How SalesLoft Is Ruining Customer Experience (But It’s Really Your Fault, Not Theirs)

Let me start by explaining that this post is not an attack on SalesLoft. It actually has little to do with their technology, per se. This post ‘is’ however a shot across the bow of the concept that successful selling simply comes down to persistent, interruptive, automated ‘sales cadences.’ And it is an indictment of the poor Customer Experience that results when companies build their go-to-market around an (inside-out) sales interruption mindset, instead of operationalizing go-to-market activities around (outside-in) customer journey.

For the record, SalesLoft is a respected provider of sales engagement software. The platform does what it is supposed to – very well, in fact – and that is why they are arguably the leader in their market segment. But SalesLoft is just that – a technology platform – not a strategy, not a solution. Yet sales leaders all too often turn to SalesLoft and to sales cadence automation as an antidote for their customer demand and sales productivity woes, and therein lies the problem.

Sales engagement software, such as SalesLoft, is only as good as the people, process and content it is meant to enable. When used properly, this technology can be a critical extension of a go-to-market technology stack and optimize end-to-end Demand Process. In particular, helping sales team members improve their ability to engage right place, right time with prospects and customers. Yet too often this technology is deployed to automate a poor Customer Experience – via ill-conceived content, timing and targeting – and when this is the case it simply serves to annoy more prospects and customers sooner, faster.

SalesLoft – and most technology platforms, for that matter – fail to discriminate between best-in-class and worst-in-class practices. They automate it all – good and bad – and for that, they do bear some responsibility, but ultimately, the responsibility for Customer Experience rests with sales and marketing leaders. And it comes down to their strategy, execution and accountability, not to their technology choices.

The time is now to get this right – to ensure that go-to-market activities are operationalized around customer journey and to strengthen Customer Experience – especially ‘digital’ Customer Experience. “COVID-19 is changing how B2B buyers and sellers interact. Savvy sales leaders are learning how to adapt to the next normal,” notes McKinsey. In the current environment, where go-to-market is largely virtual, authenticity and relationship-building matter more than ever, and poor digital Customer Experience is difficult to overcome.

The ‘Real’ Problem: Sales Cadences on Autopilot

First – to level set this conversation – what is a sales cadence? A Hubspot post provides a definition:

A sales cadence is a sequential order of different outreach methods salespeople can follow to better connect with prospects. Sales cadences are typically parceled out over a fixed number of days and rely on various modes of communication — like email, phone, and social media — to help develop relationships with potential customers and close deals.

So then what are the major problems with automated sales cadences as they are typically deployed by sales organizations, and how does this harm Customer Experience?

A Never-Ending, Unstoppable Thread of Automated, Cold Emails:

Robert Jolles, a former Xerox sales training leader and author of Customer Centered Selling, writes in his book, “The key concept of Customer Centered Selling is to learn to analyze where your customers are in their decision cycle and assist in moving them through to a decision. In doing this you must learn what tactics are appropriate for which part of the decision cycle.”

Seems pretty straightforward, sage advice – understand where a prospect or customer is in his/her customer lifecycle, and then leverage this insight to educate and qualify them forward. So how does a one-size-fits-all, never-ending thread of automated, cold emails from a seller fit this model?

It doesn’t.

It gets worse with the ‘enhanced’ techniques that are (all-too-often) deployed – such as making it look like the email is a reply to a previous email (i.e., with “RE:” in the subject line). Or making it seem like an email is a confirmation of a call on a specific day, at a specific time.

These emails typically lack any real substance, provide no useful content, and rarely have an unsubscribe link. (To be fair to SalesLoft, their technology offers the ability to set up an unsubscribe, but many organizations disable this feature. Also, to be fair to SalesLoft, I know they do their best to educate against some of these ‘worst’ practices.)

Unfortunately, the standard, automated sales cadence – as commonly implemented – is more than likely ‘wrong place,’ ‘wrong time’ and ‘wrong message’ … most of the time. That’s called spam – and it harms Customer Experience more than it helps.

Lack of Orchestration Between Marketing and Sales Communication Platforms:

Companies that adopt platforms such as SalesLoft don’t just have sales organizations; they also have marketing organizations that drive upstream demand marketing. In an ideal, ‘customer centered’ state, these efforts would seamlessly work together through a concept we refer to at ANNUITAS as Demand Process Stewardship – meaning that, during each phase of the customer journey, there would be clear ownership at both an organizational and system level. So it would be clear at those stages of the customer journey when marketing has ‘stewardship,’ and it would similarly be clear when sales has that stewardship. No conflict.

Yet a majority of the time, organizations that deploy sales engagement platforms, such as SalesLoft, implement them in a silo. I.e., they are deployed by the sales organization with logic and strategy developed within sales – with little collaboration across the company. Sales engagement systems may be integrated with the company’s CRM platform, but they are not integrated or configured in a fashion where there is active governance of communication activities and customer feedback loops between marketing and sales activities and systems.

The result is that instead of working together to build a solid Customer Experience, communications from marketing automation platforms and sales engagement platforms frequently overlap and conflict. This lack of orchestration creates a muddled, confusing experience for the customer – harming Customer Experience, not enhancing it.

This also leads to more nuanced issues – especially around companies’ domain reputations and resultant email deliverability. Thus, as companies send greater volumes of interruptive and conflicting communications to prospects and customers, they ultimately damage the ability for these messages to make their way into the inbox at all.

This lack of orchestration also has a significant impact on customer data and analytics. In an ideal state, marketing and sales activities should not only consist of outward communication, but they should also build a 360-degree view of the prospect/customer and his/her intent. This should improve the ability of the organization to drive communication and to qualify opportunities. But systems that are not working together ultimately provide competing views of the customer. In extreme cases, the result is a hodgepodge of information within CRM systems that is largely unusable in go-to-market activities altogether.

Lots Of ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’

What Hubspot describes above is essentially a sales ‘drip’ nurture – i.e., pre-timed emails and calls, largely to people you don’t know. But nothing in this speaks to customer needs, customer signals or where the customer sits in his/her journey. The result is a situation where sales cadence automation is simply automating ‘wrong place, wrong time’ … most of the time.

Think this doesn’t have an impact on Customer Experience (which ultimately is a key factor in buying decisions)? ANNUITAS ran some benchmarking for a SaaS software client, analyzing the performance of all of their acquisition channels against Closed Won outcomes. The worst-performing channel was their outbound SDR group with a 0.07% elasticity – i.e., that when an SDR reached out to a contact, the probability that interaction would turn into Closed Won was 0.07%. And this company was a major proponent of sales cadences.

The Solution – Part One: Operationalizing Go-to-market Around Customer Journey

What is the solution? Clearly the problem is not the technology – it’s how we use it. How can we reset?

The game-changer in marketing and sales is the shift from an inside-out, interruptive approach to an outside-in, customer-centered approach in our go-to-market.

This concept is not new. Robert Jolles (mentioned earlier) wrote about it in 1998 in Customer Centered Selling, which is based on the legendary sales methodology developed over several decades at the Xerox sales training center.

The problem is that many sales organizations – and sales leaders – on the surface espouse a Customer Centered Selling approach. Perhaps they have adopted Miller-Heiman’s “Buyer-Focused Prospecting” methodology (or something similar). Either way, they have the right intent. Yet they fail to operationalize this approach throughout their sales and marketing execution. That’s where it falls apart. It is not the strategy, it is the execution and the accountability. So they fall back on ‘playing the numbers’ of the classic inside-out, interruptive approach, and they let the sales cadence automation compensate for the sheer volume required to play such low-performance odds.

Thus, it is a game changer when organizations truly operationalize their go-to-market around customer journey. This is the moment when organizations move away from ‘random acts’ of sales and marketing and get control of their ability to drive demand and growth in a predictable and repeatable way.

It is also a game-changer in terms of performance. The data science team at ANNUITAS has found organizations that operationalize go-to-market around customer journey improve their lead-to-revenue efficiency by 4-10X – meaning, for every dollar they put into engaging prospects, they deliver 4-10X more customers. That is substantial.

The Solution – Part Two: Translating This into a Customer Centered Cadence

How do we shift from an inside-out, ‘sales’ cadence to an outside-in, ‘customer centered’ cadence? Three steps to consider:

Buyer Dialogue Logic Must Define Customer Engagement:

The starting place for go-to-market planning should be an understanding of customer segments and their customer journeys.

The next step is to map what we refer to at ANNUITAS as Buyer Dialogue Logic. I.e., what are the questions and concerns buyers have at each stage of their customer journey, and what is the nature of the Buyer Dialogue at each stage that addresses these information requests.

Buyer Dialogue Logic provides a clear progression of concepts to be addressed across sales and marketing interactions – typically leading off with pain points and trigger catalysts that are driving the customer journey. This ensures interactions are substantive. It also provides the framework needed to map content to address information requests at each stage of the customer journey.

Email and content train wrecks happen when sellers and marketers fail to think through Buyer Dialogue Logic. This is how you get emails that are merely focused on getting someone’s attention, or start with “Did you see my last email?” These type of interactions – devoid of substance – ultimately do more harm than good for Customer Experience.

Conversation Track Architecture Ensures That You Can Scale Segmented Buyer Dialogue:

The challenge with defining customer segments and customer journeys is that there can appear to be too many stakeholders with too many differential needs. How do you scale?

This is where the concept of Conversation Track Architecture is critical. Conversation Tracks define common threads among stakeholder groups with related information needs, both up-stream and downstream in the customer journey. They also help define “branches” and “joins” – meaning points where you need differentiated content and points where you can offer common content. This is important as a seller or marketer to get your arms around the critical mass of content required to drive customer journey forward – especially at selling stages.

When Conversation Tracks are paired with insights captured via content consumption and Progressive Profiling, it enables us to better personalize cadence communications to specific prospect and customer pain points – ensuring they are targeted, not a shot in the dark.

Conversation Track Architecture also provides a basis for orchestration of interactions across sale and marketing team members – making it clear who is delivering engagement at specific conversation stages and via what channel. This is critical to establishing stewardship in interactions throughout the customer lifecycle – which ensures, in particular, that there is not a mismatch between sales and marketing communication at any point.

Automation of Messaging Must Be Keyed to Behaviors and Triggers, Not Arbitrary Moments:

Ultimately the goal of successful engagement with prospects and customers is to get messages to be right place, right time. When a seller or marketer sends messages ‘cold’ and on an arbitrary basis, (s)he violates this concept and instead ensures messages are typically wrong place, wrong time.

Sales cadences must move to a state where these interactions are triggered by behaviors and key moments in the customer journey. To achieve this there needs to be a deeper integration between all systems throughout the go-to-market technology stack. For instance, when prospects and customers interact with content on the company Website or engage with social posts, these triggers provide insight into inquiry which presents moments for Buyer Dialogue to proceed. It is at these moments that it makes sense to trigger automated cadences of interaction, not before. And these cadences cannot be arbitrary; instead, the information should depend on segmentation and customer journey stage – i.e., they should align to a Conversation Track Architecture and anticipate the right Buyer Dialogue at that stage.

This is how we can move from sales cadences on autopilot to smart sales dialogue that aligns to customer journey.

Epilogue – Technology Can’t Deliver Better Customer Experience (But You Can)

I started off this post by making it clear that this is not intended to be an attack on SalesLoft. Nor is it an attack on sales engagement platforms.

But this post is meant to drive a critical dialogue on what we do with these platforms – how we configure them and how we use them. Technology is an enabler – not a solution – and how you use it is everything.

Customer Experience is more paramount than ever in the current – largely virtual – marketplace environment. Too often we fail to even consider Customer Experience in our demand marketing and field sales efforts – but in the current environment, Customer Experience (or a lack thereof) can make or break us.

I hope this post encourages sales leaders to consider a more integrated approach to sales cadences – one that operationalizes substantive interactions around customer journey. But this alone is an incomplete demand solution. The other piece of the equation is to embrace a similar approach in transforming demand marketing so that it also is similarly-operationalized around customer journey – shifting from a tactical, random-acts posture to a Strategic Demand Marketing approach.

We must ensure upstream demand marketing interactions and downstream sales cadences work seamlessly together (around customer journey) to build a unified – and positive – Customer Experience. So that it is a singular, orchestrated end-to-end dialogue with our prospects and customers – optimizing the critical path to more Closed Won opportunities.

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