The Role of Account Execs in the Sales Development Process, with Bridget Gleason [Episode 90]

My regular guest on Front Line Friday is Bridget Gleason, VP of Corporate Sales for SumoLogic. In this episode, Bridget discusses how companies are managing the evolving role of Account Execs in the overall sales process. Included among the topics we discuss in this conversation are:

  • How to align the roles of the AE and the SDR
  • The situations where further specialization of AE responsibilities makes sense
  • Who should handle follow-up to inbound leads: SDRs or AEs?
  • The most effective way to quickly take leads off the market
  • Why “Maybe” is the worst result for an AE and steps you can take to avoid it.

If you’re a sales leader or sales manager, then be sure to join us for this episode!

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul: Bridget, how are you this morning?

Bridget Gleason: I am doing great, Andy, how are you?

Andy Paul: Good. I managed to escape the Snowmageddon in New York and out here in San Diego. So I can have a little bit better weather to speak with you today.

Bridget Gleason: I know. Take advantage of it. I know that you go back and forth, so you probably are not going to totally miss Snowmageddon on the East coast.

Andy Paul: It was beautiful when it happened. It was a little windy, but I was just looking at the city because from our windows we can see a good chunk of Manhattan and it, yeah, it was quite impressive storm. So anyway, today I thought, we spent so much time ind the past episodes we’ve talked about sales development reps and the role of sales development, where it’s going in 2016. So I thought today we’d focus on account execs. Seems like everyone is always focused on sales development rep, so let’s talk about account execs and.

Really their role in the process, overall sales process. And you don’t talk about what you look for when you hire, but job description looks like, yeah, how do you correlate the expertise you’re looking for? You’re looking for relative to what the customers need and so on. So let’s start at the beginning is how do you divide your sales process? What’s your handover point between your sales development reps to your account execs?

Bridget Gleason: So ours, I’ll talk about what ours is right now at SumoLogic. And then I’ll talk about where we’re going. So right now it’s Sumo Logic. We’ve got the SDRs for the field team, and we’re just now introducing them for the corporate team.

So that would be for SumoLogic that’s SMB and mid-market, and the reason for that is at SumoLogic, we started really primarily as a field org with a lot of big sales, lot of big displacements and found that we’ve got huge opportunity in the SMB and corporate space, SMB, mid market space, rather.

And so we’ve been able to get along just fine. We have a super strong product with the reps, doing their own prospecting, and haven’t seen the need as much for the SDR function. And that has radically changed. Part of it is, as we’ve talked about, it’s just harder and harder to get that first meeting.

There’s a lot that you need to know about a contact, a prospect, how they’re connected, lots of different ways in. So we’re now introducing, we’re introducing, SDRs to the, SMB and mid market space. Because the time that it takes and the amount of time that our account executives were spending on prospecting was disproportionate to the amount of time that they were actually running sales cycles and closing, and where that really got, it got us in a lot of places, but one of the things you mentioned early on in the opening of this is, profiles, what you look for in the skill set, et cetera, we found that we would have a skillset mismatch when we needed a lot of really SDR type responsibilities and activities.

And that was a large part of the job function when we really don’t want it to be such a large job part of the job function. So we saw issues all throughout the process by not having good specialization and really dividing up those functions of the, kind of the SDR and prospecting function and then the account executive running the deal and closings functions.

Andy Paul: Yeah. And I would think that your, what you were seeing over time, this is your account execs became yeah, a little bit call reluctant and some of the prospecting because they really want to focus on this other and, yeah, maybe we just, weren’t making as many prospecting calls as they should.

Bridget Gleason: and some of it is not making as many prospecting calls as they should, I didn’t actually, for us, I didn’t have as much of a problem with that. We have a really motivated team but they were frustrated by it because they were doing, 70 to 80% of their time doing essentially an SDR role and very little time of the, of an account executive function and that’s not what they came to SumoLogic to do. And the other area where we found where this really came to, create more problems is we have, a technical sale and selling to developers and CEOs and CTOs, the the account executives also need a lot of at bats and experience talking to real prospects, not just getting in the door.

And so it’s slowed down their ability to ramp as quickly as we would like them to. So we really saw the lack of specialization in this or our slowness to adopt it. It just had a lot, it had ripple effect all throughout that just slowed everything down to much more so than we would like would have.

Andy Paul: Yeah. And if I were one of your account execs on the small business and mid cap space, I would have an envious of the account executive in the larger space that we’re getting that SDR support.

Bridget Gleason: Oh, believe me. Oh, believe me. Yes, indeed. There’s a lot of that while I want to go be a field rep and, we’re again, it’s great that we’re now introducing that function and another in other companies, EngineYard, YesWare, where we always had the SDR function both for, not as much for SMB, cause that’s typically gets a lot of inbound, but we definitely had for midmarket and enterprise. So I have a good sense of what we want to get here and for us, we’re still at SumoLogic, we’re still working to generate more and more inbound. So as our marketing team is ramping, this outbound function is super important for our SDRs. So for SumoLogic, the outbound team that I have, and, or the SDR team that I have, and I’d love to just get your thoughts on this. They’re going to be spending really the majority of their time on outbound efforts, I’m going to have the account executives still handle the inbound. We don’t get enough of it right now that it’s burdensome. Over time I can see us having an inbound and outbound SDR teams, but right now we’re going to let the account executives handle the inbound. Cause those tend to be pretty well qualified.

Andy Paul: Yeah. And I think that. It seems if you get more inbound than, yeah, you’re an opportunity maybe to have a specialized SDR team for that you would want to have people that are probably, one step away from being ready to be account execs, they’re on that path.

But to me, at least you definitely want those inbounds, as you said, since they tend to be a little more self qualified, a little more highly qualified, perhaps in a relative sense, is you want to have good people working in cause you want to be able to get them through that process more quickly.

Bridget Gleason: So here’s a question for you, Andy. I was talking to someone yesterday about their SDR teams and here’s the progression path that they have at their company. So you come in entry level as an inbound SDR, then you move to an outbound SDR and then you move to an account executive. And I thought that was interesting because I’ve also seen it the other way. You start as an outbound. Then you go to inbound and then you go to an account executive. What are your thoughts on that?

Andy Paul: Yeah, I would do the latter. I think that if you have people coming in on an inbound that yeah, in a relative sense, they’re gonna be more qualified and, part of that self qualification effect, they’re picking up the phone or sending in a specific request and by an inbound lead, I’m talking about either someone that’s gone through your lead scoring process or somebody that specifically has asked to be able to speak to sales.

And if that’s the case, to me they’re teed up and I want to have somebody with the right amount of experience that can move them more quickly through their buying process, which is what the goal you’d hope we’d be able to do, then to have somebody that’s less experienced and it’s take longer and cause to me, the worst alignment misalignment you can get is inbound lead that has pre-educated themselves, that has a predisposition to want to move forward. And you have the wrong person talking to them. That takes too much time and search too much time into the selling process. Can’t answer their questions upfront and then going to the competition.

Bridget Gleason: Yeah, I would agree with you. That’s what, that’s why I thought that other progression path was interesting. I hadn’t heard it that way before, but I do try to keep an open mind and think about, okay, what might be the potential benefits of doing it? That way. I don’t know what they, I don’t know what they are.

I tend to agree with you that I would, if it’s inbound, that’s going to require, in my opinion, more sales savvy to be able to get that account, to get that prospect to the next level than someone just trying to get a first.

Andy Paul: Yeah. And I put it into the context for people that are listening. I think about this, making this decision about which type of rep should you have more experience, less experience, is when you get an inbound lead, what’s your job is to take that lead off the market. And by that, make it unavailable to your competitors. That should be your goal. And so in order to do that, how do you do that? Will you engage them in a great sales process early on? You ask the right questions, you build your trust and credibility quickly by having the information that helps them move through their buying process more quickly.

And if you can do that, then yeah. You eliminate their temptation to go speak to anybody else. That’s why responsiveness and timeliness is so important in those first interactions, eliminate their temptation, eliminate their need to go speak to other competitors.

Bridget Gleason: Andy, I like that phrase take the lead off the market. That should be your goal. Take it off the market. that’s exactly right. You want to hook them in enough that they are at least emotionally invested, gosh, this sounds like the right decision. And then they just go and collect data to justify that decision that they’ve mentally made, even if they’re not aware of it yet.

Andy Paul: No, absolutely. people don’t want to spend more time in their buying process than they absolutely have to. It, so it’s a check mark on their to do list. And then only when something’s in your to do list, what do you want to do? Get it off your, to do list, make it easy for them to do that.

Bridget Gleason: Yeah. It’s I tell my reps this also, when they hear objections from prospects, oftentimes the prospect isn’t throwing the objection up because they’re seriously looking at other alternatives. What they’re looking for is can you take this off my, to do list, validate, confirm that this is the right decision for me. Just help me feel good about this. And so every question that they ask or objection that they put up is an opportunity to give them the peace of mind they’re looking for. I’m making a good decision here. I’m making a good decision here. Cause that’s really what they’re asking. Am I making the right decision?

Andy Paul: or even one step before that, is this a decision I can make? And with all the studies have come out recently, I think the most recent one from SBI was that 60 plus, roughly 60% of the opportunities in a pipeline forecasted, never closed. Go to a no decision. As I like to say to people, is that think about the buying process, a circle two steps.

The first step is what I call the decision step, where the customer is going to make a decision, whether or not they’re going to buy something.

The second step is they’re gonna make a choice about who to buy it from. So you have to get to the past that decision step first.

Bridget Gleason: I think that’s interesting. 60%. I wrote that down 60% of pipeline goes to no decision. Wow.

Andy Paul: I’ve seen other studies where it was 50%. So assuming that there’s credibility in that, right, I think that the worst thing that you can do as a sales rep is have a deal go to no decision. I know people think about the other way. At least we didn’t lose it.

Bridget Gleason: I disagree.

Andy Paul: And I’m like, I had are you kidding? you’ve just invested all this time and we didn’t get them off of square one.

Bridget Gleason: I agree with you, Andy. I think maybe it’s the worst. No decision is the worst. And if it’s a no, then you know what to do next. The no decision, the limbo that’s the time killer for salespeople. So I agree with you. I would push for decision. No decision is the worst.

Andy Paul: It means we didn’t do a good enough job of even convincing them at the basic level that there’s a reason they should move forward. We didn’t communicate anything about the value of what it is we’re selling, sufficiently so that they could make a decision that, yeah, this was even worthwhile for them to pursue it. It wasn’t better than the alternative, what they have, which is sticking with the status,

Bridget Gleason: Or even that we’ve given them enough information and gone through the process that they make the decision. It’s not, there’s not enough value in me moving forward.

Andy Paul: Yes. that’s an affirmative decision too. And that’s what people I think don’t understand is that the decision on the part of the customer to do nothing is a referendum on you hear and your selling. It is a decision. And they said, yeah, you basically, yeah, you didn’t impress me enough in any dimension to say that this is better than what I’m sticking with right now.

So it’s not, yeah. Oftentimes most sales people tend to think, they didn’t make a decision, they decided to do nothing. Yeah, not really. They made a, they made an actual decision. They evaluated their alternatives and you just didn’t rise to the level of making it worth their time.

Okay. We’re going to take a quick break and we’ll come back. We’re gonna keep talking about while we’re talking. Sorry about account execs. We’ll come back and talk about account execs later.

All right. Welcome back frontline Friday with my guest, Bridget Gleason, we’re talking about account execs. We gotten off track a little bit talking about inbound versus outbound sales development reps.

We seem to keep gravitating back toward that topic. So I was gonna ask you a question so about account exec. So what are you looking for when you hire in this role. What’s the job description look like?

Bridget Gleason: So for my team, so let’s say an SMB and mid-market team. I look for individuals that have had a couple of years of successful sales experience and sometimes Andy, this is hard to determine from a resume. And I say successful because I think you, and I’ve talked about this, that it’s possible to be, have sold for five years and have first year sales experience, five years in a row. What I’m looking for is someone who’s had, let’s say three years of sales experience, but they’ve actually grown in each of those three years.

So it’s not three one year stints of sales experience, they have to have grown and evolved. So it’s going to, I look for progression because that indicates to me a willingness and capability to learn to evolve.

Andy Paul: Does that necessarily mean they stayed at one company for three years and progressed in that environment?

Bridget Gleason: Not necessarily. Not necessarily. It’s, I’ll tell you, it’s tricky with millennials because you look at the stats, they move around a lot more. They don’t worry about going and spending a year and a half year. I worry if there’s, if it’s a too quick a hop, because what that means for me is they’re just as likely to do a hop here at SumoLogic and then hop out. And the difficulties, you never get to that level of proficiency where they hit the productivity that you need them to hit.

Andy Paul: Yeah. And that’s why I’d asked the question, if in the course of three years they’ve had two jobs or maybe three before they come to you. Yeah. Have they been able to get through the learning curve and achieve true proficiency?

Bridget Gleason: Yeah. And I wouldn’t rule them out, but I interview them more carefully. So I look for, as I said, I look for some success. I always liked, I don’t remember where I first heard the phrase that success leaves tracks. So looking for where they’ve been successful, whether it was in school, in another job, in a summer job and an internship, having that drive to move forward, I do look for Andy, sticktoitofness. So my concern about job hopping is that you won’t stick through the potential ups and downs that you could have in a sales cycle, especially in a technical sale.

And our sales cycles are not, we’re not transactional. They’re not six months long, but they can be 30 days to 90 days. And for a millennial that’s a long time. So I need someone that has some sticktuitiveness. I’m a sucker for smart. And that doesn’t mean just book smart, but, and also just, clever, resourceful, resilient, dedicated. I really look for all of those things also. And then they’ve got to have a good team player. They have to fit with the core values of what we look for here at SumoLogic.

Andy Paul: So how do you, how that, this is fascinating to me because excuse me, if you’re looking to recruit and your pool of potential candidates are, let’s say in the main, are people that have never been any place more than a year and a half, how do you assess that? I look at the success.

Somebody could do me, the, always one of the hard parts about gauging track record of salespeople is that, gosh, they spent two years at one company, but that company was just on fire when they were there and all they had to do was show up. Pretty much, and they were gonna sell a certain amount and you’ve all seen that. And you know, in the past, we’ve recognized the people come from sort of these feeder companies that, quite frankly, they didn’t have to do a whole lot. They didn’t have to be resilient. They didn’t see the ups and downs. It was always just a rocket ship. So in those types of environments, how do you evaluate this track record? How do you evaluate the footprints? As you said, find the footprints that really measure their success as opposed to just being part of an organization that was just blowing it up.

Bridget Gleason: Yeah, I think about that a lot when I interview. I always look at the company and is the company one of these where it just has that sort of reputation or you can, what is the growth been? If you can find that out, you can’t always find that out. But I think that’s an important consideration is were they just in this machine where it was working and asking a lot of questions about what their day looked like, how, what did they do to get a deal?

What was the inbound? How long were the sales cycles? If you start digging in and what would you do here? What would your first 30 days look like? Giving them a, scenarios. How would you behave in this scenario? We have to dig in it. We have to dig in a lot. I think it’s hard. It’s always been hard to interview salespeople in my opinion, and really find and recruit the good ones. It’s hard to tell. It’s always been hard to tell because the situation you’re describing about being caught up in this machine has been true since I started selling many years ago. I will not give the exact number but the other thing that’s interesting, Andy, that is coming to be a reality, and the CEO and I were talking about this last night, that given the millennials and the way they work and how long they stay and their propensity to move. That’s a reality that we’ve got to adjust to.

I’m not going to change the way they behave and how they think about jobs and progression. And a few months in that they’re ready to be promoted. So what that means for me is that it’s going to be hard for me to get to that proficiency that I would expect, like when you and I first started, when you’d have three, four, five years on a job and you’d really get good at it.

So my challenge, and I think the challenges for sales leaders out there is I’ve got to create, I’ve got to create a machine and I’ve got to create a system that I’m not relying on. I’ve gotta be able to rely on Bs. B players and B’s only in that they may not get to that level of proficiency. I just, I have to create a machine where I can be successful if they, if people never hit that peak because it’s getting harder and harder to plan for that.

Andy Paul: That’s really a fascinating when you think about it. And how often you hear people say, I have to rely on the B players, but that’s really true. if you’re looking at an efficient process and efficiency. And I can buy, drawing an analogy to a two sports teams here. But if you look at the teams let’s say in professional football, that do good year after year after year. And let’s take the New England Patriots as an example, everybody hates Belicheck and talks about, but the fact is the man’s brilliant, right? Because he’s developed a system where the players by and large, a sort of B players. Yeah. He’s got a star and Brady and maybe a superstar in Brady and maybe some, lesser stars and a couple of positions, pretty much you look at the running back position over the last 10 years. It’s, interchangeable parts of the receivers by and large interchangeable parts. He finds the people that aren’t necessarily the superstars, but they fit into the process and the process works so well that as a whole it generates succes.

Bridget Gleason: I, Andy you and I’ve talked about this a bazillion times. I’m such an avid reader, so I can’t help, but reference the most recent book I’m reading, which is Team of Teams by General McChrystal. And he talks about this very point in today’s, he’s talking about for business as well as sales teams and in the military, more important today, how we function as a team than relying on individual superstars. And then that’s what you’re talking about with the New England Patriots. And it’s what I believe is our challenge to build in a modern, functional, effective sales org. Is you’ve got to have of the machinery that doesn’t require the superstar A-players and you’ve got to have something about this network and how the team works together. And we’re at the end of our fiscal year. And it’s super exciting on the floor, as some of these deals are coming in and everybody’s getting behind it. There’s something about this. Everybody’s a team really coming together and helping one another. And I think it’s this combination of being able to be effective and successful with less proficiency. And I say, B players, only in that they may never stay long enough to turn themselves into A’s the situation. So a B player in the situation, the good machinery to help make or create an environment of success. And then this teamwork, and the emotional mental aspect that I think people working together or powerful than a bunch of individuals operating on their own.

Andy Paul: Oh yeah. I agree. A hundred percent. And it’s interesting hearing your perspective on that cause when you hear, and you talk about millennials, I, on the day we’re recording this, an episode that’s being released is all about managing millennials with the guest Lee Carahar who’s written a book about it. But teamwork is really important for millennials feeling part of a team effort. But what you’re saying is that isn’t enough at the end of the day to keep them around them.

Bridget Gleason: I don’t see any evidence that it is. It may be enough to keep them at a company, but they want to keep progressing. They want to try different roles. They want to, it’s a challenge, it’s going to be so interesting to see how this plays out three years from now, five years from now. And how we’ve, how we adapt to it. But it’s challenging. It’s challenging.

Andy Paul: It will be challenging for millennials, three to five years from now, they’re gonna start having families and kids and relationships, and already you’re hearing about the generation coming after them who have now just starting to hit the marketplace and some of these characteristics we talked about and recognize those as real beneficial with millennials and the flexibility and the team orientation on its own are even accentuated apparently in this next generation coming through. So I’ll be interested to see how those generations begin to meld too.

Bridget Gleason: I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine I’m not ready to tackle that one quite yet, but who knows we may have to sooner rather than sooner.

Andy Paul: The next generation following them. This is absolutely the first true digital generation. And not just digital, but the first true smartphone generation. it’s really, it’s going to be fascinating to watch the impact they have on the workforce.

Bridget Gleason: It is really interesting.

Andy Paul: Good. that wraps it up for today. A great discussion about count execs, inbound and outbound SDRs, a lot of good ground covered and as always, thank you, Bridget, for joining me and we’ll look forward to talking to you next week.

Bridget Gleason: Awesome. Have a great weekend.