Antenna Head of Biz Dev on Sales and Its Misconceptions
December 11, 2020
Hey, I’m Anna! I’m from Michigan by way of Arizona by way of LA (and a few other places). After studying literature at Columbia, I joined an executive recruiting firm, where I read through dozens of resumes. I quickly started noticing a pattern: many had risen in the ranks through 1 of 2 paths: sales/marketing, or operations.
I decided to take a page from their playbook, and soon joined Periscope Data as an Account Development Representative (ADR), before being promoted to Account Executive and then Account Manager (AM). Earlier this year, I joined ANTENNA, a media analytics startup, as their Head of Business Development (BD).
Broadly, there are 2 categories: “new business” and “post-sales.”
On the new business side, there are two primary roles.
The most entry-level is Account Development Representative (ADR)/Sales Development Representative (SDR)/Business Development Representative (BDR). These all basically mean the same thing: someone who is collecting and “qualifying” potential new customers (or “prospects”) for their Account Executives (AE) to turn into a sale. “Qualifying” prospects means determining whether they would make sense as customers for the company, so that the ADR isn’t wasting her AE’s time.
One nuance within this role is whether they’re doing “outbound” or “inbound” or both. Most of these roles are outbound, which is the classic sales job -- a lot of cold calls, cold emails, and grunt work. It is NOT easy. The hardest part of any sale is just getting someone on the phone, and this is what Outbound ADRs are doing all day. “Inbound” roles, on the other hand, are a bit more cushy. They’re when a company is getting a lot of potential customers reaching out to them, and the ADR’s role is responding to that outreach and speaking to the prospects to assess if they’re a good fit for the product. These roles are a lot more rare.
The other primary role on the new business side is the “Account Executive” (AE) role: the person responsible for actually closing the deals the ADR identifies and bringing in new customers. Therefore, the typical new business team structure is an AE paired up with one or multiple ADRs, working together to find customers, get them through the funnel, and make the sale.
On the post-sales side, you have Account Managers (AM). Account Managers come in after the initial sale has been made by the AE. They are in charge of renewals and expanding and upselling the contracts of existing customers.
AMs will often work with Customer Success Managers (CSM), the customer’s day-to-day point of contact responsible for their health and happiness.
Between the AM and the CSM, there can kind of be a good cop bad cop dynamic. The CSM is the good cop, there to make sure the product is working for the customer. The AM can be more of a bad cop, trying to upsell the customer and expand their contract size over time.
They tend to attract different types of people, with different skill sets.
I often liken the difference between new business and post-sales to dating versus marriage. For ADRs and AEs, the work of getting someone to date them is really exciting. It’s kind of like a game. There’s a clear end in sight. This is the part I love.
For AMs and CSMs, on the other hand, they’re more about marriage. They’re focused on continuing to keep someone happy, and deepening the relationship over time. It’s more long-term focused. They’re in it for the long haul.
The major misconception is that the most effective salesperson is an aggressive guy, hustling, doing a lot of talking, and pushing people to say yes.
I’ve found that, in many cases, the opposite is true. Being a woman, there is automatic pattern disruption when I hop on a call. That alone is powerful. Barbara Corcoran (of Shark Tank) says that women in business just make an impression, whether you like it or not, because you’re different. A prospect I chat with is much more likely to remember our conversation because I’m different than most of the salespeople he speaks to. And that in itself is powerful, because the first step is just them remembering that you exist.
But not being the stereotypical aggressive salesperson is helpful in other ways, too. I listen more. I do less talking. And it’s effective. Everyone has needs and fears, and people want to be listened to and heard. If you do that, you can get a lot farther, because decisions are made through emotion, not just reason.
I always think of research by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. They seemed completely fine, except that they weren’t able to feel emotions. But this had a surprising effect: they couldn't make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat.
We like to think that we make decisions purely based off of logic, but that just isn’t the case. Instead, people have to feel good emotionally, not just logically, in order to buy a new product, hire a new employee, choose a new job, etc.
People who understand this and make people feel heard -- which often includes those who do not fit the typical sales stereotype -- can be better at navigating the emotional aspect and ultimately closing deals.
Make the role your own. For the first 8 months I was an ADR, I struggled. It didn’t feel like what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be changing the world and I didn’t see how cold calling people helped me do that. I also just believed I would be a terrible salesperson -- that because I wasn’t aggressive, I wouldn’t be good. It was a terrible self-fulfilling prophecy. Then, one day, I stopped throwing a pity party for myself. I decided to make the role my own, and then I started loving it, and was quickly promoted. For instance, I’ve always been really interested in psychology, so I started paying attention to the constant lessons in psychology I could learn through sales. I also started to really appreciate the fast feedback cycle, and began experimenting to see what worked and didn’t work.
Be yourself on calls. What distinguishes a good salesperson is not how smooth talking they are, or how well they know the product, but rather how comfortable they seem with themselves. Relax. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Think of selling to people as building relationships, not one-off interactions.
Think cross-functionally. At Periscope Data, we sold to data teams., and I was able to get a lot of more meetings because I was friends with our engineers, who were friends with some of my prospects. So they were like, “let me introduce you to so-and-so.” Sales doesn’t have to be that hard. Work smart, pay attention to those around you, connect with your technical teams and other teams at the company, and it’ll give you a leg up.
The actual words represent like 5% of everything a prospect takes into account when they are making a decision.
Tone matters — you can make difficult conversations so much easier by just having a different tone of voice.
Bring the skills you’ve learned in life to your sales work, and bring what you learn in sales to the rest of your life. Being in sales has changed my life on a personal level. It’s made me feel more comfortable pushing back and challenging people more. It’s taught me that negotiation is the heart of all collaboration.
Set an agenda always. People get creeped out when they don’t know what to expect. I like saying, “This is just going to be an explanatory conversation. Later, if we think there’s a fit, we can discuss that, but for now I just want to give you some high-level context on us, and then get to know you better as well. Does that sound okay to you?”
Controversial opinion: don’t have back-to-back calls. This varies by the person, and obviously you’re losing time if you’re not scheduling back-to-back calls. But, for me, I want to give each call my all, and be fully engaged. So I put a 15-minute buffer between calls, where I can switch gears, recharge, maybe run to the bathroom, and be totally on my game by the time the next call starts.
Quality over quantity. In sales, people often think you need crazy outputs in order to succeed — come in at 6 AM and call 200 people each day. For me, that doesn’t work. What works is consistent, targeted, manageable outreach. Building relationships. I have a goal of talking to 5 people at 5 different companies each day. And I follow up and maintain relationships with people I’ve spoken to in the past. And then people ultimately want to buy from me because we’ve been in touch for the last 6 months or a year. Targeted outreach over blanket outreach.
Do your research, and demonstrate that you’ve done your research. Indicate early on that you’ve done your research by asking questions that actually matter to that person. Don’t ask general questions like, “what keeps you up at night?” Say, “I saw you did X, can you tell me about that?” Tailored questions, always.
Ask difficult questions at the beginning of a conversation, in a reasonable tone of voice. If they don’t seem like they have budget for your product, then ask them that. If you suspect someone’s not going to buy, then don’t waste their time or yours. If you start a conversation and someone just doesn’t seem into it, say something like, “You know, it doesn’t seem like this is the best time to have this conversation. I’m happy to reconnect in X months if that would make more sense.” Actually ask questions that will give you the information you need.
Read The Challenger Sale. It teaches that the role of the salesperson is not a convincer. It's an internal project manager. Every decision at a company has on average 7-10 stakeholders, and generally decisions are made by consensus. So, as the salesperson, you are literally leading the project of getting everyone aligned, figuring out who needs what information, and driving them toward the goal of getting them to commit to your product.
Any book by Jill Konrath. There’s not a lot of stuff written by women in the sales canon, and she’s just awesome. It’s not even explicitly geared towards sales for women, but she just has a slightly different perspective that resonates more strongly with me.
Thanks so much, Anna! For those interested in learning more, email Anna at email@example.com.
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