SDRealness Podcast Episode 12 Graphic Horizontal - Cold Call Choreography - Mastering the Phone as an SDR with Gabrielle Blackwell

Episode 12 Transcript

Greyson: Hello and welcome to the SDRevolution SDRealness Podcast season 2. We’re here to talk to sales development practitioners about really important topics going on in today’s sales space.  My name is Greyson Fullbright and I am here with my co-host Alex Ellison.

Alex: How’re you doing, Greyson?

Greyson: Doing well, I’m excited. This season we are going to be focusing on a new theme. Last season’s theme was on leadership and this time we wanted to get a little bit more tactical and so the theme is “See Action, Take Action”, where we’re going to be diving into specific topics and talk about specific tactics from experts who do it every day.

Today’s topic is very popular, it is cold calling. But specifically we’re going to be talking about the choreography behind cold calling and really how to make an impact with it and understand the soft skills and nuances of how to do it tactically.  Joining us for the conversation today is Gabrielle Blackwell. She is the Sales Development Manager at Gong.

Gabrielle thanks so much for hopping on today.

Gabrielle: Hey, thanks for having me!

Alex: Yeah, so glad you could be here for this. To sort of kick things off here, I really want to dive into your interpretation of good and bad cold calling.  Obviously we’ve all heard good and bad cold calls, we’ve all had them as well.  I really want to hear your thoughts especially that pertains to sort of leading the conversation, that choreography that we’ve talked about.

How do you lead it in a good direction? What have you seen that sort of leads people in the wrong direction even if they’re trying the right things? What are some of the good and bad practices you have seen as far as leading the conversation of a cold call?

Gabrielle: Yeah, definitely.  So, I think there is a difference between leading a conversation or choreographing a call and backing somebody into a corner.  What I mean by this is… there’s times when I’ve observed – whether it’s someone I have worked with directly, someone I’ve been managing or been on the receiving end of a cold call – where it’s very clear that someone has an agenda of what they want to talk about but yet they are not flexible in that conversation.

So, I might be giving them information about, “I am very much interested in how to better coach up my people,” but yet they want to focus on a feature, or a function, or a product that might not resonate with me quite as much as the thing I really cared about.  Or even worse: when I get a cold call, when I’ve seen someone do a cold call and they completely dismiss the person that they are talking to.  

So I think a great practice when cold calling is first and foremost, recognise the person on the other end of the phone call. They have a wealth of information, they have a wealth of experiences and if we take a moment to be curious about what it is that they do, what it is that they know, what kind of insights and intelligence they can share with us, that’s likely going to lead to a positive outcome.

If I only see them as this one small fraction of who you are and what you can provide, then we are missing an opportunity there and likely burning a bridge along the way.  So, that’s the way I would think about.. that’s one example of a  good practice of cold calling or choreographing a conversation and a bad practice of backing someone to a corner or dismissing them altogether.  

Alex: Yeah, I really like the way you phrase it with… you really have to listen to the prospect at the end of the day.  It’s funny we have conversations like we are having one now, I listen to you, I listen to Greyson, this is my feedback from our conversation.

But a lot of times when an SDR gets on the phone, they’ve been practicing this call script or maybe certain objections they’re trying to handle and they start looking for these answers that they’re not going to get. And then all of a sudden the conversation is derailed, whereas in reality you should be looking or listening for what’s going to happen and then you can steer it in that direction, you shouldn’t be expecting a specific answer one way or another, right?

Gabrielle: Yeah, a hundred percent.  There’s something I’ve been thinking about for the past week especially.  So, I just started off at Gong and one of the conversations I’ve been having with the person I report to is like, “how can we improve our conversion rates, from the SDR hand off to the AE and then down the funnel?”

So, when I am listening to the calls of the reps right now who are on the team and even having gone through the onboarding practice, it’s like “are we really only focusing on the pitch?”  That’s the questions I got.  Are we really only focusing on the pitch and the end result, which is a meeting, or are we really exploring the conversations that we need to have?

What are the insights and intelligence that we need to glean in order to get someone to feel comfortable in saying “yes, I will take a meeting with you”, or “yes I will give you the referral that you are looking for”.  

So, it’s the difference between having a meeting and having a meaningful conversation that will lead to a qualified opportunity.  

Greyson: Yeah and I think everything that has been said really ties well into what you said in the beginning, which is that most problems arise in cold calling when people aren’t flexible.

I think you mentioned three angles that are so relevant.  One is the fact that people want to follow the scripts and often people are afraid to go outside of what they’ve memorized and really use soft skills to navigate the conversation.

Two, I think you made a great point about the focus of a cold call. Because if you are inflexible and narrow minded about what, A, you’re expecting from the cold call and, B, going to do to get it, it’s a big conflict of interest that, like you said, it can come off as backing people into a corner because you don’t care about them, you don’t care about the situation, your only focus is on the outcome, the meeting, which can really skew people in terms of how they conduct themselves in a cold call.

A third thing that I think got brought out of this is… you know, those two are true, but I think people are often inflexible in the SDR role because of a fear of failure.  They’re using these scripts provided by management, they have these outcomes and focuses set by management, and yet on cold calls, on live conversations, they’re having to navigate in real-time and use soft skills.

And it’s like, “Ooo should I just fall back on the script and then it’s the script’s fault?” Or, “Ooo should I just fall back on my focus and then it’s our focus’s fault?” It’s a different kind of situation that I think kinda… It’s difficult for SDRs. And I think you made a good point there that flexibility really is the answer.

Understanding that…it’s not just about making it repeatable. I think making it repeatable is good, making it to where an SDR can be trained to do it effectively is good. But there are so many soft skills in the initial touches of a sales process that you can’t just replicate from buyer to buyer and it be the same every time.

Gabrielle: I agree one hundred percent! A hundred percent.  It’s funny I just went through this onboarding experience and we got introduced to the Gong pitch.  And I’ll be very honest, I’m the kind of person who, if you give me a script… I am script adverse.  A big piece of this comes when I started in tech sales, I started as a sales development rep and the most that we got in terms of a script was three of four lines.

It was how do you launch a cold call and then how do you handle objections, but there was no standard.  There was not really a huge expectation from management to the sales development reps to say, “here is what you have to say, here is how you have to respond,” like we had a lot of, I would say, free will.

We were also responsible truly for identifying what is it that resonates most with our marketplace. So we were like the sales development reps who were basically trying to figure out “do we have product-market fit today?”

In that, I was allowed to have deeper, much better conversations. And the more curious I got in these conversations, the more I learned.  And so each call after that I was able to have more in-depth conversations, even more qualified conversations, and I was able to send over more qualified meetings and opportunities to my sales rep.

This also allowed me to be the kind of rep who could hit 200 percent of their quota on a month by month basis. Because I am not only setting meetings, I’m really coming in and saying, “Hey I can almost be a trusted advisor as a sales development rep,” and understand that in reaching out to you, and me having done my research about you, and me knowing about the customers that we have today that are getting value from our products or from our platform, I’m not just doing this to hit my quota, I’m doing this because I truly do believe that this could be incredibly valuable for you and in these specific ways.

So it really is… In this kind of model, where SDRs are responsible for having meaningful conversations, it is a different skill set, right? It is a different mindset.

And even thinking about management and scripts, for me as a manager I really do have to cultivate an ecosystem or an environment where we are allowed to fail. And we also have to cultivate an ecosystem where feedback is constructive and it’s appreciated as well.  

Alex: Yeah you touched on a lot of things and I really agree with all of it.  Especially what you’re talking about with scripts. Because I feel like I’m similar in a way where you can write a script, but I think it’s a Mike Tyson quote, “everyone has got a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” it’s exactly that, right?

You have your plan, you know how you want the conversation to go. But when there is someone on the other side, you’re not going to know what they are going to say. Especially because 99 percent of the time you have never talked to this person before and, even if you can do your LinkedIn research, research the company on Google, you really don’t know much about them as a person. You know about their business needs, you might know that what you have to offer might help them, but you don’t know what they talk about, you don’t know if they have an accent even, right? So you can’t predict that sort of thing.

I was always a big fan, with my scripts, is really just to have a list of a bunch of questions, just all the possible qualification questions and if one of them came up, I just had it on like a sticky note next to my desk.  So if one of them came up, I remembered to ask it. Otherwise, if the conversation goes in another direction, we take it in another direction because at that point it was a little more important to build that rapport and sort of work in the qualification, than to really try and get answer, after answer, after answer.

Gabrielle: Yeah building rapport and even thinking about… Imagine if someone calls you and has a laundry list of questions. I’m like, “Is this an interrogation, like have I done something wrong here? What is happening?”

At one of the last companies I worked at, there was a rep I was managing and what I had shared with her was, “People will take a meeting with you, they’ll have a conversation with you solely for the fact that you have made them feel important and how you make them feel important is getting curious about them as a person.” So you had mentioned that we need to get to know people as the people that they are and not just for the business needs and issues and whatever else that our platform can support.  

And so the way that we do this is by asking them questions about them.  Like – “how are you involved? What is your role in this? What are you responsible for? How does this impact you?”  Not, “hey do you have a sales force, do you have Zoom, how many people are on your team?” How boring!

Greyson: Right. It sounds like, in cold calling, there are two levels, where the basics – what people expect you to know and to execute on as a rep – is being able to follow a script, to make the cold call, to at least be confident enough and skillful enough to come off as confident in that initial 7 to 10 seconds.

But I think the choreography seems to almost be like a second level where it’s beyond just process and beyond following what you’re been told what to do. But instead, using your experience and your business acumen and your knowledge in the role to actually navigate that buyer’s specific instance.

I think one thing we haven’t talked about is beyond just whether a buyer is qualified or not, beyond whether a buyer is interested or not, they’re people that get busy.  So another thing you’ve got to think about is how to navigate a conversation where someone is rushing you or if someone is just super distracted.

Those are things an SDR just following a script is going to have challenges addressing.  So I wanted to transition, Gabrielle, into that choreography piece.  I want to go beyond just following the script and really understanding how do you and your reps prepare for cold calling and what’s the process that you guys use to successfully dance with the prospects on a cold call with confidence.

Gabrielle: Yeah! So I will be honest, I’m in week three at being at Gong. So I’m still learning how we do all these things and even still being new, I have this natural proclivity to challenge some of the conventional wisdom as to how we do things. So I can reflect back on the ways that I have approached sales development, how I have coached people in past organizations as well.

In thinking about how to prepare for the cold call, I thought about how we are going to open up the call to begin with, right? Because if we’re able to figure that piece out, that’s going to influence the preparation that we need to have.  So it can start off at the account level, like what’s going on in the account that makes us a qualified account. And then who are the people I need to go and reach out to who could benefit from having a conversation with us.  

From that… The way that I researched was what is their role? What kind of projects or initiatives are they supporting?  The way that I am going to get this information is most likely over LinkedIn. Or maybe if I’m not able to find anything on LinkedIn, then press release or company news. And there’s names associated to that. I have to kind of make an educated guess.  

So I am going to go by titles and if I don’t know, I’ll let them know that! It’s like, “Hey Alex, I was doing some research on your company, I noticed that you were involved in this piece here. Here is what our company does and I understand that you might not be the person responsible for this. I was curious though, how would you recommend I go about learning more?”

So really what I am doing is I am saying, “hey listen I don’t really know fully and completely what is going on here and so I am asking you for help. Help me understand. What would you recommend?”

I think with this mindset, the mindset that we have to adopt is people want to help. People want to help people out, right? That to me was a very successful approach because I might have not gotten the direct person I needed to get, but I am having a conversation with somebody who knows something that I don’t know.

So they are giving me information, they’re giving me intelligence, they’re really equipping me with the information that I need to know.  So when I do go and talk to that decision maker or that executive, even if that executive is busy, it’s like, “Hey listen: here are three things I know about your account, here’s one challenge area, here is how we can address this, I know you are super busy but do you have time next week for us to connect for 10 minutes?”

Right? So that even embraces the “somebody’s busy”… it’s like, “Listen I know you’re busy!” Let’s just call this out at the beginning of this. Or like, “Hey listen I don’t know what I’m doing! Let me call that out at the beginning of this and here’s why I’m calling you. Please help me.”

So that is kind of the approach that I have had for kicking things off and also for thinking about in terms of preparation.  If I can’t find what I need, I am not going to allow that to stop me from making a call and potentially getting that information from other people.

Alex: Yeah and it really touches on what you had talked about a little bit earlier is making the prospect feel important.  Either you are asking what they’re doing so you’re, “Oh I have this important role on the team. You probably want to speak to me,” is sorta what you want going on in their head.

Or if you know they’re busy and you know they’re the right person, tell them they’re busy and they will be like, “Yes I am a very busy person. I’ve got a lot to do. I’ve got a lot on my plate and I don’t have time for you right now”.  But if you’re offering, “Well do you have time next week?” Because no one knows what they’re doing next week on their calendar, it opens up that possibility that this person as a prospect, this person respected me, this person respected my time, so maybe now I’ll give them time because the product sounded interesting, or what have you.

Gabrielle: Yeah, I do think it is important to… This is probably more information than we can discuss in the time that we have today, but paying attention to the tone, paying attention to even the nuances of the person’s voice.

So if someone sounds rushed, if there’s noise in the background, to try and harp on them to say like… “Oh hey I’m busy.” “Oh do you have a quick 10 seconds?” “I’m busy.” “Oh just a quick 10 seconds…”

At that point in time you just sound desperate. Being able to gauge over the phone is a little more difficult, but really being in tune and fully present in that conversation that you are having likely will lend you to having a better guess as to are they legitimately busy or are they just pushing you off and it’s just like a knee jerk reaction.

Greyson: Exactly. And this kind of goes to the importance of context in cold conversations, on both sides. I think you made a good point and we talked about it of like… If they are busy, you need to conduct the cold call differently than if someone was to answer positively and say, “Hey what’s up?”

On the other side, one of the hidden nuggets that you put in here when you talked about your choreography process is that you are trying to prepare with context to make the conversation easier. Easier to participate in and easier to actually accept because at the very beginning we talked about usually SDRs are either desperate or usually backing prospects into a corner. 

But if you can bring enough context or at least show that you have done enough research to make the context of the conversation more valuable, that’s going to increase the chances that you connect with them positively by a lot. as opposed to, “Hi my name is Greyson. I’m calling from SDRev. Let me tell you a pitch about my product,” and then go into the pitch.

That works sometimes. It can pick up in-market buyers. But for the most part, for qualified buyers that aren’t immediately ready to buy, it can be a turn off to hear a pitch after a pitch. So that was a really good call out there about the importance of context.

Gabrielle: Yeah, definitely. So one thing I… We talk about value deposits in digital communication. I think you also have value deposits in spoken communication with someone over a call. So what this means is… so it’s not to say you don’t give a pitch. You just don’t take a minute and a half or two minutes to give your pitch.

But instead you’re bringing somebody… This gets into the choreography piece, right? So if I’m having a conversation with you Greyson and I just want to know – and maybe I have a podcasting tool of some sort which makes it a lot easier to run these things – and so like, “Hey Greyson, I was doing some research. I saw that you and your buds are doing a podcast right now. I have something that is making that process a lot easier. So, first and foremost, I know it’s easier, but I want to know what easier means for you and how valuable easier can be for you.”

So instead of talking about all the different ways I make things easier, I’m just going to ask you the question. Like, “Walk me through what’s your role. I know you’re part of a team, but what’s your role specifically? How are you involved? What’s most important to you today? And why is that important?”

So when I ask this question of “How are you involved today,” and let’s say you give me three different options and I know what the options are because I have done my research, I’ve gone through onboarding, I have some insights. I understand the context of the world in which you operate in and how you engage with that. And I know the value props of the three different value pillars.

Then when you respond to me, I’d go “Okay that is super interesting. I work with someone over here who does the exact same thing and here’s where they’re seeing value,” and I’m going to ask you a second question after that.

And that value piece, that embrace, value, launching with another question will take you all of 15 seconds. Every time you give me information, I will give you something valuable and then I ask you something else. 

So that is the way in which we are exchanging. I am bringing you into the dialogue. I’m not overloading you with information. I’m learning about you along the way.

And by the end of this conversation, most of the time at the end of the conversation, we’re laughing and having a good time and we’ve been on the phone for 15 minutes.

And even though you will say, “I’m not going to take the next call with you,” I’m like, “Listen we’ve been talking for 15 minutes already. You could have learned everything you wanted to learn 2 times over now if we had just booked the call initially.

So at that point in time, it’s like, “Okay you’re right. Let’s go.” I think that is the easiest way to get a person to agree to taking a meeting and enjoying the process with you along the way.

Alex: Yeah and I think one of the important things that that does is keeps the conversation relevant. I think that’s one of the things a lot of newer SDRs don’t really understand is that you don’t need to – and you shouldn’t – share the whole product, share all the value props with the first person that picks up the phone, right?

You want to figure out what is important to them and then really just focus on those things. Cause the demo or the product overview or whatever the next step is, that’s when the prospect will bring on their team. The sales rep will go through all the value.

You don’t need to do that, you just need to convince the one person that this is good for them in this specific way, regardless of how it affects the rest of the team and I think that is something that is really important. You said, “It’s one of three roles,” hypothetically, right? And you know what those are because you did your research and then you know and you say, “Not this role. Not this role. They’re this one!” Let’s dive into this side of the conversation and let’s talk about this aspect of the product. That sort of thing.

Gabrielle: Something really important to share is that some SDRs today don’t need to feel that they need to overload someone with product information. I would also say that a rep coming in month two of their job that specific employers are not going to have that in-depth conversation. However, the goal would be to… With each conversation you have, the goal: progress can be measured in the elongation of the conversation. 

Your call at two months and your call at six months is going to look widely different. But that is the goal, that is the aspiration that an SDR can have when thinking about, “How can I build the ability to have longer conversations?”

Alex: That’s a really good point. Before we wrap this all up, do you have any final advice for SDRs or managers that’s more actionable, that they can really take away from this and put their head down and really start working on when it comes to mastering the art of cold calling and the choreography of it?

Gabrielle: Yeah, so I truly believe the power of stories is very impactful in cold calls and how you develop the abilities to truly tell those stories is through listening to the customers of your employer as well as prospects who are moving along the funnel. If you’re able to be just a sales development rep but instead embody the essence of, “I am a channel or medium” here.

If you have a lot of interface with your market, use their words, use their language, speak how they speak, and that is likely what is going to be super key for you in being able to have those deeper conversations. Because if you speaking two different languages, it’s going to be hard to stay engaged.

But if you are communicating in a way that is harmonious and resonates with the way that your prospect thinks and speaks, that is going to trigger something incredibly positive and productive for the conversation you are looking to have. Listen to the calls, use Gong, I don’t know – that’s the plug!

Greyson: I totally agree and I think this all kind of wraps around to the fact that you must align with your buyers. An SDR in one industry or space plugged into another industry or space would have a tough time with no training applying their same cold calling process trying to get conversations. 

It’s very nuanced and I think you made multiple great points here about asking good questions, to build context, creating stories to harmonize with the buyer, and to really paint the picture that you’re not just an SDR checking boxes or asking qualifying questions or bothering them, but you’re actually a clouty authority.

Someone in the industry who comes in on a call and all of a sudden you’re asking really personalized, direct questions that not only are a pattern disrupt, but immediately exchange value that says, “Wow this person is probably worth talking to, at least for more than seven seconds.” So I think this is so beautiful. A lot of gold nuggets in this episode!

So Gabrielle, thank you for joining us today to dive into the choreography of cold calling. It’s been really awesome. Before we wrap up, where can people find more about you or about Gong?

Gabrielle: I always recommend find me on LinkedIn: Gabrielle Blackwell. And then, for Gong – I mean Gong has so much great content – you can go to Gong.io, follow on LinkedIn, there’s always some good stuff going on. But yeah, those would be the main places I’d recommend to check us out.

Greyson: Awesome, thank you so much Gabrielle. This has been Greyson, Alex for The SDRealness Podcast. Until next time SDRs , keep it real!

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