From where I stand — as the manager of an inside sales team — one thing about sales development has become increasingly clear.
The standard process for SDRs or BDRs (whatever your organization calls them) of sending out sequenced emails, calling, leaving voicemails, rinse and repeat? It no longer works well.
SDR stands for sales development representative, a role commonly held on inside sales teams. Individuals in this role focus on outbound prospecting.
Before we discuss how to develop critical skills for SDRs, let’s review how the SDR position differs from other sales roles.
What does a sales development representative do?
Many sales reps are focused on closing deals to meet or exceed their quota for a given time period, and their performance is measured by their ability to meet targets. In a sales development role, reps are focused on moving leads through the sales pipeline emphasizing quality lead generation over closing individual deals.
For SDRs, successful performance is measured by how effective they are at moving leads through the sales pipeline. With this team structure, SDRs often receive lead information from their marketing team and are responsible for qualifying and nurturing leads before introducing them to account managers or sales reps to land the sale.
So if you’re an SDR, here are the top 10 skills to focus on gaining or honing. And if you’re a manager, here’s what you should be teaching to your team.
- Video prospecting
- Highly customized outreach
- Active listening and adaptability
- Great voicemails
- Curious learner
1. Video Prospecting
“Video prospecting” is a buzzword, but at HubSpot, we’ve seen great results. My team uses Vidyard — an easy-to-use tool that lets you quickly create videos using your webcam and screengrabs. But there are several options out there, including Loom and Soapbox by Wistia.
SDRs don’t need to be technical masters or Oscar-worthy movie stars to create effective videos. They do need to be comfortable on screen. Practice creating short, engaging clips (no more than two minutes) during which you introduce yourself, deliver value with a quick tip, and ask to schedule a call.
The more videos you make, the more efficient you’ll become. In time, you should be able to whip up customized videos like they’re emails.
2. Highly Customized Outreach
It’s always been tricky for SDRs to balance quantity and quality when prospecting. I’m seeing that balance shift — the most successful reps are actually slowing down, spending more time on outreach and connecting with fewer prospects.
Brandon Kirsch, an Inbound Growth Specialist at HubSpot, is a fantastic example of someone doing this right. His emails are really personal and hinge around a triggering event. Here’s an example:
I hope this email finds you well! I wanted to reach out to you because based on my research on LinkedIn, it seems like you are heading any marketing initiatives and focused on the overall growth strategy for Dunder Mifflin.
After doing some research on Dunder Mifflin, a bunch of things stood out to me as reasons to have a timely conversation about how inbound marketing & HubSpot could help:
- Employees at Dunder Mifflin have explored our all in one solution before, however, the timing wasn’t right.
- You’re currently using a few different tools for your marketing — A, B, C, D, and E. I’m curious how things are going with them & if you’d be open to a conversation re HubSpot and using an all-in-one marketing automation platform?
- It looks like you understand the importance of content marketing/inbound marketing based on the blogs, white papers, & testimonials — but there’s a huge missed opportunity because it doesn’t seem to be gated.
- You’ve got buy now and order options on the site but you’re missing out on converting at least 90% of your total website traffic to the site.
Any interest in connecting sometime this week? Feel free to book 15 minutes with me here.
Thanks in advance,
I don’t want to suggest quantity no longer matters in the SDR world. During my weekly one-on-ones with SDRs, I do a pipeline review. I often find they’re spending too much time qualifying before picking up the phone.
Connect calls are a lot like voicemails — to get good at them, SDRs have to do a lot of them until they’ve developed “muscle memory.” Allocating time wisely based on lead quality is very important, but SDRs need to get on the phones as much as they can to hone their skills.
New SDRs will benefit from hearing their prospects’ most common objections, begin to understand which soundbites resonate best with target personas and start to sound much more confident on the phone if they make a lot of calls upfront.
So with that in mind, I’d recommend developing a scalable process for writing customized emails and doing prospect research. LinkedIn Sales Navigator can be a big help; you can save leads and accounts, learn important information in one glance, and get notifications when they’ve had a notable change.
3. Active listening and adaptability
How can SDRs continue to add value to a sales process that’s increasingly run by automation — especially in the prospecting stages?
To me, one of the answers is the combination of good questioning skills and active listening. A chatbot might be able to qualify you, but no one asks and listens to information like a human (at least not yet).
A connect call should be like a game of catch — a genuine conversation between a prospect and an SDR.
No matter what your company sells, you must be highly attuned to phrases that indicate a prospect could be a good fit for your product. It’s more important to focus the conversation on gathering valuable information than to check qualification boxes.
For example, during our weekly SDR “film club,” we listen to a seasoned SDR’s recorded call. In a recent call review, the SDR discovered the prospect’s company offered a freemium version of its product. The prospect confirmed the annual value of an average new customer, and the SDR immediately moved on to the next topic.
HubSpot has lead nurturing tools baked into our software, so any sign of a freemium model begs to be explored further. The SDR should have explored the following with his prospect:
- How many new freemium users a month do you generate?
- How do you nurture freemium users? Customers?
- What percentage of freemium users convert to paid users?
- What are common triggers for freemium users to upgrade?
- How do you re-engage users who used the free product once several months ago and then went dark?
The answers to these questions are crucial to understanding how HubSpot’s marketing platform could help this prospect improve lead conversion rates.
Practicing active listening means being adaptable — pivoting away from a prepared checklist and recognizing when an opportunity to dig deeper presents itself. All SDRs need to learn to be present and have a real conversation.
4. Great voicemails
It’s ideal to get a prospect live on the phone, but sometimes you’ll have to leave a voicemail.
I participated in a sales training several years ago, and one of the trainers made a simple comment that stuck with me. If you leave 25 quality voicemails, you at least have a chance to receive a callback. But if you leave no voicemails, your probability of getting a callback diminishes significantly.
It’s harder to leave a good voicemail than it sounds. You have to, in a reasonably short amount of time, entice a prospect you’ve never spoken with to call you back. Some people like to be concise — “Hi, I’m [Salesperson] from [Company]. I would love to speak with you about X strategy. Give me a call back at XXX-XXX-XXXX.”
Personally, I like to add a snippet of value to this equation. For example, “I saw X on your site. Here are a few best practices I’m hoping to share with you.”
I have the new SDRs on my team leave a voicemail for seasoned sales reps every night at 7:00 pm during their first month. The rep then sends back a quick email with feedback and a probability that they would call back.
Leaving a good voicemail is an indispensable skill for an SDR, and thus requires practice. Don’t simply go through the motions so you can log activity in your CRM — be committed to quality touchpoints across all activities.
There’s no doubt that SDRs have a tough job. Unlike closing salespeople, they don’t get much glory. They’re also usually spending all day sending emails and making calls. It can be exhausting.
That’s why in addition to these hard skills, it’s important to learn to keep your energy up and stay positive. If you’re flat or discouraged, it will translate over the phone and your prospect will pick up on your low energy.
It’s also critical to learn to bounce back quickly from a bad call. Whether a prospect was rude or you made a mistake, it doesn’t do any good to allow emotion to prevent you from picking up the phone for the rest of the day or negatively impact your next 15 calls. Resilience is crucial to keeping your head in the game. Developing this ability now will also be invaluable down the road when you have to recover from losing a big deal without skipping a beat.
One of the most important skillsets we evaluate when interviewing SDR candidates is coachability. Confidence is important, but the ego can cloud an SDR’s ability to receive and implement candid feedback. The best SDRs proactively seek out coaching from high-performing peers and crave honest feedback from their managers. Getting real-time feedback is best, but you can also build out a list of all the questions or challenges you faced in a given week and debrief with your manager during a scheduled one-on-one.
Self-awareness plays into resilience and coachability. SDRs need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. This will help them create strategies for dealing with a bad call or rejection. And they’ll be able to analyze their performance, both the wins and setbacks and reflect on what went well and what didn’t.
Self-aware SDRs will ask for feedback from managers and colleagues. Rather than taking negative or constructive feedback personally, they’ll have a deeper understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth.
Processes can vary from person to person, but they’re key to staying organized. Schedule management allows SDRs to manage their days and prioritize the tasks that are key to their success (e.g., email outreach, calls, meetings.)
Whether they choose to write out their to-do list or use a calendar management tool to create their schedule, maintaining a solid schedule will help them master the cadence for their outreach and interactions with prospects.
9. Curious learner
Successful SDRs are curious and eager to learn. Not only will new products, industry, or organizational knowledge help them in their current role, but it will also help them as they grow in their career.
They need to know their product or service inside and out and have a clear understanding of their customer profile, and challenges prospects face. SDRs can gather new information through internal resources, online research, training sessions, industry events, and meeting with their colleagues. Learning is a continual process and it will set the SDR up for success in the short-term and long-term.
As an SDR, your job is to prime prospects for the sale before turning them over to your account managers to close. Effective SDRs are able to build genuine relationships with prospects to foster trust.
To be a successful relationship-builder, you must be able to communicate with a wide variety of people across multiple channels. Whether you are connecting with a contact over email, presenting to a prospect in a virtual meeting, or tagging up face-to-face, you must be able to clearly communicate your points and ideas to connect with prospects to keep them engaged.