The playbook for managing remote teams is rapidly evolving, and everyone is seeking the right tools to help them succeed. At Pathlight, we want to help every manager achieve their professional best, so we created the Virtual Manager Series.
In this series, we speak with real managers about their insights, tips, and tricks for successful management in this unprecedented time, so you can start implementing their best practices on your team tomorrow.
Introducing Gabrielle Blackwell
Gabrielle has been in sales development leadership since 2017, after two years working as an individual contributor in the field. She rose up through the ranks quickly by always doing “3x whatever is expected” of her as a sales development representative.
Her ability to ramp up at light speed and consistently smash goals and KPIs made company leaders take notice. One manager, Dan Bahr, told her the key to her career would be to “operationalize her success”.
She took that advice and has been building teams and driving business since. Coming up on her first full year at Infutor, Gabrielle Blackwell has plenty of wisdom to impart on her reps and fellow frontline managers alike.
Visibility is Vital
Remote work has not affected the ability to dive into the numbers and utilize data to drive results— this is good news for all virtual managers, as Blackwell says the key to success is visibility.
She says, “In sales, the outlook one needs to have is ‘You’re the CEO of your business.’ What does a CEO need to know? The numbers of their business.” Blackwell says a strong reporting discipline, on KPIs and metrics, is crucial for any manager. “[Reps] need to know if they’re behind or ahead. If you have a repeatable way to get numbers you can do better forecasting,” she says. “The goal is to go from ‘How do we be successful?’ to having a model of success, and to get there you need visibility into those metrics.”
“The goal is to go from ‘How do we be successful?’ to having a model of success, and to get there you need visibility into those metrics.”
Blackwell reiterates, “Visibility is the crux of my ability to be an effective sales development manager.” She encourages managers to utilize dashboarding to make their lives easier and to communicate insights with team members. “Let them know where they stand, where they’re expected to end the month, all of that— give them the data,” she says. “For example, I had a 1:1 with a rep last week and we were looking at email performance. His open rate was 20% and the top rep’s was 80%. We compared his to the top rep’s email template, and the only difference was the subject line, so I said ‘Let’s change that.”
“By clicking into reports and seeing specifically what accounts someone is working, what industries they’re in, the sources of those leads, what messaging they’re using, etc., you can explore what people are doing well,” Blackwell says. “Once you know what everyone can do best, you can share that with reps who aren’t performing at the same level in that area.”
“If I could share anything, to any manager, new or tenured, it’s ‘Give yourself and give everybody else a break for a second.”
Cut the Tension
Whether it be acknowledging the elephant in the room during a meeting or making the suggestion to invest in some self-care, Blackwell is a huge proponent of protecting her team’s mental health. “As salespeople there’s the aspiration to succeed and be the top person— the light side of that is you can have a high performer who gets recognition and accolades, but the shadow sides of that is that people can become too competitive.”
Blackwell says, “If I could share anything, to any manager new or tenured, it’s “give yourself and give everybody else a break for a second.” Burnout is extremely common in the industry and Blackwell believes it’s a manager’s responsibility to prevent it from happening. She says, “If it becomes cutthroat and only focused on profit and numbers then we forget they are human beings with a whole life outside of work— we’re missing the mark. We’re missing the opportunity to have a really positive impact on somebody’s life.”
“If everyone is in a funk then that’s going to impact how we message, how we talk, how we interact with other people. If I can tell, the prospects probably will too.”
She says that managers should lean into the idea of giving overworked teams a half day if their mental health is suffering. “I’m not afraid to say ‘Everybody seems to hate being on this call right now’ during a morning meeting,” Blackwell says. “If everyone is in a funk then that’s going to impact how we message, how we talk, how we interact with other people. If I can tell, the prospects probably will too.”
“Those three or four hours off are worth it when your team comes back bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” she says. “And they can probably recoup what could potentially be lost in taking off a half day.” Blackwell adds, “My people are valued beyond what they can do in an hour. They know their boss is personally invested in them.”
Make It Personal
Gabrielle’s grandfather, Bob Blackwell, worked at IBM for 20 years and his approach to executive leadership greatly impacted her own. “In the Chicago tech world, there’s always somebody who knows my grandfather. He had an impact on a lot of people.” She says he is known as a mentor — advancing people’s careers, helping them negotiate, and truly leading. “When I started in sales development management, I asked him for advice,” Blackwell says. “He told me, ‘Take your people’s success personally.”
“What if I took each individual’s success and put it in the same arena as my own, or above that — what would happen?”
He told her, “Digest that. Internalize that. And let that become your model for leading. Your employees should know they belong, they’re taken care of, as are their basic needs, they’re not just another number.” Blackwell embraced her grandfather’s advice. She asked herself, “What if I took each individual’s success and put it in the same arena as my own, or above that— what would happen?”
This approach has served her well over her three years in sales development leadership. “The times that I’ve been most proud as a manager are when I’ve worked with people cross-functionally to help people on my team get promoted,” she says. “You get to ask your reps, ‘What are your ambitions? What do you want to do? You’re not going to be an SDR for long, so let’s figure out what you want and find a path to get you there.” Blackwell says, “I try to create a stage for them to do their best work— to empower themselves to make as much money as possible and enable themselves to become the best candidate possible to get a promotion.”
“As a manager there’s an opportunity, should we be willing to accept it, to really help people transform their lives.”
She says, “I once recruited a woman, helped her double her salary, and then she became an AE six months later. She could get a new car, she put her kid in a private French immersion school, and she became the breadwinner.” Blackwell says it is exciting for her to help people accomplish their goals. She adds, “As a manager there’s an opportunity, should we be willing to accept it, to really help people transform their lives.”
Tips and Tricks
How do you motivate your reps?
“One thing we do is spiffs— it’s a way to incentivize your reps and encourage certain behaviors. It can be monetary or it can be an experience the company pays for. In June we did something a little different that I liked; the spiff was based off of certain thresholds we had to hit and when we surpassed our goal the company donated $500 to the Equal Justice Initiative.”
What is one thing you’ve learned not to do as a manager?
“Don’t have too many meetings. Meeting fatigue became a big thing when we started working from home. The constant virtual happy hours and all-company meetings got old real quick. If you exhaust all the value of something, you no longer need to spend time there. We went from three touchpoints a day to one, and sometimes even that’s too much. As a manager right now, and for the past few months, my role is about protecting my people’s time. Figure out where time is best spent and then invest in that.”
What’s a manager’s spirit animal?
“A giraffe. When I was in consulting, I learned that you need the ability to see and understand things from that 50,000-foot view, but you also have to be able to zoom in to what’s happening on the ground floor. The giraffe can see up and over the horizon. They have vision— they can see what’s coming up and look for hazards and risks, but they can also come back down. Managers need to come back down and be relevant to their reps.”
Can you share a piece of advice you frequently give your reps?
“In 1:1s with individuals, I encourage them to step up and be a leader. I tell them ‘You don’t have to wait for anyone else to give you permission.”
How do you encourage your team to celebrate wins in a remote world?
“Slack is how we celebrate in the moment. If we surpass our goal for the month we’ll share a gong GIF or play our walk-out song. SDRs consistently give each other shoutouts, recognize each other, and encourage that friendly competition.”
What’s one quality that every manager needs to develop?
Is there an incredible manager that you’ve had that you want to give a shoutout to?
“My current manager Dave Dague is great. He’s not a micromanager at all, he’s very ‘Tell me what you need and I’ll get it done.’ He wants to see people be successful and gets very involved with the team.”
What’s your favorite motivational quote?
“My six-year-old nephew Jayden always says ‘It’s worth a shot.’ He often wants to help me do things and I’ll ask him, ‘Have you ever done it before?’ and he says, ‘No, but it’s worth a shot, right?”
Thank you to Gabrielle for sharing her invaluable insights. If you’re looking for ways to manage your team effectively in this new environment, check out the other interviews in our Virtual Manager Series or try the Pathlight platform for free.