Being a Sales Development Representative (SDR) is a tough job.
You’re at the sharp edge of sales, with little advice given, a lot of rejection from prospects, and hard targets to hit month in, month out.
As a stepping stone to a career in sales, it’s daunting.
That’s why James Ski founded Sales Confidence. To bring together sales professionals across the spectrum of roles; from SDRs to sales leaders, to promote more professional sales practices, mindset awareness, and mental wellbeing.
In this episode of B2B Rebellion, James shares 5 tips to help SDRs establish a successful career in sales.
Watch the video to learn:
Andy Culligan: Okay, today guys, I have James Ski from Sales Confidence on. Myself and James have been doing a bit of chatting over the past couple of weeks, he was on one of our webinars last week, and Sales Confidence is an organization that I've come across over the past couple of years, really when I was working in a role which looked after an SDR team.
And I actually came across it from the SDR awards, you were running there, I think it was last year, and one of the SDRs who was working for me at the time actually got nominated and won an award. So it was interesting, it was the first time I came across it and it actually ran clear to me that it was a great thing to see that there was an organization out there that was joining up and basically a large sales network across the globe.
It was mainly focused in the UK back then, but it was good to see from an SDR perspective that they were getting recognized, right? SDRs are... It's a tougher job as a coms, I think, with very little respect shown towards that particular team and a lot of juniors that are working very long hours and basically seeing their career really in the SDR world as the stepping stone toward sales and it's very hard to gain a bit of guidance from others that have gone through it, so it was great to see Sales Confidence come into fruition from that.
James, just if, could you give us a bit of the history behind Sales Confidence and why you set it up and where you guys are at today?
James Ski: Yeah, it's a funny time actually. It's almost three years since the first Sales Confidence logo was created on 99 designs. So it's a bit of a memory and it's still the same logo three years on, so I'm pretty proud of the Sales Confidence logo.
But back then, my dream was, I have always been an out and out sales professional, and I've always felt that I deserved more recognition, acknowledgement, and respect for the profession, that is being in sales. But I didn't feel it was getting the same recognition and also I felt because of buyers being unimpressed or unhappy with the sales person's approach.
I felt we needed to do a better job to promote the professionalism, and not just at the IC level or the sales leader level, but right at the beginning of the career. 'Cause if you can set the right habits, behaviors, and forts right at the beginning, at the SDR stage, you're gonna create a better buyer experience, because you're gonna have better sales professionals.
So really, I wanted to bring together salespeople at each stage of their career from the SDR, IC right up to the sales leader and really help them with, yes, performance because you need to deliver against your number in sales, but also take into consideration what's going on in their mind and their overall well being.
I'm a big believer in sustainable performance, and you highlighted that the SDR role is right at the sharp edge, in the trenches, getting rejected day-in, day-out, getting moaned at, getting complained at, it's a pretty horrible job. But you need to go through it to develop and go through your career, and you need assistance while you're there.
So the motivation came from, I wanted something like this when I started my career, it didn't exist, and then I realized to do something at a scale, we could replicate this and do events, and now we do it online, so like Leadfeeder, we can reach anyone around the world.
AC: With other young salespeople listening, maybe even SDRs or people that have just come into AE roles, what would you recommend or is there any tips that you can give, maybe three to five tips that you could give people right now that are looking to get past the current situation, but also just in sales and SDR roles in general?
JS: Yeah, so there's a couple of things I'd summarize. One is priorities, you need to set your priority, and what I do is so simple, but I don't see it happen enough, and I've worked with hundreds of salespeople, and naturally, we have thousands on our network is, it's a simple ABC.
You need to focus on the top 20% of your A accounts in your target territory that you're gonna go the extra mile, they're gonna get the extra email or they're gonna get more cadences, more calls, more voicemails, and you need to start every day on what I call your A-game. So I don't go through my emails systematically, I look at my top 20 accounts on my A-list, and then I do a search by them and I take advantage of calling them first or responding to their emails first.
So you have to prioritize and do your primary activity, your A activities first. In the beginning, you use your gut. Often you're like, "Well if I get this right, this is the size of company and the right industry that's gonna lead to the biggest upside," but over time, you start to apply a bit of a science and you understand what type of target accounts are As, and that's really important. So focus on your A-game.
Understanding when to qualify out for me is the most underrated skill. Everybody in their frameworks, methodologies, coaching, training teaches you to qualify in with this criteria, whatever it is, and there's many that we all use. The key for me is to qualify out. I like to assist the prospect, I like them to tell me, or me tell them that we're not a right solution for them. I don't wanna waste their time.
I don't wanna waste my time, and there are statistically... Statistically, most of our pipelines, we only close 30%, at best 40% of our pipeline. So, therefore, statistically, 60 to 70% of your pipelines will never close. It doesn't matter if it's qualified, it doesn't matter if it's in the pipeline of 50%, it will never close.
So as sales professionals, we're spending too much time with opportunities that are never gonna close. So qualify out and find a reason for them to say no, sooner; because then you can focus on more pipeline that you bring into the pipeline, so that would be my second. So the first was focus...
AC: Just on that James, sorry to interrupt you there. Do you have any process that you go through for qualifying things out, or is it a quota or how would you go about doing it? We know, as you mentioned, there's a number of tools out there like STAMP or BANT or whatever to qualify in. But are you using it, are you using something to help qualify out or is it just questioning?
JS: Honestly, often it's an honest question. So you would have gone through BANT or whatever it is, and you would have ticked loads of boxes that basically says, you are a qualified opportunity, you are qualified to buy from our organization at some point on this timeline.
Sometimes you just need to make the call... And this should happen once a week actually, you should go through your pipeline once a week, call through, and just say it, just pick up the phone and say, "Listen, I've been thinking about it this week. There's a couple of things I've got question marks."
You've never got all the information, and just dig out the things you're still missing and just say, "Look, I've... Realistically, John or Sarah or whoever, I've been thinking about this, is it fair to say that maybe this is too soon?" And then pause, and then let them see how they respond, and if they respond and agree with you, well, there you go. You've saved yourself some time.
But often they turn around and say, "Hold on a minute, no, no, no listen James. No, we are serious it's just... We're still expecting that proposal from you, or we still need that." Basically, it's a test of commitment, and you just do that by questioning, and picking up the phone and having that conversation.
AC: It's a really great tip, James, thanks for that mate. Sorry, I interrupted you there, you were on a roll, you were going to point three.
JS: No, that's fine. It's a valid point. Sometimes I forget, I haven't been so close to the coalface, I actually have been getting back on the coalface recently, setting up my own meetings, which is fun. And one thing I've taken away from that is a sense of urgency. In SaaS, because of inbound leads, I think people are very lazy about how they book their next call, their second call, their third call. Or even their first call, you know, they wait till tomorrow, Friday, next week, next Tuesday.
I don't mess around if I get a sniff that you're interested, I'll speak to you today, in fact, I will speak to you now. I get off a message and someone responds and says, "Yeah, I'm happy to speak to you." I will respond in real-time and say, "Well, as you're happy, I'm just at my desk. Why don't I give you a call right away?" Nine times out of 10, they go, "Yeah, okay." Because they wanna get it out the way, and then you've got them at peak attention, and I still like the kind of AIDA framework, you know, attention, interest, desire, action.
Or I've seen it also as attention and interest, desire, and relationship action. So you've got to develop the desire and the relationship with rapport, but the quicker you respond, the buyer loves that, the prospect loves that. So sense of urgency in taking action is a major differentiator for driving pipeline.
AC: Hundred percent. I think even my experience with running SDR teams before was always trying to work on conversion rates, and conversion rates started all the way from the top, from inbound leads but then if we take it one further step down, a full after meetings booked. How do you get that completed? How do you actually make sure that the meeting's getting completed?
And that urgency factor was something you need to really beat into people. If people are reaching out and you manage to book a meeting or you manage to get them on the phone, you manage to get that connect and get them... Don't be putting that meeting off until next month. So many people do... I do it all the time. I cancel... If an SDR puts a meeting in my calendar a month out, I'm cancelling. I won't even remember what that meeting's about. That's a super valid point.
JS: So I guess you want number four?
JS: So, this would be advice for anyone in any position in sales, and especially right now, is learn to manage up in your organization. Right now, targets in some cases have been dropped, your ability to hit your targets has been reduced, you need to be able to manage up and communicate to your manager or the sales VP, or the executives or even the board, if you're a CRO, and be very transparent with managing expectations.
No one, especially in sales like surprises. No one wants to hear at the end of the quarter, at the end of the month that something's not gonna happen because you thought it might, so that's really important. It's also important to give your senior, whoever that is, a heads-up when you feel, you've had to go back to the beginning.
So like a simple thing, look I've had to clean out 50% of my pipeline this week, well just tell them. Don't let them figure it out in a forecast meeting. Like hold on, why are you not forecasting? Always, always be forthcoming, your leaders and the people above you will really appreciate it.
I don't see the point of salespeople hiding and then BS'ing their way through meetings and review meetings and pipeline meetings, you basically, you end up looking like a mug, and it's so unhelpful and if you create a reputation of that, it weakens any of your promotional opportunity internally.
AC: Absolutely. It's like the boy who cried wolf. You won't... Nobody will believe in your pipeline in the future for sure.
JS: Absolutely, and actually that would lead on to, I guess one of my last points is around forecasting. Now, I came from a world actually originally in recruitment, where if I promised a consultant a placement, so you know, a candidate found a job and therefore we were getting paid. That was happening. I did not mess around. It was boiler room attitude that you would get your wrists severely slapped if you made a mistake in your forecast.
And what I've seen a lot of in SaaS over the last 10 years is really poor forecasting. Week after week, something keeps dropping into the next week, keeps dropping into the next week. And as sales managers, you kind of accept it. The forecast, often it's graded based on expectations; if it's a stretch, if it's a commit.
But believe me, make sure your forecast is accurate, and that you have a reputation of forecasting accurately. Because again managing up, but it's embarrassing. I used to laugh... In my early career when I was an IC, I used to find it amusing 'cause I could just point out the people that forecast yet again was flimsical and it's not helpful for you, it's not helpful for them. You commit something in your forecast, make goddamn well sure you're gonna close it.
AC: That's great advice mate, that's really great advice. Thank you so much for that James, it's been really interesting and there's plenty of really good tips there for people to take away. And before we finish up, I've been looking on LinkedIn, I've seen you're fairly active. You're promoting a new book that you're gonna be releasing soon. Do you wanna tell us a little bit about that?
JS: Oh, well yeah, sure. That's quite a personal one. But I guess so while I've been able to have a reasonably successful career in the software industry, have now the good fortune of building this business in difficult times, making difficult decisions, I'm also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So that's a mood disorder, which means you have kind of high highs and low lows.
And the book, that should be ready, I think we're gonna be releasing it with the publishers in September is called, Winning with Bipolar, which is kind of a juxtaposition because you don't always win, particularly with a mental illness diagnosis. I've won at times because of what it's taught me having this diagnosis, but I've also lost.
And I think right now there's an increase in anxiety, depression, a sense of loss with people and especially in the software industry and especially in sales because our worlds have been turned upside down. So I hope that the book will tell a story about someone that's been able to overcome those challenges of having a mental health diagnosis, but also give people some belief and confidence that actually there's always a way out. However bad it is and however you feel like it's dark, there's always a way out and that's what I hope to, I guess, show in the book later in the year.
AC: That's a great story and it's also a great piece of experience from your side to bring into what you're running there in Sales Confidence and keeping an eye on people's mental health, especially in that role as you mentioned, which for younger guys as well, at the industry or being in SaaS sales or tech sales can be really overwhelming at an early age. And I think your experience there will be massively be helpful to those guys, so it's really great to see and congratulations on the book as well, mate.
JS: Well, I appreciate it, thank you for bringing it up. I appreciate that.
AC: Thanks. Okay, well, look, James, thank you so much for this. It's been super interesting and some great takeaways and I look forward to speaking to you again soon, mate.
JS: Good man. Thanks very much.