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Personalization & Authenticity Drive Human Connection

Guest: Sean Simerly, Head of Sales Development at Benchling

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About This Episode

If you had to come up with a theme for the way you lead your team, what would it be?

Today’s guest would say that his theme is the importance of human connection.

I was honored to have a great conversation with Sean Simerly, Head of Sales Development at Benchling, about the 2 guiding lights he uses to lead and develop his team.

Sean is the child of attorneys who made it to sales development leadership by way of music and filmmaking. 

What connects his nontraditional path to sales? Storytelling and communication.

“It’s all about connecting with people on a true level and being able to have honest conversations and compel action through narrative,” Sean said.

Connecting with people

Sean did a stint as a podcast host (Hiring on All Cylinders) when he was at Entelo.

In podcast hosting as in recruitment, preparation is key. “You go into a sales call, and if you don’t have all your ducks in a row, that call is going to be pulling teeth,” he said.

He said a missed connection was actually a missed opportunity. 

For example, that role helped Sean observe the similarities between recruiting and sales. 

“The job of recruiter is difficult because you’re selling something more than just a product,” Saen said. “You’re selling some place where someone’s going to spend a third of their life.”

Sean emphasizes the importance of connecting with others in the way he leads his team.

“The importance of having that human connection is really prevalent,” he said. “How can I build a team that is thoughtful, empathetic, and can embrace perspectives that are different from mine?”

2 guiding lights

In sales, it can feel as though you’re constantly hiring.

The challenge of making sure a new SDR understands how they fit within the organization shapes the fundamental processes of hiring, training, and development.

Here are Sean’s 2 guiding lights:

  • Relevant personalization
  • Authenticity

Relevant personalization

Much is made in sales about personalization.

Relevant personalization, however, isn’t using a slight connection as a segue to your sales pitch.

“The number of people who think that personalization is literally just a checkbox is far too common,” Sean said.

Marketing is more personal than sales, nowadays. To be a salesperson going up against that level of personalization, your only differentiator is relevance.

“You have to have some compelling piece of relevant context about that individual that then ties into some value of your product,” Sean said.

The phrase he and his team use is this:

That’s the reason why I’m reaching out.

“It empowers people to have a more human connection with prospects because they’re not just personalizing to say, ‘Ha, gotcha.’ They’re personalizing because the prospect gets to put the pieces together,” Sean said.

The prospect should be the one who realizes why the connection would be beneficial — rather than the salesperson spoon feeding them that info.

“Take these two disparate points of information and craft a compelling narrative to connect the two to be in a much better spot to have a genuine sales conversation,” Sean said.


Relevant personalization reaches outward, while authenticity reaches inward toward the people you work with.

Quick quiz: As an SDR, who do you think your customer is?

Answer: It isn’t your prospects.

See, an SDR doesn’t sell the product to the prospect. They’re actually delivering a signed contract to the account executive, their partner.

“Your customer as an SDR is not the prospect. Your customer as an SDR is your account executive,” Sean said.

In light of this, authenticity expresses itself as being clear and genuine with your account executive. (Honestly, a little bit of relevant personalization wouldn’t hurt, either.)

“An SDR selling internally needs to be able to explain why an account executive should get incredibly excited about something,” Sean said.

If the AE can be persuaded — not just informed — about why a prospect is a good opportunity, they will arrive excited to the meeting.

If someone just hands you a meeting and tells you to be excited, you probably won’t be.

But if they put the evidence in front of you, and you can see from the numbers or other empirical evidence that it’s going to be a win, you’ll bring far more energy to the meeting than you might have otherwise.

Shared expectations

Are you noticing the same thread running through all of Sean’s wisdom?

He bases his work on the foundational assumption that we need to connect with each other as humans.

“If you think that you have to get someone hyped up by using a bunch of commentary,  then you’re not treating that person as someone who can make that decision on their own,” Sean said.

This should be your goal: I want this conversation to be a genuine dialogue between two people.

“Treating someone as a human will make every conversation easier,” Sean said. “Make sure that you are thinking about the other side of the phone.”

Honesty, the perception of salespeople is shifting because sales itself is shifting.

“The number of salespeople that are that stereotype, that caricature, are few and far between these days,” Sean said.

Most of us don’t care about what brand of car we drive. Most of us want a sense of purpose, to work together to improve other people’s lives in the world.

“Today, more than ever, requires us to be human,” Sean said.

He pointed out that COVID-19 acted as a generational defining moment for individuals and companies. “The businesses that focused on people first seem to be the ones that are weathering the storm most effectively,” he said.

Sean’s parting wisdom:

“Always be willing to ask a hard, genuine question of your teammates — and be willing to hear the hard, genuine answer,” Sean said. “Leverage that shared reality, that shared context, to be able to take the next step.”

To hear more of his views on personalization, authenticity, and the importance of human connection, reach out to Sean on LinkedIn and Twitter.

For more engaging sales conversations, subscribe to The Sales Engagement Podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or on our website.

About The Podcast

The Sales Engagement podcast is the #1 podcast focused on engaging your customers and prospects in the modern sales era. This show features real-life stories and best practices from revenue leaders doing the job day in and day out, in a casual, radio-like talk show.

Each episode features modern tactics, strategies, hacks, and tips to get the most out of your sales engagement strategy and help you navigate the next generation of sales. You’ll find energetic talks that will provide you with real actionable value around building meaningful connections and creating a better selling experience through authentic conversations that you can measure.

The Sales Engagement podcast is here to help B2B sales leaders, customer success leaders, and marketing leaders innovate and usher in the next era of modern sales by building pipeline, up-selling customers, and ultimately generating more revenue with more efficiency.

Hosted by Joe Vignolo, Senior Content Managing Editor at Outreach, and Mark Kosoglow, Vice President of Sales at Outreach.

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