Starting 2021 Off with a Bang: How Teams Are Building More Pipeline to Prepare for the New Year

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We did it! We’ve made it to the end of the year, and the last episode of The Weekly Briefing in 2020.

This year, we’ve learned so much from leaders in almost every industry and role, and we’ve been so excited to share this with you.

For our last episode, Jim Benton was joined by Ian Szilagyi, the Global Director of Business Development at Accruent to discuss how sales teams are applying learnings from 2020 to build more pipeline in Q1 2021.

Ian had a unique experience building out teams this year. The original plan was to spend a few months in Amsterdam to build out a team. Well, four months turned into the better part of a year as travel was hindered by the pandemic. He’s now back in the States and continuing to manage his remote teams here.

If you’re calling, but you’re having a connect rate of 1%, the answer is to find a different way to connect.

Cold Calling Numbers Are Only Half of the Picture

Reviewing the data, Ian said that his internal numbers mirrored the numbers from Chorus customers. There has been a steep drop off in cold call dials, but Ian said that this makes sense.

“July was a black hole. How much of the increase in activity was a move of desperation, and with low results,” he said. “A lesson we learned the hard way was not to just call more. If you’re calling, but you’re having a connect rate of 1%, the answer is to find a different way to connect.”

Learning how to connect, and what works best, was key in this environment.

“Early on, there would be huge changes week to week on subject lines and such that worked best,” he said. But teams didn’t have the ability to get together and work through it as quickly as the market behaviors and responses were changing.

Teams had to be strategic about their efforts. Simple changes to subject lines or times to call weren’t cutting it anymore.

“We took a conservative approach to some of the industries we call into,” said Ian. “We weren’t going to call into health care whose people were dealing with the biggest crisis in a lifetime. We had to focus our efforts elsewhere.”

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If you don’t have a direct contact, you shouldn’t contact them.

Connect Rates are Key

With connect rates also down, Ian’s insight that “keep calling” can be a damaging strategy seems spot on.

“We need to be smarter with our data,” said Ian. “We need to be smarter with our lists. If you don’t have a direct contact, you shouldn’t contact them. The importance of data, of mobile numbers, has increased dramatically. And we need to adjust our processes to reflect that.”

Adapting The BDR Motion

The biggest change: How do you create urgency to keep selling?

Ian’s team has had to address urgency head-on. “How do you create urgency when people are making tough decisions on how to stay in business? How do you show value that can help address their needs right now? We’ve been addressing our talk tracks, keeping things that show we can add value now and abandoning ones that don’t show that.”

But before they could create urgency in their prospects, Accruent had to create urgency to sell internally.

“It’s hard for people to be a salesperson right now,” said Ian. “It’s hard to make these dials. So we identified clear reasons why it’s essential to be selling right now. And then we only sold to people who need the help that we can provide.”

How Are Teams Conducting Outbound Efforts?

Capturing Attention and Breaking Through the Noise

There has always been a lot of noise out there. But as everyone has moved digital, all that noise is concentrated online. So, how did you get the attention of the market?

“We ran into the same wall that everyone did,” said Ian.

Then he turned it around on Jim: “You’re a C-Level buyer, I’d love to call in and sell to you. How many webinars did you attend this year, Jim?” Jim said he joined a webinar this week, but it was on double-time speed and rare, making Ian’s point.

“You’re outpacing me, and you’re likely busier than I am. Everyone’s time is overscheduled right now. The key is to rely on self-serve content. We’ve got to lessen the load on marketing and subject matter experts to prescribe content. You have to trust that your solution has a lot of content in it. You should focus on creating open demonstrations and allow people to learn.”

Jim agreed. “This year has shown me that if it’s not interactive, I don’t have to be on it live. So interactivity really became key. If you can create breakout rooms and ways to engage, then that’s a really positive experience.”

“Breakout rooms are key,” Ian said. “People can hide in numbers. You’ve got to break out into groups of 5 or 10 people. That’s where the real learning takes place. If you’re trying to educate people on a particular topic or your solution, you’ve got to break them out into smaller groups.”

He added one last piece of advice for those who are using virtual events to create pipeline:

“Anyone who is treating presentations as if they’re just a presenter versus a stand-up comedian is probably not getting the reaction they want. You’ve got to call people out and invite them to engage. You don’t have to do this throughout, just at the beginning.”

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We’re going to go from a completely virtual working experience to a flex or dynamic virtual working experience.

Building Trust Virtually

With the rollout of the vaccine, things are looking up for 2021. But that doesn’t mean we’re heading back to the offices right away, and likely not in the same way we did before March.

“Things are going to continue to change,” said Ian. “We’re going to go from a completely virtual working experience to a flex or dynamic virtual working experience.”

And that means that even those who are eager to get back to in-person selling may have to hunker down in this reality and make it their own.

“Building partnerships is a trust-building exercise,” said Ian. “We’ve lost the avenue to get together, break bread, and get to know each other.”

And we’ve got to continue to try to do this online until we’re back in person.

Are Partnerships Becoming More Important?

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Having this ability to build rapport in person has become less valuable. For better or worse, we’re going to see more automation tools enter sales.

2021 Themes to Build Pipeline

Jim asked Ian what his big, top of mind theme for 2021 is.

“The big one is going to be automation,” said Ian. “Lower skill, lower experience tasks, those are going to be automated. Having this ability to build rapport in person has become less valuable. For better or worse, we’re going to see more automation tools to enter sales.”

Remote Take

The role an office plays in team dynamics is coming under intense scrutiny and can be controversial from company to company. How important is the office for driving growth and productivity?

“We have close to half the team who have never met in person,” said Ian. “So how do you maintain continuity of culture when you have the pieces constantly turning over? I don’t think virtual happy hours are the answer. Having dynamic, flexible working hours in the office is important. Not just to be there, but because you have something to do there.

As managers and leaders, we’re missing out on watching people work. And it’s less gratifying - we don’t get to celebrate people’s wins in person.”

It’s safe to say that offices are not a thing of the past. But the 9-to-5 / five days a week model will be a tough sell in 2021.

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