The Missing Piece of Your Sales Team

By Cole Fox, B2B sales expert + sales playbook startup guide.

As one of the first Sales Development (lead generation) reps hired in 2010 at LinkedIn, I was part of an experiment. The seasoned execs saw us as a team riddled with frat boys and slums. That was, until we ended up being the essential new piece to spark and grow sales of the new B2B LinkedIn Recruiter product and hiring solutions suite. The team is now over 200, globally distributed, and instrumental to generating leads that the sales team closes. The product line we generated leads for ended up being the lion's share of all LinkedIn's revenue, across all of their product lines, which is arguably what fueled LinkedIn to its IPO. Yes, many stars aligned for us, but this ‘experimental team’ ended up being the key driver of one of the greatest B2B SaaS success stories, ever.

Long story short, if you want to scale your company, scale your sales by hiring one or a few Sales Development Representatives. Here are some ideas on how to do that successfully.

 

Sales Fixes Everything.  - Guy Kawasaki

What is a sales development representative?

A sales development representative, as they're often called; abbreviated as SDR, is someone tasked with generating leads for your business, although they don’t actually close deals or perform transactions. Some specific tasks they usually do include...

  1. Finding prospects

  2. Building a list of them with contact information (Great tool for this: LeadIQ)

  3. Reaching out and communicating the benefits of what the company sells

  4. Setting up a call or appointment for a salesperson to show the product and close a deal / make a transaction.

 

SDRs are becoming the norm in companies that want to scale sales efforts. Usually such companies sell a B2B-facing product, or one with a high price tag, the likes of which I worked with at LinkedIn.

Often, SDRs are fresh out of college or relatively junior in their career. You might outsource them as well. Outsourcing can be a good start, with less overhead, but might not be scaleable in the long run.

Why hire one (or a few)?

In the introduction, you saw the results of a successful team of SDRs. Let’s discuss some specific reasons it worked so well. Let's assume that you have one sales person already on staff, or your CEO is selling the product, solo. In this case, that individual is handling the whole sales process or pipeline. That means she is finding and contacting people, scheduling meetings, building relationships, following up, closing deals, AND maybe even managing existing accounts. See, sales can have many moving parts!

Hiring a SDR not only frees up this individual from up to half of their work, it will reduce their need to shift gears into different tasks. The SDR can focus on generating leads, and the Sales Representative (also referred to as Account Executive or AE) can focus on giving demos of the product and closing the business.

“Err on hiring more SDRs before you hire more AEs”  - Jason Lemkin

The skills required for an SDR are different than the skills required by someone who closes deals. By hiring a SDR, your sales team will be more focused and efficient, thereby facilitating an increase in sales.

How do I Successfully Hire and Manage SDRs?

Look for these top 3 qualities in SDRs and manage them accordingly.

Hungry

As I watched hundreds get hired, promoted, demoted and fired at LinkedIn, as we scaled the rocketship of sales, I noticed one striking correlation between success and failure. Hunger. You might assume that a more seasoned, articulate individual would do well in this role, but that wasn't the case. Hunger fueled good results, and also fueled building good relationships with managers and reps that the SDR passed their prospect meetings over to. You could also call this politics, but I really think it was passion that fueled the upward mobility.

You can find hunger in the most interesting places. Yes, there is a fire hose of smart new college grads who want to get their foot into your company’s door. This is a great source of candidates because they have the necessary basic qualifications, but also won't tire too quickly from the grind. On the other hand, you may also consider less prestigious colleges or other companies that sell tough-to-sell products. If someone comes from an underdog mentality, it might give them the motive to sell more.

LinkedIn hired me because I was hungry. In my previous job, I sold office supplies door-to-door in the central valley; talk about hard-core, hunger-inducing sales training.

If you’re not outsourcing, give your SDR a year to hit quota and then allow them the opportunity to move into a closing role or perhaps as a team lead of SDRs, managing. Be cognizant of how they want to grow in their career. They should be too.

Big Picture Thinker

While the SDRs you hire may be a wily bunch of junior-level underdogs, they should also be aware of how what they do affects the business. Typically successful SDRs split into two groups. There are the manager types, who are hungry for knowledge, and want to teach and mentor others, and there are the linear money-maker ones who are laser focused on blowing out their numbers, and making money.

Regardless of their intended trajectory, they should be attuned to the effects of their work. For example, when they reach out to Person X at Company Y, they will need to understand the difference of reaching out to person Z at Company Y. Perhaps doing so can make the deal move slower down the line, if person Z isn't in a position of power.

If a SDR understands the goals of the company and how to most quickly arrive at them, they won't trivialize their work to quantity. It will be a conscious effort of quality outreach, appointment setting, navigation of a corporate latter of their prospects, among other considerations.

Creative With Sources

Chances are, if your company needs a SDR, you're going after a large market. This could be seen as endless choices of whom to reach out to for a SDR. In this day of saturated prospects' inboxes, the SDR needs to find the right people to get in touch with and then angle the message to that group in a way that engages and piques interest.

A creative SDR can come up with ideas that uncover people in certain positions, time-frames or ways to figure out who's using your competition's product.

Focusing on this type of work will help them craft a more engaging message when they are ready to reach out to the prospect. With LeadIQ they can figure out the prospect's contact info, and simultaneously build a list to enhance their efforts. (disclosure: I work there)

When you're ready to hire, look for a hungry SDR who can overcome the inevitable grind, and help show them a way to career progression. Make sure to teach them the effects of their work on the business. They might be in a junior role, but they need to know how your company works, in order to find the right leads which quickly turn into good customers for you. Set clear goals such as # of outreach # of appointments to set and amount of closed business related to their efforts. Finally, make sure they have the knowledge to find good sources of leads.

Want to pour fuel over your SDR or AE's outbound prospecting? Try out LeadIQ. This helped me as an SDR, AE and sales manager!

Cole has sold B2B software for 6 years and helps early stage companies get their first customers + sales playbook defined. During his sales career he also started an international code-free hackathon series to help non-technical people break into tech entrepreneurship. When he's not helping companies win at sales he works on winning at health and fitness with a plant based diet and placing among the top at Tough Mudder and Spartan Races.