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5 truths and a lie about SDR work in a down economy

Let’s start with some real talk. 5 truths you want to keep top of mind, and a lie that I’m going to call out that might surprise you.

These are helpful things to think about when asking, "How can I get more pipeline during a time when people don't want to buy as much?"


Truth #1 - No one wants to talk with you.

You might as well be selling used car warranty extensions.

Even in a good economy, no one is waking up in the morning to sit down at breakfast with their partner to tell them, “I am really hoping I get a cold call today. Looking forward to it.”

And when they do get that cold call, even while they are literally in the evaluation process for looking at solutions like yours, they still might not want to talk with you.

Compare talking with you to talking with their boss, maybe you win. I bet majority don't see it as more appealing to get a cold call vs. talk with those closest to them in life or to those they work with directly.

Knowing this is critical because you have to take away barriers to entry in your conversation as quickly as possible, putting them in control, and focusing on connecting that person to something they care about—not hoping they will listen to some generic pitch.


Truth #2 - Your biggest competitor companies aren’t always what you’re competing with right now.

Right now you’re likely not facing a large RFP / evaluation against those top 3 companies you always hear about in your sales calls.

More often, if you call Director or manager level people, you are facing the stress of things like:

“I don’t know how to get all the work done I have because part of my team got laid off”

“I’m worried I’m going to get laid off, so why would I care about this?”

“We already had to cancel multiple softwares this year, how could we buy anything else?”

If you call VP+ personas, you are facing the reality that “nice to haves” are never going to be purchased right now, especially since they can’t and won’t approve some “need to haves.”

You sell to the CFO.

The point is, you’re not competing with other companies as much as with the status quo in a down economy. And that status quo takes many forms, it is as much a “perception is reality” problem as it is an actual problem.

They might be able to buy, they might be able to talk, but if they don’t think they should, then their answer is that they can’t.


Truth #3 - All the lazy SDRs out there are ruining YOUR emails and cold calls.

The impression prospects have is set by the collective experience across all sales emails.

Unfortunately, the good SDRs take a reputation hit because of all the lazy ignorance of SDRs, SDR leaders, and Operations, Marketing and Enablement teams that allow email blasting with canned messages to a bajillion people.

If you’re one of these SDRs, STOP. You aren’t going to get the same conversion rate, you’re going to burn your target accounts, damage your sender reputation, impact to use companies image and brand, and ultimately have a harder time hitting quota than if you just slow down a little bit, find good research on an account, and create a thoughtful message that resonates to them based on what you’ve found.

Truth #4 - Your AE is under pressure.

And same goes for your manager, the company leaders, and your customers.

Your empathy and relationship building with an AE will provide immense benefits and opportunity to you as you work together on your target accounts.

Find out what matters to them. Let them teach you. Listen. Be humble.

Every meeting you set, figure out how they care to see the notes and get prepared and then do a follow-up and understand what they felt and how you can improve. A culture of feedback where you can get an idea for opportunities to help things go right can help create alignment and help you wiggle out of the "things are going wrong" feelings that come when transparency is an afterthought.

Even AEs that are full of themselves can become great partners to you as an SDR (which I’ll admit happens too often, but don’t stereotype a person because you might see this in others—they could act this way toward you because you haven’t earned respect.)

But don't be too quick to think the AE is the one full of themselves. Your 110% attainment only making 35 dials a day 6 months into your role doesn't mean you're ready to be an AE....

Same way other SDRs are ruining your reputation with prospects, other SDRs have ruined your reputation with AEs before they ever even knew you. Is that fair? Certainly not.

Is it real? Absolutely - so you have to wake up to this reality and be a leader and raise where you stand.

As an SDR, you could argue your most important customer is your AE. Spend time learning about what matters to them, where they want to go. Clear the air if there’s tension, recognize what you could have done better.

Humility begets humility. Emotional response begets emotional response. Maturity begets promotions (over time).

And then make a plan and keep your commitments, and always manage up to your direct leaders where there's just nothing working.

Truth #5 - Outbound still works when done right.

All this considered, there’s still plenty that can happen if you aren’t stuck in the wrong mindset or falling into the wrong traps.

When you posit value based messaging to the right people, with the right techniques, you’re going to solve pain, and therefore be in a place to get appointments.

Outbound is still part of how the best companies are forging paths to growth and outcomes that lead to expansion and long-term success.

Lars Nilsson, my VP at Snowflake, has seen a lot having taken 4 companies from seed stage > IPO. He says, "Pipeline is the air all companies breathe."

The counterfeit here is that bad outbound doesn't work. And you might have experienced this. And bad air quality is bad for everyone.

Which leads me to the #1 lie of SDR work in today's market landscape.


For starters before you read about the LIE, I am not coming at this from the standpoint that doing emails in general is the best or only way to prospect, nor am I saying not doing emails is the best and only way. I am not making a claim there in this post.

There are so many nuances to the conversation of outbound emailing, and with everyone talking about ChatGPT and AI, deliverability, and automation, I think sharing a bit more about some critical principles that are far less focused on may help us as an industry to think with sanity about these situations.

adding a bunch more people to sequences will get you to your quota faster

You create risk for you, your quota, and your company every time you blast people with auto email sequences.

Having spent a lot of time helping build a predictive analytics software called OneView that is currently a sequence analytics and experimentation tool, I have had a few nights a week to think about sequences. I can now predict with a fair amount of certainty how many tasks will be due 30 business days into a sequence for example, and do so across a set of sequences, based on any sequence framework or set of steps, plus do that with all the sequence types being used in various quantities to show what is likely going to happen.

I see SDRs using sequences as a machine gun e-mail blaster like their life depends on it at a lot of clients I have worked with, and their conversion rates are in the toilet. Newsflash - your conversion rates won't magically get better when you keep blasting emails. In fact, they get worse.

When you have seen what I have seen, managing SDR rollouts of hundreds of SDRs across global territories at some of the largest organizations, you don't have to wonder if this notion of blasting auto emails is a bad idea.

It's objectively a bad idea.

Let me walk you through the problem. And while this post is not going to address how to use multiple domains and inboxes to handle maximum deliverability (we will talk about this later), I will just say for even a normal SDR doing one inbox with no growth hacking at the domain to domain level by an ops person, this is going to help you a lot.

Understanding Emailing Risk

First, it starts with some initial success. You think you are getting outbound traction. Really, you are volunteering for a disease called "bad spam reputation." It is contagious to who you work with.

Initial success comes as you send heavy auto emails and see some replies.

Then you keep doing it, and unknown to you, your sender reputation is decreasing. But still, you keep on going and add tons of prospects to sequence, you even run short of who to sequence next sometimes. And you start to see pockets of deliverability issues.

Then you reach the Spam/Blocked phase where your domain gets flagged by an account / customer email server and ultimately, your entire org domain level integrity is at risk.

I have legitimately watched as a companies try to navigate a blacklisted domain: their support team's emails, their CEOs emails, their sales emails, and their marketing emails all failed because the SDRs had fried the domain. (And one of the biggest examples of this was at a company I know everyone reading this article would know, but I won't throw them under the bus publicly -- needless to say, it was a staple brand in tech and it can happen to anyone.)

Conclusion: you don't want the "bad spam reputation" disease, neither does your company.

Understanding Productivity and Conversion Rates

On the other side of this, let's say you are not doing auto emails but rather are doing lots of manual tasks. Too many manual tasks has its own issues.

You decrease conversion every time you delay sequence steps from happening on time for what the sequence calls for. This goes for cadences, flows, sequences, playbooks, etc. Doesn't matter what sales engagement tool.

It’s counter-intuitive but I promise you it’s true. I have the data to back it up if you want to discuss it further, after analyzing thousands and thousands of sequences, as well as creating predictive analytics around the outcomes that result from sequences that are structured a certain way.

Lots of people have gravitated toward the "Agoge" sequence that was made famous by Sam Nelson at Outreach (I think?). And it is great because of it's omnichannel focus, it's many steps and the nature of the steps in use. It's trained on at Harvard! There are also downsides to the framework, and I am not here to promote or advocate against the framework––just to show the principles.

Here is that framework:

I get asked repeatedly by clients: "How many sequences should we add per day?"

What I have figured out how to do is model out the predictive results of how that will play out, not just for sequences, but for other things in the GTM motion for SDRs as well, and the shocking results are that when you have too many past due tasks, it causes delays for the decision makers you are talking with from seeing your name repeatedly in the desired timeframe. This decreases response likelihood.

We have seen anywhere from 10-20% lower response likelihood, to up to 75% lower likelihood of replies when past due tasks limit on-time completion of sequence steps.

Add to that the fact that there are already a myriad of other reasons a sequence doesn't work as it stands today, and you are creating a world of pain for yourself. As you spend hours completing all those extra tasks that are spaced out too much following you front loading your sequences, you still will see less results. Finding that sweet spot is key.

What you need is to figure out the right number of people per day, with the right steps, and the right messaging/positioning.

This is the carbon dioxide a sales process uses to create that air that companies breathe.

This is how pipeline is created.

This is one example of a predictive analysis OneView did with the combo of a few clients that have used this Agoge sequence structure (net takeaway if the chart is hard to read: anything over 15-20 new prospects added to sequences per day and you are surpassing the 100-150 manual tasks per day range within 2 weeks of adding that many per day).

So if you do 3 min per manual task per day, that's 5 hours worth of just doing tasks at 100 tasks per day. Add more to that, and with all that you have to be doing, can you really manage it?

Companies struggle with this because what this means is doing less needs to mean getting more, but doing less means also doing it better, usually with more high quality research and personalization at scale.

So let's recap:

5 Truths:

  1. No one wants to talk with you

  2. Your biggest competitor companies aren’t always what you’re competing with right now

  3. All the lazy SDRs out there are ruining YOUR emails and cold calls.

  4. Your AE is under pressure.

  5. Outbound still works when done right.

1 Lie:

adding a bunch more people to sequences will get you to your quota faster

You might at this point be saying, “Ok great - so you’ve told me what not to do. You’ve challenged my thinking, and I appreciate it. But what do I do now?”

As I have worked on refining the general concepts and frameworks for how SDR work can be achieved at scale, and hired and trained now hundreds of new SDRs at many companies that do succeed well at outbound, I have found there is an easy way to describe good outbound with 4 overarching steps to the process.

A key benefit to these pieces of prospecting is that they work together to guide both [a] the strategy ops teams need, and [b] the tactical elements SDRs need of pipeline creation. Travis Henry at Snowflake has also helped me advance my knowledge of these in a great way.

He has shown me that having a game plan has to be multi faceted,

[a] for ops: a plan with the systemic, operational go-to-market strategy

and [b] for SDRs: a plan for the individual, tactical and practical advantage to working in the trenches.

Side note: none of this matters without working really hard. Grit can be learned, but in this process, grit can't be replaced.

Mastering these 4 things can help you curb against the problems of these 5 truths of today you are up against and the 1 lie you need to learn to factor in.

Cliffhanger Conclusion: a Brief Intro to what "good" looks like

Spend time focusing on the right accounts, and find the best contacts at those accounts. Personalize your message and focus on PAIN and VALUE not FEATURES and BENEFITS. Work hard, stay organized and execute tasks on time. Know your conversion rates, and work closely with your AE to make the handoff process smooth for every meeting you do. Hold rate matters a lot, focus on it. Using information from discussions/meetings to engage other stakeholders in the account matters a lot, remember that.

As you do these 4 steps, make a time in the week or the day to manage those things that are most important to always supply yourself with the needed sequences, the best messaging strategy for every account, and alignment around the plan with your AEs.

We will be covering a lot more around these 4 areas of prospecting as we go forward in coming blog articles, but for now, here is a taste below of the info that will be a basis for the outline of the coming articles surrounding each topic.

For coming articles...


Systemic success -

  • Understanding your ICP

  • Intent data

  • Account scoring

  • Alignment with Marketing

  • Alignment with Sales

  • Territory creation

  • Quota/comp creation with territory in mind

Individual success -

  • Time blocking your calendar

  • Organizing your data

  • Connecting with your AE

  • Setting up signals

  • Make a checklist

  • Tagging a field in Salesforce on an account


Systemic success -

  • Social selling connected to CRM

  • Saved searches

  • Onboarding program

  • Training on what “good” looks like for prospecting helps improve what SDRs research

Individual success -

  • Time blocking for research

  • Storing your notes

  • Job postings

  • Tech stack

  • Company quote

  • Persona-based


Systemic success -

  • Sequence frameworks

  • Coaching/accountability 50/15/5

  • Gamification and spiffs to drive behavior

  • Call coaching

  • Power hours

  • Objection handling

  • Automation of data analytics

Individual success -

  • Generative AI as an essential element of success

  • Time blocking for task completion

  • Be consistent with social selling

  • Understand your email framework

  • Having a strong plan for every cold call

  • Understand your phone call framework (along with objection handling)

  • Use your research (something you learn in an account >> helps with all prospects in that account)

  • Winning spiffs

  • Call recording best practices and the value of call coaching


Systemic success -

  • Meeting set process in the CRM

  • Comp plan structure

  • AE expectations

  • Alignment around expectations with SDRs and AEs

  • Zero tolerance for discrimination

  • Career pathing

  • Meeting integrity

Individual success -

  • Clear notes

  • Send the call recording

  • Recap and get feedback

  • Regular 1:1s with a strong agenda

  • Avoid counterfeits

  • Celebrate your wins

(thanks for reading, stay tuned, and excited to have you along for the ride!)

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