Can Shadow Calling Improve SDR/Sales Productivity?

Nidhi Kala
min read
August 25, 2023

Picture this: A newbie salesperson, Ryan has joined your team. On his first day, instead of being briefed about his responsibilities, he was bombarded with the several client details.

And the next moment, he was thrown in front of a new customer to conduct the sales call and woo them.

*Salesperson sweats in fear*

Isn’t that the first reaction when someone puts you in an uncomfortable situation?

Especially on the first day at work. 

So, what should you have done differently?

Well, instead of overloading the newbie SDR with loads of information, guide them about how they can improve their sales skills and conduct effective cold calls.

One sure-shot way of doing this is by maximizing shadow calling. 

Shadowing a more experienced salesperson on calls can help newbies learn the ropes and improve their performance quickly. It's a win-win for everyone involved: the company gets better sales results, and new salespeople get the experience they need to succeed.

In this article, we'll break down everything about shadow calling:

  • What is shadow calling?
  • How to shadow a sales call?
  • Top tips to know before starting the shadow call

What Is Shadow Calling?

Shadow calling aka a ride-along is the process of having a new salesperson ‘shadow’ or listen in on calls made by more experienced SDRs.

The shadow salesperson doesn't participate in the call, instead just takes notes and learns. Now, why do this?

Call Shadowing Improves SDRs’ Ramp-Up Time

When you're shadow calling a top-performing sales rep, you need to closely observe the following activities they do, and take notes. By doing this, you’ll be able to understand their processes of conducting the sales calls end-to-end. This will help you ramp up to full speed on how to deal with rejections or handle objections, and move on to the next prospect quickly. 

So, What do you learn by shadowing a sales call? 

  1. Understand the Pre-Call Rituals of the SDR

Look at the SDR's research criteria: do they conduct a basic research check on prospects or a comprehensive one?

If they just did the basic research check, they’ll have details like: 

  • Company name
  • What the company does
  • How long the company has been in business

But with in-depth research about the prospect, they’ll know about their competitors, failures, achievements, strengths, and weak areas, their pain points, and the ideal solutions they're looking for.

By doing this, the salesperson can personalize their script and ask more qualified questions to the prospect. 

💡Note-taking tip: Understand how did the SDR find this information. By visiting the company website or stories on authoritative publications? Through prospect's social media pages? Take note of all the resources the SDR uses to prepare for the call.

Also Read: Solution Selling vs Product Selling: What Makes Sense for Your B2B Business?

  1. Find Out What Their Cold Calling Process Looks Like

Picture this: the salesperson starts the call with the prospect. They greet the prospect cheerfully, talk about non-work things with the prospect and warm up the prospect. Now, share the agenda for the call and start asking questions to understand the prospect's struggles. 

They emphasize their challenges and educate them about the solution. And finally, they pitch their product and showcase the product's benefits to the prospect. 

During this entire process, as a newbie salesperson, you need to jot down details like:

  • How did the SDR greet the prospect?
  • How did they warm them up and build the initial connection?
  • What questions did they ask the prospect to get the right answers?
  • How and when did they pitch the product to prospect?
  • How did they respond to sales objections?
  • How did they end the call?

💡Note-taking tip: Ask the SDR to record the call so that you can replay the conversation later and imitate a similar process when you conduct your first sales call.

  1. Observe their Tone of Voice

Observe how the salesperson talks to the prospect and leads the call. Does their tone of voice seem warm and friendly or are they straightforward and confident? 

This will give you an understanding of the tone you need to use to keep the prospect interested and involved during the call.

How salesperson focuses on tone of voice while interacting with the prospect

For example, the salesperson seems to be cheerful and jolly while starting the conversation with the prospect.

💡Note-taking tip: Jot down the elements the salesperson used for a friendly conversation and write about what elements you can use during your interaction with the prospect.

  1. Analyze the Pace at Which the SDR Delivers the Sales Script

One question that comes up while observing the live sales call could be when to introduce your product to the prospect. That’s where you need to observe the pace at which the salesperson is delivering the sales script.

Are they quickly jumping to pitching their product?

Or are they taking their time building the rapport, educating the client, and then pitching the product?

💡Note-taking tip: Check the pace of each element—from the time the salesperson takes to introduce themselves to ask them qualifying questions and then pitching their product.

  1. Understand how they handle objections

Handling sales objections can be tricky. A good way to deal with them is to actively listen to the kind of questions and concerns the prospect raises.

Do they have concerns about:

  • The time
  • Awareness about the product or the brand 
  • Implementation timeline
  • Any missing product features

Now, observe how the salesperson responds to their concerns. 

  • Did the salesperson offer a time-restricted discount to address pricing concerns?
  • Did they get proof of how quick and friendly their customer support is?
  • Did they break down the in and out of their refund policy and the validity of the policy?
  • Did they give assurance about the upcoming features?

💡Note-taking tip: Jot down the exact script statements the salesperson uses to address objections. Then, use them as the framework and personalize them based on your interaction with a new prospect.

Also Read: What is Sales Engagement, And How Does it Work?

How Do You Shadow a Sales Call? Here are 5 Ways

There are four fundamental ways to implement shadow calling:

  1. Live Random Pairing
  2. Mentorship
  3. Recorded Calls
  4. Advice from Top-Performing Sales Reps
  5. (Live) Product Demo Training
Different ways you can shadow a sales call

Pairing with Random SDRs on Live Calls

With this method, a less experienced salesperson is paired with more experienced SDRs at random to listen in on live calls. This is a good way to expose new salespeople to different styles and techniques.

Drawback of pairing with random salespeople on live calls

Downside: Lack of consistency can make it difficult for new salespeople to identify effective methods.

For example, Cogz randomly pairs its SDRs every quarter and allows them to learn from salespeople of all levels of experience. 

Why does this method work?

This allows the newbie salesperson to learn about the most popular features of their software and how to deal with common objections. 

Because the salesperson gets to learn from SDRs of all levels, they get exposed to different levels of expertise helping them understand how SDRs at different levels handle sales calls for different industries.

Providing Mentorship

With this method, a new salesperson shadows an experienced mentor for an extended period. This helps both the salespeople build a solid relationship with each other so that the more experienced salesperson's style, technique, and method can be taught.

Drawback of providing mentorship to salespeople

Downside: It requires mentors who are capable of strong teaching outcomes to be successful, so it can be difficult to scale effectively.

Adam Purvis, the Account Manager of Coconut Software shares how he used the mentorship approach to hold shadowing call sessions with SDRs:

  • First, I would give them my cold call script and tell them to study it so they're familiar with the talk track before our first shadow session. Before the session, I'd also meet with them to go through the strategy behind the script, i.e. talk about why I chose various openers, calls to action, and pitches. 
  • Then, I would have them join a Zoom call and listen to me cold call in 1-hour blocks. I would also share my screen on Zoom so they could watch the most efficient click path & way to use the dialer and tech stack. 
  • At the end of every connect, I'd pause and give my thoughts about the conversation, as well as answer any questions the new SDR had about the conversation.
  • After 3 or 4 sessions of shadowing me, typically that's when the new SDR would feel comfortable enough using the tech stack and would be ready to make their own calls. During their first couple sessions of calling by themselves, we'd hop into a Zoom again, except this time I'd provide feedback on their calls and use of the tech stack.
  • After that, I'd closely listen to their conversation recordings, and provide feedback or pointers when needed. Typically, after 2 or 3 months the new SDR would then be comfortable making tweaks to the cold call script to fit their style of calling. After 4-6 months, the new SDR then typically became able to consistently book meetings independently.

Why Does This Method Work?

Adam integrates learning in two ways: through written scripts and documentation, and constant feedback. Because the salesperson has one mentor who is constantly:

  • Providing them with written learning assets for the newbie salesperson to revisit these documents whenever they’re stuck or face the blockers. 
  • Taking them on live sales calls to showcase how they carry out the conversation with prospects and customers.
  • Decoding why he used a specific approach with one customer and a different one with another.
  • Providing them feedback on whether they are learning their techniques the right way.

By doing this, the newbie SDR will not only learn the sales techniques from the experienced salesperson quickly but will also understand the intention behind using a certain approach.

Listening to Recorded Calls

With this method, new salespeople refrain from participating in real-time calls. Instead, they watch the pre-recorded customer calls the SDR has done in the past. It's highly scalable, and new salespeople can learn at their own pace.

Drawback for SDRs listening to recorded calls

Downside: It requires some frontloaded work to set up, a lack of dynamic interactive feedback, and timeliness (old calls may have obsolete products, services, or applied policies).

Andy Siestema, Account Executive at Dock shares uses pre-recorded sales calls to shadow salespeople.

"I think it's important to be able to pause and discuss what needs to happen next together. It's also helpful to rewind and play parts over again so the learning point really sticks."

It's helpful to rewind and play parts over again so the learning point really sticks

When asked about his shadow calling process, Andy shares: 

"I'll leave comments with timestamps in the call recording software tool (like Going). This way, I can go at my pace, review a bunch of calls back to back and then revisit them with the SDR in a 1:1 or a sync-up via Slack.

When doing group sessions with SDRs, I’ll find a few examples of calls that are related (competitor-specific, different product use-cases, or a certain objection). I’ll often pause the calls and ask the rep to tell the group how they’d respond if it were their call.“

Why Does This Method Work?

With pre-recorded calls, the salesperson can replay the calls, or slow them down to understand the experienced SDR’s process and take notes. If they get stuck at a certain point, they can replay the call and understand the SDR’s approach.

Asking for Advice from Top Sales Reps

Sales reps with an experience of a year also started from scratch. And that’s why, it’s a good practice to take advice from them on how you can improve your cold calling skills and lead sales calls effectively. To do so, here are a few things you can ask these sales reps.

  • Ask them about the resources they used when they started learning about sales and cold calling. 
  • Take a peek at what kind of content they consume and the people they follow to improve their skills and the activities they do to keep on refining their sales skills. 
  • Ask them if you can practice sales role plays with them where they can put up sales objections and questions like the ideal prospect for you to address and prepare yourself for your first sales call.
  • Record your first sales call videos and share them with the sales reps. Then, ask them about feedback—the areas you performed well and where you didn't + how you can improve on those lagging areas.

Why Does This Method Work?

Because the experienced SDRs had already learned from several resources and people, they are a great resource for you to scour information. By using the resources they provide you, you’ll not have to invest enormous hours looking for the right resources.

Learning from Real Demo Environment

With this method, new salespeople need to learn everything about your product that's needed for the demo sales script. 

Learning from a real production environment is very cumbersome. It requires a lot of effort to configure for each person and just doesn't scale.

Instead, the sales lead can use Interactive Product Demo Platform to provide you with an exact copy of the product in a rock-solid personal demo environment that can be replicated quickly for each sales rep with the click of a button. They can learn various aspects of the product on their own and get feedback using analytics data on where they clicked around.

Why Does This Work?

The best method for shadow calling will depend on many factors, such as the size of your sales team or the amount of experience your new salespeople have.

If you have a small team, having new salespeople shadow the same person for quite some time might make more sense.

On the other hand, a larger team might make more sense to randomly pair new salespeople with more experienced ones.

Also, check out enterprise sales strategy

Top Tips Before You Start Call Shadowing

Shadow calling steps can vary from company to company, but let's try categorizing each step into three—pre-call, joining the call, and post-call.

6 Tips for Salespeople Before they start shadowing the sales calls

Tip #1: Identify the Prospect Needs

Understand the pain points of the customer even before you get on the sales call with them. 

To do this:

  • Stalk them on socials—have they talked about a major challenge recently?
  • Build a connection with them—what pain points is their team emphasizing on?

Based on what you read on their social profile, and your initial connection with them, you’ll be able to identify the prospect’s needs.

For example, when Adithya Kothadia, the founder of Avoma wanted to purchase Lusha, Lusha’s sales team handed him a list of qualifying questions even when he told them he was interested in instant onboarding. Turn off for him.

Image Source

This shows that the prospect is sales qualified, he has compared Lusha with other platforms and is ready for the buy-in. But, the slow and complicated process of Lusha’s team made his buying experience painful.

With this information, you’ll know that the prospect is looking for an email software solution where the sales process and onboarding are quick.

Tip #2: Know the Product Inside Out

Imagine a salesperson going on a sales call with half-baked knowledge about the product. The prospect who already is unaware or partially aware of the product may raise certain concerns. How would you address those questions?

So, educate yourself about the product well. 

  • Go to the company website and read the use cases and case studies—they’ll help you understand how the company has helped their past customer solve their problems with the help of the product. 
  • Review the pre-recorded sales calls and jot down the features and benefits of the product the SDR talks about in those sales calls.
  • Ask the sales manager if they could provide you with a document that contains the relevant pain points of the ICPs along with the features the product offers

Tip #3: Have a Clear Understanding of Company’s Common Objections

The prospect is likely to raise objections during the sales call. It could be about the product’s pricing, missing features, using competitor products, or not being ready to make a quick decision. 

In each scenario, you should be ready to address the objections but first, you need to know the expected blockers the prospect would raise. 

For this, review the prospect conversations with the customer support team and review the past sales conversations + the live sales conversations you’ve been part of.

Make note of all the prospects' questions and the ideal solutions the SDRs gave them, and use them as the basic framework for your sales calls.

Tip #4: Become Familiar with the Script

Imagine reading your sales script word by word in front of the prospect. Not a good approach that will excite the prospect. Instead, it’s a big turn-off.

Read your sales script thrice and speak it to yourself in a way that appeals to a conversation. This way you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with the script and will be fluent when delivering the script to the prospect.

Tip #5: Observe the experienced SDR carefully while they’re on customer call

Once you have prepared for the call, it’s time to join the sales call alongside the SDR and silently observe them. Daniel Chabert, the Founder and CEO of PurpleFire shares how he uses this shadow calling phase to train the newbie SDRs.

“The SDR listens in on a live sales call, taking notes on essential aspects such as the pacing, tonality, questioning techniques, handling objections, and closing tactics. This allows the trainee to learn from real examples.”

While taking notes, focus on the following questions:

  • What objections did the prospect bring up: This helps you understand the kind of sales blockages the prospects can come up with.
  • How did the salesperson handle them: This showcases the different ways you can address those sales objections and take inspiration from the way the salesperson handles them.
  • Did the salesperson stay on the script or veer off?: This helps you understand whether the salesperson stays too restricted to the script or do they integrate the sales script into the conversation.
  • What could the salesperson have done better?: This is your way to add on your insights and learn what else you could do when you’re on the sales call.
  • What does the prospect think of our product: This is a good way to understand how aware the prospect is about your product.

Tip #6: Debrief the salesperson after the sales call

Once the call is done, the SDR will debrief you about the call. This is where the sales executive will ask you about your observations about the call. 

Some questions they may ask include:

  • What do you think of the call?
  • What could you have done better?
  • How do you plan to follow up?

Nebojsa, CEO & Co-founder of Plainly shares how he has been training a new SDR.

“We established a very good system: during the calls, he would take notes of how I handled sales objections or delicate questions, especially in cases where we dealt with rude prospects. After the call, we would have a short debriefing call where he had the opportunity to ask me any questions.”

Here’s the thing: debriefing calls works both ways—either you can ask them questions or they could ask you questions. By doing this, both parties will be able to understand each other's approach and thought process to sales.

Rinse. Repeat. Shadow.

It’s not *just* about being present at the live sales calls or watching pre-recorded sales calls. If you want to learn how to effectively cold call prospects, you need to be aware and actively listen to each aspect of the SDR’s shadowing process. 

Discuss your thought process about the call. Think about why the salesperson said a certain thing in a specific manner. Showcase them what you have learnt and take feedback. Rinse and repeat.

"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."
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"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."

"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."


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