Hiring SDRs: Ultimate Guide To Hire & Keep Great Sales Development Reps

Setting up a successful team for the first time is an intimidating experience. Who to hire first? When to hire? And more importantly, how to make sure you don’t miss-hire?

These and so many other questions are burdening the minds of new high-growth companies especially those early-stage businesses trying to get off the ground. After all, recruitment decisions in the early days of the startup can truly make or break a business. So, how to avoid these costly mistakes and hire the right person for the job?

In this article, we’ll break down the process of hiring your first SDRs.

We’ll touch upon topics such as understanding the importance of an SDR, what you can expect from them, and how to identify extraordinary talent that can fill up the pipeline with high-quality leads. But first, let’s define the role of a sales development rep and then we can get into the hiring process.

What Is a Sales Development Representative (SDR)?

Sales development representatives (SDRs) are professionals who specialize in prospecting and lead qualification practices for sales call. They’re considered an entry-level position and many people use the role of an SDR to kick-start a career in sales. Its a great entry point for SDRs to enter a sales team and maybe one day they can become your new sales manager.

Nevertheless, the SDRs position is crucial within the team and can significantly impact the growth and scalability of the business. This is evident in the trend among B2B SaaS businesses where more than 60% have an in-house SDR team who mainly report to the team (some inbound SDRs report to marketing). 

We sometimes hear companies consider having SDRs live under the marketing team. Our recommendation is outbound sales should always live under sales as the skill sets needed to manage SDRs are not marketing skills after all, sales reps should be masters of the sales funnel.

SDR Role Responsibilities:

  • Doing initial outreach;
  • Cold call into target accounts
  • Build relationships with prospects
  • Identifying prospects using selling techniques that capture prospects' current needs;
  • Identifying the decision-makers in the company and budget limits;
  • Conducting in-depth lead qualification (determining which leads are SQLs/opportunities); 
  • Lead nurturing - preparing prospects for a meeting with the AEs.
  • Maintaining the CRM with the standard sales process

The reason behind this trend of higher specialization within the sales team is simple - divide and conquer! The sales development team can dedicate 100% of their time and effort into filtering and nurturing the right prospects, so when AEs take over, they won’t waste time trying to close deals with non-convertible leads.

The efficiency of the sales pipeline goes up, the sales cycle becomes shorter, and ROI will be higher than ever. In fact, SDRs can and should make the sales pipeline stronger by yielding greater and more predictable revenue. 

At least, this is the idea in theory. In practice, things might not go as smoothly as described.

There are many reasons for this, including hiring too soon or too late, hiring people without talent or drive, or hiring people who are not a good match with the other people within the team. How to avoid these challenges?

When Should You Hire an SDR for your Team?

The first challenge or obstacle you’re going to face as a founder is finding the right people at the right time. In your lifetime, you’ll undoubtedly meet a lot of people that will simply stand out with their charisma and convince you they can be extremely persuasive with just one conversation. 

These are the people that you want to keep close to you, the people who should be part of your personal network. But, just because they sound great, it doesn’t mean that you should offer them a job in your sales team. Your company might not be ready to hire an SDR yet. 

How to determine if you’re ready to hire? Here’s a quick checklist of questions to ask:

  • Have you landed any actual paying customers yet?
  • Have you built an ideal customer profile (ICP) - and tested it?
  • Have you determined your USP (unique selling point)?
  • Do you know which needs/pain points your product/service is solving?
  • Have you created a sales strategy yet?
  • Do you know you have product-market fit?
  • Do the unit economics of your product allow you to sell via outbound sales?
  • Have you the founder done sales converting unknown leads to customers? 
  • Do you have sales executives in place or have a plan to hire sales managers soon?

Here is a friendly checklist you can use.

If you can answer yes to most if not all of the questions, then you’re more than likely ready to begin the process of hire an SDR (Sales Development Representative). However, if there are still some things you need to figure out first, you will probably want to wait! 

Don’t rush the process because it will cost you. 

A common mistake founders make is thinking they can magically find clients or customers by hiring more salespeople. This is wrong. Practically all successful companies have an already established customer base when they start building the team.

Advice When Hiring Your First SDRs

Timing is not the only thing you should be careful about when your hiring managers and SDRs. Here are six more useful pieces of advice that can truly make a difference in your hiring process.

Hire People Based on Talent…

Building a successful SDR team is dependent on a balance between a lot of factors, such as a strong onboarding plan, performance KPIs, training, management, alignment with AEs (account executives), and more. Nothing is too little or too insignificant. If two or more things fall out of place, you’ll end up with suboptimal results. 

Having said that, there’s one factor that stands out - talent.

It might sound a little unrealistic in the lines of “find the best people and they can drive revenue under any circumstance,” but that’s not what we want to say.

Instead, think of it like this: when everything else is optimized, talented people will always exceed expectations, while mediocre candidates will deliver mediocre results (under the best circumstances).

You don’t want that. Your job description will not magically attract only the most talented but you can fish this out when interviewing SDR candidates.

Our advice is to prioritize the candidates’ talent and character traits when hiring. Put sales reps on the spot, ask them to talk about their strategies and techniques, and listen to their past experiences. Then, ask yourself “Would I buy from these people? Do I want to interact with these people?” It's all part of a structured interview process.

A few questions to consider when hiring SDRs in the interview process:

  • Do they appear polished
  • Are they struggling with Zoom (especially important in the first interview)
  • Do they sound clear
  • Are they smiling
  • Do they have genuine enthusiasm?
  • Are they using body language in a natural way
  • Do they speak with inflections and exude confidence?
  • Are they actively listening and forming questions using what they hear (curious SDRs are gold)
  • Do they have a track record for turning interested prospects into booked meetings?

Visualize Your Ideal Candidate

Relying on your instincts is great, but not enough. Assessing candidates and finding ones with true skills is a very difficult task.

It’s like finding needles in a haystack - a time-consuming and mentally exhausting process. Therefore, to make sure you don't lose sight of the big picture, you’ll need a structure, a solid framework to rely on. 

In other words, you’ll need to create an ideal talent profile. Just like a buyer persona, but for finding just the right employees for your company instead of customers.

Creating an ideal talent profile will help you visualize what a good candidate looks like, which in turn makes filtering out candidates so much easier. 

The best way to create an ideal talent profile is to analyze your best-performing SDRs and extract their characteristics. This is also the best way (analyzing worst-performing SDRs or those who left) to find out what characteristics are a red flag, meaning you should avoid them.

But, wait - you can’t do that when you’re hiring your first SDR, simply because you don’t have that kind of data, right?

In this case, analyze the best and worst-performing SDRs of your competition (or a company in a related field and similar product). This won’t be as powerful as identifying character traits proven to work in your company, but it’s a good start.

And, if you want an example of how this looks like in general, here are some common traits of successful a Sales Development Representative (SDR):

  • Candidates who are always doing something. They’re highly active and have a sense of urgency;
  • Candidates who are confident and have high self-esteem. In sales, it’s crucial for a SDR candidate to feel comfortable reaching out and speaking to people they’ve never met. To leave a good impression and be likable.
  • Candidates who are creative and curious. No one wants to speak to people who are arrogant or seem like they’re imposing, which is common among confident people. This is why you’ll want someone who is interested in other people, listens to them enthusiastically, and is honestly curious about what every customer has to say;
  • Candidates who fit within your company’s culture. If the candidate does not share your company’s core values, they’re probably not a good fit and won’t be able to perform optimally in the long run.

Hire Two SDRs

Another piece of advice we give hiring managers when hiring your first SDR is to hire two (or more). Yes, this is a much larger and more expensive investment that you might be scared to make without first seeing ROI from your initial hire, but hear us out.

You’ll face two problems if you hire only one SDR. 
Problem 1: Lonely SDRs - A sales rep wants company

First, you’ll create a lonely environment and possibly a sense of insecurity by creating a one-man team. And, the job is tough, to say at least.

Two SDRs or more can support, encourage, and push each other to do more. More importantly, they’ll debate and discuss their approaches more reliably. 

Problem 2: No Benchmarks

Second and most importantly, hiring only one SDR leaves you no room for objectively evaluating their performance. Since it would be your first and only hire, how can you accurately assess whether they’re performing well?

Relying on theoretically set quotas can be misleading. Comparing the performance of two SDRs or more is a great way to set some initial benchmarks. 

Therefore, when you really think about it, a more expensive investment for more hires will be justified with a higher ROI. On top of that, not having the budget to cover two SDRs is a good indicator that you’re probably not ready for an SDR in the first place.

Bottomline hire SDRs as a pair and reap the benefits.

Prioritize the Onboarding Process

The recruitment process doesn’t end when you make a decision to on a new hire. In fact, the next period is the most important and most companies do the bare minimum. 

Your new SDR (Sales Development Representative) needs to be integrated into the existing team and trained and onboarded. Most teams don’t invest enough here and it leads to the majority of the issues we see in SDR teams. 

For these reasons, we advise founders to prioritize the onboarding process and create a full onboarding and training program. This is not a short one-page Google Doc that you can whip up the week of the hire. It takes time to develop and should allow hired SDRs to become sales prospecting ninjas. It should include the following

  • How to find new leads
  • How to qualify leads
  • How to technically make cold calls
  • What industry or industries you focus
  • Detailed description of the sales process
  • A walk through of the existing relationships they need to be aware of

First impressions count, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to show your new SDRs that you’re professional, organized, and serious. Aside from providing direction and a sense of security, this also positively impacts the new SDRs’ motivation and will to work.

Beyond this, an onboarding training porgam can significantly lower the managerial burden and improve performance. 

We will save this for another post. 

Set Transparent Incentives

Talking about the onboarding process, there’s one more thing to consider - incentives. If you want loyal, dedicated, and passionate SDRs who are going to give the best they got for your company, you have to motivate them. And, as it turns out, money - or other ways of compensation, such as added benefits, stocks, etc - are a great way to stimulate proactive behavior.

Tip, the best SDRs are heavily motivated by money. 

Compensation Plans

Therefore, create clear and simple compensation plans with a fixed and variable component. This means that on top of their base salary (a fixed amount), new SDRs should have a clear idea of how they might reach higher compensation packages, bonuses, and other benefits. Also, they need to understand how they can progress, be promoted, and advance their career in your company. 

While you will not be able to showcase examples for career paths of SDRs you can paint a picture that you are open to it. Most companies have a pipeline of SDRs being promoted to SDR Managers or into AEs.

Collaboration Is Key

We’ve touched upon this when we talked about hiring people that are a good cultural fit for your company, but let’s elaborate.

The success of the new SDRs is very much dependent on their ability to integrate and work together with the rest of the team, especially the AEs. Focus on encouraging a close relationship between these two roles and prioritize a transparent and clear line of communication within all the members of the team.

It’s common for companies to use the probation period (usually 3 months) of new employees to test and see how they’ll work with the rest of the team.

Even if they’re great sellers, you can’t destroy a good dynamic if the rest of the team can’t work efficiently because of them. You can think of the sales pipeline and everyone working on it as a puzzle. The new pieces you bring in must fit the puzzle because otherwise, they don’t have any value.

Before You Leave…

Hopefully, you found our guide to be helpful and informative. Hiring SDRs is hard but fun! We would like to believe that you feel more confident and ready to hire your first SDR. Nevertheless, even if there’s still some doubt, that’s perfectly normal. Our last piece of advice would be to remember that all founders make mistakes and nothing will ever be perfect or as you imagine it. 

If you are looking to hire a SDR (Sales Development Representative) team and want help or have a SDR team and want to take it to the next level reach out we at Redwhale would love to hear from you. 

The important thing is to keep learning, give your best, and stay attentive so you can quickly identify opportunities to improve.

To learn more about SDRs, or find out how to hire other members of the team, such as the VP of sales, head over to our blog and check out the other articles we have shared so far. 

Finally, if there’s something else that we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to reach out through our main website. Our team back at Redwhale is always excited to help loyal readers.