms are dead. It’s all about personalization.” This will get you hundreds of likes on LinkedIn. Why? Because personalizing messages is an artform, and it’s a lot cooler in the moment to write a one-off message to a CEO and get a response than it is to send 200 semi-personalized messages to directors and book five meetings over a month.

While it may be popular on LinkedIn, there is a logical fallacy in that argument. “Personalization” is not an opposing strategy to “a sales execution platform.” If you hear “non-personalized messages” when you hear “sales execution,” then you’re not yet familiar with what SEPs can actually do.

When SEPs were first introduced, it was enough to be persistent. You’d get meetings by sending even the most generic sequences, because prospects weren’t used to hearing from the same rep 10 different times in a month or so. Few people had a manual process good enough to manage that kind of outreach at scale.

Today, however, persistence is a dime a dozen. “Personalization” is the new standard of sales excellence, and many people falsely believe that SEPs are still all about emailing a bunch of people a string of emails over a set period of time and, for good measure, tossing in a few calls as if they’re Mailchimp with a built-in dialer.

The truth is that sales execution strategy is rapidly evolving, and SEPs are a completely different animal today than they were a few years ago. They are capable of supporting a highly-sophisticated strategy with varying degrees of built-in personalization.

If your team isn’t satisfied with the personalization embedded into your sequences or cadences, then the problem is not your SEP. It’s your strategy.

Truth: Your sales execution software can facilitate sales email personalization.

As we explained with our earlier tips on developing tiers or levels of investment, it’s possible to offer varying degrees of personalization within your sequences or cadences.

Before we dive in, we want to define two terms for the sake of clarity:

  • Personalization: Tailoring a message or experience to a persona, or group of similar individuals, or to an industry or other natural categorization. It’s focused on relevancy over individualization.
  • Individualization: Customizing a message or experience that is unique to an individual person. 

This distinction is important because many people use “personalization” to mean “individualization,” when in many cases you can reap the benefits of personalization with much less focused research on an individual prospect.

For example, Outreach.io talks about “personalizing to the persona,” which means writing a set of sequences that are specific to the value drivers and pain points of different personas. Then, when you identify a prospect that fits a persona, you put them into the appropriate sequence or cadence for a more relevant experience. 

You can still include more manual email steps, if you so choose, that allow you to write in a sentence or two that are individualized. But we recommend reserving this for your tier one accounts or prospects, which are the most valuable targets on your list.

But you don’t have to individualize as much as you might think. Salesloft’s research has found a tremendous benefit in personalizing about 20% of an email template. It increased the probability of open rates from 3.3% to 6.6% and open rates from 23% to 33%. 

This level of personalization leaves most of the body of the email (where you likely have value drivers and social proof) the same for every email. Consistency here is valuable for measurement and brand consistency, while still allowing you to have an individualized opening or signoff.

The next “bump” in the payoff for personalizing is at about 80% of the template, which would be appropriate in a mostly manual email in a very high touch sequence. In these instances, when someone is both a persona and vertical fit, and probably a decision-maker, it’s time to pull out all the stops.

But even then, it’s beneficial to start your template completely written. Your sales rep can come in and customize as much as they want, but starting from scratch is a waste of time. Give them something to start with, with the permission to gut it and write their own message, and the end product will be of a much higher quality.

But before you think these levels of sales email personalization are all you can do, there’s yet another option available. We work with many teams who have sequences written, with mostly-populated templates, and then sets of matching “snippets,” or segments of text (like customer quotations, hyperlinks, individual value propositions, and other recurring text) that are ready to be plugged in. 

So they may choose the right sequence, at the right effort level, and decide there’s a spot where they’d like to choose a different case study, or swap in a different value proposition based on the person’s industry or other demonstrated interests. With a robust snippet library, they can click twice and make that switch happen, further tailoring a message without spending any time writing an individualized message.

Following a strategy that makes use of a wide variety of levels of personalization allows teams  to make the most of both individualization and personalization, while offering the opportunity to scale those interactions beyond what they could do with all manual outreach.

When teams find this sweet spot, they step into the full value of personalization at scale, one of the key value drivers for sales execution. At this level, you’re flexing a full sales execution strategy, not just wielding a blunt tool.

Myth Three: “SEPs are for entry-level sales reps doing mostly cold outbound.”

When we first meet a lot of enterprise teams, their BDRs are usually pretty excited about their sales execution software. They’ve identified sequences or cadences that work for them, figured out how to put in just enough personalization to get the reply, and booked a lot of meetings.

This is the most obvious, and therefore typically first written and implemented, sales execution strategy: a full library of evergreen outbound sequences or cadences, or flexible sales plays that work with most prospects.

The mistake is stopping here, which is what so many companies do. When they hear “sales execution,” they think “outbound en masse.” 

That’s why account executives or other closers are usually more resistant. With a smaller portfolio of accounts, or responsibilities that begin further down the sales funnel, their work is just not suited to this use case. 

To give them some credit, putting a C-suite prospect into an evergreen outbound sequence, with limited personalization opportunities, would probably not turn out very well. But that’s like getting upset at a book on your shelf for talking about recipes when you’re looking for gardening tips. The problem isn’t that books are unhelpful; you’ve chosen the wrong one for your needs.

We work with leaders at these companies to understand that SEPs are flexible and adaptive; they do what you tell them to do. And if you fill their libraries with a variety of sales plays, each suited to different use cases, you can support countless sales scenarios and team members.

Truth: Your SEP can support everyone in your revenue org

One very valuable use case for an SEP with advanced-stage sellers is to serve as a workflow manager and a content storage tool. No matter how intricate your deals, and diverse your clients, your processes should be largely the same for every deal. If not, then you’re likely wasting a lot of resources.

Sitting down with your closers and understanding what they do and how they communicate, from the first outreach to the renewal or upsell, helps you identify and record your common workflows. Using that as a foundation, you can easily build a sequence or cadence to fit every one of those scenarios.

Here are some common, but frequently under-utilized, use cases for advanced-stage sellers:

  • Prospecting with a highly manual sequence or cadence.
  • Following up, after getting a reply with interest, to schedule a meeting. 
  • Setting up a demo or advanced discovery meeting, following an introduction from a rep.
  • Following up to remind the prospect of that upcoming meeting.
  • Sending a proposal and following up until you get a response.
  • Handing off to customer success.
  • Ongoing nurture and build-up to a renewal.
  • Requesting a meeting for an upsell opportunity.

By placing sequences or cadences in your SEP for every one of these common scenarios, you’re giving your closers a set of workflows to choose from with the automation built in to remind them when the next task is due. 

You’re also building in templates, which ask for and provide common information, to give them a great start on every email message. This allows them to focus all of their time and attention on the details and the relationship.

While it’s often a change management lift to help your closers see the strategic possibilities your SEP offers, it’s well worth spending the resources to get your closers out of their manual processes and adopting the platform.

Once closers are using your sales plays, you will have a record of every communication, a way to measure effectiveness with zero manual data entry, and a more scalable process that will likely allow them to engage more prospects without sacrificing quality.

Myth Four: “It’s okay if not everyone adopts our SEP.”

We have met sales teams whose sales reps have partially adopted their SEPs, which means reps use the SEP for some activity and do the rest of their work independently.

This is typically the case because the available sequences or cadences don’t match their actual workflows, so reps piece together parts of sequences or cadences and their own activities to get the job done. This myth often looks like this:

Consultant: “I don’t see a lot of logged activity in the SEP. Can you tell me why you don’t use the platform?”

Sales rep: “Oh, I use it.”

Consultant: “Okay, great. Can you tell me how?”

Sales rep: “Well, I use it for the first couple of emails, but if I see that they’re opening the emails, or if it’s a valuable account I really want to lock down, I pause the sequence and start sending them one-off emails from my inbox, making calls, sending personalized videos, or mailing them swag. I only leave people in sequence if they’re not opening my emails or they’re not one of the accounts I’ve been told I really have to get this month.”

Consultant: “Where do you log that activity?”

Sales rep: “When I have time, I make notes in the CRM. Otherwise, it’s just in my spreadsheet.”

There are several issues here:

  1. Their rogue activity isn’t logged in the SEP, which is your “system of action.” If your CRM, a system of record, is the only place activity is captured, then you’re going to end up with inconsistencies, multiple reps reaching out to the same prospect, and other errors that happen when reps can’t see a full record of the communication with that prospect before they engage them.
  2. Unlogged activity can’t factor into measurement, A/B testing, and other learning. If you’re trying to nail down winning sales plays that can be scaled across the team, which should be your goal, then you can’t do that with everyone doing different things. Confidence is built on volume.
  3. If this is happening, it’s probably a symptom of a larger problem. Your sales reps should be involved in creating your sequences or cadences, even if that level of involvement is to make requests and offer a lot of feedback. When that happens, sales plays actually reflect what reps are doing, and that leads to fuller adoption.

In reality, sequences or cadences are nothing but foundations for prospect-facing processes; every sales team should build a full library of sequences and cadences that reflect their actual workflows. 

Then, when that library is ready, reps should be encouraged, both through enablement and incentives, to fully adopt the platform.

Truth: Your sequences or cadences should reflect your reps’ voices and workflows

Your sales reps should be heavily involved in crafting your sequences and cadences. Through workflow interviews, and looking at the messages they’re already using, you can accurately pinpoint what they’re doing and replicate it as a library of sequences or cadences.

Your entire team will be much more successful starting from that baseline, testing and watching data to inform iteration, than you will ever be starting with a library of messages that sound nothing like how they communicate and look nothing like their actual workflows.

Many teams don’t take the time to do this because their reps are going rogue, using a lot of different platforms and making gametime decisions to pivot with prospects, based on their behaviors.

It’s possible to follow reps onto those other platforms, still managing that activity from your SEP. SEPs natively integrate with a lot of other tools, or have third-party integrations that allow them to plug into video messaging platforms, social media platforms, gifting platforms, and other more innovative ways to connect with prospects.

Your writers can also create sequences or cadences that adjust to variability. Using sequences with “pause” points, your reps can stop and evaluate the prospect’s activity and choose to either continue them in the sequence or stop it and put them into another one, selecting from a list of options that’s right in front of them. If your reps are making pivots in the sales process, then you should be building that into the sales plays you offer in your SEP.

The bottom line is this: your sales execution software is not intended to set a new course of action for your sales reps, who are asked to abandon the way they’ve been doing things for months or even years.

Your SEP should support how your sales people work, capturing their successful plays and best ideas, which can then be tested and refined over time.

SEPs provide a lot more flexibility and adaptability than many teams realize, and the right ingenuity can flex a very complicated tool into the perfect backbone for your sales team to grow and thrive.

Don’t be a tool. Do this instead.

If you’ve identified with any of these myths, then it’s time to start implementing some change management processes to turn the ship around.

But we also recognize that few people have the time we do to sink their teeth in and become experts at this, so we’re here to serve as guides, helping you work past the obstacles that hold you back from the vision you have for your team’s growth and success.

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