You know they aren’t right and you run them anyway

Posted August 10, 2021

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By Feras Abdel

Senior Director Revenue Operations at Outreach

This article is part of our Outreach on Outreach content series, in which we showcase our own revenue team’s use of the Outreach Sales Engagement Platform to help you drive success at your own company. We share workflows and strategies, backed by original research and data from the results of our own experiments and customer base.

The Problem

A while ago, Mark Kosoglow, our VP of Sales, asked for a report on all of our in-progress enterprise-level leads.

I told him, “Sure, it takes five minutes… but it might not be right.”

That’s because statuses in Salesforce are broken. They’re inconsistent, unreliable, and inefficient.

Used as most people do, they hamstring the work of revenue operations leaders everywhere.

But we’ve pioneered a better way.

By automating lead and contact statuses, we have:

  • Increased substantially our data accuracy
  • Streamlined reporting workflows
  • Maximized the value of our sales engagement platform

Want to know we did it?

Read on.

The Problem with Lead and Contact Statuses

At most companies, reps manually update lead and contact status fields. Say I’m an SDR or a sales rep. When I start working on a new lead, I’ll manually mark the contact as assigned. If the prospect replies and we start a conversation, I’ll change the status to in progress. When I land the deal, I’ll manually update the field to closed.

But here’s the problem: the data is only as good as the salesperson inputting the information.

Inevitably, there are going to be mistakes.

Reps are busy. They’re spinning a bunch of plates at any one time. If a hot prospect calls, they’re going to skip over administrative tasks like manual data entry to answer.

It’s a slippery slope. As soon as the data is unreliable, it’s worthless and reps stop using the field entirely.

From a revenue operations perspective, that’s a huge headache.

We can’t report effectively.

Because we can’t use the data, we lose functionality in our sales engagement platform (SEP).

And there’s opacity in our lead generation, meaning we lose a lens to evaluate strategies and tactics.

The good news is that all this is fixable.

A Simple Concept to Fix Everything

The status quo is to have sales reps manually manage everything. They update the status field and take an action.

Our new approach flips that entirely.
Under our new workflow, reps take an action and that automatically changes the lead status.

When someone assigns me as the owner of a record, the contact status automatically changes to assigned. When I drop the lead into a prospecting sequence, the status automatically changes to in progress. And so on.

To work effectively, there are two operational tweaks you have to make.

First, remove the permission of any human user to adjust contact or lead status. This strategy increases data accuracy because it is automated, and no longer predicated on a human doing a task. Allowing people to manually edit data undermines your data integrity. So shut it down.

Second, agree on company-wide statuses and definitions. There’s no point in doing this if teams are using separate vocabularies. When a CRO and CMO talk about an “in progress” contact, they have to mean the same thing.

This point is so important that I recommend people use it as an opportunity to scrap their (often overly complex) statuses and rebuild their list using best practices.

Best Practice Statuses

A lot of organizations go over the top with statuses. They invent a new one for every edge case or unique circumstance and end up with 15 to 20 different options.

As a revenue operations leader, there is always the desire to increase the number of choices in the pick list. But it won’t make your data more clear, it will make it more fragmented. They add detail where you don’t need it. They make reporting messy.

Overhauling your lead and contact status is an opportunity to clean house and rebuild intentionally.

For most businesses, three to five company-wide statuses are all you need. At Outreach, we use five:

Outreach’s Five Contact and Lead Status

  • New: The lead or contact hasn’t been reached out to.
  • Assigned: A sales rep has been assigned to own and manage the activities with this lead or contact.
  • In Progress: The rep is actively reaching out to the lead or contact. (Typically this means an activity has been logged in the last 30 days.)
  • High-Risk: The rep has logged significantly more or less activities in the last 60 days than recommended.
  • Closed: Record is closed.

These statuses will fit most other SaaS companies. While different industries may require a few small tweaks, they won’t change all that much. But the specifics aren’t the most important thing—agreement is.

Bring together revenue leaders—marketing, sales, operations, and so on—and agree on your statuses and definitions as a company. Lock them in and socialize them so everyone is singing from the same song sheet.

When everything is up and running, you can start to explore all the new opportunities and possibilities that come with reliable statuses.

Unlock New Strategies

Think back to the report I mentioned at the start: a report on all in progress enterprise-level leads. In the past, I had to caveat it by saying it might not be accurate. But now, I can deliver totally reliable reports.

Because I can trust the data, I can use it to analyze our sales strategy. Just recently, I’ve used a concoction of title, company size, sequence, and status to test if we’re using the right approach for each of our personas. This data now allows us to have standard definitions of what status a lead is in. This unifies the marketing and sales lead-reporting silos so that anyone at Outreach can see the status of a lead and know exactly what it means.

Then there’s compliance. In the European Union, GDPR is some serious regulation. Holding onto personal data when you shouldn’t can attract significant fines. Every six months, we filter out closed Europe-based leads and dump them. Before, we’d worry that we were losing potential business because some of the leads were marked closed by accident. Now, we know we’re only dumping dead leads.

And this data is valuable to non-sales departments, too. Reliable statuses empower marketing to execute pinpoint refresher campaigns. Sure, they could run the campaign with dirty data—but it would be a lot messier. They’d muddy the water by targeting leads that were marked as closed but who were actually in progress. And they’d miss out on leads that should have been marked as closed, but were left as in progress. With reliable data, marketers only reach the people they want to refresh.

Better yet, they can use lead statuses to analyze and improve their strategies. If a lead gen campaign generated 10,000 leads and 9,000 of them ended up disqualified, they know they’re fishing in the wrong lake.

Repairing a Broken Salesforce Feature

Many revenue leaders are content with directionally accurate status data. But we thought, “Why make it directionally accurate when we can just make it accurate?” We tore down the status quo and rebuilt a better contact and lead status workflow.

By generating 100% accurate data, we’re giving all of our go-to-market teams a new tool. Marketing can use it. Sales can use it. Revenue operations can use it.

And the exciting thing is that these folks are just getting started.

As more revenue operations leaders make the switch and more people access reliable status data, it’ll be amazing to see what new applications they come up with.

Don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn for first dibs on new and exclusive Outreach on Outreach content. Check back in two weeks when Kelsey Dobson and Alex Peyton reveal how they operationalized all of Outreach’s sales content.


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