Brooke Lengsfelder, Director of Sales Development at mParticle Discusses Management, Hiring, Team Cohesion and More.
Brooke Lengsfelder (LinkedIn) began her career at TalentBin as an SDR and then as an Account Executive, where she focused both on direct selling and sales enablement and management. From there, Lengsfelder moved on to a startup selling into recruiting agencies, HIRABL where she handled selling, growing, training and managing the sales team, and sales ops. Since then, she has continued to develop her focus on building and growing sales development processes, first at Quid, Inc. and now in the mobile space with mParticle, as their Director of Sales Development. Lengsfelder spoke with us about selecting and onboarding SDRs, and about the delicate balancing act of developing junior candidates into a cohesive and effective team, while concurrently preparing them to move ahead.
What’s a secret for hiring for high-performance? What are the most important characteristics that you look for?
I tend to look for four characteristics: competitiveness, eagerness to make money, attention to detail and organization–I bucket those together–and a hunger to learn. This applies to our products, the industry, what drives our customers, how a business like ours is run, how a startup is run. The list goes on.
A hunger to learn is the most important, because you’ll burn out without intellectual curiosity driving you.
Lastly, I want people who are ambitious self-starters, but they also need to be humble enough to take direct feedback and grow from it.
It’s about asking the right questions. On the initial phone call, the first thing I ask is: “What do you understand about our product from what you’ve researched or read or heard?” Their answer usually makes it pretty clear what level of research they’ve done.
It’s okay if they don’t completely understand what our product does, but if they didn’t try to understand, if they didn’t even look at our customer testimonial videos or read our blog posts, then that’s a red flag.
I ask candidates why they’re interested in mParticle above other tech companies because that indicates whether someone’s running to us or running away from their current company. Tech’s a sexy space right now, and I meet or talk with a lot of people who think they want to work in the industry, but can’t really give solid reasons for why. I like to dig deeper: why mParticle and why the mobile space?
As I’m often dealing with junior candidates, I ask them why they chose the college they attended. If someone chose a school where they didn’t know anyone, for instance, I know they’re okay with pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and doing something that’s uncomfortable for the sake of growth. That’s a good sign, especially because sales development involves a lot of uncomfortable situations, constant rejection, and so on.
I also look for why they’re interested in sales. A lot of candidates say to me, “I love talking with people.” There are a lot of roles that involve talking with people.
I want to know why they’re so excited about sales that they can’t wait to ride that roller coaster. It’s definitely a roller coaster and It’s not always pleasant. You really have to love the thrill of the win; it has to make everything else worth it to you.
The last thing I cover is behavioral questions that uncover areas for improvement and a willingness to learn. “Tell me about a time in school or a past job when you faced a challenging situation and turned it into a win.” “What’s the most difficult feedback you’ve ever received? How did you change as a result of that feedback?” Candidates who are able to answer those questions confidently without getting super nervous are typically coachable, and they naturally tend to reflect on their own experiences for the sake of growth.
I try to involve a bunch of people from different departments, as many as possible. I don’t think there’s one perfect approach, so I encourage exposure to multiple processes and perspectives.
Organization is really important because there’s a lot to cover, so I created a checklist that’s divided into categories, like industry training, product training, assigning tool licenses, tool training. Then, each item includes columns for category, task description, who it’s assigned to, and date completed.
I’m also a firm believer in throwing people in and watching them swim. I think the best way for an SDR to learn to cold call is for them to pick up the phone and cold call.
Regardless of which channel they’re using to reach out, they’re going to encounter questions and objections, forcing them to ask their manager or teammates how to respond. They learn, and the next time they’ll know exactly what they’re supposed to say.
One-on-ones provide a good way for me to point out areas for process improvement. Sales development is all about pulling levers to get the results you want, and so if someone’s activity is low but they’ve got excellent emails and call quality I can say, “Look at this, you have lower activity. How can we turn this up? You’ve got all the tools. We just need to adjust this one thing.”
In team meetings, metrics are a great way to pitch and bring people into a new idea. Instead of just saying, “Hey, I want all of you to try this new tactic,” I can say, “I want all of you to try this in your outreach and let us know what the reply rate is, because your teammate tried this and saw a 50% response rate.” It helps to be able to say: we know this works.
Metrics are also a really great way to hold people accountable, by setting everything out in the open. Here’s Sara’s activity. Here’s Bobby’s activity. The numbers don’t lie, and so you can use them to objectively make calls about what needs to change.
It’s important to know the person’s why, so you understand where they want to go and when. For instance, if they want to be promoted into a closing role as soon as possible, you explain every goal in terms of how we’ll get them there. Everything they’re doing should benefit them, benefit the company, and put them on a path to where they want to go.
That’s one of the things that I love the most about the SDR role and how it fits into the greater organizational sales structure: it’s a perfect training ground for a closing role or another role within the company.
I track activity, primarily emails, calls, messages. Additionally, open rate on emails, reply rate on emails, connect rate on calls.
Some of this is outside of an SDR’s control, but it still provides an indication of their ability to get through a gatekeeper. I look at conversion rate on connected calls, which indicates an SDR’s ability to talk comfortably about the product and answer questions and overcome objections.
I look at meetings set, meetings held, both inbound and outbound. Opportunity creation for both inbound and outbound. Same with pipeline creation.
Then, if you have enough data, there are a couple of metrics that can give you insight into the quality of deals that each SDR is generating, handing off. For SDR-generated deal volume, I look at inbound, but that’s not really a mark in either direction for an SDR. It’s the outbound deal volume that they’ve generated. I also look at the dollar value of the deals they’ve generated. Then, I look at record count and dollar value win rates for the SDR-generated deals.
I also have a number of metrics I look at if there’s a problem in a specific area. For instance, if I notice someone has set a ton of meetings, but a lot of them are getting canceled, I’ll look at hold rate and then dig even deeper and say, “Why is the low hold rate happening?” And marketing also tracks a lot of SDR metrics like conversion rate on inbound leads.
Email open and reply rates can be pretty tricky since some of the data includes responses that are part of an ongoing thread—so not a first response. If a prospect replies to one of my SDRs, and then they’re going back and forth, that would still show up in their reply rates.
Qualities of meetings set and held are
not necessarily difficult to track, but they do require more digging. ”
The ability and desire to solve problems. I try to hire for that, but on a more tactical level, it can be tough to instrument. Say there’s a lead whose contact information is really difficult to find. Some people will get creative and try to track down that information. Some won’t. There’s only so much of that that you can train. A lot of it has to come from drive and creativity.
There is a flipside to that. Someone can become too focused on solving a specific problem, and that can lead them to be inefficient. You have to know when to move on.
Another thing that’s tough to train and instrument is the ability to understand the why in our processes and keep work focused in that direction. I think the best way to instill that is repetition and tying every decision and process to the business consequences associated with it.
It’s important for negative feedback to link the individual’s actions to the consequences, both for the business and their own career. They need to understand how doing X or Y is going to hold them back.
I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t illustrate the connection. This is another reason it’s very important to call out accomplishments when they arise.
If the rep knows you’re really coaching them, they don’t take the negative feedback personally. You don’t want them to think, “She’s attacking me.” You want them to think, “No, this is a learning moment, but there’ve been good times as well.”
The SDRs do mock calls. Some are with each other, some are with the sales directors, and then some are with myself, our CRO, and our COO. It gives SDRs an opportunity to flex their conversational muscles around the product, and for all of us to get a clear idea of their strengths and areas where there’s room for improvement. And these exercises enable us to give specific actionable feedback at the time of presentation.
Also, we have a document that outlines expectations that need to be met before someone’s considered ready to transition into a closing role. Checking all the boxes doesn’t guarantee that someone is ready, but crashing and burning on those points means they definitely aren’t.
I love the predictable revenue organizational structure; SDRs make money for themselves while making money for the company, while training in the industry and the product, and learning to answer questions and handle objections.
It’s perfect. It’s essential for a company to create a culture in which performance is mutually beneficial. It breeds loyalty and keeps employees happy, which in turn benefits the company.
I look for a track record of maturity and tenacity. Someone who works hard, maintains a positive attitude, and has crushed their goals.
They also need to demonstrate that they can handle higher-level conversations, talk fluently about our product, have a pricing discussion, and such. But I think those skills are more readily trainable, while you can’t teach or force characteristics like maturity. They have to already exist, or they need to develop over time.
There are many ways to handle a situation like that; it’s really dependent on the cause.
Find out what’s wrong—not, “What’s wrong with you?” but “What’s going on?”
There are lot of different possibilities. Some people are lazy. Some people are hard workers, but just aren’t a good fit for the company or the role. Sometimes someone is just generally going through a slump.
I make a concerted effort to look for modesty while I’m interviewing, but if this did come up, I would shape my coaching around the business impact and their career goals. Say someone wants to get promoted into a closing role, but they don’t want to reach out more than three times because it’s a lot of work or it’s uncomfortable.
I would ask them, “If this is a barrier, how are you going to stay tenacious when you’re in a year-long sales cycle? There are going to be uncomfortable moments, and I need to see that you can persevere.”
In most cases, when someone needs to improve on something, they’re still great at other things, because otherwise we wouldn’t have hired them. Showing data around certain metrics is a good, objective way to demonstrate that there’s an area where they need to improve.
Professional development sessions are great because in the process of acquiring new skills–like pitching and negotiation–the SDR’s strengths and weaknesses are also laid bare. The CRO, COO, and I always participate in these sessions, listening in. So when three people give the same piece of feedback, it’s pretty obvious that there’s room for improvement in that area.
I also make it clear that if someone isn’t ready to make a jump into the next role, I can’t put them there. It would be a lose-lose. If someone is moved up too quickly or isn’t transitioned properly, and they crash and burn, they lose the opportunity to work for us and we lose a great employee.
Professional development sessions help with this, because they give people the opportunity to dip their toes in the next pool.
They might be a rock star as an SDR, but no matter how much raw sales ability they have or how tenacious they are, there’s still a lot to learn on the road to becoming a closer.
Additionally, I look for opportunities to play to someone’s strengths. For instance, if someone’s a natural coach, I’ll lean on them when onboarding new hires because it allows them to shine doing something they really enjoy.
A good starting point is just a whiteboard with each person’s name and meetings set. If you’re in sales, you should be competitive.
Spiffs, Gamification, and visual metrics tracking are all really useful. More broadly, it’s about knowing what lights them up and tying their goals to actions.
Most SDRs want to close and want to do it really quickly. They’re chomping at the bit. Individual and team goals have to be tied to company goals, but they also have to be tied to individuals’ long-term goals.
I don’t know that there’s a perfect way to do that, but I approach morale through goal achievement.
If someone’s doing well, they’re usually pumped about it, and if they’re doing poorly, they’re usually really bummed out. I look for indications of morale in one-on-ones and team meetings. I can usually read body language and generally gauge how they’re feeling.
On an individual level, it’s about pulling those levers to make sure they’re hitting their goals, so that they’re making money for themselves and for the company.
Also, It might sound obvious, but team outings, like lunches and happy hours, do a lot for morale.
I focus on sharing the success of an individual with the rest of the company.
So I’ll talk about the wins in meetings and in our Slack channels, and I make sure to share the news in places where members of leadership will see it and comment. I see my team’s work every day, so I know when they’re doing well. But it feels really great to get a pat on the back from your boss’s boss.
I explain everything in terms of business consequences and how their behavior prevents them from getting where they want to be in their career.
If talking to them about an issue isn’t enough and the problem keeps recurring, then there’s a bigger problem at hand.
I create rules and then I follow them—and I tend to create rules that allow me to handle situations objectively.
For instance, if two people were to argue over a lead, the solution would be straightforward: each person has their own territory.
If an issue arises that’s outside the scope of the rules I’ve created, I bring it up during the next one-one-one and start by asking questions, to make sure I actually understand the conflict. Then, while making it very clear to them that they’re being heard, I explain the impact that the conflict is having on the business.
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