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How to turn a low-performing rep into a quota-beating rep

October 12, 2021

It’s no secret that SDRs have the toughest job in B2B sales.

The long hours. The monotony. The rejection.

The feeling sometimes that no matter how hard you work, how hard you try, your targets are slipping further and further out of reach.

The pressure can take a heavy toll on a rep’s performance and well-being.

Especially if their team leader doesn’t care and tells them to “just get on with it.”

At Cognism, we don’t train those kinds of sales leaders.

Hugh Campbell and Ole Pugh are two of our SDR Managers. Between them, they manage a total of 24 SDRs - and being ex-SDRs themselves, they know all about the role and how difficult it can be.

We asked Hugh and Ole a question: how do you turn a low-performing rep into a quota-beating rep?

Scroll 👇 for all the intel you need to help an SDR go from sales zero to sales hero!

How to identify a low-performing rep | How to approach a low-performing rep | Improving a rep’s cold calls | Improving a rep’s admin | Improving a rep’s motivation | Sign up for Cognism’s Sales Leader Digest

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How to identify a low-performing rep

The first step for a sales leader is to actually recognise that the SDR is in trouble.

For Ole, it’s all in the numbers.

“Sales is very metrics-driven. If the rep is significantly behind on their KPIs, then that’s an instant signal to you that something’s wrong.”

How might this look in practice?

“In its simplest form, this will be the number of Meetings Attended they’ve got in comparison to the rest of the team.”

“Let’s say it’s Week 1 of the month and the majority of the team have reached 30-40% of target, but somebody’s not off the mark yet. That’s a red flag to step in and investigate.”

To spot a low-performing SDR, sales leaders need to be on top of the data. You’ll need to be tracking team and individual KPIs daily.

Robert Hourie, Director at Gempool Recruitment, shared this tip:

“I run an audit each week, both with performing and non-performing sales staff. I assess key metrics such as calls made, call duration, contacts added, and how often these contacts are contacted. These stats tell a lot.”

How to approach a low-performing rep

It’s no good to swagger over to the SDR’s desk and scream at them “Why haven’t you hit your targets?!”

Hugh Campbell’s advice is to tread softly and get an idea of their headspace.

“The first thing to do is to schedule a meeting with them. Present the data to them and then just ask them how they’re feeling and why they think this might be happening.”

“Low-performance for an SDR is a symptom, not the cause. There’s always going to be something behind it. It’s your job as their manager to find out what.”

In Hugh’s experience, it could be one of five reasons:

  1. Poor time management - they’re either spending too much or too little time on admin, or they’re finding it hard to self-motivate.
  2. Activity is low - they’re simply not making enough cold calls or sending enough emails.
  3. Targeting is wrong - they’re using incorrect or outdated lead lists, or are chasing the wrong verticals or territories.
  4. Pitching is a problem - they’re going way off-script on their cold calls.
  5. Tonality needs work - what is their attitude on the phone? If they don’t sound positive or excited about the product they’re trying to sell, then the prospect won’t be excited about it, either.

Hugh said:

“Listen to the SDR’s call recordings before you have the meeting with them. This will usually tell you where the problem lies.”

“If the SDR’s activity is high, they’re working hard but their calls still aren’t landing, then that’s usually down to gaps in their sales ability. That’s where you can step in with some extra training.”

“If the SDR’s activity is low, you listen back to their calls and there’s no energy or spark there, then that will likely be a motivation issue. In which case, perhaps the SDR will need some time off or extra support from the business.”

The bottom line is: as their manager, it’s up to you to unearth the problem behind a rep’s poor performance.

Only then can you take steps to help them.

And when approaching your struggling SDR, keep this quote from Ben Walker, Founder and CEO at Transcription Outsourcing LLC, in mind:

“Keep a positive mindset at all times. SDRs can feel when their manager is in a negative space. Sales is all about positivity.”

Improving a rep’s cold calls

Speaking with your rep will give you a rough idea of what’s going wrong.

But to really get to the root of it, you have to dig deeper.

For Hugh, this is done by listening to the rep’s calls.

“The hardest thing to deal with is if the rep is putting in the work but still isn’t seeing any results. Going over their calls means you’ll quickly get to the bottom of it.”

There are several reasons why a rep’s cold calls can end in rejection:

  • The opening - the rep doesn’t do enough to hook the prospect early on and keep them interested.
  • Tonality - the way the rep speaks is off-putting to the prospect, or the rep isn’t doing enough to build rapport.
  • The pitch - how the rep describes the product and its benefits aren’t gripping enough, or they haven’t fully personalised them to the prospect.
  • The close - either the rep doesn’t spot an opportunity to close earlier in the call, or they’re not being direct enough.

Hugh told us:

“What you have to do is break the call into sections. Find out which bit of the call is going wrong, then provide the rep with solutions.”

“It could be that their pitch isn’t working, for example - in which case, they’ll need more product knowledge. Arrange for your SDR to sit in on training sessions with your product team. Tell them to watch demos from your AEs or listen to recordings of successful cold calls.”

“If it’s a problem with their closing ability, then schedule some roleplay calls with the SDR. Have either you or a senior colleague pretend to be a prospect and run the call as if it was real.”

“Tell the rep to focus on being more direct and go for a firmer close. Roleplaying means that this will quickly become second nature for them.”

Hugh’s key takeaway:

“The best thing to do is show your rep what success looks like, then go over it again and again until they’re confident doing it on their own.”

And here’s something else you can try, courtesy of Ken Lambert, President at The North American Association of Sales Engineers:

“Consider having your rep shadow one or two of the SDRs that are always doing a great job. This helps them to see that it’s possible to succeed at the job.”

Improving a rep’s admin

Cold calling is one half of an outbound sales job; the other half is admin.

It can make or break a rep’s performance.

Ole shared his insights into this:

“If the rep is booking meetings but getting bad attendance rates, then that’s usually a problem with their admin.”

“Maybe their follow-ups aren’t landing or they’re not using content well. Are they doing enough multi-channel prospecting? Are they booking in meetings too slowly? If you don’t set a task immediately after a call, you will forget. Are they not following up often enough? If a prospect doesn’t respond, it’s up to the rep to chase.”

“One scenario I see a lot is the rep demonstrating value on a call, but then they don’t book the prospect in soon enough. If you sit on a call with a prospect, and you get them to agree to attend a demo, but then the demo isn’t for another two weeks, then the prospect will forget what the call was about.”

“Luckily there’s a really easy fix to this. Get the SDR to book in same-day or next-day demos. This will ensure that your product and its value is at the forefront of the prospect’s mind. You’re striking while the iron’s hot!”

Ole stressed the importance of regular communication:

“A good idea is to send out an agenda recapping the conversation, either the day or night before the demo. This keeps your name and your company’s name fresh in the prospect’s mind. The rep should also call the prospect the night or morning before the demo, confirming attendance.”

What if the rep does all this and the prospect still doesn’t turn up?

Ole said:

“It’s very likely that the prospect just isn’t seeing the value. That’s when the SDR needs more training. Are they qualifying correctly?”

We asked Ole about some other things that could be impeding a rep’s progress. What if their emails aren’t being responded to?

“Emails are all about personalisation. Is the rep writing generic messages that aren’t personalised to their prospects? Are they sharing content that isn’t relevant to that decision-maker and their business? Those are things I look out for.”

What if the rep isn’t taking advantage of other channels, such as video and social media?

“You have to diversify in B2B sales; phone and email alone won’t make you a quota-beating rep. You have to stand out in a crowd. Decision-makers are all busy people and they’re all different. They might not pick up the phone, they might not reply to an email - but they might respond if you send them a video or a LinkedIn voice note.”

“That’s why we encourage multi-channel prospecting at Cognism - using video, using LinkedIn, to grab a prospect’s attention.”

“And if a rep struggles with this, then what we do is set them achievable goals - for instance, sending out 10 Vidyards a week. Or sending 5 LinkedIn messages a day. Anything that gets them used to making multi-channel part of their daily routine.”

Ole’s key takeaway:

“Set your low-performing rep weekly micro-targets and keep them accountable for hitting them.”

Irene Wambui Muchai, Business Development Director at Online Optimism, gave us this tip for helping SDRs overcome admin woes:

“HubSpot sales certifications are well worth investing in. As a tool for keeping SDRs organised, they will quickly pay for themselves in improved performance.”

Improving a rep’s motivation

Of course, it may not be that the rep is failing due to a lack of sales skills.

It could be down to a lack of personal motivation.

If that’s the case, what should you as their manager do then?

Hugh said:

“It could be as simple as them needing some time off. Sales is a hard job and everyone needs a break. If there’s something outside of work that they’re struggling with, then I would point them in the direction of HR or Spill, our mental health support.”

Ole told us it was imperative to discover the reasons behind the motivation drop:

“What you often find when you ask a rep why they’ve lost their motivation is that they don’t have any sense that they’re developing. The SDR role is very cyclical; it often feels like Groundhog Day, like you’re going through the same motions again and again. It can become very tedious for salespeople, who are naturally ambitious and hungry for more.”

Hugh helps his reps overcome this by explaining their progression path.

“Show them what the progression looks like - where they can expect to be if they turn things around, and what they need to achieve to make it there. Break it down into stages for them, so it becomes less daunting.”

“You could also try reaffirming their compensation. Remind the rep what they could earn if they start hitting their targets again. The truth is that compensation is a key motivator for a lot of salespeople; it’s why so many of us were drawn to the industry in the first place.”

Ole agreed:

“I use a commission calculator in my team. You put in what the rep’s forecasted to make, then it gives you the number of what will actually end up in their bank account that month. That’s a very good motivator - as Hugh said, people in sales are usually keen to make more money!”

And if all else fails, Hugh had one final suggestion to transform a low-performing rep into a quota-beating one:

“Don’t underestimate the power of incentives! Say to the rep, if you hit your target this week, I’ll give you an Amazon voucher. If you hit your target next week, I’ll buy you lunch.”

“Again, it’s all about giving the SDR tiny micro-targets to work towards. Over a month, those micro-targets will build up, and if the rep is achieving them, then they’ll be on course to beat their quota.”

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