September 15, 2023

Why inbound SDRs shouldn’t exist

20 min read

The role of Inbound Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) is facing increasing scrutiny. While these professionals were once considered essential to the sales process, today, there's a growing debate about whether their existence aligns with the preferences and behaviours of modern buyers.

In a recent episode of The Sales Syndicate Podcast, featuring Jamie Pagan, Marketing Director at Selligence, and Arthur Castillo, Head of Dark Social and Evangelism at Chili Piper, we explored the compelling reasons why inbound SDRs may no longer be a strategic fit for businesses looking to optimise their sales strategies and provide a seamless buying experience.

We also discussed the challenges posed by Inbound SDRs, the changing dynamics of the buyer's journey, and alternative approaches that can enhance customer interactions and drive sales success. In this article we reconsider the role of Inbound SDRs in today's sales landscape.

In this article:
  1. The evolution of the sales process and the role of SDRs with Arthur Castillo
  2. The Shift in SaaS sales roles and market trends
  3. Why inbound SDRs shouldn’t exist
  4. The Sales Development Representative (SDR) role
  5. The role of an inbound Sales Development Representative (SDR)
  6. B2B Buyer Best Practices report
  7. Future trends in Sales Development Roles

The evolution of the sales process and the role of SDRs

On the podcast Arthur began by highlighting how the sales process has evolved over the years. "In the past," he explained, a traditional sales representative was a jack-of-all-trades, responsible for both bringing in customers and servicing them once they were onboard. It was a one-size-fits-all approach to sales.

However, as businesses started to scale and the complexity of products and services increased, the sales process began to fragment. Companies realised that a more specialised approach was necessary to effectively close deals and meet the diverse needs of their customers.

"The sales process then became more segmented," Arthur continued, "with distinct roles emerging within the sales team." This segmentation included:

  • Outbound Hunters: These sales professionals were tasked with actively seeking out potential customers, often through cold outreach and prospecting.
  • Demo/Nurturing Specialists: Their role was to provide in-depth product or service demonstrations and nurture leads through the sales funnel.
  • Prospecting Experts: These team members focused solely on identifying and qualifying leads, ensuring that only the most promising prospects moved forward in the sales pipeline.

Additionally, Inbound SDRs emerged as a response to the growing importance of online presence. Inbound SDRs were created to handle incoming leads, engage with interested prospects, and ensure that they received the information and assistance they needed.

While this level of segmentation has undoubtedly improved sales efficiency and effectiveness, Arthur acknowledged that it has sometimes been orchestrated as part of a company's sales processes rather than a reflection of how modern buyers want to buy.

Companies often implement these segmented roles because it seems like the logical approach," he noted. But it's essential to remember that buyers' preferences and behaviours have also evolved.

Arthur stressed that the current sales process needs to be revaluated to ensure alignment with how modern buyers want to engage with businesses. Today's buyers are more informed and connected than ever before. They often research products and services online, engage with content, and expect personalised, value-driven interactions.

As a result, sales teams must find ways to adapt their processes to meet these changing expectations. This doesn't mean abandoning segmentation entirely. Instead, it means finding the right balance between specialisation and a customer-centric approach that respects the buyer's journey.

The Shift in SaaS Sales Roles and Market Trends

The world of SaaS sales has witnessed significant transformations due to the explosive growth in the market. This growth, however, contributed to a common challenge: defining clear roles within sales teams.

In the heyday of SaaS expansion, companies eagerly expanded their sales teams, often making sales representatives one of their first hires after securing funding. This led to bloated sales teams where role definitions became blurry.

In recent times, the SaaS market has returned to a more sustainable state. Companies have recognised that many sales reps don't necessarily guarantee higher revenue. Consequently, there's a trend towards streamlining sales teams, accompanied by the revival of "full cycle sales."

Full cycle sales, where sales reps handle both inbound and outbound sales, is making a comeback out of necessity. Companies now see the value in having reps who can engage with prospects throughout the entire sales process, prompted not only by cost considerations but also by evolving buyer preferences.

Buyer behaviour is also influencing this shift. Modern buyers lean towards self-service, seeking information and making decisions independently. This preference places greater importance on sales reps being versatile and capable of providing support at every stage of the buyer's journey.

Notably, some sales leaders and companies have long favoured the full cycle sales model or close collaboration between sales and marketing, reducing reliance on SDRs. They recognized that involving sales reps throughout the sales process could lead to stronger customer relationships and improved conversion rates.

While the trend toward full cycle sales is gaining momentum, it's a work in progress. Transitioning from a model reliant on SDRs to one where salespeople handle their own demos can be challenging, revealing the diversity of skill sets within sales teams. This shift emphasises the need for continuous training and adaptation.

Why Inbound SDRs Should Not Exist

In today's evolving sales landscape, there's a growing debate around the role of Inbound Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) or Marketing Development Representatives (MDRs). Some assert that these roles are no longer aligned with the preferences of modern buyers.

Modern buyers have become proactive researchers, navigating most of their buying journey independently before engaging with potential vendors. The question arises: should a junior SDR, often lacking the expertise or information needed to provide real value, be the initial point of contact for a potential buyer? The first interaction should ideally offer a seamless and informative experience.

Critics argue that Inbound SDRs can introduce unnecessary hurdles into the buying process. Modern buyers seek quick answers, particularly regarding pricing and use cases. Inserting an additional gate or step, such as an Inbound SDR, can slow down the process and impede the buyer's progress.

Timing is crucial in today's fast-paced business environment. Delaying the process or subjecting buyers to multiple calls before they can access the product or pricing information can result in missed opportunities and reduced deal-closing prospects. The debate centres on whether Inbound SDRs genuinely serve the customer or prioritise company-centric goals and metrics. Sometimes, the pressure to rapidly qualify leads can overshadow the buyer's actual needs.

Advocates for a buyer-centric approach argue that technology and tools can often supplant the role of an Inbound SDR. Automated systems can streamline the buyer's journey, granting swift access to information and a more seamless experience. Instead of Inbound SDRs, there's a growing emphasis on full-cycle sales representatives. These professionals are equipped to provide value and address the buyer's needs right from the outset of the engagement. This approach aligns more closely with the modern buyer's desire for efficiency and immediate solutions.

Outbound SDRs vs. Inbound SDRs

In the realm of sales development, one interesting role that has gained attention is the Marketing Development Representative (MDR). Positioned between the Sales Development Representative (SDR) and the Account Executive (AE), the MDR role serves a unique purpose within the sales organisation. Its primary responsibility is to handle inbound leads. This strategic division places SDRs in a purely outbound role, while MDRs focus exclusively on inbound leads.

This approach can be particularly beneficial for companies dealing with complex sales processes or targeting multiple verticals. The MDR role adds an additional layer of lead qualification, allowing for more in-depth conversations tailored to the content the prospect engaged with. It can also be viewed as a cost-saving measure, as it leverages a lower-cost role to manage the high volume of inbound leads.

However, some considerations arise with the MDR role. One critique is that it may not be perceived as a true sales position since it primarily focuses on setting meetings and may lack other critical sales skills. Furthermore, the separation of roles between inbound and outbound leads could lead to inefficiencies and overlaps in responsibilities.

Additionally, fragmenting the customer experience by having different roles handle various stages of the sales process can present challenges. It may result in disjointed interactions that don't align seamlessly with the buyer's journey.

Another potential issue lies in the expectations of Account Executives (AEs). AEs may come to expect exclusively qualified leads and could be inclined to quickly disqualify unqualified leads, potentially missing out on future opportunities.

Breaking down the role of Inbounds SDRs

Firstly, it's a strategic move when a company targets multiple verticals. By specialising the outbound SDR's focus on a select few key verticals and routing other leads directly to the Account Executive (AE), the sales team can ensure a more tailored and efficient approach. This specialisation allows for a deeper understanding of industry-specific nuances and challenges, ultimately enhancing the sales process.

Secondly, the role of an Inbound SDR can significantly enhance the first call experience, especially for leads who may not immediately fit the criteria of ideal customers. Instead of solely focusing on qualification, the Inbound SDR can provide additional value by engaging in meaningful conversations. They can delve into the prospect's pain points, share real customer success stories, and offer educational insights relevant to the industry. This approach not only builds rapport but also positions the company as a valuable resource.

Thirdly, adopting an anti-sales approach can set the Inbound SDR apart as a trusted advisor rather than a pushy salesperson. Instead of immediately pushing for a demo or sale, the Inbound SDR can take the time to coach the prospect through potential solutions, even if they don't involve the company's product.

This consultative approach demonstrates a commitment to solving the prospect's problem, regardless of whether it benefits the company directly. Over time, this strategy can help build trust and credibility with prospects, ultimately leading to stronger customer relationships.

Discussion on B2B Buyer Best Practices Report

The recent B2B Buyer Best Practices Report, co-authored by Arthur Castillo, delved into the world of B2B purchasing preferences and how they align with the practices of the top 100 SaaS companies.

The B2B Buyer Best Practices Report aimed to assess whether the top 100 SaaS companies aligned with these preferences. It conducted a comprehensive analysis, focusing on several key aspects:

  • Pricing Information: The report found that 57% of the top SaaS companies had a pricing page on their website, and of those, an impressive 80% displayed pricing information. This transparency was a positive step in meeting buyer expectations.
  • Interactive Demos: Only 17% of the analysed companies offered interactive demos on their website before prospects were required to engage with sales. This indicated a potential area for improvement in providing the interactive experience buyers seek.
  • Calendar Booking: Surprisingly, only 11% of the companies provided the option for prospects to book meetings directly from their forms when exhibiting high intent. This lack of direct calendar booking added an extra step in the engagement process.
  • Responsiveness: A notable finding was that 35% of the companies did not respond to outreach attempts. For those that did respond, it took an average of two days to receive a human response. This highlighted the need for improved responsiveness in the B2B sales process.
  • Lead Routing: Approximately 67% of incoming requests were directed to Sales Development Representatives (SDRs), while 25% were routed to Account Executives (AEs). The remaining 8% were directed to other roles such as customer success or product experts. The report noted that many companies did not allow for direct booking, and an SDR often booked time on behalf of the AE, adding complexity to the engagement process.

In conclusion, the B2B Buyer Best Practices Report underscores the importance of aligning sales practices with buyer preferences. While some top SaaS companies demonstrated pricing transparency, there's room for improvement in providing interactive demos, enhancing responsiveness, and simplifying the engagement process.

As the B2B landscape continues to evolve, adapting to these buyer-centric preferences will be crucial for companies seeking to thrive in the competitive market.

Future trends in Sales Development Roles

A Shift Towards Full-Cycle Roles: Arthur predicts a notable reduction in traditional sales roles, signalling a growing preference for full-cycle positions. This change is in direct response to the evolving demands of modern buyers who seek a more holistic and integrated approach to their purchasing journeys.

Emergence of New Go-to-Market Strategies: The future of sales development will witness the rise of innovative go-to-market strategies. Among these, product-led growth and strategic partnerships will take centre stage. Companies are increasingly recognising the value of leveraging their products as key drivers of growth and forming collaborative alliances to expand their reach.

Marketing and Partnerships as Growth Catalysts: As buyers increasingly take charge of their purchasing decisions, marketing and partnerships will assume a more prominent role in driving growth. These functions will work in tandem to create compelling narratives, engage prospects, and establish trust in the absence of direct sales interactions.

Expansion Revenue and "Land and Expand": Arthur emphasises the significance of expansion revenue, highlighting the "land and expand" motion as a pivotal strategy for sustained growth. This approach focuses on not only acquiring new customers but also nurturing existing relationships to uncover upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

Balanced Distribution of Resources: In the future, organisations are expected to adopt a more balanced distribution of headcount and budget across marketing, sales, and customer success. This holistic approach ensures that every aspect of the customer lifecycle is adequately resourced, fostering long-term satisfaction and loyalty.

In conclusion, the future of Sales Development roles promises a transformative journey, characterised by the redefinition of traditional sales structures, innovative go-to-market strategies, specialised sales forces, and a harmonious synergy between marketing, partnerships, and customer success. These trends reflect a dynamic response to the changing dynamics of the B2B sales landscape and a commitment to meeting the evolving needs of customers.

Key takeaways

  1. Sales Evolution and Specialisation: The sales process has evolved from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more specialized one. Specialised roles like outbound hunters, demo/nurturing specialists, and prospecting experts have emerged to cater to diverse customer needs and complex products.
  2. SaaS Sales Transformation: The SaaS industry has seen a shift towards more streamlined sales teams and the resurgence of full-cycle sales roles. This change is driven by the recognition that a large sales team doesn't necessarily equate to higher revenue.
  3. Challenges of Inbound SDRs: Inbound Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) are being questioned in the modern sales landscape, with debates about their alignment with buyer preferences. Some argue that they add unnecessary steps and delays in the buying process.
  4. Balancing Specialisation and Buyer-Centricity: The key challenge is finding the right balance between specialised roles and a customer-centric approach. Companies need to adapt their processes to align with how modern buyers want to engage.
  5. Future Sales Trends: Future trends include a shift towards full-cycle roles, innovative go-to-market strategies like product-led growth and partnerships, increased emphasis on marketing and partnerships, focus on expansion revenue through "land and expand" strategies, and a more balanced distribution of resources across marketing, sales, and customer success to provide holistic customer experiences.

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