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Intentional Outbound Marketing, with Mercy Bell [Episode 736]

As always, I have another great episode lined up for today. Joining me as my guest on this week’s episode is Mercy Bell. Mercy is an Analyst at Dogpatch Advisors. Now, in this week’s episode, we’re going to talk about new business development using what Mercy calls Intentional Outbound, which is a way for outbound reps to creatively form human connections with their buyers.

So in this conversation, Mercy and I dive into why the whole B2B sales profession is in need, maybe dire need of greater diversity. And of course, great diversity from the composition of the sales teams, but also diversity in terms of incorporating diverse points of view that come from having greater diversity among our sales profession and fresh perspectives. I mean, if you spent any time at all on LinkedIn following sales thought leaders still know exactly what we’re talking about there.

We’ll talk about Mercy’s unique path into sales from working in a call center in college, tried to raise money from wealthy alumni. We’ll talk about why creativity is so important in sales. And this is a favorite topic of mine. We’ve talked about many times in the show, immerses can share how customers first impression of you really speaks to your creativity or your lack thereof. And we’ll get into how sales managers can encourage this creativity in their sales reps and help their reps learn how to improvise within their structure of sales process to improve their performance. We’ll get into that and much, much more.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul  0:00  

It’s time to accelerate. Hey friends, this is Andy. Welcome to Episode 736 of Accelerate the Sales Podcast of record. Joining me as my guest on this week’s accelerate is Mercy Bell. Mercy is a principal at Dogpatch Advisors and we’re gonna be talking about new business development using what Mercy calls intentional outbound, which is a way for outbound reps to creatively form human connections with their buyers. So in this conversation today, Mercy and I dive into why the whole B2B sales profession is in dire need of greater diversity in terms of incorporating diverse points of view that come from having greater diversity among our sales professionals, and fresh perspectives. We’ll talk about Mercy’s unique path and the sales from working in a call center in college trying to raise money from wealthy alumni and why creativity is so important in sales. And this is a favorite topic of mine we’ve talked about many times on the show, Mercy is going to show how customers’ first impression of you really speaks to your creativity or your lack thereof. And we’ll get into how sales managers can encourage this creativity in their sales reps and help their reps learn how to improvise within their structured sales process to improve their performance. Alright, let’s jump into it. Mercy, welcome to the show.


Mercy Bell  3:32  

Thanks so much for having me. Andy. Glad to be here.


Andy Paul  3:35  

Well, great pleasure to have you on. I’m always excited to talk to new young voices in sales and it’s not the sole purpose for having you here but certainly, after we met, it became clear that we wanted to record something together. I read dozens of new sales books every year, oftentimes in preparation and referring people on the show. And the irony is this is very few people have anything unique to say that is being written by people under the age of 40. And I just want to hear your take on that. I mean, I hate to say it, old white guys and old white women are writing these books.


Mercy Bell  4:30  

There’s an echo chamber for sure. And it’s probably true for all of business, but we see particularly for B2B tech and for sales, that there’s a certain age you must be to earn the right to speak. Maybe a certain background and certainly, visually it looks somewhat homogenous. Definitely men over a certain age with a certain level of experience.


Andy Paul  5:00  

So for yourself as a young woman of color in B2B sales, which is fairly unusual. What does that feel like? But what do you serve? You’ve done great so far, but I know you’re looking to continue to grow. What do you look for as resources to help you do that?


Mercy Bell  5:32  

Yeah, it’s an interesting perspective. I am now 29. As you mentioned, I’m a woman of color. And it’s really interesting to have had a full decade now in sales and to experience the advantages, and potentially some of the pitfalls of carrying that identity into every sales conversation into every job I’ve had. Working now as an analyst advisor with Dogpatch. I don’t experience it the same way as they did as a rep. But people would often be confused as to why I was doing so well. 


Andy Paul  6:08  

Because women in sales is not a huge population and women in tech sales is a smaller population. Even people of color, let alone women of color in sales and the tech field is not a big population.


Mercy Bell  6:26  

Well, it’s interesting visually, I was an outlier. But my performance was also a little unusual. So I had graduated from college and gone to a startup as a second hire. And by the time I was 23, I had $3.7 million a year in enterprise sales. Me coming from a background where I’m the first to graduate high school, college, first person to actually have a desk job. The really interesting thing that happened when my performance started to show up is when I started to get a lot of questions about how did I come to be here? And why was I so good? I didn’t even know what a redline is when I went in for my first negotiation, Capital One, I hadn’t even heard the term. There was so little exposure in my home life growing up in the middle of a city with a single mom, like no one knew how business was done.


Andy Paul  7:25  

You thought you have a unique experience compared to most people in college in that you worked in a call center for your university? And you were doing fundraising where they have this formal call center and lists students to work so did you get paid? 


Mercy Bell  8:00  

Talk about where some of the best salespeople come from, it’s often individuals who’ve had the experience of truly being hungry or not having resources. I worked in a call center because I needed some way to pay for books, which I couldn’t believe the price of. I felt like I was able to maintain some level of success. And to me it was a little materially driven at the time, for sure.


Andy Paul  8:29  

I know that there’s all the resale markets that have sprung up, but I also know that they discourage those as well by changing the textbooks every year and so on. 


Mercy Bell  8:43  

So here I am, it’s 2008, the Great Recession. I’m in charge of calling New York, Wall Street. There are many who would give like $10,000 for the previous year, but I’m calling people who have just lost their jobs and lost everything in the last three weeks. I’m calling to ask them to renew their gift. And that experience, the type of no and rejection I received in that particular workplace. I worked there for all four years of college. By the time I came out of college, I was more prepared, though I had no experience on my resume. Nothing to tell anybody, I knew how to do sales. I think what’s really interesting about that call center, even though Stanford’s very prestigious, was all of us first generation college students trying to make that little extra bit of money. That’s probably where a lot of the talent lies. Outside of this traditional competitive athlete profile is just the young person who was hungry and had to explain themselves. Yeah, disadvantaged, you could say or maybe it’s an advantage to have not had resources or had to be creative about how we make money or make a living.


Andy Paul  10:15  

I think it’s a universal experience that we go through life answering the question that people ask us all the time. And so how we answer perhaps is different. What did you learn about how to answer that? 


Mercy Bell  10:44  

What’s really powerful is that there’s a decision tree that happens inside of a great rep’s mind, which is “who am I talking to? And what is the why me for this specific person for this specific context and company, like how do I best position myself?” To sort of answer your question directly. I have been doing this “why me question my whole life”. My first memory is being a young kid next to my mom and people saying, where’s your parents? This constant habitual explanation of self. In professional environments, we’re often asked, how’d you come to be here? The why me exercise helps when I’m in a sales conversation.


Andy Paul  12:34  

I remember my sister’s first job out of college. She went to work for John Deere, and knew nothing about tractors, agricultural equipment, anything. They shipped her off to this remote location in North Dakota, where her job was to be the factory rep for dealerships. She was completely always fending off that, that question, why are you doing this? Pretty straightforward.


Mercy Bell  13:34  

When I think about my career, I would sometimes put my personality first. But what actually would end up lending itself to the most success when I was selling would be to actually have the company’s technology be the first experience. So really getting creative about how am I going to describe and position the different data sets together in this email and craft the opening hook. And then let my identity be second. In most cases, it’s an advantage to visually look different than most reps right? I’m memorable for that reason, right? I’m always telling reps the first thing you write, that ends up being our first experience with the prospect it’s not even with us. 


Andy Paul  14:47  

But if it’s a personal email it is about you though still, even that first sentence.


Mercy Bell  14:59  

I can see it both ways, right? Let’s say it’s a cold outbound. Our face is on that profile next to our name, or signature. I would hope that the quality and the content of that message is going to have more resonance with the prospect than how I look. That’s still my belief whether that’s naive, it might be, but I still tell reps that is their first impression that is probably where their personality can be infused. But what they say and the quality and the relevance of that message is going to be the most important thing for them. And that’s within their control.


Andy Paul  15:46  

I’m saying that the first perception of a person could come from that email. There’s less emphasis on writing skills these days. It’s not just in emails, you even see it with online media, where there’s such an urgency to get a story out that they don’t do any rudimentary editing. I’m not horribly persnickety about these things. The attention to that level of detail, not just what you’re saying, but how you say it, how it’s presented on the page, all that, people notice.


Mercy Bell  17:03  

Based on how I look, there was a lot of extra time spent on the details. One element is like, there should be no errors. We see the most important thing in outbound is creativity, the willingness to think outside of the box on what this email should look like and drawing on our own experiences or understandings of human psychology and then our personality too, so that the message reads authentic. It combined multiple disparate sets of information about the company and the prospect. All that magic happens and is a creative process. Unfortunately, when companies hire one type of person, one profile and say you never get that wild experiment on how to write the first email. So in addition to it being maybe error prone, you get that formulaic “Hi, first name. We think we can help company name,” which isn’t doing anybody a favor.


Andy Paul  18:24  

So let’s talk about creativity. I agree diversity certainly is a fuel for creativity. But even within most organizations, they are relying on the proactive outbound SDR Predictable Revenue model, whatever you want to call it. There is a certain uniformity to those messages that go out. There seems to be pressure on people to stick with the playbook and use the templates. Even though they “have been proven,” yet we know win rates in general in SaaS are what I consider really low. So there seems like there’s this pressure to conform. So how are you working with companies? Or what do you know? What does an SDR rep have to do to break free and experiment, be creative, and take risks when there’s so much pressure on them not to take risks?


Mercy Bell  19:35  

Everything you just said, is what we see at the companies we work with. There’s this incredible fear of experimentation and iteration. Because if something seems to be working, why abandon it. But what we often say and what we end up implementing as a process is what we call “manual to scale loop.” The way to think about it, is that the creative process happens one off, right? A rep,  if they’re told to really think outside the box and look for what information would say something powerful and we can assure them, that there’s a process to take that manual effort that took time. That was an experiment that may or may not work. But if it does work, we can scale it. So manual to scale loop is this process that we end up implementing in companies where we take what the best reps are doing. It could be creative, it could be crazy, but it’s working. And then we find a way to grab that data in a different form, get the same message, but now we’re sending it thousands of rows at a time rather than just once. So we know how to get people to be creative, assure them that when it works then we’ll scale it. 


Andy Paul  21:17  

Creativity can be fairly unique to an individual. I have to admit, this idea that you’re gonna take what works for one person and apply it in a blanket fashion to other people. The way people experience is completely unique from the way they experience you or anybody else in this world. So how do you do that? Let’s say you have 10 or 20 SDRs, how do keep it individual and unique for each of the reps?


Mercy Bell  22:04  

We have this association with scale as sameness. So this idea of taking what the best rep did, and make it possible to edit it for everyone, let’s say that we would lose the ability for it to still come from the individual. So one common template that we see begins with like an opening hook. So that’s a sentence completely unique to the rep. But what they’re going to write will be their own. It’s probably going to come from different signals that they’re observed, had to hunt, and fight to find. They went through rows of data to say what’s going to be interesting to the prospect. We want to give them time back to write it in their way and have all that information about the company. The prospect at their disposal so they can write that sentence significantly faster. So you could imagine a sales email of having a component that is fully human personality driven, even reading the information that helps drive it is available for everyone. And parts of the template are being composed for them so they can spend more time on that first sentence. It makes people open an email in the first place. 


Andy Paul  25:27  

What do we do at the manager level to get them to back off? Right to let people experiment? Look, I’ve been in the star role numerous times and I understand the pressure from investors and everybody else. But by the same token as growing sales teams, I want to preserve the ability to give people the freedom to explore. Metrics are important, but the metrics isn’t everything. When you’re operating in an environment where your tenure on the job is less than 18 months, they wouldn’t invest the time.This perception that I just scale up and 90 days and nine days and ramp up. And all those pressures create these behaviors that become self fulfilling and self perpetuating. So how do we work with that level of manager to say, you just need to back off? 


Mercy Bell  28:20  

There are two approaches. One is to encourage a paradigm shift in general on the sales floor, that there is time for creativity. So it’s a cultural change. Another way is to build programmatically into the managers role, time and have them work closely with their team to have these sort of creative moments. So ideally, reps would be doing things whenever they’d like. For example taking those moments to explore what the next grade play could be for them or some new technique to get that first meeting. What really encourages creativity from a manager is that it needs to be a practice to try new things and celebrate wins that come from unpredictable or surprising approaches from other reps.


Andy Paul  30:26  

But there are those functions that exist like sales operations. So help people understand the difference between sales operations and outbound operations.


Mercy Bell  30:35  

You can think of sales operations as individual contributors working to make the systems either talk better or work a little more efficiently. Outbound operations is the statement by the company that reps will be out of the business of spending their time in spreadsheets, so we know many companies and we will work with them. It’s often sourcing, also uploading those contacts into a CRM or manually reading the rules of engagement and suppression so they know when and when not to reach out to a prospect. All these manual steps that in theory feel like sales ops, but reps are still doing uploading into a sequence and uploading into the CRM. Things that traditionally you would hope your ops people have the time for. It’s kind of that robotic process.


Andy Paul  31:44  

Explain for people what you meant by rules like suppression and so on.


Mercy Bell  31:49  

Yeah, so let’s think about what a typical reps day looks like. We talked about the importance of creativity. Most reps are in charge of not only finding their prospects, but organizing all the information about those prospects in their company. They’re responsible for prioritizing those target accounts. And then they’re supposed to internally decide to follow a set of rules about when to communicate with that person or company. They are the rules you have that actually require a rep to follow but manually, how are they expected to actually have the time to rate that killer opening hook? You know, we see companies will invest in all these data providers, they’ll build these gorgeous, flexible and dynamic templates with us. But their reps might not have the time to write that first sentence that’s going to blow the prospect away. That’s going to make them open the email and read the rest of the relevant text. So, you know, we deeply believe at Dogpatch that data is magical and it’s important. But let’s get the humans back into doing the human stuff and creative communication is core to what makes sales go.


Andy Paul  33:32  

What does that say about who a sales manager should be hiring? How should people be broadening their horizons?


Mercy Bell  34:34  

The rep who is successful, happy, and retained by the organization is going to perform well. They’re going to feel good in their role and sense of being fully supported by the organization to be creative. Being willing to take bold risks and how they write, communicate and how they find information, managers should both be looking for that. Not a hunter who kills what he eats, they should be looking for someone who writes and expresses in a really thoughtful and interesting way. They have to ask, do I really have a sales organization set up for that role? Do I actually have the ability to take a creative presence in the office who’s going to try really innovative things and actually scale some of what they do? Reps are supposed to be communicators and it’s tough. 


Andy Paul  36:00  

Yeah, the old stereotypes come into play and if they’re hiring someone who is creative, are they gonna pick up the phone and make calls?


Mercy Bell  36:21  

Are they emotional or hard to manage because they’re creative. Creative doesn’t have to mean an artist. It means that they’ve exhibited time and time again, a willingness to experiment and iterate outside of rules. I give you any company looking at their best outbound deals, there’s at least one example of something out of the box. I’ll never forget coming up with a concept for a ping pong belt for a CEO of a very large technology company. We sent him a ping pong championship belt, only because we had so many conversations with him about the sport. That opened up a deal that was multi million dollar like a type of thinking we need in sales.


Andy Paul  41:21  

Well, Mercy, thank you very much and we’ll talk again soon.


Okay friends, that was Accelerate for this week. First of all, I want to thank you for joining me. And I want to thank my guest Mercy Bell. Join me again next week as my guest will be Chad Sanderson. Chad’s a managing partner at Value Selling Associates and we’re gonna be talking about what Chad calls the sales singularity, which is the combination of sales, tech tools and human relationships to optimize the best elements of both, and your sales process. After all, technology needs to amplify the human element in sales, not replace it, which as many of you know, is one of my favorite topics to talk about. So definitely want to check this out. So make sure you join us next week. I’m your host, Andy Paul. Good selling everyone.