This post was originally written as a guest post by Farlan Dowell, VP of Sales at Cleanshelf (now LeanIX) – the leading enterprise SaaS management platform focused on tracking, controlling, and benchmarking SaaS applications. The article was updated by SaaStock in March 2024. 

In speaking with founders at early stage B2B SaaS companies, one question always comes up – what makes a great Sales Development Representative (SDR)?  

In this article, we’ll draw on insights based on interviewing, managing, and hiring dozens of sales professionals to help you understand how to  secure best-in-class sales development reps (SDRs) for your team, and a few tips on how you can set them up for success.

But first let’s take a step back and look at the role of an SDR.

What is a Sales Development Representative (SDR)? 

As SDR is someone working at the prospecting stage of a sales process. Their job is to identify prospects and build the pipeline. They are also responsible for qualifying leads and determining which are the most viables sales opportunities. These are then passed on to an Account or Sales Executive who will be responsible for closing the deal.  

The role of an SDR includes reaching out to people or companies who match a business’ ideal customer profile (ICP) and responding to inbound activity. They’ll also speak to prospects to get an understanding of their challenges, deliver initial information about your product or service, and determine which deals have the most chance of closing.

Internal SDRs vs. agencies

Depending on your goals, business stage, and a number of other factors, you can evaluate whether to hire an SDR team in house or to use an agency. 

On writing this post, Farlan Dowell advocated for hiring in house because it allows you to hire SDRs who can prospect leads one by one.

It also takes time to help an agency get a real understanding of your product and customers. While it’s doable, sales is a competency you might prefer building up in-house. It’s a vital function that opens opportunities for your whole team to learn, adapt, grow, and improve your outbound messaging—as well as your product. 

On a similar note, Farlan advised away from buying a list, in favour of SDRs handpicking their prospects. Databases older than a week are quickly outdated (and could land you in spam filters). Instead, get that information in real time from your SDRs.

How to recognize best-in-class SDRs

SDRs have the important job of handing qualified leads or opportunities over to the people who close the deals. 

To do this successfully, they need to be able to really understand your ICP and the challenges they face and have a solid grasp of your product or service, how it solves those problems, and how it stands out against the competition. 

Here are three characteristics to look for when building out your SDR team:

  1. Organisation and time management: Top SDRs learn how the game is played. They are methodical, organised, and manage their time well. They don’t jump on every shiny object—they are clear about their priorities. By being methodical, they’ll also ask good questions and listen carefully.
  2. Ability to focus and desire to win: Top SDRs have a willingness to play the game. SDRs don’t let outside distractions or opinions get in the way of the goal. They love the fun and camaraderie of their job. But they’re competitive at heart: They want to win at all costs.
  3. They aren’t afraid to hustle: Top SDRs hustle. They have a chip on their shoulder, monetary goals—and something to prove. Look for folks who have faced adversity and challenges in their career. Look for people who have some intellectual horsepower.

It’s also important to consider how the sales process (particularly outbound) has changed over time. You no longer need to look for the most extroverted person in the room. 

Today, great salespeople are thoughtful listeners. As a result, successful SDRs are often more introverted: they listen carefully and nail direct selling by naming key customer pain points and addressing core objections quickly. 

This skill is not about pitching. It’s not about direct response. It’s about emailing an executive, “we have customers similar to you.” And then backing it up by naming that person’s pain point so precisely that they have to schedule a call with your SDR just to learn more.

How to set your SDR team up for success

Now we know what to look for in candidates, here are steps you can take to set your SDR team up for success.

Trust them to balance clarity with nuance

If you’re going to create a successful sales team, you have to start with an ideal customer profile (ICP). Lay out a specific, focused ICP so your SDRs can target the right leads with precision. Take the guesswork out of it. 

This way you allow them to use their initiative to look beyond that ICP description – and that’s where the real magic happens. 

In the beginning, they’ll use your ICP to find prospects by title. With experience—once they find their flow—SDRs can qualify ideal customers by characteristics and responsibilities instead of titles, which opens a whole new world of high-value prospects.

Don’t complicate the bonus plan

It doesn’t matter who you hire if you don’t set them up to win. 

Your sales compensation plan should be extremely simple. You want your SDRs focused on work—not sitting at their desk crunching numbers to figure out how much they’ll earn this month.

Farlan Dowell suggested a flat fee per sales qualified opportunity.  What’s a sales qualified opportunity: ICP + meeting.  That’s it. There’s no guessing about the ICP (because sales leaders define it). This compensation method is clear and straightforward so they can stay focused on what matters.

Couple training with hands-on experience

Teaching should be paired with hands-on experience. Get an SDR’s feet wet with a project and then focus your training around any questions or confusion that comes up.

For example, tell your new SDR to find 50 leads. Then discuss who they found. As they gain experience, they’ll hit walls and have questions. These focused questions drive the education process.

Real-world experience should be their very first canvas for learning. This type of initial project will give new SDRs context for the case studies and collateral they’ll read later on. 

Do. Fail. Learn.

SDR metrics

So, you’ve hired a team or onboarded an agency and set them up for success – how do you know it’s working? 

Here are some common metrics used to measure SDR team performance: 

  • Activity based metrics, including: Calls per per week, no. of meetings booked, no. of emails sent. 
  • Outcome based metrics, including: No. of qualified leads, pipeline generated. 

Farlan outlined the following numbers as realistic benchmarks for B2B SaaS companies:

  • If your SDRs set up 16 meetings and 12 sales qualified opportunities—ACV 20-60K—that’s reasonable and will put your business on a great track.
  • You should have no more than a thousand leads in cadence. 
  • Add 30-50 leads per day to your sequence. Keep it healthy. 

In closing: Hire the right SDR and then give them the tools and structure they need to succeed. Using these hiring and management practices will help you build predictable sales funnels that make millions in pipeline per month.  

Keep pushing.

Learn more about building a robust B2B SaaS sales strategy.