The Best SDRs Don’t Book Meetings

Every time I hear the words, “I’m only paid to book meetings,” a small part of me dies.

Have you ever heard an SDR mutter that phrase? Drives me nuts. Especially since I know that same rep is going to pester me about getting promoted into an AE seat.

That AE seat is going to require a lot more skill than being able to just book meetings, along with a better attitude.

I know those words are often said partially in jest. I know where that feeling is coming from. The SDR team gets kicked around when the pipeline is low, then rarely gets a whiff of praise when sales crushes their numbers because of the SDR pipeline.

When I hear those words I simply wonder if the SDR understands that succeeding in sales means playing the long game.

Succeeding in sales means you have to be a helluva lot better than someone who just books meetings.

Nearly a decade ago I ran a direct marketing team for a tiny 12-person agency outside of Boston. When I say direct marketing, I mean we were almost all cold callers. We typically had a writer or a creative marketer for the team, but typically that person took the job because they’d learn about sales by cold calling.

We were unlike 99% of other agencies out there because we did two things together: appointment setting and company profiling.

When we’d kick off a new campaign we’d always tell the client, “Yes, we’re going to get you some great leads, and your sales team will close more deals. We typically find that at the end of our campaigns the information we provide our clients on everyone who said ‘no’ to us is more valuable than the leads we found for them during the campaign.”

I loved having those feedback meetings after the end of our campaign. We were often hired to develop a new industry or for a new product launch, which meant no one could teach us the nuances of how to target prospects. Nope. We had to write our own scripts and learn as fast as possible.

At the end of the 2-3 month campaign we’d review everything we learned and make a series of recommendations for them to carry out.

Client after client would say, “Wait, so if we do this and target them and say these things, we’ll do a ton more business?”

Guess who’d earn a much bigger campaign after that call.

Great SDRs focus on learning and understanding as much as they can about their prospects.

This is one of the keys to being successful in sales, too. If you can have deeper conversations, connect ideas, and understand your prospects with depth and breadth that’s well beyond a casual sales conversation then you’re going to win a lot more business.

Learning how to uncover what’s really going on inside a target account is more than simply a stepping stone into that AE seat, though.

The reps I hired at that agency worked for us came on board weren’t looking to earn an AE seat with us. There we no AE seats, and odds are you’d never earn a promotion. We were too small to offer that kind of career path. Our reps joined because they needed a steady paycheck for a while and could crush the phones, then they’d move on to something bigger.

We had a motto at that agency: make sure when you leave that this company is better than when you started, whether you’re here 6 weeks, 6 months, or 6 years.

Look at the opportunity that’s in front of you today if you want to figure out where you can develop new skills to make it more likely you’ll get promoted or land a job that’s a step up next time.

The smart reps know that if they take an AE seat that life will be harder. Getting a meeting is easy, when you think about it. Your goal is to get a prospect to take a half an hour sales call. Half an hour. That’s it.

An AE is trying to turn that half an hour sales call into the stepping stone to sell something that’s often tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

How can you make that first call even better for the AE?

That’s the question you should be asking yourself.

The top reps are always looking for ways to have a better call at every step of the sales process, both in terms of what is said and who they’re talking to.

I personally feel I got lucky working at that tiny agency simply because of who I worked for and what they taught me.

The founder of the agency got this idea because of two experiences he had. In the late 80’s he built a cold calling machine at IBM when he was responsible for launching their new AS/400 servers. What really happened is he took the half of the budget for advertising and sunk 100% of it into outsourcing a cold calling center, which was wildly successful. After that he joined Forrester Research when it was under 20 employees, helping the company land its first international clients.

He loved the idea of combining prospecting with deep research and felt it filled an obvious hole in the market, so he left Forrester to launch his own agency.

The company’s operations were run by a retired high school teacher who had taught sociology. She understood more about how to work with people than most business leaders because she spent more than three decades trying to open up the eyes and minds of teenagers to the world around them.

The pay wasn’t great, the deadlines could be brutal, and getting ready for big kickoffs or launches often meant a late night in the office to make sure we tied up every loose end.

It was like a bootcamp for developing leads and companies, and it was a blast.

Take a look at who you’re working with and ask yourself, when is the last time you set up a meeting that the AE came over and thanked you for it? How did it feel when that happened?

Focusing on little wins and incremental changes is the best way to develop your skills.

Think about the next role you want. What skills do people in that role have that you could spend some time working on in your current role?

Pick one and figure out how you can get a little bit better at it every day for the next few weeks. Ask your coworkers who are really good at it what they do.

Try things out, see how they work on the phone. Get feedback. Repeat.

If the only thing do is book meetings, how are you going to prove you’re ready to do bigger things?

One of the differences I’ve seen between people who progress in their career and people who get stuck is very simple.

People who progress in their career are focused on becoming the person they need to be in that next role. Those who get stuck are often focused on doing the things they need to do in their current role.

Let me tell you how I became the manager of the direct marketing team at that agency.

When I started there I wasn’t hired to run the direct marketing team, I was hired to manage the analysis of one client’s campaigns in somewhat of a consulting capacity. It sounded like an interesting career move, to still work in sales but not be the person selling all day.

On my first day the manager for the direct marketing team gave his notice.

Even though I was brand new I walked up to my bosses and said, “If you show me how to run these campaigns I’ll do it for the next few months while I’m trained for the job I was hired to do, and by then you can figure out a long term plan.”

I had NO intentions of running a cold calling team. That was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t want to cold call all day and be surrounded by cold callers, I wanted to do this interesting analytical work. It was bad enough I’d have to cold call with the team for my first few months!

Four months later the client changed the contract to a part-time analyst role and I was running the direct marketing team.

Here’s the interesting thing to think about: what would have happened to my job – and my career – if I had said, “Not my problem, for the next few months I’m only here to learn the ropes and book meetings”?

I hope you ask yourself the same question about your situation.

I’d love to know – what skills would you love to learn in the next 3 months on the job?


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