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SDR leaders in conversation: Thibaut Souyris, CEO and Founder at SalesLabs

Updated: Nov 11



"A big issue I see when I train SDRs and sales teams is that they are spending too much time reinventing the wheel every day. It's a very tiring process and they just hate it... they spend a lot of effort for no result"


Hot on the tracks of our recent blog post "14 SDR Leaders You Should Be Following On LinkedIn" we set out to track down and chat to some of those on the list, and to understand what we might learn from them as successful Sales Development leaders.


This week we spoke Thibaut Souyris, CEO and founder of SalesLabs, a company whose mission is to train and coach B2B sales teams to start more conversations.


Find out what advice Thibaut has for budding sales reps in the interview transcript below or watch the full video. 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:


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Super excited today to be joined today by Thibaut Souyris, CEO and Founder of SalesLabs. Thibaut, it'd be great for you to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do.

Yeah, thanks for having me. So a bit about myself, I'm French and Swiss, born in Geneva, Switzerland. And basically I've been in sales since I was 15 years old, having started out selling airplane cleaning services when I was small.

Initially I wanted to do my pilot license but my parents were against paying for that because they thought I should have a “proper education”, go to university and not become a pilot. (I didn't really want to become a pilot by the way... I wanted to just fly small planes!)

So my grandfather told me, instead of trying to raise money from your family, why don't you go wash the airplanes instead and get paid for that. And that's exactly what I did: I started selling cleaning services to airplane owners in Switzerland in the local airfield and well, that was my formal introduction to sales.

After that I eventually did manage to do my pilot's license, going on to co-found a company called BuddyPilots, which went on to fail.

My real education in B2B tech sales came in 2015 for a company called Applause, where I grew the French market from zero to $2.5 million in revenue in around 2.5 years.

It was then, after leaving for another company, I found myself starting to get annoyed and tired of making others rich! So I created my current company, SalesLabs, and now I'm training and coaching tech sales reps to book more meetings.

Super interesting background!

I guess just going all the way back then, how was a 15 year old selling services to airlines? I guess you didn't have any B2B or sales experience, so what were you trying out?

So I wasn't selling directly to airlines because that would have been impossible just in terms of employing someone who's declared under age...

Actually I went to local owners and printed small business cards that I put into the doors of planes in the hangars I had access to. And then some people would just call me and I would cold approach them saying, hey, you know, your plane is pretty dirty, how often are you cleaning it?

Essentially I was doing some kind of discovery and often they were like: I don't clean it; there's no service around here; it's too expensive etc. to which I’d say I can do it for $20 an hour!

And that's how I did it, I took responsibility and some owners even gave me the keys of their airplanes...I remember there was one that was worth 3.5 million Swiss Francs and I was just 15 years old, so that was pretty cool...

Yeah, I mean I washed cars when I was 12/13 years old but I've never heard of anyone washing planes...

Hah yeah that was really nice.

Talk to me about your BDR journey.

You said that you were at Applause and started the French market there, what did you learn? What did you get right / what did you get wrong?

That was a really important experience for me.

I went without any kind of understanding in B2B or tech sales and I didn't really know how to prospect.

When I arrived there it was a purely outbound driven company, with no marketing and I'm pretty sure they still have no marketing campaign that actually works.

The product, crowd testing, was a hard product to sell because people don't really need it all the time and there's only a specific set of companies that even have a need. So it was really tough and it was really about educating the market.

Very early on, what I learned is that the first thing you have to do when you start a job as an SDR is to find what your “cruising altitude” is, i.e. what is the level of activity you need to put in every day to reach a certain amount of replies?

This meant taking my targets, which at the time was a quota target, and then dividing it by the average deal size, and then finding out how many touch points or prospects I need to add to sequence.

Very quickly I realized this was kind of like a “green forest” in that if I was very regular and really focused everyday on executing and prospecting I was able to actually reach my targets.

It amounted to around 20/25 new prospects per day in my sequence and if I was able to do that I was having enough conversations.

This was 2015 so back then it was easy enough just by email, I was sending five emails and that worked really well.

Nice, I’ve never heard the cruising altitude analogy before but I like the concept of working backwards from quota amount, to how many meetings do I need, to all the way down to working out the number of net new prospects per day.

You mentioned that in 2015 emails were working, they had much better response rates: were you using sequencing back then or was it just individual emails?

I tried an early version of a sequencing tool, with my template consisting of a first email with one element of personalization, followed by four emails that were exactly the same...

Whenever we were running a sequence in an automated fashion they were having a lot less replies than when I sometimes.just took the emails out manually, copy/pasting them, adding personalization and sending them myself.

So I ended up using the automation sequence instead as a way to give myself manual tasks: every day I was able to go in and find the list of follow ups I needed to manually add myself. It made prospecting very simple.

You get your list of follow ups, you get 25 new prospects to find and contact, then you work through it.

That's what I always advise people with on automation, to use it to give you your todos or tasks and just go through your list yourself.

Yeah, it's having that structure. I think it's easy to get overwhelmed with “I need to do more prospecting; I need to make more calls,” but actually going back to this cruising altitude you mentioned, you should know exactly how many calls, how many emails, how many follow-ups you need to send, and as long as you stick to that structure you'll typically get the results.

Exactly, yeah.

It also touches on another thing that would be good to understand: personalization.

How often do you feel the best salespeople are personalizing and what types of personalization are helpful to get results today.

That's a very hot topic as you know, for me I think there are two things that matter when you're prospecting: relevance and creativity.

First of all, you need to actually be creative.

Creative in the way that you use media, I'm thinking about video prospecting, LinkedIn voice notes... things that are different from what we (as prospects) typically receive.

This first thing is about getting your message read, or seen, or heard; and once you have that it’s really then about personalization; and for that I like to use triggers.

Triggers are based on what I call “digital footprints”, elements you can use that show the prospect has a potential problem you can solve or has an interest in talking to you.

If your prospects are on LinkedIn, for example, you'll see them liking and engaging with posts, either your own or other peoples’, or you can see them actually following you, following companies, or checking your profile..

These are all triggers you can use to start conversations. The idea of personalization, I think, is to understand how to find these triggers quickly and insert them into a sequence so you don't need to reinvent the wheel.

Because that's a big issue I see when I train SDRs and sales teams, that they are spending too much time reinventing the wheel every day. It's a very tiring process and they just hate it, they spend a lot of effort for no result.

One thing we tend to forget is that no matter how good you are at prospecting, it’s almost never the case where more than half of the people you contact will reply.

If you're very successful you're going to get maybe 40%, but in most cases people will not reply, so you have to keep that in mind and be able to add personalization knowing that.

That's a good point, I've seen this a lot with sales people, you know, they can spend half a day writing the best sequence or do the best personalization, but ultimately that person has never responded to an email their entire lives and probably never will respond to an email their entire lives.

So it's about looking at that digital footprint as you describe it, looking to see what triggers you can leverage. Such as activity and shares on posts or companies they're following.

Are there any other things you look at, like mutual connections, or where they're based, do you try to bring in any of that?

Well one of the first things you need to do is to have a clear idea of your ICP. I like to use “ICP metrics” to understand what type of companies and job titles you go after.

Once you have these you're able to check and see on posts the potential prospects who liked them and filter out those you want to talk to.

It depends on the industry but one of the best approaches you can take is to use posts from other competitors, thought leaders, and people who are dragging a lot of attention with their audience, and use their posts to echo an “oasis effect”. Think of these posts as attracting prospects just like an oasis attracts animals in the desert: if you want to go and hunt for food in the desert, if you find an oasis it's gonna be easier because there’s gonna be animals around the water. That's the same in prospecting!

Having attracted the prospects for you, you can then actually use this oasis as the excuse to get in touch with them. That's the way I do it.

Instead of looking for leads individually or building a list with Sales Navigator I’ll actually go and try to find a specific event that is attracting prospects, it can be a post, a LinkedIn event, a group they have in common etc and then use that to add the relevant spark.

Nice, I like this oasis metaphor that’s bringing them there versus the more random “hey, I'd like to set up a demo” that doesn't work.

It varies from company to company, but what metrics do you think are important and that SDRs or AEs prospecting should be looking at? Do you go beyond the number of emails/calls, is there anything else you feel important that people may or may not be measuring?

The first metric that you need to have is activities. An activity metric for me is something that you can actually check when people are not performing well, i.e. to check if you are doing any work...

But in most cases the most important metric is net new prospects in sequence.

The approach I have is I don't build sequences every day, I build sequences twice a year. One for the first half and another for the second half; and they both have six touchpoints, with some slight variation in the way you work within the sequence.

What matters here is that I add prospects to my sequence every day: net new prospects added to sequence.

Another metric that is very important is reply rate. More so than meeting rate or any other rate because if you don't get any replies, you won't get any meetings...

Too often reps will focus on lagging indicators like number of opportunities generated but for me, if you want to generate another 10 opportunities, you need to have maybe 20 discovery calls and out of this you need to have, say, 200 replies. And so the idea is really to understand all these metrics which for me would be net new prospects, reply rate, meeting rate and opportunity rate.

Those are great metrics.

And I think net new prospects is always the key one because if you're finding net new contacts and you're personalizing using these triggers, then you have a good idea that your response rate is headed in the right direction.

It really is that simple.

Yeah.

As long as you do the activity and you're conscious about the activity.

Exactly.

And often you think touch points per lead are important, that you need to have a sequence with, I don't know, six touch points, but no matter what you still need to find your cruising altitude.

Typically I add five new prospects every day, which brings the total to between 20 and 25 touch points per day. And sometimes it's less, sometimes it's more, because some people are replying and you stop the sequence..

So it really depends with touch points, whatever the average might be. I could just harass everyone and send them 30 messages but the idea for me is to try and start as many conversations with as many people who are relevant as possible.

You've broken down some good points there in terms of not overwhelming yourself like “I need to contact hundreds of prospects”. Twenty new prospects a day is a good amount and it adds up right? 20 a day, that’s 100 a week, 400 a month, and over the year that's 5,000.

That's actually a big amount. If you get focused on that 5,000, maybe 10% might get back to you: that's 500 people. And when you work your response rates, it starts becoming a bit more achievable if you start working from the 20.

So you've worked with a lot of companies, you've seen the commonalities with top performing SDRs... what traits do you see in these top performers, whether it’s a personal trait or a process they use?

There's something you see on LinkedIn often which is this kind of SDR “hustle” culture, where sometimes if you are an SDR you see others posting and pushing a role where we work 24 hours a day for $35,000, and then you're happy and you're like, yeah, I'm going to become an AE ... and, for me, I'm just not really a big fan of this culture because the most successful SDRs I met were lazy.

I did a post about that yesterday. They're lazy because they actually value their time. The really successful SDRs work on a few things and are first and foremost, curious, I think that's a trait that is very important.

Then in terms of organization, they do it in a different way:

The first thing they do well is time block, blocking out time in their calendar to work on things that are important for them, namely prospecting, finding leads and all these kinds of things.

They start with the task they hate the most first, like cold calling or cold emailing, whatever, and then they really show up every day, and actually do it every day... And what I've seen is some of the best SDRs just working two hours a day and they were reaching their targets easily, spending the rest of their time chilling or doing other stuff...

Obviously it depends on the industry, the product you're selling, and how free you are to organize your day: but it’s about time blocking and doing the activity you hate the most first, and then really executing on it every day.

I love it, so it’s about having that discipline and structure to say “okay, I'm going to block out between 9am and 11 am every single day. And also, prospecting is hard… the reality is it's tough, right? It's a lot of rejection. It's a lot of repetitive tasks... So you have to turn up and do it every single day, or maybe four out of every five days. You see the best performing people are using those time blocks.

Sometimes what I see that is really hard is when management or leadership come up with crazy asks, e.g. we have a webinar coming up, push the webinar like crazy. You end up sending 200 emails, or having 200 touch points, on a Monday and then you have to follow up the 200 on a Wednesday... and then you're like, this is impossible.

That's truly about understanding that you should not bite off more than you can chew and that you should instead split it down to make it achievable every day.

And for me, I even don't like prospecting, but I still do it every day because it's important! I love talking about prospecting...but it's not a task I actually love doing. The first thing I do when I arrive in the morning, I do my coffee, open my computer... and I do my prospecting. There is no exception, that's the first thing I do, no matter what. And if I have training at 9am, I will instead start at 8am to make sure I can do it. And it takes me now 30 minutes a day maximum.

Making sure that you make it a habit that is healthy and one that gives you more time to do the other things you love doing in your job.

Amazing, yes I think that's so important, not making it scary, making it achievable on a daily basis. Whatever you do today, it's like, okay, can I do this every day for the rest of the month? Or is it something I'm just gonna go crazy on for one day...

You've touched on the habits of highly successful sales reps, so would you say it’s likely then for the lower performing SDRs out there that they are doing more random prospecting, to achieve high activity?

We all have different traits but reps who are not very organized are going to have a harder time.

Also, reps who are really attached to the outcome are gonna have a tough time.

For me, I learned very quickly to become completely detached. When I prospect I have zero emotional attachment to whoever I prospect.

I remember when I was working at Applause we had an SDR who was coming and saying “hey, I booked a meeting with this company and I was great” ...I mean if I do the discovery call, I'll start being excited, but if it's Coca Cola, whatever, I don't care, you know, maybe they don't have a need..

As well being too attached to the outcome one thing I also found is lower performing reps have an understanding of how people buy that is fundamentally wrong. Typically the problem we see is that in a business, education or when we start in the corporate world, we feel like we have to use a bunch of jargon and buzzwords and we forget that the other person, even if they're CTO of a big company, or whatever, they're still human and they still often have humor and they buy as humans, not as companies.

Some SDRs tend to overuse very complicated words; one of the favorite things I love doing in training is to call them out on what they actually mean. What do you actually mean by 360 learning platform? And they don't even know!

It should be about making it simpler for the prospect and they’re the trends we've seen in people who are failing as reps.

I've always used the: “can you describe this to your grandmother?” Would she understand if you're explaining to them what your technology does, how it helps customers? I think once you break it down to that level it becomes a lot easier.

Exactly.

Thibaut, amazing, some absolute gold there, thank you so much.