A Fatal, Top of the Funnel Communications Flaw

Another glaring opportunity that I noticed throughout my years at the university, was how the teams that handled leads first, the qualifying center personnel, were oftentimes junior as far as age and experience goes. Add to the mix that they weren’t (in my opinion) paid enough to even take their jobs seriously in the first place, and how (I think) they were directed in a way that conflicted with the sales teams’ efforts.

I think this is something a lot of organizations are guilty of, too. SDR roles are often times treated as “entry-level,” which kinda makes sense in the grand scheme of things, considering how a lot of organizations use sales development teams as the training grounds for their account executives. But if you treat people (on any team, in any role) like they’re lower-level, entry-level people and pay them as such, then how can you expect anything other than entry-level type results?

This is a recipe for all kinds of behavioral issues (i.e. high turnover, people abusing time off, working the job and going through the motions until something better comes along, etc.), and it makes no sense to me to allow all this to negatively affect your organization’s potential clients’ experience during their initial interactions with your humans.

With anything, as leaders, we encourage what we tolerate. Here’s how I fixed it for my organization:

  1. I impressed upon senior leadership that this team plays a very important, crucial, high-stakes function for the organization
  2. I then got the go-ahead to revamp the incentive plan for them to make it possible for my team members to earn a respectable living (they’re not filthy rich, but they can pay the bills okay)
  3. I provided the strategy and guidance that took the team’s performance through the roof because with the right earning potential in place, it incentivizes the best, top of the funnel behaviors
  4. The incentive pay my team members earned was pocket-change compared to the massive amounts of revenue generated from having the relationships with potential clients consistently and predictably start out the best way possible

Seems simple enough, right? It starts with breaking through the limiting belief that “this is an entry-level position that’s so easy anyone can do it” and understanding how these crucial, high-stakes initial interactions impact the entire relationship, no matter how long or short it is.

I also think that ultimately, this is a job, so people have to get paid. You can have the best strategies in place, the best guidance and training, but if your people are struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table, then that will always be on their minds and it will negatively affect the quality of their work and the experience they provide.


I think that it’s far too normal for marketing and sales teams to be pushed and pulled in different directions, too, and I’ve seen this at different organizations now, so I know it’s not exclusive to the university and other places I’ve worked at. They just seem to have goals that are oftentimes mismatched, like pushing for quantity of leads versus quality of leads.

Realistically, I think it’s possible to have both quality & quantity, but only if the goals for the teams are aligned, so I strive for alignment of marketing and sales, where the actions and behaviors of each team sets each other up and complement each other instead of competing, complicating and ultimately confusing things.

I don’t know this for certain as the qualifying center at the university was housed in another building, but I believe it was their main mission in life to dial at least several hundred-something dials per day and whenever they got a live body on the phone, get her connected to sales ASAP via warm transfer.

Although I’m unsure on this, I believe that this was probably a key performance indicator for how they were rated for their positions, like X amount of dials equals Y amount of transfers, which equaled Z amount of opportunities for the sales team. Number, numbers, numbers … number, numbers, numbers.

It didn’t matter if it was a good time to speak, or if the person was a good fit for the programs, or anything that had anything to do with any sort of actual qualifying criteria; they just pushed bodies through to us no matter what. And the experience provided—on a very consistent basis—was less than stellar.

It seemed like if I got 40 leads transferred to me in a month (as an example), 4 or so of them would be actual decent fits. I’d then have an expectation of helping 8 to 10 new students get started per month—but I noticed that on a large scale, the experience provided by the organization at the top of the funnel was regularly sabotaging our efforts to sell all across the board.

And I know this sounds like me being pessimistic and making excuses, too, but I found myself consistently having to make up for the poor experience, especially in the instances like when a lead would say something like: “I gotta go … the other guy told me we can schedule an appointment to speak.”

In cases like this, I could just sense the frustration. We’d then schedule some time to speak and then I’d be left hoping that the other person remembers the day and time and that he’s available when it comes. A lot of times, though, they just went dark—and I couldn’t really blame them.

I mean, think about it: if the first person you speak with from an organization sounds like some novice (I almost said sounds like some “dumb kid,” but novices come in all different age ranges), you’ll probably be justifiably biased against that company from that point forward. It’s nothing personal, either, it’s a matter of:

“Oh, [COMPANY]? Yeah, I spoke with’em … buncha idiots over there. I’ll never speak with’em again!”

Think about it: potential customers don’t care what your title is, how much money you make (or how little money you make), or what stage of your process that they’re in. They’re instinctively determining answers to those primal, instinctive concerns, and in short, it boils down to two big, burning questions in the back of their minds:

  1. Can this person that I’m speaking with right now actually help me get whatever it is that I’m after?”
  2. Does this person represent an organization that I can trust?”

If the answer’s NO to either one of these? Your chances of actually doing business are significantly reduced.


In a lot of ways, the experience at the university and the qualifying center people are really foundational for the Black Hole of Digital Marketing concept. I just knew the system worked sometimes, sometimes it didn’t, and lots of opportunities were blown before we really even had a chance to get started due to the organization’s chaotic initial interactions and misalignment between Stage 1 and Stage 2.

I, personally, became quite burnt out with the environment there, but I wanted to finish the degrees I was working on, so I wound up working there for quite a while. I never really meant to make a career out of working there, either, but it was my first job after leaving the Army and they treated me well for a long time, so I really can’t complain.

I maxed the salary for my position but did not seek promotion to management, so I really hit a point where for a long time I felt stuck and burnt out and luckily, I wound up catching a round of layoffs—which was both terrifying and exciting.

Published by Thomas Hurley

I am a father, husband, drummer, boater, marketer, communicator, animal-lover.

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