How the Best Sales Development Reps Overcome Obscurity

This is getting ridiculous. Salespeople are missing quota like it’s nobody’s business (pun intended). Search the term “miss quota” in Twitter or Google, for example, and you’ll see staggering numbers that run the gamut.

If you’re a sales development rep (SDR) struggling to hit quota, start fixing it now. Otherwise, you may never become that Jedi account executive or commanding officer. You’ll just be one of those stats, and end up telling stories about when you were in sales “back in the day.”

Here’s what’s up – there are five barriers that block salespeople from hitting quota: obscurity, lack of focus, inactivity, no conversation flow, and failure to keep improving.

In bite-sized chunks, I’m going to unveil ways to overcome these barriers – starting with obscurity. If you want to earn that promotion and become a sales rep that repeatedly closes deals, pay very close attention.

A happy person once said, “behind the darkest of clouds, the sun still shines.” So, let’s start parting the clouds and letting the sunshine in. It’s time to start having fun, and, more importantly, hitting quota.


By definition, obscurity is the state of being unimportant or unknown. This doesn’t fly in sales. Not only do you need to be known in your industry, but you also need to be known as a trusted advisor, expert, and someone that gets things done for others.

If you’re wondering why no one responds to your emails or calls, it’s likely because no one knows who you are. In fact, 73% of executives prefer to work with sales professionals referred by someone they know.

Here are 5 ways you can gain rapport and credibility, get well-known in your industry, and get your awesome reputation to precede you:

#1: Adjust Your Mindset

I want to go deep on this one. Instead, I’ll share a nugget on mindset for each of the five barriers. Until today, you’ve told yourself you’re new, you’re still learning, you’re waiting to hear from so-and-so, you’re not sure why there isn’t enough training or other excuses that have left you unaccountable.

Today, however, consider the words of Brian Tracy, who begs you to “Get serious about your career. Decide today to be a big success in everything you do.” The terms “Go get it” and “Get after it” doesn’t mean, “I hope this sales thing works out for me. Any day now.”

The best salespeople take ownership. They approach each day proactively, and accountable for their actions. Adjust your mindset.

#2: Revisit (and revamp) Your Social Media Profiles

Let’s face it – no one wants to do business with a silhouette. Perception is a reality, and your profiles need to keep it real. In many respects, you are the first impression one might have about your company and offering.

A good way to start is by investing the $50 to $200 you intended to spend this weekend in hiring a photographer. Get a professional headshot and use the same one for, at the very least, LinkedIn and Twitter. Begin to establish a consistent brand, so people start recognizing your face.

Write a heading (LinkedIn) and bio (Twitter) that attracts prospects, customers, and peers. Your LinkedIn heading, for example, should highlight the value you bring vs. your title. Follow this up with a legitimate summary of your experience, competencies, and why people want to do business with you.

These popular articles will give you ideas on revamping your profiles:

If a prospect is interested at all in your email or voicemail, they’ll look you up. One of the first places they’ll visit is Google or LinkedIn. Be waiting for them when they arrive, and give them something that inspires them to speak with you. Revisit (and revamp) your social media profiles.

#3: Continue to build (and work) your professional network

Seth Godin compares this to Metcalfe’s Law, which implies, the more people that connect to your network, the more your network is worth.

  • If you’re already proud of the number of connections you’ve gathered on LinkedIn, then send your key contacts a note. Include a valuable data point or two about your industry, a helpful piece of news you discovered, or 2-3 upcoming events you’re thinking about attending and why. Keep the note brief and finish with a “no need to reply” (props to Ramit Sethi for this idea). Basically, give them a lil’ value and ask for nothing in return – just because.
  • Start by joining and getting involved in your favorite associations. Mine is the AA-ISP, the largest network of inside sales professionals on the planet. Associations allow for gatherings of the minds (which include peers, colleagues, and people you want to know in your field), real-time content and best practices (by way of articles, slide decks, and presentations), and a professional networking (global and local).

Develop relationships with those connected to you. Correspond with key people on a regular basis (you may want to “schedule” time to write or call them once a quarter or twice a year). Continue to build (and work) your professional network.

#4: Learn How To Write and Speak Like a Boss

There’s a reason almost every job description for sales development positions requires “excellent written and verbal communication skills.” If you can’t clearly articulate your point in an email, thank you note, or article – let alone face-to-face, on a conference call, or in front of an audience – you might as well roll up your air hose and go home.

Learning how to write and speak clearly and precisely is paramount. It will enable you to schedule meetings with decision-makers, orchestrate plans of action with your internal stakeholders, and allow prospects to perceive you as a professional.

Prospects Still Read Email

Over 90% of executives check email daily (mostly from their mobile device). How will your emails stand out? Do you follow a framework for crafting emails?

  • Daniel Barber from ToutApp argues “the number of emails means nothing, rather, it’s the content that drives engagement.” Daniel endorses using a “10/80/10 model” when writing emails, which underscores personalization over automation, at scale. How do you ensure the content of your messages is relevant, informative, and personal to your prospects?

A resourceful guide for writing impactful networking emails was published by Brian Balfour from HubSpot. In the guide, Brian boils down the essentials needed to create emails “people can’t ignore.”


Write an Article Your Prospects Can Forward

Write a short article that helps people and gives them food for thought. Then, maybe you can invite your colleagues to write one with you. Publish it on your blog, then syndicate it to another blog to widen your audience. Publishing content via LinkedIn Pulse is another powerful option.

If you’re puzzled by what to write about, make a list of the topics members are asking about in your LinkedIn Groups (make sure they’re topics you can talk about and back up with experience and data).

Popular topics might be (thanks to Sales Hacker Community):

  • Lead Qualification Criteria
  • Starting Out as an SDR
  • Staying Motivated at Work

Now pump those topics into HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator, to get some article ideas:

Click “Give Me Blog Topics.” Voila! The titles of your next five articles (or webinars, or presentations)!


You already know the topics are popular because there’s lots of discussion about them in your peer group. Once your article is written, email it to a few folks you know in the industry and ask them to share it.

When you consistently write and share valuable content – content that helps others do well – you’ll arrive at a point where the community is asking you to write more. That’s a good spot to reach.

Find Opportunities to Speak to a Group

I’ve searched and searched, and I’ve not yet found a YouTube channel hosted by an SDR, for SDRs. Is it you? Are you the one that will lead the pack? If so, your sales development kin will eat it up.

Here are ideas for your first few episodes:

  • Why you want to start a career in sales development
  • How to get quickly acquainted with using Salesforce
  • What your initial emails to prospects must say and include
  • How to address salary increase with your boss
  • How to handle getting people’s voicemail greeting all day long
  • Efficient ways to sort through lots of inbound leads
  • The best sales development tools to use this year

You can share “stories from the bullpen,” and feature sales development reps from everywhere. Once in awhile, sales development leaders or senior sales leaders are featured, to discuss career path progression, best practices, and “things you should be doing now to lock down a successful sales career.”

There’s one way of getting in front of an audience. Another way is to revisit the associations you’ve joined after reading the first part of this article.

Active associations do a fabulous job of featuring members in their webinars, chapter meetings, and leadership summits. Find out when these are happening and ask the group administrators to consider you. If you come to them with ideas, there’s a likelihood you’ll be part of a panel discussion or a breakout session or a keynote speaker.

Latch on to any of these video / webinar / live streaming / vlog platforms and start sharing value:

  • Blab. Allows others to join your conversation, right now.
  • Hangouts. Bring conversations to life with photos, emoji, and group video calls.
  • Periscope. See the world in real-time through someone else’s eyes.
  • YouTube. Upload, view, and share videos.
  • Meerkat. The easiest, most powerful way for spontaneous shared experiences.
  • BrightTalk. Powerful business insights from experts.

Sharpen your communication skills and create opportunities to write and speak in front of people. Next to taking massive action, effective communication is the most competent way to earn rapport and credibility from your prospects. Learn how to write and speak like a boss.

#5: Get Into a Social Media Rhythm.

We discussed “getting serious about being successful” in your career. We looked at the importance of infusing life into your social media profiles. We know it’s imperative to get yourself out there as a consistent provider of value. Now, it’s time to maintain a professional presence while you sleep.

Here’s why social selling experts underscore the need for establishing a rhythm

Learn to leverage social media to accomplish your goals. Social selling experts tell us this all the time, so take note of their insights. By the way, “social selling” won’t go away anytime soon, so buckle up.

  • Kim Garst from Boom! Social understands “it’s not how many people follow you on Twitter, but how many of them are engaging with you on a consistent basis.” She knows “those are the people who retweet your content consistently, buy your products and services, and drive sales.”
  • Jim Keenan found 78% of salespeople using social media outsell their peers. And when it comes to exceeding sales quota (like, by more than 10%), social media users were 23% more successful than those not yet with it.

  • Jill Rowley talks about surrounding your marketplace with valuable content, online and off, which eventually creates social proof for your offering. “Let other people sing your praises. Don’t sing your own,” she says.
  • Koka Sexton from LinkedIn touts that “with the amount of sales-related research available today, there’s no reason to create your strategy without relevant, timely sales insights.” He also shares 11 telling sales insights that’ll help you align your insights with buyer preferences and needs.

Heed these words and use platforms like Hootsuite, Buffer, PostBeyond, or TweetDeck to automate your social outreach.


Jumping in the stream, joining the party, whatever you want to call it – social is where it’s at when it comes to branding yourself, building relationships, and keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry. Get into a social media rhythm.

Work outside of work

Overcoming obscurity in your marketplace means working hard all the time. Get started by improving your game in each of these five areas.

There’s too much value to share and not enough time. When you establish a groove, and build momentum adding value to the lives of others, your world will change for the better. Over time, prospects begin to email and call you vs. the other way around.

Ralph Barsi leads the Senior Director, Global Demand Center at ServiceNow. He was named one the most influential inside sales professionals in the industry two years in a row. Ralph is also a frequent contributor to Sales Hacker, as a writer, speaker, and instructor to salespeople of all levels.

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