When I was halfway through my tenure as the Director of Sales at inDinero, a growing Silicon Valley tech company, I stepped into an SDR team that was setting an average of 7 appointments per month per rep, to one that was setting 21 appointments per month per rep. Even while simultaneously increasing variable compensation, we were able to triple the overall ROI of the team in several weeks.

As a humble student of sales development leadership, I’d like to share a few things I learned while my team went through this amazing transition. Credit goes to the fantastic SDR team (love you all, always!) that held strong through this, and to the skilled management team I worked alongside to make this happen.

 

Data Is Your Religion

It can’t be emphasized enough that the first thing you need to leave at the door is your ego. Use your experience as a guide, but be open to questioning everything you’ve done in the past. Come up with criteria that will tell you if new ideas hold merit, then test those ideas with discipline.

→ Not sure whether a radically-different approach to email copy will work? Give it a go on a small subset of contacts. Wow — looks like it was effective!

→ Heard that putting emojis in your emails will increase response rate? Try it for a few weeks. Oops, it had a horrible reply rate — back to the drawing board.

Always follow the bright spots. If one rep is doing something very right, encourage her to quantify what it is she’s doing right, and to share it with the team.

Track your efficiency ratios. Start by figuring out the percentage of calls and emails that result in positive outcomes, contact other sales leaders to benchmark your performance, and figure out where the lowest-hanging fruit is. That will tell you where to focus your efforts: is it increasing activities, or refining your reps’ communication skills?

Always start with the lowest-hanging fruit, because these big improvements will cause your team to build excitement and MOMENTUM, which is incredibly important to morale and future performance.

 

Don’t Believe the HYPE

I’ve seen SDR teams — and, individual reps on SDR teams — work very well with emails, and others very well with calls. In every organization, and for every individual sales rep, there is a balance to be struck between emails, calls, social touches, etc.

Your job as a sales leader is to 1) find the optimal balance for your product, and for your team as a whole — then, 2) to provide an environment with sufficient guardrails to ensure everyone generally follows best practices, but that the star performers can innovate within those guardrails to find the method that works best for them.

In other words, establish a data-driven best practice for how to be a great SDR at the team level, and then at the individual level. Make it EASY to do the job, thus giving star performers room to be what they are: STARS.

Don’t make the mistake of taking sides on “whether cold-calling works” or not, or on similar debatesI can’t stand those LinkedIn posts from people debating whether calling is dead, or not. It’s one technique of many — figure out whether it has a place in your organization, or not, and iterate over time. When material changes happen to your target market or your sales rep profile, consider forming a new hypothesis as to whether a specific technique should be used.

Be as open-minded as possible, without letting yourself be sucked down wild goose chases.

 

Drive Best Practice Adoption Through INCENTIVES

Take a look at your compensation plan, and ask two questions:

  1. Are commissions based on something that is wholeheartedly under each sales rep’s control?
  2. Is total compensation set so that it’s roughly market-competitive, but also makes financial sense for the business?

People lose motivation when their pay is determined by something outside of their control. Models where SDRs are paid based on the closed revenue resulting from their appointments are very tough to swallow: while that may protect the business as a whole, this is a crutch that you shouldn’t rely on, because it will hamper performance. People need to know that their performance will closely correlate to their earnings. This will reinforce good behaviors and motivate your team.

At inDinero, we scrapped the ‘closed revenue’ portion of SDR compensation, and it made an enormous difference in the team’s performance.

Simultaneously, I worked with Accounting to make sure that the compensation model was scalable, and wouldn’t break the bank in the long term. Sure enough, the cost rate of the team went from 75% of ACV to 25% of ACV within just a few months and stayed below 30% thereafter.

 

Teach Resilience

Dealing With Haters

Dealing with haters is one of the most unpleasant aspects of life as an SDR. But contending and understanding insulting, biting remarks is actually easier than you may think. By following a few simple tactics, you’ll find that you can even turn a catty prospect into one of your most loyal customers. Below is a look at the psychology of haters and some steps you can take to deal with their antics.

Who Are Haters and Why Are They So Spiteful?

Before discussing coping strategies, it’s helpful to learn how to spot a hater and understand the psychology behind their behavior. They can occupy any role from an administrative assistant, to a marketing director, to a CEO. In order to boost your odds of getting these people to hear what you have to say, it’s important to understand some reasons why they’re responding negatively to your outreach:

  • Reason One: They are overworked or overwhelmed by daily responsibilities.
  • Reason Two: They have no idea who you are.
  • Reason Three: Your timing is poor.
  • Reason Four: They immediately assume you are trying to push a product on them.
  • Reason Five: Your outreach or messaging seems irrelevant or poorly researched.Looking at these reasons, you actually have a lot of control over the outcome of your discussion. You can help get the conversation off to a good start by clearly identifying yourself, quickly outlining how you can specifically help the prospect you’re reaching out to, and by targeting your outreach.

How Can Market Research Make a Difference?

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a crystal ball that would help you know who is going to be hateful before you initiate contact? While there’s no silver bullet, the next best strategy is market research. Many of the issues outlined above can be avoided simply by conducting the proper research to make sure you are truly reaching members of your target audience who need your product or service. With the proper research techniques, you can avoid haters in the first place. Ideally, your message copy is appropriate and specific, and even if someone doesn’t need your product they’ll let you know kindly. Here are some tips to follow to build outreach that only targets the right people:

  • Employ A/B testing of your copy to ensure your messaging is effective
  • Iterate on your outbound messaging to reflect market events and trends
  • Hyper focus language based on industry and role
  • Focus on boosting brand awareness by providing helpful and relevant marketing collateral

What Role Do Timing and Language Play in the Process?

The reasons above show that your timing and language play a critical role in mitigating haters’ behavior. After all, try to think about how you respond to people during the most challenging time periods associated with your sales job. Here are a few examples:

  • Peak seasons, or times when you don’t have a spare moment to catch your breath
  • The end of the month, when you are working to close last minute deals to exceed quota
  • Monday mornings, when you tend to face an onslaught of emails and phone calls
  • Uncertain times, when the world is impacted by natural disaster and business might be at a standstill.

The chances are that you’re more likely to respond positively to outreach with a helpful product if they reach out to you when you are not likely to be as busy. Instead of trying to hit people up during the same windows of time, vary your outgoing messages to be staggered through different times. Assess what works, and build on that.

In addition to timing your outreach properly, always clearly identify yourself and make sure that your outreach is properly tailored to the prospect’s role in their organization. Remember, your customers are busy, so reference the nature of your last conversation or how the two of you initially met. If you do these two things, you can often stop the hate in its tracks.

What Are Five of the Most Common Things Haters Say?

People can be extremely cruel and insulting when responding to sales people. In fact, the tone of their response is often worse than their remarks themselves. The path to dealing with this type of behavior begins by being prepared for some of their biting remarks and over time, building a thick skin. Here are five of the most common things haters say to prospectors.

1) “How did you get my name and email?”

In many cases, people who don’t recognize you may get defensive and immediately ask how you obtained their contact information. The good news is that your odds of winning them over are high if you respond professionally and honestly. Reassure them that you have a reason for reaching out. An appropriate response might be, “We met in January at the Arab Health Expo in Dubai when you stopped by our booth” or “I’ve been reaching out to marketing directors at med-tech companies and thought you might be interested in hearing how we reduce content costs?”

2) “Take me off your list.”

This is a common response to phone calls and emails – especially if your outreach efforts are automatically generated. You can help avoid this response by monitoring the frequency of your calls and the quality of your emails. In addition, if your language feels human (as it definitely should) you likely won’t get so much pushback. However, when someone says to take them off your outreach, absolutely remove them.

3) “I’m not interested in anything you have.”

Do not be surprised if some prospects interrupt you with this generic phrase before you even have a chance to finish introducing yourself. In most cases, people who use this line are either extremely overwhelmed or tired of being targeted by salespeople pushing products they don’t need or want.

The key to winning over this type of hater is to quickly and succinctly outline exactly how your product will help a specific need they might have. Don’t be generic with your pitch. For example, you may say, “If you don’t mind, I will drop off a sample of our new anti-bacterial wipes this afternoon. They are especially effective on the stainless steel products you sell.” It shows you want to help and that you’ve done your research.

4) “Stop wasting my time.”

Comments like this can really bring a sales rep down – especially if the sales rep is new or staunchly devoted to a product or service. When responding to this type of remark, you can quickly assure them that is not your intent, as you know their time is valuable. Then, try to summarize in one sentence how your offering actually helps to prevent time waste.

“You are right – time is a precious commodity. Which is exactly why I am reaching out. I’ll sign off here, but can I follow up with a quick email graphic to show you how our inventory software will help you shave 30-60 minutes off your production cycle?”

Put the decision in their hands to obtain more information.

5) “If you don’t stop bothering me, I’ll (insert threat).”

No one likes to receive threats. And they are rarely deserved. When prospects angrily threaten to “report you” or blast you on social media for bothering them, it’s usually best to quickly do three things. First, offer a sincere apology for bothering the prospect. Second, assure them that you will refrain from reaching out in the near future. And third, notify your team lead, in writing, of the comment. Then, turn your energies to the many other prospects in the market.

The Bottom Line On How to Deal With Haters

“Stop selling and start positioning yourself as an educator. This shifts the dynamics and puts you back in a trusted role of a valued helper.” – Joseph LaForte, Par Funding

A hater-free life is virtually impossible to achieve in the world of sales. But by knowing why some prospects behave so hatefully, you can prepare yourself to handle their rants. Finally, you can position yourself for success by following these five tips:

  • Remain calm. Maintaining a professional demeanor is essential when dealing with haters. Do not raise your voice or get emotional.
  • Take the high road. Remember you are representing your employer. Never sink to the prospect’s level or lash out with an insult.
  • Remove them from automated outreach. If a prospect asks to be removed from your email list or call list, then remove them.
  • Offer a compliment. Let the prospect know you like their website or logo. Sometimes kind words can transform haters.
  • Let them know you want to help. And make sure the prospect knows the value you can deliver to their organization. Be specific to the person you’re talking with.

Alex is the Founder & CEO of RevenueZen. Originally from San Francisco, he's planted roots in Portland. When he's not teaching social selling and B2B content marketing, he's practicing music, creative writing, weightlifting, and acro yoga. Formerly the Director of Growth @ inDinero, investor and advisor to high-growth B2B statups. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.