11 sales development skills you need to master

byRiya Uppal

The pattern is too familiar- you get hold of TAM, sequence emails, cold call prospects, leave voicemails and repeat. 

The classic SDR sales process is all well and good, only its execution needs a little brushing up. There are now too many distractions, too many other priorities, and people are busier than ever.

SDR sales experts suggest ditching spray and pray; surprising prospects with “pattern interrupt” and becoming ‘sales engineers’ for best results.

If you are wondering what these buzzwords are and how these will help you become better at sales, this blog is for you. In this, I will start with the definition of SDR sales, then go in detail on how to become a masterful sales development representative with 11 easy to follow tips.

Let us jump right in.


What is a sales development representative or SDR?

At the forefront of sales, sales development representatives (SDR) or business development representatives (BDR) are the ones who reach out to new leads, qualify them and push them further down the sales funnel. 

In simple words, SDRs are there to:

  • Target and get your ideal prospects interested in your organisation through B2B lead generation.
  • Qualify them i.e. figure out whether or not they match your ideal customer profile.
  • Help them through their individual buyer journey until a dedicated closer takes over.

While they may not be responsible for the final closing of deals, they play an important role in sales prospecting which is a core part of business success.


Shift from spray and pray to SDR sales engineering

Spray and pray is long gone and for good reason.

The basic idea of spray and pray prospecting is to execute campaigns, or other forms of marketing communications, out to as many people as possible (spray), and hope that it motivates some of them to buy their product or show interest in their service (pray) – without setting up metrics, such as conversion tracking, to measure campaign success and ROI.

This strategy has not worked for B2B businesses for a long time, as a message that is not personalised and targeted is likely to drown in the noise of promotional communications. 

SDRs need to shift their efforts to a content strategy that the prospect wants to see, at the same time, make sure it resonates with them in a more personal way to make them want to engage with it. The transition from spray and pray to highly-targeted, focused campaigns is therefore essential.

As more and more sales operations get automated, SDRs need to become proficient at executing various software as the manual skill of gathering and executing will be automated. Jake Dunlap recommends three core areas you need to focus on to become SDR sales engineers:

  1. interpersonal skills
  2. project management skills
  3. technical skills

He believes that companies who invest in tech and operations are going to be pillars of modern sales organisation.


First things first: Get your SDR sales stack in order

As an SDR, you need a few tricks up your sleeve to win over your prospects and build long lasting relationships. An out-and-out tech stack tops that list because without it you are a goldsmith without a flame.

A B2B sales stack or sales technology stack is a collection of technologies or software solutions that B2B sales teams use to carry out their roles. Some of these technologies are essential to have, while others offer extra value to the sales team such as scalability, automation, or increased productivity.

The complete B2B sales stack 

Essentials

  • B2B data source: hubsell, zoominfo, LinkedIn sales navigator
  • Networked intelligence: Linkedin Sales Navigator
  • Sales Automation platforms: hubsell, outreach.io, salesloft
  • Data enrichment tools: hubsell, Zoominfo
  • Trigger event monitoring: Zoominfo “scoops”, InsideView, Navigator
  • Parallel Assisted Dialers (PADS): ConnectAndSell, ConnectLeader, Orum
  • Dialers: RingDNA, Aircall, Dialpad
  • Collaboration: Zoom.us, Teams, Slack
  • Digital signature software: HelloSign, DocSend, PandaDoc
  • Billing platforms: Chargebee, FreshBooks, Replicon 

Advanced additions

  • Intent Data: hubsell, Leadfeeder, Leady
  • Email verification and validation: Neverbounce, Clearout, Zerobounce
  • Phone automation software: Tenfold, Ringio, Connectandsell
  • Smart teleprompter and conversation intelligence: Gong.io, Chorus.ai, ExecVision
  • Video prospecting software: Vidyard, covideo, Bonjoro
  • Direct mail automation: Sendoso, Click2Mail
  • Inbound sales prospecting software: Live chat platforms like drift, intercom, liveChat
  • Appointment scheduling tools: Google calendar, Calendly, Acuity scheduling 
  • On-brand messaging tools: Grammarly, ProWitingAid
  • Content automation tools: Descript, Remastermedia, SocialBee
  • Document sharing platforms: DocSend, Clearslide, Bloomfire
  • Project management platforms: Airtable, Monday.com, Asana
  • Forecasting and sales insights tools: Clari, Ebsta, Bootsup.ai, Trinity Perspectives
  • B2B market research tools: SimilarTech, Wappalyzer
  • B2B sales coaching and learning platforms: Udemy, Gong

Check out our detailed blog on the B2B sales stack for more on this.

11 must-have skills for an SDR

Without further ado, here is a list of soft and hard skills that you need to brush up on, whether you are a seasoned sales professional or new at the job.


1. Technology Quotient

Technology is certainly a big enabler for the SDR sales team’s success. In the age of automation and AI, SDRs must know how to use the tools and software to automate lead management and increase productivity.

In the words of Daniel Gray, SDR sales “warriors” are driven by the company’s greater mission and vision, and embrace a “human+technology” sales motion to build scalable success. Expertise in basic tools like CRM, email tracking, reporting and dashboards is no longer optional but required.

 As the average SDR sales stack has risen to six different solutions that include social selling tools, conversation intelligence and more, working knowledge on these various tools needs to be constantly updated.


2. Copywriting skills

As motivated SDRs, we are tempted to cram in every single selling point for your product in a single email. But that is not how prospecting emails work. 

Always put yourself in the shoes of your prospects. Would you like to read a long piece of boastful content that is nothing about you and everything about them?

Here are a few pointers to up your copywriting game:

  • Try, try, try till you succeed: Not everything you do will be a hit the first time. So get yourself in the habit of brainstorming different elements of the prospecting email such as subject line, opening, closing, CTA, etc before hitting send. 
  • Keep it short: If your email gets opened, you still only have a short window to capture their attention. Brevity is key. In our experience, prospecting emails that are up to 100 words or less work best. If you can do 80 words or less, that’s even better.
  • It’s you not me: Everytime you draft an email, make sure your pitch is focused on them rather than you. It may not be possible to eliminate every single instance of the word “I,” but by reducing them to a minimum you show that you are truly focused on the prospect.
  • Learn and adapt: It helps to read successful email templates to get an idea of what works and then try to emulate it in your own way. However, stay away from cliches and add in the magic of your authenticity as that is your only way to get attention.
  • Avoid common cliches: Clichés are the number one killer of prospecting emails and for good reason. Avoid this pitfall by making a list of words and phrases that you commonly see in your inbox and eliminating them from your dictionary. 

Copywriting is a skill that improves with care and practice. Lean into what works and keep refining your strategy for the best results.


3. Cold calling skills

Cold calling remains the fastest, lowest-cost, and most direct technique to initiate a sales process. But are you proficient in it?

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

  • Not doing due research on the prospect: You can never be over prepared for a cold call. Gathering relevant information about your prospect is something you should do before you dial that number to warm up that conversation.
  • Not having a solid opener: Your opener is crucial. If you start with ‘Hey, this is Ray from Company X. How are you doing today?’ and follow with a dull sequence, you’ve probably already lost their attention. Instead, break the pattern by going for a  more creative or original opener.
  • Not speaking loudly or clearly enough: As a SDR, paying attention to your voice and delivery is very important in getting your message across. I suggest assuming a power pose and speaking clearly as well as emphasizing the key points you want the prospect to understand.
  • Being too salesy: The most important thing on a cold call is the pattern interrupt i.e. staying away from cliched scripts such as permission based openers, the reason for my call, did I catch you at a bad time, you don’t know me but.., this is a cold call etc. 

Cold calling is not as hard as you think it is. Just spotlight the prospect, inject some personality and focus on providing value instead of solely blabbering about your product.


4. Data management

Prospecting usually takes the form of cadences of calls, emails, LinkedIn InMails and potentially other social media touch points to target buyer personas at companies within an identified target market. This means data, data and data. What it also means is that if you do not know how to manage data, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Data management for SDRs relies on 4 key cornerstones:

  • Gather data: Collect data on prospects from internal and external sources.
  • Build insights: Make personal notes on each prospect to follow personalised and target campaigns.
  • Drive actions: Decide on a sales cadence based on typical use cases.
  • Measure outcomes: Analyse metrics to understand what is working well and what is not to create repeatable results.

Data is the cornerstone of a sales process that promotes rigor, efficiency and insight. In B2B, it is often the adoption of advanced analytics that differentiates the winners from the rest.


5. A/B testing skills

If you are interested in maximising your prospecting results, A/B testing or split testing is your friend.

A/B testing is simply comparing two different versions of your cold email to see which one performs better.

Jason Vargus, in the book Sales Engagement, highlights these top variables to A/B test:

  • Subject lines: This is the first on the list because subject lines actually decide if at all your email gets opened.
  • Send schedules/time of day: This means figuring out which send schedules get the most email opens, is it weekday business hours, weekday morning versus evening, weekends, etc.
  • Value proposition order: That is which emails and value propositions drive the most engagement.
  • Tonality: Watching tonality in emails means seeing which tone works best, formal versus informal, etc.
  • Testimonials and case studies: Analyse if certain testimonials perform better than others within the same message

A/B and multivariate testing, done well, can lead to significant gains in site usability and sales conversions. Put simple, constant testing and improvement will keep your business up and running smoothly.


6. Business acumen to build narrative

Business acumen is no longer an ancillary skill for SDR sales. Rather, it is a crucial competency skill that high-performing sales development professionals need to have.

Business acumen is defined as a keenness and quickness in understanding and responding to a business situation. It is the ability to understand how any business operates and use that to create your pitches and measure the results. 

A business acumen will help you build a narrative, in turn, allowing you to have better conversations with your prospects. When you can do this, you gain their respect and trust and it is easier to move them through the sales cycle.


7. Referrals and trusted relationships

As sales is a people’s business, all SDRs must focus on building referrals and trusted relationships with the customers. Referrals have many advantages:

  1. You create trust with your existing customers by showing them you care about their feedback.
  2. Referrals start a relationship with new prospects with a degree of trust.
  3. Referrals also shorten sales cycles, improve win rates, reduce the presence of competition and are the lowest cost source of new leads.

Justin Micheal and Tony Hughes recommend avoiding the use of the word “referral” as it sounds too much like a seller wanting permission to pitch and pressure their contact. Instead ask customers for feedback and then use that as an opportunity to jump in with simple phrases like these:

  • Thanks for saying that! Who else do you think we can help?
  • Thanks for the feedback! Who else struggles now with what we’ve solved together?
  • Thanks! Who should I be talking to in the organisation?

8. Targeting and pragmatic research skills

SDR sales requires thinking on your feet, but you can not succeed without putting a bit of research into your prospecting strategy.

Figure out your exact ICP and buyer personas based on real product/market fit. Then use business intelligence platforms like LinkedIn to identify people who have a high propensity to buy. In simple words, start by building a list of prospects and then identify trigger events.

Justin Micheal and Tony Hughes’ book Tech-powered sales highlights four types of trigger events relevant for SDRs to target:

  • Bad experience with incumbent suppliers: One of the most important triggers you want to watch for as gaps with current provider’s product, service or people can be your window of opportunity.
  • Role-based change: A change in C-suite directives or senior management can be your chance to follow your supporters to their new employer and also defend our existing account against our competitor doing the same to us with the new person coming in.
  • Change in results or strategy: The change in vision or priorities has a significant change in results or announces a change in their strategic direction impacting priorities and operations. There is an appetite for change and desire to explore options for improvement.
  • Operating environment changes: In B2B sales, the most important trigger event is a decision maker role change because executives hired into new roles are expected to drive improvement. The decision maker becomes aware of the need to change for competitive, risk-avoidance, economic, social, legal, or compliance reasons.

Remember research directly corresponds to the quality of your list. The research will also have an impact on the targeted marketing communications you send to your prospects, so spend some time getting it right.


9. Out of the box thinking

It is no secret that prospects are being flooded with cold calls, emails and LinkedIn messages nowadays. To get attention, you must find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Thinking out of the box is all about staying ahead; being creative to get noticed.

Video, for example, is an excellent tool for creative SDRs. It’s a quick and easy way to get attention.

Level-up: Justin Micheal and Tony Hughes mention the below ideas to encourage out of the box thinking in SDRs:  

  • Blend physical world tactics with digital engagement, as old school and new school combined is the best approach in personalisation. 

For instance, the duo once sent a shoe to a prospective customer as a pun on ‘getting a foot in the door’. 

  • Find everyone who has ever purchased from your company, look them up and throw them in a cadence. 

Build a list where the stakeholder’s past role was an existing customer. You want to map the champions of your product or solution into the power base because they either moved companies to get promoted or were promoted within. 

  • Focus on three types of trigger events: awareness, bad supplier and job changes. 

Lead with a quote or highlight how one of their competitors is managing change. Remember to focus on a pain or fear statement to pique interest but do it in a positive way.

It is worthwhile to harness the power of your marketing team and their budget to break through with new sales.


10. Highly customised outreach tactics (Multi-threading and COMBO prospecting)

Today’s organisational structures are more complex than ever, which means more stakeholders to convince. This is where multi-threading and combo prospecting comes into play. 

Sales multithreading is when you develop relationships with multiple decision-makers on the purchasing side. Tony Hughes’ combo prospecting is when you use a combination of outreach channels to target your prospects.

Combo Prospecting technique allows you to use multiple channels to engage buyers and effectively combine them to reach your prospects. These channels include phone, voice mail, email, texting, social media and more. 

Tony Hughes’ Tech powered sales defines an interesting action plan for outreach:

  • Use concurrent multithreading and take the language of leaders by talking about desired outcomes and compelling business cases in your pitches.
  • Reach out top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out at the same time to avoid being blocked by someone who has the power to say no. 
  • Use pattern interrupt to capture the attention of your prospects. If they open your email, give them a call, leave a voice-mail or send a one-off reply inside an outreach sequence.

11. Non-hunger principled disinterest (non-salesy approach)

If you want to get your foot in the door, I suggest you get rid of the salesy tone altogether.

When cold calling, emailing, texting or reaching out on LinkedIn, you need to communicate from a position of strength, rather than sounding needy, hungry, or desperate. 

Here are some tips from Justin Micheal and Tony Hughes’ book Tech powered sales:

  • Jeb Blount “the universal law of need”: The more interest you show in closing a deal, the more repulsed the prospect will be with your demeanor. It’s the idea that when you need a deal too badly, you’re going to have sales breath, which is repellent to prospects. 
  • Stay between non-hunger and engagement: Don’t be desperate but genuinely curious. This means being interested rather than needy, and not pitching anything until the buyer is in the zone. 
  • Don’t be a blabbermouth: As a SDR, your job is to get to the root cause, so you can propose the right solution. Actively listen to cultivate curiosity on both sides and get straight to the point.

Non-hunger and curiosity, combined with a love of customers and enjoyment in making a difference is what will prevent sales burnout.


Rounding off

SDRs play an important role and have a unique opportunity to help account executives close deals. Whether you’re new to the SDR role, or leading a new team of SDRs, I am confident that these 11 skills will allow you to flourish in your role. Just like every role, sales takes practice and so will honing these skills. So keep at it and keep smashing.


New readers

For those unfamiliar with hubsell, we provide an end-to-end B2B prospecting solution with on-demand generated B2B data and multi-channel personalised outreach automation software to generate qualified sales leads.

Book your discovery call today to see how you can scale your opportunity generation.



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