Sales has a lot to learn from the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community as the SOF community is packed full of high-performers that are hands down the best at what they do.
The SOF community has 5 truths they live by to ensure each operator is aligned on what it takes to be on an elite team.
The 5 SOF Truths:
1. Humans are more important than Hardware.
2. Quality is better than Quantity.
3. Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced.
4. Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
5. Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance.
All 5 of these truths apply directly to Sales.
1. Humans are more important than Sales
This should be obvious in the way that we interact with our prospects.
Gone are the days where salespeople harass their prospects for an answer or signature. At least, gone are the days where that behavior is acceptable.
In today's Sales landscape, treating your prospects like humans, worthy of dignity and respect, is non-negotiable. If you rely on aggressive sales tactics, you will lose.
Being human in your outreach will bode well for you too.
Sending templated spam emails and asking your prospects for time in every email doesn't work anymore.
But, being human, showing some humor, pulling a relevant sports reference, or asking a prospect about something they are excited about in their lives goes a long way.
Prioritizing humans over sales is just as important externally as it is internally within your own company.
From executive leadership all the way down to the reps on the frontline, if your team culture isn't centered around treating your teammates and direct reports with respect, your team will fail.
Examples of what this might look like:
- Giving them trust and autonomy to decide when they need time off.
- Dispelling any pressure that they need to work while they are sick or life stuff happens
- Always approaching conflict with patience and understanding, no matter what happened or who is to blame
It also means seeing that person as more than just a widget that is responsible for producing pipeline and revenue for the business.
Ask your teammates about their lives outside of work - how did that event go last week? How was it seeing your family? What are you looking forward to over the next year? Start your meetings with one of those questions next time you jump on with your teammates, a little goes a long way!
"But...these are employees we hired to grow our business. We simply don't have time to prioritize relationships here. If we don't hit our targets, we won't have a business for these people to work at."
Ironically, the companies that are afraid to put their employees first because "the business needs X" are the companies that run their employees into the ground and lose good talent because they operate from a place of fear, not abundance.
These companies are the first to crash and burn.
Doesn't matter who you are - a prospect, a teammate, a direct report, you are more important than what the business needs.
And to this day, that philosophy has never done what leaders fear it will do (cut productivity and harm business outcomes), it actually does the opposite.
Humans perform better when they are valued and supported.
2. Quality is better than Quantity
This SOF truth does not need to be reframed to apply to Sales.
If you are throwing hundreds of prospects into the same sequence every single day with no customization, you are failing.
Conversely, if you are taking the extra step of finding something personal or relevant to throw in with your outreach, you are winning.
Personalization and relevance are different but equally powerful.
Personalization is calling something out specific to that prospect like their education, a podcast they were on, or something else they posted about or expressed interest in. This approach to prospecting is more time-consuming but increases the odds that your email will stand out in your prospect's inbox.
Relevance is using something generally relevant to the persona you are prospecting, such as a common challenge they face or a new trend in their industry. This is more scalable than personalization and still piques the reader's interest because it is something they are thinking about on a day-to-day, but of course, won't be as eye-catching as a personalized email.
But, be careful to not overcorrect.
In your quest for Quality, do not neglect Quantity.
Sales is a numbers game - the more people you reach out to, the more likely you are to connect with someone who has the pain you are solving for at the right time and place.
If you don't have enough prospects in your pipeline, you will lose simply by nature of math & odds.
New SDRs tend to be hyper-focused on quality outbound after hearing horror stories of spammy sales reps and getting indoctrinated by advice on LinkedIn.
These new reps end up spending hours writing a handful of emails.
Experienced reps don't waste time writing a handful of personalized emails, they learn how to do quality outreach at scale, using concepts like relevance vs. personalization.
The scale of their outreach increases the odds they will connect with the right prospect at the right time, while still maintaining relevant messaging that will resonate with their audience.
Prospecting aside, Quality vs. Quantity applies to everything else in life like relationships, goals, priorities, and even exercise.
As the old adage goes, it's better to have 4 quarters than 100 pennies.
3. High-performing SDRs cannot be mass-produced
Not everyone is cut out for sales
There are only a handful of careers where your career path can look like this, fresh off the streets or out of college with no prior experience:
- Entry level: $75k
- 1-2 years in: $100-130k
- 2-4 years in: $150-180k
- 4-5 years in: $200k+
All at exciting companies with a ton of flexibility and the coolest benefits you could think of. This is the reality of what a career in SaaS Sales can provide.
But, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
Dealing with constant rejection, FOMO, and balancing creativity & discipline are tough daily battles.
You can't ever afford to be "off" because somewhere at some competitor there is a rep who is willing to work harder and later than you are for their commission.
Sales is hard work, and it takes a special skill set to thrive (and survive).
A lot of this skill set can be taught - how to sell, how to stay organized, how to communicate. Not a problem.
But some of this skill set is intrinsic - drive, work ethic, an unrelenting desire to succeed.
You either have it or you don't, and if you don't, you cannot succeed in Sales.
4. Sufficient pipeline cannot be created midway through the quarter
While this truth seems obvious, there are still too many reps falling behind on quota.
It's July 1, you just wrapped a huge quarter and are now midway through the fiscal year. Meetings and opportunities were not easy to come by, and you just barely managed to hit quota right before the quarter ended.
You're exhausted so you figure you need some time off, but you are a bit traumatized form last quarter, so you're afraid to take official PTO.
You decide you will just cruise for a week or two, take it easy and rest up a bit, but not actually take formal PTO. Slow down your workflow, take the foot off the gas a bit - no big deal, it's just 2 weeks!
Fast forward, you are midway through the quarter and only 33% to goal, feeling the same exact dread and pressure you barely escaped last quarter - buckle up, you know it's going to be a tough one.
Unfortunately, if you've ever been an SDR, this scenario is all too familiar.
One or two weeks really does make all the difference in a Sales Development role.
The temptation is to ease up at the beginning of a new quarter, you have "plenty" of time to kick it into gear when it counts.
Don't do this.
You will always be fighting your quota from a place of desperation, not confidence.
Know your KPIs, be disciplined, and execute. Every. Single. Day.
Building pipeline is a lot like boating.
When you are steering a boat, a turn left or right doesn't register immediately like it does when driving a car. A boat takes quite a few seconds to register the turn and change directions.
In Sales Development, you can't just "turn things around" at the drop of a dime.
Prospecting is all about planting seeds, and you won't see the fruit of the work you put in this week until 2-3 weeks later when you've done multiple follow-ups on a prospect. So, "catching up" when you are behind is incredibly hard to do.
Of course, Humans are more important than Sales, we need time off.
Two quick tips for taking time off in Sales Development:
1. Take Thursdays/Fridays off for long weekends rather than entire weeks off at a time. More frequent time off, less PTO used, win-win!
2. Prior to leaving for PTO, spend a few hours scheduling emails to send on the days you are going to be out of office. Your pipe will continue humming along even with you gone!
Whatever you do, don't stop building pipeline, your future self will thank you.
5. Most SDR success is due to non-SDR support
When is the last time you publicly thanked an individual on another team?
The reports you use, the systems you have in place, the campaigns that are attracting new leads, the help you needed processing commissions last quarter - it takes a village to support the Sales Development function.
RevOps, Marketing, HR, CS, and many other functions are essential to SDR success.
Building a culture of gratitude isn't someone else's responsibility, it's yours.
Be the teammate that is always shouting out other teammates across the org, no matter how mundane the thing they helped with was, or even if it's "in their job description" to do so. Let's not be entitled.
It's as easy as tagging someone in a public Slack channel with a shout-out. Tools like Bonusly make it easy for us to do this across our org.
Even without fancy recognition tools, you can make regular reminders to remind your team to shout people out, and also add a quick bullet to your weekly team huddle where you talk about who from other teams could use a shout-out.
The other side to this is building relationships across an org.
It is incredibly important to have genuine relationships with people from other functions. When you need help with something, those people will have your back and get it done, sometimes helping you skip the request line!
It's also important to be aligned on strategy and process, and have a seat at the table when strategic decisions are being made across the org.
You don't have any influence if all you know is your little world.
Remember, at the end of the day we are all human, and we all appreciate a little love here and there! But giving is far better than receiving.
Never Stop Improving
The world of Sales and SOF may be wildly different, but one thing is for sure, we can learn a ton from these world-class operators.
Use the 5 truths as guiding principles as you progress on your SDR journey.
They will help you be a better performer, teammate, and human being.