How to succeed as an SDR

So you’ve just been hired as a sales development representative (SDR). Congratulations - but welcome to the challenge of your life!

It takes a special kind of person to take on a sales development role, especially in B2B sales. Targets are tough, you have to continually face rejection, and as every salesperson knows, you can’t rest on your laurels. Even if you’ve been a hero for one month, it’s back to zero for the next one.

For this blog, we’ve interviewed two people at opposite ends of the sales profession. One, a sales leader with decades of experience in product development, account management and leading successful sales teams. The other, an award-winning SDR who only started working in sales in February 2019.

They’re going to provide you with top tips and useful advice on how to become a hyper-successful SDR. Over to them!

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Karen Muldoon is the UK Sales Leader for Zendesk, the customer service and engagement platform. She manages a diverse team of salespeople, delivering software solutions to buyers all over the world, from the UK and USA to EMEA and beyond.

Prior to her role at Zendesk, Karen was the Regional VP for UK Commercial Sales at Salesforce, a position she held for over 8 years. During this time, Karen supervised the UK mid-market sales team and was responsible for driving growth and recruiting the next generation of sales talent.

In contrast to many other sales professionals, Karen has worked in a variety of non-sales jobs throughout her career, including account executive, systems analyst and software development roles. This gives her a fresh and unique perspective on the sales industry and the challenges that modern salespeople face.

Hi Karen. First of all, thanks for agreeing to speak to us today! Here’s our first question. What qualities do you think a good SDR should have?

An outbound SDR role is the hardest sales job you’ll ever do. When I’m hiring new starters for my team, I look for certain things. Are they organised? Are they able to work in a structured way?

For years, there was the cliche that the best salespeople were extroverts - but in my experience, the most successful SDRs are introverts. They’re people who can get their head down, analyse the data that’s in front of them and learn from it.

To be a successful SDR, you have to be focused. You have to plan things out in detail. You need to research your prospects thoroughly and stay informed about everything that’s happening in your industry. Modern salespeople should be driven and ambitious, but they also need to be disciplined. Above all, they need to have exceptional product knowledge. If you’re selling a product, you need to know everything about it!

You’ve had a long and varied career in sales and non-sales roles. How do you think the sales profession has changed in recent years?

Sales has changed a lot recently. Before, it was all about networking, meeting people and pitching. Now it’s about a lot more than that, especially in B2B and SaaS sales. When you’re an SDR and you’re cold calling someone on the phone, you’re not just selling a product. You’re selling a solution. You’re selling your own knowledge.

So, as well as being focused and organised, a good SDR must be articulate. You need product knowledge and also the verbal skills to communicate that knowledge to others. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the classic salesperson with the “gift of the gab”. It means that you need to understand how your product works and be able to explain that process to someone else.

In your opinion, are there any processes or technology that can help out today’s SDRs?

For me, this revolution in sales all started with CRM technology. That’s what really changed the industry. It made us all much more analytical and data-driven in the decisions we make.

If you’re an SDR who’s just starting out, be ready to work with your CRM every day. Educate yourself about it. You should know it as well as your own product! In the long run, it’ll make your job so much easier.

What’s the number 1 piece of advice you’d give to an SDR on their first day of selling?

I’d say be patient. You don’t become a successful salesperson overnight. It takes time. You’ll face a lot of rejection but don’t let that put you off. Part of my role as a sales leader is to keep my team motivated. I tell them that every day you’ll have highs and you’ll have lows. The key is to stay focused and stay positive.

Looking back, what’s the 1 thing you’d say to your younger self, when you started your sales career?

That’s a good question! I think the one thing I’d have said to my younger self is, don’t get too caught up in what other people are doing. As salespeople, we have a tendency to compare ourselves to our colleagues. It’s tough when you’re having a bad month but your teammates are doing well. My advice is to ignore all that. Stay focused on your own work and improving your own performance.

Karen’s key takeaways

  • Be organised - create a strong sales process based around planning, research and making data-driven decisions.

  • Know your product - the most successful SDRs are also product experts.

  • Be a good communicator - the best SDRs should be articulate and able to coherently explain their product or service to others.

  • Use a CRM system - get to know it as well as your own product.

  • Stay positive - focus on your own work and don’t let rejection faze you.

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Ben Ward-Cochrane is a Senior Business Development Executive at Cognism. He joined the company in February 2019, making a significant impact in a very short space of time. After only 4 months as a junior SDR, he was promoted to a senior position in Cognism’s SDR team. 

Always professional and always prepared, Ben has set an example for his junior colleagues to follow. He has delivered amazing results as a salesperson while regularly making time to mentor others, helping his teammates with their pitches, strategy and skills. Only recently, Ben was voted the Top 3 SDR in the UK by Sales Confidence.

Hi Ben. Congratulations on your award win! What qualities do you think a good SDR should have?

The number 1 thing is resilience! You’ll need it, because you’ll face a lot of rejection. More than you’ll face success! 

To be successful in outbound sales, obviously you have to be good on the phone, but there are other things as well. You have to be good at admin, you have to be punctual, you have to be able to manage your own time well. 

Another skill you’ll need is to adopt a multi-channel approach. Cold calling is important but you’ll also need to be good at writing emails, at engaging with prospects on LinkedIn, at going up to people at events and talking to them. Being a good salesperson requires a broad range of skills but at its heart, you need to be a confident communicator.

Are good salespeople “born” - or can anyone be taught to do it?

Personality goes a long way when you’re an SDR. But anyone can be taught to sell. It’s a matter of being willing to learn and improve what you do. If you’re working in B2B and SaaS, the basics of an SDR role are always the same. 

The trick is to highlight the pain points that exist in your prospect’s life - and then position your product as the ultimate solution to those pain points. It can be difficult. Often, the prospect doesn’t know what their own pain points are! It’s your job as the salesperson to identify them.

What processes or tools have really helped you in your sales career? 

I’m really focused on the data side of things. If you’ve got good, accurate B2B data, it makes selling so much easier. Cognism’s own tool is really helpful for this. You can quickly identify decision-makers in other companies and discover the recent events that might give you an advantage in selling to them. Like if a company has recently received funding, or if a prospect has been promoted. 

These days, there’s no such thing as a cold call. If you’ve got all the information about a prospect or business right there in front of you when you pick up the phone, then that’s a warm call. When you’ve got good data, it means you can qualify the prospect quickly. That means that your calls will be more successful and you’ll end up booking more demos as a result.

You’re now a senior member of Cognism’s SDR team. What’s the number 1 piece of advice you’d give to a junior colleague on their day of selling?

I always say - don’t talk so much! Instead, get the prospect to do most of the talking. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Learn as much about the prospect as you can, as fast as you can. Use what they tell you to guide the conversation in a certain way.

Another good piece of advice is to always turn a negative into a positive. Let’s say you ask the prospect at the start if they’ve got time to talk. Even if they say they don’t, that’s still an answer you can work with! Ask them if there’s a better time. Arrange a call for later in the week. The first step is to simply obtain permission from the prospect to carry on talking. Once you’ve done that, you’ve established a relationship you can build on.

Another thing I’ll say, if you’re just starting out, is to not focus too much on the end goal, getting demos or meetings booked. Instead, focus on your own process and making that as good as possible. When you’ve got a good process in place, you’ll find that it becomes much easier to hit your targets. 

Cognism has grown rapidly in the months since you’ve joined. How has that impacted the way SDRs work? 

The SDR role has changed a lot as we’ve scaled. We’re getting a lot more strategic now. Quality of leads, not quantity, is what’s important. When we SDRs book a demo, we want to make sure that the prospect has a very very high chance of becoming a client. We’ve had to change our mindset - it’s not about booking quick demos, but gaining long-term customers. 

I think the whole team benefits from this approach. It means we get better quality conversations and better results overall.

Ben’s key takeaways

  • Be resilient - be prepared to face rejection every day.

  • Be good at multi-channel selling - the modern SDR must be confident at communicating across different channels, from phone calls, emails, social media and public speaking.

  • Be data-driven - analyse all the information on your target accounts and prospects; use the insights you’ll gain to sell with precision. 

  • Ask questions - let the prospect do most of the talking. Listen carefully to their responses and use them to your advantage.

  • Create a process - develop your own way of working and managing your time. Set your own individual goals and strive to achieve them.

Need more help?

If you’re an SDR who’s struggling with B2B lead generation, why not see for yourself what Cognism can do? 

We can supply you with fresh and accurate business data that makes identifying your ideal customers a quick and stress-free process. Then, we can give you all the tools you need to engage with them, from outbound email automation to CRM integrations with the world’s leading providers, including Salesforce.

Register for your free demo here!