Strategies for a World-Class SDR Program

How to Hire High-Performing SDRs

The first major step in setting up an outbound sales team is hiring Sales Development Reps (SDRs), also known as Business Development Reps (BDRs) or Lead Development Reps (LDRs). These are the people responsible for contacting cold prospects, qualifying them, and creating new opportunities for your senior salespeople.

If you are new to outbound sales, don’t make the mistake of taking this hiring decision lightly. Failure to take the time to hire the right SDR is a common and costly mistake. Poor SDR performance means less opportunities and unhappy closers.

If you get lots of inbound leads, chances are that you already have some “inbound” SDRs in place. Inbound and Outbound SDRs are different positions. In fact, I suggest you assign them different names to highlight the difference (more on that later).

Tips For Hiring Great SDRs

Every hire is, to some extent, a leap of faith. SDRs are no exception. Fortunately, there are some characteristics that, in my experience, are predictive of success. Here are a few of those characteristics, along with some simple ways to test for them:

Customer-facing experience: Look for people who have experience dealing with the public. The food service industry is a great training ground for the negativity with which a successful SDR must deal. I came from law enforcement, which taught me the value of both patience and persistence; it has served me very well in business development.

Hunger: This is a no-brainer, but it can be tough to spot if you don’t plan ahead. When you offer an in-person interview, tell the person that industry knowledge is important. If they have industry knowledge, then tell them that it is important to know the history of the company (or anything else that requires a bit of leg work). If they’re willing to spend a few hours learning something that you said was important, then they’re probably hungry.

Curiosity: This is closely related to hunger. Do they come prepared with lots of questions? Did they do some research before the interview? Do they seem genuinely interested in the company and sales process, or do they just need a job?

Coachability: If a person is not coachable, then they’re probably not a good SDR candidate. This is easy to test. During the phone interview, give the candidate some two or three pieces of advice about the in-person interview. Did they follow your advice? If not, do they have a good reason?

Persistent: If a candidate is not persistent during the hiring process, she is probably not a good candidate. Do they follow up with you after every interview, or do they simply wait to hear from you?

Willing to challenge: The very best SDR candidates have the confidence to challenge your assertions without being disrespectful. A former director of sales taught me a great way to test for this: tell them at the end of the interview process that you’re not sure if they will be able to do the job. Are they willing to push back? Do they tell you why you’re wrong?

Creative and fast-thinking: SDRs spend a significant portion of their time on the phone with smart people. They have to quickly position your product or service as a solution to a prospect’s problem. Consider doing a mock call or role-playing in a context that is familiar to them. If they’re a waiter, ask them to pitch an expensive dish and see how they handle some simple objections.

If you find an SDR candidate with most (or all) of these characteristics, you should seriously consider hiring her. A few intelligent and competitive salespeople who are properly motivatedand placed in a well-designed sales process can change the trajectory of an otherwise mediocre sales team.

People who make the best SDR candidates are unlikely to stick around if you don’t implement the right structure and incentives. In the next post, I’ll share some tips that will help you create a structure in which your reps are more likely to thrive.

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Taft Love

Taft Love

Taft Love is an experienced sales development and sales operations professional who has worked with dozens of startups in and around San Francisco in recent years. He now leads teams of SDRs and Sales Operations analysts for SmartRecruiters in San Francisco.

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