A Call Breakdown for someone who cold-called me to sell Lead Gen Services

This blows me away: the service this guy was pitching was Lead Generation, where his team would cold call potential clients for my company and set appointments for our sales reps.

I would NEVER want my potential clients to have this type of experience for their first interaction with someone who represents my organization!



When sales teams get to a certain size, there comes a point where it becomes pretty much necessary to implement a 2-Stage Sales Operation where you have SDRs handling the top of the funnel activities which frees the Account Execs up to focus on the middle to bottom of the funnel activities.

You know this already, so here’s the BIG PROBLEM that I help organizations solve:

Old school sales tactics are out—especially with the rise of digital marketing. With how much information we all have access to, potential clients can actually research and familiarize themselves with your company’s products and services BEFORE they ever make (or agree to take) a call.

And of course they can also look up your competitors and your online reviews, so realistically, a good portion of their buying journey is completed before they ever actually speak with you—and we all know how no one likes being “sold,” but everyone loves to buy—especially when it comes to things that they actually need.

Humans just have this internal desire to feel like the decisions they make come from within with no external pressure—especially from sales people—so everyone seems to go into Initial Interactions in heightened, emotional states of mind where they’re overly skeptical and hyper-critical, which means they’re actively looking for reasons to not trust you.

They talk a little tougher because it’s easy to hide behind screens and phones, and old school sales tactics send off the exact type of signals that cause them to flee the encounter and explore options elsewhere—and that’s just one side of the coin for this problem.

The other side is how the humans from the solution provider actually communicate, so realistically, you could be applying zero sales pressure yet still cause potential clients to go dark by communicating poorly.

I mean, think about it: how do you feel when you need help with something so bad that you’re doing Google searches and filling out requests to be contacted and then you get on the phone with someone who sounds like a novice? You quickly check out and seek options elsewhere. On the other hand, get on the phone with someone who sounds like an expert and you’ll happily move to the next step of their process.

So realistically, Initial Interactions are in fact, high-stakes encounters, and if you know how to systematically OPEN the sale in a way that puts the organization in the leadership position, you won’t have to rely on traditional sales tactics when it comes time to close, and this book lays out the framework for how to do it every time.

Do it just right and it sets your account execs up for massive success; do it wrong and it chops their legs out from under them before they have even a chance to step out onto the field, and realistically:




the Reasoning for my “Hybrid” SDR Incentive Plan

Most Incentive Plans that I’ve seen for SDRs typically promote quantity over quality (and manipulation).

I’ve seen:

  • Low base pay with no incentive plan, so nobody cares
  • Low base pay plus $3 per lead, which promotes manipulation
  • Low base pay with ranges, like:
    • 20 – 25 Qualified leads per month = $250
    • 26 – 35 Qualified Leads per month = $500
    • 36+ Qualified Leads per month = $750

These plans were not data-driven and created a hornet’s nest of bad behavior at the top of the organizations’ sales funnels by promoting bad behaviors.

The reps I inherited on this team would get a lead in, send a “Qualifying Email,” wait two days, then call if there was no response. They would get responses to emails, though, and they’d consider them to be “Qualified Leads.”

I remember one of the reps, Rebekah, playing on her iPad all day, watching TV shows, and she’d tell me how she: “Qualified 14 leads today.”

Then the sales managers, like Marcia, told me how: “Your team sends us all these Leads and they never even answer the phone, so what’s the point of even having this team?!”

Christine told me how: “We have a great product and closing rates are fantastic when we get it in front of the right people, but the breakdown has always been actually getting in front of them to present.”

(We was talking about converting website visitors into actual sales opportunities).

We fixed it with this incentive plan. I got rid of the reps I inherited, completely broke down and revamped the top of the funnel strategy, hired new team members and provided the training and guidance, and I rewrote the incentive plan so that it promotes and incentivizes the best top of the funnel Stage 1 behaviors for the organization.

I know it’s aggressive as far as potential dollar amount per lead, but it’s data-driven, so it makes it possible for leadership to run a report like this:

There have been 1204 Qualified Leads that my team has processed so far this year, but if you wanted to check on them, where would you even begin?

I would start with:

  • A+ Leads (500+ Clients) = 157 of them.
  • A grade Leads (200 – 499 Clients) = 156 of them.
  • B Grade (10 – 199) = 764 of them.
  • Out of 157 A+ Leads, how many were NBO versus EXP / REN?
    • 123 NBO
    • 34 EXP / REN
  • How many Successful Handoffs have we had all across the board?
  • 381 / 1204 = 31.6% (WHAT THE FFF, right?!)

I introduced “Lead Grading” to [COMPANY], and having access to these insights (even though not fully-grasped onto across the board yet, it seems), is what data-driven sales organizations are doing. Data tracking like this is a gold mine when used right. We can make decisions based on fact and not solely on gut-feelings.

This also makes it possible for us to “put our finger on the pulse” and see how the business unit is operating across Stage 1 / Stage 2 (Pre-sale Relationship).

Stage 1 is locked in here, but Stage 2 is still a bit of black hole.

When locked in all across the board, the organization will have a higher level of accountability and alignment not just from top-down but from side-to-side, too. It all starts with Stage 1, though, which is where I’ve seen a lot of organizations “miss the mark.”

This incentive plan “gamifies” it for my team.

By putting a higher potential value on leads, it motivates them to not let anything slip through the cracks, which is why our Website Visitor > MQL conversion rates are outstanding (32% in July).

They don’t know a Lead’s Grade until they get them on the phone and ask the right questions, and they have to follow and execute on our communication strategies. If they don’t? Then I can take away the Quality Bonus. 99.9% of the time though, they understand the reasoning of our frameworks and execute flawlessly.

The amount available to earn for incentive per month is higher than normal, but it’s minimal compared to what the organization is making on the returns by having a team like this in place.

It also heads off the normal behavioral-type issues you see with SDR-type teams because they have the opportunity to earn enough to at least take their jobs seriously. If the original incentive plan was still in place, I wouldn’t be able to retain quality employees because they’d just work here and go through the motions while proactively looking for employment elsewhere.

A Certain Level of … Confidence

I think there’s a certain level of confidence that can only be achieved by being as prepared as possible. Chris Voss, author of Never Split the Difference, says:

“In times of crisis, we don’t rise to the occasion … we fall to our highest level of preparation.”

That’s quite profound (and quote-worthy). Think about how when we’re put on the spot about anything, we get nervous; we can’t help it. When you’re put on the spot, even with something that you’re a subject matter expert on, but find yourself struggling to come up with the right words for the moment? You SOUND like you’re struggling to come up with the words, and this UNDERMINES your credibility.

Nervousness in your voice registers subconsciously in the Dog part of the person that you’re communicating with’s brain and it sets off alarms, like:

This person is nervous … therefore something must be wrong …”

I think that a key to success when it comes to effectively communicating about anything is to reduce as many variables as possible (like the pegs on the Plinko board). Think about the confidence, and fearlessness, that comes across when you don’t have to think about what you’re going to say next, especially when you’re calling out to a potential client for the first time.

If they answer and you’re not prepared to speak? You stumble through your intro, trying to come up with something intelligent to say, and it undermines your efforts from that point forward because you allowed that :30 second bomb to detonate. Jordan Belfort takes it a step further and says that you have FOUR SECONDS to come across as these three crucial things:

  • You’re SHARP
  • and an EXPERT

FOUR SECONDS!” he says. “That’s it! If you don’t come across as these three things in the first four seconds? You’re done!”

I know that “four seconds” can seem a bit extreme, but seriously: what’s the alternative? Let’s say you DON’T come across as those three things in the first four seconds. What happens? You set off alarms, the other person instinctively labels you as a novice, and the bomb blows up and causes the other person to not really listen or take you seriously from that point forward (the bomb is probably a bit more extreme than Jordan’s :04 Seconds, but that’s okay).


*Get a copy of this book at:

Two Stage Sales Operation

After a while, when a sales organization’s workload gets high enough, it makes sense to implement a two-stage sales operation. The sales development reps handle the initial interactions (top of the funnel activities) during stage one, and the account executives handle the discovery calls, presenting demos and closing deals (mid to bottom of the funnel activities) during stage two.

This makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons, but it’s not exactly a “quick fix” as it opens a can of worms for an even bigger problem: a two-stage sales operation that doesn’t have alignment from team-to-team with how they communicate (and hand leads off) helps to create the Black Hole of Digital Marketing.

In most cases, no one will intentionally sabotage his organization’s efforts to sell, but here’s a few examples of this bigger problem in action:

  • If the SDR provides in-depth explanations about features and benefits, it’s too much information, and too fast, for this point in the relationship.
  • If the SDR asks all the questions the AE normally would ask and then when the AE speaks with the lead, she runs through the same questions, it’s irritating for the potential clients.
  • If the SDR gathers high-level qualification information, logs it in the CRM but the AE skips over it and opens the discovery call with: “… So, what’s got us on the phone today?” potential clients’ll have to repeat themselves and try to remember what they said already.

Stage two should pick up where stage one left off. If your potential clients have to start all over with explaining themselves, it’s annoying and it sets of threat alarms (like these people aren’t sharp, therefore I better explore some other options).

Years ago, when I was on sales-side receiving leads from an SDR team, there was nothing worse than when I’d get a potential client on the phone, start asking some questions, and then sense the frustration because he was already asked the same types of questions. Now he has to repeat himself and try to remember what he said in the first place because there was no alignment from stage one to stage two.

Or I’d go to start explaining something, and he’s like: “Yeah, the other guy already told me about that …” and then I’d find out that what was said was inaccurate. Now I’m facing the uphill battle of trying to smooth things over, but in a lot of cases, leads in cases like this would just go dark.

It’s very, very important to have a clear communication framework in place for how stage one and stage two should go because this will help your organization to really provide what potential clients really want:


I was in a meeting a couple weeks ago (with another company), and their SDRs asked me why I don’t care for warm transfers. They told me how if they have a potential client on the phone who wants to speak with a sales rep, then they want to get them over to them ASAP. Of course I heard them out, and I understand the reasoning behind that, but after the meeting, it made me really think about how and why I do things the way I do.

Here are a few big reasons – I believe that:

  • a control measure for communicating effectively is to reduce as many variables from the situation as possible
  • accomplishing any task while using the least amount of force is good for everyone involved
  • well planned-out, orchestrated, optimized experience at the beginning of a potential relationship gives consistency & predictability to how the relationship forms
  • a solid communication framework is something you can train others on and replicate all across the board
  • it’s chaotic to do things differently every time, and the chaos is amplified when there are multiple team members doing things differently

If an organization’s initial interactions with potential clients ARE NOT controlled and well-orchestrated, then it can literally undermine the organization’s efforts to sell. On the other hand, if they ARE controlled and well-orchestrated, then it’s mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

ATTN: Digital Marketing Agency Owners

Alright, so here’s the situation: let’s say you run a digital marketing agency. You have clients from all over the business spectrum, i.e. small businesses, enterprise level and maybe even a few fortune 500 companies. You have a steady book of business and your clients pay you a range of anywhere from a few hundred bucks to thousands per month, and even though they all have different products and services, they all have this one thing in common:

They pay YOU to help them get their websites ranking high enough to be found when people search for unbranded keywords associated with their products and services.

You’re an expert when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and you know what you’re doing. You even specialize a bit in CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization), so you’ve got your clients’ websites dialed in and organized in a way that compels visitors to click through and submit direct requests to be contacted (or even just pick up the phone and call in directly).

Digital Marketing - Human Interaction

At this point, your job is done, but let me run something past you:

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say your clients get 100 direct website inquiries per month because of your expertise. But after several months, they’re only converting 2 or 3 a month into paying customers. How long do you think this will this go on before they pull the plug and jump to a different agency?

In a situation like this, your client isn’t necessarily going to audit their internal sales process—they’re going to blame the source, like:

We pay you all this money every month, but the leads we get from your campaigns convert at such a low percentage that we’re just gonna try working with another agencyso go ahead and cancel our contract.”

Meanwhile, what if they got the same amount of leads from your campaigns, 100 per month, but they’re converting closer to 40 or so into sales on a regular basis?

And to briefly hit on the other side of the same token, I’d still ask the same question if you’re a director or VP of an internal marketing team. We all know how marketing and sales teams are oftentimes at odds with each other …

What If You DON’T Discuss Budgets Early in your Process?

Long story as short as possible, my wife and I recently had a pool built. It’s awesome! We went through the purchasing process with four different pool builders. We wanted to check out five, but one of them had an absolutely terrible first call with my wife and she didn’t allow the salesperson to schedule an onsite visit to walk the yard and take measurements to draw up plans.

Anyways, none of them asked about budgets on Interaction 1 or Interaction 2 (the onsite visit at the house). Randomly, I fed budget information to one of them on Interaction 2, like this:

“I know having a pool built can range in cost, and from what I can tell, they typically start around twenty-something thousand … now, we don’t mind paying a little more for an upgraded cleaning system because we want this to be as low-maintenance as possible.

“My wife and I both work … a lot … so we’re on the go and just wanna relax when we get home, so … the range that we’re looking to spend is somewhere around twenty-five to thirty-thousand or so. Do you think we can get what we want within that range?”

“Yeah, I think so …” said the sales guy, Colton. “With what you’re looking to do, you’re looking closer to $30K, but I think we can make it happen.”

When we showed up for Interaction 3, the proposal presentation at the office, Colton walked us through the design and the price was just right: $29K-something. Everything was good; my wife and I felt good about everything and the plan made sense and it was exactly what we were looking for.

Now, the other pool companies: no budgets were discussed during the Interactions 1 or 2, and when we showed up for the proposals at the offices, the plans they presented were great and everything looked good and they were designed well and exactly what we were looking for, but they all priced themselves out of the job—by a lot!

At $37K, $39K, and $42K, there was absolutely nothing any of them could say during Interaction 3 that would convince us to go with them, and realistically—the designs were all basically the same, except one had a pool light that I could control with my phone and change the colors on (which wasn’t exactly something that we cared about).

So, the pool is built, we swim almost daily, everything is awesome, but I have to ask: what if, and this is a BIG WHAT IF, but:

“What if we fed the budget information to a different pool builder instead of Colton and his company?”

Would he have shot way high and found himself with an impossible deal to win during Interaction 3 like the others? Who knows, really, but I believe you get the point of why I’m sharing this story about discussing budgets earlier on in the process.

When you think about it, you have to realize that there’s a cost to getting to the point of going over a proposal with your potential clients.

There’s the cost of acquiring leads in the first place; the cost of processing and moving them to the different stages in your sales process; and plus:


When you spend time with leads who are never going to close, it takes time away that you could be spending with potential clients who you actually have a shot at doing business with.

The Ever-present Struggle

I am a semi-pro drummer. I’ve played for years with a few different bands, and although I don’t make a ton of money from it, I do not play for free, ha ha!

So anyways, to a non-musician, music can seem pretty complicated. And you know what? A lot of music IS complicated, but when you think of the most catchy, radio-friendly pop-rock type songs, they’re usually pretty simple and follow a pretty distinct format:

They’re usually be about two-and-a-half to three minutes long or so, and typically, they fall relatively close in tempo ranges. They’re simple, catchy, easy to understand, and once you know the formula as far as lyrics, tuning, timing, and structure goes, they’re actually pretty easy to replicate.

After a while, it gets to where you’re really just going through the motions without even really thinking about it because you become subconsciously competent. It’s like muscle-memory where after a while, the moves are just burnt into your brain and you’re just going through the motions without having to really concentrate at all. In fact, if you have to concentrate, you haven’t practiced enough and you probably shouldn’t be playing in public, haha!

Anyways, a four-piece bar band (like mine) is usually comprised of a:

  1. singer / guitar player
  2. lead guitar player
  3. bassist
  4. drummer

And they all need to be on the same sheet of music (both literally and figuratively speaking) on a few different levels. What I mean by this is that there are different:

  • tunings that songs were recorded in
  • lyrics
  • structures (not everything follows that sample format from above—there is variance, of course)
  • tempos & time signatures

So, if one guitar is in one tuning and the other is in something different, something about the song will seem “off” to the audience members and it will detract from the experience. If the song is originally recorded at a certain tempo but the band rushes things and plays it at twice the speed, the singer will sound like the Chipmunks as he tries to keep up and cram all the lyrics into that reduced amount of space. He’ll be out of breath and singing in a higher-than-he-should-be-in-key because when you rush words, the pitch of your voice raises, and then something sounds off to the audience members.

Some people like hearing a little bit of variance from the original recordings, but not by much. When you think about it, if you’ve heard a song that you consider to be one of your favorites more than a hundred times throughout your life, even as a non-musician, you still know how it goes, and when you hear something out of place or out of time, it just stands out (and usually in a bad way). It detracts from the experience—especially if it’s a sloppy rendition that’s played in the wrong tuning (or if the lyrics are wrong, or it’s way too fast or even way too slow).

And you know what’s crazy? Asides from musicians, no one really notices when a band just nails it and plays a song perfectly—but they sure notice when something goes wrong and is out of place! Remember from that neuroscience stuff from earlier: we’re much quicker to notice when something is wrong or out of place than when everything is just fine.

But anyways, here’s what happens when a band figures out all that structure and timing and framework for songs: they’ll consistently replicate the original recordings and provide the best experience when they play live. Here’s what they get in return:

  • Repeat business
  • Power to pick and choose where they play (or don’t play)
  • Respect from the bar owners
  • Loyal fans who make sure they never play to an empty place

Now, can you just imagine how this concept applies to the experience your organization provides during the pre-sale relationship (and beyond)? Organizations with different team members who do things in different ways, in this analogy, are like the sloppy bar bands where:

  • Half the band is one tuning, the other half is in the other—so something just sounds off
  • The song starts out right, but the drummer has a little too much adrenaline and Red Bull pumping through his veins, so the song takes off like-a-rocketship-and-is-going-way-too-fast
  • They get to the guitar solo part and the guy’s hitting all the wrong notes and you’re thinking: “I don’t play guitar but even I know that that’s not how it goes …”
  • The singer is singing the last chorus and the other guys are backing him up for that big sound, but they’re all singing different words and everyone in the audience is confused
  • All of this cacophony takes place during the first set, which causes the people in the bar to clear out
  • Second set starts at 10pm, but the bar is empty and the band is booked ‘til 1am … it’s gonna be a loooong night!
  • The bar owner says “thanks, but no thanks” when the band leader tries to book there again

Organizations with different team members who do things in similar ways who follow a communications framework and strategy, in this analogy, are like the tight, well-rehearsed bar bands where:

  • Everything sounds & feels just right
  • There are subtle variances from the original recordings, but for the most part, they’re 95% dead-on
  • They have their transitions from song-to-song down & they’re keeping the audience moving!
  • 2nd set kicks off at 10pm & the place is packed!
  • The bar’s making tons of money, the experience is optimal, and the bar owner can’t wait to get them back in (maybe he’ll even offer them a regular gig throughout the year?)

Now, I speak from personal experience with all of this—I’ve been on both sides of this fence with bands AND with marketing and sales teams at different organizations, and I believe this all really comes down to that ever-present battle that we all face of trying to find the right balance of logic and emotion.

Music has certain logical elements, like structure, timing, lyrics and tuning, and when all the elements come together just right, it creates that certain “feel” that takes you back to that special place (or gets you pumped up and ready to go).

But with playing music, just like in business relationships, if you focus too hard on the logical elements, it becomes very possible to lose that feel, and vice versa. Like, if you go on stage and wing it every time, then you’ll have some great moments, for sure, but they’ll be buried under the mess of an overall sloppy performance, which ultimately detracts from the experience your band provides. Or if you’re focusing too hard on the notes and timing, you’ll sound forced and inauthentic.

No matter how much or how little money you’re making, playing music should be fun, and realistically, so should interacting with others in both business and personal settings, especially when you’re legitimately helping people who came to you for help.

When you analyze the experience your organization provides, you’ll be able to identify the logical elements, get them all lined up just right with the right structure and sequence, refine the formula, and once you have it all down, you can then replicate that ideal, optimal experience that makes your clients feel right about doing business with you.

Audiences typically don’t know the band’s set list, tunings, tempos, all the notes—all the logical elements, basically—and typically, they don’t care about that stuff as long as everything feels right.

Everything mapped out here is the business equivalent of having the sheet music so that when your business unit “jams” together, they’re consistently delivering the best experience gig-after-gig-after-gig, no matter if they’re playing small, local bars or big stages at festivals.