How to launch your career in sales: the 5 skills to hone now

Naya Tsoukala
Naya Tsoukala
VP Sales & Media Relations
Published August 21, 2018

You landed your first job in sales. Congratulations! As the rest of the sales folks out-there you are starting out as an SDR.

What is this acronym all about? An SDR is a sales development representative. You may come across other acronyms for the job such as ADR, LDR, BDR; there’s a ton of them out there, but principally the role is the same! It is all about reaching out to net new accounts, qualify leads and generate new opportunities into the pipeline, for an account executive or a more tenured sales rep to turn or close the deal.

Think of it as the first point of contact in a sales process.

Simplified Sales Funnel

As SDRs are the ones, who will reach out and create those new revenue-bearing opportunities, they are in fact significant assets for a company.

So if you are about to jump-start a career in sales, an SDR role is the best way to get your sea legs! Don't be fooled though, it's not a laid-back position. It's actually one of the toughest jobs in sales!

To be honest, your early days as an SDR might slightly feel overwhelming, but trust you'll gain unparalleled experience. You will learn a million things from how to prospect efficiently to what a right fit customer looks like; just to name a few.

So take a step back and set attainable goals. It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be fully up and running in your first couple of weeks.

Instead of getting frustrated early on, you need to prioritize what’s essential for you to master, find the tools needed to get you started and lay the foundation for a successful future career in sales.

Let’s lay the foundation before start discussing skills.

Before day one of your new position, you need to start building on your expertise.

You will not be able to sell anything unless you are sold on it. You need to jump right in and learn as much as possible about your product /service. The learning curve in sales is exponential. You'll need to be able to provide precise explanations of the product's value proposition along with its uniquely delivered benefits in no time.

Speaking of benefits, it's not only your product you should be familiar with but learn as much as you can about your competition and industry in general. You will be actively comparing your product against competition in various cases and scenarios.

Do your research, test if possible the competition's offering. See in action what are your products' differentiator and Achilles’ heel. This way, you find yourself able to stir the conversation around the unique selling points of your product and away from potential deal breakers.

That gets us to another critical aspect of your expertise building. You should live and breath your product offering. Ask your colleagues, product questions non-stop. If it means messaging your company's CTO at 9 pm with questions on specs do so. You need to learn as much as possible in little time to be able to kick-start your outreach.

Moreover, even for a very early and evaluatory conversation with a lead, you should know your audience in general well. If you don't know your prospects' industry needs, how are you supposed to propose a solution?

The first thing to learn in sales today is that selling is no more solely about a product or a service. You sell a solution - you cover a very specific need; you sell an approach, a lifestyle or an aspiration. It depends on the nature of your product.

Now, let’s dig deep. The following list contains the 5 skills you need to focus on gaining or honing, the moment you land the position:

1. Realize the importance of timing & prioritize your outreach accordingly

A large part of the prospecting process is based on perfect-timing.

Depending on the industry, on your audience and your product/services' offering, you will find early on what the best times to reach your prospects are.

As a general rule and based on the experienced of well-seasoned salespeople, Monday mornings tend to be terrible for sales emails because leads are getting ready for the week, while Tuesdays, Thursdays, and early afternoon on Fridays are far better days.

As per the times, the ones that work generally best are: early in the morning, right after lunchtime and between 4 and 6 pm.

A critical thing to note is that you need to align your communications and schedule with your leads’ local time zones. Craft your emails and campaigns when fits your workflow but use smart tools like scheduling (send later) to send the emails in respect to the time zone(s) of the recipients.

Don't be afraid to ask your manager and fellow sales reps when they have the best open rates. Use their input and use those times on your email scheduling.

If they’re inbound leads, on the other hand, respond as quickly as you can to when they’re generated. Again, the technology is out there.

Use smart follow-ups in your email communications and when they do not respond the first time, be persistent in making sure you get the prospect engaged. The art of sales follow-ups is the among the first needed to master ASAP.

The Sales Development Process

2. Learn how to qualify a lead best

Ensure that you’re not under-or over-qualifying prospective customers on your outreach. The latter can lead to wasting your sales rep’s or AE’s time. The former can lead to lost opportunities.

You need to quickly strike a balance between understanding a prospect’s business model and not over-investing time.

15 - 30 minutes of research per company is acceptable when you’re first getting started. You don’t need to learn every single thing about a prospect before approaching him, and trying to do so will eat up your time.

Once you master this, you’ll be able to skim through a conversation with a lead and still be able to instigate a productive and meaningful discussion. Of course, it all gets down to what you’re selling and to whom you’re selling it. It highly depends on your business model, whether you have a self-catering tier,the complexity of the product or solution you are selling and so on.

On the flip side, you might not be doing enough research. If you’re reaching out to 100 prospects a day and booking one meeting, you need to take a step back and redefine your strategy. Is your message targeted enough or does it feel like a canned email as the ones you usually regard in your spam folder?

Reach out at scale, so you have data to review, is one of the best ways to understand if you’re falling into either one of these potholes. Look at the analytics of your outreach and discuss them with your mentors and manager.

One of the biggest mistakes new SDRs make is to try to book meetings with everybody they connect with.

On the flip side, they’ll also allow prospects to disqualify themselves. Follow up, use all tools offered in your email automation suite and don't let leads fall through the cracks.

Moreover, look back at your prospects' behavior and learn to differentiate between a lead trying to disqualify themselves and a true red flag.

If it turns out that a prospect isn’t a good fit right now, thank them for their time and wrap the relationship professionally. Offer to send some resources and advise them to follow up if something changes and a conversation is guaranteed. You’ll save yourself and the rest of the sales team in the long run if you only set meetings with leads who can become sales opportunities.

3. Highly customize your outreach

Personalize

It’s always easier to start a conversation if you make it personal in even at the smallest way. Your lead will know you’re reaching them to sell, but in the short term, just try to establish a relationship. Use tools that offer you the option to personalize at scale.

Here is a typical sales email to give you the feel.

SDR Email Template


Use your personality

The one thing that will make you stand out from the competition or all this automation is being human! Use your personality! Are you funny? Are you technical? Use it to your advantage!

Inject humor as you provide value.

Using humor right can have excellent results. Whatever you do, stay conversational. Don’t start your pitching by pushing your product.

4. Get comfortable with giving product demos & picking up the phone

In your first few weeks on doing impromptu product demos or on the phones, you will make mistakes. The quicker you fail though, the quicker you’ll succeed.

The more calls you make, the more product demos you give, the more objections you’ll hear. Write down every doubt and concern you encounter and work on the best way of handling them. Leverage this very knowledge on your next calls.

You'll never be going to get comfortable enough until you're used to doing it regularly. So get your rep mode on, dive in and learn from your mistakes.

5. Master the art of follow-ups

Here at Gmelius, we've tackled quite a few times the importance of the perfect follow up strategy and process. Yes, it is that important!

Emails get lost, disregarded, forgotten, or in times they just miss the info or the incentive that will capture your lead's attention. Hence, to see actionable results early on, you need to be able to come up with a converting follow-up strategy.

First questions, first: “How often do I need to follow up with a prospect?”

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules to set up the email cadence.

The quickest answer would usually be depending on how they interact with your email! A CRM solution or email outreach tool with email tracking can help you figure this out quickly. Hence by looking at cumulative email opens and click rates, you can create a framework for your follow up strategy. Here is a generic one to get you started:

  • Leads who got at least once back to you and shown some interest but suddenly went cold, follow up until they respond. The answer might be a firm no, but is a concrete answer nonetheless and allows you to move on to other prospects.
  • Leads who opened your email/clicked on shared incentive but did not further engage. Here again, follow up until they respond. Make sure you offer some added value or benefit. This way when the prospect is interested in making a purchase, your product will be on top of their mind.
  • Leads who didn't open your email at all. In this case, follow up to 6 times the most; otherwise, you are just spamming them.

Once, you master your approach and outreach frequency, you need to work on opens and clicks. You need to be able to craft on the spot great subject lines and clear email copies that get their message across. No worries, we’ve even prepared an essential guide with free templates to get you started.

In the end, it highly depends on the person you are reaching out to. C-level executives are harder to reach and overall too busy to get back to you promptly; you need to follow up with the last sparser.

Fair to say that a sales developer role requires such a mental fortitude that most starting jobs won’t be able to give you. You'll face rejection, and gain the perseverance and confidence needed to bounce back. You'll learn to be patient and persistent to get your message through. You'll work in a team and get invaluable knowledge from seasoned sales reps and managers.

In other words, it will set you up for success in any role, not just in sales. Whatever role you move into eventually, you will be equipped to face through it!

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