Effective Research Tactics

May 28, 2021

🌻 SDR Symposium | May, 2021

How much of a premium do you put on research in the sales development role?

Are you a ‘cold calling purist’ who doesn’t need to do much research to see success? Or do you need to know everything about your prospect before reaching out?

Chances are, you’re somewhere in the middle.

It’s easy to get lost in a research rabbit hole. Then…BAM! Hours have flown by without an activity to show for it. But if you’ve ever been in a situation where a prospect bashes you for not knowing anything about them/their company, you know there’s value in preparing at least the bare minimum.

We asked a panel of seasoned SDRs about their thoughts on research. From the tools they use to the engines they build to some actionable tips, we cover why research is important and how you can make it a valuable part of the sales development process.

The Guests

Lee Baker.png

Lee Baker

Sr. SDR, Team Lead

SDR Symposium Guests - Greg C..png

Greg Cammarata

Account Executive

SDR Symposium Guests - Meg P..png

Meg Palombo

Regional Manager

SDR Symposium Guests - Zach F..png

Zach Fenton

Sr. SDR, Team Lead

Looking for a video recap? We got you.

We started our discussion off by talking tech. There are countless tools out there to help SDRs research accounts and contacts, each one with its own pros and cons. Some are great for finding accurate contact information. Some are great to help reps personalize their messaging. Some do both!

So we started the discussion with a poll: What’s your favorite research tool?

poll 1 - research.png

*Obviously, the results above don’t reflect all of the possible tools out there, just what we have access to at demandDrive*

LinkedIn (and if you have access to it, their Sales Navigator feature) was the most popular by far. And our panel agreed – it’s an incredibly versatile tool for SDRs.

Greg is a fan of Sales Nav because not only can you map out a company hierarchy and identify key decision-makers, you can also find relevant information to include in your outreach. You won’t be able to find everything you need, but at a minimum, it can give you an idea of what to expect when you reach out to the account.

Zach agreed – LinkedIn / Sales Nav is great, but it can be better when you couple it with the prospect’s website. Poking around there can help fill in some of the gaps that exist if you rely solely on LinkedIn. Compelling events and company news are prominent on a lot of company websites, and referencing those can help personalize your message further.

Lee took it a step further and claimed that you pretty much need a complementary tool like Google or a company website to make LinkedIn effective. Or as he put it:

“Sales Navigator lets you find what people want you to find, but Google lets you find the stuff that LinkedIn doesn’t have.”

Having a working knowledge of tools like Google Alerts will give you a huge leg up on the research process. LinkedIn gives you a general idea of your account/prospect and what messaging would resonate with them, but Google Alerts helps distill public information to impact that messaging further. What could be better than getting relevant information on your target accounts delivered to your inbox on a regular basis?

Outside of LinkedIn, Meg chimed in with a thought on data tools like ZoomInfo. Just like how LinkedIn can help you map out the company hierarchy, ZoomInfo can do the same (plus provide contact information). Knowing who best to talk with before you even start reaching out is a great preparation tactic for SDRs. Sometimes half the battle is just finding the right person to talk with at larger organizations, and if you have a tool that can distill that information for you it saves a ton of time.

3Rs social image - new.png

Dig deeper into the impact research can have on the overall sales development process! It’s not just about using the right tools – you have to leverage the information they provide you into referrals and relationships to see success.

So we know that our panel values research and has a favorite tool to help accomplish that, so we dug a layer deeper. One of the biggest knocks on research is the time it takes – the more time you spend researching an account, the less time you have to actually call. So how much time does our panel dedicate to research? And how do they find that balance?

Meg employs a 30%/70% split of research : activity (on average). She also chooses to front-load her research in time blocks (smart) to create a systematic process and effectively break up her day into manageable chunks. A couple of hours of dedicated research time can set you up well for ~6 hours of active prospecting.

Lee agreed with Meg and added that not only should you get research done early, but noted the importance of getting that research into your CRM. That way, you don’t have to do the same research over again. It makes subsequent follow-up so much easier when you already have relevant information that ‘past you’ uncovered.

💡 Pro tip: Make sure to date your research! It spoils like milk. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by referencing something that’s over a year old when talking with a prospect!

On top of your account and prospect research, Zach brought up the value of complementing it with industry research. Knowing your space and what’s going on in the industry is just as important as knowing something personal about the prospect. Building credibility is very important when executing outbound prospecting, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to “talk the talk.” That means subscribing to industry newsletters, following the top names in the space on social, and getting involved in industry communities (to name a few)

Greg also brought up a good point about optimizing the research process. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. And if you can make your research process highly systematic, you’ll get better at it faster. For example, Greg knows that the first touch is the one that takes the most time in his prospecting process. He focuses a lot of effort on the first touch and gets really good at that initial research. Then over time, that step gets easier and he gets more comfortable executing that research process. The time it takes him gets cut down, and he can load more accounts into his process.

Meg echoed Greg – “you’ll find your groove.” At first, new SDRs will have to spend more time getting that initial research done – and that’s ok! As you get comfortable with the role you’ll need to do less research for each account AND you’ll do it quicker. After a few weeks, you’ll be like a totally different rep.

💡 Our friends at LeadIQ developed “The 10 Minute Game’ to balance their research : activity ratios. Check it out here!

Next, our panel got into the nitty-gritty of how they actually execute the research talked about above.

Lee and Greg talked through their step-by-step process for uncovering information and how they utilize it in their outreach.

Lee broke his research down into 4 categories:

  1. Job responsibilities: Do you know what this person does on a day-to-day basis? Can you understand where your solution fits within their goals and challenges?

  2. Company size & information: Is this an account that falls within your ICP? If you bucket accounts by persona/tier, where does it sit? What can you find about them online (news articles, funding rounds, recognitions, etc.) that can tie into your outreach?

  3. Relationship & past activity: Does this account already exist in your CRM? Have you talked with them in the past, or has someone else at your company talked with them? What can you glean from existing notes in your CRM?

  4. Hobbies & interests (this is optional): Can you find something personal about the prospect you’re reaching out to? Maybe they’re a ‘donut connoisseur’ and you can theme messaging around that, for example. Use it to stand out from the rest of the SDRs prospecting them!

💡 Important note – don’t force the personalization! If your prospect loves donuts but you could care less, don’t fake it! Prospects can tell when you’re genuine in your outreach, and nothing is more of a turn-off than fake messaging about something that’s not crucial to your outreach.

Once Lee has all of that information captured in his CRM, he starts prospecting. The rest of the panel employed more of a ‘research first, prospect later’ style – Lee was the only proponent of the ‘research as you go’ method. Why? Data can get stale real quick, so what you find a week ago could be out of date already. Plus, he finds it easier to hold a conversation with someone with that research fresh in his mind.

Greg takes a very systematic approach with his research (like Lee) but opts to get it done in batches before reaching out.

  1. To start, set yourself a goal for the total number of accounts you want to pull in. The amount of time you dedicate to researching 25 accounts is very different than pulling in 50, so plan accordingly.

  2. He takes his accounts for the day and starts by mapping them out (using tools like Sales Nav and ZoomInfo). Who are the key decision-makers within each account? What about stakeholders? Identify all of them and get a hierarchical look at the company (and all of their contact information).

  3. Then, he moves to the account level. This step is all about getting a high-level understanding of what they do. Are they similar to any customers you can reference? How do you see your solution helping them overcome perceived obstacles? Note the industry/market they’re in and see what trends and news articles are popular.

  4. Follow up that industry research with a bit of deeper account research. Can you find any compelling events or triggers that would make sense to reference in your outreach? Maybe they just made an acquisition, were quoted in an article, or received an award.

  5. Finally, get into some personal contact research. Can you go beyond understanding their role within the organization and find something personal about them? Did they appear on a podcast recently? Are they a featured speaker at an event? Or maybe they talk about fishing a bunch on LinkedIn? Look for tidbits to add a personal touch to your message.

💡 Like Lee, Greg noted the importance of being genuine with your personalization. You can easily go overkill on the personal side of things. Remember that the message is still about the value you can provide, not the fact that you also went deep sea fishing off the coast of Massachusetts and caught a ‘wicked big stripah.’

One thing that Greg and Lee have in common is that they don’t deviate from their process. Consistency is key when it comes to research. You get better at finding the right bits of information faster when you keep your process the same each time.

That being said, they both agreed that if you’re researching some top-tier target accounts, it makes sense to spend a little more time uncovering relevant info.

Some other noteworthy tips:

  • Zach tripled down on his statement that the best way to do research as an SDR is to know your industry inside and out. The more you know about the space and what’s going on, the more credibility you bring to the conversation. The next best thing is to understand your ICP really well in order to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes – the more you know about their day-to-day the better you can tailor your message.

  • Zach also noted that all LinkedIn profiles are basically the same (format-wise). Once you know what to look for and where to find it, it becomes very easy to uncover bits of information to use in your outreach.

  • Meg pointed out that while it’s great to know a lot about the prospect or account before reaching out, nothing beats active listening. You can either confirm what you found in your research OR augment it when you actually listen to what your prospect says. Sometimes the best research is done live on the phone!

SDRepresent Cover-03.png

More research & process advice

We chatted with Chris Beall of ConnnectAndSell about his sales development philosophy and where research fits into the equation 👉

We talked a bit more about time management and how our panel plans out their research process – mostly in terms of how they budget time between research & activity.

Zach’s magic number is 3. When he’s breaking into a new account he looks for 3 people to send a personalized message. Any more and you:

A) Start to look like a nuisance (people talk, and if you email 20 people at the same account you can bet they’re going to talk about it).

B) Start to sink too much time into one account.

For Zach, getting those 3 prospects (typically decision-makers or key stakeholders) into his cadence allows him to experiment with his message on a few different people. It also means he has a backup in case one of them isn’t the right person to speak with or if his data is inaccurate and they’re no longer at the company.

Lee also does his prospecting in batches of 3 (if possible). For him, it’s more about timing. You shoot yourself in the foot if you reach out to 9 prospects at once and your timing is off – now they all know who you are (that annoying SDR) and they don’t have a need for your solution. But if you play the long game and batch your outreach to those 9 people in 3 waves (3 at a time) then you stay relevant for a longer period of time.

Meg doesn’t have a specific number to work off, but she prefers to start small and increase her workload over time. It takes experience to know what titles are worth your time and have a higher chance of converting. Start by pulling in a few contacts per account to get used to the process. Go through your conversions and conversation notes to pick up on trends – which titles are more likely to convert? Why? What about them and their role makes them more of an ideal profile? Knowing that you can start to more effectively pull contacts into your research cadence.

And Greg gave everyone a reality check by pointing out a simple fact: “you might want to personalize 100 messages, but you can’t.” For him, he’s all about balancing personalization and relevance. For him, personalized (1-to-1) messaging is reserved for the top-tier contacts within the account – aka the decision-maker(s) and top influencers. As he moves down the totem pole, the messaging becomes less personal and more relevant (1-to-several). It’s all about time management, and knowing the people you HAVE to impress vs. the people you WANT to impress dictates the type of message they receive.

time management.png

Looking for more time management tips?

👈 Check out our post on SDRevolution.

We closed out the symposium by asking our panel what advice they have for newer reps who are learning the ropes and starting to figure out their own research preferences.

Lee went back to his point about getting information into your CRM – just do it! The more you can capture in your CRM, the better. It helps you build out a profile of the contact or account you’re reaching out to in order to remain relevant over long periods of time. Plus, the more you capture now the less research you have to do in the future.

Meg brought up the idea of experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try new things! You have a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as an SDR, and the more you test (messaging, outreach strategies, research tactics, etc.) the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you grow.

Zach channeled his inner Joel Embiid when he said “trust the process.” If you find something that works, stick with it. Don’t just adopt someone else’s process because it works for them, find something that works for you.

And Greg chimed in with “whatever you do, stay disciplined.” It’s fun to experiment and learn in the SDR role, but none of it matters if you don’t have a consistent process in place to learn from your experiences and grow as a rep. Consistency is key, and it pays to have a routine.

There’s a lot of discourse around the value of research in the sales development world. Is it worth the opportunity cost? Does it make sense to minimize research to maximize activity? Valid questions – managers want their reps to spend time on revenue-generating activities, after all.

After hearing our panel discuss the value that a strong research process can bring, however, we argue that research is a revenue-generating activity. It focuses the efforts of your reps on the highest value activities and better prepares them to have productive conversations. Without it, your reps could be targeting the wrong people with the wrong message at the wrong time.

Our audience agreed:

poll 2 - research.png

Is it the most important part of the SDR process? No. But it sure does help.

And as our panel illustrated it can elevate you above your competition and sustain a healthier pipeline for longer periods of time.

What do you think? Are you a fan of SDRs spending time researching their accounts, prospects, and industry? Or would you rather they spend that time prospecting? Let us know in the comments!

aj alonzo

AJ Alonzo is the Head of Marketing at demandDrive. A former SDR turned marketing leader, he's made it his goal to develop resources for sales reps who are looking to level up and for managers who are looking for guidance. Outside of work you can find him trying to shoot under par at his local disc golf course, sipping on a bourbon on the rocks, or continuing his quest to be the very best like no one ever was.
Follow on LinkedIn

Let’s talk about your path to success

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit.