On LinkedIn, Gabrielle “GB” Blackwell calls herself the Sales Development SaaStress. And if you scroll down to the experience section of her profile, you’ll see that it’s for good reason.
GB rocketed her way up the tech sales ladder to Sales Development Manager in less than two years after doubling her on-target earnings as an SDR and then hitting 193% of her quota as an account executive. Today, she works at Gong as a Sales Development Manager for small to mid-sized businesses and commercial businesses.
We recently sat down with GB for a fireside chat with our latest batch of students to discuss some sales lessons that they could apply to their careers in tech sales. Here’s what she had to share.
1. How to Calm Your Nerves During an Interview
Your palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.
Okay, interviewing for a job in tech sales might not compare to spitting the most epic freestyle in hip hop history, but it can still be an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. So how can you calm yourself down before a big interview? According to Blackwell, detaching yourself from whether you get the job or not will allow you to truly be yourself.
“When I was interviewing for my first SDR role, I just focused on preparing to do my best because by doing so, I was able to trust myself and be okay with whatever outcome came my way. Not every job or company was for me, so I was going to learn from each interview regardless of what happened,” says Blackwell. “There has to be a detachment from any outcomes when you interview because if you’re too caught up in acing the interview, moving on to the next round, and getting a job offer, you’re not going to be fully present in the moment and you might even be an anxious mess.”
2. What You Should Look for in a Company and Manager
Interviews are a two-way street. Obviously, the hiring manager will be vetting you for most of the conversation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t screen them either. According to Blackwell, there are four different questions that you can ask yourself to see if a company and a hiring manager are ultimately a good fit for you or not.
How Did I Feel During the Interview?
“I highly recommend reflecting on how you felt during the interview process. How did you feel after you got off a call with one of the interviewers? Did you feel like, ‘Oh man, I'm super hyped and I freaking love this company’? Great, wonderful. That's a positive sign,” says Blackwell. “Because I've been in an interview where I felt like I'd been smacked around. I felt deflated after the interview and remember legitimately laying out on my bedroom floor and questioning my life.”
Will this Job Make Me Feel Alive?
“Take the time to think through what you really value and what’s going to fuel you at work. When you think about going to work the next day, what are the things that make you excited to go to bed so you can get to work the next morning?” says Blackwell. “Those are going to be the questions that you ask during the interview experience.”
Will Any Aspect of this Job Make Me Feel Dead Inside?
“I also think about the jobs and experiences that I had where I felt demoralized, where I felt deflated, where I felt like I was dumb. It didn't matter how much I showed up every day, I still felt like nothing,” says Blackwell. “Where are the places where I felt like I had to overcompensate where I wasn't accepted, where I couldn't be my fricking self? Right? Like, so what was about those environments that made you feel that way? What was it about your colleagues that contributed to that feeling?
Will this Job Fulfill My Needs?
“If you're going to be interviewing at a place where you are reporting to a VP of sales, ask yourself if this VP of sales can actually give you the coaching, training, and attention that you need to thrive. If the answer is no, then it's nothing against the company, but it's just that they're not going to be able to satisfy your needs” says Blackwell. “It's a beautiful thing to have needs and to respect them. There are way too many instances where folks jump on a job without properly vetting it because they’re not aware of their needs. They don't know their boundaries. And they walk into situations that are triggers for them. It’s really important to know yourself.”
3. How to Make a Good First Impression as an SDR
Making a good impression as an SDR is not only crucial for your success in your current role but also for your success in your tech sales career. That said, when you first start, Blackwell recommends remembering that you just started so there’s no need to be so hard on yourself.
“No one’s expecting you to know anything except your first name and what company you work for. I hardly knew how to pronounce the name of the company that I joined because I had been speaking French all day, every day for the past two years and had forgotten some English,” says Blackwell. “So just show up on time and be prepared to learn. That's the beauty of starting something new. You get to start fresh. There's really no expectations other than you're going to learn and you're going to work hard.”
“Every expectation that I've had for SDRs during their first week is just like, ‘Hey you’re going to have certain KPIs or activities, but they’re only going to be about 25% - 30% of a fully ramped rep because you're going to be figuring out the process,” says Blackwell. “You're just figuring out what happens when you press a certain button or link. That’s literally it..”
However, if you end up falling a little behind when you first start, it’s mission-critical to over-communicate with your manager and to learn from your mistakes.
“One of the biggest things you can do for yourself is being incredibly communicative with your manager, especially in a remote environment. Because I can't see you and you can't see me. We're not physically next to each other. That means you could be floundering for a full week for all I know. You could say, ‘Hey, I had this KPI goal of 20 calls today, but I only made 15 of them.’ All right. Let's take a crash course on this then. What was going on? How can we maneuver? How can we set up a daily structure that can help us get back on track?” says Blackwell.
“Because whatever you're doing in that first week is going to impact your third or fourth week. So if you're not figuring stuff out in your first week, that means you're not going to see results until your fourth or fifth week. And if that continues, that could be the difference between hitting your quota or missing it during your first month on the job. I would highly recommend daily reflections at the end of the day. Like what went really well? What were some hiccups? How can you set yourself up for more success tomorrow?”
Most importantly, though, don’t forget to have fun.
“I remember there was one of my SDRs who was begrudgingly going through one day to the next. He was hardly ever finishing the daily activities that he needed to hit. The first time I saw him smile at work was when I was just like, ‘What do you like to do? What brings you joy?’ And he's like, ‘Well, I love this donut shop that sells croissant donuts. So I was like, ‘Cool, I want you to talk about donuts in every single email and every single call that you have. I don't care. Cause if you're having fun, then your prospects are going to have fun,” says Blackwell.
“I can't tell you how many times where I’ve messed up and crashed and burned on a phone call. I couldn't talk. And I’ll just be like, ‘Honestly, I'm so sorry, Megan. Today's not my day. I'm having a terrible time on the phone. Thank you for bearing with me.’ And the person's like, ‘Oh, don't worry. We've all been there before.’ You're dealing with humans. And most of them don't suck. So they're going to be cool. And just to add onto that, people appreciate when you are human. When you're not perfect, when you do mess up and you acknowledge it. No one's perfect. And I'm convinced that I got as many meetings over email by being human because you could tell it was a human writing.”
4. How to Crush it in Sales
According to Blackwell, there are two main things that you can do to succeed in sales. The first is curiosity and the second is taking charge of your career development.
“Curiosity is the first part that I think contributes to an SDR or salesperson doing really well. Just being really curious about the customer or the prospect and sales as a practice or as a process or a methodology. And then of course, curious about how this solution that I'm selling, how does it serve our customers? So that’s the number one thing -- be curious,” says Blackwell.
“As an individual, it behooves us all to put our careers into our own hands. And by doing that, we take our own enablement into our own hands. So for me, I was meeting up with AEs. I was meeting up with my boss. I was meeting up with literally whoever would talk to me that had been successful in sales. Like I would just hit up my network and I would ask them like, ‘Hey, what helps you the most? What do I need to know to be successful? How can I educate myself right now?’”
5. How to Handle Objections
In tech sales, objections will get thrown your way more than you can count. To handle them with grace, Blackwell recommends embracing them, not combating them.
“I just try to be curious and compassionate. When I approach an objection, I embrace what the person is saying. So if someone's like, ‘Hey, I'm not interested.’ What an embrace can look like is, ‘Hey, listen, I know you're not interested. May I ask why?’ So I'm diffusing the escalation of things that they can ask. Like could you help me understand? I hope this isn't too presumptuous. I don't mean to be pushy. Right. That's what I like to do, but that's just my style. That's the style that I felt most comfortable with,” says Blackwell.
“Otherwise it's like, ‘Hey GB, I'm not really interested right now. We have another solution-’ ‘Shut up. Let me tell you why you should be interested.’ You know? I don't have to say shut up to make them feel like I told them to shut up, but you catch my drift? To really hear them out, I embrace their objection. I don't want to push them into anything. I'm really just more curious than anything else. Like would you be open to telling you more as to what's going on here?”.