SDR Career Development & Personal Brand Growth
Bryan’s life goal is, put simply, to help others craft pathways to belonging. As the Founder of BW Missions, he’s been able to help leaders, subject matter experts, and influential professionals lead change.
BW Missions leverages The Pathfinding Process to empower thousands of careers & personal brands.
In today’s digital-driven world, sales professionals have greater access than ever before to jobs, learning resources, and career development opportunities.
Less than a decade ago, common best practices for career development included solid resumes, great employer references, industry events, and training seminars. Job interviews were essential because it was often the first time an employer could learn enough about a candidate to qualify their ability to succeed in a role.
To advance in sales, the career path was clear: Start entry-level as an SDR, become a team lead or assistant AE, and then finally mature into a full Account Executive.
With the rise of business social media, digital communities, and massive recruiting networks, employees can now get jobs based on personal brand alone. Modern sales professionals can accelerate their career development with instant access to new relationships, learning resources, and the experiences of others.
While the sales community is familiar with the idea of growing a powerful personal brand and career, only a handful of today’s sellers are successfully making it happen.
According to a 2018 report by The Bridge Group, the average turnover rate for SDRs was 38% (16% voluntary!) and the average tenure was only 15 months.
To make things worse, recent data from SalesHacker found that more than 80% of outbound reps fail to meet more than 75% of their quota regularly.
Why are so many people leaving sales and so many sellers struggling to perform?
It starts with how the sales career path is perceived and how professionals go about the process of building their personal brand.
Before You Start
Today’s digital environment puts a lot of pressure on professionals to always be saying something and putting themselves out there in order to advance their career.
For many, personal branding is focused on building an audience, getting engagement on social networks, and becoming a popular industry authority.
In fact, there’s a huge market out there for trainers, gurus, and coaches that help thousands of professionals achieve this idea of a personal brand for their clients.
However, a personal brand without a clear direction can quickly come off as inauthentic, rub people the wrong way, or misguide career choices.
A lot of SDRs are told to post on LinkedIn, build an audience, and do social selling, but this short-term approach often comes at the expense of authenticity and tact.
Building a brand just to build a brand is a turn-off. Instead, focus on the right career path, be purposeful, and grow a personal brand around something meaningful.
Thousands of sellers post, comment, and message buyers on LinkedIn, yet many still struggle to achieve this hyped-up idea of a personal brand.
Followers subscribe and industry leaders give out respect because of a person’s expertise, purpose, and passion in a particular space.
Anyone can repurpose content and constantly market themselves. Without a direction, there’s no clarity around what expertise, purpose, and passion is needed to create a valuable brand in any industry.
To truly grow a career-empowering personal brand, take a step back to evaluate the higher message behind the brand.
Pathfinding is all about self-reflection, self-introspection, and asking tough questions about why this particular personal brand should exist in the first place.
“Who am I?”
“What really aligns with me?”
“What are my values?”
“What types of relationships can help get me to where I want to go?”
Questions like these are prerequisites that need to be answered before building a brand. Otherwise, control over the brand’s direction is lost from the start.
With a clear direction and the right purpose, it’s possible to grow an influential brand in any field and accelerate career development.
Pathfinding in a Sales Career
In the context of SDRs, everyone should strive to build a brand. Without a presence, it’s easy to fall behind competing reps and miss opportunities with buyers.
However, employed sales professionals must juggle two separate influences on their personal brand: themselves and their employer.
How do SDRs balance the needs of their career path with the needs of their employer when building a brand?
This balance is why it’s important for SDRs to make sure the role and career path offered by a company is a good fit for their path.
Pathfinding as a sales professional requires much more awareness about what they sell, who they target, and what it takes to generate value for that audience.
Reps in a bad employer, team, or industry fit risk losing control over their career direction to create a brand that doesn’t align with their desired future.
Sales is about authenticity and credibility. It’s essential to build a sales career in the right environment and grow a personal brand in a space for the right reasons.
The Pathfinding Process
Pathfinders grow a personal brand as a byproduct of the career path they’ve created and the industries, topics, and people they’ve chosen to pursue.
Rather than building a personal brand at the very beginning, pathfinding is about gaining clarity around the best career direction and message for a seller’s brand. The BW Missions team uses this pathfinding process to help authors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders align their personal brand around a career path that’s meaningful.
The pathfinding process consists of three components: in-depth self-discovery to find the right path, mindset & motivation, and relationships with others.
Whether it’s for a veteran AE or a new SDR, the pathfinding process is a powerful way for sellers to unearth a unique brand that aligns with their career vision.
A sales process reverse engineers the journey a buyer takes to create revenue. Similarly, pathfinding also starts with the end in mind.
Before a brand or career can grow, SDRs must take a step back to understand where they want to be in their life personally, professionally, and financially.
In this self-discovery phase, the goal is to clearly define how a sales development role fits into a rep’s higher purpose and future career goals.
The reality is that the SDR role can unlock enormous opportunities, but only for those who understand how it fits into their vision.
Take Morgan J Ingram, for example.
As a content producer with the dream of becoming a speaker, Morgan entered the SDR role knowing he didn’t just want to be an every day SDR.
He used the role to find his own way and become a leader in the sales development space by finding a career, employer, and industry aligned with his future plans.
Finding a niche helped Morgan build his brand, but asking the right questions beforehand helped him understand the direction he needed to go to do it.
Take a step back to reflect on what matters first in a career and reverse engineer the steps required over three, five, or ten years to reach that future vision.
Mindset & Motivation
Any person in an industry trying to grow their brand has to compete with every other player in the space with a similar goal.
And SDRs? Everyone hustles. Everyone is scrappy. When it comes to personal branding, consistently hitting numbers is the minimum requirement for a rep!
If everyone hustles, then those with a better direction, more clarity, and greater consistency will be the ones to come out on top.
To stick out in a crowd of thousands of other SDRs and be memorable, reps need the right motivation to take action and the right mindset to keep going.
Motivation is driven by purpose, intent, and empathy towards an audience. Without these elements, it’s easy to lose control over a brand’s direction and much harder to consistently take action over time.
Purpose should be identified in the discovery stage, but intentionality and empathy must be integrated into a rep’s daily mindset.
Is the intent to be a top sales professional in the industry? Is it to share a higher message with the audience? Is it helping people solve specific problems?
Be intentional early on in the pathfinding process. Not only does intentionality help drive motivation, but it also helps make empathy with the audience a focus.
With a clear path and the right mindset, reps can lay the groundwork for a personal brand that empowers the future career they’ve chosen. How motivating!
Community & Relationships
A sales career is rarely built alone. Especially as a newer sales professional, SDRs need to grow their network and learn from the experiences of others.
The core of the pathfinding process is the relationships and communities that a rep makes. Every person has the potential to create value for themselves and others.
Whether it be mentorship, training, accountability, or friendship, the relationships an SDR makes act as long-term investments that pay dividends for decades.
The catch? The relationships have to be the right fit.
Unfortunately, a lot of sellers misinterpret the purpose behind making these relationships and tend to seek popularity over genuinely creating value for others.
Relationships built for the sole purpose of going viral or amassing an audience are often surface-level, inauthentic, and allow only limited opportunity for growth.
A key component of successful pathfinding involves understanding the right relationships to build and being open-minded to the opportunities that come.
Think about the different types of ideal relationships that could empower the path behind whatever personal brand is growing.
Categorize these relationships into buckets. Then find people that fit into these buckets, creating a targeted network of different groups that align with the brand.
Once each bucket has a list of potential people to meet, the next step is to figure out how to get in touch with them and actually create those relationships.
How does an SDR create meaningful, valuable relationships with professionals who may or may not be more experienced?
Provide value before asking for anything. Be memorable. Be relentless. Most of all, ensure everything is aligned around creating future opportunities for both parties.
With the right system for finding, creating, and nurturing relationships, sales development reps can improve selling skills while accelerating their career path.
Career Progression Tips for SDRs
To successfully start a career and build a brand as an SDR that’s meaningful, it takes consistently applying the pathfinding concept every day.
Rather than a one-time implementation, pathfinding is a continuous journey of self-discovery, mindset adjustments, and new relationships.
Here are a few tips and best practices to help empower the benefits of the pathfinding journey.
Like Sales, Pathfinding is a Process
Everything involved in the pathfinding process is very similar to a sales process: build relationships with the right people for the right purpose to create opportunities.
Like sales, pathfinding requires extreme clarity around the goals and outcomes matter. By reverse-engineering the future, SDRs can grow their career with a structure to build the skills & relationships needed to reach that path.
To help make the biggest impact, focus on being intentional early. Create milestones throughout the pathfinding process, using the higher purpose, mindset, and relationships to grow a personal brand that’s meaningful.
Give & Take of Pathfinding
Under the pressure of employers or industry advice, many sellers spend a majority of their time using their personal brand to ask for time and make requests.
Regardless of a person’s popularity or influence, there is a delicate balance between the value that people expect to receive and what’s asked of them.
Even a well-known SDR with significant expertise risks losing touch with their audience and burning bridges if too much time is spent taking before they give.
The book Give & Take by Adam Grant talks about this balance between how value is exchanged between people (especially in sales).
The advice? Talk 20% of the time, ask questions and listen 80% of the time. Understand the person’s situation, their challenges, and their goals.
When a relationship grows on a clear exchange of value between two people, it’s more authentic and sets a foundation for long-term opportunities.
Starting from Scratch? Doesn’t Matter
Ask industry leaders about how they got to where they are today and they’ll likely highlight the fact that they’ve been doing it before they ever had an online presence.
An SDR can be a pathfinder regardless of how much clout they have because the audience and recognizable brand is a byproduct, not a prerequisite.
Relationships are critical to any personal brand, but especially to those early in a sales career. Don’t assume industry leaders or potential mentors won’t give their time.
Instead of clout, focus pathfinding on meaningful relationships, selfless exchanges of value, and the grit to persist and keep going.
This focus is why direction is so important for pathfinders: clout and recognition will come, but only when aligned with a person’s values, purpose, and expertise.
Get started now. With a clear path, it’s only a matter of time until an authentic, unique personal brand blossoms.
Be Prepared to Make an Impression
Don’t just meet new people.
To make pathfinding successful, every relationship should have a purpose. Every interaction should be meaningful.
Most of all, everything representing a personal brand should make the right impression.
For example, how would a potential mentor feel if an SDR never reached out again after their first email attempt? Or didn’t prepare for the first introduction call?
Be very intentional about what’s discussed and the future vision behind any good-fit relationship. Prepare for calls with specific questions and be proactive about creating value for those willing to give up their time.
Beyond intentionality, it’s critical to leave a memorable impression. Thank-you notes, follow-up calls, and referrals are great ways to stay top-of-mind.
With preparedness, clear value exchange, and the right intention, SDRs can make a great first impression with anyone they meet.
With a 38% turnover rate and 15-month average tenure for SDRs, it’s apparent that many sales professionals need more clarity behind the future of their careers.
Today’s digital world makes it possible to instantly access information, jobs, and relationships, yet most reps laser-focus on social selling with a personal brand.
As buyers, technology, and competitive strategies changed, so too has the career development and personal branding best practices for sellers.
Influential sales careers are not about the personal brand. Brand and recognition are a byproduct, but the direction and purpose behind the person is what matters.