SDRealness Podcast Episode 1 Graphic Horizontal - Personal Branding as an SDR with Nikki Ivey at SDRDefenders

Episode 1 Transcript

Greyson: Hello and welcome to the SD Realness podcast, brought to you by Sales Development Revolution, where we talk with practitioners about their take on important topics in the space. I’m Greyson Fullbright, and here with me is my co-host, Alex Ellison. 

Alex: Hey, everyone.

Greyson: This month, we’re focused on becoming a leader in the SDR role. And today’s topic is about building personal brand as a rep. And joining us for this conversation is Nikki Ivey, co-founder of SDR defenders, which is a community on a mission to transform the way companies perceive and invest in their SDRs. Thank you so much for hopping on with us, Nikki.

Nikki: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here, especially around talking about this topic. It’s something that’s very close to my heart. And I just… I hope I’m able to shed some light on… on something that will help a few SDRs advance their careers or at least be having more fun while they’re in their current role. 

Greyson: Awesome, yeah. And we’re so glad to have you on. To kick off and sort of frame the conversation, Nicky, I want to get your just your whole take sort of on… on building that personal brand, you know, why should you do it as an SDR? What does that involve? And what does that process look like within an organization?

Nikki: I love this question. And there… there’s a long answer. I’ll try and give you the medium one here. But the story of my career has been, you know, just leveraging… building first, genuinely building relationships with, you know, folks that I’m working alongside, folks that I’m working, you know, for. And that being those impressions that I’m making, and the work that I’m doing, being the reason why those relationships are so sticky, and being the thing that has helped me get from one, you know, level and one goal to the next. There… there hasn’t been a single other factor besides brand and reputation that’s… that’s opened as many doors for me. 

So, when I think about SDRs or folks starting their sales career, you know, unsure about whether or not it makes sense to pay attention to your brand, I got to step in and be like, “Yes, yes, it makes perfect sense. And it’s absolutely necessary, mostly because that reputation, whether you’re in control of it or not, it exists.” And so, it’s not a question typically of, you know, “Do I need to have a personal brand or not?” You have one, it’s, “To what extent am I controlling the narrative that precedes me?” And once you start to do that and really take your career into your own hands, it can start to open up possibilities for you internally at the org that you’re at, or you know, it can make it easier if you find yourself in the market to switch organizations.

Greyson: I think that’s a really good point. I think, you know, reps being kind of that entry level role, or at least a lot of companies perceive it as an entry level role. I feel like that sets them back in learning how to actually build a personal brand. It’s almost like there’s a gap there where, you know, they learn the basics of sales, and they learn the business acumen they need to succeed in their role. But, you know, in your opinion, do you think organizations are doing enough to give SDRs that platform or that that foundation to really start building upon their brand and their career? 

Nikki: Their career, I couldn’t speak to you. That’d be up to the individual, you know, organizations. But I know there are some folks who are really getting it right. But by and large, no, most organizations are not empowering their employees in general, and then in particular, their SDR team to be able to build that brand. And I think on the part of a lot of organization, there is This question or this fear of, well, you know, are they going to be doing the activities that, you know, that build their brand during time when they could… when they’re supposed to be being productive for the organization and doing their job? And what if they lose… lose focus? And that has led to, you know, things happening, like, you know, folks telling their SDRs they’re just straight up not allowed to post anything other than what the organization is putting out, and just having individual people pushing collateral and content that’s coming from, you know, a one-to-many style message from the marketing department. And, you know, you hate to see it. Because the position that puts those folks in, right, when we think about what the average tenure is of an SDR and when we think about, you know, what the perception is of that role in the market, it puts them at such a disadvantage if they do want to advance their career outside. 

I was… early in my career, I was in S… it was an MDR role, but an early career prospecting role. And I was crushing it, but at that organization, the… the ISR roles and the AE roles didn’t exist, right? They were held by people who have been with the company for years and years and didn’t have any desire and moving out of those roles. So, the only way I was going to be able to advance would be to go outside of that organization. But I didn’t have a network to speak of, because all of my content and all of my brand was wrapped up in what I was selling as opposed to who I am and what I had been learning while I was in the role. And so, you sacrifice this golden opportunity, you know, to… to really talk about the things that you’re learning about the entire, you know, go-to-market function about all of B2B revenue from that SDR role to be able to talk about it with a sense of authority when your organization isn’t supportive. 

But the fact is (and call me a rebel, right?) I don’t know that they have to be supportive. Now, if they’re… I’m not telling anybody to break rules or laws, but what I’m saying is recognize and understand that your career is in your hands and you have every right to… to say, “Look, yes, I’m an expert at talking to the… my ICP about the thing that I’m selling. But for the vast majority of us, the thing that I’m selling isn’t necessarily, you know, the same thing that I’m building this other skill set in, right, which is, like I said, sales and revenue.” And so, if you want to be talking about that expertise that you’re building, it can butt heads with, you know, the message that you know, say you work in construction, right, and your company wants you to be constantly talking about construction on LinkedIn and you’re like, “No, no, no, I don’t want to be an expert in that. I want to be the expert in skills on building and revenue for my career,” it can just… it really can create a lot of tension. 

And so that’s why one of the things that we do with SDR Defenders is seek to, you know, take submissions, and contributions of content from SDRs so that they have a place to have their… their content read and distributed, and have their voices heard without having to, you know, depend on LinkedIn, the algorithm and what their leaders are telling them that they’re allowed to post. 

Greyson: That message really resonates with us over here at SDRev because we see the same thing. We see SDRs that are sort of stuck within organization, and maybe all they post on LinkedIn is like, “Oh, here I shared this thing that my company posted, because that’s all I feel like I can do.” It’s a sort of point this in a direction more towards the SDRs, you’ve covered a lot of the common mistakes that the organizations make some times when they’re sort of holding these SDRs back, things like that. What are some of the common mistakes that SDRs you see making on a regular basis that you… you just wish you… when you see it, you go, “Hey, just don’t post it like that, or… or change it this way,” things like that?

Nikki: I think that it can be really easy to fall into the trap of adopting a formula that looks popular on the platform that you’re posting on. And for most SDRs, most of us that platform is LinkedIn. So, if my favorite LinkedIn influencer… or influencers now, Insta, my favorite LinkedIn influencer, or you know, guru or just a leader that I really look up to and admire, you know, is having success and I say, “Wow, I want… I want 1000 reactions on my post. I want, you know, 100,000 views on my post,” you can fall into the trap of without having a lot of, you know, expertise behind it, and without having any strategy beyond, you know, copying what the person that you look up to is doing, I see folks falling into the trap of regurgitating things that they’ve seen, versus documenting their own experience, and proving out that fact that there is a lot that everyone in an organization can learn from what SDRs are doing every day. 

So, that’s the number one thing is just not talking about their own experience, you know? When I read these, I picture like, you know, a kid with like his dad’s business jacket on, but it’s too big for his hands and he’s like, “Hello, I’m the boss here,” and it’s like, “Hey, man, first of all, that’s insulting to the people that did develop expertise and take their time. And it’s insulting to you because it’s placing not a high enough value on the things that you’re learning and contributing today in your own right.” 

So, that’s really the only one. Other than that, I’m seeing a lot of folks right now especially just straight going for it, just… you know, just posting without waiting to know if they’re going to get it perfect. And I stand all of that. I really do support what folks are doing, and people reach out to me individually a lot and ask for tips. And, you know, as much as I possibly can, I’m here for that, as well. 

So, I don’t really see… I think there’s… there’s enough folks covering everything SDRs do wrong, right? You know, if there was a drinking game where every time you see a post on LinkedIn that says, you know, “Can you believe what this stupid SDR sent me? This is… look at this email, you know, she must be an idiot,” you know? I mean, they’re not… they’re not that mean, but that’s the tone a lot of these… a lot of these posts take. And so, you know, I… I make an effort to be a dissenting voice when it comes to that. I make an effort to be saying something positive, A, about what I learned as an SDR, because most of what I learned as an SDR that is helping me in my career now is stuff that SDRs are doing everyday just as part of the table stakes skill set. So, I like more to talk about what I see folks doing right, and there is a lot of that going on. 

Shout out to folks like Stella Wu, who is leading in her own right as far as putting out content. Obviously, we all know Sarah Brazier, Super SDR. But the… but there are plenty of folks whose names we don’t know who are… who are getting it right and who are doing it for all the right reasons, not… I mostly just celebrate those folks.

Greyson: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And I think it’s just a product of, A, SDRs being kind of new in their career and having to go through the ropes, and then, B, you know, this is like…. like you said, I love I love that point that you made about, you know, messaging for your organization and for outcomes that the organization wants is not the same thing as doing something for your brand and your personal kind of take and experiences on things. And I think like as reps, spend more time on it, and detach themselves from this magic bullet kind of idea that, “Oh, I just need one post to be popular, that… that the right framework or the right format, and I’m just going to be famous.” And moving away from that mindset, and just spending the time to make it work, I think is really where SDRs are seeing a lot of successes, like you said. So, to close this out. Can you share any final advice or maybe some top tips that you’ve given other SDRs on how to build that personal brand, and how to do it in a way to where they can also grow as a professional? 

Nikki: Yes, I can. And the good news is there are a lot of… there are a lot of levers to pull here. I have to… I have to start by saying the number 1 thing you can do to build a great personal brand is do good work, like prioritize that over everything. I think it’s important that you mentioned, you know, that… that sometimes folks have little stars in their eyes and they’re like, “I want, you know, all these leaders I looked up to, to know my name.” And, yeah, that’ll come, right? But what really is important is doing good work so that you can speak from a… it gives you the confidence when you do good work to speak from a place of authority on something, even if you don’t have the title, even if you don’t have like years and years in the role. So, to do good work so that you have the confidence to speak about these things and you don’t feel like you know, a faker, a fakie-baker. 

And then don’t be afraid to try things when it comes to this. And I know maybe… maybe folks are expecting like more tactical like, “Do this in your… in your LinkedIn profile, or don’t do that in your… in your post.” And there’s a bunch of formulas and frameworks that can help with that. I’m happy to help with that if folks want to reach out to me individually. But I think the point of it all is to start with one question, for anybody who’s posting on LinkedIn or who’s building a brand, start with the one question, “Who do I want to help?” and then find those people. Their… their community might not live on LinkedIn, it might live on Facebook or Instagram, or they might just regularly subscribe to newsletters and that’s how they interact with each other. 

But find the people who you want to help. Spend about at least a month just following along with their content, listening, commenting thoughtfully where you can, and then put out content posts that speak to those people. And not just the problems they’re having that your product solves, but that speak to what the experience is like within that industry for the folks you want to help. And just be as sincere as you possibly can, you know? Do that consistently, and build the relationships that will come with that, and you’re on your way. Everything else is noise. Everything else is fluff, right? 

Views are just… I look at views, as you know, “This is how many opportunities I had to engage someone with my content. And I’d like more opportunities to engage with my content.” So, to that extent, yes, views are important. But outside of that, put it out of your mind. You know, worry about, “Who am I going to help? What do they need in terms of a resource? How can I fill that void for them and really fellowship with them and build those relationships with folks?” Because, again, the moral of the story is relationships are revenue.

So, get out there and create those connections. Believe in yourself. Start feeling yourself. You are… if you’re an SDR, then you’re responsible for the group of people who at world-class organization is putting up… using 80% of pipe… of the dollars into the pipeline. So, those should not be the same people who are feeling, you know, less than. Those should not be the same people who are unsure as to their value. You’re that person. You’re that SDR. Trust that. Trust your expertise from what you’re learning every day about the work that you’re doing, and figure out who you can help with it, and then just go. 

Greyson: Yeah, I’d love that. I think the phrase that you coined, “Relationships are revenue,” I think that’s so applicable here, both for the organization and for the rep. Because like you said, you know, organizations get benefits from reps building their personal brand too. But at the end of the day, it’s the individual’s choice and the individual’s career that’s at stake here. And relationships generate value or revenue sometimes, and I really love that idea. Okay, so Nikki, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about personal branding for SDRs. Before we close out, where can people find out more about you and SDR Defenders?

Nikki: I’m all over LinkedIn. I live there. I live there now. So, you can find me there. SD… follow the… please, follow the SDR Defenders LinkedIn page. That is where, as the head of content, I put out weekly, at least 1 like full-on document that’s meant to help you level up. So, SDR Defenders LinkedIn page. And if you are looking to contribute, you can… or at least be on the mailing list and be a part of what we’re doing, you can go to the website sdrdefenders.com and fill out one of the forms there to, like I said, either contribute or become a part of the community. We’re really excited about SDR’s contributing content and us helping, you know shine a light on the work that they’re doing. 

Besides that, I do also lead a community on Bravado. That community is called BDR Breakthrough. And that’s where I cover some of the deeper topics within sales, development and sales, some of the culture topics, and the sort of, “What are we doing to the people… the people part of what it… what it means to be in this role and how well we’re taking care of ourselves and each other?” So, I’d love to have each of you in that group over on Bravado as well. A lot of video content and live content that you can’t find anywhere else. So, yeah, come… come say hi. I’m friendly.

Greyson: Awesome. Well, hey, thanks so much for joining us, Nikki. This has been Alex and Greyson for the SD Realness podcast. Until next time, SDRs, keep it real

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