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Use Millennial SDRs to Contact “Unaware” Buyers

By Todd Berkowitz | October 14, 2015 | 2 Comments

sales enablementFuture of SalesDemand and Lead Generation

In even a semi-mature market, you have a significant number of potential buyers that have at least thought about a solution to a specific problem, even if they aren’t actively looking to solve it right now. And overall, a large percentage of those buyers are at least cognizant of that problem. But in less mature markets or in places where disruption is ushering in a new category of solutions, that isn’t the case. You have a much higher percentage of what my colleague Tiffani Bova calls “unaware” buyers, where they either don’t know they have a problem or don’t view solving that problem as a high priority.

Getting at these unaware buyers presents a pretty acute challenge for technology marketers and salespeople. Digital marketing is typically pretty ineffective because they aren’t actively looking (rendering search somewhat useless) and they are unlikely to be paying much attention to content on inbound channels that will drive them to web sites and landing pages. Thought leadership activities (think PR) and content (think submitted articles) can be helpful by educating unaware buyers, but that means playing a “long game.”

Since providers can’t expect a steady stream of inbound leads to flow from marketing, the burden for generating leads from unaware buyers lands squarely in the lap of sales. But these buyers aren’t just waiting around to be contacted. They aren’t going to be very receptive to feature-laden e-mails or generic phone calls. Getting their attention requires highlighting a pain they aren’t fully recognizing and convincing them that not solving that pain leads to bad outcomes (typically spending more money than they should or inhibiting the business from capturing as much revenue as they should).

Not only is this process difficult, but it’s also time consuming and expensive. Most providers aren’t terribly keen on using highly paid field sales reps in this capacity, but also don’t trust their outbound sales development reps (SDRs) to do it either. The conventional wisdom is that these “kids” (who are typically only a few years out of college and with limited sales experience) are best used for easier pursuits, namely going after buyers that are further along the readiness spectrum.

In a new research note called “Tech Go-to-Market: Use Outbound Sales Development Reps to Reach Buyers Who Aren’t Aware They Have a Business Problem” (subscription required), I argue against that conventional wisdom. When you call or e-mail unaware buyers, it requires a focus on highlighting business problems/pains and talking about outcomes rather than features. It also requires a lot of agility and a willingness to change approaches based on what is or isn’t working. This is certainly difficult for anyone, but it is actually more difficult for sales reps with more experience and a history of successful selling before the buying cycle changed. The millennial salespeople, the ones who are filling the outbound SDR roles are actually very well suited for this task. Here’s why:

  • They generally lack in technology sales experience, they don’t have the “baggage” of selling with older methodologies or techniques
  • They are typically “malleable” and willing to learn new ways of selling
  • Millennials are rarely lacking in confidence

The research note highlights a great case study from Mulesoft. In that portion of the note, Rich Liu, VP of Corporate Sales for the company, talks about how he discovered what made the Millenials successful in reaching unaware buyers. And that caused him to start hiring fewer people with the “gunslinger” mentality (the typical field sales profile) and hiring more people who came across as cerebral. But as I point out in the note, hiring isn’t enough. If you want those Millennial SDRs to be successful reaching unaware buyers, there are three things that sales enablement and sales operations leaders need to do:

  • Give SDRs Data, Analytics and Tools: In the old days of outbound prospecting, you just called down a list of companies within a particular segment, but there is no need to do that anymore. Business Information Systems, Social Selling Tools and Predictive Prospecting Applications can not only better identify a “fit” for a product or solution, but also give SDRs the information they need to have a more valuable and productive interaction with an unaware buyer
  • Enable the SDRs with Unique Training and Content- SDRs not only need the same training as other sales reps (which is why they should go through the same boot camps or onboarding workshops), but also unique training and content for their specific roles and tasks. Product marketing should be heavily involved and give them customized training and content on an ongoing basis and SDR managers should be constantly monitoring to see what is and isn’t working.
  • Utilize the Right Metrics Instead of focusing solely on contact metrics that measure productivity, but also encourage bad behaviors, SDRs should be measured on a range of metrics that drive the right outcomes.

This is a new concept for most providers and like anything else, there will be hiccups and progress will be uneven. But if you are having trouble gaining traction with unaware buyers, it’s certainly worth considering this approach.


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  • For an SAP Service Provider, we developed a Marketable Item around optimization of the CO module. Research shows that implementation of this module tends to get shortchanged during the initial implementation of the core ERP suite. This provides an opportunity for implementing / optimizing CO during the second pass. This Marketable Item fits the current context since most SAP customers don’t know that their CO is not implemented optimally. The pain of suboptimal implementation is not felt readily. We had to bring it out with our content. We happened to use Millennials for inside sales / SDR role. We gave them much the same sales enablement inputs as you’ve listed. Results were mixed: While they were enthusiastic, flexible, etc., they were not really capable of absorbing these sophisticated inputs. So, we had to monitor the campaign closely and, from time to time, more senior field sales people had to step in. Then the campaign proved to be a big success.

  • On a side note, every problem is an unknown problem – until it is known. So, IMO, “unaware buyers” is common to every market, not just less mature ones or in disruption categories. The real question is, should a vendor bother to reach out to unaware buyers or wait until they turn “aware buyers”. The answer to this question could depend upon the nature of market or product.