SDRs 101: Who Are They, What Do They Do and How Can Sales Managers Help

SDRs 101: Who Are They, What Do They Do and How Can Sales Managers Help

Shruti Kapoor
Shruti Kapoor
November 29, 2021
5 min read

Being an SDR is hard.

Simply getting a foot in the door consumes a large portion of a sales rep’s time. Let’s look at some numbers to drive the point home.

According to Gartner, it takes 60-90 dials (if you’re only relying on conventional cold calling) to get an appointment. It also takes over 12 touch points to reach an individual prospect. So, besides calls, sales teams have to work on a multichannel campaign using email and social media channels to get facetime with a prospective customer.

One more stat — an excellent conversion rate is 30% from lead-to-opportunity, which means 70% of leads contacted won’t turn into anything.

Even rockstar SDRs with an impressive track record can find the whole situation overwhelming. 

A sales team that only relies on its reps to do the bulk of prospecting isn’t going to meet its quotas. For SDRs to thrive, they need:

  • A solid sales strategy
  • A 200% accurate ICP (ideal customer profile)
  • A reliable sales team 
  • Complete transparency between sales and marketing
If that sounds like a tall order, that's cuz it is!

Since we’ve covered sales strategy in another blog, we’re going to start with a quick glimpse into the anatomy of a sales team.

What does a sales team look like?

“People often make the mistake of bringing in the wrong type of sales leader at the wrong stage. You can’t bring in somebody (to an early-stage company) to run sales, who wants to sit behind a desk and, you know, be the VP of spreadsheets.” Scott Leese, CEO & Founder of Scott Leese Consulting, Author & Host of Popular Sales Communities

Every sales organization has unique requirements when it comes to sales leaders and teams. As Scott mentions in the podcast, an early-stage company needs sales leaders who roll up their sleeves and join the trenches with their sales reps. So, before mapping out the ideal sales team for your company, identify the kind of sales leader you need for your situation — your growth stage.

Once that’s out of the way, it’s easier to know which skill sets you need within your team. Generally, most sales teams are a mix of SDRs, AEs, sales managers and an overall head of sales — the leader of the sales organization.

If we're asked to explain each of these roles quickly, here’s how that would go:

  1. SDR (the hunters and nurturers): The SDR (Sales Development Representative) hunts for potential leads who fit your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and finds a way to get facetime with them.
  2. AE (the closers): From providing product demos to handling pricing-related objections, the AEs (Account Executive) do everything they can to convert the lead into a raving customer.
  3. Sales manager or leader (the coach): Sales managers are responsible for getting their team to the finish line. That means setting goals and KPIs, motivating the team, coaching SDRs to get better at prospecting and mentoring AEs to improve conversion rates.

After defining these roles and the number of reps needed, the next step is to hire. While this could be a blog of its own, we’re going to give you the single piece of advice you need to remember when hiring sales reps.

"A normal sales organization churns 2-3 reps over a period of six months. So you've got to overhire," says Scott.

So, If you need ten reps to hit your sales goals, hire 15 because chances are, at least 2-3 people from that team will not fit in.

Who is an SDR? What does an SDR do?

SDR = Prospecting till they say yes (And we've already established how tough that gets right at the beginning)

If we're asked to define an SDR, here's how we'd put it:

Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) or Business Development Representatives (BDRs) are sales representatives who find the leads most likely to convert and pass them along to the Account Executives (AEs). 

That means:

  • Finding and prospecting new customers
  • Following up with a multichannel strategy (emails, social media and calls)
  • Setting up appointments between the prospects and the AEs

More importantly, SDRs are cold-calling savants. Oh, you thought cold calling was dead? Well, it’s the ONE thing crucial for getting the leads you want to crush your sales goals. 

For more on this, check out this nifty blog on acing cold calling in 2021.

Another thing, SDRs and AEs have vastly different roles.

What is the difference between an SDR and an AE?

Some companies make the mistake of having their SDRs handle cold prospecting, nurturing and then closing with product demos and whatnot. So they hire generalists who do a little bit of everything.

A better way is to have two clearly defined roles: 

1. Bring in reps who specialize in cold prospecting as SDRs (think Jordan Belfort’s recruits from The Wolf of Wall Street)

2. Hire the closers as AEs (think Harvey Specter from Suits)

In a nutshell, an SDR does the prospecting and passes on hot leads — the ones that match the ICP and are most likely to convert — to the AE. SDRs:

  1. Prospect through cold calling (also, emails and messaging over social media)
  2. Have conversations to qualify the leads
  3. Follow up consistently with all qualified prospects
  4. Nurture the leads to move them along on the sales funnel
  5. Set up calls between the leads and AEs

SDRs also handle the inbound leads — prospective customers who expressed their interest in your products and have engaged with you before through your various marketing channels.

Still, that’s a tall order — as if SDRs have to split themselves in ten to get everything done — like Doctor Strange does towards the end of Infinity War.

The many avatars of an SDR

But what if we told you all the abilities boil down to one thing?

What skills does an SDR need?

“The moment they (the prospects) realize you’re trying to persuade them, forget it. They have to persuade themselves. And that is a learnable skill set for sales.”

Jeff Molander, Managing Partner & Sales Communication Coach, Communication Edge Inc.

If we had to boil it all down into one simple skillset, that would be the ability to make your prospects think that it's not a sale. You're not convincing them to buy into your idea. Instead, what you're sharing is a crucial step to ensure their success (aka more money, more customers, more efficiency).

How does one acquire such a skillset which sounds less like sales and more like mind control?

Research.

For an SDR to get a foot in the door, they must know their prospects, their industry and their definition of success. While the sales team can help by nailing the ICP (ideal customer profile) and the right pain points, it's up to the SDR to use this ammo to get the attention of a prospect.

As Jeff puts it:

“80% of your success has nothing to do with your message. It’s driven by your research. What do you know about them? How well do you understand them? Can you categorize them?”

Constant research means the SDR must be:

  • Willing to learn — a perpetual student
  • Able to understand the 'why' — dig through sales and marketing data to find answers to questions like why should a prospect pay attention to an SDR, why did some prospects respond well to the pitch but others didn't, etc.
  • An expert in the industry of their prospects — speak their language, know what drives their industry and market trends, what matters to their customers, etc.
  • Data-driven
  • Able to think on their feet, especially when handling objections or critical responses from tough prospects
  • Willing to fail, deal with rejections and critical feedback, learn from these experiences and up their game

Now you might wonder — why doesn’t the list include cold-calling ninja or social selling guru?

Here’s why. If the SDRs nail the research, then they are most likely to nail cold prospecting. 

Remember all the car-waxing chores from The Karate Kid? Think of research-related skills as the SDR version of “wax on, wax off”.

This LinkedIn thread from sales leader Aaron Smith says it best:

Summing up, research helps SDRs manage everything from provoking the prospect’s curiosity to handling their objections when cold prospecting. 

Remember, the person picking up the phone (or checking their LinkedIn messages) isn’t expecting to speak with your SDR. And the reason they ignore cold calls or messages is simple: there’s no value in it for them. A HubSpot survey reveals that only 37% of prospects felt that the sales reps who called them had provided relevant information.

So, the first line has to be relevant enough to make the person keep listening, or as our CEO Shruti Kapoor puts it:
“Honestly the only purpose of that first line should be to – make the person not slam the phone on you.”

Now that would vary depending on the type of prospect, and guess what helps you ace this first line? Research.

Aaron Smith’s post on cold calling and ways to get it right. Source: LinkedIn

P.S. For more nuggets of wisdom from Shruti on cold calling, check out this blog. Moving on, let’s see how sales organizations and their leaders can help SDRs become prospecting pros.

How can sales managers and leaders help their SDRs?

Like we mentioned earlier, SDRs can only do so much by themselves. A diligent sales strategy and a bankable sales team (with a stellar sales manager/coach) can help and are equally important. 

Now you might be thinking: training is the key. Well, sure, it all starts with onboarding and training, but that's not enough. 

Even the most expensive sales training programs on the market can't help your SDRs become rockstars right away. What they need is continuous coaching.

Hey, we aren't pulling any random statistics out of thin air. Hear from the heavyweights: CBS and Gartner.

“Reps who receive just 3 hours of coaching per month exceed their goals by 7%, boosting revenue by 25% and increasing close rate by 70%.” Source (CBS Insights)

"We recommend five to six hours per month of coaching per SDR." Gartner

Continuous sales coaching is the key to transforming an average SDR into a rockstar. It teaches SDRs everything from adjusting their tone and talking about problems their prospects face to asking questions that will steer the conversation forward. In our own experience, good sales coaching can double revenue.

While the benefits of sales coaching are obvious, a common problem most sales managers and leaders face is not having the time.

“I just don't have all the time in the world to coach.”

Says every sales manager, probably several times in a day. And they’re not wrong.

“I feel like a dentist when I remind managers: You should spend more time coaching. It feels like I’m asking a patient to floss more. Like a broken record. They nod, and agree that it’s a good idea. But coaching velocity remains slow.”

Alex Boyd, Founder and CEO at RevenueZen

Here’s why. Let’s consider the above-mentioned Gartner stat of six hours per month per rep. Assuming you have 10-20 SDRs, that means spending around 60-120 hours a month in coaching. Now, add the time spent monitoring sales calls that your reps have each day with their prospects. 

That’s a scary number as it makes continuous sales coaching seem overwhelming and impossible.

So what needs to change? According to Kevin Dorsey:

Smart call coaching is powered by people, processes and technology.‍”

And he’s right. Real-time call coaching with technology that does all the grunt work, freeing up a manager’s time for more personalized one-on-one feedback sessions with the SDR is necessary for sales coaching to work.

Dear sales managers, Wingman’s got your back!

“Wingman has helped me take back control of call coaching, controlling consistent messaging and more. At the end of a day or week, I can quickly go see the results from 1000s of calls across 12+ people and ascertain which people need help and even where they struggled.”

Elliot P, Head of Inside Sales, Qumulo

And with that, it’s time to toot our horns!

So, here’s how Wingman does the grunt work for you:

  • Review your SDRs' performance by reviewing call recordings and transcripts. Dig into their performance and stats without joining a single call.
  • Analyze call data using advanced filters to spot patterns that can help your reps learn and grow faster.
  • Visualize the performance of your sales team on a single dashboard.
  • Build "Netflix for your sales calls" aka Game Tapes - a repository of winning tactics and pitches.
  • Ensure real-time coaching on every call with customized cue cards — sales battle cards — that help your reps become combat-ready.

Plus, you can see if your reps are following your playbook as our algorithms help you track and monitor key metrics such as:

  • Engaging questions posed
  • Mentions of keywords / topics
  • Talk/Listen ratio
  • Longest monologue 
  • Interactivity

So go on, give Wingman’s sales coaching software a try and see your SDRs thrive.

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