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Are Sales Roles Too Specialized? w/ Bridget Gleason and Anthony Iannarino [Episode 450]

Bridget Gleason is VP of Sales for Logz.io and my regular partner on Front Line Fridays. This episode also features guest Anthony Iannarino, of SalesBlog.com and author of the best-selling book The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need. In this episode, we unpack sales qualification and sales role structure, and how that relates back to driving revenue the right way.

Key Takeaways

  • Anthony has written an article about sales roles being broken down into too many pieces, as in an assembly line. He claims the division is disruptive to the client. Anthony explains his views about qualification.
  • SaaS seems to assume that specialization is the right model. Bridget says that assumption should be challenged. Her Israeli company doesn’t rely on this American concept.
  • Anthony compares and contrasts BDR, SDRs, AEs, and AMs, and Subject Matter Experts (SME). He lays out the case that none of this division appeals to, or adds value for, the client, and the client is not interested in it.
  • The closing success in the SaaS industry is very low compared to traditional B2B sales. Anthony talks about how he targeted multiple stakeholders in 1979. “Bellbottoms are back.” Sales is a cyclical business driven by repeating trends.
  • Bridget has not seen sales specialized to the degree Anthony describes. When she has employed SDRs, they have also closed some business. The way for people to grow is not to be confined into narrowly defined roles.
  • SDRs serve their employer, rather than providing value to a client, and burn out in a year. Bridget says Logz.io truly is committed to the customer, and to the customer experience.
  • You can’t qualify before discovery. You need to understand where the buyer is in their cycle, and how to help them. Not every future customer is ready to buy at this moment. “A lead is like a lottery ticket.” — Andy Paul.
  • Anthony contrasts selling and the pipeline, and looking to a future sale. Help get them ready to buy, or your competitor will do that for them. Show them how to fix their root cause problem. Then they will be qualified.
  • Bridget says BANT is a narrow way to qualify. A broader definition of qualifying involves understanding if the prospect has a pain or aspiration that you can partner with them to resolve, even down the line. Sales is problem-solving.
  • Anthony has no regard for BANT, and current sales roles. Qualifying by BANT gives the prospect no value to listen, so you disqualify people who might have bought.
  • Bridget would define BDRs and SDRs into roles that do more than BANT, because prospects will continue to shut them out. Anthony brings up AI taking over sales roles. Bridget has heard it before.
  • Anthony calls out poor performers. The process itself cannot sell. Selling is a human role. The individual makes the difference. Anthony hails the new Account-Based Andy.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul  0:02  

Hi, this is Andy. Welcome to another edition of Frontline Friday with my regular and very special guest Bridget Gleason. So Bridget, how are you today?


Bridget Gleason  0:57  

Andy, fantastic. No complaints.


Andy Paul  1:07  

All right, and we are honored to be joined by the superstar who is Anthony Iannarino. Anthony, how are you?


Anthony Iannarino  1:15  

I am perfect. Thanks, Andy. How are you?


Andy Paul  1:17  

Good. So we’re honored to have you on our humble show here on Friday. So Anthony, welcome to the show.


Anthony Iannarino  1:43  

Thanks for having me.


Andy Paul  2:12  

Well, yeah, we’re glad to have Anthony here because Anthony had written an article that I thought was really interesting because you know, it pushes back against some of the notions that you have such great currency in the tech industry in Silicon Valley and so on about the very specialized extremely hyper specialized sales roles, and how that works out and I thought, gosh, you know, what better way to talk about this bring Anthony on. I got Bridget who manages sales teams like that, and builds sales teams like that. I thought, Well, hey, let’s get together and talk about it. Anthony, let’s just start by defining what Taylorism is. So people understand that.


Anthony Iannarino  3:04  

Taylorism is the idea of it from the industrial age. And it’s almost like we’re in. And some people call this the second industrial age. But it’s the idea that work can be broken down into specific tasks and made to be more efficient, and thereby gain speed. And the idea was applied to manual labor, particularly factory work. And now what I see I’m calling it Taylorism. Because I think we’re doing the same thing and sales saying, we’re going to separate all these roles, almost like an assembly line. And we’re going to have people that turn this particular lug nut really fast so that we can move the car down, and then this person could do the next lug nut or whatever the case may be. And it really isn’t how sales works in my view. So I think it’s a good idea to say there are specialists in some areas, and there are certain roles that some people might do at a higher rate or more frequently than other people, but to decide to slice it’s so many ways is disruptive. It’s disruptive not to us because we can manage that. But I think it’s disruptive to the client. And when you look at their lens about what it feels like to be qualified, if all the value that somebody’s in a role, that’s as limited as we’ve limited a BDR, where the BDR everybody hates, why? Because if I’m your client, you’re qualifying me. If you do more than qualify me and I hand you off to an eye. They’re mad that you stole all my thunder by giving some value on that call, and now I don’t have anything to do. So it’s a tough roll. But we’ve designed this and sliced it so thinly now that it’s very, very difficult to make sense of what salespeople are supposed to be doing and how they create value for clients.


Bridget Gleason  5:20  

Well, you know, I’ve been a fan to some extent. I think. as you point out Anthony,, it’s good for us on this side. How good is it for our prospect or customer, that depends on really how you define the role of the SDR and I think that they have to bring some value. If they don’t bring some value even to the customer it isn’t or the prospect it’s not worth doing. I thought it was very provocative. Very thoughtful with the team that I have now, I don’t have SDRs or BDR, or whatever you want to call them. And part of it is I think there is value in having a sales rep do sort of the beginning to end of the sales cycle. 


Andy Paul  6:21  

If it’s driven by investors or by people moving from company to company, there’s a basic assumption that this is the most effective sales model.


Bridget Gleason  7:21  

And the discussion we had was interesting and sort of relates to this, which was, yeah, there’s a way of thinking about doing things that it’s kind of like we get into a little bit of groupthink step out of it. And it’s good just to take a step back and look at okay, this is the way we’ve been doing it. Maybe we don’t need to do it this way. Maybe we did because you’re writing, Andy, that is the sort of accepted specialization and there’s reasons to do it. I’m not saying that I’m necessarily opposed to it, but I don’t have them now. 


Anthony Iannarino  8:24  

Let me make one of them for you. I intentionally put in the role of the BDR and the SDR is the same role, or different roles rather when some people think an SDR is a BDR. And some companies now have a BDR and an SDR. Then there’s an SDR and no matter what they do, it has to be handed off to an AE who’s supposed to close it and then it goes to an AM, who’s supposed to be a farmer, and doesn’t have the skill set to create opportunities, but then they’re supposed to come back and help them create an opportunity, even though they haven’t seen that AE since they signed the contract. I mean, we just keep, we just keep slicing thinner and thinner. And then we have salespeople now who are BDRs, and SDRs, and AE’s and AM’s who don’t know anything.


Andy Paul  11:25  

Well, I think one thing they’re doing with this model is that their model for success is against itself as opposed to another model. So, you know, one thing I see is that you have an industry, let’s say the SAAS industry, which probably best exemplifies what you’re talking about brought to the specialization is that in a real world sense, at least based on my decades of experience in b2b sales, what they find acceptable close rates are really low. So they’re sort of self reinforcing the model. They’re accepting local close rates because they’re getting this hyper specialization. And they’re willing to create lots of marginally qualified opportunities and throw lots of margin qualified opportunities into their pipelines. And, you know, they’re happy with a 20% close rate or a 23% close rate.


Bridget Gleason  13:55  

You know, I’m just  reading the specialization that you describe Anthony. I guess I’ve never seen it or I’ve never implemented it to the degree that you have here. So that’s interesting. And I would agree that that takes it a bit too far.


Andy Paul  14:18  

So what have you done?


Bridget Gleason  14:20  

Well, I’ve had SDRs, who also close some businesses, depending on the business. Because I don’t want the thing I The thing that I worry about with something being too scripted or too prescriptive, is that you also make the salespeople dumb in a way. And that’s not what I want. That’s also just my commitment to the people who work for me is to make them better, and to help them grow and to help them learn and the only way they’re going to do it is if their roles are not so narrowly defined. So I guess I look at a structure. But then there’s nuance within the structure. So I’m very structured. I like the process I go to, I like metrics. So there’s something about very clearly defined roles that I like, but I don’t carve them up quite so discreetly. And part of it is because I have a couple of responsibilities in my role as a VP of sales. One obviously is to the business and to deliver revenue and to the shareholders. And that’s all good. Another one, which I would argue is even more important is I have a commitment to the people who work for me, and that’s to help them grow professionally. And that’s how to help them be successful. And if I can achieve that one, it turns out that the company and the investors get what they want also.


Andy Paul  15:56  

Are you an outlier in that regard? 


Bridget Gleason  16:00  

I might be because I mean, I took a job with a company in Israel. Well, I know for San Francisco to Boston, who would do that? I’m out of my mind. 


Andy Paul  16:23  

I’m saying the outlier in the sense that, you know, you get a very clear sense when you talk to a number of VPs of sales in or CEOs even in, you know, tech startups, mostly SAAS in the valley. And not a lot of concern about the fact but that’s the way it is. We know they’re gonna burn out. We’re just gonna keep adding people to that. And it’s been the distinct minority of those. I’ve spoken with CEOs that said, Have the perspective? Have you done anything to say, yeah, I mean, yeah, this is a really crap job. And how can we make this better? How can we bring people in so this job has some value to it that it can have both to the employer as well as anthracite to the prospect, because as currently constituted, has virtually none.


Bridget Gleason  17:17  

And so another point that Anthony made, which is a really good one, and one of the reasons that I was attracted to this company logs IO, where I’m working is they are committed to the to the customer and the customer experience, and not just saying it, because when you say, I’m committed to that experience, and you do the kind of specialization that Anthony is describing, you’re not really committed to it. And so I think I have support to do it maybe a different way. And you know, we found each other’s logs, I have found me, I found them, it’s not good for the individual. It’s not good for the prospect. So I’ve always had to find some balance between creating this flywheel and creating this machine, this mechanism of sales, and one that respects the individual who’s in it and respects the customer and also respects the investment of our investors and revenue goals. And it’s not easy.


Andy Paul  18:24  

So, I’ll ask both you so where do you think it’s gonna go? I mean, I’ve got my thoughts, but I mean, where do you think this is gonna evolve? Cuz it’s not gonna stay the same? I mean, for reasons that Anthony brings up as well as others, which is, quite frankly, it’s not clear that’s really working very well. Right. I mean, there’s some companies that are Yeah, they’re companies that are succeeding and doing well. But that’s not a function of their sales model, right. I mean, it’s market product market fit, its timing, its, lots of other factors, this thing, factorial right weights, so, it’s not the sales model that’s making those companies successful. So we can arguably say It is what it is right now. But there’s no data to prove this is the best optimal model. So where’s it gonna go?


Anthony Iannarino  19:07  

So I think you’ll see probably more people saying there’s going to be a role for an inside person to take and create greater value and own more of the sales process at some level, and I think that the people who get this and who are thinking about it, need to think about what sort of experiences do I need to give somebody in that role so that they can grow into a greater role? Because if all they can do is qualify, that’s their only role, then they’re not going to grow up to be a great salesperson because they’re not given the opportunity to have the experiences that they need for that to be possible for them.


Andy Paul  19:56  

Well, right. I mean, we talked about this word qualifying and I think that yes some companies are saying that we want to bring our SDRs deeper into it and we want to have them help with qualification. But without the context, the experience in the context of actually going through real discovery, let’s say with the prospect, you can’t qualify before discovery all you can qualify as they’re qualified to have a meeting. Not that they’re a qualified opportunity.


Anthony Iannarino  20:21  

Everybody’s doing way too much qualifying anyway. And the reason they’re doing so much qualifying is because they don’t understand where the buyer is in their cycle, and how to help them. You’re supposed to be creating value for that person on the other end, and qualifications not value creating, that’s something that we do, because we think we need to be more efficient, what’s efficient is serving the person that’s dealing with you right now in a way that helps them move forward in the process.


Andy Paul  21:33  

Yeah, well, I mean, you start running up against now, but I wouldn’t say specifically now, but in general, right. So qualification is, it could be an extra criteria for a stage they’re in right. So you have your sales process laid out. And, you know, unless you’re hitting this common definition of what qualification is, then yeah, they don’t go to the pipeline.


Anthony Iannarino  21:56  

Yeah, but that’s that’s a different thing though. Because The pipeline is one thing, but selling is another. And what I mean by that is if I’m having a conversation with someone, and they’re not ready to buy, and they’re not an opportunity yet, but they’re gonna be, I still have an opportunity to create something in the future, I have the ability to create an opportunity in the future. So if they’re not ready to buy right now, I mean, throwing back if you want to, but I’m just saying it’s not a wise choice. Now if you went to the trouble to capture a lead and you actually have one, and it’s not a target, but it’s somebody raised their hand and said, I’m talking to somebody, they’re talking to you for a reason. You have to figure out how to serve them. And I think I think we’re over qualified and going with they’re not ready to buy right now. Yeah, okay, well, who’s going to help them get ready for your competitor, because you’re not gonna, you’re not going to help them, you have to help them so wherever they are, you serve them. But I think it’s tough to do with a BDR SDR role explained mostly by the idea that they check to see if they have a budget, which doesn’t matter anymore. Because nobody has a budget for what you sell, but everybody has the money to buy it, if they believe they need it, then then find the authority when there is no authority anymore, everything’s being decided by consensus except in very small deals.


Andy Paul  24:04  

Yeah, I said this years ago to somebody that we all know who leads a big company in space. The reason this model is kind of nuts is that we take the people who have the least knowledge and least expertise, and we make that our first impression we create the prospect. 


Bridget Gleason  24:34  

Yeah, I think that’s also just in thinking about qualification. But when you’re qualifying, it could be Anthony, as you pointed out, I don’t want BDR, an SDR and anybody to qualify if they’re not ready to buy right now, I don’t want them thrown out. So I think there’s a broader definition of qualifying that is really just understanding. 


Andy Paul  26:01  

I mean, but don’t you think it’s sort of interesting that oftentimes in a lot of companies with this type of inside sales model that one of their key metrics are following is pipeline velocity. 


Bridget Gleason  26:25  

I think it’s okay. I think you’re always qualifying. You’re always qualifying throughout the sales process. I don’t have a problem with qualifying. I think it’s how the qualifying is done. And is there value creation along the way, because if, if I’m on the other side, and this isn’t a good fit, if this solution is not a good fit, please qualify me out. Don’t waste any more of my time. So I think part of it is how it is part of it’s how it’s set up. It can’t be one way if it’s a one way street, the prospects gonna pick that up. Right off the bat, the intent has to be value creation. 


Andy Paul  27:11  

Yeah, no, I agree. I’m sorry. It wasn’t bad.


Anthony Iannarino  27:24  

I just think that in my experience, there’s a lot of qualifying that is BANT. And there’s a lot of conversations that are not real value creation. And there’s a lot of ease and people beyond the BDR, an SDR role who are unhappy when they do value creation. And that’s got to be looked at, then somebody has to look at that and say, What is their role? And are they going to grow? Are they going to be happy in this role? Do they get to develop the kind of client relationships that make sales that fulfilling job? Do they get to work on interesting problems, or are they just gonna dial the phone or answer the phone and ask people questions? To try to determine whether or not they should pass them on to somebody who can do the real value creating. And Andy to your point. I mean, it’s exactly right. Why would you withhold a value creator from a prospective client and give them something less than that at the beginning of the process? It doesn’t make any sense. The first impression is, these people have no idea what’s going on or who I am or what we need. So I can move on to the next thing. 


Bridget Gleason  28:24  

I go back to what is actually how you define that role. And if you have it so narrowly defined, and it’s really just banned, figure out then do that. And I would agree that there are some that have definitely taken that approach. I think that’s going to go away because I don’t think our prospects and customers will stand for it. 


Andy Paul  29:22  

And yeah, if we’re not going to get better, if you are missing this, and you’re an SDR and you’re thinking, yeah, I can’t add more value than then what AI with machine learning can do then yeah, you’re gonna be out of work. And this is where, human to human interaction, human to human basis, really becomes a distinct skill. This becomes more important, not less important, more important, and it’s great. A key differentiator going forward, I believe a key differentiator going forward.


Bridget Gleason  30:04  

Well there’s this notion that sales people are coin operated. And you know what if you treat them like they’re coin operated, you’re gonna get nothing better than a coin operated person or machine. And I’ll tell you, the person on the other end of the phone or the email is going to pick up that I’ve got just a click above a machine on the other side, that’s going through the process and that’s, I don’t see that persisting and and I know that my people in the valley may disagree.


Anthony Iannarino  31:22  

It’s always leadership, and that’s what I think this is. And that’s why I wrote it. I think it’s a charge for leadership to think about what we do. And do we serve the people that work for us and do we serve the client.


Andy Paul  31:34  

But I think part of the issue too, is that these processes become so rigid, as I mentioned before, is the irony here is that, we’ve got disruptive industries, they’re valuing conformity, and it’s like, you know, if I look back on when I started this a big company, multi billion dollar company, and you know, we had 12 salespeople in the office and the other in essence, we’re selling 12 sales processes going on. But we had the same distribution of success as every other sales organization does.


Anthony Iannarino  32:56  

It’s individual.


Andy Paul  34:14  

And all the industry reports that we see that we commonly see, don’t show that with all the infusion of technology into the sales space, that it’s made us better as a professional, that our performance has gotten better, that we’re closing a higher fraction of deals in the business to business sphere. I mean, I’d be glad if somebody showed me a stat that’s different, but I look at CSO insights and Forrester and so on. They’re saying, Yeah, we’re actually getting by a little worse.


Anthony Iannarino  34:42  

But Andy, we didn’t have account based marketing selling just now. So that will cure all the problems that social selling didn’t care about, and that will cure all the problems that CRM was supposed to solve. And finally, we’ll be closing the business the way we should when we can actually monitor All of these things across the sales process with an account based approach. I promise you, you’ll see a massive spike from CSO next year.


Andy Paul  35:11  

All right. Well,we’ve gone on a little bit longer. We thought we were but any other final points? 


Bridget Gleason  36:03  

Let’s do it again, write something else really provocative, and we’ll keep having you back on.


Andy Paul  36:18  

All right, so actually, yeah, we’ll talk offline but get you scheduled for that. And Bridget as always, fantastic. Thanks for listening to us again, as we really appreciate, come back again next Friday. And until then, good selling everyone.