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Making the Transition: From Lead Gen to Closing Business

Posted by Matt Bertuzzi on Wed, Jan 09, 2013

I saw this question on LinkedIn the other day:

I was immediately reminded of something I saw from Chris Corcoran, Cofounder of memoryBlue. Chris was kind enough to let me repost the following:

Lead Generation to Inside Sales – Are You Worth The Risk?

Many high tech salespeople earn their stripes in lead generation for the complex sale. It’s a low risk way for companies to test and train sales professionals without allowing inexperienced reps to blow deals.  However, most lead gen reps don’t view the role as the zenith of their professional sales career; instead they have their sights set on the next rung of the ladder. Contrast that with companies, and more specifically sales managers, who are hesitant to hire someone for a closing position unless the sales professional has experience closing deals.

Fair or unfair, you’ll have to win the chicken or the egg argument—how am I supposed to get closing experience unless someone gives me an opportunity to get closing experience—because managers may see you as a project that they don’t need on their already overcrowded plate.

In order to win this debate, you’ll need to prove that you’re a sales professional worth betting on.

Here’s how.

Record Your Calls.

Peyton Manning is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football. The New York Times wrote an article “Peyton Manning’s Case for Being the Best Ever” detailing how he out-prepares the competition each week and chronicles his legendary film study habits.

In order to outpace the pack, invest time each week breaking down recordings of your prospecting calls.  Pick one or two calls each week and complete a detailed call evaluation where you dissect the call. My team selects their strongest call and weakest call of each week for this exercise.

Share your call recordings and evaluations with your manager, the VP of Sales, or the strongest closing rep and ask them for their feedback and coaching.

This exercise will help you accelerate how quickly you improve your selling skills. If you want to eventually become the “Peyton Manning of Sales,” you’ll need to match his famous work ethic.

If your company’s telephone system doesn’t have this functionality you can get a USB call recorder for less than $200.

Get Face Time.

Lobby for a standing weekly 30 minute meeting with your manager to review your results and activities.  Many sales reps hope that their management leaves them alone. Seeking out an audience with management is a rare role reversal that few desire. Plus it makes you accountable for producing results every week.

Identify the strongest closing rep at your company and befriend that individual. Birds of a feather flock together. Of course you’ll want to find out how that individual got into a closing role and ask for advice on how you can follow suit. More immediately, ask that individual what you can do to help them become more successful.

Offer to take your VP of Sales out for coffee, breakfast, or lunch and ask for advice on how you can succeed under their leadership. Insist on picking up the check. This small but not insignificant gesture signals that you value their time and are willing to invest in yourself.

Invest in Your Career.

The sales trainers I know tell me there are two types of salespeople who attend their sales training: 1) the ones whose companies pay for them to go and 2) the ones who invest in themselves by paying their own money to go.

I’m told that less than 3% of sales reps fall into that second category.


Mark Twain nailed it over a century ago. Here’s my tweak to his famous quote:  “The man salesperson who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man salesperson who can’t read them.”

There are dozens of great sales books out there. Reading and applying the material will sharpen your sales skills and help you demonstrate you can handle the responsibility of closing deals.

Produce Quality Results.

Develop a portfolio of highly qualified sales opportunities that ultimately close. Pay extra special attention to the qualitative aspects of your leads and try to carry these sales opportunities as far as possible prior to involving your closing teammates. Your goal should be to know more details about your sales opportunities than any other salesperson in your company.  Try to “out qualify” not only your lead gen contemporaries, but the closing reps too.

Demonstrate that you can consistently surface, qualify, and drive the sales process to the point that the deal advances to the next stage of the sales process with clear and mutually agreed upon next steps.

Bottom line: amass a war chest of sales opportunities that are likely to close, regardless of who ultimately gets ink on paper.

“There is very little traffic on the extra mile.” – Unknown

If you’re given a list of prospects, augment it through your own personal research. If you have one name at a target prospect, find ten. Extend your research so you’ve got a compelling reason to speak with each person.  Ask any experienced litigation attorney, and you’ll hear that cases are won or lost at trial because of what happens prior to trial. The same holds true in prospecting.

Invite yourself to participate in the initial meetings you surface. If you run into resistance, offer to join in “listen only mode,” provide detailed call notes to the closing rep and your manager, and perform all post call follow-up for the rep.

The good news is you can become an elite lead gen rep—one worth risking a closing role on—by simply doing all the little things that most lead gen reps won’t do. The choice, of course, is up to you.

I absolutely love this. For me, the advice to read, ask & know more are hugely important for success in any profession. Gigantic thanks to Chris for the thought-provoking words. 

What advice would you give to reps looking to make the transition?

Find Matt on Twitter and Google+ 




Matt, while there are some notable exceptions, I subscribe to the belief that for the most part "hunters" (closers) are built differently than "beaters" (those who beat the bushes looking for new business). Hunters are risk takers. They want a highly leveraged comp plan and a huge upside. Beaters are risk adverse. They look for an 80/20 plan and the vast majority of beaters, no matter what they say, rarely make incentives. Hunters want independence. They work when no one else works. They want to play when they want to play. Beaters like structure, they want "strokes". They want to come in at 8:00 and leave at 5:00 and don't want to take their job with them. A really smart man I used to work for always said: "you can't put in what God left out". It is best for an individual to get help evaluating what they are both good at AND what they want. The worst thing you can do is take a great beater and try to turn them into hunters. Don't even get me started on farmers... I know this is a contrarian view, and my points are not directed at inside sales people selling a commodity. However, if you sell a complex, enterprise solution I doubt that it is going to be cost effective to develop from within AND you are going to make hiring mistakes if that is your goal because you are going to hire individuals who hate to beat the bushes looking for new business unless the career path is 0 - 3 months. Thanks, Matt, for an interesting discussion.

posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 7:55 AM by Dan McDade

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Dan. 
I do agree that intrinsic is, well, intrinsic. I also don't dispute that many (but not most) aren't good at developing from within. But to me that says more about the company than the notion. 
For me the big question remains, in 5 years (as with today) companies will want new sales reps with 2-4 years of closing experience. Where are those reps going to come from? 
My answer: someone/somewhere/somehow will have to give those (who are today earning their stripes in lead gen) a shot. 

posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 8:31 AM by Matt

No offense to Dan, but to dismiss someone who is willing to do what it takes to get to a 'closing' position would be foolish. Someone in a lead generation role might not be in that role by choice, but because they know they need to prove themselves. Most every sales leader I've asked for advice seems to agree that lead generation is a good introduction to the sales profession and sort of a rite of passage. It can be seen as a prerequisite to weed out those who won't make it, not necessarily the role that will define someone forever.

posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 9:33 AM by A BDR TODAY

No offense taken and thank you for your comment. My point is that just as only about 20% of all sales people are successful hunters, a relatively small number of inside sales people should and will end up in the field. To evaluate and or test for inside sales skills and field sales skills at the same time can lead to rapid turnover in the inside sales ranks which may be an unintended consequence. Thank you again.

posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 10:03 AM by Dan McDade

@Matt - thanks for reposting and weighing in. You nailed it: Where are these future hunters going to come from?  
I argue that Lead Gen reps for complex solutions are better candidates to *eventually* elevate into a hunter role than the existing hunters selling transactional deals. While many companies prefer buying talent (hiring from a direct competitor or tangential industry) over developing talent, huge opportunity exists for the sales teams with the patience and discipline to develop their own hunters. 
@Dan - you make a great observation that there is a Grand Canyon sized skill gap between a lead gen rep and an enterprise rep in the field. The sales teams that bridge that gap through inside closing reps and then junior hybrid field reps will enjoy a disproportion of the success. 
The Moneyball concept is popular right now. Recent college graduates are undervalued in the marketplace and offer employers the most upside potential (my belief anyway) out of any other demographic in the labor market. These young professionals gravitate to companies/managers that offer heavy training, early exposure to top executives, and steep career trajectories. 
Matt probably has metrics to support what I'm seeing: the shelf life of top lead gen talent is less than 2 years - and shrinking. 
Which begs the question, where does all of this top performing ex-lead gen talent go? My answer: to sales positions with more earning potential, responsibility, and upside (defined career path). 

posted @ Wednesday, January 09, 2013 4:59 PM by Chris Corcoran

I'd be careful in recording phone calls - many states in the US have laws against recording without the consent of everyone on the phone.

posted @ Saturday, January 19, 2013 12:26 PM by Cori

Matt, I enjoyed the piece. From my experience and our company knowledge, we definitely say leave the lead generation work to the experts and the closing to the artists. Each to his own. Closing is the hard part and I would recommend investing in the human resources who have the talent, the hunger and I would give them the incentives needed to boost their performance.

posted @ Tuesday, February 05, 2013 4:58 PM by Darren Riz

I would also add having the lead gen reps listen to the first calls between prospect and AE. It's a great way to learn about the next step in the process, learn about deeper pains the prospect may have and then they can use that again in new prospecting calls.

posted @ Wednesday, February 13, 2013 9:57 AM by Richard

+100 to Richard's comment. There is real value in "seeing" how other's conduct calls. Not to mention noticing the difference between AEs.

posted @ Monday, February 18, 2013 6:26 AM by Matt Bertuzzi

Thanks for a lively and educational debate.  
My $.02: I have successfully promoted closers from the ISR role, by carving out a sector of product/service that the ISR can independently close, then supporting those who seize on the opportunity and strive to make the number.  
In this way, Hunters and Farmers self-select through their motivation, action and success.  

posted @ Monday, April 22, 2013 7:43 AM by Ed Alexander

There are so many sales jobs out there where the candidate is expected to cold call and close (unfortunately not enough firms differentiate between the roles) - If you are passionate about closing, I would suggest looking at jobs like this that are geared toward unproven, aspiring sales folks, like recent college grads or people with 1-3 years experience. Sometimes you have to back up to surge forward.

posted @ Monday, May 13, 2013 9:35 AM by Kathy Tito

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