Modern Performance Profile: Dhiraj Singh, Inside Sales and Operations Manager at MemSQL, Discusses the Secret to Hiring, Setting Goals For, and Communicating With SDRs
Over the past several years, Dhiraj Singh (Linkedin, Twitter) has seen the sales process from nearly all levels. Dhiraj experienced the perspective of a co-founder with OneCal, a social calendaring start-up. Afterwards, he worked his way up from SDR to AE and eventually Head of Sales & Marketing Operations at his last company, TechValidate. Dhiraj now serves as the Inside Sales and Operations Manager at a top operational data warehouse MemSQL. There he uses his experience to manage a team of SDRs and account executives. Dhiraj has considerable amounts of experience running efficient teams and scaling them quickly. In this interview, Dhiraj reveals some of the wisdom he has gleaned throughout his career. On hiring, Dhiraj addresses how to determine a candidate’s prospecting ability during the interview and how to hire those capable of managing ambiguous situations. Singh shares his perspective of onboarding as a full team endeavor and on key onboarding benchmarks. From communication and culture, to goal setting and feedback, Dhiraj shares many secrets of the trade and what it really means to run an effective sales development team.
We look for a lot of characteristics, mainly communication skills. I look for people to listen well and ask good questions based on what they heard from me, paraphrase what I said, and repeat things that I said. These are all things that show someone would be able to handle themselves on a good qualification call and really understand the prospect.
“I want people who are hungry. When they see a challenge, they actually enjoy coming up with solutions. They’re not the kind of person who wants to see the same issue come up twice.”
The final thing is you need people who can deal with unstructured process and with ambiguity. We call one of our interview sections “dealing with ambiguity” and look for anecdotal ways that, when faced with challenges, they don’t get shut down but find ways to push forward.
One thing that’s really helpful is to make sure everyone on our team is involved in the hiring process. They are all part of the interview process and everyone gets a chance to do an interview. They take part in roundtables and deciding new hires. We have really thoughtful discussions about candidates so when anyone new comes on board, everyone has taken a little bit of ownership for new members of the team.
“I rely on my teammates to assist in the onboarding process. They help teach and are there to answer questions. It builds a really, really collaborative kind of onboarding for everyone.”
For my role in onboarding, I think the most important thing is setting very clear benchmarks, in what I expect from someone in their first week, in their second week, in their third week, and in their fourth week. I have that written down as something that we refer to every week during the onboarding process.
Then there’s just a lot of open communication during that time, especially in the first month, where we check in every morning and at the end of the day, even just for five minutes, to make sure that I can answer questions and to make sure people have the right resources. It’s really just making sure that at no point during the onboarding process do they ever feel lost.
I’m constantly making small adjustments as I learn more and more about what I think makes a good one-on-one.
For instance, I’ve come to believe that one-on-ones should not include metrics. We have metrics overviews and we do different kinds of team meetings and stand ups, so during one-on-ones we talk about issues that are better suited for that type of situation. We talk about what challenges they’re facing and I don’t mind digging in and bringing things up where we can work together to find a solution or remove a barrier.
A lot of things that come up during one-on-ones are less about people hitting their metrics. What ends up coming up is more around, “Where do I want to be in two years, three years, and how do I actually work now to make myself ready then?”
“The more interesting part of one-on-ones is talking about development. What we end up focusing on is how a can person can develop professionally or build qualitative skill sets they might need to work on.”
When you’re in sales someone can know the product pretty well and really thrive at KPIs and metrics, but it’s such a different job than being an account executive, which requires a very different kind of skill set. In one on ones, usually, we’ll talk about those skills and see if there’s any place where people feel that they have weaknesses and then talk about how they can improve in those areas.
First of all, it’s part of the hiring process. We hire good communicators and we’re very upfront about how communication is good for our team.
Everyone joins the team knowing this is going to be a competitive environment and talking about what’s working is really important for the team.
Other than that, we do a couple of other things. There are standups that help everyone communicate with each other. There are call blitzes where people sit in a room and make cold calls with each other, listening in and learn from each other. We have a team Slack channel where everyone communicates regularly.
Then there are bigger meetings, like our weekly best practices meeting with the wider sales team where everyone gets a chance to talk about what worked well in lead generation and pipeline generation for their territory. Otherwise, it’s all about hiring and culture.
“It’s important they don’t treat the job as just a chore, but something that’s interesting and stimulating and that leads to them actually discussing their work lives and their strategies and tactics with each other.”
Delegation is probably something I need to work on more. I always feel like I need to do something, rather than delegate it. When something comes along that needs to be done, I sometimes just do it myself because I just want it to be done quickly.
“You should delegate the tasks that you want to do, that you would enjoy or think are really intellectually stimulating and are motivated to do.”
I think about that a lot whenever there’s a team project where we’re trying to do something for the benefit of all our teams. I find it’s super valuable to get people to take part when they’re already passionate about a topic.
I like people to set their own goals. I think the most important part is understanding how they came to that conclusion, how they set that goal, and how they are thinking.
That way, I get a temperature check on how ambitious or realistic or maybe not ambitious their personal goals are. If it is metrics-related, we’ll put them up on the whiteboard during standups.
In sales, there are very different strategies for email, for instance. There are a number of factors, like how personalized an email is going to be or how targeted of an approach someone is taking.
“It’s okay if goals are different as long as you’re striving to maximize the end result — meetings booked, opportunities created, and actual revenue being generated. Setting their own goals allows people to have the most amount of accountability and ownership for their own goals.”
I think the secret is making it very, very clear why the goal is what it is. The other part of it is really broadcasting it.
We use a tool called Ambition, which shows people exactly what their personal goals are and what their path is to that goal. Our Salesforce dashboard shows what the goal is going forward and it’s very visible. We have TVs in our office that broadcast certain goals and all the different KPIs that we’re trying to hit.
“The more visible a goal is, the more people feel it is really important. The more they feel it’s really important, the more they’ll embrace the goal as their own.”
“One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t make sense to give positive feedback when someone is really just doing their job.”
When people are doing well, I like to tell them and reassure them and make them feel good about things, but the issue is giving positive feedback when someone is just hitting their metrics. I try to avoid that because it dilutes feedback when people are actually going above and beyond.
I think the secret is to give positive feedback scarcely, when it’s really deserved so that it means something. Otherwise, it’s just going to bite you in the ass because people expect things and when they don’t get them, it’s a disappointment.
For negative feedback, it’s really important to have very objective evidence and not have it be something that isn’t measurable. You have to avoid emotions and really stick to what happened, even if it’s not metrics-based.
If it’s a morale thing or a people thing, you have to bring up actual times when they negatively affected a teammate and have real events to back it up. Then you ask questions to the person to understand their mindset and not be dismissive.
“I don’t want to tell people what they should be doing to alleviate a problem, I want them to figure it out on their own. Once they understand the negative feedback, they can come to their own conclusions and come up with a solution.”
“People like transparency. They want to understand why decisions are made, how an organization runs, and they want ownership. They want to feel like they’re making an impact.”
Today we’re hiring more people who are willing to take cuts in salary in favor of larger variable pay and more stock because they want to feel that their day-to-day job is impactful and they have real ownership in what they’re doing.
I think the secret is just being very upfront, very clear, and very transparent on goals and on the path to reaching a goal so people can be confident that they’re doing the right things to get to where they’re expected to go.
Read the Full Interview with Dhiraj Singh here:
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