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4 Skills Every Sales Development Rep Needs to Master in 2017

Sales development representatives (SDRs) have hundreds of things to learn on a short ramp. Every company has a different playbook customized for their unique business, and if you’re a first-time SDR, you must absorb all this information while also learning the basics of sales. The role can be a grind, but it’s a rite of passage and the ultimate test for future sales success.

SDRs also have one of the most critical roles on a sales team, fueling net new qualified business opportunities. To crush your numbers and set yourself up for a successful career in sales, you should master the following skills during your time as an SDR.

4 Critical Sales Development Rep Skills

1) Active Listening and Adaptability

At HubSpot, we use a combination of BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) and GPCT (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline) as our lead qualification framework. This is a lot of information for someone who’s new to sales, and it can be tempting to literally check items off a list.

The problem with taking this approach on a connect call is that it can quickly become an interrogation. Prospects don’t want to receive a call where the sales rep immediately jumps into qualification. This is a seller-centric approach rather than a customer-centric approach. 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 reengage 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.

2) Leaving Good 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 touchpoints across all activities.

3) Balancing Quality and Quantity

The balance between quantity and quality while prospecting can be tricky for an SDR to master. I hold weekly one-on-ones with my SDRs and do a pipeline review, during which 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.” Allotting 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.

Targeting calls to time zones is hugely important as well. In my experience, the best times to call are 7:30-9:30 a.m., noon-1 p.m. and 4-6:30 p.m., local time. Don’t wait to call when it’s convenient for you. Call when your prospect is least likely to be tied up in meetings and most likely to pick up their phone.

4) Resilience and Coachability

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.

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.

What do you think are the most important skills for an SDR to master? Let us know in the comments below.

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