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What is an SDR and what do they do?

September 15, 2020
by
Kyle Vamvouris
Image of SDR Land

What is an SDR?

Imagine calling somebody you have never spoken to before. You don’t know their name and you can’t Google them. This person is not expecting your call and you have to get them to schedule a time to speak with you again about a service you are selling. In this situation, all you have is your wits, and their tone of voice, to guide you.

Welcome to Cold Calling before Email and Social Media!

It may seem like ancient history, but it was only 1996 when the first email campaign went out. And since then the proliferation of sales technologies has transformed how business is conducted.

There used to be a clear-cut structure to sales teams and their processes. Traditionally Marketing organized events, Inside Sales made phone calls and Field sales went out on meetings. But in the early 2000s, the rise of new technologies like Hubspot, LinkedIn, Salesforce and GoToMeeting empowered sales professionals to work in new ways. And with social media the number of channels to engage with a prospect exponentially multiplied.

Things changed for the customer too. No longer did they need to wait for a phone call to learn about what was happening. They could conduct their own research online, and approach who they wanted, when they wanted. Companies needed to successfully navigate this rapidly changing world. 

When was the SDR role created? 

The first Sales development representative job was actually in the 1980s. Cisco, Oracle, Sun Microsystems actually pioneered this model. Because the concept of splitting the sales role into two functions, an “opener” and a “closer,” consultants started to spread the message heavily in the early 2000s. 

In 2011 Aaron Ross wrote Predictable Revenue, which popularized the SDR model. Companies began employing technologically savvy individuals who could manage multiple channels of outbound outreach and respond to inbound interest. SDRs got really good at turning outbound activity and inbound attention into real-life sales meetings.

To solidify the effectiveness of this model, companies like Outreach and SalesLoft develop tools to help SDRs be more efficient. This was so successful that it became a serious focus on investment. In 2019, Salesloft raised $70M in venture capital and Outreach raised $114M. Needless to say, the Sales Development model is here to stay.

What does an SDR actually do?

The main goal of an SDR is to book online or face to face meetings for a sales team, the journey of how those meetings are booked varies by company and often even by SDR within the same company.

SDRs typically work with two types of leads, inbound and/or outbound.

Inbound

Ideally, these are warm leads. Meaning the person has heard of the company the SDR works for and has either engaged with content online or requested someone reach out to them to learn more about the company’s services. 

The rule of thumb for inbound is “speed to lead.” These leads typically require immediate outreach for the best chance of getting a meeting. When an SDR gets an inbound lead on the phone, their main focus is asking questions to ensure their solution will meet the prospect’s needs. If the solution would be a good fit for that prospect, the SDR will schedule a sales meeting!

Outbound

These are cold leads. Meaning you are reaching out to a prospect who, presumingly, has never heard of your company. When reaching out to outbound leads, you must demonstrate value as to why the prospect should continue to talk with you. 

There are many challenges with outbound prospecting. For example, It’s rare that the person you want to speak with (the decision-maker or influencer) picks up the phone. In this case, you need to get through whoever answers the company phone, which we call a gatekeeper. The SDR needs to have thick skin and a positive mindset to excel with this type of outreach. Cold outbound involves a lot of rejection and is a tough part of the SDR role. That being said, having experience doing outbound prospecting can help you throughout your entire career because you won’t always be able to rely on inbound. 

How do Sales Development Representatives book meetings?

In order to book meetings SDRs follow sequences, which are a series of scheduled activities designed to capture the prospect’s attention via multiple channels.

There are many types of sequences, here is one example:

Example of a prospecting sequence


What metrics are SDRs held accountable for?

Metrics are the lifeblood of an SDR role (and all commercial roles). Typically, an SDR is held accountable to a minimum expectation of prospecting activities (cold calls, cold emails, etc.). In addition, SDRs are held responsible for converting sales leads into qualified opportunities for the sales team. Typically, these metrics are tracked on a minimum of a daily basis, but it could be hourly to ensure the team is on track.

The reason why SDR metrics are so important is they create the pipeline for the entire sales organization, so if the SDR team is hitting their target metrics, The sales team will too.

If you would like to learn more about SDR metrics, read this detailed article.

Would you be a good SDR?

Top-performing Sales Development Representatives typically fall into two camps. The first are fresh college graduates or other people who are new to the corporate world. These people are fresh, need training, and are wanting to work thrift way up within a company. 

The other camp is the seasoned sales professionals who are talented on the phone and want to be in control of their own earnings. Typically these reps would be in a direct sales role but choose to be an SDR either because they want to be a part of the company or they prefer the role.

What traits does an SDR need?

  • Motivated - By money, career, or personal pride, the best SDRs are self-motivated.
  • Curious - The best Sales Development Representatives ask great questions and are naturally curious.
  • Resilience - Being able to pick yourself up when things get tough is a mandatory trait for an SDR.
  • Hardworking - Probably the most important! SDR work is tough, but it will launch your career!

Benefits of being an SDR

  • Opportunity for progression - There are a lot of roles that will be opened for you because of this skillset.
  • Increased earning potential - Because SDRs make a commission on top of their base salary there is an opportunity to make more money than other entry-level roles.
  • Exposure to commercial processes - The SDR role is a great way to learn how B2B sales are made.
  • Personal development - SDRs typically learn a lot about themselves and experience personal growth as a result of being in the role.

Challenges of being an SDR

  • Handling rejection on a daily basis - Often times the people SDRs reach out to are “not interested,” this can cause some people to become discouraged.
  • Repetitive tasks - Being an SDR will require you to repeat the same task over and over again, not everyone can handle that.
  • Not being responsible for the entire sales cycle - A Sales Development Representative, in some cases, are subject to the effectiveness of the salesperson they are scheduling the meeting for. If that salesperson isn’t effective, it can hurt the SDR’s pay.

What kind of SDR would you be? Take the quiz.

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