Overcoming challenges to hiring strong sales development representatives

If your organization can’t prospect, qualify and nurture leads, sales teams will be at the mercy of dead ends and low conversion rates. A healthy sales pipeline is full of qualified leads, that is why skilled sales development representatives (SDRs) are in such high demand.

It is the job of the SDR to prospect, qualify and nurture leads, and to do this, great SDRs wield:

  • the ability to engage leads on a personal level
  • a keen eye for the industry
  • strong analytical and forecasting skills
  • the ability to represent your organization
  • the ability to warm up leads through the early stages of the sales funnel

Suffice it to say, you need excellent SDRs to optimize your sales pipelines and unearth golden sales opportunities. However, that is easier said than done. The SDR role is notoriously difficult to hire for, with most organizations not knowing exactly how to attract and retain skilled SDRs.

It’s not as simple as finding or poaching the “best” SDRs on the market. The SDR role is entry level and typically lasts for 1 to 2 years, which means experienced SDRs are more concerned with transitioning into a full-time sales role, and will be unlikely consider a lateral move.

In this article, we examine the most common roadblocks and offer tips on how to overcome them so you can build and maintain a sales development team that hits targets.

Learn more about hiring SDR talent

Whitepaper: Sales development: talent, training and retention

Present a clear sales development representatives hiring journey

With SDRs, you need to hire for potential, rather than focusing too much on experience.

Sales managers may feel that the talent pool for SDRs is limited, because candidates have no sales experience. This is often true, but it should be expected.

SDRs are typically fresh out of university and view the SDR role as a stepping-stone into sales. In fact, good SDRs will transition into a sales role within two years.

The hiring process should reflect how candidates view the SDR role themselves, so it is good practice to assume that your candidates will aim to climb the sales ladder. This means interview questions, job descriptions, and the overall hiring process should keep this in mind, with an eye towards the horizon and job progression. Conversely, listing multiple years of SDR experience as a core requirement will likely result in a low number of applications for the role.

So, how do you hire for a vital role where the candidates have limited job experience?

First of all, determine your ideal character traits. If your interview process looks something like: CV assessment > Phone/HR Screening > Interview > Post interview task, you need to ensure at each stage; you are proactively learning more about the candidate’s motivations, character, and ability to learn.

To help with this, select traits that your sales team considers vital to the role. Base your behavioral questions, interview questions, screening calls, and tasks around these traits to give you an idea if your candidate is up for the role.
Common traits include:

  • Creativity
  • Competitiveness
  • Resilience
  • Determination
  • Team player
  • Coachability

For example, if you wanted to paint a picture of your candidate’s coachability, you could ask them to conduct a mock lead screening call, and then offer feedback. If your candidate readily takes your feedback onboard and can demonstrates an improved mock call, that would indicate high coachability.

Alongside traditional interview and behavioral questions, implement a measurable and data driven scorecard that you can use to qualify SDR candidates. This framework should give rise to a hiring process that is methodical and repeatable.

  • How to create a SDR scorecard

    A SDR scorecard will provide an effective way of demonstrating whether a candidate meets your requirements. Just because a candidate is personable in a face-to-face interview, it does not mean they will have the right skills for the job.

    Scorecards should distill the desired requirements of the role, your sales mission, company values, behavioral values and more, into a quantifiable data driven system.

Not only will this streamline the process for finding your ideal candidate, it will also help you think more strategically about the SDR profile you require, and how it helps connect with the overarching company mission. You can leverage this to create compelling job descriptions, and also gain stakeholder buy-in which can be an obstacle to gaining new hires.

In its simplest form, a scorecard comprises putting characteristics and desirable traits onto a form and the hiring manager will score the candidate on a scale from 1 to 10 against each trait.

Throughout the interview process, the purpose of every question you ask, every task you set and every answer the candidate provides should link directly back to the scorecard.

Ideally, a scorecard should put the focus on characteristic traits and potential. Avoid penalizing the candidate if they have limited experience with hard skills such as cold calling, outbound engagement, qualification calls, etc. The point of the scorecard is to help you determine if the lead has potential to fulfill these tasks.

A score card should answer the following:

  • How likely is the candidate to have the aptitude and potential for the role?
  • How likely is the candidate to succeed at the role?
  • How likely is the candidate’s ability to fulfill the day to day of the role?
  • How likely is it the candidate will mesh with your company values and team?

Here are some additional steps you can take in the hiring process to find good candidates.

Give your candidate a project to complete

If a candidate scores highly on your scorecard, and also makes a good impression in the interview, ask them to complete a pre or post interview task. This way, you get a better idea of how their hard skills stack, such as conducting a mock lead qualification call, or conducting lead prospecting and research.

It is important to ensure the project should not be too strenuous, as the candidate will likely shy away from the task and take their chances with a different employer. Opt for a project that will take a maximum of 2 hours to complete.

Implement a timely hiring process and jump on early candidate opportunities.

Maintain 2-3 weeks for the interviewing process. Any longer, and candidates may lose interest or get snapped up by competitors

Similarly, be sure to seize opportunities when you find them. It’s easy to find SDR candidates but difficult to find SDRs that are credible and suit the specific requirements of the organization. Jump on any opportunities when they emerge, as the temptation to see if there are better candidates will often backfire. High-scoring candidates will likely be interviewing at an array of organizations, and you can be assured that they will accept a competing offer sooner rather than later.

Make the role appealing to sales development representatives ears
Ambitious SDRs will have a checklist of what they are looking for in a role. If you want your organization to stand out, be sure your job specification answers the following questions that new SDRs will have on their mind:

  • What are the working conditions (remote vs office)?
  • Is the role centered on inbound or outbound leads?
  • Is the role focused on long-term buyers’ journeys or short-term transactions?
  • Is there clear progression into a sales role?
  • Is the role focused on lead qualification, lead nurturing, lead prospecting, screening calls, etc.?
  • Are there adequate incentives and compensation?

Learn more about the sales development representatives landscape and hiring talent

Whitepaper: Sales development: talent, training and retention

Ensure onboarding and training sets sales development representatives up for success

Despite sales development roles being entry level and a stepping stone towards the world of sales for many candidates, SDRs require a high degree of motivation, skill and persistence.

SDRs face many pressures.

  • They are often the first point of contact for leads
  • They are the face of your organization and need to make strong first impressions
  • They are burdened with the pressure of making a positive impression on leads in an incredibly small timeframe

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and why it is vital to give your SDRs reasonable expectations, and steer away from over ambitious objectives and quotas.

SDRs are typically new to sales, so laying on the pressure will increase staff turnover, diminish morale, and leave you wondering why promising SDRs are leaving the organization for different roles.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind to retain promising SDRs.

Implement consistent sales and communication training

Many organizations assume that SDRs are already equipped with hard sales skills. While SDRs are often enthusiastic and show great aptitude, their sales skills are limited.

It is not enough to train SDRs to understand the competitive market, your company values and your organizations’ unique selling point. They also need the communication, sales and marketing skills to put this knowledge to practical use, so they can demonstrate to leads why your organization should be at the top of their mind when it is time to make a purchasing decision.

SDRs will need regular and hands-on coaching to ensure they can engage and nurture leads effectively. To help with this, give SDRs the opportunity to shadow seasoned sales members, offer weekly 1-2-1 coaching and routinely ensure SDRs are listening to their own calls, while offering proactive advice on how to make improvements.

Ensure strong leadership and reporting is in place

Consider a Sales Development Lead position if you do not have one already, whose role it is to set targets, ensure the team is hitting those targets, and is there to provide hands on support.

A helping hand to guide SDRs through data sets, tools and technologies and your preferred ways of engaging leads will be a boon for their early careers. Additionally, a direct point of contact and manager to relay strategic objectives and provide guidance on the day to day is as necessary for SDRs and it is for more senior sales roles.

Differentiate between inbound vs outbound

Another factor to consider when hiring for SDRs and ensuring you get the right candidate is whether they are expected to conduct inbound or outbound lead generation and qualification.

  • Both require specific skill sets, so be sure to make this distinction in your hiring process. Outbound demand generation, personalization and engagement oriented, whereas inbound is more exploratory and requires lead nurturing.

For SDRs to act as an effective brand ambassador, they should ideally be focused on either inbound or outbound, and the job description, as well as the make-up of the SDR should reflect this.

Learn more: The complete guide to lead qualification

Ensure muddled and cloudy objectives and expectations become crystal clear

  • One of the most prominent reasons for poor early SDR performance is unclear objectives and expectations.
  • SDR candidates should have a firm grasp of how their day to day will play out.
  • Sales managers should be clear in job specifications and to new hires about exactly what is needed, and define to what extent the candidate will be asked to do the following tasks:
  • Inbound vs outbound lead nurturing
  • Market research
  • Lead research and identification
  • Administration and record keeping
  • Telecommunications skills
  • Conduct discovery calls
  • Nurture leads
  • Segmenting leads
  • Utilizing lead management technologies and tools

Whitepaper: Sales development: talent, training and retention

Familiarize SDRs with the tools and objectives of the job

SDRs are often the testing ground for new sales and prospecting technologies, so to succeed, you need to give them the training to utilize the tools for the job. For example:

  • Lead sourcing and market intelligence: Lead sourcing tools will provide SDRs and sales teams with comprehensive lead information, which can be leveraged for future engagement
  • Email automation and sequencing: Email automation and sequencing tools will streamline the outreach process by enabling SDRs and sales reps to leverage custom and premade workflows, to maintain consistent and personalized lead nurturing activities
  • Prospect research: Prospect research tools will provide enriched lead data on websites such as LinkedIn

Learn more about vital sales development tools and technologies: Technology for sales development: a guide for decision-makers

These technology types will help streamline the day to day through email automation, scheduling, template creation, personalization, the ability to reveal lead opportunities, and more. A solid technology stack will help your SDRs improve engagement and reduce the number of repetitive administration tasks.

Keep in mind, while there is an array of tools available, it is important to not overwhelm new SDRs. Ensure there is adequate training in place for each tool, and lead them through weekly demonstrations on different features, best case uses, and general tips. This will help mitigate information overload, and instead, encourage adoption, make reps more efficient and maximize the time available for interacting with prospects.

Learn more: Tips to set up a lead scoring strategy to improve your pipeline

Offer a clear career path and compensation

SDRs have their eye towards the horizon and their next role, which is usually a dedicated sales role. In addition, new SDRs will be aware of the high churn rate. By outlining the career path, you are ticking a big checkbox for candidates who will be eager to impress and step into a sales role in the future.

Whether in interviews, or on job specifications, offer a glimpse of what progression looks like and how their SDR skills and performance will help them progress, for example, into an Account Executive role.

Another tip is to offer performance-based incentives, and tie those incentives directly to the most important SDR deliverables. Whether that is delivering sales meetings, qualifying a set number of leads, completing discovery calls, offer clear incentives for hitting targets and going above and beyond.

Not only will this clearly illustrate to SDRs what the most important deliverable is, it will also boost performance. SDRs are hungry for these opportunities and good ones will be eager to impress and show their value to the organization. Examples of incentives include incremental bonuses, gift cards, gadgets and technologies.

Working with Foundry Sales Development Services

It is challenging to find, hire and retain skillful SDRs, and often it has to be left up to gut intuition and fate, as inexperienced SDRs prove to be the wrong fit, or successful SDRs quickly move through the ranks into a sales role.

This is especially frustrating for growing organizations that need to scale at a pace that cannot hire and keep a consistent sales development team to improve the health and value of sales pipelines.

Outsourcing is a great utility for organizations that don’t have the resources, management experience, time nor expertise, to staff, and retain and train an in-house sales development team. Outsourcing can be the answer, as it provides access to skills, people, technology and expertise in a comparatively small cost package when compared to an in-house team.

At Foundry SDS, we guide each customer’s journey toward conversion on your behalf, operating as a seamless extension of your in-house business development team. Once we bring your leads to the right level of maturity, we hand them off to your sales team for final conversion.

If you outsource sales development, you don’t have to worry about setting up lead nurturing workflows, qualifying and segmenting leads, salaries, technology and licensing, office space, recruiting, training, and onboarding.

Learn more about our services here.

What’s next? Whitepaper: Sales development: talent, training and retention

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