Not all businesses are content with their lead generation. The problem may be in lack of the right system and personnel to achieve sales goals.
This is where having sales development representatives (SDR) matters. We wrote this guide to teach you what sales development representatives are, what they do, how they differ from other sales roles, and what skills they should possess.
What is a Sales Development Representative (SDR)?
A sales development representative (SDR) is a person that researches, qualifies, and reaches out to leads to determine whether they are a good customer fit. SDR is the lowest-ranked position in the sales hierarchy, although this is just a vanity metric.
A day in the life of an SDR revolves around finding prospects.
SDRs qualify leads to ensure their peers don’t waste time chasing low-value opportunities. They also provide clients the first exposure to a company’s products and services without going too in-depth.
Good SDRs are handling the entire prospecting stage, which allows account executives (AE) to focus entirely on what they do best—converting leads into customers.
SDRs pass over potential customers to (AEs) after the qualifying stage and this is where their responsibilities end—when AEs take full ownership of the qualified leads. After handing off the qualified leads, the cycle starts all over.
SDRs don’t close deals nor should they do it. That falls in the hands of AEs or any other sales roles up the ladder.
SDR tasks differ from company to company; some SDRs may take on AE roles while others only work on prospecting. Regardless, the core responsibilities remain the same in every organization.
What Does an SDR do?
As an SDR, you’re expected to speed up the process of funneling leads into the sales pipeline. That comes along with four core responsibilities: prospecting, qualifying, educating, and handing off leads.
Prospecting revolves around three key components:
- Customer research
- Using communication channels
- CRM mastery
1.1 Customer Research
SDRs must be adept at customer research to find the right leads. The goal here is to learn about potential customers. More importantly, the SDR seeks to discover their needs, pain points, and other critical information to help with the sale. SDRs also collect vital customer information to fill up their CRM with rich prospect data, including:
- Lead personal details
- Contact information
- Employment and/or business history
- Other useful data like traits, interests, and personalities
SDRs use a mix of physical and online research (e.g. LinkedIn) to gather these insights. This is the reason why SDRs are often assigned to conferences and tradeshows. They are there to collect as many contacts as possible and bring the goods to AEs.
1.2 Communication Channels
SDRs kick off the initial conversations with leads after prospecting. Cold outreach was the main strategy before, but today, you will find SDRs using a variety of channels to contact prospects, from cold emails, social media, to Whatsapp, and even physical letters (snail mail).
Good SDRs use different communication channels, and never rely on just one.
1.3 CRM Mastery
A good CRM is an SDR’s best friend. Think of it as the Swiss Army knife for sales. SDRs use it to store prospect information, notes, meeting dates, and other important information relevant to their work.
SDRs need to be comfortable with using CRMs to carry out their tasks so make sure you learn the ins and outs of the tool your company uses.
SDRs must have a keen eye for qualifying prospects. Contrary to popular belief, qualifying is more about following a process rather than being an innate talent. SDRs usually have a set of filters to profile and qualify leads.
One such qualifying criteria is the BANT framework, as shown in the image below:
The qualification process often overlaps with the prospecting stage. You qualify leads as you are prospecting to kill two birds with one stone.
What metrics do SDRs use to qualify leads? The answer varies between companies. But, several factors remain the same across organizations.
Your product and service should solve your prospect’s pain points. You can’t qualify leads if your product is not relevant in the first place.
Can your prospect actually afford your product? The budget does not mean offering your solution for cheap. Instead, it refers to how valuable your solution is relative to the money spent. It’s hard to qualify leads if they cannot justify spending money on it.
This also explains why businesses have different target demographics. Enterprise vendors, for example, don’t get any value out of targeting small to medium-sized businesses and vice versa.
The budget is one part of the equation and the timing of your product is another. Prospects have other priorities to handle so try to figure out whether your solution comes at the right time.
For example, most companies were cutting down costs at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. You could not generate interest even if your solution met customers’ needs to a tee.
SDRs must have the ability to recognize prospect timelines and determine whether they’re worth pursuing. Nothing burns more time and money than selling to leads who ultimately won’t buy.
2.4 Decision Making
Are you targeting the decision-maker?
A mistake beginner SDRs do is to focus their efforts on prospects who don’t have the final say. You can convince your target account’s department head all day. But, you will end up nowhere if he or she is not the one signing checks.
Understanding the factors above helps you qualify leads more effectively. Bear in mind that there may be other aspects to consider depending on your organization.
Prospects know nothing about your company in the prospecting stage; they may not even be aware of their pain points. SDRs eliminate this knowledge gap by educating leads about their solutions. They need to demonstrate their product expertise to convince prospects and get them to the next stage.
Closing the sale is not the priority here. The goal instead is to help prospects realize their problems and help them see how your solution tackles the issue.
4. Handing Off Leads
SDRs hand off leads to AEs after they’re done qualifying and educating prospects. This mainly happens via emails or meetings.
4.1 The Meeting Handoff
SDRs pass their prospects’ details to their respective AEs. The AE will then schedule a meeting with the prospect and the SDR. The meeting kicks off with the SDR introducing the prospect to the AE. The AE takes over the account after that, and the SDR takes on a supporting role to build rapport between the prospect and the AE.
Meeting handoffs are the standard in the sales industry. It’s easier to move on prospects in person. There’s also less confusion when prospects work with AEs for the first time.
4.2 The Email Handoff
Email handoffs are common in highly-specialized setups where SDRs only work on prospecting. After the qualifying stage, the SDR sends an email invite to the AE and prospect. The email highlights:
- Notes from previous conversations
- A warm introduction to the AE
- The next steps for the prospect
- Additional details to ease the transition
While useful, companies tend to shun email handoffs in favor of physical meetings. The latter is more personal which helps with closing sales. AEs also find it easier to work with new prospects with an SDR in support.
SDRs should only be present at the first meeting. Their job is to hand over key details to AEs and get prospects to know them, nothing more. Any other task falls under the AE’s responsibilities.
Some companies—especially smaller ones—may require SDRs to take on some AE-specific tasks. This should not go on forever, though, as SDRs seek to generate sales opportunities, not close them.
Now that you understand what an SDR does, let’s dig deeper into what separates SDRs from AEs.
The Key Differences Between an SDR and an AE
SDRs and AEs exist in the same sales structure. But, they each have different roles that can confuse new organizations. Think of SDRs as miners and AEs as the refinery. SDRs ‘mine’ sales opportunities for AEs to ‘refine’ them into valuable customers.
The key points covered below should give you a clear overview of how these two roles differ:
SDRs are judged based on their ability to source high-quality leads. Their KPIs almost always revolve around the number of leads generated or meetings booked.
AEs are the ones working on traditional sales tasks like running demos and writing term sheets, and they measure success based on the numbers of deals closed.
SDRs also don’t have sales quotas. Instead, they earn commissions based on the number of qualified leads or meetings booked.
On the other hand, AEs receive commissions from closed deals. Both roles may receive individual or team bonuses for meeting quotas.
3. Data Handling
SDRs manage the entire prospecting process. They find opportunities, initiate conversations with prospects, and collect valuable insights to assist AEs. They do not, however, take any sales actions.
AEs do not collect data but thrive on information gathered by SDRs to help them close deals. They don’t have to do the tedious research work to understand prospects. This is why SDRs are indispensable in high-performing organizations.
AEs cannot progress with deals if they don’t have enough customer data.
4. Prospect Relationships
SDRs are responsible for building initial rapport with prospects. They require significant product and domain knowledge to act as trusted advisors to prospects.
AEs engage qualified prospects to discover their deepest wants and needs and pitch solutions around prospect pain points and convince them through creating urgency. They address concerns and objections with their sales methodology of choice.
Account executives close deals by proving the value of their solution to prospects, and they may also handle after-sales services in smaller companies.
Despite their differences, SDRs and AEs need each other to succeed. AEs can’t sell effectively without accurate insights from SDRs. Likewise, SDRs will struggle to fulfill their responsibilities if they need to sell.
There is a competition, but it’s a healthy one driving each party to perform better.
Drift has a great guide here on how SDRs and AEs should work together for optimal results.
Key Skills Every SDR Should Have
SDRs need a specific set of skills to excel at their work. The good news is, you can train yourself to get better at sales. You’ll find yourself developing these core skills even more as you progress in your career. Let’s go through each of them in detail.
1. Research Skills
SDRs need excellent research skills. They need to pair this with the ability to recognize useful information. You’ll encounter tons of irrelevant data during research so it’s important to weed out the trivial stuff and stay away from a wild goose chase.
You must have patience and persistence when digging information. Some companies don’t have a LinkedIn or Facebook page for you to Google. You must be comfortable with picking up the phone and knocking on doors to find connections when you have limited information.
While persistence is important in research, good SDRs know when to stop. There’s no use pursuing a contact if they’re not a good fit. It’s ineffective and steals your time and energy from finding new customers.
2. Being a good communicator
The media paints the picture of top sellers as unstoppable forces throwing power words at customers and dictating sales. This is far from the truth in the real world. Conversations with prospects should always be a two-way street. You want prospects to lead the conversation.
Prospects are more willing to share information when you let them open up on their feelings. You may even get insights you’d miss if you had led the conversation. It also helps to actively listen to what your prospects are saying.
You do this by:
- Paying attention to every word your prospect says.
- Letting the prospect talk until he or she finishes.
- Pausing and digesting what the prospect said before saying anything.
- Refrain from interrupting prospects while they’re talking.
- Remembering critical details and using them in your conversations.
These tips seem simple, yet they’ll do wonders for your customer conversations and booking rates.
Good SDRs also know how to personalize their outreach and communication to make prospects feel valued. Case in point, 59% of customers say personalization influences their purchase decision. Keep this in mind if you want to improve as an SDR.
Empathy is the ability of an individual to build rapport with others. Highly empathetic SDRs understand their prospects almost as if they are the same people. The biggest misconception people have about empathy is that empathy is an innate talent.
You can learn to be empathetic.
Start by putting yourself in your prospect’s shoes. If you were the one being pitched, what would you do? More specifically, what would make you consider a salesperson’s pitch and not hang up immediately? This mindset helps you build empathy the more you practice it in your conversations.
Pay attention to your prospect’s body language and the tone of their voice. Do they sound excited? Are they paying more attention as the conversation goes on? Do they look like they’re about to doze off at any moment?
These non-verbal cues seem insignificant but they help you understand prospects more than what comes out of their mouths.
4. Domain Expertise
Poor product and industry knowledge can bleed through a conversation. Prospects recognize inconsistencies in your statements, which leads to doubts and, ultimately, rejection.
How can you convince prospects if you don’t know what you’re selling?
The answer to this is simple—keep on learning. Make your solution a part of your life. Bring along your product’s documentation with you every day, gather advice from colleagues who’ve sold the product for years, and read relevant blogs to keep up with industry news and trends.
Your goal as an SDR is to know every aspect of your solution like the back of your hand. You can answer customer questions right away with confidence. More importantly, you can apply your knowledge to personalize your approach for every prospect.
The moment you stop learning is when you begin to lose grip on your domain expertise. Don’t let that happen.
SDRs need to get used to rejection. Unanswered calls, unread emails, ignored texts—these are the realities you will face as an SDR.
There’s no real way to train your resilience than to go out and face prospects every day. It’s disheartening and soul-crushing at first. But, you’ll quickly learn that the more rejections you get, the closer you are to booking the elusive appointment.
This doesn’t mean you should treat rejections with total ignorance. Instead, use these denials as learning opportunities. Analyze what went wrong and how you can do better in the future. This self-learning process separates great SDRs from mediocre ones.
It’s OK to get rejected. It’s not OK to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Resilience also means putting in effort until you’re 100% sure that the prospect does not need your solution. 80% of sales happen after at least five follow-ups. If you want to be a successful SDR, buck up and learn to take rejections in your stride.
Time is your biggest enemy in sales. The longer you wait to do something, the more you lose control over your prospects and the market. Being agile and flexible addresses this challenge completely.
Agility does not mean rushing prospects. It’s more about how flexible you are at adapting to changes in your work environment.
For example, LinkedIn messages weren’t a thing twenty years back. Today, you’d be naive not to use LinkedIn or any social media platform when prospecting.
Agility is just not applicable to tech. It also extends to the sales process, business structure, and other day-to-day responsibilities. If you find it hard to keep up with change, this may not be the right role for you.
Improving your agility boils down to continuous learning. Pick up one or two books in your free time. Keep up with the latest trends in your industry or analyze what your competitors are doing to gain an advantage in the market. Bottom line, always look to improve as an SDR.
The six skills listed above should be part of your core competencies as an SDR. Put in an effort to improve them and you will book more meetings in no time.
Without SDRs, AEs cannot close deals as they lack the insights to do so. An SDR is responsible for prospecting, collecting leads data, and setting up appointments for AEs.
Good SDRs have a specific set of skills that make them successful including being effective communicators, empathetic and having excellent product and industry knowledge.
Follow the tips mentioned above you’ll be well on your way to become a highly-effective SDR.