Creating A Culture Of Experimentation In Inside Sales w/Blake Johnston @OutboundView

Learn from OutboundView CEO Blake Johnston on what an agile inside salesperson is and how creating a culture of experimentation can improve your sales team. Read on to find out more.

RELATED: Creating a Culture of Experimentation in Inside Sales

In this article:

  1. What an Agile Inside Salesperson Is
  2. Why It’s Important to Be an Agile Inside Salesperson
  3. The Qualities of an Agile Inside Salesperson
    1. Why Inside Sales Is Not as Data-Driven as Marketing
  4. The Important Quality That Inside Sales Teams Must Have
  5. Creating a Culture of Experimentation Within Your Inside Sales Team
    1. Create Your Own Experiment Board
  6. Look for Agile Salespersons During the Hiring Process
  7. What Hinders Sales Teams from Having an Experimentation Culture?

Creating a Culture of Experimentation in Your Sales Team

Lean Startup Definition: This refers to the methodology used in developing products and businesses. Its goal is to shorten development cycles by predicting the viability of a proposed business model. Lean startup methodology combines experimentation, iteration, and validated learning to achieve its goal.

Blake Johnston is currently the CEO of OutboundView, a sales and marketing consultancy. Their business has two sides to it, which they both specialize in.

OutboundView focuses on outbound marketing strategy and appointment-setting. They also offer services for inbound marketing strategy and demand generation.

Johnston admitted that the company didn’t really expect to become an appointment-setting company. Yet, they discovered that many times, after setting up infrastructure, their customers want a quick influx.

That is why appointment-setting became a part of their offerings, and it’s also something they “do a good amount of.”

What an Agile Inside Salesperson Is

Johnston experienced working with a lot of inside salespeople. He observed them and discovered the behaviors of an agile salesperson and successful sales teams.

According to him, it always goes back to the basics. The best inside salespeople and inside sales groups are:

  • Focused on learning
  • Curious
  • Actively taking action
  • Working with a growth mindset

As Johnston said, you can look for these characteristics when you’re hiring. Yet, you should also strive to create this culture within your inside sales team and manage them accordingly.

Why It’s Important to Be an Agile Inside Salesperson

It’s important to be an agile salesperson because, as Johnston said, inside salespeople are like chief experimenters. That is also why creating a culture of experimentation is important.

We don’t develop a campaign, then simply throw it out there without making iterations. We make adjustments constantly, whether in messaging, personas, subject lines, offers, etc.

There’s always room for improvement on what we send out to people. You very rarely find campaigns that don’t need improvement.

Inside salespeople who don’t kill bad ideas and don’t scale good ones are only wasting their time.

Personally, one thing I try to do is to get salespeople to think like marketers. People in marketing think through a full campaign, they do A/B split testing, and they’re often more data-driven.

In inside sales, you don’t just build relationships. You also come up with effective ways to reach your target audience and close the deal with them.

Johnston agreed and also gave his own advice, especially because inside salespeople make a lot of small decisions.

If they’re struggling with an activity, apply good exercises with them. For instance, observe how they prospect and have them verbalize why they’re making those decisions.

Some questions you can ask them are:

  • Why does this person look like a good persona?
  • What type of messaging would you send them?
  • What type of offer would you give them?

Making decisions like these is difficult for those who are new to the inside sales industry. That is how you can help them understand the right intent and lead them to make the right decisions.

The Qualities of an Agile Inside Salesperson

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Finding agile salespeople for inside sales

Johnston took us further and described the qualities that make an agile inside salesperson.

First, they focus on learning and iterating. You can see this if they’re willing to constantly make adjustments and if they’re asking questions.

They’re learning not only in their trade and business, but they’re also learning outside of work. They have what we call the “growth mindset.”

Second, they have a bias towards action. They don’t waste their time waiting for their manager to give a go-signal on their next step.

Instead, they take action and ask for forgiveness later, if needed. This usually works out better than sitting and waiting, and that’s why Johnston encourages salespeople to have this attitude.

The third is assumption recognition. This is something we don’t often talk about, but every marketer and inside salesperson makes random assumptions.

Making assumptions is fine as long as you call it out, test, and experiment on it. That is also something managers can reinforce in their teams.

Why Inside Sales Is Not as Data-Driven as Marketing

Compared to marketers, salespeople are not as data-driven. For instance, marketers don’t propose actions without follow-through analytics or details.

Yet in sales, we can do whatever we want as long as we hit the target number.

Johnston thinks the difference lies in the recurring costs of maintaining marketing versus sales. For instance, you run paid ads in marketing.

Due to the recurring costs involved, there’s bound to be stricter accountability. This forces marketers to rely on data to support and justify their costs.

With inside sales, the technology is already provided for. There’s no recurring cost incurred to maintain the technology needed by inside sales reps.

That’s why they have more lenient accountability compared to marketers. Their productivity and effectiveness are not measured as strictly compared to marketers.

The Important Quality That Inside Sales Teams Must Have

We also asked Johnston which single quality of a salesperson stands out above the rest. He revealed that this quality is curiosity.

This is because curious people are typically better with customers. They’re interested in what they’re saying, and people enjoy talking to them because they make others feel like they’re the star.

Curious people constantly ask questions. That is a very important practice, especially in sales.

As Johnston said, toxic team members are the ones who are dead set in their ways. They aren’t curious and are unwilling to learn.

RELATED: How to Create a Cultural Transformation for Your Inside Sales Team

Creating a Culture of Experimentation Within Your Inside Sales Team

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Working as a team to experiment and learn

If you want to have agile inside salespeople in your team, Johnston encourages creating a culture of experimentation. Your team should practice A/B testing, which is critical when you want to test out processes.

If you’re an inside sales manager and want your team to experiment more, consider building an experimentation platform. This means integrating experimentation into your weekly processes and into your culture.

Johnston shared that he and his team conduct a weekly meeting that revolves purely around experimentation. They track all of their experiments in one place.

They do this using an Excel sheet, which he calls an “experiment board.”

It’s an hour-long meeting, and in the first half, they talk about results they achieved. The second half is where they build new experiments.

During the meeting, people also call their shot beforehand. As Johnston said, it’s one thing to A/B test something, but if you don’t do anything with the results, they become pointless.

The experimenter calls out what success looks like, and this acts as the benchmark for the experiment results. It could be something like a 10% response rate or a certain meeting percentage rate.

When they have this meeting, inside salespeople detail why they’re experimenting. They show the whole team what they’re working on, and they call out what success looks like.

It’s a very valuable meeting, and one of the best ones your sales team will have all week.

Create Your Own Experiment Board

Experiment boards get people thinking and the creative juices flowing. If you want to know how to design an experimentation platform, look for inspiration on the internet.

You can use a project tool for tracking, but Johnston recommends using an Excel sheet. This is something often used by product teams.

When you research online, you’ll see different types of Excel sheets that can help you track all the different experiments you’re running. All of them go back to the lean startup methodology principles.

Look for Agile Salespersons During the Hiring Process

If you’re aiming to have an agile sales team, start by hiring people who exhibit the qualities of an agile salesperson.

Big firms, for instance, give their applicants complex problems to solve during the hiring process. They use these to see how good the applicants are in coming up with solutions.

There are a lot of ways on how you can figure out if the applicant has the qualities you’re looking for. You can determine this by asking the right questions and having them solve situational problems.

Remember that individuals who are curious, take action, and ask questions are the ones who will do fine on the job. Those who sit around and wait for the next instructions are the ones you should worry about.

What Hinders Sales Teams from Having an Experimentation Culture?

If creating a culture of experimentation is the best practice, what’s stopping companies from moving to this direction?

Johnston believes that the problem is the leaders. They can take the first step towards building an experimentation culture, but they don’t reinforce it and establish a safe zone where it’s okay to not succeed with everything.

The key is to learn. Building a safe environment that actually allows experimentation is very important.

Of course, there should also be accountability. Experimentation ends up being a huge time-waster if you’re not doing it correctly.

If there’s no accountability during one-on-one sessions with your team members, chances are, no one is going to do anything about their experiments.

If you want to learn more about this topic and Blake Johnston’s company OutboundView, you can visit their website.

Creating a culture of experimentation is something you should intentionally and constantly work towards. This encourages your sales team to take risks and learn to deal with the results.

It’s good to have an experimentation platform where people can safely discuss their ideas. This way, everyone can work together and learn from each other along the way.

What challenges hinder you from having a culture of experimentation? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Creating A Culture Of Experimentation In Inside Sales w/Blake Johnston @OutboundView

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