Finding Good Sales Hires & Building Sales Development Team Culture
Alex has a decade of experience in sales, marketing, and revenue operations. As the Founder & CEO of RevenueZen, he’s helped 80+ B2B companies grow revenue with social, content, and lead generation. Alex educates early-stage startups on how to grow and is a leader in revenue growth strategies.
Every company is different. They all have their own unique needs, obstacles, and market opportunities that make them who they are.
Why then do managers choose to throw that individuality out the window when making hiring sales reps?
Recruiting the right type of sales hire for your organization is crucial to success.
What worked for you in the past and the knowledge you’ve gained might not be fully applicable to your current situation, so the reps you hire and the practices you use need to adapt.
The mission should be to tailor hiring and training practices to the specific environment your SDR team faces and foster a culture for driving sustainable results in that environment.
Finding that mindset, empowering your SDR team, and spotting the right kind of hire is a journey that can yield sustainable success for your sales development program.
Hiring Strategy for SDR Managers
Before you start looking for the best candidates, you have to strategize with everyone involved to ensure the recruiting, hiring and training styles match up with the company’s profile.
Managers Tend to Stick with What They Know
A major reason why teams are on different pages during the hiring process is often because the manager is holding onto old or out-dated practices.
A lot of managers are guilty of having a certain way of doing things and sticking with that process across different organizations or roles.
Coming together as a team and creating a new process based on the company’s needs, business model, and market challenges will create a more cohesive, aligned hiring strategy.
Be Aware of Your Specific Situation
If you take a step back from what you know and look at what’s currently in front of you, you’ll see that it’s uncommon for hiring practices to translate from company to company.
For example, managers moving from one mid-market, call-heavy environment to another will likely find the hiring process to be similar across the two organizations.
However, if you change industries, verticals, or deal sizes, you’ll need to change the way you think about hiring sales reps in your new environment.
You want to be aware of the previous knowledge you have (it’s not useless, after all), but you don’t want to lead with it if you’re changing your situation.
Have a Beginner’s Mindset
As a hiring manager, you want to have a beginner’s mindset when entering a new situation and building a sales team.
That previous knowledge you have is useful, but it’s best to assume it won’t stay current. SDRs have to evolve as the buyers, industry, and competitors do as well.
You want the humility to review your environment with a fresh mindset and determine if your past knowledge and experience are applicable.
Ask yourself substantive questions about your current environment: are we reaching people in the same way? Have I spoken with these prospects in the past? Do I know how they think, feel, want to be contacted?
A beginner’s mindset will lend itself to asking questions about what’s the same and what’s different, rather than just assuming things will be the same.
Hiring SDRs for Different Business Models
Shifting to new industries or sales environments is both an exciting and daunting task.
Everything you know about recruiting, hiring and onboarding SDRs is minimized in a new industry.
Taking a beginner’s mindset, asking the right questions, and doing a soft reset on your knowledge will equip you to hire SDRs for particular business models.
Not All SDRs are the Same
SDRs working in a more transactional environment with smaller deal sizes have an entirely different mindset and approach than enterprise SDRs targeting larger target accounts.
Transactional SDRs need to cold outreach large lists and work at a much faster pace, while enterprise SDRs have to strategically prospect and be focused on the long-term.
It can be difficult to change the approach of an SDR that specializes in a specific style of sales development, so you have to keep this in mind while interviewing someone for your team.
Hiring Different Types of SDRs
Looking for someone who will succeed in a more transactional model means you’re looking for someone who’s persistent, consistently polite to prospects, enjoys talking with new people, and excels at phone conversation.
An enterprise selling environment requires someone who’s more analytical, enjoys one-on-one conversation, has a knack for strategy, and can think about the long-term path of a sale.
As a manager, it’s crucial that you shift your mindset to hire and train SDRs based on your current situation.
Leveraging External Thought Leadership
This might be hypocritical, but thought leadership on this topic needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Your beginner’s mindset serves you well to adapt and change your approach appropriately, but it can be dangerous to listen to all of the advice out there without filtering for relevance.
Absorbing Outside Knowledge as a Manager
When people or organizations come up with good strategies in their space, they often write about and advocate for it online. Their strategy, philosophy, or approach worked for them and they want to share it with their network in the hopes others can replicate their success.
A lot of managers fall into a trap where they absorb this external thought leadership and apply it to their situation even if it isn’t relevant.
This is especially an issue for startup founders and leaders who take advice from peers in different situations and try to apply that advice to their company.
For example, startups often try to implement account-based approaches for their SDR team without thinking about whether or not it works for their business model.
Apply Context to Thought Leadership
Managers need to take a step back from the thought leadership they absorb and think about who is producing the content, why they’re producing it, and their motives.
If a reputable organization is recommending a certain team structure, process, or software, you need to evaluate whether or not that advice aligns with your current situation.
This isn’t to say thought leaders are right or wrong, but that their advice should be taken in context. They often don’t have the time to qualify who wouldn’t be a good fit for their advice, they simply produce it in the hopes that it helps the right people.
Think critically, qualify what you hear, take a step back, and make sure that the advice fits your context before you let it influence how you hire and train your sales team.
Continuous Learning as an SDR Manager
Although you need to be careful about what advice and information you absorb, it’s paramount that managers are constantly learning new information to help build better SDR teams.
As the industry changes to meet the demands of buyers, managers and their SDR teams must do the same to keep up with the latest best practices.
This means continuous learning and adaptation alongside the industry to keep up stay ahead of the current environment.
Learning is Essential for Managers
Managers often have a formula behind how they think their organization should approach sales development and who they should hire.
However, things are always changing and previous experiences can’t always apply to new situations. Without the ability to adapt, you risk falling behind on what it takes for your sales development program to succeed.
For example, a manager with a strong knowledge of cold calling still needs to actively learn new skills for an SDR team using phone, email, and social. Otherwise, they risk training SDRs with strength in one channel at the expense of creating weaknesses in others.
It can be hard to absorb a diverse set of new information if you’re at a single company and not working with other clients. Your exposure to new ideas and learning is limited.
It’s up to you to grow your knowledge, find new information, and gain new perspectives that can help shape how you hire and manage SDRs in the modern world.
Humility & Peers
The best way to gain that exposure and learn new ideas is intentionally surrounding yourself with people who can influence your thinking.
While it’s valuable to include people in your field, it’s just as important to network with peers from different worlds. If you’re in sales, think about people in product and marketing.
Block time off to learn from them as well as your peers in relevant fields. Ideally, get people who are more experienced than you and learn from them.
Get associated and make friends with these people. Internalize their different mindsets and perspectives to help you build open-mindedness and promote thought diversity.
By pushing different perspectives into your mindset it helps you be more humble about your own situation and more aware of new learnings.
Creativity is Learning
Block off part of your day to dedicate yourself to reflection, analyzing your situation, and thinking through all of the assumptions and unknowns of your role.
Reflect on your own sales philosophy and think about where it comes from. Why do you believe what you do? Where was that belief constructed? Did a particular philosophy work at a previous company that you’re continuing to apply without adapting?
Open your mind to sales development and management practices that are doing things differently from you with success. There will always be new ideas and approaches that haven’t come across your mind, which is why creative reflection can be a powerful tool.
Using Knowledge to Improve Your SDR Team
All of this knowledge you absorb as a manager helps you hire better-fit SDRs, but it also helps align and optimize your current SDR function.
Creating change is an essential part of leadership, especially in a fast-paced, competitive field like sales development. However, bringing the right change at the right pace isn’t so simple.
Change Management is Hard
Even the best initiatives and software solutions are worthless if they aren’t effectively adopted.
Learning and adjusting to new perspectives is not easy to do in practice, just like it’s often difficult for reps to adjust to organizational changes, new processes, or new technologies.
Managers often underestimate the difficulty of change management and how it impacts the process of rolling out new ideas and initiatives to your team.
Sell Changes Internally
Some of the hardest sells are the internal ones you .
How can you get your CEO, SDR team, and marketing team all on board with the changes you want to implement? From there, how do you ensure these changes are effectively adopted?
Think about change management as an internal sale. It requires persistence, preparation, and you need to gain buy-in from necessary stakeholders to create a successful future state.
Some teams bring in consultants to manage change, which can help move the needle or walk you through how to do it successfully within your organization.
Selling change is critical for you to get right, so it needs to be planned and carefully executed. Otherwise, you risk losing control over the change management process.
Tips for Change Management
Although selling change is important, it’s only one of many factors to consider when managing change for an organization with multiple people, processes, and moving parts.
To help you drive effective change management within your organization, here are a few tips.
Tip #1: Understand What Drives Change
To make change, managers need to understand how change is created or prevented within a person, a team, and an organization.
The book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath evaluates how people change their minds and affect change. It dives into research from leading psychologists on the two different systems people have in their brains: rational and emotional.
When these two systems are in sync, change comes quickly and easily. If they’re misaligned, however, change becomes more difficult. By understanding what creates change within an organization, you’ll be better equipped to approach the roll-out of new initiatives.
Tip #2: Lead By Example
The best way for managers to create change is to lead by the example they wish to see. This is especially important when they’re learning how to effectively manage change themselves.
For example, an SDR manager looking to implement a new software might sit down with their team to trial it out, highlight benefits, and rally them around the solution.
Tip #3: Roll Out Changes Slowly & Grow Adoption
To ensure the effectiveness of your change, roll it out slowly and build interest internally like you would approach inbound marketing.
Create intrigue around the new changes and gain buy-in with a few team members at a time before trying to roll it out to the whole team. For example, you can make a game out of testing different software solutions against an existing solution.
Rolling out changes and growing adoption slowly helps build familiarity with the changes and gives you and your team the chance to show evidence of why it should be adopted.
As these groups start to adopt change, you create champions internally that further influence the rest of the company and help accelerate organizational change.
Improving the SDR Hiring Process
All of the above is helping you advance towards one goal: finding and retaining the right sales hires for your SDR team.
With a good recruiting and hiring process, you’ll have more control over the growth of your SDR team with a repeatable system for finding good sales hires that align with your team’s culture.
Leverage Your Personal Brand to Recruit SDRs
Since managers are often not selling to prospects anymore, your personal brand, content, and thought leadership starts to revolve around recruiting.
Managers grow their network and have conversations with sales professionals to attract potential good fits to your current or future organization.
Once you devote time to aligning your personal brand for this purpose, it becomes easier to find good hires using your network.
Hire Around the Culture You’ve Built
Outside of building your own brand, you need to identify the culture of your SDR team and invest in attracting the right hires for that culture.
Many SDRs get burned out by bad managers who don’t focus on creating a culture but instead have them do the same thing every day regardless of results.
Managers who bear down on reps and demand aggressive activity levels without working to improve their skills or career produces frustrated SDRs. Ultimately, these environments force you to buy that frustration with salary.
Be up front with potential candidates about your culture.
Share information about your market, selling environment, and how you as a manager plan to lead the team to success. Talk about things like the state of the industry, your philosophy behind running the team, and what you believe as a sales professional and person.
This brings in better fits because people will be aware of the fit you’re looking for in the SDR role.
Embody Your Culture
You need to signal your values and beliefs so that potential hires understand what they are before applying. If you don’t broadcast what you believe in and what your culture looks like, how are you going to attract the right people?
You have to embody the model of what you want and take it to heart so you can find the people that align with your mission for the team.
When you’re hiring, you’ll find people who believe in those things too.
For example, if you want to craft a culture of mid-market SDRs that are both high-energy and good asking great questions, be high-energy and ask great questions!
The clearer you are about what you stand for and who you’re looking for, the more consistent and higher-quality outcomes you’ll have in the hiring process.
By broadcasting it to your network and reiterating it on intro calls, you showcase your value as a company and the type of people you want working there.
As the sales development industry evolves to meet the demands of modern buyers, so too does the process of hiring SDRs to match that evolution.
Managers who are responsible for building SDR teams need to adapt to this industry shift and focus on hiring better sales development reps for their specific situation.