7 Habits of Highly Successful SDRs

March 7, 2018 Dan Murphy

Below, I’m going to dive right into the top 7 habits a Sales Development Rep (SDR) should develop. But, before that, let’s understand why this is so important.

The Sales Development Representative (SDR) is quite the professional paradox.

Although it’s an entry-level job for those with little to no experience, it is also a surprisingly complex one, often requiring both sales and marketing skills with a numbers-driven approach (which is why it’s a great way to start your career in a tech company!).

After spending a lot of time thinking about the different daily and weekly habits our Sales Development Team can focus on, I’ve boiled it down to the 7 habits below. I hope you find it useful, and let us know if you have anything to add in the comments below!

7 Habits a Successful SDR Must Develop:

  1. Own your time.
  2. Learn to love reporting.
  3. Spend time in the office.
  4. Define activity goals.
  5. Understand how your company helps people.
  6. Become a master communicator.
  7. Develop a curious and patient mindset.

1) Own Your Time

Ask any sales professional how their day is going and you will likely hear “Busy.”

That’s because in sales, there’s always something you can be doing. But just because there’s something to do (or meeting to attend) does not mean you should do it.

Successful SDRs know what to prioritize and when.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” ~ Steve Jobs

Owning your time means understanding what sales activities are key to your success, establishing the amount of time needed for each activity, designing your schedule to accommodate the activities, and avoiding unnecessary scheduling compromises.

Now, being in a junior sales role, prospecting should take up the bulk of your time. So when you find yourself not prospecting, or not preparing to prospect, ask yourself: “Do I really need to do this right now? Can I get out of it?”

How to make the most of your 8-hour workday:

  • 4 hours per day for prospecting (email/phone/social outreach).
  • 4 hours per day for meetings, training, and other activities (lunch with a friend, etc).

This might look like a simple breakdown, but it’s important not to wing your schedule, for you never know what the week will hold.

Perhaps Monday and Tuesday go as expected, but on Wednesday, a last-minute activity pops up. If you took the initiative to block out your calendar for prospecting in advance (I suggest putting actual blocks on your calendar), you’re forced to ask yourself if this new activity is worth cutting into your prospecting time.

Two common time sinks and how to get out of them:

Get out of meetings:

This means you’ll have to (gasp) talk to your manager, but the conversation doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

In fact, you can even use the opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to your job, and the company. Try conveying to your manager that your time is their money. Say something like, “I’m concerned about hitting our pipeline target, so I’d like to cut back on meetings to spend more time prospecting. Do you mind if I skip this meeting?”

Spin it as a way for you to better yourself while helping out the whole team, and missing a meeting can be good news for everyone.

Streamline lead operations:

Preparing prospect data (name, email, phone, etc) for outreach must be done, at the very least, once a month, so it is absolutely something worth streamlining.

Can you outsource list preparation work? Can you get your Sales Ops team to help you plug data into Salesforce before starting that month’s prospecting?

A situation wherein you simply log into Salesforce and start prospecting is a tough one to achieve (tell me if you have!). If you keep streamlining you’ll get darn close, which is better than getting snowed under in Lead Operations. Lead Operations is a massive time thief that will get out of control unless you continually try to streamline it!

Hot Tip: Think of sales as a high-intensity workout rather than an endurance test. Aim for a high-octane eight-hour day vs. a low-energy 12-hour slog. Because prospects don’t generally buy from exhausted salespeople grinding out long hours in the office.

2) Make Reporting Your Favorite Habit

“But I got into sales for the thrill of the chase and the high of the win!” you might say.

Well, I guess someone missed the point of The Wolf of Wall Street. Sure, reports aren’t glamorous, but it’s often the least glamorous work that makes the most difference.

A clear, crisp report is often your team’s only impression of you. It’s also one of the few positive constants through the good times and the bad, as clear reporting is good to have when the numbers are up or down. At the very least, your team will know you’re on top of things.

“Reporting on your pipeline is key for tracking your own progress and rolls up to forecast if the business is on-track to hit the targets your CEO has committed to the board.” ~ Jes Huang, SDR Manager at Culture Amp

This is all to say that reports are worth spending time on, even if it’s only a 30-second update to your manager.

Keep them short and sweet—most people will follow up with questions if they’re interested.

What to include in a brief, well-rounded report:

  • My pipeline created (Goal/Actual)
  • My team’s pipeline created (Goal/Actual)
  • Calls per month (Goal/Actual)
  • Value of accounts in each stage of your prospecting funnel:
    • Researching
    • Prospecting
    • Sales Qualified Account (SQA)
    • Opportunity (aka demo booked)

To kick things up another notch, consider creating a separate report for a one-on-one with your manager (here’s a template). Fill in the numbers before the meeting and flag issues you want to discuss, as well as thoughts on solutions.

Hot Tip: The day before a big team meeting, run your update past your manager for feedback so you have time to make adjustments.

3) Spend Time in the Office

Many of us work in “modern offices,” aka offices with a pretty generous work-from-home policy. We see our senior AEs pass in and out of our lives like leaves on the wind as they work remotely or travel for sales meetings.

In such a transient environment, it is understandably tempting to just go offline, thinking no one will notice or care about your absence.

But be strong. Resist the temptation. In fact, consider working from the office more often than not. Why? Well for starters, you will learn a great deal more while in the company of your peers and colleagues!

You’ll also put a face to your name and maintain out a more positive image in the minds of you coworkers.

And by all means work from home if you feel it helps your productivity, but try reserving specific days during the week for this, and let your team know your schedule in advance.

Also, make yourself visible on Slack, or whatever team chat service you use. Make it so your team doesn’t have to ask where you are. I call it “Office PR” and unfortunately it’s a thing.

4) Define Activity Goals

An activity goal is a simple equation: How many X does it take to achieve Y?

Counting calls is a great example of an activity goal, and while counting the calls you make per day has Boiler Room written all over it (or Count von Count depending on your entertainment tastes) it can be a powerful tool to keep you on track.

“Quality conversations with prospects drive qualified demos. If you are tracking what times you are making calls and how they are converting it will give you a good indicator of how many demos you will book. Analyze your data and execute on top of that.” ~ Morgan J. Ingram, Host of #TheSDRChronicles

For example, if you initiate a conversation with 1 in 5 people you call, then you want to make 20 calls per day to initiate 4 conversations. And if you convert 1 in 4 conversations to a demo, then you need to make 20 calls per day to book 1 demo. 20 works days per month, 20 demos at $50k of pipeline per demo—that’s $1M of pipelinsue per month!

Without clear activity goals, it’s easy to get caught up in other activities that don’t result in demos. Activity goals simply force you to rethink how you spend your time, and adjust accordingly.

5) Understand How Your Company Helps People

Owning your time, reporting, activity goals—these habits make the foundation of your success as an SDR. But there’s still the actual sales process to contend with, so let’s get into it.

When you’re actually connecting with a prospect, keep the following questions (and, hopefully, answers) in mind at all times:

What persona are you reaching out to?

In sales, it can help to think of whoever you’re selling to as a certain buyer persona.

This persona is a generalized representation of your ideal customer, and includes information like their job title and responsibilities, their challenges and successes, their fears and concerns, and their metrics of success.

Distilling a prospect into a persona helps you prepare for the conversation and know where to direct the conversation (i.e. a VP of Sales cares about different aspects of a new sales product than a VP of Sales Operations).

What is the prospect’s pain point? What are the causes?

Speaking to a prospect without knowing their specific pain point is like showing up to a job interview without knowing what job you’re interviewing for.

Everyone will know you’re unprepared. So before picking up that phone, set yourself up for a thoughtful conversation by identifying what you think the prospect’s problem is.

(“Sue, congrats on your series C. How are you planning to grow the sales team?”). Here’s a simple framework you can use for personalized prospecting.

What solutions are currently available to the prospect?

The prospect may have already tried five different things to fix their issue, or they may think there’s no solution in sight.

Either way, it’s your job to know ahead of time what their options are. In fact, there’s huge value in being able to offer the prospect a “market map” and help them place each solution into a separate solution bucket.

You know a lot more about your market than the prospect—share the knowledge!

This stuff sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly difficult to talk with credibility. The best way to fast-track knowledge collection is by sitting in on demos and kick-off calls with your Account Executives and your Customer Success team.

To glean more insight, ask your team these questions:

  • What job/task/objective is the customer trying to accomplish with our product?
  • What did they do before they purchased our product?
  • Why did they switch to us from their old provider? (Key question!)
  • What are the benefits of switching to us?

Try aiming for one customer call, demo, kick-off, or conversation per week with CS/AE team members.

6) Become a Master Communicator

Much like any good friendship, sales is all about communication.

Communicating with the prospect, with your team, and with your manager.

Even communicating with yourself. And good communication is as much about what you say as how you say it (a sad but true reality, especially in sales).

To become a master communicator, there is a hierarchy of habits you need to build:

Send clear and concise emails:

Email writing is the baseline skill.

Sure, it looks simple, but it’s kind of amazing just how difficult it is to find your own tone and craft concise messages that get to the point and leave the reader wanting more.

It’s also helpful to note that email writing will expose you to the world of copywriting—a skill that could lead you into a career in marketing (yet another reason why a SDR role is such a great place to begin your career).

To tighten up your email game, check out these resources Sujan Patel has on emotion in sales emails and 7 great subject lines (and why they work).

Talk comfortably to prospects over a call:

Phones still exist. Shocking, I know. And the act of calling a prospect is back in vogue.

We’ve actually found that a well-placed call during an outreach campaign can be exactly what’s needed to short-circuit your prospecting cycle.

Clearly understand how your business can help the prospect:

Sit in on demos with AEs and listen to Customer Success calls to really understand the customer’s pain, and how your company can fix it.

Amass product knowledge:

Learn how to solve a wide range of real world problems with your product (rather than just demoing it).

For example, Culture Amp is an employee feedback platform (with lots of pretty charts), but rather than learning how to demo the product, our SDR team is focused on how to solve a problem in the real world.

Thus, when we hear a prospect ask, “Why are we struggling to retain our remote employees and what action do we need to take?”, we can help them out right away!

Avoid sounding like a salesperson:

It seems counter-intuitive, but to connect with a prospect on a personal level, you’ll want to use a calm tone and make use of pauses rather than rattle off a list of talking points.

Talk to whoever is on the other end of the line like you would talk to a friend. The key is to just be human!

Always ask for feedback:

It’s called a sales team for a reason, so take advantage of your built-in helpline to better yourself.

Consider starting a weekly sales role play where you and your teammates enact a typical (or atypical) sales call.

Ask a teammate, or even a manager, to listen in on a few of your calls. Record yourself and play it back to your people.

Giving and receiving feedback might first strike you as awkward, but that’s only because you’re showing some vulnerability. The more you do it, the more natural it will become, and opening a positive line of feedback between you and your teammates is key to accelerating your development.

Drive in-person conversations with confidence:

To become a highly successful SDR (and definitely a successful AE), it’s important to up your in-person communication skills, and feel comfortable presenting to both small and large groups.

If you’re not sure what level your in-person skills are at, think back to your last group meeting or sit-down with a manager. Did you choke up on any questions? Did you blank when trying to remember specific numbers? Or perhaps you wanted to ask a question but couldn’t find the right moment.

If this happens to you, the same pattern may repeat itself during an in-person sales meeting, or sales presentation when you’re an AE. What if all goes well until a prospect asks a question that leaves you stumped?

Your ability to ask and answer tough questions will determine your trustworthiness and affect a prospect/colleague’s confidence in you.

Hot Tip: To brush up on your in-person communication skills, consider joining a Toastmasters group to practice public speaking (go along every 2 weeks). You can even take it a step further by picking a few Toastmasters meetings in which you forgo preparations until the last minute. It won’t make for the best speech, but it will train you on pulling together a presentation with only a minute’s notice. Because that is exactly what’s going to happen in real life!

7) Develop a Curious and Patient Mindset

Starting an SDR role is like scuba diving for the first time. All of the sudden you’re under a ton of pressure with wild new things floating around you. It can be overwhelming, even anxiety-inducing!

And anxiety is no good. It can torpedo your performance, which can cause more anxiety, which can deploy more torpedoes, and on and on and on!

Part of mastering your mindset is turning anxiety into curiosity. Think of it like this: if anxiety is worrying about the future, then curiosity is wondering about the future.

Here are some examples of this mind-mastery in action:

  • Anxiety: I’m anxious because I don’t know why I’m not getting the reply rates I want!
  • Curiosity: I’m not getting the reply rates I want, and I’m curious to figure out why. Can I A/B test my subject lines?
  • Anxiety: I’m anxious about what prospects care about, and what it will take to engage them in a productive conversation.
  • Curiosity: I’m curious about what prospects care about, and what it will take to engage them in a productive conversation. Can I talk to my AE team about what they have found that works?

While a curious approach results in action, anxiety and worry typically result in you freezing up.

“Stop rushing. You can still maintain a sense of urgency without rushing. Where do you need to be but right here, right now? It’s not quantity of life, but quality.” ~ Ralph Barsi

These simple but powerful habits to change your mindset can make a surprising amount of difference when applied on a daily basis.

Set Aside Time to Practice These 7 Habits

Just because a Sales Development Representative is a junior role does not mean it is easy. It also does not mean it isn’t appreciated.

Working as an SDR is an opportunity to sharpen your sales skills while making legitimate contributions to your organization. So while the job can often seem overwhelming, it can also be incredibly rewarding.

As an SDR, you can help yourself and help your team. You can grow as a salesperson while helping your organization grow as a business. These seven habits will accelerate your development and help you navigate the vortex of metrics and cold calls and performance reviews—making you incredibly successful!

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