Sales Development Recruiting, Training, & Career Paths
Early on in her career, Mary discovered a passion for sales coaching & training. As the CEO of SalesBQ, she’s helped 50+ organizations build & grow sales teams by focusing on behavioral intelligence. Mary is a leader in building high-performing sales programs and offers valuable insights in her Quota Crusher™ Podcast.
In the past, sales development was an entry-level function and an easy team to build: hire college graduates and focus training on productivity and quantity rather than quality.
Today’s buyers have evolved. New buyer expectations have raised the bar for sellers and it’s harder than ever for modern sales or business development representatives to make an impact.
In response, top sales organizations are adjusting their hiring & training practices to build SDR teams with the sales skills to consistently compete in this new buyer-empowered environment.
Every organization has different needs, so building an effective SDR team requires the right people, processes, and the ability to train new employees for your specific selling situation.
It’s still possible to hire college grads and train them into high-performing SDRs. However, it takes good hires, the right sales trainer, and a clear training program that can successfully mold the right reps.
With the infrastructure in place to consistently find, attract, hire, and ramp up top SDRs, you’ll gain more control over your SDR team’s success with a repeatable team-building process.
EPISODE #1 OVERVIEW
Before You Start
A lot of companies want to dive right into the hiring process under the old adage “to double sales you have to double headcount.”
Sales development often has a culture of moving fast and growing faster, which isn’t a sustainable way to grow a modern sales development team in today’s competitive environment.
Before hunting for new sales hires and scheduling interviews, you should clearly define your company’s situation and the infrastructure you need to find & onboard good hires.
SDR Programs Need to Be Clearly Defined
A major roadblock often preventing success in a sales development program is a lack of clarity and process.
So much needs to be defined and planned out before hiring, yet a lot of hiring managers fall into the trap of building out their team before they fully understand their needs and goals.
Without a clear strategy and process in place for your sales development program, you risk wasting time hiring and training the wrong people for your team.
In addition, lack of clarity can create an uncontrollable environment that leaves your SDRs with no direction on how to succeed, develop their sales skills, and progress in their career.
Proper structure in terms of training, direction, and a career path can help empower SDRs as they ramp up into their role and build momentum for the entire SDR team.
An example of process clarity is breaking down the first 30 days of the SDR program with day-by-day or hour-by-hour agendas. This structure clearly defines what’s expected, the milestones they need to hit, and the activities they need to complete to reach these goals.
Infrastructure is Everything
Sales recruiting, training, and onboarding is a bit of a bear.
However, the right systems in place can help locate the right candidates and move new sales hires in the right direction with a predictable, controllable process.
Most companies build infrastructure backwards: they recruit new SDRs and then build out the systems and processes for the program around those new employees.
Meanwhile, these reps are unsupported, struggling to adapt, and falling behind on the sales skills needed to succeed in a business development career path.
Without the right infrastructure in place before you start hiring SDRs, you run the risk of building on top of an unstable foundation. Similarly, lack of sales training can cause you to waste opportunities with good hires by not giving them the learning & support they need to succeed.
The most successful SDR teams have the infrastructure in place to find great SDR candidates, train high-performing reps, and move reps through a well-defined career progression.
These teams have managers to hold their hands throughout the sales training program to ensure sales development reps are equipped with the right sales skills and processes.
Build these systems out first to ensure that every new sales hire gets the right level of attention, training, and feedback to help develop them into strong business development professionals.
Improving Sales Hiring & Training Infrastructure
When building a SDR team from scratch, you gain the advantage of building out your infrastructure while the program is still evolving and malleable.
If you have an existing SDR program that’s low-performing, then there is a lot to unpack and more involved in finding out what parts of your infrastructure needs to be reworked.
The infrastructure of your sales development program can be boiled down into two key elements: people or process. Dissecting both will help uncover the root of your problem.
Different types of people and personalities will generate different results as an SDR, so you need to be aware of the characteristics that make up a good fit for your SDR team.
Sales skills, business acumen, and general readiness for a sales role are a few of the many factors to consider when defining an ideal candidate for your SDR program.
However, hiring traits go beyond objective characteristics. Their psychology as a seller, mindset, and personality are equally as important when evaluating new hires.
If people is the problem, then you need to dig into why these problems are occurring and how you can adjust your hiring practices to find better employees for your situation.
No matter who you hire for your sales development program, the success of your SDR team is reliant on the process they repeatedly use to generate results.
Even the best SDRs in the world will be limited with a flawed, incomplete, or unclear process.
If multiple reps are struggling to perform in their role, you need to dissect the effectiveness of their channels, approaches, and day-to-day activities.
Are scripts ineffective? Is something blocking productivity? Is your market not defined clearly? So many aspects of your sales development process can either empower or hinder your SDRs.
In addition, your process for training new employees can make or break an otherwise effective process. Are your new hires understanding the sales skills and processes needed to succeed?
By looking at the process behind your sales development program, you can identify specific problem areas that might be causing your reps to fall behind.
Review Performance Data to Identify Improvements
Once you’ve identified a people or process problem within your infrastructure, you can start digging deeper to uncover a solution.
The best place to start is in your key metrics. Opinions are valuable, but data is priceless.
Without the right data to guide your improvements, you’ll often lose control over SDR performance and struggle to effectively identify a winning direction for your program.
If you’re not sure what to track for your SDR team, then start tracking as much as you can and build up dashboards as your program grows. What’s most important is building awareness in the metrics that generate success for your SDRs.
This foundation of data should give you a baseline of metrics you can use to start making targeted improvements for either people or process.
Measuring Performance Improvements
Combined with success metrics, an effective testing system can help you quickly identify what’s working and keep you on track to hit your sales development goals.
Performance is broken down into two different types of metrics: the activities you consistently perform (leading indicators) and the end results those activities generate (lagging indicators).
SDRs have to perform countless activities across multiple channels every day to succeed in their role. Their success sprouts from the specific tasks they repeatedly complete.
Leading indicators define productivity for your SDR team. To reach your goals, SDRs need to complete the right type of activities at the right volume to generate enough conversions.
An example of some basic leading indicators are the number of cold calls, follow-ups, or social touches that an SDR completes every day.
Regardless of what activities your SDRs complete, their purpose as a sales development rep is to reach more buyers, unearth opportunities, and help the company generate more revenue.
While leading indicators are the key activities for an SDR, lagging indicators show the end results of their hard work and the outcomes they created with their activities.
Lagging indicators are the goals behind your SDR team. If you’re focused on booking meetings, then the number of meetings generated would be a crucial lagging indicator to track.
Other examples of some basic lagging indicators are the number of sales conversations, sales qualified leads, or conversion rates from a specific channel to a meeting booked.
Use Leading & Lagging Indicators to Find Trends
Leading and lagging indicators work together to paint a picture of your SDR program performance and how reps are achieving that performance.
By comparing the input (leading indicators) to the output (lagging indicators), you’ll be able to see the trends that are generating success or failure for your SDR program.
This visibility is critical to improving your hiring & sales training infrastructure.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to find out how many outbound attempts it takes for your SDRs to get a conversation with a decision-maker.
You could take a leading indicator (outbound touches per week) and compare it to a lagging indicator (number of appointments set). From there, you can use these metrics to diagnose whether the solution requires people or process improvements.
Making Organizational Changes Stick
Beyond reviewing metrics and identifying improvements, building a high-performing SDR team requires effective change management within the organization.
Organizational changes are necessary to improve hiring & sales training infrastructure, but it takes a ton of time to rollout changes and continuous effort to encourage adoption.
Making changes stick is a battle. For real improvements to happen, you need to understand how to navigate your organization and lead the change for your SDR team.
Transformational Changes Takes Buy-In
Before any changes can make a difference, you have to gain buy-in from your leaders, colleagues, and SDR team that they will commit to these improvements.
Management buy-in is an important part of this process, but it isn’t enough.
The impact of organizational changes is completely different for reps than it is for management.
To maximize your success with change management, you need to get buy-in from all stakeholders involved and ease the team into this new environment.
One effective way to gain buy-in for change is rolling out changes publicly and setting an example by leading the adoption of new changes.
Rather than surprising reps with new unknown changes, strive to keep them in the loop and drum up excitement about the improvements going on in the organization.
You need the team to be motivated, bought-in, and consciously striving to implement change, so it’s essential to focus on getting buy-in before doubling down on new ideas.
Creating Buy-In with Reps
Whether you like it or not, people often won’t do the work and overachieve if they aren’t bought into the environment.
If you roll out changes that sales development reps aren’t adopting, then you risk wasting a ton of time, effort, and money into an improvement that was never utilized.
One of the best ways to increase adoption and encourage buy-in with your reps is to observe, shadow, and interview your current SDRs during the change management process.
This opens up opportunities for you to clearly explain the changes, get feedback from reps, and get first-hand experiences of how SDRs are adopting your proposed changes.
By opening this dialogue, SDRs will feel heard, more involved in the roll out, and feel like they’re helping contribute to the future of the organization.
Once you’ve gathered information and gained buy-in from your reps, you can roll out the changes and focus on rallying the team around this new improvement.
3 Steps to Ensure Buy-In with Sales Training
As you roll out these new changes, there’s a training component you’ll need to build momentum, ensure understanding, and maintain buy-in for adopting the changes.
This follow-up training is crucial to successful change management because it takes time to fully implement new changes or sales skills to an existing process.
Here are three steps to help reinforce new changes after you’ve rolled them out.
Step 1 – Identify & Address Buy-In Challenges Immediately
Not everyone will be happy about change. You need to use your emotional self-awareness to see who’s loving the changes and who’s resisting.
Quickly address those resisting the change by having a conversation. Understand why they’re hesitant to adopt the change and look for ways to help make the adoption successful.
Step 2 – Train & Support the Team on the Changes
Once you have people aware and buying into the changes, it’s important to train them on how to do it and support them throughout the adoption process.
If you’ve bought a new technology, changed a process, or added a new element to their role, you need to make sure that everyone is comfortably adapting.
Step 3 – Set Milestones, Monitor, & Regularly Check-In
To ensure long-term success, you need to put specific milestones in place to measure the impact of your program changes. These milestones reflect where you expect to be as a program and can help you monitor the progress of change management.
30-60-90 day milestones and regularly checking in will help ensure everyone stays bought-in, changes are being adopted correctly, and that measurable progress is being made.
Management Structure for Successful SDR Programs
The way you manage your SDR program has a big impact on their ability to succeed. To maximize successful outcomes, you should make sure your SDR team is properly structured.
The Gap Between Sales Development, Marketing, and Sales
Sales development is a fast-paced, high-stress role that is typically filled by entry-level people, which makes it a very different environment from sales or marketing.
To ensure consistency and program success, companies need to invest in devoted guidance for the SDR role through coaching, mentoring, and hands-on management.
However, a major problem companies face is the misalignment between sales, marketing, and sales development. Especially in smaller companies without the resources for middle management, the gap between these departments can be a huge obstacle to overcome.
A lot of companies try to remedy this misalignment by having SDRs report to sales or marketing.
While any manager is better than no manager, a sales or marketing leader won’t be properly tailored to the fast-paced, high-volume environment of the sales development role.
SDRs need more than someone to check-in on activities or point out their success metrics.
Sales and business development reps need a dedicated SDR manager with first-hand experience to help coach, mentor, and model success.
Invest in Your Sales Development Manager
Your SDR team needs a leader. However, that leader still needs consistent training to effectively coach your team, develop new sales skills, and improve the program.
Investing in your SDR manager will pay dividends in the long-term, providing the foundation for more productive SDRs and more invested managers.
Most SDR Managers Lack Company Support
Sales development is typically siloed out from the rest of the organization, which usually makes it difficult to effectively train and coach SDR Managers.
Sales skills and sales training programs are good foundations, but SDR Managers also need oversight from a sales or marketing leader that can keep them aligned with the organization.
A lot of companies are quick to invest in the seller. However, the management layer is so critical to success that ignoring manager training is the downfall of many organizations.
Think about it: the SDR manager is typically training new employees. If that manager isn’t equipped with the right knowledge or attitude, then the SDR team won’t be either.
More resources need to be funneled into the middle-management layer of the sales development program to help boost the performance of your SDR team.
Grooming Top-Performing SDR Managers
Instead of investing in hiring more SDRs, you could potentially double your results by investing more effort into the effectiveness of your SDR manager.
SDR managers need more than just coaching on the sales development process. They need training on how to coach, motivate, and hold their SDR team accountable.
They’re not just selling, they’re enabling your SDRs to sell.
Mentoring them and building a program specific to managing SDRs will help develop stronger managers and sales development reps.
Recruiting Younger SDRs
It’s no secret that the SDR role attracts a younger crowd.
Most of them are fresh out of college and hungry to make an impact in what’s likely their first job after graduation. There is so much potential in the modern talent market for sales development.
However, these younger employees have different styles of learnings, motivations, and workplace expectations that need to be considered when recruiting for an SDR team.
To maximize the value of your sales recruiting efforts, your SDR program should align with and accommodate these different personalities and generations.
Attracting Top-Performing Sales Development Reps
When competing for top-tier sales talent, many companies default to their compensation package. The idea is that a more enticing job attracts better candidates.
In reality, the comp plan is one of many factors involved in recruiting.
SDRs are in high demand and recruiting right out of school is only becoming more difficult.
If your company is in a major metropolitan area, you’ll be competing against big-name companies with millions of dollars to invest in attracting talent.
Most of these big companies already have internship pipelines built with local colleges to secure candidates quickly.
Smaller companies don’t have the same resources or abilities to recruit SDRs, making the process of competing for good sales hires even harder than it should be.
Give Younger Generations Want They Want
The best way to attract younger talent is to find out what interests them.
Just think about the best SDR floors out there. Most have music playing, TVs, big whiteboards, and a traditional bell they can ring to celebrate meetings and wins.
These SDR teams are buzzing with energy because top organizations design their environment to empower younger hires and help their company compete for top talent.
SDRs want to join a team with a strong culture, work in an environment they understand, and have clearly defined opportunities for a business development career path.
If you can align your SDR program with the type of people you’re hiring, you’ll be more competitive in attracting top talent and create more successful onboarding outcomes.
Younger Generations Crave Mentorship
The biggest factor for younger employees outside of compensation and work environment is their access to mentorship and career development opportunities.
Younger generations crave mentorship. They desire to learn, grow, and progress quickly and most of them won’t be satisfied with only a playbook and a manager.
Younger SDRs need an actual mentor that can help guide their career in this pivotal first step in the professional world.
Beyond one-on-ones with a manager, you should assign your reps with an internal or external coach that has direct experience in the role they’re learning.
This person could be an experienced sales leader, a veteran colleague, or a thought leader entirely outside the organization.
This coach should invest time in helping the rep by answering questions, solving challenges, and sharing advice on how to succeed in the role.
Training Younger SDRs
Effective sales training programs ensure your new employees can repeatedly conceptualize, understand, and take well-informed actions on specific functions.
There are so many skills, activities, and moving pieces built into the sales development role that need to be covered in your sales training process.
When hiring younger SDRs, you need to be aware of these knowledge gaps and structure your SDR program to be familiar, motivating, and reinforcing.
Younger Generations Are Used to Structured Environments
You’re likely pulling reps from straight out of school, which is an environment full of structure, mentorship, constant feedback, and step-by-step guidance to help them achieve mastery.
Top SDR teams are providing a similar environment to make the transition from university to the professional world as seamless and efficient as possible for reps.
If you pull new reps directly from school into a foreign environment without the right onboarding, they’ll struggle to adapt and get easily overwhelmed by the unfamiliar.
Structuring your SDR program to be familiar allows SDRs to ease into the role and helps accelerate their progression into a contributing member of the team.
Different Generations Have Different Needs and Motivations
The generation coming out of school is the last of the millennials and a brand new generation – Generation Z (Gen Z) – is entering the workforce for the first time.
Unlike millennial employees, this new generation was born and raised in the fast-paced era of technological advancement and instantly accessible information.
Employees from Generation Z are just as fast-paced: they want to learn, achieve, and advance through their career quickly and ambitiously.
Rather than stay in the same job for 5 – 10 years and get promoted, younger generations are much more inclined to work for shorter periods of time while searching for bigger opportunities.
Gen Zs are driven by advancement and upward mobility. Rather than emphasizing loyalty and job security, younger generations are much more horizontal in their career development.
To keep these younger employees motivated and loyal to your organization, you need to design your sales training program to help them build mastery and advance in their career.
Entry-Level Roles Need Support
Traditionally, sales development was bare bones: reps were given enough basic training to complete their activities and then unleashed into the market to make thousands of calls.
In today’s selling environment, SDRs leverage a suite of technology, a multitude of channels, and have to manage several types of audiences across the marketing and sales pipeline.
Without the right sales enablement and support, it’s easy for SDRs to get overwhelmed or unproductive trying to support themselves.
One great way top companies are supporting their SDRs is through a clear, hour-by-hour agenda for the first 30 days of their role to help guide their success.
Combined with milestones, quizzes, and regular evaluations, this sales curriculum can help make new SDRs more successful and accelerate the onboarding and training process.
Tips to Creating a Successful Environment for SDRs
If you invest resources in recruiting and onboarding a new employee, you want to keep them on your team to make that investment worthwhile.
Losing reps to turnover causes a lot of problems: lost talent, new hiring needs, and the future time, effort, and money required to replace them.
Turnover is a consistent issue within the world of sales development, so you should keep employee retention top-of-mind when building your SDR program.
Tip #1: Make Spots Competitive
Make your hiring process exciting and competitive. Start with a large pool of candidates and narrow it down over time.
Bring your reps on in groups of 2 or 3 to give them a sense of competition as they progress through the interview process.
Make it seem like getting hired is graduating from the recruiting program. This helps motivate new hires while building a sense of identity and community for those who make it through.
Tip #2: Be Creative with Perks
Not all SDRs are motivated by money. However, companies often default to incentivizing their reps with money-related perks in their comp package.
There are so many other ways to retain top talent and reinforce strong behavior.
LinkedIn released their 20 big ideas for 2020 and predicted that time perks are what professionals will want the most.
Paid Time Off (PTO) days, breaks earned at the end of the week, or stopping work early are just a few of the many ways you can incentivize your SDRs with time-related perks.
Tip #3: Provide Flexibility in their Career Path
Companies that do the best at recruiting top SDRs tend to promote mobility and advancement in their program.
Sales development encompasses so many skills and fields of expertise, giving reps the opportunity to advance into sales, marketing, customer success, and more.
To keep SDRs motivated and progressing with your organization, you should build options for career progression into your SDR program so they have the freedom to choose their path.
An innovative example of this is creating a 2-year SDR program with 6-month tracks that focus on building proficiency in different areas of the company.
While the emphasis would be on their performance as a sales development rep, these tracks give them the freedom to choose their path, learn new skills, and better define their direction.
Coaching SDRs as a Manager
Coaching is no easy task, especially if you have reps with different personalities, coming from different backgrounds, and who are all motivated by different things.
One coaching style won’t do it.
You have to be able to adapt and change your coaching approach for each specific rep to ensure they’re advancing in their career and performing at their highest level.
Finding this time to individually coach each reps is tough, so it’s important to create a coaching process that’s time-efficient while still being effective for your SDRs.
Coaching & Motivation
Many teams tend to default to group coaching sessions on the premise that it saves time.
While it’s true that it’s more time-efficient, you miss out on developing the best in each individual rep and risk losing control over your coaching outcomes.
At a minimum, coaches and managers can contribute greatly to the success of their SDRs by identifying what motivates them.
When an SDR knows their personal “why”, managers can tailor their motivation and coaching tactics towards that ambition to help them achieve success.
Motivation can be broken down into 3 different types.
Altruistically motivated people make up a very small portion of SDRs. They’re motivated by helping others and every chance they have to serve, they’ll take. While this type of motivation typically isn’t a good personality fit for the SDR role, altruistic SDRs definitely exist in B2B sales.
Extrinsically-motivated people focus on external rewards, typically money. If they go above and beyond to hit their accelerators, they’re looking to be compensated with extra cash. Contrary to popular belief, extrinsic reps only make up about 15% of top sales performers.
Intrinsically-motivated people focus on self-competition and recognition. They’re motivated by stats, rankings, and want to see themselves reach the top of team leaderboards.
Intrinsic reps make up about 85% of top sales performers. Recognition from the top outpaces monetary compensation for a majority of top SDRs.
Finding out which category your reps fall under and how to best motivate them will help you optimize how you go about training, coaching, and compensation.
Personalize Coaching to What Motivates Reps
By knowing the personalities and motivations that make up your SDR team, you can personalize your coaching to maximize the success of every rep in your program.
Knowing how to coach each rep is vital to making sure your team performs at the highest level.
Training managers on interpersonal skills will allow them to more effectively communicate with their reps and uncover their motivators.
Extrinsically-motivated reps have done the math and likely already broken down every dial into a monetary amount. Coaching should be focused on improving conversion rates to help them reach the exact compensation milestones they’re aiming to achieve.
For intrinsically-motivated reps, they are seeking experience, competition, and achievement. Coaching focused on personal development, reaching career goals, and ways to level up their achievements are effective ways to keep intrinsic reps focused and motivated.
It’s harder to bake those incentives into their comp structure, so managers need to take on the responsibility of guiding their growth and creating an environment that fosters that growth.
Buyers are changing and today’s sales development leaders need to align their hiring and training programs around this new selling environment.
While SDRs and BDRs are still typically entry-level roles, sales development is quickly evolving with specialized departments growing across hundreds of high-caliber organizations.
In the meantime, the B2B workforce is changing quickly. New generations, personalities, and expectations are emerging that will mold the future of the sales landscape.
To maximize the success of your SDR programs and create better outcomes with new SDRs, you should build your hiring, onboarding, and training practices around these changes.