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Breaking Into Sales: Ernest Owusu On What It Takes to Climb the Sales Ladder

In the “Breaking Into Sales” series, you’ll learn actionable tips and fundamental sales techniques to climb the SDR ladder and close more deals. 


Ernest Owusu is the Senior Director of Sales Development at 6Sense, an account engagement platform that shows companies where their customers are in the buying journey and when it’s time to engage. In addition to his role at 6Sense, Owusu is considered a thought leader for BDRs looking to improve their game and BDR managers hungry for battle-tested best practices. 

We chatted with Owusu about his unconventional journey from professional football to sales, new sales strategies and tactics, and advice for professionals looking to launch their sales careers. 

Ernest Owusu headshot
Ernest Owusu, Senior Director of Sales Development, 6Sense

Q: What led you to where you are now as a senior director in sales, and how was that journey for you? 

I went down a very non-traditional path where I had a professional athletic career before becoming an SDR. I got hurt during my athletic career and didn’t know what to do next, so I jumped into this SDR game. And honestly, a lot of what helped me get to this point as a senior director in sales is mentorship, if anything else. My mentors taught me to test and experiment continuously when prospecting because the sales industry constantly changes. 

The things I did to get meetings as an SDR early on in my career would absolutely not work nowadays—so aligning myself with the right mentors and the tactics that are working helped jump-start my career as an SDR. Even now, as I grow as a leader, I strive to create an environment of constant testing and improvement to ensure our programs at 6sense are up to date with prospecting tactics that work in today’s modern era of selling. 

 

Q: You often chat about your experience coming from a nontraditional background before breaking into sales. What advice would you give to job seekers who might be doing something similar? 

I think the biggest thing is to keep an open mind. Initially, things are going to be confusing, and it’s going to be hard because it’s a new environment and you might not what you’re doing. The main thing to remember is, that there’s nothing wrong with that. When jumping into the sales field, my advice is:

  1. Be ok failing early. It’s normal and will only help you grow
  2. Don’t do it alone. People want to help as long as you seek feedback from the right people
  3. Seek opportunities to leverage the skills that allowed you to thrive in your previous roles
  4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Growth is a marathon, not a sprint

It was tough for me when I first started as an SDR. I hit roughly 50% quota attainment my first quarter because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was very focused on continuously improving and growing.

 

Q: How do you empower your team to come up with new sales strategies and tactics?

There are different ways to test, right? It starts with being very intentional about how you encourage people to test different sales tactics. In my experience, SDR programs have to be very process-driven. Process-driven programs give you a great foundation and structure to make sure you can predict what will happen when you test different tactics. It allows some variance for people to explore and test tactics that are working and things that you want to know. 

A great example of this working was when we asked the team to prospect through social media — specifically LinkedIn. With LinkedIn messages, you can send text-based messages, voice memos, videos, and so on. During the testing, we had one SDR who found a lot of success leaving different prospects’ voice messages through LinkedIn. Her primary goal was to message people on LinkedIn, so instead of taking the traditional approach of using just a message, she started testing out voice memos, and we started realizing it worked well. Because of this, we brought the tactic into how the larger team prospects. 

It’s definitely a balancing act, but the main takeaways are that the team has to be extremely process-focused in terms of the metrics they follow and how they operate. It’s also important to incorporate an aspect of innovation because the industry changes so quickly. 

 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an SDR?

People will not take a meeting with you unless you provide them with something that will either help them do their job better or help them avoid a potentially massive pitfall. When I started learning more about 6sense, intent data use and the concept around the dark funnel — a data realm full of signals about buyers’ interests and intent — I became interested in how to assess buyer intent. I knew that if prospects were going to take meetings with my team, we would need to leverage different sources of information to determine what they truly cared about and how/why our product could help them.

The great thing is that modern SDRs have access to this data and can see the specific keywords tied to what their prospects care about as well as where they stand in their buyer journey. So, overall a big piece of advice is to not reach out to any prospect or do any kind of outreach unless your messaging will help them improve their functionality in their job. Searching for keywords shows us what they actually care about so we can to provide value based on their intent.

 

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Q: Are there any other out-of-the-box prospecting strategies your team has seen success with? 

One thing to consider is the element of why we come up with prospecting tactics. When I first started as an SDR, I would write handwritten letters to people. Before COVID, our team would go door to door to our prospects’ offices and give them a package or pitch them on the spot. We would get meetings that way. That’s the cool thing about prospecting—we’re talking about strategies that are working, but I have no idea if it will be effective six months from now. You just have to keep testing. It’s just something that I love about sales tactics. 

 

Q: As a sales leader, what challenges are your teams facing in a remote environment, and how do you coach them through those challenges? 

I think many companies are struggling to figure out how to motivate their teams and keep them honest with activities in a remote environment. This probably goes back to my experience as an athlete, but culture always wins. If you build a culture where there’s high accountability, where people are taking care of themselves and are open about sharing best practices, it kind of takes care of itself. 

For anyone who still might be feeling the pain of working in this remote environment, I think it’s essential to dig deep into your company’s culture and use it as a mechanism to keep your team motivated and aligned. 

 

Q: What qualities do successful SDRs share?

In the book “Leading Sales Development” by Alea Homison and Jeremey Donovan, the four main traits of a successful SDR are business acumen, curiosity, conscientiousness, and grit. 

  1. Business acumen: The business acumen piece is critical. If I see a company and I learn about what that company does, it’s important to have the ability to take that piece of information and tie it back to your product. If you feel, as an SDR, that you don’t have the ability to understand your potential prospect’s company or why your product is suited for them, concentrate on the research so you can better understand them.
  2. Curiosity: As for curiosity, this goes back to the fact that the sales game is always changing. Salespeople are constantly looking to get better. SDRs that are looking on LinkedIn, talking to other SDRs, joining sales communities, and trying to uplevel how they’re prospecting tend to do really well because they’re able to adapt pretty quickly. 
  3. Conscientiousness: The conscientiousness piece, I’d say, focuses more on the organization. SDRs should keep a tight process with how they do things, when, and why. That system of organization tends to work well in an SDR’s day-to-day work environment. 
  4. Grit: Grit is needed because sales is sometimes a tough job. Sometimes you’ll sit there and make 100 calls, or sometimes you’ll have to do countless hours of research. All these things are a bit challenging, and people need to have the grit to push through and keep going. 
  • Originally published July 22, 2022