In the modern sales organization, the SDR is the lynchpin of the entire operation. SDR’s enable account executives to focus on nuanced conversations with qualified prospects at targeted companies, and ultimately win complex deals more quickly.
The SDR also coordinates collaboration between sales and marketing. Marketing strategy informs the Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Persona segmentation, and it is eventually re-informed based on outcomes provided by SDR activities. If the alignment of sales and marketing isn’t accurately translated and communicated to the SDR, sales and marketing efforts suffer.
Let’s start with the qualities that sales organizations look for in a great SDR. I’ve broken it down into four distinct areas:
- High degree of empathy (attentiveness to customer needs)
- Strong written and verbal communication skills
- Curiosity – ability to ask good questions and interact thoughtfully with decision makers
- Ability to create targeted lists of companies and contacts
SDR’s put these characteristics into practice by prospecting the right companies and buyers, writing compelling outreach messages, keeping a steady cadence of cold calls, and creating a consistent multi-channel strategy–all the while constantly testing & improving on this process.
For SDR’s to excel, however, there are two opposing forces at work.
Companies like the ability to vet young sales candidates by grinding them through the SDR track to prepare them for success as an AE. Unfortunately, future sales all-stars don’t necessarily have the skills to be strong SDRs, nor do SDRs prove their mettle to become AEs by slogging through prospecting lists and cold calls.
These characteristics are the skills required to be successful in sales development. The only reason not to break them out completely would be if you could find those skills consistently in the same type of person. And this simply isn’t the case.
Modern sales has improved, but hasn’t caught up to the modern buyer. Further specialization is required.
Billy Beane is most famous for his “Moneyball” approach to building the Oakland A’s baseball teams as General Manager, where he values the specialized contributions each player has as they relate to scoring or preventing runs scored (how games are won and lost in baseball). As a player himself, Beane was considered a “5-tool prospect.” He could hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw well, and play the field, but his career ultimately didn’t pan out. From the front office, he went against conventional preference for finding the perfect player and brought in the best collection of skills that could win games – which often came from multiple players who were independently flawed, but collectively perfectly complemented one another.
Sales is the same game. At most companies, SDR’s are expected to be just like that 5-tool player along their progression towards becoming an AE and eventually a sales leader. These players exist, and they usually become All-Stars. They are also anomalies. Championship teams are built by assembling role players to support their stars, and great modern sales organizations will find a competitive advantage by further specializing this critical SDR role.
To begin specializing the functions an SDR performs, I suggest mapping them against the characteristics laid out above:
Building out a function that exists purely to usher prospects through onboarding into customer success is critical. This role plays quarterback for the other functions below, fully understanding the ideal customer profile, buyer personas, KPI’s, and tasked with pulling any team member below onto a call throughout the process to ensure success.
We built this function into the very center of our process at LeadUp. They calls the plays and make sure that clients’ needs are addressed proactively. Empathy fuels the engine rather than hunger to sell more business. The empathetic quarterback has a long view of the relationship from the outset and makes sure that shortcuts aren’t taken just to make sure a contract gets signed.
If you can’t write in a modern sales organization, you are working with borrowed time. As communication moves across multiple channels, sales organizations that value and hire for writing as a skill will separate themselves.
At LeadUp we love to hire English and Journalism majors. Not only can they write, but they have usually gone to great lengths to get a story in the past. Their passion reminds me a lot of great salespeople, but the motivation of a writer is often less financial and more out of desire for a great story, or to get to the truth.
This lines up with why I love writers, but client curiosity typically looks like someone who constantly tinkers. A good fit might look like someone who obsessed over baseball as a child, got into surfing in their teens, swore they’d take over Wall Street in their early 20’s, then ended up at an NGO after a stint in the Peace Corps. Everything is interesting until 80% of mastery/understanding is reached. Then it’s time to be curious in another direction.
Jacks-of-all-trades fit well in this role because they are naturally curious, can be very focused, but also need to be constantly learning in order to stay productive. Salespeople have plenty of room for this characteristic, but it’s often buried in those too busy for natural curiosity to flourish and help the team.
The full SDR picture wouldn’t be complete without targeted, account-based prospecting. In the modern SDR’s day, this is required in order to meet other outcome metrics, but can become a bit of a drudgery if they are looking to progress towards becoming an AE.
The Data Strategist has two complementary strengths. This person is very attentive to detail and enjoys supporting a team without the need to be in the spotlight. We discovered this person on our team because they were the one who brought a kitchen scale to measure out coffee beans. The sales team was pouring bags of coffee into the coffee maker without a second thought, while LeadUp’s future Data Strategist made sure that exactly 17 grams of beans were portioned, ground at the medium-fine setting, and spent no more than thirty seconds in 195-205 degree water, before gently coaxing it through the Aeropress into her mug.
In addition to this stark contrast in attention to detail for process, she appreciates the generally underappreciated nuance between coffee beans. Is it Arabica or Robusta? Is it grown in Africa or Central America? A typical sales person only wants to know whether the coffee is leaded or unleaded–caf or decaf. This penchant to dig into underappreciated nuance falls outside of the limelight, but is critical for a successful targeted data strategy.
Each organization has different hiring priorities and means of approaching the SDR position. As the role grows in prominence and organizations mature their understanding and practice of modern sales, I suggest looking at these four additional areas of specialization. Ask how these specialties can be applied now and built into future plans in order to create a sales machine capable of scalable human interaction.
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