September 16, 2022

The SDR strategy: What your company needs to succeed in sales

Lars Nilsson
Lars Nilsson

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When you think about the jobs or positions you’ve had the most success in, did they include a robust onboarding and training program?

The answer, more often than not, is ‘yes.’ Think about it the other way. If you’ve ever had a job where you felt like nothing clicked, or you were simply thrown to the wolves, you likely did not get adequate training.

Proper onboarding and training gives new employees an immediate connection to a team. The process also makes them feel more valued. Your account-based sales development team needs a strategy to develop top-notch support.

Create a solid base with onboarding and training

When Lars Nilsson started his career in sales more than 35 years ago, he went through a training program that is unheard of today. The company? A tech giant of the 1980s: Xerox.

“They took me through an onboarding and training program that was legitimately world-class. It was renowned as the best place to learn how to sell,” said Nilsson. “I went through an 11-month onboarding. Imagine that!”

The 11-month training course was not on-the-job training in the office or on a sales team. Xerox sent Nilsson to training centers around the country where he learned every detail of the product, the competing products, and every aspect of sales from presenting to negotiating to closing.

It’s that experience at Xerox, right out of college, that has driven Nilsson’s passion to prioritize onboarding and training for sales teams. He has been intricately involved in every aspect of the sales cycle and holds the distinction of helping take four companies to IPO status as a sales leader. Today, Nilsson is the VP of Sales Development at Snowflake, a full-service data cloud platform.

Make it possible even in today’s business climate

We know what you’re thinking: Your company doesn’t have the time, resources, or money to put sales reps through an 11-month training program. Nilsson gets that.

“What I am trying to do is bring the onboarding experience to this young professional or this person who has just changed their career and want to learn how to sell,” he said. “I want to give them professional instruction. I want them to feel the energy and culture of a team.”

Nilsson has been in the tech business long enough to see company after company burn through sales reps because of a lack of training. The attitude? It’s cheaper and easier to just hire someone new. Instead, Nilsson says companies need to train reps and ensure they are confident in their job right out of the gate.

“You have to be able to provide an experience where they feel supported, developed and inspired,” he said. “Otherwise, they will leave you and go to someone else.”

Nilsson also emphasized the hidden cost of turnover in an organization like SDRs where you need ensure reps are in their seat long enough to produce pipeline for the business and give back to the company after the investment that is made in them early on to understand prospecting, the product, and to ramp them into their role.

“The reality is, if companies let their SDRs go without looking themselves in the mirror or SDRs feel there is somewhere else to be right away after they are trained and onboarded, then it’s unlikely the SDR team will provide necessary value back to the company like is needed from this role.” He continues, “We couple our onboarding with a very strong career development path that helps SDRs see their potential from day 1, not just dangling a carrot in front of them, but truly giving them opportunities to transform and learn to perform. This ultimately makes the onboarding investment worth it as SDRs stay and produce quarter after quarter as they move closer to their next steps for their career.”

Nilsson emphasizes that he is seeing the modernized version of Xerox’s world-class onboarding and talent development programs taking shape at Snowflake, where they are creating the Harvard of Sales and giving SDRs chances to succeed that are hard to come by.

5 keys to a successful business development team

Nilsson helped shape the relatively new SDR role and is an expert at building business development and sales development teams. He shares five key elements any successful team must have.

1. Messaging and story assets

You’ve surely guessed onboarding and training are on the list — and it is — but there is one item that comes first.

Every day, your SDRs are reaching out to prospects cold. You cannot make SDRs responsible for coming up with the value proposition for your product or service.

“You have to feed the beast — which is this unbelievable resource in the SDR that is getting your company’s message out,” Nilsson said. “Those stories have to pop. They have to educate and they have to inspire. No one is going to take a call with you unless they understand why.”

And your stories should be delivered in various digital assets. Some people like to read, some people like to listen, and some people like to watch. Produce assets that will hit each one of those people.

“And you have to come up with those constantly,” Nilsson added. “Not once a year. Not once a quarter. Every month.”

Get input from the reps, too. Remember, they are delivering your company’s message dozens or even hundreds of times each week. They can tell you what is working and what isn’t.

2. Onboarding and training

There it is. You cannot take someone who is right out of college, or changing their career, and throw them into the deep end.

“You have to help them understand their role. You have to build playbooks out for them,” said Nilsson. “The day of an SDR is chock-full with lots of different things, so you have to help them understand how to block off hours to do their actual work — which is reaching out and prospecting.”

3. A supportive team

The job of an SDR can be very lonely. It is critical for reps to have a team and a supportive culture.

“You’re getting a lot of ‘no’s’ and a lot of people slamming the phone down and maybe even saying some derogatory things,” Nilsson said. “At the end of a long day, to have a teammate next to your side to talk about it is really important.”

Team members will also learn a ton from each other. Best practices are developed through teamwork.

4. Frontline sales development manager

The team needs a strong frontline sales development manager.

“Again, imagine someone who has never done this role before, or maybe only for a year or two,” described Nilsson. “They’re going to need coaching and mentorship and inspiration.”

Nilsson thinks one of the biggest mistakes B2B companies make when building SDR or BDR teams is not giving the team a “professional” leader. And, he adds, giving that leader a voice in top-level company meetings.

“There is not another organization in a company, I don’t care what size, that has more touches and is gaining more signals from the customer base and the prospect base,” he said. “I have more insights into our messaging and content, and whether it’s resonating. I want to be able to share that with senior leaders.”

This kind of valuable insight is the reason Snowflake decided to create a VP of global sales development. A position that didn’t even exist in B2B companies five years ago. Now, Nilsson is one of only 12 in the country.

5. Pay SDRs for what they can control

The most important role of an SDR is to book meetings. With that first connection point made, sales teams can start to build pipeline.

But in those situations where an AE holds the meeting and cannot move the prospect into the sales funnel — for whatever reason — the AE still learned a ton of information about the company. Information that could very well lead to a closed sale down the road.

“You can’t pay for that information. That is valuable,” said Nilsson. “So, pay the SDR on that.”

Non-quota carrying rep positions can be difficult to quantify, so pay them for what they can control. “Which is beating the bushes and letting those apples fall, and then picking those up and handing them off to the sales rep,” Nilsson added.

More tools to build your ABSD model

Nilsson’s development background spans three decades, sales leadership in some of the tech industry’s most influential companies, and a private consulting company. SalesSource is a strategic revenue operations and inside sales advisory firm. They focus on helping B2B technology companies establish a scalable sales organization through the combination of sales process development, technology integration, and best practice training.

On his website, Nilsson offers additional resources for companies looking to build, rebuild, or expand a sales or business development team. These interactive infographics (remember the importance of digital content) will further outline the best steps for your team.

Nilsson believes the SDR role is one of the most important and hardest jobs in sales. If you can create a team of well-trained and supported reps, you can build a successful pipeline.

“The hardest part of closing any deal is actually finding it,” he said. “That’s what prospecting is all about and the motion of prospecting and selling couldn’t be more different.”

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