The secret to building a high-performing SDR team
Devin Reed: This is Reveal: The Revenue Intelligence Podcast. Here to help go- to- market leaders do one thing: stop guessing.
Sheena Badani: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential, then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong Studios.
Sheena Badani: If your SDRs are struggling to put up impressive numbers, it's pretty likely that there's one culprit, data. Or more specifically, the lack of it. They don't have the data to do their job effectively. Quality, accessible data equals better time management, better coaching, and ultimately, more wins for your whole team. Lily Youn knows this well. She's the head of growth at Gradient Works, a sales book management software, where she built the SDR team from the ground up. And it's not the first time she's done it, so she has tons of insights to share around exactly how to use data to level up your outbound teams. Here's our conversation. Lily, welcome to Reveal, we are so thrilled to have you here on the show today.
Lily Youn: Thank you, excited to be a part of it.
Sheena Badani: To kick things off, I know you've built multiple SDR teams, really from the ground up, at a variety of early stage companies. Tell us a little bit more about your process and how you think about building an SDR org?
Lily Youn: Yeah, so I have been a part of three tech organizations, and each of those tech organizations are at different stages. And so my first one was a Series B startup, and I started as an SDR there. And so there were a lot of processes already built out. I made my way through the management role and became director of the 50- person SDR organization. And at that point it was really about taking what we had and figuring out how to optimize and scale it even more. My last startup was a Series A, so was the first sales hire, really got in there to figure out what's our go- to- market strategy or messaging, and then planned out how we should hire and grow our sales team. And then, similar to my current organization inaudible seed funded, and was a first sales hire as well, built out the go- to- market strategy, started hiring and game planning around at what point do I need to have an SDR team to support my account executives in outbound, and setting inbound demos?
Sheena Badani: What is it about sales development that has really attracted you to that space within revenue, revenue leadership, specifically?
Lily Youn: Sales development is a hard job. I know people really see it as a cookie cutter role, a lot of the times, where you're making cold calls, emails, and prospecting, and setting meetings and then handing it off to your account executive for demos. But there's so much more that goes into that work, and actually building out that top of the funnel process, that is really intriguing. It's not just cold calling and emailing, but you're finding creative ways to connect with the people that you're speaking with and really helping them understand what the value is that your company has, plus figuring out is it even a good fit, a good solution for them that could help them and their team. So a part of that is a lot of outbounding, and with all the outbounding, it really gives you an opportunity to dive into building out your metrics, to figure out what's working, what's not working.
Sheena Badani: And if you look at yourself and do a bit of self- reflection, are there particular characteristics or skills that you have uniquely brought to the table that have made you that fantastic fit as an SDR and overarching sales leader?
Lily Youn: I'm a very competitive person by nature, so that really helped, I think, in my SDR role as individual contributor. Over the time, though, I grew a lot and learned a lot from other leaders that mentored me and helped me understand the value of being a SDR leader and how to help people progress throughout their careers. There are different styles of coaching that I've seen a lot of SDR leaders do, and I have to admit I'm very much a data led coach. And usually my go- to is someone brings up a question or they're like," Hey, I'm not sure what the best process is for this or why my numbers aren't showing the way I think they should be or converting my outreach into the right opportunity numbers." And so I always like to have my data aspect, bring that up, to help guide our conversation, but also, over time, I've really learned that it's not just about the data, it's also about the qualitative aspect of how is that rep feeling? What was their mental state when they were making these cold calls? Were they having a really tough day and they honestly just needed a 10 minute, 15 minute break, and then restart and refresh and go back into it? Or were they tip- top condition, they're making a bunch of calls? And let's put both of those together to figure out what we can do better.
Sheena Badani: Well, that's music to my ears, hearing about how data can be used to level up your team and processes overall. Let's dive a little bit further into that. I'd love to hear how you use data in your day- to- day work, related to coaching and even beyond?
Lily Youn: Yeah, especially in my current role. In my previous role as a first sales leader, I was doing a lot of the outbounding and outreaching and documenting my own metrics to have somewhat of a baseline metric. At a certain point, it's hard to continuously do that as you're running demos and closing deals too. Bringing on the team though, after we made the decision to hire for SAE and SDR, it was just like our baseline metric. And that helped really set the tone of expectations from what the team should be reaching for. And a lot of the metrics that we look at are either week- over- week metrics, top of the funnel side, like email sends, accounts worked, calls made, connect rate, email reply rate, and then demo sets, and then how many actually occurred because that's how we have our SDRs comped on, the number of actual demos that happen not just said. And then we just take all those. And then we also do a month- over- month review of all of our metrics. It's nice to collaborate as a team and look back on our previous month's metrics and say like," Hey, we did really well here, we should continue doing some of these things that we did last month," or," This one looks like it's not doing so well, what can we do to get even a one or 2% increase on this conversion rate?"
Sheena Badani: I'd love to hear about any time that you can recall where you used some of that data to make a critical decision for your org?
Lily Youn: We're going through a lot of change in the organization, but what was happening more as we continue to grow, is that our TAM was starting to shrink and we were really trying to also up level our outreach strategy and be much more tailored. And sales is always changing their strategies because buyers are changing the way they buy as well. And so we're going more towards being able to do a lot more tailoring and personalization and research. And so not having as many accounts as a rep used to own wasn't the challenge anymore, it was we give them this upset of accounts. And then what we realized was though, the reps were starting to say," Hey, these accounts that I got, they're not really great," and they would ask us to reevaluate them, give them more accounts. And the way we actually track that, we had a process set up in automation where, if a rep came across an account that wasn't a good fit, that they should not be spending their time working on, we had that a logic created in Salesforce where they could market, and it would be reportable in a Salesforce report and we could see all the reasons why an account was put back into a nurture pool out of the rep's name. And so when we did that, it kind of lined up, honestly, because our reps complaining to their managers and the managers were letting me know. And luckily, we had the data, right? Sometimes it's hard to actually decipher what's maybe a one- off case or maybe it's happened three times in a row and it feels like it's happening all the time. But the data actually has supported a lot of what the reps were mentioning. And so we took that report, I took that data and then figured out where are all the good accounts? That was the task. The good accounts have to be somewhere. And so dived in a bit deeper and found that a lot of the good accounts were being held in a lot of the full- cycle sales reps' names. They could only handle so much as a full- cycle sales rep they're focused on closing deals, yet they weren't actively able to outbound to a lot of them. And so what we did is, took that report, talked to the rev ops team and also the sales leader, and figured out what percentage of those accounts that should be worked and aren't currently being worked in the reps' names, should be redistributed to the SDRs, so that way they can focus their time, because it's a full- time job they have in finding the right accounts and opportunities. So that way they can just focus on outbounding to the right accounts. And so, that's a really good instance where that Salesforce report made that conversation happen and had those new accounts attributed within a day.
Sheena Badani: According to Gartner, 33% of high- growth companies cite SDR time management as one of the top three challenges for their organization. But guess what? That's not a failure on the SDR's part. As sales leaders, it's your job to provide data- driven insights to your SDRs so they can prioritize their time, their outreach, and their cadences, in a way that is going to pay off. Data prevents a rat race of outreach and ensures that your team can use their time in the most effective way possible, freeing up their brain space and giving you peace of mind. Let's get back to it with Lily, as she shares exactly how she and her team utilized this valuable data. Clearly you rely a tremendous amount on data. It seems like you've instilled that in your team. I'd love to hear your perspective, what are the risks at hand for those who don't have this approach, for folks who are not utilizing data as much as you are?
Lily Youn: The good thing is it's never too late to actually start tracking new metrics or tracking the metrics that may be most important to driving your top- of- the- funnel opportunity creation that impacts your bottom- of- the- funnel revenue. So I think the risk of not tracking some of your... especially at an early stage organization, not tracking some of your top- of- the- funnel activities, is that you won't have a baseline. It's going to be hard to really coach your reps on ways to improve, if there's nothing that you can track and say like," Oh, your emails are actually not converting. Let's look into that," or," Oh, your call connects are high, but why aren't those converting into opportunities? Let's just do some more mock calls or coaching sessions there." The risk there is not being able to coach effectively and being targeted. And the way that helps is, let's say you notice after several weeks of metric tracking that call connects are pretty decent, but conversions aren't there. You miss that opportunity to be able to spot that and do like a week of tailored mock call trainings and then have that rep also be able to focus on improving that one specific skillset and then doing reinforcement trainings after that.
Sheena Badani: What I'm hearing is it's never too late, so you can always add more, be better. It's also never too early, so you're never small enough to start thinking about implementing this data- driven approach to running your sales development or broader sales org.
Lily Youn: Exactly, yeah.
Sheena Badani: So why don't we shift the conversation a bit to our top talent, and I'd love to hear some of your perspectives on how you're thinking about recruiting and hiring and also retaining top talent, especially these days. It's harder, we're in a different economy, it's a different situation than we were six to nine months ago. So I'd love to hear about any learnings or best practices that you've discovered?
Lily Youn: This is very near and dear to my heart, because having started at early stage organizations and having no recruiter and the recruiter being me, deep respect for recruiters, by the way. And so, I got to really get into becoming my own recruiter. And I think the biggest things I took away from it was you have the ability to help your organization become more diverse in that aspect of, yeah, you put the job req out there and you get a lot of inbound applicants coming through, but also the outbound side is, I think, really important too. Because there are people that have great talent, that could be a really good fit for your organization, but they just aren't aware of your organization or maybe they're just not looking yet or maybe they are and they just haven't found your organization. So I think being able to do that outbound aspect of finding talent that would meet the criteria for the role that you're looking to hire, is a really impactful way to build more diversity for your team as you continue to grow, which also allows for more people to have an opportunity to see different perspectives from different backgrounds. And I think there's a research that was done around more diverse teams are actually seeing more success with each other and collaborating and getting different perspectives on how they can approach certain challenges together.
Sheena Badani: So from our conversation, I am already starting to hear your passion for diversity in building sales orgs. I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you put this into play as you're building your teams?
Lily Youn: I think it's really about the culture that your company wants to provide and show to people. I think I've had people who've actually reached out because they are like," Hey, it's so refreshing to see female sales leaders in the tech space and would love to learn a little bit more about what you guys are doing, your mission, whatnot." And that's a big challenge, I think. It's gotten better over time, for sure, where you see many more female in leadership roles, but it makes a huge difference when you can see someone who is going to be a role model for you. Honestly, that was a turning point for me, too, and I wasn't even sure if I wanted to get into management. And I started speaking to some female leaders in the organization and I was like," Okay, I think I can do this." Not having that could have been a different situation where I was like," I don't have anybody I can actually talk to about this or feel comfortable," and maybe that would've been... I mean, ultimately, I think I would've gotten into sales management, but it could have been delayed. So I think that it can make a huge difference and the way the company portrays how they value diversity is also really important, whether it's on your job description on your careers page. I would probably take a moment to look at your own careers page and be like," Does this make people, regardless of their background or their ethnicity, feel comfortable, excited to apply and have a conversation with our team?"
Sheena Badani: This is a great takeaway, and something you should put on your two to- do list if you're listening to this episode is go take a look at your job reqs, take a look at the website. What are the images? What are the terminology that's being used there? And how open and inclusive are you to new candidates?
Lily Youn: Yeah. Honestly, that's some feedback I got from my job description when I first posted it. I was like," Man, I would love to get more diverse applicants," and I was like," Well, I wonder what's going on?" And got some feedback from people around like," Yeah, you may want to change some of your wording in here." And I was like," Oh my gosh, I wasn't even aware." And so made those updates and it's always good to just get feedback on things that maybe you didn't realize you were messaging things in a certain way.
Sheena Badani: Do you have any other perspectives on how we can get more women into sales and especially into sales leadership?
Lily Youn: One of the big projects that I'd been working with, with our recruiting team, was getting some of our female sales leaders into speaking sessions at universities and really getting them introduced to the idea that sales isn't scary, it's not only for men for some reason, and that anybody can do it. And honestly, women are really good at sales and they can be very successful. So starting with introducing that concept, when speaking with people that have graduated recently and I asked them, they're like," Hey, have you thought about a career in sales?" They're like," Oh no, I have never thought about it." And I think that just starts with introducing what is sales actually about. I'm also that type of person that will go to places, and if I speak with someone and they're upselling me on their product, I'm like," Oh, this person has a natural sales talent or maybe they've learned this," and I'll ask them," Have you ever thought of going to tech sales?" And I'm like," Not to take you away from your current job, but have you thought it?" And they're like," No, I don't even know what tech sales really is." And so, it's just like those opportunities where, if you see some potential, if you see an opportunity to talk to someone about what tech sales really is about and give them more information, so that way they can make a decision on," Is this something that I want to pursue?" versus not knowing at all and having their own opinion around it based off of what they've seen.
Sheena Badani: Well, I love how you are continuously selling the profession of sales, even outside of your day job. I love to hear those stories and the fact that you're investing, you're investing in your community and in universities, and informing people about possibilities that they didn't even know existed. So that's a really heartwarming way to end this conversation. Lily, we end every episode with the same question, so I'm going to ask you that, too, which is how would you describe sales in one word?
Lily Youn: Ooh. A never- ending marathon that has lots of ups and downs.
Sheena Badani: Lot of dashes in that one. How about marathon?
Lily Youn: Yeah. I've never been asked that question, so yeah, it's a good one. I mean, it is definitely a marathon. You can really burn yourself out if you're not really just making sure you're taking care of your own health and pacing yourself. Speaking from my own experience, and being that person that just is going to work all the time, and trying to get this organization to be as successful as possible, as quickly as possible, and it doesn't help in the long run because then you get cranky Lily on meetings every once in a while and that's not a good thing. So I would call it a marathon, where you really need to make sure that you're pacing yourself and taking care of your mental and physical wellbeing.
Sheena Badani: Cheers to that. Lily, it was fantastic to have you on Reveal today, thanks so much for joining us.
Lily Youn: Yeah, likewise. Thanks for having me.
Sheena Badani: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Reveal. If you want more resources on how revenue intelligence data can help your teams level up, head over to gong. io. If you like what you heard, give us that five- star review on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
If your SDRs are struggling to put up impressive numbers, it’s likely that there’s one culprit: data. Or more specifically, the lack of it. Quality, accessible data equals better time management, better coaching, and ultimately more wins for your whole team.
Lily Youn Jaroszewski knows this well. She’s the head of growth at Gradient Works—a sales book management software—where she built the SDR team from the ground up. And, it’s not the first time she’s done it! On this episode, she’s sharing exactly how to use data to level up your outbound teams.
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