At a time when the economy is tough and organizations command more from workforce, the supply and demand principle doesn’t work in most people’s favor. Organizational demands are leading to more cut overhead and jobs lost.
However, there’s one job that organizations will always need. There’s one job that’s on the rise. That job is the Sales Development Rep (SDR).
If the sales development team is the most important sales process innovation in the last 10 years, as David Cummings pronounced, then the SDR is one of the most important roles.
If you look at Google Trends, you can see that the term “sales development representative” made its first appearance in the business vernacular in late 2012 and early 2013. It’s only been on the rise since.
Though there’s a high demand for SDRs, it’s also one of the hardest jobs out there. But it’s also one of the most rewarding.
Whether you’re looking to continue your success as an SDR, looking to start your role as an SDR or looking to hire an SDR rockstar, here are the 10 commandments for success.
- Thou Shalt Continue to Develop Professionally
- Thou Shalt Continue to Develop Personally
- Thou Shalt Ask the Right Questions
- Thou Shalt Embrace Technology
- Thou Shalt Balance the Art of Sales with the Science of Sales
- Thou Shalt Care About the Product, Prospect and Problem
- Thou Shalt Communicate Clearly
- Thou Shalt Focus on the Right Things
- Thou Shalt Hustle
- Thou Shalt Think Creatively
Thou Shalt Continue to Develop Professionally
We all know that it takes practice to get good at something, but just how long? The pop-culture answer is 10,000 hours, popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. In it, Gladwell draws from the work of Anders Ericsson, and gives his own examples of how this rule applied to top performers, such as The Beatles and Bill Gates. But what if I told you that you could beat the 10,000 hour rule? Anders Ericsson later wrote a book of his own, and states the “10,000 hour rule” really isn’t a rule. How do you beat it? Consistent and deliberate practice. Ericsson explains that deliberate practice is highly structured, intentional activity with a specific goal in mind. In sports or music, jobs or nearly any other activity, if you engage in the right kind of practice and development, you can become what Ericsson calls an expert performer. Whether it’s through coaching or self-directed learning, deliberate practice is the key.
A crucial part of professional development is coachability. It’s the job of your sales leadership to coach and train you on skills you need. This includes sales skills, product training, industry knowledge, and one-on-ones. However, the truth is these trainings don’t always happen, whether it’s because your manager is too busy or doesn’t know how. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to get the necessary training.
This leads to another critical skill you must have to continue to develop professionally: self-awareness. You need to know what you should be working on. Not good at cold calling? There’s a myriad of books on the subject. Having trouble with the price objection? Get help from a co-worker. Want to move up to an SDR team lead but not sure how to get there? Find a mentor.
What are you doing right now to develop professionally?
Thou Shalt Continue to Develop Personally
When I was in school, I had a mentor that would always attend “self-help” seminars. Half of his books were motivational and inspirational in nature. One day, in passing, he mentioned he spent nearly $50K that year on what he deemed “self-education.” I stopped him mid-sentence and proclaimed, “How much?!” He repeated the number $50K, then told me a lesson I’ll never forget: “We all know that the top leaders and entrepreneurs spend more time working on their business than working in their business. What you don’t know is that the top of the top spend more time working on themselves than working on their businesses. Spend 10% of your income working on yourself.”
This same principle applies to the best SDRs. They work on themselves as much as they work on their sales skills. But what does it even mean to work on yourself? There are “soft skills” that it takes to make it in sales (and in life), skills that are hard to describe or quantify, and even harder to teach. Thus, they are often neglected in sales and professional training. Those are skills like empathy and compassion, integrity and honesty, resilience and positivity.
The SDR is one of the toughest jobs in sales. So if you want success, you’re going to have to test a lot of different things, face countless rejections and deal with people all day. That’s why, if you want to be the top SDR, you have to work on yourself.
In the book To Sell is Human, the author Dan Pink calls this buoyancy-- the ability to retain a positive disposition despite negative situations. This lets you bounce back from adversity. This allows you to broaden your perspective to see the customers’ problems more clearly and reach mutually beneficial solutions.
Action: Check out the body of work by Tony Robbins. Look into attending one of his workshops, or the Landmark Forum. Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and Jim Rohn are other gurus in the space.
What are you doing right now to develop personally?
Thou Shalt Ask the Right Questions
In the early 20th century, a young girl asked her father, who was a photographer, why she had to wait so long to see the picture. The father had always taken it for granted that he had to wait, but began to wonder too. After continually asking himself and his colleagues that same question, he soon made some discoveries, leading to a revolutionary new product in photography: the instant Polaroid photo.
There are many quotes from Einstein stressing the importance of asking the right question: “It’s not that I’m smart. But I stay with the questions much longer” and “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
If you aren’t asking the right questions, then you’ll have a hard time finding the right answers. It’s a huge part of the SDRs job in qualifying leads and accounts at the top of the sales funnel. Some of the best SDRs (and sales reps in general) are the most curious people I know.
Asking the right question sometimes means asking hard questions, the questions that make your prospect think. It means asking the challenging questions, the ones that you need to ask.
How can you ask better questions?
Thou Shalt Embrace Technology
The story and lessons from the Polaroid camera doesn’t end there. Today, the camera serves as a nostalgic icon for photographers. However, Edwin Land’s vision for advanced technology and new revolution in photography was also his downfall. Upon the digital revolution, the Polaroid company refused to embrace the new technology, thus resulting in loss of market share, and ultimately bankruptcy.
This same story is one that has been told time and again. Blockbuster Video refused to embrace technology, leaving Netflix to pave the way for online and on-demand content. Numerous former titans in the newspapers and print publication industry have dropped like rocks due to their ignorance and refusal to go digital. Borders. Palm. Kodak. Circuit City. And on and on….
Technology offers a huge opportunity for sales reps and sales teams that embrace it. The sales technology available today opens up the possibility for reps to increase lead velocity with the right automation and to sell with more context.
In Marc Andreessen’s famous words, “Software is eating the word,” and sales is on the menu too. There has been a fundamental shift towards software-based companies that is part of a larger technological revolution where software is causing whole industries to progress faster than ever before. This new technology is making the creation of more technology easier, faster and more accessible than any ever before, which only fuels the growth cycle. It’s exciting to see where the future of sales is going.
How can you leverage technology to help you do your job better?
Thou Shalt Balance the Art of Sales with the Science of Sales
Back in 2006, two MIT students actively working with startups found a recurring problem they wanted to address: People don’t want to be interrupted by marketers or harassed by salespeople, but rather they want to be helped. They started a software company and hired an engineer with absolutely no sales experience… to lead the sales team? That number-crunching, quant-minded employee proceeded to grow the sales from $0 to $100M (and over 10,000 customers) in just seven years.
If you’ve been in the sales space for a while you know this is the story of Hubspot, founded by MIT grads Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, and that engineer-minded person was Mark Roberge. He is not solely responsible for bringing science to sales, but nonetheless was a major influencer and pioneer.
Selling has always been seen as an art, but the advancements in technology have given reps more data and insights into what’s working, making sales as much a science as an art. On top of having the soft skills that make sales an art (such as emotional intelligence, empathy, assertiveness, rapport-building, etc.), reps must possess an analytical and data-centric mindset. Data allows sales to build a scalable, repeatable, and predictable path to growth. A good sales strategy must start with data.
However, as much as data and science can help accelerate sales, at the end of the day, people buy from people. There’s danger in automating too much of the selling process: you begin to lose the human element.
The lesson here is to not over-automate and over-rely on technology. There’s a fine balance that you must strike between the science and the art of sales. One rule that we like to follow at PersistIQ is asking ourselves, “Is a human better at this or is technology better at this?” Technology is better at transferring data from one system to another, finding duplicate records, following a schedule, etc. Humans are better at writing emails, talking to buyers on the phone, giving personalized and customized presentations, etc.
Action: Companies like InsightSquared, Datanyze, and Ambition have not only built great products to help you leverage data and science in sales, but they also put out great content to guide you along the way.
How can you apply more data and science to your sales process?
Thou Shalt Care About the Product, Prospect and Problem
In 1999, Nick Swinmurn walked around a mall in San Francisco in search for a certain pair of shoes for hours until he finally went home empty handed. He thought he couldn't be the only person to have this frustrating experience, so he decided to open the first online retail store that specialized in shoes. Years later, a girl went online to find two pairs of shoes, neither of which was available. She then received both a gift certificate and a shirt for the inconvenience and, though she never got her shoes, become a loyal customer for life because the store cares so much about the problem they're solving and their customer. There are countless stories like this from other customers. Yes, this is the story of Zappos, which soon was sold to Amazon for $1.2B.
Think of your last great buying experience, B2B or otherwise. What made it great? What wowed you? I'd be willing to bet it wasn't the price, payment options, delivery method, bonuses, or anything like it. I bet it had to do with how much the company or sales rep cared.
People want to do business with other people. If all you care about is the paycheck, the buyers can sense that. If you’re focus is only on the close, you’ll lose the deal. If you’re at your jobs for the job’s sake, prospects can see right through. Would you heed to the weight-loss advice of a fat doctor? How about the advice to buy a Chevy from salesperson driving a Ford?
You must care about your product, the prospect, and even more importantly the problem. That’s how the world’s greatest companies are started. From an early age, Mark Zuckerberg always cared about bringing people together, thus Facebook was born. Jeff Bezos first cared about delivering everything in one place, thus begun Amazon. Steve Jobs cared more than anyone about great design in computers, thus the birth of Apple.
However, caring itself is not enough. Next, you needed to have the ability to bring your perspective and behaviors into harmony with the people and context of the selling situation. Dan Pink would call this attunement. He says, “Everything good in life begins with a conversation. Talking with each other, one to one, as human beings is the most powerful form of attunement. Conversations help us understand and connect with others in a way that no other species can.”
Action: You can learn a lot about people, problems and product hearing the stories of the top companies. Go pick up books like Delivering Happiness (Zappos), The Everything Store (Amazon), Steve Jobs, Hatching Twitter, Behind the Cloud (Salesforce), and In the Plex (Google).
How much do you care about the product you’re selling, the prospect you’re helping and the problem you’re solving?
Thou Shalt Communicate Clearly
On November 19, 1863, a prominent orator stood on the battlefield in Pennsylvania to address the crowd to pay respect for the battle and lives lost. No, it wasn’t Abraham Lincoln. It as Edward Everett, the Secretary of State. His two-hour long monolog was then followed by a two-minute speech. This was Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. They both conveyed the same ideas and emotions, yet one is lost in the history books and the other will forever live in the hearts of minds of Americans. So what was the difference between the two men’s speeches? Lincoln was able to deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time more clearly and memorably. It was the epitome of effective communication.
It’s an SDRs job to be effectively communicating all day, every day. They’re constantly on the phone making cold calls, writing emails, tweeting, etc. If you’re not able to communicate clearly, you’re wasting time and burning money.
How many times have you heard your colleague or caught yourself on a call saying, “Sorry, I felt like I was rambling?” Listen to your last call. Read the last email you sent. Chances are there were times you rambled on or phrases that could have been misinterpreted. How could you have communicated your point more clearly to deliver a more succinct and stronger punch? Your prospect is busy and has a short attention span. The only way you will earn more of her attention is to hook her with a clear message and continue to deliver concise and valuable information.
Action: Attend a Toastmasters group. Enroll in a Dale Carnegie course. Go to networking events or meetups to practice your verbal communication skills. Seek out opportunities to flex this muscle.
How can you become a more clear and effective communicator?
Thou Shalt Focus on the Right Things
The sportscaster Charlie Jones, covering the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, was assigned to report on the rowing, canoeing and kayaking events. During numerous interviews with the rowers, when Jones asked about challenges like rain, wind, breaking oars and their opponents, they responded to each question with, “That’s outside my boat.” Jones drew the conclusion and reported, "They were interested only in what they could control...and that was what was going on inside their boat.” These athletes had extraordinary focus and the ability to save their energy for the things that they can control; the things that matter the most. The things inside the boat.
It’s the lack of focus, not the lack of the time that is the biggest challenge for sales reps. All SDRs have 24 hours in a day. The best reps spend their time on the right things. Your time as an SDR is highly valuable. In fact, the true cost of an SDR is much more than you would think. From your salary to your sales stack, and even all the way down to the small things like the office space and taxes, your time is extremely valuable.
Some would argue the opposite- that sales reps need to be able to multitask. However, recent neuroscience research has proven multitasking is a myth. In fact, it is likely harming you. With multitasking, your attention is on effort and staying busy. With focus, your attention is on results. Sales and marketing expert Dan Kennedy, aka “The Millionaire Maker,” makes the distinction of activity masquerading as accomplishment.
Research from Professor Sophie Leroy of the University of Minnesota concluded that when switching between multiple tasks, our attention is bifurcated, which diminished attention on the second tasking, resulting in poor performance. Dr. JoAnn Deak, a renowned educator and psychologist, concluded that in the long-term, multitasking changes the brain, and we lose the ability to focus deeply on the task at hand-- the most important task right in front of us.
You must be diligent on how you’re spending every minute of your day. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia, and before you know it, the day is over and you’ve fallen short of your sales activity numbers.
What is the one most important thing that you should be focusing on right now?
Thou Shalt Hustle
Jim Rohn, one of the greatest entrepreneurs, author and motivational speakers once said that if you look closely at the highly successful individuals in any field, you walk away saying to yourself, “no wonder he’s so successful -- look at everything he’s doing.”
Who is the greatest salesperson? When asked that question, Gary Vaynerchuk is a frequent and favorite answer. If there’s one thing that Gary is known for, it’s HUSTLE! When asked how he defines hustle: “Hustle is putting it all on the line. Hustle is waking up one day, the day before you die and realizing you gave it your all… it’s all in, emotionally and executionally. In theory and strategy.”
Hustling also means being proactive and not waiting for things to come to you. You have to make things happen. Gary Vaynerchuk had a vision to sell more wine, and he also had the foresight to see ecommerce was up-and-coming. He didn’t wait until everyone was buying products online, but rather become an early adopter and started Wine Library TV on YouTube, which was the beginning of his internet fame. He continues to proactively go out and find opportunity. Some people say he’s lucky, and to them, I would say he creates his own luck through hustle.
Look around you right now at all of the top performers. I bet you can identify ways that they’re out-hustling their peers. From athletics to academics to career, the best are made with hustle.
Action: If you want it bad enough, stop watching Game of Thrones and make something happen. Check out any of Gary Vaynerchuk’s material for more inspiration.
How can you out-hustle your peers? How can you put even more on the line?
Thou Shalt Think Creatively
It’s hard to be in San Francisco or the Silicon Valley and talk with entrepreneurs without having Elon Musk’s name pop up. What positions him in the top echelon of entrepreneurs is his ability to think and dream big. It’s not about asking, “How can I do this a little better?” It’s about asking, “How can I do something no one has ever thought of before?” Going for 10X rather than 10% is not 100 times harder. This shift in thinking forces you to look at a situation with a radically different perspective and break some basic assumptions along the way. 10% improvement depends on working harder; whereas, 10X improvement depends on working smarter.
How many sales emails have you received in the last week? How many cold calls? How many cold email and calls do you think your boss got? As a sales rep, it’s hard to stand out from the noise. That’s why it’s so important to be able to come up with creative ways to get the attention of the decision maker.
Adding constraints can also spark creativity. Constraints and restrictions eliminate options, thus freeing you from the paralysis of analysis. A blank canvas is often the most daunting. Constraints give you building blocks and force you to look at things from a new angle, from which innovation thrives.
In your next cold email, what if you had a 50 word limit? What would you write? In you next cold call, what if you couldn’t mention you, your product, or your company? What would you say?
How can you think creatively to 10X your results? How can you leverage constraints to spark creativity?
There’s a lot that goes into being a successful sales rep, and there’s always room for improvement. Hopefully, some of the suggested actions at the end of each commandment can help you further develop that skill. If you’re a sales rep, you have plenty to work on. If you’re a sales leader, you have topics and content for your next 10 sales meeting.
But the most important thing is how you and your behaviors change as a result of reading this article. The most important thing is that you turn the knowledge into action. So, heeding advice from principle #8 (Thou Shalt Focus on the Right Things), pick one thing at a time and deliberately working on that skill. Then move on to the next skill, then the next. Before long, you’ll be the head of the pack.
Stay tuned for more of the latest in outbound sales best practices and methods.
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