How I Buy – Lisa Schnare, Enterprise BDR Manager

By Steve Woods in #HowIBuy
Many of the #HowIBuy articles to date have been focused on senior level decision makers and how they make purchasing decisions. Most of those conversations have shown how much they rely on front-line leaders within their organizations to find, evaluate, and select solutions.

To uncover a bit about this aspect of buying, I caught up with Lisa Schnare, Senior Manager of the Enterprise BDR team at Affinio. It was great to get a perspective on her role and how crucial it is in buying decisions. I hope you’ll enjoy the read.

First of all, let’s start with Affinio.  Help us understand the context by giving us a bit of insight into what you do and the stage you’re at as a company?

We started with the belief that marketing is changing. People are demanding a more personalized experience and often the characteristics of typical demographics are not enough to deliver that.

Affinio is an Interest Analytics Platform that helps marketers better connect with people using rich interest and affinity data. Machine learning lets us reveal the naturally-forming, interest-based segments within any audience allowing our clients to build data-driven personas, informed content strategy, and identify optimal media placement.

I’d say that we’re a late stage startup. In fact, we just closed our Series B round of funding. We’re at 60 people and growing.

Tell us a little about your role Lisa, and specifically, what do you spend money on throughout a year?

I’m the senior manager of the enterprise BDR group.  Our group focuses solely on outbound prospecting for new enterprise clients.  As such, we’re always looking for ways to make our team more effective and more efficient.  We are not a high volume team, for us it’s all about highly personalized messages and precise targeting.

We spend on email enablement, for example SalesLoft, and we have a wide variety of free tools.  Outside of tooling, it’s base infrastructure like CRM (we use Salesforce), and data services for contact information and richer detail on contacts.

How do you discover what the latest tools, platforms, and services are?  How do new ideas come into your orbit?

It’s a combination of things.  First of all, I was an enterprise BDR, so I’m drawing from my own experience in terms of both what the tools are and how potential new solutions might fit into the mix.  I also have an appreciation for the role of the BDR in education, so I’m perhaps a little bit unique in that I do read, consider, and respond to cold emails if they are well written.

Similarly, across the team, we have people with a broad set of experiences with different solutions and approaches, so I think that we have a reasonable number of the bases covered in terms of what is out there.  We also attend a lot of conferences, which is interesting for my role.  I know that one of the big complaints that many people have after coming back from a conference is that many of their ‘leads’ are other vendors at the conference.  As someone interested in the space, however, I’m very interested in seeing who the other vendors are who are presenting at the conferences I’m at in order to see what the latest technology is.

Given that there are lots of things you could invest the team’s time and the company’s money into, how do you prioritize?  What is now vs later?

A lot of it is dictated by the stage we are at as a startup.  In the early days we were small and highly budget-constrained.  Free was a pretty strong motivator back then and was a major driver for us.  Now, we are a lot more value-driven, and being at the front of the sales process, we are able to tie our initiatives much more closely to revenue.  We can see the effect that an increase in efficiency of getting emails sent will have on our ability to generate deals.  I think that’s something that other parts of the organization can’t see quite as clearly in evaluating an investment.

We have a young team, we hire a lot of our BDRs right out of school or with 1-2 years experience, so we put a lot of thought into training and ramp time.  We also need our sales enablement tools to have limits.  You don’t want to enable an inexperienced, junior sales rep with the tools to send 1000s of automated emails with no guard rails.  There’s always a balance of power with downside.

Let’s talk a bit about your evaluation process.  How does a vendor ultimately get selected as the chosen option?

Once we’ve prioritized an area we want to invest in, we’ll do our research into alternative solutions.  Much of that comes from the internal knowledge of the team, what they’ve used at past jobs, and what they know from their peers in the industry.  We are also quite biased towards supporting other startups and disruptive innovators.  The partnership is very valuable to us, and knowing that we’re a meaningful customer for them, not just one among many.  Our question is whether they will meet needs enough to move forward, rather than whether they have the ultimate solution.

I think it’s an element of self-reflection.  We are a startup ourselves, so we know how nimble and customer-centric we must be.  We want that in our vendors.  Often times the larger vendors do have robust and complete products, but we’ll put a lot of weight behind a vendor’s openness, transparency, ability to execute on their roadmap, and responsiveness to our needs.

On a recent buying decision with SalesLoft, for example, we had questions about some capabilities that they did not have, and they said it was on the roadmap for a month away.  Sure enough, a month later it was delivered.  That kind of thing builds a lot of credibility with our team.

When an evaluation process gets to the demo stage, the other advantage of being in sales ourselves comes out.  When we watch a demo, we are highly attuned to the spots where smoke and mirrors might be used.  We are not shy, and we’ll push to “click on that button” or “show me exactly how you would configure that” to look for areas that are not as robust as suggested.  It’s another area that we value honesty and transparency.  An answer of “that doesn’t work yet, but will in the next month” is far better than “my internet is not working”.

What does the internal process look like?  Who else do you need to get buy-in from?

Ultimately, between my VP Sales and I, we are making the case to our CFO.   She evaluates a proposed solution against the rest of the company initiatives and pushes us on different approaches or alternate solutions.  She is awesome and understands that we are a startup, growth happens, and needs change.  If there is a solution that drives real value, we can make it work financially.

How are vendor sales people involved?  What is their role in the process?

I’ll often ask vendors about each other.  That accomplishes two things, first I’ll understand a different lens on the comparison that exposes things I might not have appreciated.  I like vendors who can clearly articulate what they do that is different or better, without bashing the other vendor.  That leads to the second thing, if I detect a vendor bashing another vendor it leaves a bad taste and truly harms their chances of winning my business.

We do our own ROI modeling, and usually have a good sense of where the ROI will sit for a solution.  That being said, we’ll take a vendor’s input on ways to frame the overall ROI model as inputs or ideas.  We’re not going to take their input without a lot of salt, however, and we’ll run our own numbers and frame it in our own words.

What is the biggest mismatch that you see between how you buy and what today’s salespeople do in trying to sell to you?

As a seller myself, I have an appreciation for how difficult it is.  Because of that, I do respond.  I’m upfront with our needs and whether there’s a fit.  What I don’t appreciate though is when that response, if negative, is ignored and I get 5 more emails trying to get me interested.  If I’m interested, I’ll let you know, and if I’m not, I will also let you know.

Thanks for your perspectives Lisa!

Steve Woods
CTO and Co-Founder