If you face difficulties hiring and retaining a capable team of sales development reps, you are not alone. Sales leaders across industries report the same common obstacles: high turnover for the role and scarcity of motivated people to hire.
Maintaining an effective SDR team is difficult, but it’s not impossible. It requires efficiency, consistency, and a proactive approach.
We spent over a decade creating an efficient SDR hiring process and team structure, building teams for our internal sales efforts as well as for hundreds of clients.
Now we are sharing the knowledge and experience we’ve gained from perfecting these processes in hopes that it will help you recruit a team full of qualified and competent SDRs.
The ideal candidates
Whether your SDRs qualify cold leads, inbound leads, or both, these reps face the possibility of rejection all day, every day. This is a reality of the job, and it’s the reason personality is such an important piece to consider when reviewing candidates.
SDRs must be comfortable speaking to people on the phone all day, be able to handle rejection, and accept that many of their contacts might consider cold calls a disruption to their workday. We look for confident, outgoing candidates who are motivated and ambitious to succeed.
We find that these types of candidates fit the SDR role because of their ability to think on their feet and keep a conversation moving forward despite opposition, as well as their desire to contribute to the company’s business goals.
The amount of experience required to become an SDR dwindles each year, as we’ve cited before on our blog as a reason companies have started to outsource this role. This shortage of experienced sales development reps can further complicate the process of choosing which candidate will make the best addition to your team.
The SDR role is an entry-level position, so experience is not one of the most important factors. Of course, success in a similar role can indicate the candidate has what it takes to cold call and qualify leads for your sales team, while those with more advanced sales experience might burnout in the role quicker.
But we’ve also seen notable success from candidates who were previously in service industry roles, who are accustomed to working directly with both satisfied and unsatisfied customers. Realistically, anybody with the right mindset who is willing to learn can become an SDR, assuming you provide adequate training and a repeatable day-to-day process.
The skills we look for from our SDRs are closely related to those desired personality traits we mentioned previously. When looking at a candidate we consider a “people person,” we expect them to be able to speak with prospects, genuinely listen, and understand the context of their needs.
We look for smart candidates with enough technical skills and experience to learn the tools of the job, namely CRM software and desktop phone applications. During interviews, we ask questions to gauge experience with or capacity to develop the following skills:
- Understand and deliver value propositions
- Find the correct point of contact for an account
- Handle objections by understanding prospect needs
- Ask discovery questions to gather prospect information for sales
- Master the repeatable daily process put in place by leadership
- Navigate Salesforce or the client’s chosen CRM
- Consistently accelerate call volumes
How to hire SDRs
We are lucky here in Austin, TX, home to a thriving pool of sales and marketing professionals that feeds our HR team a steady flow of applicants. But no matter the job market, framing the position accurately and setting adequate expectations is necessary for bringing in qualified candidates.
Be honest about what the job entails—cold calling and heaps of rejection—because not everybody is going to be a good fit for the SDR role. Let candidates know early on what to expect, so you can weed out unfit applicants who might waste recruitment resources or cause issues later on if hired.
Interview and selection process
When hiring for any role within our company, we first screen candidates with a phone interview to avoid squandering face-to-face time with those who clearly won’t make the cut. During the in-person interview, we ask questions to determine if the applicant has the required skills for the job or, at the minimum, an aptitude to learn them.
We aim to learn more about candidates without revealing the intent behind our questions, in order to get honest answers and prevent interviewees from pandering to the interviewer. For example, we’ll ask a candidate, “why do you want to work at EBQ?” to verify how much they researched us beforehand, which can be a telling appraisal of an SDR candidate.
When choosing your final candidates, look for the obvious signs of personalities compatible with the day-to-day duties of an SDR, signs that the applicant is hungry for success, and that their career goals align with your business’s goals and opportunities for professional development.
Determine the specific criteria that are most important for your company and objectives, and then grade them on a consistent scale to see how they measure up against each other. Your specified criteria often depend on the needs of your business, but some standards we consider critical for judging SDR applicants are motivation, confidence, and intellect.
“The most important thing you can do to save yourself from the stress of the high-turnover SDR role is to create a streamlined hiring process to avoid understaffing and underperformance.”
Creating an efficient hiring process
The most important thing you can do to save yourself from the stress of the high-turnover SDR role is to create a streamlined hiring process to avoid understaffing and underperformance.
Here’s how we do it. We continuously recruit and interview new talent so that we always have a bench full of qualified candidates when the need arises. This has been an effective strategy for our company and especially for our business model, which involves providing SDR teams for clients, sometimes at a week’s notice.
Because we constantly recruit new reps, we have the ability to place SDRs on projects according to their strengths. Our approach also works for our internal team, enabling us to meet any increases in inbound volume.
This means that our team is nearly always fully optimized with every rep hard at work qualifying leads, setting sales appointments, and not draining resources with excessive downtime. We continuously monitor other reasons for expanding our teams, such as additional salespeople hired and/or increases in pipeline and revenue goals.
Our continuous hiring approach is not generally what you see in most companies with SDR teams, but we see the potential of this strategy working for other companies, too. You’ll always require more SDRs as inbound volume increases, so the key is to recognize needs early and plan ahead.
In our experience, many companies choose to hire a class of SDRs at a time, train them all, and then retain only a percentage of the top performers. While this might yield talented reps, it can also waste time and resources, lead to disgruntled employees or ex-employees, and it ignores the issue of burnout later on.
Through many years of trial and error, we’ve found which approach to hiring SDRs works best in our company and for our clients. Your ideal technique may differ, but always ensure your hiring process aligns with your company’s goals and sets fair expectations for candidates and new hires.
Making SDRs successful
Before you even think about expanding your SDR team, it’s crucial to have a repeatable daily process for your reps fully defined with a comprehensive training plan ready for implementation at hire. The SDR role is relatively straightforward, but the most dependable recipe for success in the role is making sure your reps master the processes put in place by leadership.
Give your sales development reps a step-by-step guide to what they should be doing each day and clearly outline the expectations and metrics you will be measuring them against. We take a proactive approach to any performance issues by training our people continuously and regularly meeting to compare expectations and results, incorporating feedback from sales as well.
Ramp time and expectations
The learning curve for the SDR function is steepest during the first month after hire, then the duties of the role become more and more intuitive over time. The 2018 SDR Metric Report found that a newly hired SDR takes around three months to ramp to full productivity, but we typically expect our SDRs to be near full productivity after the first 30 days.
After one month in the role, we expect an SDR to have nailed their daily processes and to have made noticeable improvements when speaking with contacts and understanding buyers’ needs. Of course, you will often need to revise your metrics of success as results can vary by SDR or by each offering and its sales cycle.
One of the most prevalent challenges of building and maintaining an SDR team is keeping reps motivated to do their job and do it well. We’ve found that the key to successfully motivating the team is to establish consistency throughout all processes in place.
Providing SDRs with a consistent daily routine, a reliable system of feedback, practical ongoing training opportunities, as well as an efficient hiring process to kick things off prevents reps from second-guessing their progress in the role and their contributions to the team.
Keeping reps motivated is a lot easier than changing the behavior of unmotivated employees. For each incoming applicant, explore what drives them in their career, and only hire the people who show a strong motivation to succeed.
With years of hard work and a little luck, we have perfected our method of hiring and maintaining a talented team of sales development reps.
The key to navigating the high-turnover, low-motivation SDR role is to align your recruitment strategy with your business goals and to establish efficient processes which help you determine who to look for and what they need to succeed.