At Babbel, our endgame is getting people to have conversations with other people, in a new language. There are fantastic folks here making that possible. In our “Behind The Scenes” series, we sit down with them to provide a glimpse into who makes it all work, what they do, and where their heads are at.
This round, we’re talking to Marius Neuschwander (he/him), our Head of Sales Development on the B2B team.
Hi Marius! Tell us about your role at Babbel. What do you do on a typical day?
Hey! I am the head of B2B Sales Development – the first touchpoint with potential business customers. Each Sales Development Representative (SDR) provides qualified business opportunities to our Sales Managers who then start negotiating and closing deals.
In Sales Development you differentiate between two channels: In the so-called inbound channel our SDRs identify current language challenges and business cases of companies reaching out to Babbel. The more challenging and rewarding part of the SDR role is to prospect target companies, identify and approach their decision makers and create business opportunities for our sales team “from scratch” – called outbound sales. Each SDR works towards a monthly quota of qualified inbound and outbound opportunities handed over to Sales.
Easily put, as the Head of Sales Development, my main priority is to make sure both of our teams – the DACH and ROW (Rest of World, mainly including France, Italy and US) team are able to hit their total team quota.
This implies a lot of fields of responsibility and cooperation with our different departments along the sales funnel. It includes regular performance reviews with both Sales Development team leads who report to me, constant improvement of our sales process and buyer experience together with our Sales department and lastly, a high level lead quality feedback to our Marketing department.
Besides this, I am currently having a lot of interviews with very interesting candidates for our new SDR positions who will be onboarded over the next few months, as we are more than doubling our headcount in the Sales Development team!
You started your Babbel career as a Sales Dev Rep and are now the Head of the Sales Development team — that’s quite impressive! Tell us more about how you achieved this.
When I started as (one of the two first) inbound SDRs here at Babbel for Business in September 2019, our overall Sales department only included 5 employees. Back then, we were just starting to automate our marketing and sales processes. At that time, we only converted inbound inquiries into deals and mainly benefitted from the strong brand recognition we had in the B2C market. The countless initial conversations with interested customers helped me understand recurring language learning challenges of companies in any industry and how to pitch our own product value proposition to solve these identified challenges. While the skills you learn as an SDR form the ideal basis for a further career in Sales, I started to enjoy working on longer-term projects to support growth in our small B2B sales unit: improving our handover process to Sales, working on our OKRs, automating client mails and creating workflows to improve our data hygiene.
In the meantime, we were able to shorten the sales cycle with our customers and increase the average deal size by improving marketing automation, our lead qualification process and the customer experience in general.
As we grew our Sales Development team, I started to onboard new joiners and took over further leading functions such as interviewing new candidates, having 1:1s with the SDRs and creating and communicating a team strategy. During my time as the Sales Development team lead for the whole of last year, our overall B2B success continued. As a logical consequence of our successful initiatives, we aim to scale sales processes in our existing markets of DACH, US and Italy, as well as enter further into the French market and grow our sales unit to a headcount of almost 50 SDRs and Sales Managers this year. In the process of this, we split the Sales Development team into the DACH and Rest of World teams, which I oversee.
You can say this fast career progression is the result of our overall success in the whole B2B department, and the trust we’ve been given to take further ownership and responsibility of the projects coming up along the way.
Needless to say, I am happy to be one of many examples of internal mobility within Babbel. I am an advocate of internal mobility over external hiring, even though the external job might require 1 or 2 years of more experience than the internal applicant can bring in. This is easily made up for by deep process and product knowledge, existing relationships with colleagues and other departments and by the mere possibility to offer a deserved career development path for our talents.
I still didn’t expect to step into any leading position that quickly when I started in 2019. Back then, I was just happy to be surrounded by other people sharing the same enthusiasm for languages and not having to show up to work in a striped shirt and leather shoes anymore! 🙂 I have always felt I have been provided with enough management support for my development, and it was clear which skills I’d need to hone on a communicated path towards a new position.
The most helpful tool has been the company wide 6-months check ins on leapsome which is now supported by the more detailed skill map. This guarantees a transparent and standardised approach to ones career progression.
How does the B2B Sales Development team differ from the B2B Sales team?
Sales Development teams are usually younger than Sales teams as the position of an SDR requires less experience and can be seen as a perfect start into a sales career . Specifically at Babbel for Business, I would say the Sales Development team is more language enthusiastic than the Sales team. When I interview for new positions, the passion for foreign languages is one of my main hiring criteria. This makes perfect sense as we are the first touchpoint with the customer. Our biggest challenge is to create motivation for change – be it recognising language training as a main driver of success, switching from offline in-house to online language courses or introducing language learning as a benefit for employee happiness. An SDR will be able to convince way more prospects of the advantages of our language learning solution, when they speak about it passionately as they have enjoyed these advantages themselves either professionally or in their private life.
On the Sales side, a more methodological and solution-oriented selling and negotiation approach weighs heavier when it comes to closing the deal with our prospects.
Your team operates in many different languages and geographical areas. How do you work with a team that’s multilingual?
Next to German and English, I am close to a C2 level in French and also worked as a Sales Manager for the French market at Babbel for Business. My time in this role made me realise the importance of speaking with customers on a native language level. In order to motivate your prospects for change, an SDR needs to ask a lot of follow up questions, dig deeper into the customers current language deficits and the business implications of these deficits. After a while during the call, I often felt it harder and harder to keep the thread and dig deeper into these challenges and was rather happy to finish the call soon which wouldn’t happen to a native language speaker. This is why we require a native level of your market when we hire SDRs.
Furthermore I started learning Spanish with Babbel in 2015 and would consider myself on a C1 level now as I play football in an Argentinian Club in Berlin (with a lot of fellow Babbelonians – so any Babbelonian reading this and looking for a club to play for can PM me hehe)
In our Sales Development team, we operate in 6 different languages! In our core markets we speak German, Italian, French and English and also handle Spanish and Portuguese. We serve all of these prospects on native language level – keeping in mind that we are currently only 7 people and have revamped our hiring effort to grow the team to 18 people throughout the year.
As the team grows, each SDR will work closely with the corresponding native Sales Managers of their target market. Being native and knowing your “home country” market is super helpful when it comes to prospecting customers and relating to their language learning challenges – because they were all in the same spot themselves at some point and can even be more convincing with their personal success story of learning to speak different languages.
What is one philosophy that resonates with you and your team?
You don’t have to look too far actually – our purpose of “creating mutual understanding through language” resonates well with our B2B team. The goal of creating mutual understanding can be used to describe the relationship with our customers. In contrast to many other sales or pre-sales departments, and definitely in contrast to the stereotype of “pushy” salespeople, we consider ourselves language learning consultants who take time to listen to our prospects’ language learning problems and the implications they bring along. Only then, are we able to offer our prospects the language learning solution they need. Needless to say, this rather empathic sales approach is only possible because we can rely on the high quality of our blended learning solution and the effort our account management puts in to help our customers achieve their language learning goals.
What are you and the B2B Sales Dev team hoping to achieve this year?
As we are in the scaling phase, our goal is to grow a high performing Sales Development team of language enthusiasts from all different backgrounds and mother tongues. This will be necessary to hit our ambitious targets of delivering enough qualified business opportunities to our sales team. The most challenging part of our target this year will be to grow the share of our opportunities coming from outbound leads. An improved B2B product with SSO and learner placement tests will definitely enable us to attract bigger fish, i.e. more corporate clients, which we will have a higher focus on this year. Also in our two new markets of Italy and France, we aim to claim a bigger piece of the digital language learning market share. This is reflected by the split of our revenue target – both markets are planned to account for almost a third of it.
Eventually, my personal goal next to these KPIs will be to maintain our friendly and supportive atmosphere down to the youngest B2B team. In other words, I’d be super happy to see our Peakon results be on the same level as last year, which was one of the highest in all of Babbel.
What professional skills and traits have impacted your career? Do you have any advice for other Sales Dev Managers?
Learning to speak several languages was definitely the biggest driver. When you collaborate with people from all over, you get to see many more ways of formulating thought processes, finding solutions and communicating with colleagues. Subconsciously, you start to enrich your skillset with these new practices that you wouldn’t be exposed to if you only worked in one language.
Before Babbel, I worked as an account manager for a company providing medical and security services to private and cargo airlines. I wasn’t able to develop any passion for services in this industry, nor could I shine with deep product expertise. To put it in another way: I was lacking passion for the industry so much that, I wasn’t even that eager to become an expert of our product. In my opinion. actively seeking purpose every day in your job is the next essential driver to be successful as a sales manager.
From the moment I joined Babbel’s multinational working environment, I learned how important it is to formulate one’s thoughts precisely. Since our switch to remote work, we have obviously gotten used to communicating much more via Slack. The fact that many of us don’t have English as a native language means there is a higher risk of misunderstandings and loss of information than when you chat in your mother tongue.
To give you a concrete example: I find it helpful to actually reread through a paragraph before I send it out and check: Is it easy to link every “this”, that” and “it” to the actual word it replaces or should I formulate it more precisely to avoid misunderstanding?
This skill is helpful in every aspect of cooperative collaboration, from sharing best practices to sense-making of a decision and most importantly giving constructive feedback. The latter leads me to a final skill I have started to work on even more since my time as a team lead, but I am trying to share it with my reps nevertheless as it is crucial for giving feedback. Try to fully understand your colleague’s position and underlying intentions of a statement before you share your opinion on that specific topic. This might sound simple, but I have had moments both as an SDR and team lead where follow up questions on my end led the conversation to a way more constructive and meaningful consensus than it would have without taking some extra time to understand the other one’s position and sharing your opinion right away.
Want to work with Marius, and become a part of the Sales Development team? His team is now looking for Sales Development Reps and Sales Managers. Apply here!