On Making the Audience the Hero: An Incredible[s-themed] Approach to Cold Contacts

I have to be honest upfront: I did not come up with this wonderful principle. However, one of the people I admire most did, and he was inspired by the great teams at Pixar (hence our theme for today).

When I first heard the phrase “make the audience the hero,” it was in relation to giving tours at the one and only University of Georgia (go dawgs!). Our boss urged us to understand that in order to really get our message across, the story couldn’t be about us. Rather, it needed to be about the people we were telling the story to. The high school students visiting our campus didn’t necessarily want to hear about their tour guide’s college experiences; they wanted to see if they would fit into the culture of the campuses they visited–to see if those experiences the tour guides talked about could be their own. This meant that there was a balance to reach, and that the goal should be for our audiences to realize their potential, not to remind ourselves of our own.

This ideal inspires both my personal and professional writing, and whenever I get stuck on my writing for LeadUp, I remember this principle. And as soon as I do, I feel like this:


I’m smiling and I’m running off to write–motivated by bettering those who receive my emails. Making the audience the hero is key for my role. It is the non-sales differentiation that make my emails stand out in inboxes rather than get filed away.

For the salespeople currently reading this, you’re probably thinking: “Jessie, this is old news, I glorify my prospects all the time.” But that’s not what I’m getting at here.

Although heroes commonly achieve glory in the stories we hear–such as the Incredibles family and all of their Super friends saving their town from Syndrome–your prospects’ goals are very different from the superheroes’ listed above. Therefore, stringing together compliments and praises to glorify your prospect doesn’t actually make them feel like the hero. Those tactics just flatter them, which may work in some cases, but chances are they can see through it.

In other words…

no capes

Take the BS–the capes–out. If your cape can get caught in an air turbine, swept up by an elevator, or stuck on a missile, then your tendency to buff up emails or calls with old sales tricks will likely lead you to the same fate as those unfortunate Supers.

Instead, carefully think through what it means to be in your prospect’s shoes. Be truly empathetic. Do they really need what you’re offering? Honestly, sometimes the answer may be no. But, as the salesperson who believes in their product, you know that your offering can improve your prospect’s work life, even if they don’t understand how yet.

Making your audience the hero is the solution. Adding value to your prospect’s day is not hard–it just takes a shift in priorities. It’s a mindset that has a great effect on your outreach. Rather than giving a marketing pitch on your product, empathize with the challenges your prospect may be facing–the challenges that your product can help with. Rather than sending them another client testimonial, send them a TED talk you came across that reminded you of why you were reaching out to them in the first place. And most importantly, explain why you are making those decisions. Remember, the audience needs to envision how they fit into your offering–they are the student looking for a university where they will fit in and the kid in the theater feeling empowered by another hero’s journey–so don’t bombard them with your story; let them rewrite their own with you in it.

Try this strategy today and see what happens. Remind yourself of those five words and think of Mr. Incredible when you do it; your prospect should feel like Mr. or Mrs. Incredible, not you.

Good luck with your mission.


Chapter 1: Some Words That Stuck With Me

I have a bit of a temper on the tennis court.  If I miss a shot, there are times I can’t help but yell out some choice words a little too loud for most referees likings (they usually let me off the hook).  My strength is that I can typically recover from that jolt of anger within the 30 seconds I have in between points, and be mentally ready for whatever comes my way once the next ball is in play.  This sequence is what came to mind when I spoke with Morgan Ingram, creator of the SDR Chronicles at Terminus and trailblazer in the world of sales blogs, at a recent networking event.  He told me that the most important part of sales is keeping a level head, and honestly, I’d never thought about that.  

I am going to lose in sales more than I ever did in my collegiate tennis career, and that is a fact I need to accept.  Like I said in my last blog, I hate losing.  But finding that balance between being competitive, or invested in the outcome of my efforts, and being too emotional, might mean the difference between being a good salesperson and a great one. I’m not about to sacrifice that “great” title.  If I hold onto the resentment of one failed sales call while on the phone with the next potential client, the results would likely be cringe-worthy.  I’m going to save you, my boss, and myself that cringe, and try to learn from that mistake before I make it.

After that initial burst of anger and disappointment felt after losing a point, the most important thing for me to do is slowly walk to the back fence, take a deep breath, and figure out what I need to fix.  Did I lose focus?  Did I make an unforced error?  Whatever the cause may be, the only thing I can do is learn from it and move on.  An overwhelming majority of the time, winning a tennis match means winning 51 – 55% of the points.  That means that even if you win, you will lose just under half of the total points played.  Just because I lose one sales call, doesn’t mean I’m about to give away the match because of my frustration.  That frustration is meant to fuel a fire that will ultimately lead to a successful sales call, followed by another, and another.  I’m not quite sure what “winning the match” will feel like for me in sales, but once I do, you better believe I’m coming for that “great” title.

In It to Win It

This blog marks the start of a new sales career: my own.  I’m on the brink of stepping out into the real world, and if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last four years at Emory University, it’s that I thrive in the midst of competition and pressure. Sales seemed like the natural career choice.

Just to give you an idea of how competitive I can get, during my first tennis season playing at Emory, before stepping foot on the court, I would always turn to my teammates and say with a smirk, “I’ll run a suicide for every game I lose.”  I was easily the cockiest girl around, some might even have called me obnoxious – who can blame them? But for me, there’s no such thing as being too competitive.  Over the next three years, my team went on to win two national championships, and I became a 5 time all-american: a testament to my competitiveness and hard work far more than my athleticism, trust me.

When people ask me whether or not I enjoy playing tennis, I’m always unsure about how to answer the question.  I do know two things; I’m competitive and I work hard.  I am driven by hearing somebody say, “You can’t do that,” As soon as I hear those words, I work my ass off to accomplish ten times what they said I couldn’t.  I want to be in sales because I want to feel that rush – the rush of proving that I can accomplish whatever anyone throws at me, over and over and over again.

I might be obsessed, but we’ve all got our kinks.  I’m going to channel that fixation the most productive way I can think of: starting here, at my sales development internship with LeadUp.  Hey, if my passion is winning, I might as well jump into a career that rewards winners.

I have no formal experience or education in business; I am not an authority on the matter of sales, and I’m not pretending to be.  I’m just a girl who hates losing more than anything else in the world.  So, why would anyone care what I think?  Because there’s always more you can do; I’m going to find that extra bit it takes to win, and I’m going to build on it.  If you’re looking to see what it takes to get to the top when starting from the bottom and build with me along the way, look no further.  Sales development, meet your new Yoda-in-training.

I’ll be using this blog as both an outlet and a resource for myself and for whoever wants to be part of my journey.  I’ll be sharing my successes and my failures, my favorite resources and experiences, with some sarcasm along the way.  If anybody has any recommendations for books, blogs, or any sources that will help me improve and get some early wins, I’m all ears.


First Month, First Lesson

I started my job at LeadUp exactly four weeks ago. During that time, I’ve learned a ton. But most of all, I’ve learned that there is so much out there that I have yet to learn…stay with me here.

This idea comes from a story a great mentor once shared–I’m going to call it “The Circle Principle.” Imagine you draw a circle in the middle of a white board. Everything inside that circle represents what you know, and everything outside of the circle represents all of the knowledge and wisdom in the world that you don’t know. As you gain more knowledge, your circle grows, absorbing more and more from the surrounding empty space on the board. But as your circle expands, so does its circumference. Therefore, you are touching more of the “unknowns;” you “know” more that isn’t know. Essentially, the more you know, the more aware you are of everything you do not know.

Four weeks ago, I stepped into an apartment on the beltline in Atlanta, but I also walked right out of my existing circle and into the blank space on the board–attempting to stay above water as I waded through all that I didn’t know.

At first, it very overwhelming. With no sales background whatsoever, I needed to learn the process and the game in a matter of days. Thankfully, the start-up culture is a fast-paced one, and I listened and observed until I could safely float. Every day I come in, I learn more, which builds my ability to navigate everything on my own.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take you through a few of the things that have found new residence inside my circle on the whiteboard. The first, and maybe one of the most important, is this: getting to the point.

My job title is the “LeadUp Content Strategist,” meaning that my main duty is to create email campaigns for our clients to send out to cold prospects in the hopes that one–or preferably many–will bite.

That means that I need to be concise and purposeful with every word I choose to place on someone’s screen. Because in all honesty, each of those words represents a millisecond I have taken from that person’s day. They might not need what I am offering and they definitely do not owe me any of their time. Therefore, it is essential that I use their time wisely.

Even so, it’s very hard for me as a writer to resist crafting perfectly-worded and clever emails that I spend hours revising. I want to make my words perfect, even if someone is only going to spend two seconds on them before sending them to the trash bin.  

But those types of emails, the ones that are laboriously crafted to appear conversational, don’t work. Trust me. A better strategy–strap in, this one is pretty crazy–is to only give yourself roughly 30 minutes to write an email chain….

blog gif 1

I know, I know, it’s crazy. But don’t look at me like that, anonymous reader! You’re scaring me.  

For my job, my time is much better spent getting to know the clients I am representing, rather than laboring over the placement of words and commas in the messages that represent them. Once I know the client, I can portray their key messages with ease and swiftness.

So I’ve got my first priority: getting to know the company I’m representing. The very close second to that priority is getting to know the people I will be reaching out to. But when you’re sending emails to around 800 people/month/client, that is nearly impossible–except that it isn’t.

Rather than learn every detail about Sue from HR’s life, I am going to spend a significant amount of time learning what HR professionals care about. What motivates them? What common struggles do they have? What humor and tone will they identify with? Once I know that information as well as I know the company I am representing, then I should only need 30 minutes to write a few very straight-forward emails that will show Sue that I can help her with this really great product/service. Because meanwhile, this is what Sue is thinking:

blog gif 2

Which brings me to my next point (thanks for the handoff, Sue): prioritizing information. Choosing which points are the most important to hit and presenting them so that they are easily digestible is no simple task. Thankfully, there is another lesson I’ve gained from years of writing (s/o to my mentor once again for giving me this wisdom) that always helps to put what is most important into perspective. It is a very simple principle that, quite honestly, demonstrated to me why I should take this job in the first place. I knew I could be successful in my role because I have the following knowledge:

To make the audience the hero of the story.

With that in mind, the sales process completely changes. I would tell you all about it now, but I want to keep you in suspense for next week where I will delve much deeper into this principle. For now, congratulations! You made it to the end of my first blog post. And I’ve made it through my first month of work. Let’s celebrate together by continuing this blog reader-writer relationship for a little while longer :). Comment below and maybe we can expand each other’s Circle of Knowledge by sharing ideas.


Why SDR’s Make Bad SDR’s

In the modern sales organization, the SDR is the lynchpin of the entire operation. SDR’s enable account executives to focus on nuanced conversations with qualified prospects at targeted companies, and ultimately win complex deals more quickly.

The SDR also coordinates collaboration between sales and marketing. Marketing strategy informs the Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Persona segmentation, and it is eventually re-informed based on outcomes provided by SDR activities. If the alignment of sales and marketing isn’t accurately translated and communicated to the SDR, sales and marketing efforts suffer.

Let’s start with the qualities that sales organizations look for in a great SDR. I’ve broken it down into four distinct areas:

  1. High degree of empathy (attentiveness to customer needs)
  2. Strong written and verbal communication skills
  3. Curiosity – ability to ask good questions and interact thoughtfully with decision makers
  4. Ability to create targeted lists of companies and contacts

SDR’s put these characteristics into practice by prospecting the right companies and buyers, writing compelling outreach messages, keeping a steady cadence of cold calls, and creating a consistent multi-channel strategy–all the while constantly testing & improving on this process.

For SDR’s to excel, however, there are two opposing forces at work.

Companies like the ability to vet young sales candidates by grinding them through the SDR track to prepare them for success as an AE. Unfortunately, future sales all-stars don’t necessarily have the skills to be strong SDRs, nor do SDRs prove their mettle to become AEs by slogging through prospecting lists and cold calls.

These characteristics are the skills required to be successful in sales development. The only reason not to break them out completely would be if you could find those skills consistently in the same type of person. And this simply isn’t the case.

Modern sales has improved, but hasn’t caught up to the modern buyer. Further specialization is required.

Billy Beane is most famous for his “Moneyball” approach to building the Oakland A’s baseball teams as General Manager, where he values the specialized contributions each player has as they relate to scoring or preventing runs scored (how games are won and lost in baseball).  As a player himself, Beane was considered a “5-tool prospect.” He could hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw well, and play the field, but his career ultimately didn’t pan out. From the front office, he went against conventional preference for finding the perfect player and brought in the best collection of skills that could win games – which often came from multiple players who were independently flawed, but collectively perfectly complemented one another.

Sales is the same game. At most companies, SDR’s are expected to be just like that 5-tool player along their progression towards becoming an AE and eventually a sales leader. These players exist, and they usually become All-Stars. They are also anomalies. Championship teams are built by assembling role players to support their stars, and great modern sales organizations will find a competitive advantage by further specializing this critical SDR role.

To begin specializing the functions an SDR performs, I suggest mapping them against the characteristics laid out above:


Building out a function that exists purely to usher prospects through onboarding into customer success is critical. This role plays quarterback for the other functions below, fully understanding the ideal customer profile, buyer personas, KPI’s, and tasked with pulling any team member below onto a call throughout the process to ensure success.

We built this function into the very center of our process at LeadUp. They calls the plays and make sure that clients’ needs are addressed proactively. Empathy fuels the engine rather than hunger to sell more business. The empathetic quarterback has a long view of the relationship from the outset and makes sure that shortcuts aren’t taken just to make sure a contract gets signed.

Writing Skills

If you can’t write in a modern sales organization, you are working with borrowed time. As communication moves across multiple channels, sales organizations that value and hire for writing as a skill will separate themselves.

At LeadUp we love to hire English and Journalism majors. Not only can they write, but they have usually gone to great lengths to get a story in the past. Their passion reminds me a lot of great salespeople, but the motivation of a writer is often less financial and more out of desire for a great story, or to get to the truth.

Client Curiosity

This lines up with why I love writers, but client curiosity typically looks like someone who constantly tinkers. A good fit might look like someone who obsessed over baseball as a child, got into surfing in their teens, swore they’d take over Wall Street in their early 20’s, then ended up at an NGO after a stint in the Peace Corps. Everything is interesting until 80% of mastery/understanding is reached. Then it’s time to be curious in another direction.

Jacks-of-all-trades fit well in this role because they are naturally curious, can be very focused, but also need to be constantly learning in order to stay productive. Salespeople have plenty of room for this characteristic, but it’s often buried in those too busy for natural curiosity to flourish and help the team.

Data Strategy

The full SDR picture wouldn’t be complete without targeted, account-based prospecting. In the modern SDR’s day, this is required in order to meet other outcome metrics, but can become a bit of a drudgery if they are looking to progress towards becoming an AE.

The Data Strategist has two complementary strengths. This person is very attentive to detail and enjoys supporting a team without the need to be in the spotlight. We discovered this person on our team because they were the one who brought a kitchen scale to measure out coffee beans. The sales team was pouring bags of coffee into the coffee maker without a second thought, while LeadUp’s future Data Strategist made sure that exactly 17 grams of beans were portioned, ground at the medium-fine setting, and spent no more than thirty seconds in 195-205 degree water, before gently coaxing it through the Aeropress into her mug.

In addition to this stark contrast in attention to detail for process, she appreciates the generally underappreciated nuance between coffee beans. Is it Arabica or Robusta? Is it grown in Africa or Central America? A typical sales person only wants to know whether the coffee is leaded or unleaded–caf or decaf. This penchant to dig into underappreciated nuance falls outside of the limelight, but is critical for a successful targeted data strategy.

Each organization has different hiring priorities and means of approaching the SDR position. As the role grows in prominence and organizations mature their understanding and practice of modern sales, I suggest looking at these four additional areas of specialization. Ask how  these specialties can be applied now and built into future plans in order to create a sales machine capable of scalable human interaction.

If you like this post, please click the thumbs up below and share your experience in the comments! If you disagree – let’s talk about it. If you agree – tell me why!

Why Being Comfortable Should Make You Uncomfortable

If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that comfort and satisfaction aren’t what we should be striving for. Especially in a start up, the worst thing you can do is come to the office and do the same thing every day with no motivation to question your organization’s process.

I want to give a shout out to Change today. Change can be frustrating, difficult, and uncomfortable, but despite that, it’s vital to success.

Why? Because it makes us better. A lot better.

I’m not talking about the kind of Change where you grapple over logo colors or the right adjective to include  in your value prop–I mean the really uncomfortable, the “I’m going to scream because I wish I could just do it the old, easy way,” kind of change.

Our team has been through some big, roller coaster, hang-onto-your-hat twists and turns over the past 15 months. But you know what came out of everything single one of them? Improvement. Organization. Clarity.

Here are a few things to tell your brain to look out for to make positive changes in your process:


The day where I don’t learn something from one of my clients or my team is the day that I should be fired (Mark and Patrick, if you’re reading this…just kidding).

Your clients and your coworkers are the easiest sources to draw inspiration from because they are overflowing with positive and negative feedback. Don’t shy away from their comments or treat listening to their criticisms like a chore. Even the simplest feedback can hold valuable lessons for future process improvements.

Failing aggressively:

To be truly successful is to have known failure and learned from it.

I’m lucky to have bosses that not only allow me, but encourage me, to fail. Sounds weird, right?

But stay with me. Every time I come to them with a slightly weird or off-beat idea, I have permission to try it as long as I think it will make my day-to-day more beneficial to my clients or make me more efficient with my time.

I know what you’re thinking: “What if you’re wrong and you burn down the office?!”  

My response to you is: “Who let me near fire in the first place?! That’s a terrible idea!”

But seriously, if you fail, you just go back to the old way of doing things. But if you don’t fail? Then you created a better process for your whole team, you improved your client retention, and you’re a hero for the day.

Constructive conflict:

This one’s the most uncomfortable, but potentially the most valuable.

Think back to your freshman year of college. Once you stop cringing at the your poor fashion choices, I want you to think about your first group project. It was pretty rough, right?

Why? Because each person had their own way of communicating, writing, studying, and presenting. What a MESS. Well, guess what…. Those people followed you to adulthood. They’re called your co-workers.

Thankfully, we’re a bit more well-behaved and mature than we were in college, but the differences in perspective and thought process remain. That’s where opportunity comes in.

I can tell you that I have been on a different page (maybe even in a different book) with thoughts and ideas for our team, but once we all share our thoughts fully and take the time to listen to each other, we are able to take the best parts from all of our brains and smash them together to make a beautiful, powerful solution.

Sometimes those conversations go smoothly, and sometimes they take a few bumps to get there, but we always end with something greater than we could have created on our own.

My Challenge to you:

Change something about your day today. And tomorrow. And the next day. Start with something small and then move to something a little scary, difficult, or challenging. Share it with a colleague to keep you accountable on the outcome. And challenge them to Change, too!

It may be uncomfortable at first, but once you start to see yourself making positive impact, you’ll never settle for comfortable again.



How I Turned an Icy Cold No into a Sizzling Yes

As a Customer Success Manager (or Inbox Ninja as we call it around here), the majority of my day focuses on taking a soft objection and transforming it into a warm lead for our clients. The other part of my day revolves around drinking coffee and catching Pokemon that sneak into our office – but that’s beside the point.

It’s become obvious to me that while choosing the right people to reach out to is important, identifying who has authority is the game-changer.

Let me give you an example.

One of my favorite clients creates customized experiences to help companies build more cohesive teams and better leaders (seriously cool stuff – ask me about it later if you’re interested). A few weeks ago, a Organizational Development Manager responded to one of my outreach emails on their behalf with a very stern “no” – it seems they were in a hectic transition phase and he did not have time for this right now.

What I wanted to say was…


But don’t worry. I kept my cool and assured him that I would reach out in a few months when they were through the transition.

Not even an hour later, an employee from the same company sent me an excited response that she’d love to chat with our company. Apparently, this is just what they needed! Woohoo!!

And guess who it was? The first respondent’s BOSS!

Boom. Roasted.

Long story short: my client had the meeting, closed the deal, and we all lived happily ever after. We weren’t discouraged by a no that really could’ve meant “I’m in the middle of something” or “I haven’t had my coffee” (which are both totally reasonable).

Three Takeaways:   

  1. Reach out to more than one contact: One person seldom has all the say in a decision to bring on a new vendor. Share information with people on different teams that would be impacted by the service you provide. Make sure you cover various departments that make sense and a variety of levels of employees.

  2. Don’t give up: The first response will probably be a “no”. That’s just life, ya know? But that doesn’t mean one of the other several people you reached out to won’t see exactly what they need in your outreach. Trust the process.

  3. Always be respectful: Please don’t use this post as permission to spam every employee at your dream company with the same email. Targeting is key. It’s also vital to acknowledge and comply with a “Please take our team off your outreach.” We’re not trying to make any enemies here – only give the right people a chance to say yes.

I hope this gives all you hard-working sales warriors some inspiration today. I’m rooting for you!

Keep Calm and Ninja On,