Welcome to episode twenty-six of the SaaS Backwards podcast, where we interview CEOs and CMOs of fast-growing SaaS firms to reveal what they are doing that's working, and lessons learned from things that didn't work as planned.
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What would happen if you move BDRs under marketing?
With Robyn Hazelton, Vice President of Marketing at Intellum
Edited for clarity and readability
Guest Host, Jason Myers:
Hello everyone, and thanks for listening to another episode of SaaS Backwards. It's a podcast for SaaS CMOs and CEOs to help them accelerate growth and increase profitability.
I'm excited about our guest today, Robyn Hazelton, and she's recently been promoted to Vice President of Marketing for Intellum.
Before we get started though, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself and Intellum?
I'll start with Intellum—we’re a SaaS platform that helps enable customer, partner, and vendor education. We are the platform behind the huge, massive education initiatives like Facebook Blueprint for the marketers out there or Skill Shop for all those paid advertisers out there.
I’m Canadian, and moved down to Atlanta seven years ago, and got into tech. I’m a former B2C marketer turned B2B (which is I think a conversation all on its own). That turned my attention to tech, mostly around feedback.
I implemented a survey, a feedback loop that I used in the B2C business I worked for and found my way on a tech platform that enabled feedback surveying and talked myself into a marketing role there.
Today at Intellum, we’re applying education to the full prospect cycle.
That is something we're going to have to do another interview on because one of my premises is how B2B needs to borrow more ideas from B2C to generate experience in their marketing.
It's such a hot topic these days. I recently read one of those prediction posts earlier this year (2022), that said, "B2B marketing catches up with B2C tactics." Some of the things that I've learned early in my career that I’ve brought to B2B is changing the mindset, tweaking it a little bit and it's changed results and seeing things amplify significantly.
Absolutely. Well, I'm excited about our talk because we met through Dark Social, right?
I posed a question on State of Demand Gen Live about the changing role of business development reps (doing the outbound cold calling, cold emailing, and trying to get engagement with prospects) to see if anybody had experience moving them under marketing instead of sales.
Robyn responded with a successful model for that, and so my first question is, can you start by telling us how the BDRs were being used before you moved them into marketing? And what prompted the change?
Historically at Intellum, BDRs was a sales-owned function. I was hired under the premise that there was a demand problem.
When you have customers like ours who are the largest brands in the world, I think it's really easy for you to say you have a demand problem, but the reality is that's not true because your customers are the largest brands in the world and there's no way that they're not driving traffic to your website and helping you convert all of those raving fans into new customers.
So the truth is we had a follow-up problem and we were spending a lot of time on the front end of conversations--killing sales cycles frankly--because we were talking to them and doing discovery where we shouldn't have been.
They were ready to buy, ready to be engaged with a salesperson, and we were stopping them dead in their tracks and asking them like, "Hey, before you speak to a salesperson, what is your ideal profile?"
We were asking questions that didn't matter, and that weren't impacting revenue. Ultimately, it was slowing down how to move people from stage one to stage two, or from stage two to stage three.
To solve this problem, we addressed it by moving people into marketing and giving them the answers to the questions that were desired upfront (hopefully) and giving people what they want, putting them into the sales cycle when they're ready.
When you joined Intellum, were they more of a sales culture or do they adequately embrace marketing as a lead generator and demand generator?
I think it's both. They were invested in sales, a little bit invested in sales, a little bit invested in marketing, but the real change was my hiring. We hired a VP of Sales at the same time.
We were on all the same pages together. And I think that was really the catalyst to investing in sales and marketing together, instead of this weird dynamic that you sometimes find yourself in, right? Like, "Oh, sales blames marketing because the leads, because we're using vanity metrics and booking meetings," and then marketing blames sales because they don't follow up on the leads that marketing thinks are really awesome.
I think Intellum, more pointedly said they were ready to invest in both at the same time with the right people.
When they originally hired the BDRs, was that working well and then everyone else started to see declines in effectiveness around that? Or did they just copy a model and it never really took place in the first place?
I don't know a lot about the historical way that they went about their hiring BDRs. They were trying to back into their revenue goals by trying to do some predictive analytics, or some predictive pieces.
I will say that the reason I was able to figure out that there was not a demand problem and that there was a follow-up problem was because I could see in the data that the length of time between stages was astronomical. (I'm talking like 90-day sales cycles for 70 to 100K in ACV), and they were just stalled at stage two to stage three for 90 days where there was no activity, no reasons, no documentation and classic traps all around.
To demonstrate success and changing them to marketing, what we did is just start following up immediately and you saw that window immediately go from 90 plus days to 30 days.
And then we shortened that even further (to 14 days) once we delivered the right information and started to ask the questions to give the answers that they needed.
So was that because you took a look at the sales cycles and said, "This is way too long. We've got to figure out what's going on?"
Way, way too long. I was talking to the BDRs and asking questions. I was wondering where they were spending their time. I was looking at the emails that were being sent and there were these pages long of documentation and emails that I wouldn't read, so I don't know why the heck they thought their prospect was reading it.
Even better, when asked, "Would you read this?" They would say no. Well, I think there's a problem here.
And so it's a combination of both, right? There is the data, and when you're looking at the right data, it's even more important, but then there's the people.
I think we forget things like, "Hey, this person over here is trying to develop skills," because that's the profile that we tend to hire with BDRs--these young, hungry individuals who are just trying to show that they can make an impact. And when we get stuck in making an impact, they get further and further away from hitting the results and helping the organization meet their goals.
So I've always thought that a BDR is a pretty important function, mostly because they can talk to people like a salesperson can, which is a lot of times a deficiency of marketers who haven't been taught to talk to customers in a way that is a consultative sales conversation. (I didn't learn it until I went through sales training personally when I owned a business.)
And then on the sales side, yes they can talk to customers, but they're not necessarily good at writing or marketing or how to marry the two?
Did you run into skillset mismatches when you started to move some under marketing?
I didn't inherit any of the BDRs that were on the sales team. It was a decision, we were like, "Hey, this isn't working. We need to do it differently." And my past experience was working very closely with the sales leader who did own the BDRs and I raised my hand, was like, "Look, been there, done that. Don't really want to do it again. I think I can wrangle this and make it into a machine that works. Let me do it the way that I want to do it."
So, I built some trust and results first. And as soon as we did that, I think it worked.
But to answer your question, the personality and the writing skill set isn't always there. But I think that comes with subject-matter expertise and with learning and understanding your product, using your product to do the same thing that you're trying to teach your perspective customers or your clients to do.
And then I think it comes with delivering that information in the place that your prospect is.
So, a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B, is that a cop out answer?
No, not at all. And in fact, because you didn't inherit them, you probably had the opportunity to hire them under marketing from the beginning, which would have directed looking for different skill sets when you hired in the first place.
Yeah. Correct. The first thing I was thinking about was how to take the data that we have today and use it to both incentivize the BDR team to think differently, and then two, communicate the message that we need to communicate based on the differentiators that are for our product.
One of the ways that I did that was by incentivizing the BDR team differently.
I incentivize on a quarterly comp plan that is subject to change and could change throughout the quarters.
Sometimes it doesn't change, and other times it does based on a number of things.
Company objectives or strategy can change, and the last thing I want to do is leave my leaders or my team of individual contributors that are hungry to deliver results feeling left like they are not incentivized to do so and not fairly compensated for the work and efforts that go into the hard job that is BDR and SDR.
I think it brings up a little bit of a backstory in terms of the organizational change that's required to implement something like this. And so, I'd like to hear how that came about. Were your leaders on board?
Did they know that we have a problem that we must solve and were open to suggestion?
Or what did that look like and how did you use the numbers to drive the decisions?
I would say that there's two important points here.
One, Intellum is a privately held business and it is not lost on me that I'm spending our founder's money every single day. Keeping that in mind is part of the conversation. We're not backed by a huge private equity firm. We've made those decisions and they've made those decisions.
We're cut from the same cloth there. I hate wasting money. There's always some, right? But you want to minimize the waste until you figure out a model that works and you probably get that from your B2C experience.
Yeah. And it's the first thing that you cut, right? If you're looking to save money and you're looking at places, like, "Oh hi, large expense over in this bucket, I'm going to fix that and just cut it straight." And so that's not lost on me, and that's part of the way that I approached most of our conversations in the first place, is just making sure we demonstrate what the results are as we're going and try to find the efficiencies as we go along.
The second thing I would say is, at the time that I was hired, they hired a corresponding VP of Sales who hadn’t built out a BDR org either and had strong interest in improving the closed/won ratio number.
And so, bringing them under marketing was a happy medium and very flexible. We looked at it like, "I can build it. I can stand it up. I've done it before. Let's just do it with it reporting through marketing and with an open mind. And if it doesn't work, then we can pull it back into sales and I can stay close," and that was that.
I was left to build and motivate the individuals to meet our results, which at the time was still marketing created opportunities, not necessarily meetings booked or MQLs, which is a different conversation. But I changed that mindset.
It's just these small tweaks that I could make along the way that have amalgamated into motivated individuals that are happy to be here, and more than that, learning skills that they can take to maybe a sales career, but also maybe a marketing career, and maybe a customer success career because the personality and the sense of community isn't going away.
That is, to our earlier conversation which we thought was a different one, that is the B2C moving into the B2B marketing.
Right. So, what does it look like now? Operation wise, what do your BDRs do and how are they assisting the marketing process?
Yeah, that's a great question. Today the BDRs still report up through the marketing team. Said better, they actually report directly to our account-based marketing (ABM) team. We have narrowed down our target lists by industry.
The account-based marketing manager also has his own list of targets, they are measured today on active pipeline, so we are looking at how many opportunities or the dollar value attached to an active pipeline opportunity.
When I started two years ago, I threw the notion of 150 emails, 100 cold calls, 20 second voicemails out the window--all those weird statistics that we think really move the needle or that we've taught ourselves over the last 10 years that that's what moves the needle is gone and I am trying to be part of the conversation where, in 24 months, the role of BDR is still very important, but looks very different.
I think 10 years ago, these tactics worked. When I was doing it 10 years ago, it was a godsend from a sales perspective--following up on inbound leads. It was great, and I got into a lot of sales conversations just by following up on link clicks.
And then a couple years ago that all just fell apart, I think for a lot of reasons that we don't need to go into, but I mean that's what's causing the problems is that ultimately it's not aligned with how the buyer wants to buy.
I couldn't agree more. It's not aligned with the way that the buyer wants to buy.
Can I sit here and say that the BDR is totally ingrained in our customer success motion or our install base motion today?
No, but should they be, and will they be in the next coming months, in the coming quarters?
Yes, because those are the activities that are going to move the needle and those are the activities that are ultimately going to also help build their skillsets.
The notion of prospecting or finding the right fits for our tools isn't going away. It's just we're just interacting with people differently the way that they want to be interacted with.
That's well said. I'm wondering did you look at any other models for this? Because not very many organizations have moved BDRs into marketing and I don't know if you've seen any of the back and forth on LinkedIn, but many sales leaders aren’t willing to let go of the function.
I think one of the things that allows for our motion to be so successful is that I understand and am connected to the data in the sales cycle. And so, I don't think it matters where they report. It could be functioning on its own as long as you have the right leadership to help drive the number and the motivation and the equation forward, if it is an equation.
I've done the role, and it's hard.
I understand where those people and those mental games come from and I live with a sales leader and see his mental game in trying to close business, and I think it is frankly too hard for organizations to assume that a single person can prospect, market, talk to, demo, write contracts, rework red lines, fix pricing, onboard a customer, and so on.
I just said 7 different jobs, but somehow the role of BDR and SDR and sales is roped into one role.
I think it requires the right leadership, somebody close to the data who understands the data but then knows how to communicate and talk about the problems that are in front of you.
So now let's talk about what everybody's been waiting for, I'm sure, which is, what are the results that you've seen since you've moved them into marketing?
Last year we drove $40 million into the sales pipeline. I'll comfortably say that’s four times higher than what it was the year before, and two years before that.
And obviously shortened sales cycles, right?
Yeah. Although the sales cycles are tricky. We continuously look at data points around when we close-lost something, for example when it hasn’t been closed lost yet.
The enterprise sales cycle specifically is one that Intellum had introduced to me along the way, and so I’m keeping an open mind about where the average day sales cycle lives and how we treat it.
But I think that's ultimately also part of the BDR role and the marketing role is to help further that along or nurture that as we see fit.
If there's a way to identify that, I'm open to it but I think that takes a strong partnership, keeping your sales cycles open, or closed for that matter, but yes, if we look at the raw data, has the sales cycle decreased? Yes.
But that’s also because bandwidth has increased and so hiring has taken place because of understanding where we sit in our pipeline versus our goals.
And one last question on that too, I mean you talked about how the BDRs work closely with your ABM team, which tells me that they are focused primarily on demand capture, as opposed to demand generation in the long-term.
But we also talked in our pre-call about how the BDRs own the top of the funnel. What's the difference as you see it there?
Are the BDRs working at all to help you generate demand or create customers way, way at the top of the funnel?
Good question, and I do recall where we talked about this. So one of the ways that I both incentivize and help motivate a BDR team is through what I call a segmentation or grading exercise.
And it is not just about whether this customer meets our ideal client profiles (ICP) or not. I could go out and buy any tool today that says, "Here's your revenue and the job titles that are associated and the industry that they work in."
More specifically, at both my former company and my current company, I have implemented a grading question that allows you to look at whether the prospect is the right fit for your business or your offering.
So in the example of Intellum, if we think about education and we think about how hard it is to sell a piece of software--and then we have this problem around enabling our users to be the best that they can be at the software that we sold them--when we think about that, what I try to do is look at an individual website of a customer and say, "Okay, do they have an academy?
Do they run a university or courseware?
Are they driving a certification program that is trying to enable both the industry, but also their individual users on their software?"
I look at what our differentiators are, and what I see manually by intervening into a website or into a customer, into a prospect, and checking off the boxes like, "Okay, these people are doing these things. We just need to think about how we communicate what our message is and how we can help them scale or build this business."
It's literally an equation field in our CRM and I don't talk to or interact with, unless they come to us, with anyone who scores below a 65 on my threshold.
Interesting. Well, I think that's a good place to land the episode. It's been an illuminating interview. I certainly hope that it gets people to question their structures and why they're doing things and maybe look a little bit into a new model that's more buyer-centric and that is going to yield some better results.
So again, thanks for doing the interview. If people want to engage with you, how can they do that?
They can find me on LinkedIn, and through the Intellum website. I am available, ready to talk. It's been fun.
Fantastic. Thanks so much Robyn and thanks everybody for listening to this episode of SaaS Backwards. If you want to reach me, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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