What Makes a Great Sales Development Rep (SDR)?5 min read

What makes a great SDR

This is a guest post by Farlan Dowell, VP of Sales at Cleanshelf. Cleanshelf is the leading enterprise SaaS management platform focused on tracking, controlling, and benchmarking SaaS applications.

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

After years of interviewing, managing, and hiring dozens of sales professionals, here’s what I’ve learned about securing best-in-class sales development reps (SDRs) for your team, and a few tips on how YOU can set them up for success.

How to recognize best-in-class SDRs 

What characteristics should you look for when hiring SDRs? In my experience, they have three primary characteristics:

  1. Top SDRs learn how the game is played. They are methodical, organized, 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. 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. 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. 

SDRs can 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. 

But the magic of great SDRs is what they do beyond the description in the ICP. 

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.

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

Extrovert or introvert?

I’m not convinced extroverts are better at sales. 

We are going through a renaissance that’s redefining what outbound means. It’s not about smooth-talking or being the most gregarious person in the room. 

Great salespeople are thoughtful listeners. Besides, outbound is done primarily by email. 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 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. 

Training SDRs

Teaching should be coupled 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 powerpoints they’ll read later on. 

Do. Fail. Learn. 

Internal SDRs vs. agencies

Don’t outsource lead gen to an agency. Hire SDRs who can prospect leads one by one.

What do I have against agencies? 

Agencies don’t know your product—they’re working with too many companies.  

Plus, sales is a competency you want to build up in-house. It’s a vital function your team must learn. It opens opportunities for your whole team to learn, adapt, grow, and improve your outbound messaging—as well as your product. 

On a similar note, never buy a list. SDRs need to be handpicking their prospects. Any database that’s older than a week is outdated (and bad data will land you in spam filters – fast!). Get that information in real time from your SDRs.

Numbers for your SDRs

The following numbers should help you set realistic benchmarks for B2B SaaS companies. Sure, some companies and industries will differ, but these should function as a healthy ballpark:

  • 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. I’ve seen teams use these hiring and management practices to build predictable sales funnels that make millions in pipeline per month.  

Keep pushing.

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