undercover_sales_repThis post originally appeared on the Marketing section of the Inbound Hub. To read more content like this, subscribe to the Sales section.

As I type this, my brain is in overdrive. My heart is racing. My legs are shaking. I'd like to chalk it up to adrenaline, not fear (but there is a lot of the latter happening).

I've been sitting behind a desk for the past year as a blogger for HubSpot ... but today, I was on the front lines. For an hour, I was a HubSpot business development representative (BDR).

I had read through all the sales training documents and shadowed one of our BDRs, Chad Prigmore, who graciously trained me. We even did a roleplay beforehand so I wouldn't be too thrown off guard on the phones. Then, before I knew it, I was smiling and dialing.  

I did this all because even if you have an established SLA between Marketing and Sales, tensions can run high. And if we both want to grow our businesses, we can't let our misconceptions run wild. I decided to go undercover to see how the sales team really lives so we all can have some perspective on what a salesperson's day is like. Here's what I learned. 

You need to think on your feet. Fast. 

When I shadowed Chad, he reached mostly voicemails for 45 minutes before actually having the chance to talk with someone ... but when I started making calls, someone picked up on the very first ring of the very first call I made. All of a sudden I was talking with someone about their marketing program.

Here's roughly how the conversation went.

[Ginny as BDR] Hello, my name is Ginny and I'm calling from HubSpot. I noticed you downloaded our recent whitepaper and wanted to followup on how your marketing is going.

[Prospect] Our marketing is going great! We're attending a bunch of trade shows and love the results. 

Not exactly the response I was hoping for. I was waiting for them to say that trade shows weren't really paying off for them, so they started to venture into online marketing -- after all, when I researched them, their website looked pretty spiffy.

That conversation clearly didn't happen ... so my mind blanked. 100% completely blank. Blank like when you're asked to spell the hardest word in a spelling bee and you don't even know which letter it starts with. I gaped for a second or two, and then quickly tried to get off the phone.

On a sales call, pretty much anything can happen. Prospects could ask you a question you didn't anticipate, and you could suddenly lose control of the call if you're unprepared. You need to know your product, your company's positioning statements, and most importantly, the prospect like the back of your hand. I'm lucky that in my job, I can look up any fact before I publish it -- sales reps don't always have that luxury while they're on a call. 

It's really easy to be overeager -- be childish instead.

When Chad was training me, we went through one roleplay. He was the prospect and I was the sales rep. Here's how it went.

[Chad as Prospect] Our website is primarily there to help generate leads, but we have no real way of measuring its success.

[Ginny as BDR] Oh really, what kind of analytics software are you using?

Chad stopped me. I had gone for the kill way too early. I hadn't even talked to him about their digital lead generation activities. Instead, I went for a more direct HubSpot tie-in ... but scared off a prospect in the process.

Instead, I should have taken the time to ask questions and learn about their larger lead generation goals, not just the measurement part of it. 

Chad gave me great advice that he learned from our Director of Training and Development, Andrew Quinn: Act like a five year old. No question is too stupid -- you need to really understand the prospect before you sell something to them. If you jump to conclusions about a prospect, you could:

  1. Miss a huge pain point you could solve for the prospect.
  2. Oversee a looming red flag that the prospect isn't a great fit for your company's product. 

Even though I've been called by lots of sales reps before, I still had the tendency to jump in too early to sell, sell, sell. 

You need to have thick skin.

When I was talking to folks on the sales team about my project as an undercover rep, I was told many, many tales by current and former salespeople.

"I cried at my desk on my second day at the job."  
 
"Sales is filled with peaks and valleys. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's really bad."
 
"Don't take it personally when someone hangs up on you."

Needless to say, I was a little nervous to actually begin calling people. Sure, I can deal with a nasty blog comment or two, but we're separated by screens. On the phone, where you can hear disdain and confusion almost immediately, I was worried it was going to get to me.

Luckily, once I was actually making calls, no one outright hung up on me ... but to endure the hours of unanswered voicemail and email and still treat the next potential customer on the phone with the kindness and patience they deserve seems really hard. It made me really appreciate the level of control I have with blogging, and wonder how I could do my job better to help reps do theirs.

It's a numbers game.

When I first started shadowing Chad, I was astounded at how much time was spent reaching voicemails. He broke down some stats for me -- out of 80 attempts, you should chat with 10, and then book one of those for the next step in the sales process. He also spoke to me about his booking rate -- the percentage of time he could get someone to the next step of the sales process. If he could get someone on the phone, he could book them for another appointment about a third of the time. 

Sales reps are just as obsessed with numbers as marketers are.

What's their call connect rate?

What's their close rate?

How many people can they get to in a day?

Will that let them hit their quota? 

These questions are constantly top of mind. Share your monthly progress with them so they know how many leads to expect in their queue this month. Send them content that'll help take their connect rate up a percentage point. Taking the time to help them means that you'll help close more deals -- which is really everyone's goal at your company, even if you're not directly measured on the number.

It's easy to be a bad sales rep. 

I'm gonna brag about my colleague for a second. Chad's an awesome salesperson -- he really cared about diagnosing a prospect's problems before dialing. He struck the perfect balance of counselor, consultant, and salesman. 

Striking that balance takes time. You can't just smile and dial and get someone to buy something from you. You need to assess whether you should be calling that prospect at all. If so, you've got to research them. You need to look up the right contact information. You need to look at their company and try to learn what it is they do. You need to look into the contact's history with your company -- what content did they download and which pages on your website did they visit? 

The fact that I only made four calls in an hour makes total sense to me now. Doing inbound sales is consultative and research-driven. (Plus, you know, I'm new at it.)

I recommend more marketers take the initiative to understand their sales teams more -- and that you sales folks do the same for us marketers! A simple service level agreement can be a great first step. 

After getting off my calls, I'm feeling really lucky. I'm glad folks like Chad are out there winning deals, because I'm not sure I'd ever be cut out for the job -- but also glad he's willing to help fellow sales reps (and marketers) hone their skills. 

What was your first experience on a sales call? I'd love to hear everyone's story in the comments below. 

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Originally published Mar 12, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016

Topics:

Inbound Sales Sales Prospecting