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Unlocking SDR potential: advice from a B2B sales leader

Are you living in Sam Nelson’s world?

If outbound sales and sequences are your thing too, then yes, yes you are!

If not, then you’re going to want to stop alienating yourself and read on...because we’re going to dive into tips that are out of this world!

So, buckle in and prepare for some fantastic advice on how to unlock your team’s potential.

Scroll through to see what Sam Nelson, SDR Leader at Outreach, thinks you should do to get the most out of your reps 👇

Sell pizza on the phone | Don’t personalise every touch | Measure your output | When to train for the next role | Listen to the podcast

Sell pizza on the phone

Wait, what?

“We’re a SaaS company - don’t be ridiculous!” - you, probably.

But Sam reckons this is the best way to instil confidence in your reps.


Well, getting your reps to make bad calls is the best way for them to overcome call reluctance.

Sam explains:

“If they don’t pick up the phone, they’re going to plateau at about half their potential. Oftentimes, SDRs will come in from companies who hit their reduced quota through email and they will think that is fine. In reality, they’re going to have a much harder time if they’re not picking up the phone.”

You’ve got to try different things to see what works for you, but Sam recommends...

Pizza sales

Yep, selling pizza on a cold call.

What you do is gather your SDRs (in person or virtually) and give them a list of prospects.

Then, you tell them that they’re going to be cold calling people to sell them pizzas.

Of course, no one actually sells a pizza.

Which makes you think - “Why are we doing this?”

Well, it’s to get your SDRs exposed to a high rate of rejection very quickly.

Sam explains why this works:

“They’re going to get connects all the time and get rejected about 20 times in a row. If someone happens to sell a pizza that’s great but it’s not the point. You’re trying to get your reps used to rejection.

They’ll be making the most awkward cold calls of their life, on day one, but the outcome is that they realise that it’s not that bad. It’s almost like exposure therapy - getting them used to it and letting them see that it’s not terrible.”

And once they’ve got the pizza selling down, your reps need to know 👇

Don’t personalise every touch 

This is likely the complete opposite of what you’ve heard about cold outreach, but bear with us as Sam unpacks this!

Your reps need to be spending as much time as possible on sales activities.

That’s why Outreach doesn’t have individual reps sitting and writing sequences for their cold email outreach.

Their sequences are designed for them based on the Agoge sequence.

“You’ve got to design your sequences so that they maximise your reps’ autonomy. That’s why we use the Agoge sequence. It takes the customisation of personalisation that the SDR has done, and milks that as much as possible. You can milk a sequence up to 10 different times and save your reps a lot of time.”

SDRs don’t need to be reinventing the wheel on sequences. They just need a few that they can use.

Some should be for high priority prospects and some for other situations.

They’ll need to A/B test these, use what works and get rid of what doesn’t.

Where does personalisation come into all of this?

The key is to ensure:

Personalisation at the beginning

Upfront and right at the beginning is when you need to personalise your outreach.

Not at every touchpoint, as Sam says.

“If you personalise every touch, it’s going to take you 5-10 times longer to execute that sequence. The downside of this is that you then only reach out to a fifth of a tenth of the number of people you need to reach out to and that’s not optimal.

That’s why you need to do your personalisation upfront and then maximise it as much as possible. But, if the prospect is not responding to that, you need to try something else - personalisation is not for everyone.”

Here’s how to “milk” your sequence:

  • Personalise the first email.
  • Then, set up two reply emails replying to the first email - this can be one line drawing attention to the first email for a second and third time.

“This goes against everything that every thought leader says about cadences, but you’re getting traction on one personalised email three times, and it works really well.

Another plus and time-saver with this approach is that you have that personalisation on file and can pull it up on your cold calls. The effort you put into that personalisation is then maximised again.”

And how do you see whether all of this is actually working?

Well, you 👇

Measure your output

As B2B sales leaders, we can either be activity driven or output driven.

What we measure depends on our team’s lead generation KPIs.

What does Sam think we should be measuring?

Before looking at your KPIs, you’ve got to think about what your reps are quotaed on and what they’re compensated on.

This is always number one!

Then, look at your dial number and whether your reps are hitting this with their strategy.

Plus, you should measure or have a number on your high priority sequences.

“My SDRs will put 20 people a day into a sequence that uses the Agoge structure. You need to stay consistent with this. If your reps try to put 100 people in at the beginning of the week, they have to write 100 emails that day and then there’s no activity the next day, or a wave of activity that they can’t keep up with.”

Your performance measurement checklist should also include:

Qualified meetings held with the AE 

This is when your AE accepts the SDR’s qualified prospect meeting into their pipeline.

You can change your qualification criteria as your business grows.

If you’re a startup and moving toward enterprise sales, you can keep it pretty similar, but this must always be on your list and you always need to evaluate it.

It’s also vital to evaluate your individual reps’ performance too.

Start thinking about 👇

When to train for the next role 

When you have a big team, a supply and demand imbalance can occur when there aren’t enough managers.

That’s why training your SDRs for their next role is crucial. Sam said:

“People who are good SDRs are often really good SDR managers too. They’re probably going to be a great AE if that’s what they want to do. They could even be good at marketing if they wanted to do that.

A problem arises when companies want their headcount doubled in a year and there just aren’t enough SDRs to go around to make that possible.”

What’s best practice for SaaS sales promotions?

To start, look at promoting internally rather than hiring externally 👇


Then, think about what that progression path looks like for your reps.

“Your SDRs can move to every part of your organisation -  you need to make that clear to them upfront. I’ve had SDRs move to Product at Outreach. Most of your SDRs will want to be an AE because it pays the most.”

So, when do you start training them up for their big move?

It’s a mixture between:

  • Giving your reps foundational training, so that when a role opens they’re ready.
  • Training up reps when you can see there’s a gap in between your supply and demand.

Remember that SDRs and AEs need different skill sets to fulfil their roles. Having different training programmes in place is a must.

We asked Sam - what do SDRs need to do in order to make that jump to becoming an AE? This is his list:

  1. Be a top-performing SDR.
  2. Don’t drop the ball in their role transition.
  3. Always look to improve their skills - particularly on discovery calls.

Listen to the podcast 

Sam shared some more fantastic tips with us on Cognism’s Revenue Champions podcast.

You’ll want to tune in to get some of the most sound advice you can pass onto a new SDR!

Listen to the full episode here 👇


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