Why Collibra’s Joe Bisagna Stresses Developing Business Acumen for SDRs

Collin stewart, CEO

25 Jan 2018

When you’re as fascinated with the world of sales development as we, and our listeners, are, you end up talking about training often.

(Check some more thoughts on detailed training here)

That focus, of course, is warranted. After all, if we want new meetings, pipeline and, ultimately, revenue, then the new SDRs coming onboard at companies need to understand their product and how to sell it.

And for the most part, the industry is holding up that end of the bargain. Messaging workshops, demo training, discussions of value propositions, intense studying of buyer personas – all routine parts of sales training.

But according to Joe Bisagna, New York-based Regional Sales Manager at Collibra, the industry is missing a critical competency when training SDRs: business acumen.

“We’re great in this era of sales development at teaching sales cadences. We’re great at teaching the features and the benefits of our complex solutions and offerings,” says Bisagna, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“We’re not great at developing a grasp of how our customers’ businesses operate.”

The Importance, And Development, of Business Acumen

For Bisagna, business acumen comes down to having a nuanced understanding of the needs, wants and goals of the businesses one sells to. And that understanding is cultivated to prove to customers that you know you can help them.

Even the best value prop, or the most beautifully written email, can fall short in this area because both tend to focus specifically on what a particular good or service does. But, in a world full of emails and phone calls, even the most “well done” prospecting can get buried if it doesn’t include examples of your leads’ businesses.

It will help you cut through the noise.

“We’ve become obsessed with scale. So, there are great SDRs out there trying to get to the same executive, even if they aren’t competing in the same market as you. So, there are a lot of really good emails, voicemails etc. that sound somewhat the same being delivered,” says Bisagna.

“There are a lot of product focused messages out there. And, people want to intrinsically know that if they buy your solution you are going to help their business. So, an easy way to show that is that you at least have a hypothesis about how their business operates. That builds trust, rapport and helps people think they want to do business with you.”

But don’t mistake the development of business acumen as simply another teachable piece on an onboarding checklist. Bisagna has made that mistake in the past.

Rather, business acumen, he says, is a critical thinking skill that each SDR needs to develop on their own, with guidance from a manager or sales leader.

“This really is a critical thinking exercise. But the way I’ve seen it approached before was a top performing SDR is ready for the next step, and they ask for help. They want to know more about their market and the customers,” says Bisagna.

“So, sales goes to customer success, because they are considered the experts, and a meeting is scheduled for three weeks later, attended by half the people it could have been, and it’s full of case study presentation. And the case study are delivered through the lens of how we helped this customer. It’s great content, but how does that describe the business challenge that the customer was facing? Storytelling is critical to sales, but I want the folks on my team thinking about the customers business.”

To facilitate this kind of critical thinking, Bisagna designed a process to stimulate his company’s SDRs to look at a business with an inquisitive eye, and in an in-depth fashion.

Collibra’s method:

  1. Choose a vertical Collibra does business in, and a dream company to sell to within that vertical.
  2. Research ways that company makes money, and ways they can save money (3 ways for each).
  3. Design a tailored pitch for three named executives at that company (5 messages per executive).
  4. Present the tailored pitch in a one-on-one meeting.
  5. Along with a manager, analyze the messages sentence by sentence (and make any edits necessary).
  6. Go to market with your with your work.

Of course, “research” is a broad term, adds Bisagna, and can be challenging for new SDRs who don’t yet know all of the tools available to them. If necessary, Bisagna stresses the importance of showing reps where they can access valuable company info – The Wall Street Journal, Squawk Box, financial news or company disclosures.

“I do think that some folks are learning very interesting things in school. But, I don’t think students fully understand how the customer business operates. They may understand some business functions – like how to do basic accounting,” says Bisagna.

“It’s really important for us, though, to look to an SDR role to break through the clutter. It is an area of focus for us, to understand how our customers do business and where to look to learn that.”

Business Acumen for SMBs

So, you might be thinking, the Wall Street Journal or press releases might be good sources of information for enterprise level prospects. But, what if you sell to to mid-market companies? Or, what if startups are your ideal customer? Little, if any information, is easily available for such companies.

So,where does one look?

“We knew we had to change things up, when we started looking at SMBs,”says Bisagna.

“We found SMBs didn’t have a wealth of information in the press, but they were more streamlined. They had a less complicated org structure, and typically and very focused product with their mission statement posted right on their website. So, we used that in our messaging.”

By incorporating specific vocabulary used by the company, you show your prospects that you did your research and that you understand what they want to accomplish.

In addition to a shift in research, SMBs also present a change in behaviour. For example, while enterprise level executives generally have assistants reply to your requests for a meeting, executives at SMBs can be reached directly. And, if and when you do get a decision maker on the phone, they will often give you time to pitch right then and there.

As such, it is important to be prepared for that shift in organizational behaviour, and be ready to share the information you’ve gathered in your research, as well as discuss your company in detail quickly.

The Inspirational Qualities of Business Acumen

Yes, developing business acumen in your SDRs means more work – more work for your SDRs, and more work for your managers and sales leaders.

So, how do you position, and include, that extra work so everyone involved (in particular the SDR) is excited, inspired and understands what’s expected of them? After all, those cadences need to be run, right?

Bisagna says SDRs should be given a clear illustration of what a year in the life of the SDR role looks like. By doing so, you’re able to discuss the importance of business acumen, and show how it makes the role a more nuanced and elevated position.

“When outlining the SDR role, what we say is that you’re gonna do three things – learn the job and start hitting quota, actively work with AE to close deals put in place, and proactively bring ideas back to the business because you have so many conversations with prospects,” says Bisagna.

“By doing this, it shows the development possible. Candidates get excited. And, it shows that you want more from them, instead of just hitting the phones and sending emails. They get excited about the future, and where they can grow in the company.”

For more on Bisagna’s views on business acumen and developing the SDR role, checkout his edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.