"Listen to your calls or just listen to calls. It's the quickest way to learn."
Since our blog post looking at "14 SDR Leaders You Should Be Following On LinkedIn" we've been tracking down some of those on the list for a chat and to understand what we might learn from them as successful sales leaders.
Know how Alex was able to go from SDR to AE in 10 months, and find out what are his thoughts on key metrics, personalization and what it takes to be successful in the Sales business.
Stay tuned over the coming weeks or follow us on LinkedIn as we expand our talks to other SDR leaders.
Here's the transcript in full:
Hi Alex, it's Gautam here from OneShot. Thanks for joining us here today.
Everyone's really looking forward to kind of understanding a bit about your journey from a recruiter into the SDR world ThreatConnect all the way through to Terminus.
Be great for a quick introduction a bit about yourself and yeah, looking forward to this chat.
Yeah, thank you very much for the introduction.
Yeah, so Alex Harris, currently an account executive at Terminus, an account based marketing software platform based out in Atlanta,Georgia, but currently myself based here in London, as you may be able to tell from the accent for any american listeners.
So yeah, my background is, so I studied at University of Nottingham Trent, International Relations and sort of joined an SDR roll at ThreatConnect where I was then promoted into an AE role and then very recently after only two weeks in but moved and joined the terminus, which is really exciting and yeah, that's a bit about me.
Brilliant, yeah Alex. Yeah, would be interesting to like, I guess go through that journey a bit in terms of you finishing University, College, you then went into a recruiting role before kind of moving to ThreatConnect, one of their kind of like first BDR/SDR roles. I guess just going right back, you know, you're finishing college, you know, you're on an AE now, so going right back to when you finished Uni, you kind of were just looking for a job and thought you were going into recruitment.
How did that kind of transition happen?
Yeah, so I think it actually starts just before I finished university, so I did a placement year for those people who haven´t come acrossed a placement year, is as a year between your second year and your final of year of university.
And I was not supposed to do a placement year because my course was a three year course, but all my housemates were doing business courses where they had sandwiches, where they were going and doing an industrial placement year to gain some experience and I thought well why would I not gain some valuable experience in between my university degree to A) understand why I might want to do after university, and B) gain some skills that may help me post-university to gain some employment.
And so I spent a year in a graduate recruitment company called Instant Impact, probably probably one of the most transformational years in my career so far.
And reasons for for that our first year was graduate recruitment, so everyone knows that people cut their teeth on recruitment and gain some pretty good all round skills from a from a year in recruitment.
And secondly it was graduate recruitment, so it gave me a really good insight in terms of what was going to be out there for me post-university, obviously I'll do a year in recruitment and then go back to my final year in University and then graduate and hopefully find some employment after University.
So I think it taught me a lot. recruitment teaches you a lot. I think for anyone that has done recruitment will, will definitely agree.
I think that's where I really understood the post-university, I wanted to work in sales and the SDR/BDR world within tech, because I spent nine months of my time, there working on BDR entry level sales roles, placing people into really exciting tech companies and saw them really sort of rocket ship their their careers in their first year, also getting promoted into AE roles and that's kind of where I realized that, okay, that's what I want to do after University and then went back to University.
Unfortunately midway through my final year, COVID hit, which is obviously an interesting time for everyone. Finished my final year remotely, but after finishing my sort of degree within about two weeks of, luckily because I knew exactly what I wanted, within two weeks of finishing, despite COVID, I secured my first role, at ThreatConnect as a BDR.
ThreatConnect is based in Arlington, Virginia. But we're coming over to the EMEA regions to really try and scale their operations over here, joined as the first SDR, they had a couple of SDRs in the States, but they were kind of feasting on a lot of inbound interest, because we had a big brand, big awareness in the States for who we were and are type of technology, and then came and looked to scale the BDR function from scratch out too.
Like yes, that's like, so you kind of… It was quite lucky for you because you have that placement year, because a lot of people obviously finish University and they don't have any idea, right? It's kind of like loads of debt, like student loans, need to get a job, need to move out. So, you know, people look around to end up in a sales role, so you kind of already had that placement year, so you already had a good idea before.
Did you have an idea of what graduate recruitment would be like before? Like starting it? (...) what were you doing? Like 20 cold calls a day? 50 cold calls day sending loads of emails, did you have that expectation? And what was it actually like, you know, day to day, especially that first kind of month.
Yeah, I mean, I had a little bit of an expectation about what recruitment was because I had a family member that had done some recruitment in the past and I was somewhat aware, but perhaps a little bit blissfully unaware, because as a student, you're kind of not 100% sure of what you're getting yourself into, but it didn’t matter, I was pretty target driven, I was pretty motivated and often thrived in situations where I was dealing with people, like speaking to people and just having conversations, understanding situations.
So initially I was probably not shocked, but maybe the sort of initial onboarding phase was quite tough, perhaps because it was “Here’s your targets.If you don't hit your targets, we're gonna have to have serious conversations, and find out what's going wrong and why, why things aren't working.”
In terms of KPIs, it wasn't necessarily so much focused on a number of dials, it was always, and I'm thankful for the founders of the business to being output focused, they were more focused on what's the output, what's the goal we're trying to achieve here. It doesn't really matter how you get there, you might make 100 calls in a day, you may send 100 emails a day, but if you're not getting to the goal, something is clearly not working, so we need to try and unpack what, what's really the kind of key to success there.
So, working back from, initially, when I first started, it was a number of CVs that were sent to clients in a week, basically. Working back from that, understanding how many conversations I needed to have, how many positive conversations I needed to have and then ultimately, then from that we can work out the conversion rate from dials to conversations to positive conversations and then CVs sent to clients. That was the approach we took, initially.
That's brilliant. Yeah, because I think a lot of people, it's funny you mentioned that the onboarding was kind of like you're straight in there, if you look at a lot of like, especially tech companies now, they're, they're pushing out there great onboarding, people flying all over the place, they get their welcome kits and like free goodies and brand new laptops and all the rest of it.
And I guess you probably didn't have any of that.
It was like, here's the desk, but I think more importantly, I think on the metrics side of things, that's a really important lesson. So it's kind of like the number of dials, number of emails, all those things are kind of irrelevant unless you kind of know what your output is, what you're trying to achieve. So I think having that grounding and working backwards to say, okay, well what number of CVs equals this many conversations because that applies everywhere.
So I'm assuming you took all of that learning when you went into ThreatConnect. You already had that kind of “Okay, well what’s my target? How do I hit that target?”, all of the numbers, you know, people take a few years sometimes to learn that.
So to kind of get that schooling from, from week one day one, it's just really advantageous for you.
Yeah, I think it certainly helped me put things into perspective, because you do often, and there are organizations that do still preach the make $100 a day, send 100 emails a day and you'll get to your target no matter what, which in some scenarios like it may work, and there are certain scenarios where you do need to have high levels of activity and I think certainly in those first three to six months, where you’re still working out what good looks like and how to have a conversation, how to ask the right questions, what you even want to say when you open up a cold call, and activity upfront is helpful, but then you need to start becoming more sort of detail orientated around.
Okay, well yes, if I make 60 calls in a day, how many of those are actually ending up in a conversation with, with the decision maker or the whoever the person you want to be targeting and not the gatekeeper maybe.
You may have six or seven conversations in a day, but only one of them is actually a positive conversation, and only one of them or one in three of them may actually do a meeting.
That's when you start to realize, and you can kind of get to an operating rhythm of what the number of calls you need to be making, because it's really initially maybe a finger in the air.
If you've got no one there before you to kind of take a measurement on, on how many calls they're making and how many meetings they're booking from those calls. It's difficult to make that judgment.
So we initially just said we'll hit around 50-60 mark to just make or take a temperature check and there were days when we did more, and then we started to, once we have some data to analyze, working backwards and looking “okay, well for every meeting we book, we make this many dials and this many conversations and then this many conversations with those are positive”, and that gives you the inputs that you need to put in.
And as time goes on, you become more and more efficient and you become better at your trade.
You can obviously reduce the numbers because you know how many calls you're gonna make, how many conversations you're gonna have and that's how meetings you’re going to look. So it's an interesting way to look at it.
Yeah, definitely. And I think it kind of removes the huge amount of pressure and kind of anxiety and stress that you might get from a sales role, because I think a lot of people will be like,”I've got to hit 50 meetings or over whatever 10 meetings a month.”
That can be very daunting and people can run into that. “Okay, I need to just be busy make 50 calls, 100 calls”, but having those kind of baseline metrics gives you that daily cadence as well. Cool. And so kind of moving on a bit now in that journey.
So ThreatConnect, you joining ThreatConnect. You kind of finished Uni, you've had a really strong idea around what you want to do, you've had that kind of like year, 9, 10 months experience, whatever it was. What made you join ThreatConnect?
I think you're one of the first, if not the first BDR, there joining that team, how did you find that? And what did you learn during that process?
Yeah, so I think I learned a lot, firstly. That there's no doubt about how much I learned. It was a crazy amount and obviously very, very thankful for like how much I learned and how much I can take away from that in terms of future experience.
So if we look at the first question, why did I join ThreatConnect?
I think there's a few things that went into my decision making process and I think I set some criteria for myself as to what I was looking for in an organization, because there's so much noise around, and like if you look at how many SDRs roles are currently live in the UK, it's nuts.
The market is crazy at the moment. So for anyone who's looking, get yourself some really clear decision criteria around what you want, because you'll often find that there's a lot of companies that yeah, there may be a good fit, but they're not exactly what you're looking for, and you may end up finding yourself in the wrong role.
So what I was looking for was an organization that was solving a genuine problem, because sometimes there isn't, and there are lots of nice to have technologies out in the market at the moment and if you're not solving a genuine problem for your prospects, it makes a little bit more difficult to solve that problem and make it a big enough problem for organizations to actually do something about it.
The second thing, the second thing was around a technology space that was going to be exciting and made me feel passionate or excited about it, and cybersecurity was certainly an area that was interesting. I knew there was longevity in that space and it's certainly something that's not going to go away anytime soon, because organizations are only gonna have to care about it more and more as time goes on.
And then I had this thing in my mind that I wanted to be the first SDR on the ground in EMEA, and ThreatConnect had a team in the States predominantly working on inbounds.
As we, as an organization based in the States had a good presence over there, good brand, lots of organizations looking at our types of technology and I wanted to be the first, just for a few reasons I think. Number one was being able to sort of say that I had been the first and I developed a structure from, from scratch or a team from scratch, and the second one was to use that as a way of then looking longer term in my career, where I want to go and be a a chief revenue officer or leading revenue team for a fast growing SaaS business.
It's almost having that experience of being the first somewhere else. In perhaps a less junior position, but it gives you a good experience of what it takes to build a team from scratch and then obviously take that forward into my further career, when I when I do get to that stage in my career.
In terms of my learnings, I think there's a lot. I think there's a few things I'll always look back on and sort of try and focus on really.
So number one would be continuous like self-reflection and continuously looking back at like what you've done, how you got there and understand when things aren't working, what could you do differently to change things, and even when things are working, being one step ahead of that and going okay, it's working now, but perhaps in three months time it might not be working. So how can we try and change things?
And second one would be problem focused. So often you hear people being really feature function, sort of focused and just essentially pitching their products and not really pitching the problems you solve, and that's what we really focused on as a team, being very problem-orientated around how we helped organizations instead of just going, you know, we've got this button that button and does this, this and that, and actually being much more high level in terms of, “hey, here's the problem you probably are facing because we speak to people like yourself in this role.Typically they highlight these are the problems” and using that throughout all of our conversations really helped us to uncover pain and demonstrate the ability to help organizations.
I think the last one would be consistency as well.
Just being consistent in everything you do, because that just leads to results and that's probably my last sprt of learning really.
Yeah, there's some interesting points. I think like, I guess going back to the first points around why you picked ThreatConnect, I find that interesting where you were… I guess it was part of you thinking like, “okay, what is that sales journey coming from an SDR, maybe going to an SDR leader, AE to enterprise AE, to Sales Manager, director VP.
So yeah, I completely agree that if you can get at any point in your career, even if it's year one year two year of your career, if you can get that kind of structure, what does it take, what does it need to build something from, from scratch, what are the potential challenges there?
Like another point you mentioned where, there's like a ton of jobs out there at the moment for like SDRs, every company has got like shitload of funding, loads of positions open and everyone's hiring SDRs, so there's a lot out there.
So it's, it's not necessarily like, “okay, this company has offered me a great package.Is this the right company?”. Well for you, you pick this, there's a potential leadership while there's a growth opportunity, there's no structure in place where you know, the opposite that is, you could join a large company where they've already got a team of 20 BDRs, where it's a very different role, very structured, very process-orientated.
I just want to touch on one of the points you mentioned around, I guess self-reflection or continuous learning, I guess.
It's easy in sales where we have a good quarter, good month, we have a few good months, you know, we get complacent. How do you avoid that? Right. If you hit number 2/3 months in a row, you know, a bad month or bad quarters, it was always just around the corner in sales, unfortunately.
Is there any things that you do on a kind of monthly basis or weekly basis or daily basis, whatever, that keep you aligned to like pushing yourself forward effectively?
Yeah, I think there's a few things that I said ao you, but anyone can like try and understand, so yeah. Self-reflection is always good, understanding when you do close the deal and why you closed it, what went well, what didn't, what didn't go so well, but still managed to close the deal despite things not going well and then things when things do go wrong is really like going into the detail, understanding why it went wrong, what led up to that position, that point in time where things did go wrong, and really understanding how you could do things differently in the future, to really make sure that that doesn't happen again.
I think the biggest one for me is listening to calls. Lucky to have very, very strong call recording technology, that just enables me to go and listen to calls, not just my own calls, but also my teammates calls and colleagues calls, to really understand the DNA of a really good deal, a good call, whatever it might be to keep you on the ball, keep you sharp.
And I think doing the basics well is another one. In terms of avoiding a bad quarter or as you say that there's always about, you're always just around the corner from potential bad quarter, about a week or about a month. Doing the basics well and knowing that knowing what basics you need to do well to make sure that you stay on track.
I think, certainly in the AE role now, definitely. And everyone always says it, when you move from SDR role to AE role, the whole don't stop prospecting is definitely true, and things like that would just always keep your pipeline topped up, and making sure that you're not going to, especially in AE role, let yourself fall behind from a pipeline perspective or opportunities created and closed won.
So those are probably some of the things I'd look back on.
I think those are all like key, I love the listening to calls. I think like looking back, if I look at my sales career, it was trying to tag along to as many meetings as possible, listening to as many calls as possible.
It's probably like, it's better than any kind of enablement course or training that you can ever do, is listening to other people's calls, because especially if you've got a strong AE above you team above you and you know, you're setting up those meetings and you just sit on it for 30 minutes or you can listen to it if something's been recorded, you can role play that. Listen to why they've asked that question, why they're responding in that way.
Yeah, I think that that for me is like the biggest winner. Cool! Coming into like, I guess the topic is quite close to your heart, is the communities. I guess what is your involved in SDR Nation for? For anyone who's listening, who hasn't heard of that would be good to understand that.
What is SDR Nation, why do people join, why did you join, where do you see the value?
Because I think, you know, in this pandemic world where we’re, hopefully, coming out of, people were just left remote, they didn't have an office where they could sit with other SDRs and AEs, so it was very much left to like remote community learning, so it would be good to get to, I guess the question is like, what is SDR Nation, why did you get involved, what's your kind of opinion on communities in general?
Yeah, so I guess just from a, like a community perspective and what community I was involved. Obviously SDR Nation was one I joined, when I first started as an SDR, I was also part of, I was also part of SDRs of London, which is a London focused community for SDRs, and now part of AEs of London, and that's all run by Wiser, which is some really good community that actually build up there, they've also got others for other areas as well.
So SDR Nation was founded by Michael Gagliano and Charlie Locke, two US sales directors or sales leaders.
Effectively, it was all focused on helping SDRs, given the tools to be successful, because they recognize that there's a gap in the market where SDRs are, unfortunately, not always given the coaching and mentorship and guidance they need to be successful in their roles, and that is ultimately not fair sometimes, I think, but also SDRs need a lot of coaching and development focus, because often it may be their first rollout of University or College, and then maybe a little bit unaware of even navigating just a commercial sort of environment.
So I joined because, I joined as the first SDR, as I mentioned before, at ThreatConnect, and I joined with three senior AEs and a VP of sales, who had come from sort of the non-tech space, had come from security consulting and big sort of large organizations where the concept of an SDR wasn't really a thing, and despite them knowing cybersecurity and sales very, very well, the whole cold calling, cold emailing, LinkedIn prospecting, wasn't necessarily a concept, they’d come across all that often.
So I needed some mentorship and I went external to try and find that mentorship to really understand what is it to be successful.
I think my experience in graduate recruitment placing videos and SDRs, help me understand a little bit of what the sort of successful DNA might look like, and also following lots of content on LinkedIn or leaders on LinkedIn, and reading a fair amount of content, both blogs and books to really understand what I look like.
I needed some more actionable tips that could be from either AEs or SDR managers, sales leaders who have been there and done it, and SDR Nation’s focus was really on a number of different, I guess areas, that could help SDRs so whether it be cold call coaching, email, coaching LinkedIn coaching, personal branding, things like just general career coaching, getting promoted, navigating the business, and a whole number of other areas that were basically coaches aligned to those specific specific areas, where they would have roundtable events, one to one meetings, just helping helping individuals navigate their way through those first 3, 6, 9 or 12 months as an SDR, to then get to wherever they wanted to be.
Whether that person wanted to get promoted into marketing or customer success or an AE, SDR management, help them give them the tools to be successful, and really learn how to, to nail their role, to be the best they can be.
Yeah, yeah, that's brilliant. I think like, yeah, these, these communities didn't exist like five years ago, even four years ago. They probably didn't even exist. You know, they would think they were starting out.
So the fact that you've got somewhere that you can like ask questions to get experience from others, like yeah, things about how do I get promoted, what's the amount of time it takes to go from an SDR to an AE, how many is the right amount of meetings?
Right. So those types of things, I think, you know, every company will say you can ask them and it's an open forum, but you know, there are certain questions that are, you don't want to ask your employer, you don't want to ask your boss. So those communities are great.
I guess it's just a few more questions here. On the kind of influencer community on LinkedIn and you know, we've mentioned there's experienced sales leaders, there's a lot of noise out there.
There's a lot of people with a lot of opinions. People who’ve got great opinions who are highly experienced, people who’ve got great opinions who might have no experience, like how do you, how do you know, coming into this role of being a part of the communities, how do you decipher from like great advice to really poor advice? Because, you know, if people read the wrong pieces of advice from the wrong people, it can be like quite bad for their career.
How do you kind of look at that and make sense for it? There's so much out there.
Yeah, I completely agree. That there is a lot of noise and there's a lot of people that would see themselves as a thought leader in a specific area that they post about regularly.
My biggest piece of advice would probably be just take everything with a pinch of salt.
Don't take everything as gold or as, as whatever you wanna, whatever I want to say.
But I think there is lots of good content, and there is lots of information that is very, very valuable and can certainly help a lot of people, but there's also some content that simply won't apply to necessarily your sector, your industry, because there may be content that's focused on selling to sales and marketing individuals or there may be content that's focused on selling cybersecurity individuals.
It’s all very relative, and there's no silver bullet. Llike anyone can tell you that this is the perfect template for an email or this is the perfect cold call script.
Yes.It might be perfect for them. It might work for their personality, their style, but it might not work for you.
So just take whatever you can, incorporate as much as you can, but don't try and feel overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much information and not everything is necessarily relevant to you and the people you sell to.
So just take things with a pinch of salt, and often you can just verify with other colleagues or individuals within the SDR world or the AE world and just say, “hey, look, I've read this advice, keen to get your thoughts” and you can always just cross reference and and see what people thoughts are, and more often than not, you'll probably build up a bank of of individuals that you trust and think that are posting great content, consistently.
But yeah, I'd say just don't believe everything you read because it's not always the right advice.
Yeah, great. I think one thing I always do is, I'll always like click on that content person's profile and check… Do they even have relevant experience in this field, who are they selling to?
Again, not saying experience means that they're great, but it's like, what background have they got, are they an expert in this area or do they have experience even? It's always important.
Like two more questions. I guess coming onto like the kind of focus on prospecting… What is it that you do that you think, you know, might be better than other people, or different, like, you know, from a personalization perspective. You know, I assume… There's no magic formula sequencing email, cold calling, LinkedIn…
What do you try and do when you, when you prospect? I'm assuming you're not just like trying to get as much activity out. Is there a couple of things that you do to help personalize?
Yeah, personalization is a big topic.
I think there's always this like personalization versus relevance, and it's a big, big topic, because personalization is good and it does help, and I don't disagree with the fact that it helps, but I also believe that spending too much time and over-personalizing can also lead to inability to scale effectively what you're trying to achieve.
So I mean, my biggest thing is phone first, don't hide behind your email. No one's ever gonna, like, the quickest way to a meeting is getting a conversation, real life conversation on the phone with someone. And that is, there’s nothing more personal than a phone call, in my eyes, because it's the only way to have a real genuine conversation to really understand what they're trying to achieve what their problems might be, and ultimately decide whether or not you can help them.
I think when it comes to personalization, I think relevance is so important because if you can be relevant and slightly personal, you're much, like, much more likely to get some interest by versus just being straight out personalized and having no relevance to the problems they might be facing.
Because I could write a fantastic email telling you how you and I both share a mutual connection that went to a different University to both of us, but we share a mutual connection on LinkedIn and you go “great with what's the relevance that and how is that going to help me solve a problem.” It just doesn't work.
So I think there's relevance in terms of the problems you solve and the problems they might be facing, with a light dusting of personalization certainly helps.
But there are also those that go completely other side of the spectrum and personalized to a massive extent and are very, very good at it. I fall somewhere in the middle. I'm not necessarily as good at writing a poem or personalizing to the absolute max.
I think I personalized to an extent with relevance, but ultimately my, my sort of phone first mentality is, is the quickest way to a meeting and, again, I say there's nothing more personal than a phone call.
I agree. Yeah, yeah, you cannot beat phone call, because no two phone calls will probably ever be the same, where two emails probably can be, will be probably be for sure.
Yeah, and I agree, I think it's like, you can maybe send five hyper-personalized messages or emails per day, which are perfect, right? 10 out of 10, but you know, they may be going to people who just never respond to an email or never respond to an Inmail or whatever, so it's getting that balance where, you know, ultimately sales is a numbers game to an extent that no one's ever going to deny that.
So cool, final question Alex! Appreciate everything you've said today and I guess just summing up, yeah, your journey, you know, you've gone through… There's gonna be a lot of people who are brand new into the SDR roll, you've kind of got like three years of, you know, placement plus ThreatConnect, you've probably done some good things, you probably made a ton of mistakes as well along that journey.
What would you, what would you go back and like, okay, right, if I went back to day one, is there something you'd do different, that you'd give advice to an SDRs or even just like that piece of advice that you think it’s going to be critical to them throughout their journey.
Yeah, I don't know if I necessarily say I'm dealing differently. I think everything is yeah, I've made mistakes and I made lots of mistakes and that's the quickest way to learn, I think.
I think what I'd give in terms of advice would be don't be afraid to make mistakes, it's natural.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.It's not a sense of like, damaging your pride, be proud to ask for help because you're starting out, you're trying to work out what you're doing and trying to work out how to do things.
Listen to your calls or like just listen to calls. It's the quickest way to learn. You'll learn from the best on the team, you learn for yourself. If you listen to your own calls every day, you'll probably realize that you say “like, hum” and a lot of other things that you probably didn't realize you say, a lot more than than you think, and consistency is my last one, I think. Just be consistent, whether that be doing your phone calls, doing your emails, prospecting consistently, consistently listening to your calls, consistently trying to read up on your industry, your subject area to find out more about what you do in the industry you're working in, all the problems you solve for your prospects and yeah, last one, probably just be, be kind.
It's the last one, I think there's no reason for anyone to not be kind, an SDR role is hard.
So yeah, that's my last one, probably.
Nice. Yeah, I think those are all really important.
I think I've been, I've gone through a journey of sales, some SDR through leadership to running teams and I think those points around, yeah.
Consistency is the number one for me. It’s like, you know, if you can be consistent on those kind of days where you're not motivated as much those days… I've seen it with the highest performing salespeople, they are consistent with building pipeline, with their deal qualification, with their messaging, with their personalization, it’s key, so yeah, absolutely love that… And then yeah, make mistakes, I think like, yeah, I think if you're working in a good environment, people encourage that, right
And they’re asking questions, especially beginning your journey, people are looking to help you, right? And it's a great time to ask questions, because no one, no one, everyone knows you don't know the answers.
So yeah, super cool Alex, thank you so much!
I really enjoyed that chat, I think everyone's gonna enjoy listening to that, so appreciate it and hopefully speak to you soon.
Thank you very much, cheers!