The perfect sales handoff requires both cultural alignment and logistical coordination, and getting it right is both an art and a science.
The sales process is made up of handoff points, and each point is an opportunity to build trust with a prospect—or lose it. When the handoff between inside and outside sales reps is poor, it can torpedo sales productivity and sabotage the return on your investment in sales development. A perfect handoff requires both cultural alignment and logistical coordination, and getting it right is both an art and a science. The art involves aligning the messaging and nurturing inter-team dynamics, while the science addresses the complex logistics required to hand a prospect over to an outside sales rep.
The High Cost of a Bad Sales Handoff
A poor handoff process can incur significant costs to your sales division. In terms of hard costs, it lowers your conversion rate by reducing the number of prospects who progress from one stage to the other. It also reduces the ROI on your investment in a hiring SDRs as well as onboarding and training a sales development team. Those hours spent researching, calling, emailing and qualifying prospects are wasted if they don’t culminate in a meeting.
A poor sales handoff also has soft costs. If the timing and scheduling are wrong or if the sales rep seems unprepared, you run the risk of losing credibility with the prospect and being put at a disadvantage from the very beginning of the process. It can also widen cultural divide between the sales development team and the outside sales team, creating even more friction and lack of coordination.
Cultivating the Art of the Sales Handoff
Fine-tuning the handoff is an art as much as it is a science, because it involves the language and culture you use to support the sales process.
The language and messaging your sales team uses is a critical part of the handoff. If prospects hear one thing in conversation with a Sales Development Representative (SDR), and another when they sit down with the Regional Sales Manager (RSM), it diminishes the customer experience. Any discontinuity at this stage has the potential to confuse the prospect, create friction and erode trust.
But the way most sales teams are structured makes that kind of discontinuity commonplace. SDRs are usually located on site in the corporate office where they are first to learn about new messaging and new solution features. RSMs, by contrast, are in the field and don’t have the same level of exposure to marketing and product information. Conversely, SDRs lack the level of industry or vertical expertise of the RSMs.
We overcame this issue by breaking down silos and ensuring both groups have opportunities to learn together—and from each other.
At Eyewitness Surveillance, we overcame this issue by breaking down the silos and ensuring that both groups have opportunities to learn together—and from each other—on a regular basis through various check-ins and training sessions. For example, we instituted a weekly “scrap talk” to enable the outside sales rep who specializes in metals and recycling to share his expertise with the SDRs who are reaching out and booking meetings with prospects in this important vertical for our video surveillance, access control and intrusion solutions.
The sessions take no more than 15 or 20 minutes each week, but they have had a measurable impact on the number of bookings we have been able to secure. Our SDRs are now able to establish credibility by demonstrating that they understand the industry trends and realities affecting the prospect and and tailoring the discussion about our solutions to the prospect’s goals and priorities.
Similarly, we ensure that our RSMs and SDRs attend the same product training sessions so that everyone hears the same message. Because RSMs have such unpredictable schedules, we record the sessions and store them in our learning management system so that they’re available on demand.
Mastering the Science of Scheduling
Scheduling the handoff is complicated, and with inexperienced SDRs setting meetings at one end and RSMs with unpredictable schedules at the other, it’s easy to slip into chaos. Ensuring a smooth handoff requires rigorous training for SDRs and the use of advanced calendaring to guide the handoff schedule.
Because SDRs are usually just starting out in their careers, many are unfamiliar with professional tools, even those as basic as Outlook, and they are at a high risk of making mistakes. Something as simple as navigating time zones can create havoc. Most SDRs don’t realize that if they’re in New York and they book a 10 a.m. appointment for a prospect in California, it converts to 7 a.m. in the local time zone. Arriving late, missing a meeting or going through a messy rebooking process starts things off on the wrong foot at a time when every little detail counts and first impressions are made. It may seem like a small thing, but it erodes the trust your prospects have in your company and the trust RSMs have in your SDR team, and both of those things impact your conversions.
Beyond mastering time zones, SDRs need to be supported with advanced calendaring that provides a structured, guided process for booking RSMs with busy, unpredictable schedules. Before we redesigned our processes a few years ago, our SDRs would use Google Earth to see what opportunities might be down the street from a meeting they just booked. That kind of hunt-and-peck method has a very low rate of return. Now we use Salesvue to optimize our sales campaigns so that our SDRs schedule appointments based on sales priorities, best practices and optimal cadences rather than what shows up on Google. We also collect intel from the field so that SDRs have a more realistic understanding of the travel conditions. Knowing those granular details help SDRs schedule RSMs in ways that make their lives easier and reduce the number of missed or late appointments.
Before we redesigned our processes, SDRs would use Google Earth to see what opportunities might be down the street from a meeting they just booked.
Using advanced calendaring, we plan things out weeks in advance, with our SDRs reporting to the VP of Marketing so that she can identify the regions and cities to target in the campaigns rather than having the SDRs hunt and peck through a list. With a formal process in place to manage calendaring, we know where our RSMs are going to be with an 80% accuracy rate, and we know when we should book a handoff meeting to optimize conversion.
Walking a Mile in Their Shoes
Changing the sales culture to foster greater collaboration and coordination takes time, but one of the most powerful ways to effect that change is to encourage both sides to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.
We invite SDRs to ride out in the field so they can see that it’s not so easy to get from point A to point B as it looks on the map when traffic gets jammed, flights get delayed and prospects keep you waiting in the lobby for an hour. Similarly, I like to bring the RSM team in a day or two early when we hold company-wide events on site so that I can tee them up with some cold calls and have them shadow the SDRs. It’s both a learning experience and a way to build respect between different members of the team and the challenges they face.
Here’s the bottom line.
The handoff between inside and field sales is one of the most critical points in the sales pipeline, and getting it wrong means losing sales opportunities. By creating shared messaging and culture to align the two sales teams, and by ensuring that the right logistical processes are in place, sales leaders can avoid the most common issues and support a smooth, timely sales handoff that enhances your customer experience and your close rate.