Thirteen years ago, I sat down with a mentor who gave me some very memorable and sage advice. He said, “Justin, whatever you choose to do with your life, challenge yourself to do hard things. In other words, shoot for the stars.”

I’ve reflected on the phrase “do hard things” again and again. It has inspired and motivated me to reach, stretch, and innovate in ways that I might not have otherwise. At times in my life, when I’ve felt complacency creeping in, I have often thought about hard things I’m not doing that I could—or should—be doing.

When I reflect on my greatest successes I can say without hesitation that they most often involved doing hard things. These experiences have led me to the conclusion that it’s not just hard work that leads to remarkable results, but hard work directed at hard things.

The verity of this principle was reiterated to me again in a recent study we conducted at DiscoverOrg on what drives growth at the fastest growing organizations. The study revealed that doing hard things is just as relevant to the performance of teams and companies as it is to individuals.


The Fastest Growing Companies Do Hard Things

At the end of 2016, we set out to study what drives growth at the fastest growing companies in the world. We wanted to uncover the characteristics that distinguish companies like those on the Inc. 5000 from those experiencing more muted growth? What do Sales and Marketing teams do differently that results in more leads, meetings, opportunities, wins and revenue?

We conducted surveys with 200 sales and marketing leaders at companies of varying size and industry on many potential growth drivers to answer these questions. After analyzing, processing, and summarizing survey responses, the same advice I had received over a decade ago emerged as the overarching theme for the report—high growth companies do hard things.

Get the full report: 2017 Growth Drivers Report: Unlock the Sales and Marketing Secrets of High Revenue Growth


Here are a few of the hard things we found high growth sales and marketing teams doing:

Successfully Executing on Cold Calling and Other forms of Outbound Prospecting

Our study revealed that high growth teams are twice as likely as low growth teams to view cold calling as “very much alive” and see “great results from it.” By contrast, most low growth teams admitted they had not figured out the best way to do cold calling yet. High growth companies were also much more likely to have a balanced mix of appointments set from outbound prospecting (including email, social prospecting, cold calling, etc.)


An important first step in achieving results from outbound prospecting and cold calling is establishing a team dedicated to outbound prospecting and appointment setting. According to TOPO’s 2016 Sales Development Report, outbound SDR teams set an average of 18.2 appointments per month (or 4.2 appointments per week).

These are appointments that are being set with prospects who have not raised their hand and said “I’d like to speak with a sales person.” These are prospects won in the trenches. But, 4.2 meetings per week is average performance, and we aren’t satisfied with average. Today, we’re talking about the fastest growing companies.

If you’d like access to the complete Sales Development Benchmark Report, contact TOPO for more information on joining their Sales Development Practice.

An important first step in achieving results from outbound prospecting and cold calling is establishing a team dedicated to outbound prospecting and appointment setting.

For a look at results produced by top performing SDRs we reference an article published by Steve Richard, CRO of ExecVision and Founder of Vorsight—an outsourced appointment setting firm. In his article entitled Outbound Prospecting Metrics – Vorsight Benchmarks, Richard reveals a formula for outbound prospecting that resulted in an average of 6.7 appointments per week for the top 5% of Vorsight SDRs over a three-year period. The formula included the following:

  • Pre-call research for at least 95.4% of contacts
  • Direct dial phone numbers for 81.6% of contacts
  • Average 57.0 new contacts to your list per Week / 11.4 per Day
  • Average 603.9 Dials per Week / 120.8 Dials per Day
  • Average 21.4 conversations per Week with Director, VP, and C-level executives / 4.3 Conversations per Day

From this formula, it’s clear that achieving great results through cold calling and outbound prospecting doesn’t come by simply having a hard-working team dedicated to outbound prospecting. That team needs the right information and resources to succeed including access to intelligence on key accounts and contacts, direct-dial phone numbers and email addresses, new names at target accounts, and the ability to reach decision-makers. Each of these critical elements of an effective prospecting strategy can be found within a sales and marketing Intelligence platform like DiscoverOrg.


Implementing Account-Based Strategies

One of the hottest topics in sales and marketing right now is account-based strategies. Despite the slow shift in adoption of these approaches, our survey revealed that high growth companies were 2.5 times as likely to implement an Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and nearly 2 times as likely to implement Account-Based Sales Development (ABSD) or Account-Based Customer Success (ABCS) strategies.

Account-based marketing is hard because it requires a fundamental shift away from a focus on lead volume to a focus on the value of a specific set of accounts.

This data suggest that not only are high growth companies implementing individual account-based strategies, but that they may be taking a uniform approach to align their entire organizations around account-based strategies.


Why are account-based strategies hard? They require organizational alignment and focus on specific accounts. They require deep levels of intelligence on prospects and customers. Sales and marketing organizations must personalize and tailor communications to the needs of accounts with similar characteristics.

It means more custom content. Account-based marketing is hard because it requires a fundamental shift away from a focus on lead volume to a focus on the value of a specific set of accounts. It means being able to track and tie marketing investments to opportunities so that the focus can shift from lead quantity to pipeline created and revenue won.

Each of these steps is a strategic shift in the way B2B marketing has been done for some time, so the shift doesn’t happen quickly because it’s hard. High growth organizations are adapting more rapidly and leveraging technology to facilitate this shift.


Training and Coaching Sales Teams Three or more Hours Per Week

Our study found that the fastest growing companies were providing three or more hours per week of coaching and training to their sales team.

Merely conducting training is not difficult, but doing enough of it, doing it effectively and balancing the need for training and coaching with the many demands placed on sellers can be quite challenging.

In some organizations, sales training is viewed as a burden to sales leaders, sales reps as well as those with a responsibility for sales training. It is viewed as time not spent selling. Perhaps trainings are hour-long sessions dedicated to a single topic delivered as a dry, PowerPoint presentation. Maybe the content is needed and relevant, but the delivery is one-directional, out of context, and the material doesn’t stick.


The best training and coaching I’ve seen happens in real-time. Listening to calls, role-playing, teaching a principle and putting a sales rep on the spot, challenging them to hone and polish their pitch, apply principles taught immediately after learning them.

In organizations that successfully cultivate a training and coaching culture, leaders are often out on the sales floor shadowing calls and providing real-time feedback. They create and nurture an environment where peers provide coaching and feedback in the moment. In this setting sales people not only internalize training and coaching for their own benefit, but so they can effectively teach them to others. That level of understanding requires a higher level of mastery.

John_WoodenOne of the most famous and accomplished coaches of all time was UCLA Men’s Basketball coach John Wooden. In ten years, Wooden’s team won nine NCAA national championships and a held win-streak of 88 games. In Daniel Coyle’s best-selling book The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, It’s grown, Coyle describes what two scientists uncovered about Wooden’s approach to coaching:

“Wooden didn’t give speeches. He didn’t do chalk talks. He didn’t dole out punishment laps or praise. In all, he didn’t sound or act like any coach they’d ever encountered.  …Wooden ran an intense whirligig of five- to fifteen- minute drills, issuing a rapid fore stream of words all the while. The interesting part was the content of those words.

As their subsequent article, “Basketball’s John Wooden: What a Coach Can Teach a Teacher”, put it, Wooden’s “teaching utterances or comments were short, punctuated, and numerous. There were no lectures, no extended harangues… he rarely spoke longer than twenty seconds… Gallimore and Tharp recorded and coded 2,326 discrete acts of teaching. Of them, a mere 6.9% were expressions of displeasure. But 75% were pure information: what to do, how to do it, when to intensify an activity.”

“What made Wooden a great coach wasn’t praise, wasn’t denunciation, and certainly wasn’t pep talks. His skill resided in the Gatling-gun rattle of Targeted information he fired at his players. This, not that. Here, not there …using what he called the whole-part method – he would teach players an entire move, then break it down to work on its elemental actions.”

How many of our sales organizations train and coach like John Wooden. Perhaps we should all take a step in that direction.


Execution on Hard Things Sets Apart High and Low Performance

So, why doesn’t everyone do the hard things? Because they’re hard. Because they’re risky. Because they take resources. Because they can result in failure. Because hard things require perseverance and determination. Because hard things often require additional investment, knowledge, or skill. Because sometimes mediocrity seems good enough.

The reasons are numerous. Whatever the reasons, if everyone was doing hard things (and doing them well) they wouldn’t be considered hard. Because everyone is not doing them well, hard things represent an opportunity to rise above, to stand out from the masses, and to set your organization apart.

Another mentor of mine who was collegiate wrestler, ironman triathlete, and former technology CEO once told me that great athletes set themselves apart on cold, windy, and rainy days because that’s when mental toughness is forged and the competition takes a break.


If a Hard Thing is Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Well

Equally important to doing hard things is doing them well. At some point during my childhood my parents put a quote on my wall that read: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” In other words, it’s not enough to just do cold calling. Our study showed that many low growth organizations also believe cold calling is important, but they didn’t yet see results from it.

Succeeding at hard things often means beginning with a compelling vision, a persuasive case, a conviction of belief in the face of opposition, skepticism, and doubt. It may also mean acquiring additional knowledge, skills or experience. It certainly means trying (and sometimes falling short…but never giving up), experimenting, tweaking and fine-tuning.

If you know something should be working and it’s not, then you should work to figure it out. Ask an expert, get some help, take a different approach, figure out how to do it right. No points are awarded for hard work that doesnt yield results. It makes no sense to do something hard unless you’re committed to figuring out how to do it well.


Smart Work Not a Substitute for Hard Work

If you’ve ever heard leaders talk about hard work, you’ve inevitably heard people ask “shouldn’t we work smarter so we don’t have to work as hard.” The truth is, top performing employees, teams, and companies don’t work smart to make life easier.

They work smart so they can reallocate their time to taking on bigger challenges: challenges deserving of hard work, work that pays off with more meaningful or measurable results. Successful people and companies take the time they free up by smart work (technology, systems, processes, and automation) and reinvest it by working hard on solving other difficult challenges and seizing opportunities.



In summary, hard work directed at hard things not only results in personal and professional growth, but can also help accelerate revenue growth for companies. Companies should focus on developing a revenue engine of growth powered by a balance of inbound and outbound prospecting, effective cold calling, account-based strategies, training and coaching, and technology that enables and accelerates productivity.

Sales and marketing teams at companies that cultivate a culture of smart work AND hard work on hard things will put increasingly greater distance between themselves and their competitors.

[cta id=”12817″ color=”green” size=”full” align=”center”]


Justin Withers
About the author

Justin Withers

Justin is the Vice President, Product Management and Product Marketing at DiscoverOrg and brings a decade of experience driving pipeline and revenue growth at B2B technology companies. Justin has authored several research reports including DiscoverOrg's 2017 Growth Drivers Report: Unlock the Sales and Marketing Secrets of the Fastest Growing Companies. Justin is passionate about the power of data and content to educate, influence, and enable sales and marketing team execution.