The SDR X Factor is a series of long-form stories that aim to reveal what sets top-performing sales reps apart. How do they go about their day? What do their cold calling and cold emailing strategies look like? How are they crushing quota every time? We extract their key strategies, tips and tricks so you can sell better.
In the fifth part of this series, we are meeting Nikita Solberg, a top-performing Sales Development Representative (SDR) at Deel, a fintech platform focused on payroll and compliance to help entrepreneurs pay and onboard employees from anywhere in the world. (As of January 2023, Nikita is a BDR at Superside.)
Prior to this, Nikita was an SDR for a year-and-a-half at Hibob, an HR software firm. Having been a salesperson for around 2 years now, we spoke to them on their processes, routines, and what sets them apart.
1) How a Musician Became an SDR
“I wanted to do music all my life, in any way possible,” Nikita says. They completed both undergraduate and master's programs in music performance specializing in orchestra, and were on their way to becoming a full-time musician.
So, what changed?
“There was this unfortunate happenstance called the pandemic,” Nikita chuckles.
Like many industries that were upended by the pandemic, the live music industry came to a screeching halt under the weight of the lockdowns and restrictions. “It was really challenging to keep playing because there was just no way to financially support myself at the time. So, I was interested in exploring other options.”
With their fellow musicians entering industries like tech, Nikita, too, looked for opportunities in other industries, and found that the soft skills that they had cultivated in the hustle and bustle of their live music career would translate well into sales. “Being able to speak to people, get to network with people and meeting people from all different backgrounds is exactly what you do when making a freelancing music career. I think that's what really bridged the gap between music and sales.”
💡During their previous stint as an SDR at HiBob, Nikita managed to exceed their quota in all four quarters of 2021 and attributed to over $800,000 ARR in new business that year. Their streak continued at Deel as they hit quota of 100% and 116% during their second and third months respectively.
i) What Sets Them Apart?
- Being comfortable with rejection:
In their musician days, Nikita used to attend as many as 30 auditions and had faced back-to-back rejections before finally landing a gig. So, facing rejection is something they are very comfortable with, and has come in handy while switching to sales.
Also, this perseverance helps to keep their prospecting efforts at a good pace — they make between 50 to 70 cold calls and send about 100 cold emails in a day.
- The goal of the call is “not to book a meeting” but connecting with prospect:
Nikita says the best way to book meetings is by “really connecting” with the prospect during the outreach. “I really dig down into what's keeping them up at night and why what you're selling matters to them,” they say.
They try to establish a positive connection with prospects by focusing on providing value and having a “consultative approach” to help. “My goal by the end of the call is for them to know who I am, what I do, and how they can reach out in the future. My goal is definitely not to book a meeting every time.”
2) Breaking Down Nikita’s Cold Calling Secrets
Between cold calling and cold emailing, Nikita prefers cold calling because of its “immediacy.” “One thing I like about it is because it's very quick. That’s why I spend so much time cold calling, because it is so easy to get that yes or no.”
Now let’s delve into how has Nikita perfected the cold calling process:
i) Researching a Prospect in 5 Minutes
Nikita blocks five minutes per account for researching prospects. This also makes it fun, almost like a game show as they have to find “all the relevant information without wasting time,” they say.
Right after selecting the prospect, Nikita starts a timer for 5 minutes and hurriedly skims through whatever details or engagement history is available about the prospect in the sales engagement platform. Then they quickly dive into the prospect’s important company details like market share or interesting information like funding news via online resources like Crunchbase or Craft.co.
To do this for 10-15 accounts, they block an hour or two in the mornings.
ii) Reaching Out via Email Before Cold Calling
Nikita found that opening a cold call with “Hey, I’m following up on the email I sent your way. Have you had a chance to review it?” proves successful. They make a cold call after they’ve sent a cold email—kind of like warming the call first.
“It builds that connection immediately because it tells the prospect this is not the first time that this person has reached out,” they explain. They noted that this gets the prospect to search for the subject line while being on call with them.
iii) Asking Open-Ended Questions During the Call
Questions like “Is it a good time to talk?” and “Can I borrow you for a few seconds?” are strict no-nos for Nikita during cold calls. “Because you're already opening the door for them to say ‘no’,” they say.
Avoiding such yes-no or generic questions, they instead ask open-ended questions that allow prospects to focus on themselves, thereby prolonging the conversations. Some open-ended questions they ask are: “What are some of the things that have been eating up your time lately?” and “What are some of the unnecessary tasks you've had to do instead of some of the things you'd rather be working on?”
iv) Handling Objections by Disarming
One of the crucial yet tricky parts of cold calling is handling objections. It can be difficult, especially for new SDRs, to know how to reply to the various objections posed by the prospects. Nikita tells us how they manage to handle objections in daily cold calls.
a) Objection: “I’m Not Interested.”
This objection could be a knee-jerk reaction, Nikita observes, as everyone is inherently not comfortable with being sold something by a stranger.
Once the prospect says this, they try to disarm this situation by saying something on the lines of “I get that being sold to is super uncomfortable, but I wanted to reach out because…” and provide a value statement to say why they specifically reached out to them. This could potentially establish a connection with the prospect. “You know who they are, you know what they do, and you have a potential fix to a potential problem that they might have,” Nikita notes.
b) Objection: “How Did You Get This Number?”
As part of their disarming approach, Nikita apologizes to the prospect first and follows it up with the line, “Is there a better number to reach you at? Just so I can make sure to forward any relevant information.”
Next, they ask whether they can talk a little bit more about the prospect’s processes in an effort to establish a connection. “People are more willing to talk to you about what they're struggling with, and they forget that you called them on their cell phone.”
c) Objection: “We Already Have a Solution in Place.”
This objection is a tricky one, but it is important to not lose your cool while explaining why your solution could be a better option. Here, Nikita uses humor for this objection. Once the prospect says this, they say, “Are you married to that solution? Or are you willing to date around?”
“It always gets a laugh because it's kind of unexpected,” they say.
d) Objection: “I’m Not the Right Person.”
When they reach the wrong person while cold calling a prospect, Nikita apologizes first. Once the prospect is comfortable talking further, they would attempt to learn more about the company by saying something along the lines of: “I want to make sure that I can provide the relevant information. Do you mind sharing a little more about maybe some of your responsibilities and where are some areas that potentially we could help with that?”
e) Objection: “I Don’t Have the Time.”
Once again, they deploy humor to counter this objection. They reply, “That's exactly why I'm calling! You say you don't have time and I think our solution could help you save time. Setting up a 10-15 minute meeting could potentially save you hours down the road, and I think that's why we should keep chatting.”
v) Reaching a Gatekeeper
“I’ve definitely hit some frustrated gatekeepers in my time,” Nikita chuckles.
If they’ve already reached out to another person in the same company and then encounter a gatekeeper, Nikita would say something like, “I recently reached out to so-and-so at this department. They said it was interesting and that I should reach out to this department.”
Admitting that this could be “bending the truth a little,” they add that this provides the social proof, which would help them in getting by with the gatekeepers.
vi) First/Worst Cold Calls
a) First Cold Call:
“My very first cold call – I was probably crying! It definitely had a lot of “ums,” definitely had a lot of “I don't know what to say next,” and I think it was rather short because I hadn't quite understood that you can keep people on the phone for long. I don't think I booked a meeting. No, I definitely did not book a meeting.”
b) Worst Cold Call:
Nikita recollects a role play they did with a colleague during their initial days as an SDR. “I reached out and I said, ‘Hey so-and-so, it's Nikita calling you from here. How are you doing today?’ And in the role play, my colleague goes, ‘I'm doing bad. My dog died.’ It was so unexpected, but that kind of flipped the switch of really approaching cold calls with a focus or a value prop in mind.”
vii) Nikita’s Tips for a Smooth Cold Calling Process:
a) Follow-up After Disconnected Calls
If some prospects end up being a bit hostile and disconnect the call, Nikita suggests following up through an email that defuses the tension a bit. The email could be along the lines of: “It seems like we were disconnected. The reason I'm reaching out is [blank]. Maybe now wasn't a great time to talk. We’d love to see if something else can happen.”
b) Know That You Have Something To Offer
For beginner SDRs, cold calling dozens of prospects in a day can be intimidating at first. One way to overcome this and elongate the calls, as per Nikita, is to understand deep down that you have something valuable to offer. They add: “For me, there was a big shift in my sales career between feeling like I'm bothering people with every call, to understanding that I have something to offer them. I think once I switched from that, it was a lot more successful.”
c) Practice—the Only Way To Get Better
“Something I learned with my music work is, you just have to keep doing it. There's no way you're going to get better if you don't do it and practice and you learn more of what you're comfortable with and what you're not comfortable with. And being comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.”
3) Nikita’s Cold Emailing Process
As an SDR, Nikita says they reach out to around 100 prospects a day via cold emailing. Also, the first metric they check in the morning are the email open rates. Here are some of the key takeaways from their cold emailing process.
i) Keeping Personalization Authentic
Personalizing cold emails with basic information available on the prospect’s LinkedIn or other socials is “inauthentic,” according to Nikita. Their personalization would be on a “professional level” and connect to what matters to the prospect’s position. “Learning more of their role at the company brings more of a professional relationship aspect to it.”
#1. Prospect recently moved to a new company.
- Personalization: “I was curious if there's anything that stood out to you” about the new company.
#2. Prospect is a senior employee with several years of experience in the organization.
- Personalization: “I was curious if there's something that you've been wanting to change for a year or two, and haven't had the tools to do so.”
They do not use videos or images for personalizing cold emails. “I think when you're doing more high volume outreach, you don't necessarily have the time to spend on videos. I love to see more of them because I like performing. I think it's from my music background. But personalization in the emails is understanding and presenting relevant information to them.”
ii) Personalizing Based on Prospect’s Engagement and Role
“I don't want to personalize every single email,” they say. Personalizing according to the prospect’s engagement and their position works well, they observe.
“I'm more of a fan of personalizing later in the process — after they've opened a couple of emails. I like personalizing, especially for the person you'd probably be signing off on the product. So the decision makers, I think usually I go for that more personalization. I'll probably send mails to people who aren't decision makers, but they're likely going to be less personalized.”
iii) Keeping Subject Lines Short
Their subject lines are usually just 3 to 5 words long. “A lot of people are checking their emails on their phone nowadays. They can really only read a couple of words on their phone.” As with the email copy, their subject lines are personalized towards the prospect’s company.
iv) Having a Simple Breakup Email Template
Nikita advocates having a “super quick” breakup email template for prospects who turn cold, which has gotten them some replies.
Their template goes something like, “Maybe I missed my mark. Do you mind letting me know why?” and lists out three objections:
- We already have a solution in place.
- We don't have the budget for it.
- Not interested.
Among these, the breakup email asks prospects to just reply with a number — 1, 2 or 3. “People are busy, they don't want to spend time typing out. They just want something easy.”
4) Tête-à-Tête With Nikita
i) One Thing That You Will Not Compromise on When It Comes to Work-Life Balance:
“My rule is, 'Doing what I have to do so I can do what I love to do.' Having the flexibility to be able to still play music — the only way that's possible is if I'm also performing at my job.”
ii) What Do You Do After Work To Rejuvenate Yourself:
“I definitely like going to concerts. I like playing music when I have the chance to. I like traveling.”
iii) Favorite Sales Books:
“Not too big into sales books, to be honest. One of my favorites is Barry Green's The Inner Game of Music, adapted after The Inner Game of Tennis, which concerns how to learn and deal with stressful situations.”
iv) Favorite Sales Experts on LinkedIn:
v) Best Sales Advice That I Ever Received:
“Just keep an open mind.”
Interviewed and written by: Akileish R