Stop blaming the SDR

Nicholas Thickett

Nicholas Thickett, Managing Partner at Alignd and host of the B2B Power Hour, joined us to talk about why most SDRs aren’t qualified to make cold calls.

Yes, you read that right. And what happens when they fail? We blame the SDR.

Tune in to get some solid tactics that can be implemented right away… and these can be applicable to anyone in sales!

Listen or watch all of our Podkast here on our website. From cold calling to defining sales territories to motivating employees, the Abstrakt Podkast allows you to immerse yourself with sales experts from around the industry to find out what has made them successful as they tell all with Greg, your host.

Each episode they’ll discuss and dissect topics such as leadership, business growth, technology, sales strategies, prospecting, career progression, and so much more.

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Read the Podkast Transcript

Greg Reffner 0:00
Hey everybody, this is Greg on the Abstrakt Podkast again. And we are with Nicolas Thickett, managing partner at Alignd and co host of the B2B Power Hour podcast. Nicholas, please take a moment say Hi, sir.

Nicholas Thickett 0:17
Everyone. Thanks for having me, Greg. Thanks, Claire.

Greg Reffner 0:21
Yeah, we’re excited to chat with you, we’re gonna be diving into, I think, a little bit of a controversial topic a little bit, and we might, at the risk of maybe irritating people, we might hurt some feelings today, like less. I’m excited to do it. I think it’s going to be an enjoyable conversation. But ultimately, we’re going to be talking about, you’re going to be answering the question, Why aren’t most SDRs qualified to make cold calls. And so there’s going to be some harsh truths that come out of our time together today. But before we get into that topic, please kind of give our listeners a little bit of background. Who is Nicholas? How did you get into aligned? Why did you start your podcast? Let’s let’s get the Cliff’s Notes version of who Nicholas is.

Nicholas Thickett 1:12
Yeah, absolutely. I started selling when I was 14, sporting goods just to go and pay for my own sports. I worked my way up the ladder. I was 18. And I was managing both 400 people for a direct sales company and love to work hard and love to tell people about it. And then I worked in investment banking, and I was selling companies between 40 and 200 million transaction value. And I wore my burnout as a badge of honor until it almost killed me. I actually spent had a 30 day all inclusive hospital stay in the hospital where the first three days I didn’t know if I was going to live or die because a major organ failure from me being stupid, because apparently you guys would be surprised about this. But having pre workout as part of your daily routine just to go and like keep shit rolling. Does isn’t good for your body. Who would have thunk? Hey,

Greg Reffner 2:03
hold on pause there real quick. I take pre workout every day. So were you taking pre workout and not not working out? They use it as more of like an energy drink. Yeah, energy drinks were strong enough. Okay, that’s a bad idea. Okay, continue.

Nicholas Thickett 2:17
And I would take a couple times a day just to keep myself going. And I was sitting in the hospital, I was trying to think of, Oh, I was rethinking my entire life. But I want to know, I was asking myself, Is this something I really want to do? And I realized it is. But the way I got taught to do stupid. It was Go fast. Go big. And don’t worry about everything in between, I realized that, you know, you look at all the enterprise sellers are the people that are good. They’re strategic, they have a reason for calling. They have a process that they follow. They know their numbers. Nobody’s telling them how to do their job. They’ve learned through trial and error. Somebody has trained them. But they’re good. Like, it’s almost it’s not the sleeves that you would know that people try to go and put up there for sales. It’s that like, slick, smooth. You’re like,

Greg Reffner 3:10
swagger good. Yeah. Like Don Draper from Mad Men.

Nicholas Thickett 3:15
Yeah. Yeah.

Greg Reffner 3:18
Okay, so we’re laying in the hospital bed, you have an epiphany. So let’s, let’s kind of fast forward to where you are today, right, like, connect the dots for us. So we can kind of get everybody up to speed.

Nicholas Thickett 3:31
Yeah. So I started looking at companies to see what the top performers were doing. How are they winning? And where was this disconnect that nobody was talking about. And I found out that the people that were winning, were very strategic, and not just that the fluffy use of the word, but they never made a call without a reason. They never said a meeting without a point, or an agenda. And funny enough, 98% of them use social media as their primary resource. And so it was interesting to dive in. I was like, Cool. For what, though? Because this is back in like the pitch slap academic epidemic, like five, six years ago? Like, are you just DMing people in booking meetings?

Nicholas Thickett 4:14
They’re like, No, I research, I started a conversation. And I found out that when people book meetings too fast, it creates longer sales cycles. So they were actually going out of their way to slow the process down before they put them into pipeline, because it accelerated the deal velocity. Super

Greg Reffner 4:34
Counterintuitive, right? I mean, you look around and there’s so much like, you know, you want to be first and you want to get that to be an opportunity as fast as possible. But in reality, when you do a takeaway when the sales person is the person intentionally slowing the deal down, there’s so many benefits to doing that, like you’re building trust in the prospect with prospect, you are establishing credibility, you are, in a lot of ways building that rapport to the point where they’re going to come to you and trust you around competitors, they’re going to ask Who else should I be looking at.

Greg Reffner 5:15
And then you’re almost kind of in a way, writing your own RFP, with that prospect as a result of, you know, slowing things down and building that trust relationship up front, so that it does accelerate when you get into that opportunity stage. Absolutely. Playing devil’s advocate, though, Nicholas. When you look at like, holistically, if we look at like sales cycles, most sales leaders would say is a cold sales cycle starts when an opportunity is created. Okay? If you’re really looking at like lead to revenue. So ultimately, the argument could be made that it probably all balances out in the end, whether that lead is engaged with, and then an opportunity is created a little bit later verse, opportunities created sooner, or do you disagree with that?

Nicholas Thickett 6:05
I disagree. Because the first one where you’re delaying it, you’re building at scale. You’re educating on social media, you’re going through webinars, you’re building something that it is not increasing your CAC, your customer acquisition costs, where when we force it into a one on one, we now limit our time available. And it’s also draining because we have to be present, we have to prepare, when you’re doing this at scale, and putting your point of view out there and really distilling that customer insight and knowledge and putting it out there for the world to see. You can do that with 1000s 10s of 1000s at a time. And it’s very cheap. So no, I don’t agree.

Greg Reffner 6:47
Okay. All right. Well, that’s why we do this podcast I frequently get disagreed with. So I’m glad that we are continuing that trend necklace. All right, so we wanted to talk about cold calling. So let’s transition back to that topic. So social selling, like, that’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. I feel like I know how you’re going to transition this conversation from social selling to cold calling. But let’s talk about that. So my first question to you is, why do most SDR struggle with cold calling?

Nicholas Thickett 7:27
So one of the things that I’ve been through my research because I’ve been actually looking at why sales teams are struggling to hit quota and why their retention is so low, and like so many STRS churn? Where’s this coming from? What is the big what’s the bigger issue? And I realized they never questioned who’s on the list? So, Greg, you’ve been called 1000 times? How many times did you feel like you should have been on that list?

Greg Reffner 7:58
Ah, that’s funny. As an SDR, one of the things that I used to do Nicholas is I would scour through CrunchBase. Now look for funding announcements from companies. And the moment a new company would pop up on CrunchBase, I would call the CEO. And I’d beg you have money to spend come spend it with us. And I did such a poor job of articulating why I thought that based upon the state that that company was at, and the new problems that they were going to face could be solved by our solution. I say that story, because I’ve been that STR doing a bad job at that.

Greg Reffner 8:45
When we won startup showdown a month and a half, two months ago. I think I got 60 phone calls a day, hundreds of emails every single day. And not as like, I knew why I was on the list. Nicholas to your question, but not a single one of those outreaches. Whether it’s voicemail, I got text messages, LinkedIn messages, emails, not a single one of them was irrelevant. And specific to Hey, your company is growing, here’s the problems you’re likely going to hit. Here’s how I think we can solve those. And so it saddens me, because I was at SDR eight years ago. And nothing has changed between eight years ago when I was doing those bad things. And today, when hundreds and 1000s of STRS are continuing to do that.

Nicholas Thickett 9:35
Yeah, like when I get people that go and reach out to me and they’re like, I just can’t get a hold of the right prospects. I can’t open the deals that I want to get to. And it’s like, okay, why them? Why now? Why are they on your list? Yeah. What is the minimum requirements to be a good customer for you to see the full value in what you offer, and why now? What about that company changed? What intent Did you see? What are the pain signals that say, Hey, it’s not just Mo Money, Mo Problems. It’s a we went help this company I was going through the series, see, because they didn’t realize it, this, this and this, we’re going to come up, we help so and so with this. I was wondering if I could send you a list of a few things to consider. Would that be helpful? Yeah, just changes the whole tone.

Greg Reffner 10:25
Yeah. So let’s talk about that. So try to bring that back to the topic of cold calling, then, like, is that a conversation that you try to have over a phone call? Or is that something that you’re doing maybe on social, maybe via email, in preparation to then go make a phone call?

Nicholas Thickett 10:43
I think that cold calls aren’t dead. I think that the phone is a powerful resource for communicating, I think you also have to go and score your channels based on who you’re talking to. I know that when I call senior managers over the age of 50, they prefer that I call. And they hate when I email because their emails, more of a to do list than anything else. And they’re just not on social media, they don’t see the value in it. And it’s not part of their daily routine. So there’s that. But going back to like, what, when do you call calling is a great way when you need instant feedback. Or you look and you see the other your other like primary channels aren’t available. And too, sometimes it’s better to not go direct. With privacy laws and everything else. Sometimes it’s great to go and call the Secretary or the gatekeeper, and turn them into an asset and ask for their help. So there are reasons.

Nicholas Thickett 11:44
But if you’re always defaulting to cold calling, because you’re using like a parallel dialer, and you’re just trying to go scale, we’re not, that’s a tough thing to do. Because unless you validated every single number on that list, you’ve seen that that is their primary channel that they like to communicate on. And there’s a reason for them to be on the list in the first place. This is why companies spend so much money trying to get better at tactics, because they’re trying to make up for the fact that they shouldn’t have called the person in the first place.

Greg Reffner 12:17
Okay, so I asked you and the overall kind of theme of our topic is, why aren’t most STRS qualified to make cold calls? is the more important question like, why are most companies failing and enabling or preparing reps to make those calls in the first place? Yeah,

Nicholas Thickett 12:38
I think that’s a great question. And I can actually tell a story, if you don’t mind. Yeah, please, let’s let’s hear, I was talking to a company that deals with sales enablement, or the particular person was director of sales enablement. And I was trying to understand why they were having such high churn in their STRS. And why their quota attainment was below 40%. And so when I started digging in, to what was actually going on, they had great scripts that all the technology that you could ever want. But they were still failing. And they were all frustrated, and they were leaving. And when I look, they’re spending spending over 10 million, or they’re spending seven figures to go and try to improve their tactics. But when I was trying to dig into what that looked like, what was that actual process to becoming a lead to actually calling them, they had their most junior of junior people building the list and then giving it to their STRS and make a phone call. So these are people that have never stepped in those buyers shoes. They don’t know what their roles and responsibilities are. They don’t know what they’re judged on. They don’t understand the intent. They don’t the changes the pain signals that would make right now the right time, or actually seeing a customer realized the value that was promised from that product. And so they were living on a hope and a prayer, kind of the traditional spray and pray and they were trying to spray and pray better and faster. I think that is the issue is instead of getting targeted. We’re just kind of walking out. You know, why does a hunter not take a machine gun out hunting? He sees the deer and he shoots and if he can’t shoot to kill and respect the animal then he shouldn’t be out there hunting in the first place. That answer isn’t okay, well, let’s bring in machine guns so I can shoot more time.

Greg Reffner 14:32
That’s fair. Yeah, absolutely. Right. So precision, right, Be precise. And so I guess thinking back to that customer story, Nicholas. Was there a rationale or reason why they had the most junior people building that list? Was it like an initiation? Hazing? Like, what was their reason?

Nicholas Thickett 14:55
They didn’t actually have one North normally I hear that with STRS like why do you get them to start cold calling you’re emailing and that that’s usually what it is. It’s initiation, you got to earn your stripes by putting in the numbers. But that wasn’t it. They wanted them to get used to using the software. We they wanted them to see the scripts and they wanted them to get kind of exposed to everything. But like, why not CES? Why not put them in customer success to go and do that? Why? Yeah. Why make make the lists?

Greg Reffner 15:23
That’s true. Okay. So again, it doesn’t sound like like, let’s not blame the SDR. No, it’s like the SDR there’s there’s so many people and processes and strategies and decisions that are driving the behavior of that SDR. And so, okay, so we’re getting somewhere with this. So, again, I don’t think it’s the STRS fault. I think it’s sales enablement sales leadership’s fault that makes these decisions that, you know, hey, you’re day one, you’re gonna go build a list of qualified prospects for us. That sounds like a horrible idea in the first place. So let’s change this a little bit. If I’m a new SDR, like, and my company is telling me, Hey, you’re gonna go build this list? And I need the job, I need the paycheck. Like, what would you recommend I do to help me maybe understand how to build that list so that it’s actually an effective list in the first place? Like what resources? What strategies? Might I go and use?

Nicholas Thickett 16:33
A great question. I would read all the case studies on your website. And I would look for common trends. And especially every time they have a case study, they always have the quotes. Look at who was quoted, go into the CRM and see who actually was part of that deal. And then look at the titles and the commonalities. And also look at there’s the first quote of the problem statement, there’s a solution statement to what did they get quoted? What was their actual wording of the solution? Pay attention to that?

Nicholas Thickett 17:06
Also, build a list of all the closed one and closed last? Call them you’re already cold calling cold? Call them? Hey, I just wanted to know, how would you like, ask them? How would you describe us then call a close loss? How would you describe us? And really understand where that difference is? Was it because it was pitch wrong? And they didn’t see the value? Or was it because it was a bad fit in the first place? And really start to hone in? Where give yourself a sandbox to play in? Where can you put up those parameters? So you’re not searching everywhere? And then if you can, if ask your bosses to like, have you guys done a win loss analysis? Do you know what the top five customers we won last year? How do you know the top five that we lost? You know that the five fastest that we closed? What did you notice? That was the same? Yeah. And yeah, and one of my favorite things, if you have an open team, that’s a real team, working together, ask if you can get the top SDR to share their screen while they’re prospecting and get them to manually prospect to accounts and get them to talk about what they’re looking for, what they didn’t see what the what is the things that are like those like, Oh, this is somebody I need to call and get them to talk about what they would say to them, why it matters, so that you’re understanding the thought process that goes into making a good call, not just a good customer.

Greg Reffner 18:39
I love that. And I mean, if you’re using some type of like Call Recording tool, like conversational intelligence, right, like, go back to those top customers go listen to those calls. What were the pain points that they were you that they were trying to solve for? Why did your solution meet those pain points. So there’s really like, just pure laziness is probably the only reason why someone who is tasked with building that call list would not be able to build a qualified call list. Like there’s so many resources and technology available to you to find out who should be on that list in the first place.

Nicholas Thickett 19:20
I’ve heard a couple people say to it’s the activity metrics that they’re they have to hold a bag to quickly so there’s no real ramp period for them to learn. Yeah, but I would say like doing this process doesn’t take as long as people think. And by doing it every single outreach every single whether it’s a cold call, social selling an email, every activity will get better because you’re learning by experience because you’re running experiments otherwise, what how do you learn when you don’t have a rhyme or rhythm to why you’re doing things? And so like you were saying, even like listening to recordings, I would have killed for that when I started be able to listen to like the great calls and then compare it to the ones that we lost that bombed. What was the difference? Why, but yeah, metrics and then just meet, I don’t know if it’s just laziness or even not knowing how to use it because they don’t understand the context behind it.

Greg Reffner 20:17
Such a good point. Yeah, there’s really, today’s day and age, there’s no excuse to not have resources to figure out how to build that list. And so, our conversation has definitely shifted a lot. You know, there’s, I think we can agree it’s not that STRS aren’t qualified, it’s that the teams the leadership is not properly enabling that SDR, more, you know, not giving them really enough time to even kind of wrap their head around like it’s probably a week, right? You maybe need a week of consuming case studies consuming calls consuming industry information, right? It’s not months, right. It’s not a year, it’s maybe a week, maybe two, to then know how to go build that list in the first place. So I think, you know, the next question I was gonna ask you is like, why is the turnover rate for SDR so high? I think it’s pretty obvious, like unrealistic expectations. I’m, like, totally disillusioned, enablement tactics, not aligned with buyer personas, like personas not aligned with, you know, the changing dynamics of a market. Like, the list goes on in terms of why SDR turnover is so high.

Nicholas Thickett 21:29
Then there’s the kind of the thing where you own your success. So it’s, you go to your manager, and if they don’t have a supportive culture, shut up and work suffer in silence. And unfortunately, a lot of people own that company failure as their own. When really, it’s not. It’s not. It’s on on them.

Greg Reffner 21:48
Yeah, I agree with that. I agree with that. Well, last question, I guess. So we’ve kind of come full circle. So how would How do companies go about changing their mindset? around like, you know, Hey, you didn’t hit top of funnel lead generation for your SDR team? This this quarter, we’re putting everybody on a pip. Like, it’s so easy to do that. Right? It’s so easy to not be introspective and go, What did I do wrong? So how do companies go about changing their mindset to where like, let’s not just start immediately got reaction lame, the SDR. But let’s, let’s think broader picture, what are we doing to kind of not enable this SDR team in the first place? Yeah,

Nicholas Thickett 22:34
I would, I would challenge any of the senior leaders that are listening to this, are you teaching your juniors to sell in a way that you would never buy? Like that, I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and say, Oh, my God, I just need this software that would solve everything. And honestly, I also don’t have the budget because it was never on my radar in the first place. And I think we need to realize that there’s ways to accelerate and build that momentum in a sales cycle. But a great cold call is just an opening portion.

Nicholas Thickett 23:12
And so we need to really consider where that buyers journey is starting and how we’re enabling it as a whole. And realize do like people are busy, are calling the busiest people that you probably got a book two or three weeks out on their calendar. So let’s consider how we’re supporting the sales team and doing that so that they’re actually coming in the time that’s actually beneficial to that buyer. Instead of trying to force a way it’s always been done, like, Predictable Revenue was what written in 1987, a long time ago, and so that it was built on the merits of people that were what worked in the 60s and 70s, I got trained at when I first started. And then we had 2014, we’re HubSpot came in with inbound marketing, and then 2019, where people started to have to use intent software and social selling and different ways to contact that. The times have changed. Why hasn’t our sales process

Greg Reffner 24:08
so I, I heard a previous podcast recorded I think it’s the it was described as like, it’s the old white guy who’s still in sales leadership, who’s been selling for 30 years, since Predictable Revenue, you know, nothing against Aaron Ross and predictable revenue. Right? That book is phenomenal. Like, I think there’s a lot of good takeaways that are that are still relevant today. But like, the same people that are leading sales teams, they’ve, they grew up and they kind of, they carried a bag through that way of selling and so now, you know, old dog new tricks, right? It’s very hard to get that person who has been very successful in their career for 2025 30 years to think differently about how to bring you know out a route to market that includes like STRS and your, you know, the bumblers of the world, the 10 datas. You know, that we talked about, like, there’s so much out there now that you almost have to be just as versed in technology and how it enables STRS in addition to sales strategies, tactics, and implementing kind of a repeatable sales motion,

Nicholas Thickett 25:25
so absolutely.

Greg Reffner 25:29
All right. Well, Nicholas, this has been awesome man. Anybody wants to get a hold of you kind of talk with you learn more about Alliance? Maybe look at using you guys for some help. What’s the best way to get a hold of you

Nicholas Thickett 25:42
can find me on LinkedIn, Nicholas thicket t h, i c k e t t, or you can go check out b2b Power And if you shoot me a message and let me know what you’re struggling with, I will do my best to go and find the best resource for you.

Greg Reffner 25:58
Cool, awesome. I appreciate it. This has been awesome. I know our our general theme quickly got blown to pieces and we went off topic. But there are some good nuggets for us in our conversation today. And really thankful for your time and your thoughts on the subjects.

Nicholas Thickett 26:16
Thank you for having me and thanks for the great conversation. Really appreciate it.

Greg Reffner 26:20
Absolutely. Daisy necklace.

Nicholas Thickett 26:22
You too. Bye bye

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