An Act-On Conversation: Anneke Seley and Shawn Naggiar Talk Inside Sales

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Act-On ConversationsEditor’s note: Anneke Seley is the CEO and founder of Reality Works Group, and co-author of the book “Sales 2.0 Improve Business Results Using Innovative Sales Practices and Technology.” She is also the founder of OracleDirect, Oracle’s global inside sales organization, now a multi-billion dollar, world-wide operation.
Thursday February 6th, Anneke will moderate an interactive panel: “Ask An Expert, Ask Your Peers,” at the AA-ISP (American Association of Inside Sales Professionals) Inside Sales 2014 event in San Francisco. Shawn Naggiar, Act-On’s Chief Revenue Officer, will be one of Anneke’s guests on that panel. The others are Matt Weil, Vice President, Direct Sales, Sunrun; and Brent Holloway, Sr. Manager, Global Inside Sales, HP Enterprise Security Products.


Listen to the podcast, or read the edited transcript below in which Anneke and Shawn discuss the evolution of inside sales, and talk a bit about the upcoming event.

Shawn NaggiarSHAWN: Anneke, you were an early inside sales leader. Certainly at Oracle you had some great experience. Tell me how inside sales has changed since you started the inside sales group at Oracle back in the ’80s.

ANNEKE: Three things I’ve noticed have changed:

1. One is that there is wide acceptance of inside sales. When I was trying to get everybody at Oracle to try out a lead generation function and later a revenue generation function without seeing the customer face to face, people thought I was mad crazy. I mean this just wasn’t regularly accepted practice. It was very untested and unproven, but of course history tells the story, it’s totally working. And pretty much every company nowadays especially in technology has adopted this model.

Anneke Seley2. Also we have completely different expectations from the buyers. They have a lot more access to information in real time, and they want real-time response from the sales team. It’s sort of a must-have in today’s sales model.

3. And last but not least, as you know the technology has changed from the time I started when – believe it or not – we just had the phone. Then later in the ’90s email came along. And initially everybody questioned whether people would actually do business using email, which is kind of a joke now. And today’s world there’s just so many choices from social, to sales and market productivity products, analytics, gamification, it gets crazy. What do you think about all of this? What has changed for you mostly?

SHAWN: Clearly we’re in the midst of an inside sales movement. We like to examine a lot of the different megatrends that are in the market today that help support the growth of marketing automation and lead generation strategies. And we’ve clearly identified the movement of inside sales, the idea that organizations are shifting to the inside sales model.

Obviously the economics are great. The time-to-market is much better than traditional field sales organizations. The amount of technology that’s out there now enabling inside sales organizations to be more efficient and effective has really changed the way marketers market.

Some of the old, traditional lead generation models don’t have the proper cadence and speed. They don’t provide the right type or amount of information to the inside sales organizations to let them act immediately. So it’s fun to watch it from all sides and see the movement both inside our own sales organization, and also how it’s impacting the technology market in general. It’s pretty exciting stuff.

Talk a little bit about how the inside sales model is affecting field sales. Is field sales disappearing? What are you seeing out there?

ANNEKE: As you can imagine, if you’re in a large company that’s been selling in a traditional way for decades, it’s not going to change overnight. Brent Holloway, my co-author, is going to be on our panel. He works at HP now. He’ll talk about the coexistence of his inside sales team with a large and dominant field sales organization. But honestly for faster moving more innovative newer companies, the model is really blending. And I can’t wait to hear what you say about this.

I see the walls coming down between inside and field. We have the emergence of the hybrid model where inside reps might do most of their work on the phone, but we don’t chain them to their desks. They’re allowed to go visit customers if it’s important to the deal and the margin supports that. Tell me about what you guys do at Act-On, ’cause I think it’s right in line with the innovators.

SHAWN: Yeah. It was a loaded question, but I wanted to get your opinion. I mean clearly field sales isn’t going to disappear. But I will tell you that software-as-a-service and cloud technology and the subscription revenue or subscription billing model is becoming much more popular. We talked about the megatrend on moving to inside sales. But there’s obviously a huge megatrend around moving to software-as-a-service.

I think that’s driving a lot of the growth in inside sales. When you think about the way organizations buy and their acceptance of that model, once they get over the capex piece, it’s a better way to buy technology and a better way to buy software. And without that big upfront invoice, I think a lot of organizations are looking to longer-term growth strategies that involve recurring revenue. And I think an inside sales team is often times best suited to that. I know there are lots of great field organizations selling software-as-a-service. But I think the movements in the midmarket and the movements around subscription billing models are driving the growth of inside sales quite a bit.

ANNEKE: Absolutely. And as I’m sure is not a surprise to you, even field sales reps begin their initial conversations online or by phone. You don’t typically go visit a customer on the first interaction. And now a lot more of the deals can be done without visiting. And then once you have that relationship and you’ve met a few times, you can continue that relationship without having to travel. Is that what you’re seeing?

SHAWN: Yes, and what’s most fascinating to me about this transition is how inside sales teams have evolved. I mean the old school view on inside sales was phone jockeys making 200, 300 calls a day. And certainly that’s a big part of it on the prospecting piece. But to see the way inside sales organizations have developed into strategic selling machines … They’re combining the strategic selling ability of a traditional field person with the tactical velocity that comes from being inside and not doing a lot of the traveling, and then leveraging the technologies that are out there today to increase the velocity even more.

The marriage of the two is pretty dangerous. Act-On certainly has a very large inside team and we find that these guys can book similar business to what a traditional field sales person can book. And obviously the economics for the organization are far superior. So it’s a pretty exciting time to be in inside sales.

ANNEKE: No kidding. It’s the future of selling.

SHAWN: Absolutely. So Anneke, let’s talk a little bit about technology. I know that you guys do a lot of consulting work around getting organizations up to speed on the latest technology for inside sales. Tell me a little bit about what people are leveraging out there?

ANNEKE: Yeah. That’s a great question. And this is a subject that we could go on about for a long time. There are so many choices and it becomes overwhelming, especially if you have a full-time job where you’re not focused on evaluating all the tools and technologies. But I like to think about technology in terms of various functions. There are technologies that help with sales productivity and understanding your business, whether it’s analytics or speeding up the time to connect with customers. And then there are technologies that are about making your relationship with the customer closer, understanding more about them, reaching them more regularly.

And I think I have to hand this one back to you because, Shawn, you’re right in this world with Act-On Software. You actually address both of those things, so maybe you could spend a minute talking about how your team makes use of those technologies.

SHAWN: One of the most powerful things we leverage inside Act-On’s marketing automation technology is the intelligence that marketing can pass to sales. And it can be as simple as a sales rep going into their CRM system and pulling up a lead. In the old days, maybe there was an A lead, a B lead, a C lead. But there was very cryptic information about what was inside of that lead. Maybe it said something like “white paper download.” But you really weren’t sure what the lead got and when they got it.

Marketing automation technology has enabled inside sales organizations to have insight into every single piece of the engagement the prospect has had with your company’s collateral. Whether it’s marketing collateral or sales-generating collateral, marketing automation allows sales people to send out relevant, professional content to their prospects. But just the idea that when I’m picking up the phone to make that sales call, I can see every web page the prospect has visited, every webinar she’s attended, every white paper she’s downloaded, and very quickly make an assessment on what that prospect is probably interested in, based on what she’s – or he’s – interacted with.

And I think that level of intelligence is one of the biggest values marketing automation technology offers the sales organization. And the second one is the prioritization of lead follow up. Marketing automation enables sales organizations to prioritize their leads for follow-up based on things like lead scoring or behavioral profiling. So I can make sure that I spend my most precious resource, which is my time, on the right leads, versus just blindly calling through the entire list.

But I think I digressed. So I’ll kick it back to you, Anneke.

ANNEKE: I made you do it. [LAUGHTER]

SHAWN: I’m really excited about spending some time with you at the session and the AAISP conference. It’s going to be a real good time.

AA-ISP "Inside Sales" eventANNEKE: We have an impressive lineup. Thursday morning Bob Perkins will be there, he’s the founder of the AAISP and also a sales leader within inside sales at Merrill Corporation. He is going to be covering the top trends in inside sales as an evolving profession.

Tom Dekle is going to be there as the keynote speaker. He’s the VP of marketing for online commerce and lead development sales within IBM inside sales for North America. And I don’t know if you know too much about IBM’s internal initiatives, but they’ve made a really strong statement about becoming a social and digital leader within technology. And for a large global company, a Fortune 50, it’s pretty hard to change the way veteran sales people sell. But they’re doing an amazing job within inside sales over there. His topic is going to be social, mobile, and the renaissance of inside selling.

Then we have Dave Elkington, who’s the co-founder and CEO of insidesales.com. They do amazing work in research. He’ll be talking about predicting the future of sales. Always a great speaker to hear.

And then the morning will finish with Brett Wallace, director of sales at LinkedIn, talking about how top sales teams leverage LinkedIn for social selling.

In the afternoon, you and I, Shawn, will take the stage with Matt Weil of Sunrun and Brent Holloway of HP. I am really excited about covering hot topics like the convergence of marketing, sales, and service, and how marketing automation supports and aligns revenue generation teams.

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You’re invited: Join Anneke and her guests at the AAISP Inside Sales 2014 event, for a live and lively give-and-take about inside sales. That’s Thursday, February 6th, at the San Francisco conference center. Inside sales Just visit www.aa-isp.org to register.

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  • bri44any

    I agree with Shawn. ActOn is powerful in the way that it enables marketers to help sales. As Anneke mentioned, sales needs to respond to customers immediately. Marketing needs to be prepared to help them do that.

  • Jay McBain

    Great conversation on inside sales – next time a deeper discussion on inside business development, lead generation vs. sales function would be interesting.

    • SherryLamoreaux

      So noted! Thanks, Jay!

    • bri44any

      I would also like to see more details on lead generation and sales function. This is a critical relationship, so insights and tips are appreciated.

  • Tim

    It is certainly fascinating to see the massive shift that sales is undergoing. Certainly the rise of inside sales is huge, but also the change with buyers and how that has greatly impacted sales organizations overall.