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2 Years in the Trenches - Lessons Learnt Building a Prospecting Machine


Linkedin kindly congratulated me one morning last week on my 2 year anniversary at Refract. And what a journey it's been, anyone who's worked in startup land knows how quickly things change week by week let alone in 2 years.

To say a lot has happened would be a huge understatement, we've had new faces, new customers, new offices and more recently a giant hole in the floor! So I thought to myself, what better way to reminisce than by sharing some of the mistakes, successes and lesson I've learnt along the way.

I can still remember day 1 sitting down with our CEO, Kevin Beales over a “posh” coffee and going through the plan. He confessed lead generation had been keeping him up at night and it was a problem we needed to fix and quickly.......no pressure then!

I'm a firm believer that lead generation is the hardest job in sales but get it right and it makes everything else a damn sight site easier. This leads me on to lesson number one.....test everything. This isn't revolutionary but it's true. I personally hate the saying 'if it isn't broke don't fix it.' If the human race had followed this advice we'd still be driving around in Ford Model T's or even worse living in our caves.

Everything can be improved. We've made plenty of mistakes at Refract but we've tried to learn from each and every one. If we ever get a 90% open rate, I can guarantee we'll be pushing for 91%. This goes for us personally, as individuals and as a team, we are constantly looking to get better each and every day.

Sir Dave John Brailsford the mastermind behind the only sport (cycling) us Brits were decent at for a good while sums it up best.

He believes in "The aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as “the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.

I think sales has a lot to learn from sports in general but more on that some other time.

One of the hardest challenges we’ve faced at Refract was scaling the team. We’d worked very hard to establish a process that worked, spent endless amounts of time tweaking and testing the process to consistently deliver the desired number of qualified leads.

Now it was time to roll this out and grow the team. I’m far from and expert on hiring sales reps and there have been a number of blogs written by others with vastly more experience than I.

There are an endless number of things to look for in a potential new hire, but the two things that are essential in my eyes are coachability and attitude. Give me a hungry SDR straight from uni anyday, one who has the right attitude who is willing to learn is already on the path to becoming a rockstar and I've been lucky enough to work with a few at Refract. For more advice on hiring future superstars I recommend this articleby David Duncan @ Epos Now.

This leads me onto my next lesson, know your numbers! Whether you have 5 SDR’s or 500 the process MUST be scalable in order to make it predictable. And in order to achieve this you need to know your numbers, how many dials does it take to reach a prospect? How many prospects to you need to speak with in order to create an opportunity? How many demos does it take to win a customer, and so on.

Its critical to establish what sales performance metrics are important in your company, so reps have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. When you have this information you can provide a pathway to success. If an SDR is not achieving the levels expected of them, it also makes diagnosing the problem far easier so time spent coaching can be dedicated to those areas.

Our biggest breakthrough at Refract came when we dared to be different, we aim to stand out from the crowd and cut through the sea of mundane emails and cold calls prospects recieve on a daily basis. It makes me proud every day when the team are praised by senior sales leaders for their fantastic outreach.

My colleague Jen is a master of this on the phone, her approach involves introducing herself as ‘the smiley ginger women stalking you on Linkedin’ this atypical approach immediately warms up most (not all) cold calls, buying Jen valuable time to open up the conversation.

This brings me onto my final point, sales coaching. I’ve always been a huge advocate of coaching and have been fortunate to have some great coaches both professionally and personally in my hobbies. However what did shock me was the impact coaching has had at Refract. Take Jacob one of the first SDR’s to join the team, he joined us straight from uni, his attitude is brilliant and he’s proved to be as coachable as they come.

Any advice Jacob receives he takes on board and runs with, I regularly coach his call and demos, do regular sales role play sessions and scenario challenges, Jacob has also taken ownership of his own development regularly asking our CEO and head of sales to coach his calls. This has helped him progress from a junior SDR with a little phone fear, to a confident top performing SDR who is now running his own demos and closing business within 6 months. I think coaching is as close to a silver bullet as we have in the world of sales, but it's also massively under utilized, which is what I’m passionate about changing.

All in all, there can be no denying it’s been a rollercoaster ride. What I can say with 100% certainty is I love coming to work, Having the opportunity to work alongside this talented team has helped me to grow everyday and I’m excited to see what the next 2 years has in store for team Refract!

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