5 Skills Every Sales Development Rep Needs to Master in 2018

We’re about to turn the corner into 2018. And from where I stand -- as the manager of an inside sales team -- one thing is clear.

The standard process for SDRs or BDRs (whatever your organization calls them) of sending out sequenced emails, calling, leaving voicemails, rinse and repeat? It no longer works well.Learn how to coach and measure reps better using this performance review  template. 

To be successful next year and beyond, sales development reps need to think outside the box. With the right skills, they’re more valuable than ever before.

So if you’re an SDR, here are the top five skills to focus on gaining or honing. And if you’re a manager, here’s what you should be teaching to your team.

1) Video prospecting

“Video prospecting” is a buzzword, but at HubSpot, we’ve seen great results. My team uses Vidyard -- an easy-to-use tool that lets you quickly create videos using your webcam and screengrabs. But there are several options out there, including Loom and Soapbox by Wistia.

SDRs don’t need to be technical masters or Oscar-worthy movie stars to create effective videos. They do need to be comfortable on screen. Practice creating short, engaging clips (no more than two minutes) during which you introduce yourself, deliver value (maybe with a quick tip), and ask to schedule a call.

The more videos you make, the more efficient you’ll become. In time, you should be able to whip up customized videos like they’re emails. (Of course, that’s probably one month before video prospecting starts to lose its impact …)

2) Highly customized outreach

It’s always been tricky for SDRs to balance quantity and quality when prospecting. I’m seeing that balance shift -- the most successful reps are actually slowing down, spending more time on outreach and connecting with fewer prospects.

Brandon Kirsch, a principal BDR at HubSpot, is a fantastic example of someone doing this right. His emails are really personal and hinge around a triggering event. Here’s an example:

I don’t want to suggest quantity no longer matters in the SDR world. During my weekly one-on-ones with SDRs, I do a pipeline review. I often find they’re spending too much time qualifying before picking up the phone.

Connect calls are a lot like voicemails -- to get good at them, SDRs have to do a lot of them until they’ve developed “muscle memory.” Allocating time wisely based on lead quality is very important, but SDRs need to get on the phones as much as they can to hone their skills.

New SDRs will benefit from hearing their prospects’ most common objections, begin to understand which soundbites resonate best with target personas, and start to sound much more confident on the phone if they make a lot of calls up front.

So with that in mind, I’d recommend developing a scalable process for writing customized emails and doing prospect research. LinkedIn Sales Navigator can be a big help; you can save leads and accounts, learn important information in one glance, and get notifications when they’ve had a notable change.

3) Active listening and adaptability

How can SDRs continue to add value to a sales process that’s increasingly run by automation -- especially in the prospecting stages?

To me, one of the answers is the combination of good questioning skills and active listening. A chatbot might be able to qualify you, but no one asks and listens to information like a human (at least not yet).

A connect call should be like a game of catch -- a genuine conversation between a prospect and an SDR.

No matter what your company sells, you must be highly attuned to phrases that indicate a prospect could be a good fit for your product. It’s more important to focus the conversation on gathering valuable information than to check qualification boxes.

For example, during our weekly SDR “film club,” we listen to a seasoned SDR’s recorded call. In a recent call review, the SDR discovered the prospect's company offered a freemium version of its product. The prospect confirmed the annual value of an average new customer, and the SDR immediately moved on to the next topic.

HubSpot has lead nurturing tools baked into our software, so any sign of a freemium model begs to be explored further. The SDR should have explored the following with his prospect:

  • How many new freemium users a month do you generate?
  • How do you nurture freemium users? Customers?
  • What percentage of freemium users convert to paid users?
  • What are common triggers for freemium users to upgrade?
  • How do you re-engage users who used the free product once several months ago and then went dark?

The answers to these questions are crucial to understanding how HubSpot's marketing platform could help this prospect improve lead conversion rates.

Practicing active listening means being adaptable -- pivoting away from a prepared checklist and recognizing when an opportunity to dig deeper presents itself. All SDRs need to learn to be present and have a real conversation.

4) Great voicemails

It’s ideal to get a prospect live on the phone, but sometimes you’ll have to leave a voicemail.

I participated in Basho sales training several years ago, and one of the trainers made a simple comment that stuck with me. If you leave 25 quality voicemails, you at least have a chance to receive a callback. But if you leave no voicemails, your probability of getting a callback diminishes significantly.

It’s harder to leave a good voicemail than it sounds. You have to, in a reasonably short amount of time, entice a prospect you’ve never spoken with to call you back. Some people like to be concise -- “Hi, I’m [Salesperson] from [Company]. I would love to speak with you about X strategy. Give me a call back at XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

Personally, I like to add a snippet of value to this equation. For example, “I saw X on your site. Here are a few best practices I’m hoping to share with you.”

I have the new SDRs on my team leave a voicemail for seasoned sales reps every night at 7 p.m. during their first month. The rep then sends back a quick email with feedback and a probability that they would call back.

Leaving a good voicemail is an indispensable skill for an SDR, and thus requires practice. Don’t simply go through the motions so you can log an activity in your CRM -- be committed to quality touch points across all activities.

5) Resilience and coachability

There’s no doubt that SDRs have a tough job. Unlike closing salespeople, they don’t get much glory. They’re also usually spending all day sending emails and making calls. It can be exhausting.

That’s why in addition to these hard skills, it’s important to learn to keep your energy up and stay positive. If you’re flat or discouraged, it will translate over the phone and your prospect will pick up on your low energy.

It’s also critical to learn to bounce back quickly from a bad call. Whether a prospect was rude or you made a mistake, it doesn’t do any good to allow emotion to prevent you from picking up the phone for the rest of the day or negatively impact your next 15 calls. Resilience is crucial to keeping your head in the game. Developing this ability now will also be invaluable down the road, when you have to recover from losing a big deal without skipping a beat.

Lastly, one of the most important skillsets we evaluate when interviewing SDR candidates is coachability. Confidence is important, but ego can cloud an SDR’s ability to receive and implement candid feedback. The best SDRs proactively seek out coaching from high-performing peers and crave honest feedback from their managers. Getting real-time feedback is best, but you can also build out a list of all the questions or challenges you faced in a given week and debrief with your manager during a scheduled one-on-one.

Here’s to all the SDRs and their managers out there. I hope 2018 treats you well, and this list helps you develop the most useful, relevant skills possible.

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