May 10, 2024

Should Your B2B Company Try Sales Outsourcing? We Did, and Here’s What Happened.

As a marketing agency, we’ve worked with outsourced sales teams in the past to help us execute multi-touch campaigns for clients. But we’d never hired one to generate leads and meetings for our own B2B sales efforts. Curious about what it could do for GamePlan Marketing, we decided to give one company a try.  

Last year, we hired a small firm (we’ll call them Sales Boost) that would hire, train, and manage payroll for a few sales development reps (SDRs) who would generate leads (and hopefully, meetings) for us. We would be responsible for managing their sales activities. It was a smaller and less risky investment to make compared to hiring and training a new full-time SDR.  

Overall, we looked at it as an experiment.  

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We wanted to give it at least two months if we felt it was a good fit. This is how it would break down for the first month: 
Onboarding fee: $2000 (one-time fee)
Management & Tech:  $575 (monthly fee)
Prospect list building: $0 (we provided the list)
Approx. 80 hours of prospecting: $3200 (15-20 calls/hr + email + SMS)
Total: $5775 

I was tasked with managing the relationship. I’ve worked in both tech sales and agency sales in the past, so understand the industries, processes, and realities. For realities, we knew that setting up a meeting would be a challenge for the SDRs but not impossible. To be specific, if they produced a few meetings per month, the experiment would be a success.

What follows is our experience with this provider and what we learned along the way. The takeaways are questions we feel you should ask any sales outsourcing provider—ideally before you sign up. Also included are comments on mistakes we made, and how we would do things differently.  

5-Second Summary

  • We experimented with outsourcing B2B sales to Sales Boost.
  • Despite careful onboarding and management, results were modest with only one meeting secured.
  • Issues included misrepresentation by one SDR and limited CRM integration, leading to a decision to hire an internal SDR.
  • Lessons learned emphasize the importance of accountability, communication, and realistic expectations in sales outsourcing.
  • Consequently, we opted to hire an internal sales rep to address these issues.

 

Discovery & Onboarding

This was a fairly standard process, which included answering questions about our ideal customer profile, issues we solve for our clients, differentiators, and the like. 

We also had to provide a calendar link (to book meetings) and email address for the SDRs to use (an alias with our domain). This account would be connected to Sales Boost’s CRM. They would make calls and send emails from their CRM.  

Then it was on to the talk track. For this, we listed the goals we wanted out of the calling, e.g. book an introductory meeting with us. We also created the call pitch for both the decision maker and the gatekeeper. This included some qualifying questions to ask the decision maker, such as how are you currently generating new leads for your sales team?

 

Takeaways

As the customer, what are my responsibilities?

Our primary responsibility was managing the SDRs. But as you’ll see, there were other things that came up that took time. 

How long does it take to get started?

There are always variables at play, but at least get a ballpark so you know what to expect. From the time we signed to the start of the SDRs, making calls took over two months. This was longer than we anticipated.  

Do you provide a list of target contacts/companies to call? 

If you provide your own list, as we did, you’ll probably save money on the program’s costs.

If I provide the target list, do you have parameters on the company profiles? 

After I shared the list we built on ZoomInfo and Apollo, Sales Boost said some of the target companies were too big (500+ employees). Their reasoning was that because we were targeting marketing managers/VPs, it was unlikely the SDRs would have success connecting with these contacts at bigger companies during the 1-month pilot. This made sense, so we adjusted our list.  

How will the rep’s activities sync to my CRM?

Sales Boost’s dashboard provided call data and included call recordings and SDR notes. Each email sent could be copied with a BCC address to our CRM. However, notes could only be transferred to our CRM with a weekly Excel file data download. This was time-consuming and not ideal. And transferring call recordings? Not possible.  

What phone number will you use for outbound calls? And can we test it?

Who doesn’t get a lot of spam calls to their cell phones? Ask the provider to call your cell and those of some colleagues. More about this later. 

 

Selecting Sales Reps

Because Sales Boost is a small provider, they don’t employ a team of SDRs like some of the larger companies. From what we could gather, they have a network of reps they’ve worked with before who they then contact about opportunities.

Anyway, once the applications came in, we’d get an email with a link to a profile on our Sale Boost dashboard. The apps trickled in—one the first day, maybe another a few days later. 

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The apps included a short video pitch from the rep, a LinkedIn profile, and general experience. The rep would provide their hourly rate, which gave us the chance to counter with a different rate. The rep could accept or pass.

The volume and quality of apps were underwhelming and most didn’t have technology experience. Fortunately, two of them did so we made offers by clicking the “Hire” button. We’ll call one Katie and the other Scott.

 

Takeaways

Do you want a provider with a team of in-house reps or one that outsources? 

I would prefer one with their own SDRs. They’ve already been vetted, trained, and are more accountable to the provider and by extension, to you, the client.   

Can I interview the SDRs before hiring?

I suppose we could have asked to conduct interviews, but it wasn’t part of their process (and wasn’t offered). So we made decisions based on the recorded pitch and LinkedIn profiles. Not something we would do again. 

Based on what you know about our industry/targets, do you have SDRs you would recommend? 

This is a good question to ask before you sign a contract. Whether they have internal SDRs or bring from the outside, they will likely have people in mind. Ask them. 

 

Managing the Outsourced Sales Provider Process

Once Katie and Scott were onboarded by Sales Boost, I met with each one to kick things off. We talked about our target market, the program goals, and their work schedules. I answered questions and set up a weekly recurring call to touch base. 

About a week in, I got an email from Scott asking if we had ever worked with clients who themselves worked directly with the government. One of the contacts he called had asked about this. 

I responded that we didn’t have any experience with the government, but I would still entertain a call with him. I didn’t think anything else of it. 

Later that day when I was reviewing emails, I noticed this one from Scott to that same contact:

John, we spoke last week about GamePlan and you asked if we work with Government contractor clients.

We have indeed in Canada.  And for US gov, we had to jump through several hoops, but were able to build campaigns.

What day would work best for you to have a call to discuss in further detail?

Scott told the contact the exact opposite of what I told him (and even added the embellishment about creating campaigns). We were pretty floored. I emailed Scott and said, “Please don’t misrepresent what we do.” 

He apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. But from that moment forward, any trust we had was essentially broken, which is a shame because Scott had years of sales experience. 

With almost three weeks left in the initial trial month, we decided to keep him on. I was checking calls and emails daily so figured I could monitor his communication. Plus it would have taken another week or two just to get another SDR ramped up. On top of that, the applicants we continued to receive didn’t look too promising.  

 

Always Verify This One Thing

For their 2-hour daily shifts, Katie and Scott were each getting around 15-25 attempted calls—left voicemails, no answers, calls just not going through—but rarely were contacts picking up. 

This wasn’t really surprising. Who answers calls anymore unless they recognize the caller? But there was also more to this story. 

One day, Scott emailed and said there was a problem with the number he was calling out from. A contact he reached told him that the number was identified as “spam” on his phone, but he picked it up anyway. Go figure. 

I then had him call me on my cell. Sure enough, my phone flagged it as spam and pushed an automated reply asking the caller for more information. This may have explained some of their trouble getting through to contacts. If nothing else, it was a needless handicap for an already difficult task.

When I contacted Sales Boost about it, they said it happens sometimes and immediately changed the number. It’s a known issue so why didn’t they test the number before using it? 

I didn’t test the new number because by that point, there were only a few days left on our pilot program.

 

Takeaways

When you onboard SDRs, do you train them on the call/email process? 

After the first week of calls, I noticed Katie wasn’t emailing follow-ups to contacts after making calls. When I asked her about it, she said she didn’t know she had to. Scott, however, was sending follow-up emails. Either way, I should have talked about the process with Katie on our first call. Sales Boost was supposed to cover this in their onboarding, but I should have confirmed. 

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How should you manage the day-to-day activities of the SDRs?

I set aside about 30 minutes daily to review the call recordings, notes, and emails. As you can see from our experience above with Scott, this is important. 

How should you monitor the SDRs’ daily activities?

Ideally, your CRM is connected to their CRM so all calls, emails, and notes are dropped into your app in real-time. If not, the provider should include a dashboard where you can track individual activities by rep.  

What if an SDR isn’t working out?

If an SDR isn’t a good fit, is not productive, or does something that severs your trust, you should be able to request a different rep. Is there a process for this and what does that look like? It would be nice to know you can switch horses mid-race without a lot of headaches.   

 

Outsourced Sales Team Results

Cold calling is hard. Period. Rarely does anyone answer their phone unless they recognize the number. If, in the first month, the SDRs had nabbed us two meetings, we’d have called it a success. 

As it turns out, we got one meeting out of it. This was a very high-level interest call and not an opportunity that would go in the pipeline. A few other contacts expressed some interest, and I’ve followed up with them. 

Regarding ROI, we are in the hole $5775 plus the cost of our time managing it.

 

Takeaways

Is one month enough time to evaluate?

The 3-month pilot would have been a much better test, but obviously a bigger investment. For us, one month worked because this vendor was not a good fit. We also learned more about pure cold calling.

 

Conclusions on Outsourced Sales 

We decided not to continue Sales Boost for a number of reasons. First, we had no control over the quality of the SDR applicant pool should we need to change or augment it. And there wasn’t enough accountability with the SDRs we did hire because they weren’t working directly for us or even Sales Boost. 

Also, because our CRMs could not be integrated, the sales activities we captured in our CRM were limited to emails unless we performed a weekly data download. This took time, was prone to errors, and still didn’t capture call recordings and activity dates.

Finally, as mentioned at the outset, hiring an outsourced sales team was an experiment to see how cold calling would work. Would contacts even answer their phones? We found less than 2% did. Part of this was surely from the spammy contact number they were calling from. But even if the number was okay, most people just aren’t going to answer a call from a number they don’t recognize. 

After this program, we hired a full-time internal SDR. We incorporated his calling into marketing campaigns where the contacts had shown some interest in a particular solution. While some of the challenges such as getting a hold of people on the phone remained, having the calling combined with campaign-specific touchpoints increased his effectiveness.   

 

Contact us to discuss whether sales outsourcing is
the right strategy for your B2B company.