The Key Is Personalization at Scale with Appy Choudhary

In this episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast, we have Appy Choudhary, Head of Sales Development at Blend, where he has built and leads AE and SDR teams as a sales leader with nearly 15 years of experience. Join us for an authentic conversation about applying sales leadership to building SDR teams — and the role of personalization in generating opportunities.

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If you missed episode #184, check it out here: Mastering the 2 Ps: People & Process, w/ Kerry Hudson

What You’ll Learn

  • Personalization makes a difference in prospect response
  • Video mail and messaging is a huge personalization aid
  • The SDR role is all about learning and being coachable
  • Hiring people early to tech sales is ultra rewarding

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. About Appy Choudhary & Blend [1:50]
  2. A sales leader’s hiring process [6:02]
  3. Using personalization and creativity to drive responses [9:05]
  4. The unexpected in sales leadership [13:30]
  5. Advice about generating opportunities [19:30]
  6. Paying it forward [20:53]
  7. Sam’s Corner [22:17]

About Appy Choudhary & Blend [1:50]

Sam Jacobs: Welcome to the Sales Hacker podcast. Today on the show we’re talking about sales development and pipeline creation with Appy Choudhary.

Before we get there, we’ve got three sponsors. The first is Outreach, a longtime sponsor of the show. We’re excited to announce the Unleash Summit Series is back. Get more details and save your spot at summit.outreach.io.

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Now let’s listen to my conversation with Appy Choudhary. He’s a sales leader with over 14 years of experience, with an MBA and engineering background. He has built and led AE and SDR sales teams, achieved individual revenue quotas, developed go to market strategies, managed regional sales, and recently has been a hiring machine.

Appy is a top performer at his company, Blend. Built an SDR team from scratch at his previous company, LaunchDarkly, and has also been a director of sales. He’s well versed in different sales methodologies, and has gone through various sales leadership training. Appy, welcome to the show. First we want to understand a little bit more about Blend. So what is Blend?

Appy Choudhary: Blend is a digital lending platform that helps banks and credit unions go through the mortgage lending process smoother and faster.

We’ve just acquired a big company called Title 365. After the acquisition, we’re a company with almost 2,300 employees. My current team is 15 SDRs, including team lead/managers. We’ve grown the team quite a lot. In fact, most of the team is relatively new because we’ve been promoting hiring. There’s a lot of attrition, good, positive attrition on the team as it’s also the junior talent pool for our sales organization. That’s pretty exciting.

Sam Jacobs: How did you find your way from engineering into sales? Tell us a little bit about your life story.

Appy Choudhary: I started off as an engineer and then slowly got into sales engineering, supporting and consulting techy clients. That’s where I realized that I’m much better off in sales rather than engineering. I started traveling, meeting clients, traveling to go to conferences, and since then I’ve been focused on selling and closing revenue targets, leading sales people.

Sam Jacobs: You were one of the founding members of LaunchDarkly. Talk to us a little bit about that experience and about building that team.

Appy Choudhary: I was hired by our VP sales, Hector Hernandez, to build the SDR function from scratch. It was a series B company with 25 to 30 employees. I was the fourth sales member on the team. I initiated the SDR playbook. We started getting outbound and inbound results. I started hiring SDRs, revamp the playbook, and understand what kind of folks we should be hiring. Within a span of two years, a lot happened. I hired and onboarded over 24 SDRs as a direct hiring manager. I myself got promoted thrice. I got to work for an awesome product with truly amazing and smart people.

A sales leader’s hiring process [6:02]

Appy Choudhary: About the interview process, I do the initial phone screens, usually for an hour and if they go well, I send candidates an assignment to check out their writing sample and then invite them for an onsite. We meet, myself and a couple of leaders and SDRs on my team, and go ahead and extend an offer.

I look for five to six most important skills in this role, that include someone who’s coachable, because this role is all about learning and growing. Someone who’s organized because as an SDR, you’re dealing with thousands of leads, slack, different Google sheets, Salesforce reports, Excel files, etc. You need to be organized so that you can keep up with your tasks.

Someone who’s self-motivated and hardworking. You need to be super self-motivated and have great persistence around your work. Someone who is curious, who’ll want to know what problems, challenges your prospects are facing. Someone who’s creative, who can think about creative messaging. Think about different ways of outreach and connecting with your prospects. These are the things I look for in candidates when I am interviewing them.

Sam Jacobs: How long do you think somebody should be an SDR before they’re promoted to account executive?

Appy Choudhary: 12 months on the lowest end and 18 months is the max, depending on what market you’re selling in. At Blend, we sell to enterprise financial organizations and the sales cycles are really long, a lot of MSAs, red lines and contracts. You need a lot of experience to sell into those kinds of accounts. That’s why you need to be an SDR for 18 months, as the learning curve is a good one. But 12 months is the least.

Using personalization and creativity to drive responses [9:05]

Appy Choudhary: There are a lot of things my team does in reaching out to these prospects. We have a really good gifting strategy. We use Sendoso to send personalized gifts and experiences to our prospects, to grab their attention, and have a conversation with them.

We use video outreach. My reps go on Twitter, research prospects, find out who their prospects follow, what do they like? That gets us quite a bit of traction. We include different social selling strategies, sending voice notes on LinkedIn, sending a selfie video, using GIFs in their emails. All of these creative strategies make their emails and calls stand out, and help them be successful in their current role.

We prioritize, breaking their prospect list into tiers and segments. Tier one are the most important accounts they need to break into. Selecting the top decision makers at each of these accounts, and doing the most personalized outreach to this tier of people.The second batch with medium level of personalization.The third tier is where they can use the least amount of personalization and more automation.

Quarter to quarter, it’s usually 5% to 8% where my reps are able to generate opportunities within these tier one accounts. Where they invest a lot of time and personalization, create specific sequences on outreach, and do a ton of research.

The unexpected in sales leadership [13:30]

Appy Choudhary: Sales back in the day was very different compared to sales now. I was managing account executives who were responsible for closing business. I thought that was the most exciting part back then. I moved into specific SDR leadership. I wasn’t expecting it to be so challenging, but at the same time so rewarding and motivating. I get an opportunity to hire super talented young people, maybe fresh out of college or their first or second job, very early to tech sales, and set them up for success for their entire career.

A few of my SDRs reach out to me after five to seven years sharing how successful they are, still using some methodologies of the playbook I created for them. That’s pretty satisfying. It’s exciting and motivating that I had such a big role in their career. That’s what I love about this role.

I wasn’t expecting this to be so challenging. There’s so much to learn and grow from every individual.

You need to spend a lot of time with a fresh college graduate. You need to teach them how to behave in meetings, and understand their thought process. There’s a lot of time investment, training that goes into leading SDR teams. I wasn’t aware about this when I was taking this challenge, but I’ve grown into it.

I think an SDR should move into a closing account executive role, then try to get into specific management. I highly recommend folks to get into an account executive role, gaining experience in that role, before getting into management.

Advice about generating opportunities [19:30]

Appy Choudhary: My advice would be to spend time thinking about how to solve challenges each individual rep is facing on their team. How they can be effective in removing those blockers and challenges. Connecting with their leader so that they can well equip them. Train them or outsource training for them so they’re able to solve those challenges. That will set the SDR manager up for success.

Paying it forward [20:53]

Sam Jacobs: Who are some people that you think we should know about?

Appy Choudhary: My VP of sales from LaunchDarkly who’s now at traceable.ai had a big role in my career journey, especially in the last three to five years. I also follow a lot of SDRs and sales leaders, including Sam Nelson, Becc Holland, Jeremy Donovan, and Mark Kosoglow.

LinkedIn is the best way to get in touch with me. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. Feel free to connect with me.

Sam’s Corner [22:17]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody. Sam’s Corner. Really enjoyed that conversation with Appy Choudhary. He’s learned that personalization is the key. Companies that had predictable revenue 10 years ago are convinced that that is the way to do things forever and ever.

Those emails where it’s like, I see you haven’t responded, and it’s the seventh email in a thread. That stuff doesn’t work anymore and it shows that you’re not thoughtful or creative. You have to personalize.

Appy’s teams use video, they use Sendoso, they use text messaging, they use LinkedIn voice memos, LinkedIn selfie videos. Platforms like BombBomb or Vidyard to record videos of themselves. The reps go to your LinkedIn, Twitter, or your Facebook page. They figure out the things that you really like.

The point is personalization, my friends. You’re going to have to find a way to do it. You got to show up with your brain every day to work. We don’t need robots.

If you’re just going to be a robot pressing go on an outreach sequence and blast me with stupid emails, go home, pal. Get out of here. We’re not buying it. What I am buying is personalization, thoughtful outreach, research, and a sense of compassion, empathy, and curiosity from the people that reach out to me.

Otherwise, my friends, I will talk to you next time.

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      Profile picture of Suraj Chandalia
      ( 170 POINTS )
      7 months, 1 week ago

      Awesome experience shared by Appu Choudhary ! Many sales guys can take a leaf from !

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