The Rules of Engagement
Sim Singh took a breath, put the phone to his ear and readied himself. He was about to make his very first cold call, and the target was a well-known CEO.
Singh was a business development rep at Braze, a cloud-based customer engagement platform. While Braze’s BDRs frequently use creative methods to reach out to leads, Singh was so new that he didn’t have any bells and whistles. He was going to have to get through this challenge on grit, training and intuition alone.
He pressed “call” and waited in silence while the phone rang.
“It was 5 p.m. on a Friday,” Singh said, remembering. “I reached the CEO while he was in his car with his wife and kids. I felt a little awkward, but he was super nice.”
Although Singh was nervous, he and the CEO immediately connected. The business leader had heard of Braze before, and Singh was able to describe the value the company could provide as a potential partner for the future.
“I was able to book a meeting with him for the next week, which was pretty awesome,” Singh said. “To hit up a CEO and land a meeting on the first cold call was just a great start to the role.”
According to Braze employees, working in the BDR org holds many rewards beyond exposure to C-suite executives and the big deals that can result. In addition, employees use highly creative methods to reach out to clients — including video skits and clever gifts — while also following a litany of avenues toward promotion and career development, thanks to Braze’s passion for internal growth.
Built In Chicago sat down with former BDRs Singh, Zana Thaqi and Jonah Chernoff to talk about their experiences at Braze — and how their careers have taken flight since they joined.
Braze at a Glance
I. C-Suite Exposure
A lot of the leads at Braze are high level, which is exciting. How does having C-suite executives as prospects positively affect your business acumen?
Account Executive Sim Singh: You need to have a certain level of competence to have a conversation with somebody who is a business leader at a large organization — or any organization, right? I mean, these are people who have their ducks in a row. And that kind of forces you as a seller to have really vast knowledge of not only our space, but also their business. So if you get them on the phone, speaking to a CMO or CEO, you need to be confident about how your organization can help them know more about their business. Professionalism goes a long way as well. But the main skill you build is confidence, because cold-calling can be a nerve-wracking thing. But once you get a few calls like that under your belt, it becomes such a breeze.
Customer Success Manager Jonah Chernoff: I once made a cold call to a CTO at a company — I’d emailed him a couple of times before, so he kind of recognized my name. And we dove right into it, focusing on where they’re looking to go as a business and better understanding some of their KPIs. From that call, I actually landed a meeting with 10 other engineers. He invited us to a data panel to present. It was a pretty unique story in the sense that, just from one call — if you can develop enough rapport and really understand their business — it can lead to some pretty cool stuff.
Just from one call — if you can develop enough rapport and really understand a company’s business — it can lead to some pretty cool stuff.”
It seems like you can also get deeper into business strategy during some of these calls.
Chernoff: Yeah, definitely. If it’s a C-level executive, the call will be a lot more high-level — a lot of conversation on ROI — where, of course, if you’re talking to the director of engineering, it’s going to be a lot more nitty-gritty stuff around technology. Really understanding who you’re talking to and being able to speak their language is certainly really important in this role.
II. Avenues to Professional Growth
It seems like Braze has systems in place to encourage BDRs to learn about the company and eventually be promoted to a variety of new roles. What have all of you seen in terms of leveling up at Braze?
Singh: You’re looking at three examples of it right now — people who started as a BDR and went on their own paths because they got to learn a lot about the business and identify which path they wanted to take.
For me, the path led to becoming an account executive — kind of an individual contributor. Zana focused on management and Jonah went over to customer success. But even from the pot of five or six people that we started with three years ago, all are on their own paths at Braze at another level — they’ve been promoted subsequent times in those three years. When you combine this role — which gives you a wide opportunity to learn a lot about the business internally and where you can find value — along with the business that’s providing value externally to the marketplace as we scale, and it gives you the perfect seed to figure out where you want to go and then progress your career.
BDR Manager Zana Thaqi: From the onboarding perspective, we really push employees in the BDR org to talk to as many people as possible. We’ll tell them, “That’s marketing, that’s customer success — go directly to the source and learn something from them.” You have so much exposure to these different departments. Employees at Braze have such a high rate of promotion that we’ve had people move into account management, customer success, technical selling, marketing, management and even things like support or partnerships.
We’ve had people move into every facet that touches the customer relationship.
What skills do you think this role develops for employees who are looking to use those skills in future positions?
Thaqi: From my perspective as a manager, I would say the top four skills that are developed are discipline, professionalism, resourcefulness and thinking outside the box — understanding how to figure things out on your own. And even though we teach you a lot, if you’re a self-starter you’re going to crush it.
Even though we teach you a lot, if you’re a self-starter you’re going to crush it. ”
III. The X-Factor: Creativity
Is it true that creativity plays such a huge role in reaching out to leads?
Singh: A lot of people think that a BDR role is kind of like a call center shop where you go in and hammer out 50 of the same emails and 100 phone calls every day, and it’s this rinse and repeat process. And when you’re done, maybe you’ll get promoted. But that’s not what I wanted, and it isn’t the case at Braze.
The creativity at Braze is huge — we get to potentially work with some really cool brands like a Venmo or an HBO Max. So part of our philosophy is living the prospect’s brand, downloading the app, experiencing it and then figuring out how creative you can get with reaching out to them. You can create videos, do little skits and record yourself and send that video to the C-suite. You can look at potential clients’ LinkedIn profiles and send them a gift — like a tea box when you realize they’re interested in a particular product — and really just find ways to connect with people at a more human level.
What are some examples of creative approaches you have used?
Thaqi: We’ve done cool and hilarious things like eating a sandwich from a specific brand while trying to explain a pitch — at least it gets views, right? We’ve had people do fitness challenges for fitness brands or makeup tutorials for beauty brands. We’ve had others sing songs, and in general, think outside the box to discover how we can stand out.
We’ve done cool and hilarious things like eating a sandwich from a specific brand while trying to explain a pitch — at least it gets views, right?”
Singh: Especially with Covid-19, there’s a lot of video-style prospecting. We’re all stuck at home and our inboxes are full, so it becomes even harder to engage with somebody. I try to provide value quickly, maybe in a 60-second video, about who we are and how I know their business, and how I think we can help. The video can include a quick demo of our platform or something more creative.
Some of the other folks on my team live the prospect’s brand and will record themselves getting a coffee at some well-known brand or getting lunch somewhere else. We show the interactions in between and how we can help.
One startup I was interested in had a funding round, and I sent them a bottle of champagne, which got me a meeting, and I said, “Hey, congrats on your series A. We’re a startup and you’re a startup in New York City — that’s tremendously exciting. Here’s champagne on us. We’d love to meet you. I think we can help. If not, enjoy it and more congrats to you.” People loved that approach. It was a great way to build a connection and share in their joy and experience.