The professional and the personal: how to build closer relationships with your SDRs with Cognetik’s James Bawden

Collin Stewart, CEO

13 March 2019

When discussing, analyzing, and, let’s be honest, nitpicking the world of sales development, it’s easy to always approach those conversations from the perspective of a manager. After all, sales coaching, mentoring, and leadership are critical elements of our ever-growing discipline.

But, sales management is only half of the equation, isn’t it? The in-the-trenches-reps are the lifeblood of this profession – and, according to James Bawden, Senior Sales Development Representative at Cognetix, building close relationships with SDRs is a fundamental piece of sales success.

In fact, it may just be the key to long-term, sustainable success.

“It comes down to how well do you want your SDR to perform, and for how long. Without really supporting the people on your team as human beings, not just on the professional side of things, you’re running a short game,” says Bawden, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“The thing that makes a long lasting sales team is building relationships. It seems obvious, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.”

The signs of a happy (and not so happy) SDR

When things are good – it’s pretty obvious for all to see. The team is showing up on time, early even, they support one another, and they’re crushing their numbers.

When it isn’t going well, it’s also pretty obvious to see – the sales floor is quiet, the team members stick to themselves, and, you guessed it, the numbers suffer.

Regardless of your position in your sales org, that type of demoralizing environment should be avoided. But it becomes even more important for SDRs – they are like a feeder to the rest of the organization. Sales development is on the frontline of growth, but it is also a great place to learn, hone your craft, and then move on to other roles, should they want.

But if SDRs are faced with that kind of stressful or difficult environment, it can be a significant blocker to professional growth and satisfaction.

“Over the course of my career, the teams that I have been a part of that were successful happy and engaged, the first element was the leader that was genuinely interested as seeing the team as humans. That has to be the first layer,” says Bawden.

“They weren’t bodies in a chair, or people on a sales floor. But, it requires emotional intelligence to get there.”

Understanding what drives a team member – professionally and personally

Too often, we think of work relationships as completely different from those in our personal lives. And while it is true that not every person you work with is going to become a close, personal friend, it really helps you find out what makes people tick – why they do this work, why they respond to certain things well, and others not. As a leader, these are the things you have to get to know about your team.

You know, just as you would with someone outside of work.

“I have worked for people that acted as they cared, but that falls apart. The cracks start to show,” says Bawden.

“If it isn’t naturally who you are, some people are naturally in tune with people, it can take time to build this skill. But you can build this skill. Just remember, none of this is easy.”

According to Bawden, what a leader needs to do to connect with their team in this way is to find out what each of their “top 3” personal and professional motivations are. For example, what drives them at work? Is it money, career growth, or impact?

On the other hand, what brings them joy in their personal lives? Is it their hobbies, family time, or solitary reflection? Whatever it is, is worthy of support.

“This is what will help take your team to the next level. The emotional aspect of things has to be part of the equation. Emotional support can be overlooked because sometimes it isn’t upfront,” says Bawden.

“If all you do is focus on results – you will get results. But, in the background, personal stuff could be slipping away slowly. And, it happens to everyone, at one time or another. That’s why it is such an important thing to keep up with.”

(Editor’s note: we chatted with Pendo’s Bill Binch a while back about how to effectively develop SDRs. You can read about our chat here, or listen to it here)

Constant evolution

Forging personal connections adds Bawden, can sound daunting. But it doesn’t have to be – it can be as easy as downloading the ESPN app so you can chat about hockey with your sports-crazed colleague. Or, if you have loved working the grill, scheduling a barbecue with the team so you can hang out, free of the phones and emails for a few hours.

“I had a really great manager early on in my career. And one day, she brought in a grill and made hot dogs and hamburgers for us,” says Bawden.

“We were under the gun, but she totally flipped a stressful day, and made it into something that was a team building experience. It was from her heart. Things like that make a huge impact.”

But just remember: these personal and professional elements are always in flux. Rarely, if ever, do they stay the same. So make sure you are routinely checking in with the team – find out what’s changed with them (if anything), and how you can support that change.

One-on-ones, suggests Bawden, are a great place to do that work.

(Editor’s note: here is a GREAT piece by Ben Horowitz on effective one-on-ones. We talk about it in-depth during the pod)

“On the professional side – draft 30, 60, and 90-day milestones that are rooted in your team’s professional top 3. And go deep when you meet for one-on-ones. Really look at milestones you drafted, and ask how they are working for them. You may have to re-work those milestones. But this kind of conversation will help make sure those goals don’t just get lost,” says Bawden.

“This method makes it something that is constantly relevant. You want to go into it with the mindset that you are there to lighten the load of your reps. They should feel energized after the chat.”

For more on Bawden’s thoughts on how to forge supportive relationships with SDRs, check out the rest of his interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

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