"Personalization to me is not like putting in what college they went to."

Veronika Traublinger
July 6, 2021

A chat about getting started in sales, growing your career, and how COVID changed the entire industry.

JoBeth has over 6 years of experience as a frontline seller with a strong focus on SaaS. As Business Developer and Account Executive at various companies, selling different products, she learned what it takes to have great sales conversations and how to develop your skills and career constantly.

In the interview, JoBeth shares anecdotes about her life as a sales professional and hands-on tips for every sales rep out there.

Prefer watching? Check out the interview on YouTube!

Hi JoBeth, Nice to have you here today in this new episode of “In Conversation with.” Maybe before we get started for those who don't know you yet, you can share a couple of words about yourself. 

Yeah sure. My name is JoBeth Hanak; I’ve been in sales for about six years, seven years maybe, three of them in SaaS sales. I've done everything from full-cycle AE to BDR and SDR roles learning enterprise sales. 

Cool. How did you end up in sales? Was it a coincidence, or was it a dream job? 

It was a coincidence. You know I was in school at UT, and I was doing an internship where I was sitting in front of a computer doing spreadsheets all day. My internship was 20 hours a week, but it felt like it was 80. And so I decided to go work at a gym instead. I got a sales job in a gym, walking up to random people selling gym memberships. I enjoyed talking to people all day and realized I don't have to get a job where I'm just sitting in front of the computer all the time; I can get a job where I am talking to people. 

Walking up to random people in the gym. 

Yeah, it was nerve-racking at first, but I was pretty good at it. I enjoy just talking to people, and even though I'm not a personal trainer anymore, I still keep in touch with a lot of my old clients. 

Cool. You're an SDR, so you probably do a lot of cold outreach, which is kind of similar to walking up to random people in the gym - just now, it's maybe emailing, LinkedIn messaging, phone calls... Did you get used to it, or do you still feel a bit nervous when picking up the phone? 

At this point in my career, the extreme nervousness is gone. But I still have some days where, for example, I have been on vacation for a few days, and then come back and it's just like, “This is the last thing I want to do right now.” But you know, I just kind of try to think about it like I just want to connect with people. 

Do you have any tricks for calming down, especially for newbies? 

I think you just have to do it, you know? Like the worst that's going to happen is you sound like an idiot. Once you do it a few times, you get used to it. You know there's no secret or anything. You just gotta do it. 

As a sales professional, no matter if SDR, AE, or whatever, you often hear "No.” Or any other objection. They just see or hear that you’re a sales rep, and they're like, “No.” How do you deal with rejection? 

I think a big thing is not to take it personally. I had one experience in my first job in tech sales where my dog was at the emergency vet. She had some major health concerns. I was at work, cold calling, and a guy was super rude to me on the phone. And then I just told him, "Dude, like my dogs at the emergency vet right now..." I just kind of leveled with him, and then he ended up really coming around. And the next day, he even called back into the company’s support line and asked to be transferred to me and just asked how my dog was. It's one of those things where I've learned that many people have bad times, and you just can't really take it personally. Especially working in enterprise sales and reaching out to people who probably are in meetings from 7:30 in the morning to like seven at night... They probably have a lot going on, so... 

I think your story shows it's still a people business. I know there are metrics and numbers you have to hit, but after all, sales is a people business.

Yes, and it's easy to get caught up in it and stress out about hitting the number. I've had rough months, and you know how I get out of it every single time? It's just about having the mindset of, “I know my product helps people, and I just have to find the people who need what I have.” 

How do you feel when it's the last month of a quarter, and you know you still have to book a couple of meetings to hit your quota? 

I usually just grind it out, you know. Just pick up the phone and find someone who will talk to you and then do the best that you can. I remember the first time I had a terrible month, like a zero month. I was really down on myself. I talked to a friend who is a counselor, and she was like, “You're making all these statements about yourself that don't have anything to do with you but with your job.” And that was when it put it in perspective that this has nothing to do with me as a person. This is just what I do to make money. And I'm definitely passionate about sales, I love people, but, at the end of the day, it's a job. 

I had to start to compartmentalize and be like sales, that number, is just a portion of my life - it's what I do 40-50 hours a week. The best thing I can tell newbies is to have other things going on in your life so that it's not just all about your number. 

Talking about numbers always brings up the discussion about automation. Nowadays, in sales, there are so many tools to automate. How do you find the balance between automating stuff to hit your quota and activity metrics but also make the outreach so personal that people feel there is a real person who understands me? 

I think it depends on your industry messaging. Personalization to me is not like putting in what college they went to. My LinkedIn profile says that I volunteered at Austin Boxer Rescue, an awesome boxer rescue, which just happens to be in all caps. So someone will reach out to me and be like, “I saw that you volunteered at AUSTIN BOXER RESCUE.”  I know that it's automation, and it also doesn’t motivate me to reach out to the person. 

So, whenever it comes to personalization, I kind of try to think about it as, “Am I addressing a problem that they might be facing?” So, doing a little bit of research into the company to see what their struggles might be and let them know I've done my research. So I think loading people into a cadence in bulk, if I have messaging that I think applies to all of them, it would come off as being personal to them. Not necessarily to them specifically, but if maybe they're all in a similar role or whatever, then I think that you can sometimes get away with automation. 

A lot of people nowadays put an emoji in their LinkedIn name to see which message is automated. 

Yeah, that's also a funny trick. It’s kind of the same way as using capitals. I haven't gone that far, as it's usually pretty easy to pick out automated messages. And a lot of these SDRs may be new to the field, or they're just kind of doing what they've been told to do. I don't know; I’m never a fan of people who like to put someone on blast for the messaging that they sent out because it may not even be their messaging. 

We just talked a lot about email outreach. What about the phone - is it dead? 

It's not. I think it just depends on what you have access to. I've talked to multiple companies, and some companies will be like, “Yeah, we just don't have phone numbers to call.” However, in my last role, I got most of my meetings from cold calling. I think it just really depends on who you're reaching out to. 

I saw another SDR on LinkedIn a couple of days ago, and he said he likes to do outreach on Sunday evenings. Depending on what you said before, that it is just a job, you probably wouldn't recommend working on a Sunday evening, right?

I mean, if I had to, sure. But in general, no. Whenever I was stressed out by hitting my number and not doing well, I thought I would fix that by staying late. So I would stay until seven or eight and make calls, and I was miserable. And it didn't work. I got out of that rut when I signed up for a 5:30 cycling class every day, so I had to leave at five. 

I believe that this is a job that you can get done during the week, but I understand that you have to put in a little bit of extra work if you’re not doing well. So I'm not opposed to it. I think it's a personal decision, but for myself, I need my time off and my breaks. 

The SDR reasoned that, especially if you want to reach someone at the executive level, Sunday evening is an excellent time to contact them because they don't get too many emails and calls. Do you have another magic time window when you think it's the best time for outreach?

I'll go through phases where I'm like, “Yeah, if you do it in the morning, it works best…” But I think it just really depends. Especially COVID kind of disrupted everything - a lot of people are just in meetings all day. You just kind of have to catch them at the right time.

What are the biggest changes that you see due to COVID?

A lot of people are just not answering their office phones. A couple of months ago, I called someone, and they answered their office phone, and it surprised me so much it threw me off for a moment. So I think that and a lot of different objections. When COVID started happening, I was working at a company where I was selling construction software. And the construction industry shut down for a few months. You would call people, and they'd be like, ”Well, I don't know if I'm allowed to be working right now.” I think it was dealing with a lot of new objections and having to really empathize with people. 

What of those changes do you think will stay? Remote work, for example, is probably one of the most significant changes that are here to stay. Do you think anything particular to sales will stay different when we're getting back to normal? 

I think remote work is the biggest one. I can't think of anything else. But I think companies are going to have to start being a little more flexible to retain talent. I'm in my office at home right now with my dog. Before, she would have to be brought to a 1200 crate for dogs which neither she nor I liked very much. It helped so much for me to be working from home, and I've decided I want to keep doing this going forward. So I think that's probably going to be the most significant change. And I also believe COVID was scary for many people - you know, like health concerns and everything. So I think sales reps needed to be good at their messaging for someone to be talking with them while the world's falling apart. So I think it just forced many people to really work on their messaging and drill down on what works. 

I mean, working fully remote is kind of new for you too - congrats on your new job here. Being on a new job: how do you get used to everything? How do you adapt to the new messaging, get into the new team, and the new workflow? What are your tips here for other SDRs or sales professionals, in general, joining a new company?

It's been super smooth. They just mailed me all my equipment and had some onboarding stuff for me to do - some recorded stuff, a lot of things to read… They've done a really good job. One of the biggest things that companies will need to do is to be able to accommodate two different styles of learning. For me, solely watching videos or solely reading stuff and just absorbing all of it and then going straight into doing it is great, but other people might prefer different ways. In the past, I've been given scripts and stuff that I can tell no one's used. In theory, this sounds like a great thing to say, but writing down what people say conversationally and then learning is the best thing to do. Otherwise, you end up with something that's super stuffy, and it doesn't sound like anything that you would say. 

I think the biggest thing when being remote is you have to ask for what you need. There's not someone who's going to see you blankly looking at a computer screen and asking if you need help. I've had to learn how to get the support I need proactively. That's the best advice I can give to people. I really liked that the company encouraged me to set up meetings with a list of people just to meet them one-on-one. So now I feel like I kind of know everyone and feel comfortable reaching out to them. I've enjoyed the process so far.

The alignment between SDR and AE always has been a challenge, even before people moved remote. How did you ensure in your past companies and your current remote setup that you and your AE have a smooth communication and handoff process? 

I've been on both sides. I've been an AE, and I've been an SDR handing off things to an AE. I think a lot of it depends on the AE you're working with. I've had people who were pretty hands-off and like, “Just get me appointments, and I will close them for you,” and I've also had people who were like, “Hey, let's come up with a list of who to reach out to together.” I kind of liked the latter because it is more collaborative. I think it's kind of up to the company’s culture and personal preference, but I think it helps to team up on some stuff.

What role did your managers play in your career path, and do you have a tip for sales reps like how they should approach their managers to push their career forward, get support, and improve?

It's crucial to communicate where you want to be. If you want to move into sales management, tell your manager. If you want to move from an SDR role into a closing role, it's important to express that. I think it just comes down to clear communication. In the past, I wanted to go into management, and I've been lucky to have exceptional managers who helped me work towards that. I've decided not to do that right now because I enjoy being on the phone. I enjoy closing my deals and just stay in my lane. But I think that there are some great people in our industry who are excellent at building people up, and I think it's just important to be clear with what you want and be clear in the interview process. 

Whenever you're starting somewhere new, it's just important to be clear on what you want. When I was interviewing for my current role, I was very clear that I want to get back into a closing role, and they told me their process to do that, and I think it's doable. So, I think it's just communication. 

Yes, communication is vital. What are your top three tips for newbies in sales to be successful? 

I think a big thing that I had to get over is: don't be afraid to fail. Of course, be professional, but don't be scared to get out there and try something new. I've been told things where I didn’t feel like that's going to work, and then I do it, and I'm like, “Oh okay, I see.” 

Another thing is to find mentors. I've been lucky to have some great people who have taken me under their wing and been encouraging me. Sales is a hard job, so I think finding people who are your emotional support - whether that's someone at your company or your spouse or partner or whatever - you have to have support, especially when you're first starting out. 

Also, connecting with people in the industry is important. I had someone reach out to me who's trying to get into the industry recently, and he asked me about a company he’s interviewing with because I had friends working there. And from what I told him, he realized that wasn’t really what he was looking for. But I introduced him to one of my old coworkers, who's now a manager at a different company, and he just got the job that now fits way better to him. Making friends and connections through LinkedIn or however with people in the industry to be able to get some inside knowledge and to be able to learn how the industry works is extremely valuable. My career has improved exponentially, just having people that I could talk to outside of my company about things that are going on with my career. 

Reaching out to industry experts and sales experts is a great way to get some knowledge and to develop your career. I guess a lot is also learning by doing, especially building up the confidence to pick up the phone. Can you recommend any other resources, maybe things that you used to read or watch to build up your knowledge that you can recommend to others?

I think my number one resource has been the companies that have had really great training. And I have really great people in my life that I've met through LinkedIn that I can talk to and bounce ideas off. I've read a few different books - but it's not going to be anything new. The biggest learning is that every industry is just a little bit different. And I think more valuable than just learning about sales is learning about the psychology behind sales and your industry. What does the day look like for your prospects? If you can understand your prospect's role and understand how their company works, that's so much more valuable than just reading books. There are definitely some valuable books, but for me, a big thing has been mindset. I can recommend the books by Gabrielle Bernstein, which are not sales books or business books, but they helped me learn where I was holding myself back. Sales is an industry where you have to learn how to work on your mental health and mindset. 

I totally agree. I guess it's essential for every job. We all have ups and downs, and you have to cope with that. 

Yes, you have to be able to cope with that and learn how to get through it. I think the best advice I can give there, which was given to me when I was going through a rut by my manager, is: Write down what you did. Write down your process, what you had to do to break through that mindset. Because you'll run into this again, and it'll help to be able to look back on it. I'm a big process person, and I think just being able to learn what works and to be able to fall back on it is helpful. 

Great advice! Maybe as a closing remark, do you have any anecdote from your sales career that, either good or bad, that you would say had massively impacted the way you sell or your career? 

What's coming to mind is what we were just talking about: going through a rough time. When I started at a company, I was put on a PIP, and that was devastating. For me, a perfectionist, someone very achievement-oriented, it was a pretty tough blow. I had so much past success, been top rep and everything before, going from that to struggling to start at a new company was a massive shake of my confidence. That's when I got into the mindset stuff, and I had to learn that my mind is the only thing that's holding me back. It's not like there's something out there that's stopping me. I just have to believe that I can succeed. The only thing I changed was my mindset and trusting that it'll be for the best no matter what happens. Early in my career, I thought getting fired or being put on a PIP is the end of the world. But I've seen so many people go through that, and then they land in a job like at a different company that's even a better fit for them, and they've been able to succeed. So I think it's just being able to work through barriers that you may be putting in place for yourself. Learning how to clear your path so that you can do well and you be able to show up and connect with people because that's what this job's about. 

Thank you! I think this is a super important message for all young professionals out there! 

And you know what happened with the PIP? I got off of it in two weeks. I just changed my mindset, got back down to things, and was the second top rep that month. So that was a positive experience. I'm grateful I went through it because it helped me understand just how quickly things can change in this industry and how powerful your mind is.

Thank you, JoBeth, for sharing this story and so many other insights. I think this includes a strong message for every sales rep and young professional should. I wish you all the best in your new role. I'm sure you will smash it!

Thank you! I really appreciate you having me.

Want more insight on sales? Connect with JoBeth on LinkedIn and follow Ciara to never miss the latest sales news.