August 14, 2023

From dependency to ownership: the rise of full-cycle sales reps

20 min read
The dynamics of the sales team are currently going through a significant transformation, fundamentally reshaping the traditional role of salespeople. This transformation encompasses a twofold evolution: a shift towards sales representatives embodying the role of trusted advisors, and a transition to full-cycle experts. These changes are a direct response to the ever-changing expectations and preferences of modern customers, as well as the demands posed by a rapidly evolving business environment.

In a recent episode of The Sales Syndicate Podcast, featuring Jamie Pagan, Marketing Director at Selligence, and Jen Allen-Knuth, Community Growth at Lavender, we explored key shifts in sales strategies, the rising significance of full-cycle sales reps, reimagined lead generation approaches, the expanded role of sales professionals, and the essential skills driving success in this dynamic field.

In this article:
  1. The changing role of sales representatives
  2. The shift towards full-cycle sales reps
  3. Rethinking SDRs' role in lead generation
  4. The role of sales reps in today's market
  5. Essential skills for modern sales reps
  6. Generating quality leads for full-cycle sales
  7. Fuelling the sales pipeline
  8. Effective cold-emailing strategies

The changing role of sales representatives

Sales has undergone a remarkable change, one that is increasingly redefining the role of sales representatives. The role of sales reps is poised to shift toward that of trusted advisors to customers. This paradigm shift, from product expert to strategic partner, holds the promise of reshaping not only the perception of sales professionals but also the very essence of customer interactions.

Sales reps are no longer merely conduits of product knowledge, but rather stewards of problem-solving and value creation. The transformation extends beyond understanding the features of a product; it delves into understanding the intricacies of customer challenges, exploring potential solutions, and critically analysing their pros and cons.

"The whole term of trusted advisor, I think, is making a huge comeback because personally, I don't know that a lot of sellers put themselves in a position to be a trusted advisor. They put themselves in a position to be a product expert, maybe, but a trusted advisor is someone who is at a level higher than a product expert, someone I can rely on, someone that’s going to give me answers that are best for my business, not theirs."

This shift aligns the intentions of sales professionals with the best interests of the customer's business. No longer is the sales rep's role confined to the pursuit of a sale; it encompasses guiding the customer toward the solution that will yield the greatest benefit. The trusted advisor becomes a beacon of guidance, offering insights that are not confined to a singular product but span the broader spectrum of business goals and aspirations.

This evolution holds implications beyond individual sales interactions. The profession of sales, once marred by the stereotypical image of the sleazy car salesman, is carving a new identity – one that is characterised by professionalism, expertise, and genuine customer-centricity. The shift toward the trusted advisor role is a testament to the commitment of the sales community to elevate their status and redefine the art of selling.

Interestingly, this transformation has sparked growing interest in sales careers. Universities are recognising the importance of preparing future sales professionals with the skills and mindset required to thrive in this new landscape. Programs and degrees focused on sales are becoming increasingly common, equipping students with the knowledge of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), sales cadences, cold-email strategies, and cold-calling practices. This proactive approach ensures that the next generation of sales professionals enters the field armed with the tools to succeed and make an impactful contribution.

The future of sales looks promising as the trajectory veers toward greater professionalism, integrity, and respect. The transition from product-centric expertise to trusted advisor status marks a watershed moment, fostering a realm where sales professionals are revered for their insights, guidance, and dedication to solving customer problems. As the lines between sales and strategic partnership blur, the role of the sales rep becomes not just a transactional endeavour but a transformative journey toward mutual success.

The shift towards full-cycle sales reps

The journey from reliance on specialised roles, such as Sales Development Representatives (SDRs), to a full-cycle sales model has been rapid and transformative. When the global demand was soaring, companies relied heavily on SDRs to handle the influx of incoming leads. These professionals were the gatekeepers, filtering through the barrage of potential clients and sifting out the promising opportunities. Their role was pivotal, ensuring that the sales teams were focused on the most viable prospects.

"People are trying to find ways to reduce their tech stack. They're trying to find ways to do more with less. And so, we made that pivot what feels like overnight. I think what we're starting to see and certainly have seen over the past twelve months is really over bloated."

However, the tides have shifted, and the landscape today is vastly different from what it was just a short while ago. Organisations are now navigating the turbulent waters of cost-cutting and tech-stack reduction. The allure of efficiency and the need to maximise resources have driven this shift towards a more consolidated approach. The strategy of doing more with less has become the rallying cry of businesses across industries, and it's within this backdrop that the full-cycle sales rep has risen to prominence.

The current climate has rendered the old model redundant. As businesses strive to streamline their tech stacks and optimise their operations, the roles that were once considered crucial have come under scrutiny. This shift has, unfortunately, led to job losses and layoffs. The sales teams that were thriving and expanding just a year ago are now grappling with a new reality. Yet this transformation has not been all doom and gloom.

Amidst the upheaval, there's an emerging silver lining. The redundancy of certain roles has paved the way for the rise of the full-cycle sales rep. These versatile professionals are equipped to own their pipelines, from the initial lead engagement all the way to deal closure. The journey that was once fragmented and siloed has now been consolidated into the capable hands of these adaptable sales reps.

Intriguingly, this shift has empowered many individuals who were impacted by the layoffs. Many have seized the opportunity to upskill and transition into roles that align more closely with the demands of the current sales landscape. The resilience and adaptability of these professionals underscore the human capacity to evolve and thrive, even in the face of uncertainty.

However, as with any paradigm shift, there's a spectrum of responses within the business world. While some companies have embraced the full-cycle sales approach wholeheartedly, recognising the value of a more integrated strategy, others remain rooted in the past. These entities continue to cling to the tried-and-true methods, hesitating to let go of the established norms.

Rethinking SDRs' role in lead generation

We must recognise that the traditional sales model, which often designates the task of lead generation to SDRs, may not be yielding the desired outcomes. This model places the responsibility for opening deals – a task arguably more challenging than closing them – on the shoulders of the least experienced, least resourced, and least supported members of the sales team.

As buyers become increasingly informed and discerning, the complexity of initiating a connection with potential clients has grown. The art of transforming a prospect from a state of unawareness to genuine consideration demands a nuanced approach and a deep understanding of the buyer's mindset.

"I would find myself thinking, “I'm wasting so much time because the organisation is not developing us to build up our business acumen and trying to help us understand what triggers to look for, trying to do all these things.” Essentially, putting it in the hands of someone who may or may not get it right."

Jen’s suggestion to empower seasoned Account Executives (AEs) to generate their own leads introduces an intriguing shift in perspective. By entrusting lead generation to those who possess a wealth of experience and a comprehensive understanding of the sales process, businesses can potentially unlock greater success.

When AEs engage in the early stages of the sales cycle, armed with their accumulated expertise, they have the capacity to initiate meaningful conversations that resonate with potential clients. This approach also serves to bridge the gap between initial interest and the eventual deal, offering a more seamless and cohesive journey for both buyers and sellers.

The essence of this proposition stems from a recognition of the limitations of the existing approach. The common model often involves SDRs who lack the necessary level of business acumen and understanding of the target persona. This gap in knowledge can lead to inefficiencies and, in some cases, errors in the initial stages of engagement. The responsibility of nurturing and developing SDRs, while commendable, can inadvertently divert valuable time and attention away from the core sales process, hindering the overall efficiency of the team.

Moreover, the modern buyer's expectations have evolved significantly. No longer content with mere product information, buyers seek sellers who can provide valuable insights and address their specific pain points. Failure to meet these expectations can introduce friction and effort into the buyer's journey, potentially derailing the entire deal. Therefore, the onus falls on sales professionals to not only facilitate the sales process but also to act as informed advisors who can navigate complex inquiries and provide tailored solutions.

The role of sales reps in today's market

One of the most pronounced changes in recent years is the high level of consumer education. Today's buyers arrive armed with information, having thoroughly researched products and services before even engaging with a sales representative. This shift has elevated the expectations placed upon sales reps, requiring them to possess a depth of knowledge that transcends mere product specifications. While product expertise remains fundamental, it's now considered the baseline. Sales reps must ascend to a higher plane of understanding, becoming not just product experts, but also experts in the problems their offerings address.

The conversation underscores the notion that sales reps must transcend the role of mere sellers and embrace a more comprehensive identity. Rather than following a rigid script aimed at pushing buyers through a predefined process, sales reps must now adopt the role of project managers, guiding buyers through their unique buying journeys. This shift is emblematic of a broader shift in power dynamics – from seller-centric to buyer-centric. This evolution requires sales reps to be adaptable, empathetic, and attuned to the individual needs and preferences of each buyer.

"And I think it's even a step more than product expertise, right? Like, product expertise, in my opinion, it's like bare minimum, right? You’ve got to know your product, but in many cases, your customer can learn almost as much about the product based on your website and talking to other people. In my opinion, a new set of skills are emerging. Like, I now have to become more than a product expert. I have to become an expert in the problem."

As Jen aptly puts it, the modern sales rep must become an "expert in the problem." Buyers today seek more than just a transaction; they seek a partnership with a trusted advisor who understands their pain points and can offer tailored solutions. To achieve this, sales reps must possess a profound grasp of the customer's challenges, aspirations, and goals. This entails the ability to discuss alternative solutions, offer insights into potential outcomes, and provide guidance throughout the decision-making process.

However, this shift in role comes with a set of challenges. The evolving landscape demands a new skill set that goes beyond traditional sales training. The art of becoming an expert in understanding customer problems, guiding buyers through their journey, and positioning oneself as a trusted advisor requires ongoing learning and development. Sales reps must hone skills such as active listening, consultative selling, and the ability to provide meaningful insights that resonate with the buyer's unique context.

Essential skills for modern sales reps

The skill set demanded of sales representatives has expanded far beyond the boundaries of traditional product knowledge. As Jen said, possessing a comprehensive understanding of business acumen has emerged as a cornerstone skill for today's sales professionals. The journey from transactional selling to becoming strategic partners requires a holistic grasp of the intricacies that drive businesses, coupled with effective communication and customer-centric insights.

The emphasis on business acumen signifies a fundamental shift in the role of sales reps. While knowing the ins and outs of the product remains vital, it's no longer the sole pillar of success. Sales reps today must delve into the inner workings of companies, understanding how they generate profits, overcome challenges, and make crucial decisions.

This knowledge empowers sales reps to engage in meaningful conversations with clients, offering insights that resonate with the broader business context. This approach transcends the transactional nature of sales, positioning the sales rep as a trusted advisor capable of addressing not only immediate needs but also long-term business objectives.

The conversational skills of modern sales reps stand as another linchpin in the sales process. The ability to engage in efficient conversations, ask the right questions, and actively listen forms the bedrock of effective sales interactions. The focus has shifted from pitching a product to guiding the customer on a journey of self-discovery. Effective communication is not solely about relaying information; it's about facilitating a dialogue that uncovers the customer's pain points, challenges, and aspirations. By mastering this skill, sales reps can steer the conversation toward value-driven solutions that align with the customer's unique needs.

The sales rep's role extends beyond being a product seller – it transforms into that of an educator and problem solver. This transformation hinges on the ability to provide customers with insights about their own businesses. Rather than merely presenting a product, sales reps should focus on enabling customers to understand their challenges better, recognise the potential solutions, and make informed decisions. This customer-centric approach adds layers of value, elevating the sales rep from a seller to a partner invested in the client's success.

While negotiation skills, sales process expertise, and multithreading abilities remain important, the initial conversation serves as the linchpin upon which deals are often won or lost. The opening conversation sets the tone, shapes perceptions, and establishes a foundation of trust. It's at this juncture that the skills of effective communication, customer understanding, and business acumen converge to create a compelling and resonant narrative.

Generating quality leads for full-cycle sales

A critical departure from conventional lead generation wisdom is illuminated as the conversation delves into the mistakes often made by salespeople. It's tempting to become enamoured by demographic statistics, believing that organisational size or employee count can act as reliable indicators of a good fit. However, Jen cautioned against falling into this trap, emphasising that demographics alone fail to capture the nuances that truly determine compatibility.

"I think be very mindful of what are the triggers or evidence points that would suggest someone might have the problem you face and find those things. So for us at Lavender, it might be, hey, they laid off 20% of their SDR team, that might suggest they weren't seeing productivity from their SDR team. Now the SDRs that are left are carrying a much larger load, they're going to have much higher targets. That's a problem that Lavender can help with."

Instead, the focus shifts toward problem-focused prioritisation, a strategy that aligns leads with the core issues their products or services address. The shift from size-based statistics to problem-centric alignment ensures that every lead pursued has a genuine need for what the business offers. It's this alignment of needs and solutions that sets the stage for more productive and resonant sales conversations.

The conversation's emphasis on identifying triggers and evidence points is particularly enlightening. Sales reps are urged to seek out signs that a potential lead might be facing a specific problem that the product or service can solve. This investigative approach not only streamlines the lead generation process but also positions sales reps as problem solvers rather than mere salespeople.

In the context of self-sourcing leads, the importance of quality over quantity resonates strongly. Filling the pipeline with a high volume of leads may seem productive on the surface, but this approach can lead to longer sales cycles and diminished success rates. Time, a finite resource, must be invested wisely. By prioritising leads that exhibit genuine need and align with the product's problem-solving capabilities, sales reps can focus their efforts where they matter most.

Fuelling the sales pipeline

Sales professionals must not only fuel their pipelines but also cultivate meaningful connections with potential customers. There are three key steps of a successful sales strategy:

  1. Step one: the first step hinges on an unwavering understanding of the problems that a solution addresses. Sales reps must delve deep into the challenges faced by potential customers and articulate how their offering provides meaningful resolutions. By internalising these problems, sales reps are better equipped to convey the tangible value their solution brings, paving the way for impactful conversations.
  2. Step two: understanding the landscape in which your solution competes is integral to effective sales engagement. Jen highlights the importance of becoming an expert not only in your own product but also in the alternative options available to customers. This insight empowers sales reps to engage in discussions that explore the downsides of the status quo. By strategically presenting alternatives, sales reps can position their solution as the transformative answer to prevailing challenges.
  3. Step three: where knowledge meets engagement in a world abundant with information, it's imperative for sales reps to uncover where their potential customers gather to learn. Jen’s advice encourages sales reps to be present in the channels where their audience seeks knowledge. This involves reaching beyond the traditional boundaries of industry-related platforms and exploring diverse communities. By meeting potential customers where they are, sales reps can initiate meaningful conversations in spaces where prospects are most receptive.

This valuable advice resonates with the heart of effective sales strategy. Learning where customers realise they have a problem and where they seek solutions enables sales reps to establish a meaningful connection early in the buying journey. By participating in the same platforms and communities, sales reps position themselves as valuable contributors, nurturing a sense of trust and credibility.

Effective cold-emailing strategies

A prevailing mistake in the realm of cold emails is the temptation to inundate recipients with unnecessary information. Jen underscores the importance of brevity, emphasising the need to keep emails succinct and to the point. In a world characterised by information overload, a concise approach ensures that the recipient's attention is captured and maintained.

"When I first heard lavender, before I worked here, saying, “you need to write 50-word cold emails”, I was like, yeah, but our industry is more complex and that won't work for us. The reality is most of us can't write 50-word emails because we are just unclear in what we want the email to do. So, we do what I call the kitchen sink problem. We throw in everything. We're like, here's ROI, here's what we do, here's why we were founded, here's customers we work with."

Jen emphasised the value of maintaining an unsure tonality in cold emails. The presumption that assertive confidence is the key to success is turned on its head. Instead, Jen suggests that a more tentative tone can yield higher reply rates. This approach piques curiosity and invites engagement, a stark departure from the conventional high-confidence, assumptive approach.

Subject lines, often the gateways to successful email engagement, are a critical element of cold-email strategy. Subject lines should be one to three words, devoid of punctuation, emojis, or numbers. The rationale behind this simplicity is rooted in the quest to create subject lines that blend seamlessly with internal emails. By avoiding flashy elements, the subject lines avoid the appearance of overt sales or marketing content, increasing the chances of being opened.

Jen spoke of the "kitchen sink problem", which involves packing emails with every piece of information. It's easy to succumb to the urge of showcasing every facet of one's offering, but this often results in overwhelming the recipient. The remedy lies in the 50-word cold-email principle. By honing in on the core message and purpose, sales reps can create emails that are focused, digestible, and compelling.

In the modern sales landscape, where attention spans are fleeting and inboxes are inundated, Jen's insights offer a beacon of guidance. The art of cold emailing is not solely about assertive sales pitches; it's about brevity, curiosity, and the art of blending in. By mastering these nuances, sales reps can unlock the potential of cold emails as effective tools for initiating meaningful engagements that resonate with recipients and foster a foundation for successful partnerships.

Key takeaways

  1. The evolving landscape is steering sales representatives towards a transformation into trusted advisors. This role shift encompasses an intimate understanding of customer challenges, enabling these professionals to offer tailored solutions that transcend mere product knowledge and cater to the broader needs of clients.
  2. In response to the imperatives of efficiency and resource optimisation, the prominence of full-cycle sales representatives is on the rise. This recalibration of the sales ecosystem empowers versatile professionals who can independently manage their pipelines from initial lead engagement to final deal closure, adapting to the ever-changing sales environment.
  3. A paradigm shift in lead generation strategy involves the empowerment of experienced Account Executives. Rather than relying solely on Sales Development Representatives (SDRs), this approach entrusts those well-versed in the sales process to initiate meaningful engagements, bridging the gap between initial interest and eventual conversion through a more cohesive and insightful approach.
  4. Sales representatives are transcending the conventional bounds of product expertise. The focus is now on understanding and empathising with customer problems, allowing them to provide not just solutions, but valuable insights that resonate with the unique context of each prospect. This shift emphasises a consultative approach over transactional selling.
  5. The modern sales professional is expected to possess a multifaceted skill set. Beyond traditional product knowledge, essential competencies include a deep understanding of business acumen, adept communication, creative problem-solving capabilities, and above all, a customer-centric orientation that prioritises building meaningful relationships and offering impactful solutions.

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