PODCAST 72: How to Break Down Sales Stereotypes and Hire Better SDRs w/ Rahim Fazal

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Rahim Fazal, Co-Founder and CEO of the SV Academy.

The SV Academy is training up an army of non-traditional SDRs who are finding more success than the stereotypical lacrosse players of the 90’s. We hear how the SV Academy finds, trains, and releases SDR’s into the wild and the crazy, unconventional success they are finding on the way.

If you missed episode 71, check it out here: PODCAST 71: Why is Account Based Marketing Not Working w/ Latane Conant

What You’ll Learn

  • Who is Rahim Fazal and the SV Academy
  • The qualities of a good SDR
  • Keeping up with the evolution of sales

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:09]
  2. About Rahim Fazal and the SV Academy [03:15]
  3. Breaking Stereotypes from the Start [04:22]
  4. Finding Success as an SDR [07:55]
  5. What You Could Be Missing With a “Fire First” Mantra [11:28]
  6. Keeping Up With an Evolving Role [16:59]
  7. Sam’s Corner [28:56]

Show Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. It’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. Today, we’ve got the co-founder and CEO of a venture-backed talent company called SV Academy. His name’s Rahim Fazal. He walks us through what they’re doing at SV Academy, which is really deconstructing some of the stereotypes around the types of people that are relevant and a good fit for a career in sales.

It’s really interesting how Rahim systematically breaks down those stereotypes through process, through better systems, to discover who’s going to be great at sales.

First, we want to thank our sponsors. We’ve got Lucidchart Sales Solutions. Lucidchart is the leading account planning platform for modern sales orgs. With Lucidchart, you can visually map out key contacts and crucial account data to uncover critical insights that will allow you to close bigger deals faster.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Rahim Fazal.

About Rahim Fazal and the SV Academy

Sam Jacobs: Rahim started a company called SV Academy, he’s the founder of several SaaS software companies, including most recently Involver, an enterprise social media platform which was acquired by Oracle and is now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud.

He is a first generation immigrant. He grew up in government housing until the age of 12. He was not cut out for McDonald’s. They fired him, and he dropped out of college. A few years ago, he received an Impact 100 award at the White House from Startup America and the Kauffman Foundation. He’s top 30 under 30 in America by Inc. Magazine, 40 under 40 by the SF Business Times, and one of the top 25 digital thought leaders by iMedia. Welcome, Rahim.

Rahim Fazal: All right, thank you.

Sam Jacobs: We’re excited to have you. So first of all, what is SV Academy?

Rahim Fazal: Essentially, we help fast growing companies accelerate SDR hiring. We’re bringing the intersection of training and recruiting into an education model. We started with three seats every month in San Francisco a couple of years ago. We then went to 15, and now, we’ve got about 100 starting every month.

Breaking Stereotypes from the Start

Sam Jacobs: What is the business model? You’re taking raw, unformed clay and turning it into SDRs. Is that the context?

Rahim Fazal: That’s the idea–that if we all think about the way we got into sales ourselves, most of us have a pretty unconventional path.

There are millions of job seekers out there who are not even applying for the SDR position because they’ve never heard of it, or they’ve had a bad experience trying to send a resume.

And the elitism in the recruiting systems will often overlook people who don’t have backgrounds. For example, I used to have conversations with employers where they would say, “Oh, you can help me with SDR hiring. Great. I’m looking for someone who’s graduated from a top 20 school with a 4.0 GPA, who’s also a white male lacrosse player,” basically.

We are a place for a lot of the non-traditional talent, folks who have some education, may have some state school education, most likely it’s in social sciences or business. We’ve had people who have done pre-med and law, folks who are looking to career shift. They’ve made a decision, didn’t really like where it’s taken them, and they just need a place to start. And we will give them all the training and all the support that they need over a three month period before hire. It’s a three month interview, which includes an internship at the end, of which the ones who make it all the way through, they’re rigorously vetted at this point. We’ll then match them with employers who are hiring.

We’re working with those hiring managers to support the, SDR not just through an onboarding process but all the way up to the first year. And the goal is, and so far, 70% of folks who have graduated from our program and gone into the SDR position are being promoted in the first 12 months.

What it Takes to be a Good SDR

Sam Jacobs: So what is it that makes somebody good? It’s like the Navy SEALs; a bunch of people start at the beginning of the three month program. There’s a group of people that make it to the end. What are the common themes?

Rahim Fazal: We’ve evaluated maybe 25,000 applicants. We’ve got about 300 folks who have graduated from the program, 60% women, 40% African American, Latino, from all around the country.

The biggest thing we’ve learned is that someone’s ability to manage the cognitive dissonance between how difficult these jobs can be and the potential outcome of where it can take you in your career, if you’re able, if you can manage those two things in parallel–

Sam Jacobs: Those two things meaning the job may suck, but putting it in context and saying “this is part of a journey.” It’s not about instant gratification.

Rahim Fazal: That’s it. And so evaluating for that is very difficult if you haven’t done the job before, which is the value that we provide to the employers that work with us. We will test for this, in a very structured way, over a period of 12 weeks.

And it’s a combination of intentionally designed curricula and then project based learning, which includes actually picking up the phone and dialing and getting rejected and doing it over and over again.

If you get into the program, if you’re good enough to get in, we will surround you with all of the support necessary for you to get all the way through. But even after doing all of that and investing, because we will forward invest about $10,000 in each of the people who get into the program, even after that investment that we’re making without any guarantee, that we’re never going to get paid for that, still not everybody makes it through. And it’s most often because they give up.

They hit a wall. Some make it through. Some hit a wall.

RELATED: What Qualities Make for a Good SDR?

What You Could be Missing With a “Fire Fast” Mantra

Sam Jacobs: When you say more people are making it through, that means you’re doing a better job of selecting them at the outset or the program itself is better?

Rahim Fazal: Selection for sure. The more the SV Academy word gets out, the higher volume, higher quality candidates we get. But a really big part, a disproportionate part, is that it’s not just selection.

It is a lot about training and assessment. And it’s not just about weeding people out. What we’ve learned is that if we can assess correctly and match the right intervention at the right time, then we can support people in ways or at times in that life cycle where they otherwise would have given up. And what I find is that those folks who do end up pushing through, the ones who do have challenges, and they end up being the best SDRs. They’re the ones who end up getting promoted faster into AE and customer success positions.

Sam Jacobs: That is really special, and it’s very humanistic, aspirational, optimistic because there is a mantra of “fire fast” and this idea that people are not changeable and that investing in development is not a worthwhile investment because people basically are who they are.

Rahim Fazal: I think we could all think about a person in our lives, at some point in time, who believed in us, right, that we credit to helping us get through the unthinkable, the unimaginable. We want to be that for millions of job seekers. We want to play that role for folks, and we know that it works.

Keeping Up With an Evolving Role

Sam Jacobs: The SDR world is changing. How in touch do you feel like you have to be with the role because the role in the organization is evolving constantly all the time. How are you going to be positioned to take advantage or sort of work on or adapt to those evolutions?

Rahim Fazal: If you zoom out for a bit, the reason why we have such an institutional problem in higher education is because the schools haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the needs of employers, so we’re talking about a very specific career path and role today in an industry that’s evolving very quickly. It is very, very, very difficult for a traditional education model to keep up with it.

What’s happening is we have this now large community of managers and graduates who are out in the field. As we continue to support them, we’re collecting a lot of data around what’s working. One thing that we ask a lot about are, “What tech stack do you use? How has that changed? What do workflows look like? How have workflows changed?” And we’re constantly staying on top of this and then reviewing it, synthesizing, implementing, figuring out how to test for it properly in the program and just repeating it over and over and over again. We’ve done it 25 times now.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Hey, folks. Sam’s corner, Sam Jacobs. I’m so excited for what Rahim is building. One of the things that we talked about is breaking down the stereotypes around what types of people are going to be good at sales. It’s not just liberal arts college athletes. It’s not just people that played lacrosse or squash or basketball or baseball or swam. Although those people do have the discipline, there are so many people, so many underrepresented groups, people of color, people from different economic backgrounds, that aren’t going to get to go to Bucknell and play lacrosse.

And so we need systems to identify what are the character qualities, what are the character attributes that are going to help people become great sales leaders and become great sales professionals. Thanks so much for listening. Thanks to Rahim for being on the show.

What We Learned

  • Who is Rahim Fazal and the SV Academy
  • The qualities of a good SDR
  • Keeping up with the evolution of sales

Don’t miss episode 72

Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors. Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform and Lucidchart Sales Solution, which is the leading account planning platform for modern sales orgs.

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can reach me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.

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