I consider myself fortunate to work at HubSpot, where day in, day out, I partner with over 100 sales reps that are at the top of the game, and only want to get better. It’s a truly inspiring place to ply my trade.
Unlike other parts of the business, it’s relatively uncommon for sales enablement to share learnings, best practices and successes outside of HubSpot's walls. This can, must and will change, and I want to use this post to share some of the ways we sett sales reps up for success. I’m certain there’s a bunch of learnings that you can apply today at your own software as a service (SaaS) company, so your sales reps are more successful.
Before I start, I want to reiterate my belief that sales enablement must be considered a driver of growth and creator of value, rather than an overhead, expense or luxury. But for this happen, sales enablement must carry an influenced revenue goal. Depending on your viewpoint this may sound brave, stupid, naive or a combination of all three, but if you’re a sales enablement leader and don’t track revenue, I hate to break it to you, but it’s only a matter of time until your budget is reduced, team is disbanded and scope of influence diminished. Simply put, if you don’t carry a revenue goal you’ll only ever play a supporting, tactical role.
Revenue trumps all else - it’s an easily understood and quantifiable metric that sales enablement must contribute to, although that is rarely the case. To further compound matters, many industry colleagues get distracted by definitions of sales enablement or which organisation from the trinity of sales, marketing and sales operations they should be part of, and while this is important, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact we’re here to work with (not for) the sales organisation.
But I’ll save that discussion for another day. I want to use this post to share how we're enabling sales reps at HubSpot to become more productive. That's what really matters.
Connecting with prospects
Before we dig in, let’s cover how we helps sales reps to connect with prospects and why it’s important. For the sake of clarity, when I say “connect” with prospects, I specifically mean one of three activities:
- Setting up a meeting between a prospect and a sales rep.
- When the meeting takes place, ensuring that the sales rep is equipped with all the right information to have a valuable conversation with the prospect.
- Increasing the speed at which meetings are set up.
Like most SaaS sales organisations, we have a clearly defined sales process – our six step process helps us predict with a high degree of accuracy what deals will close each month and quarter. At each deal stage sales reps are connecting with prospects and need to either progress the deal forward to another deal stage or qualify out the prospect, and remove them from their pipeline.
Importantly, if you can increase your connect rate earlier on in the sales process, and by this I mean, engage with prospects in such a way that they respond and want to speak with you, but your close rate remains the same, you’ll generate significantly more business. It sounds straightforward, but is hard to do, and just like conversion rate optimization (CRO), a few percentage point increases can generate oversized returns.
For example, let’s say a sales rep is assigned 100 new leads, 40 of the leads respond to the initial outreach, 20 go on to have a demo and 10 close. However, if you increase your connect rate and 60 leads respond to the initial outreach, using the same logic, 30 will go on to have a demo and 15 deals will close. Although, completely hypothetical, this shows how increasing your connect rate early on can have a transformational impact on revenue.
Below are three strategies that HubSpot leverages to help sales reps connect with prospects
1. Engage with video
The first way we help sales reps to have better meetings and discussions with prospects is by engaging them with video. HubSpot is an extremely data-driven company and we noticed that text emails were becoming less effective. Just think about your own inbox for a second. I’m sure the majority of emails are text-based, maybe they have a well-designed header image, but on the whole, they are impersonal, dull and unremarkable.
To react to this trend we gave our sales reps the ability to record short videos that they could embed into their emails to prospects. Sales reps typically use video early on in the sales process, and we found success with three specific areas. The first approach we took was, instead of leaving a voicemail via telephone, sales reps would record similar conversations within a video and then, send that on to a prospect instead.
The second place we've seen good results is when sales reps record a short video, which offers tips and advice for prospect’s to improve their website and marketing efforts. Lastly, we've used video to support our freemium plays - sales reps create short videos for prospects to help them get set up with our free marketing, sales and CRM products.
The results from using video in this way have been nothing short of outstanding. We trebled the response rate – meaning emails containing video saw a 3X increase in responses compared to text-based emails. This is huge, and while, our close rate has remained broadly the same, the fact we're seeing a 3X response rate and maintaining our close rate means sales reps have a much more efficient pipeline and closed more deals. Another outcome, although unintended is that HubSpot sales reps report having to expend less emotional energy when recording a short video as opposed to writing an email.
In summary, what we've seen is response rates increasing significantly, which in turn gives sales reps a bigger pipeline - all of which is enabling them to close more deals, plus it’s helping conserve sales reps energy.
While, the results are impressive, video should come with a word of warning. It’s not a panacea or silver bullet. We have be cognisant of the fact that video is a big opportunity now as few people are leveraging it when selling. However, there is a big difference between being novel and providing value. Although, video may get increased response rates today, I fully expect this space to get more competitive in the coming months and years. To get a head start on the competition I’d encourage you to start thinking in terms of what value your videos provide, rather than getting fixated on the medium (flyers, newspaper adverts and email were all new and novel once, with high response rates and low competition).
In addition, video, is not right for every deal and it's not right for every single rep, but it's best considered just another tool that should be made available so sales reps can become more effective at their job.
2. Support sales reps with bots
Another initiative that’s enabling sales reps to have better conversations and connections with prospects, is the deployment of several bots. Currently, HubSpot sales reps spend a lot of their day within Slack – it’s our internal communication platform of choice (and rightly so). Using this insight we looked at ways to build bots within the platform that can help sales reps and present them with the right information that they need when they're speaking with prospects.
For example, we've created a bot within a Slack channel to answer sales reps' frequently asked questions - queries related to case studies, competitive intelligence, customer reference calls, sales collateral and more can be answered within a matter of seconds. We’re seeing the bot used if a sales rep is either preparing or on a call with a prospect and they quickly need an answer to a question.
The benefits of this type of bot are twofold. First up, it helps sales reps find the answers to their questions instantly, at any time of day and on any platform. The bot answers the high frequency, low value questions that require a templated response – these questions, of course, still need to be answered, but a human doesn't necessarily need to be the one answering them. Secondly, it frees up time for me to focus on the consultant type questions that are best categorised as low frequency, high value questions, which require a bespoke response.
Another innovation we have been working on is creating marketing qualified lead (MQL) reminders within Slack. A big challenge at most companies is making sure all MQLs are worked quickly. These are the highest value, greatest intent and hottest leads, so if a sales rep doesn’t work them quickly, they’re squandering a great opportunity. What our team at HubSpot created, was a bot within a Slack application that notifies sales reps if an MQL is more than 48 hours old.
We've been delighted with the results achieved from our Slack bots. The FAQs bot is answering over 500 sales rep questions a month and growing. These are questions that previously were answered manually, and I estimate it’s saving me 20 hours per month. And the bot which sends MQL reminders has reduced unworked MQLs by an astonishing 50%. Again, this is absolutely huge. Sales reps tell us both bots are improving their productivity and we’re seeing the impact on sales and revenue.
3. Launch of the Autoprospector
We're also helping sales reps connect with prospects thanks to a tool we built called the Autoprospector. Before I explain what this is and does, I want to back up a little and share a challenge we identified. We noticed that sales reps were spending too much time on back and forth emails with prospects about setting up a meeting, as opposed to actually having meetings and selling. That’s where the idea of the Autoprospector came from - it nurtures leads and looks to set up meeting between sales reps and prospects, with minimal work required from sales reps.
While the tool is called the Autoprospector, essentially it’s a series of advanced workflows that uses marketing automation to send emails on behalf of sales reps - and the goal is to nurture leads and set up meetings between MQLs and the sales rep. The Autoprospector has proved incredibly valuable - it significantly increased both the volume and quality of meetings. Again, this is helping sales reps improve their productivity, as it’s freeing up their time to work on high value activity.
Channel and tactics decay
Here's the thing. What I’ve covered in this post are tactics and channels that currently work, but it’s important to recognise that they will decay over time and eventually become less impactful. While it's important to spend time innovating, optimising and iterating on what works today, you also need to think about and invest in tomorrow. There’s a balance to be struck, and at HubSpot we use the horizon framework to ensure we’re investing in today, tomorrow and the distant future.
Principles of continual improvement
In addition to the horizon framework we also foster a culture of continual growth and improvement. We follow five principles to ensure this approach thrives:
- Foster a culture of rigorous testing
- Put guardrails in place
- Empower sales reps to GSD, AKA “get shit done”
- Rapid iteration
- Enable learnings to be shared back with the business
While the concept of continual learning is incredibly important, for sales organisations to effectively leverage it, they need to be nimble enough to double down on wins. It's no use having a couple of sales reps running experiments, sharing results with their team in a meeting, then nothing happening. You need to make it possible for learnings to fed back into the business and if successful, operationalised. To put it succinctly, sales leaders must think in terms of scale, speed, and resource. That’s how a sales organisation can make continual improvement a habit and part of their operating system.