What Qualities Make for a Good SDR?

Sales Development is a hot topic these days and it’s only getting hotter, which means companies are hiring like crazy. The problem is that it’s a relatively new role, and there’s a whole new generation of salespeople that are being hired. This brings up a very important question that many SDR leaders are asking as they hire out their teams. What are the key characteristics, personality traits, and/or qualities that will make someone a good SDR?

But first… a word from Jeffrey Gitomer.

The question was originally posted in Sales Hacker’s LinkedIn group by Justin Dennis, VP of Growth at Breezy HR | @justrum

I’m hiring our first SDR for a funded HR startup and I’m looking to get some feedback from the group on qualities of a good SDR. What do you look for when hiring your SDRs? What makes them stand out? And what are some good ways for me to figure this out in the interview process?

Response #1 – Josh O’Brien, SDR Team Lead at Datanyze  |  @thejoshobrien

Personally, I look for people coming from a customer-facing role (Restaurant, Retail, Customer Service) who’ve dealt with and overcame bullsh!t on a day-to-day basis. Remember these guys are going to be the first ones to be hung-up on, cursed at, and berated.

You’ll want to look for people who think outside the box and have creativity when it comes to harvesting new accounts. You want these people to be subordinate, but also challenge the way you think while looking for better/more efficient ways to fill the pipe.

At Datanyze, we prequalify our candidates with a questionnaire that includes three questions based on: culture, do you know our space, and are you capable of doing the job.

After they pass that test, we’ll give them a more thorough assignment that usually takes about an hour. This way, you’ll weed out the candidates who aren’t 100% committed to your company.

The interview process is where you’ll be asking questions that challenge them to say negative things (you only want positive people), what are their goals, biggest accomplishments, what has a boss told you that you excel at, etc.

Response #2 – W. Alex Turner, Head of Sales at PeopleLinx  |  @walexturner

For me, it starts and ends with PASSION. When I had my first opportunity to build a team, I naively spent the first few hiring rounds spinning my wheels searching for candidates that fit a specific profile, basically younger versions of myself and my high performing friends (former athletes, Type A, willing to take risks, competitive, LOUD, extreme sports, etc). Then I was forced to hire someone very far from this profile, based on their ability to speak another language that was mandatory to satisfy a client.

This forever changed my approach to recruiting. Instead of snowboards and footballs, this guy was fashion and pet lizards, but man was he passionate about his gear and those geckos. I knew by the end of Week 1 that this rep would be at the top of the leaderboard month in and month out.

I have been very fortunate through this journey to work with so many awesome BDRs, and the one constant through each has been a deep passion for what they do. I have heard such a wide range of passions along the way: snowboarding, cars, lizards, shoes, Broadway, dogs, beach houses, fashion, Elvis, the Eagles!!!!, Opera, World Wrestling Federation. Regardless of what it is, I love hearing about it all.

Get them talking, and make it easy to start. When passion comes into their voice and they start getting charged up telling me about it, that is the moment I know I want them on my team. Conversely if they can’t sell you on something they love, how can they sell a prospect on your offering?

Response #3 – Sean Kester, Director of Sales Development at SalesLoft  |  @TheSeanKester

Great question and insights!

I am not sure I will be able to add much more to the previous comments other than hire those who fit your existing culture.

This seems like an appropriate time to share my favorite quote on hiring:

“Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind.” — Dee Hock, founder of Visa.

Response #4 – Trish Bertuzzi, President at The Bridge Group  |  @bridgegroupinc

Agree with all the comments and LOVE that quote, Sean Kester! I would like to add one more… curiosity. You want your SDRs to be curious about the industries you sell into, the buyers they will be chatting with, and all the facets of how they could possibly help them build a better business.

What you don’t want is a rep who is either bored with their buyers or just plain uninterested in them as people or professionals. If your reps can’t learn from your buyers they will never get better and to get better they need to be curious.

Response #5 – Jim McDonough, VP of Sales at Attend.com  |  @jmcd42

The only thing I will add is to make sure they are active listeners. This isn’t just to qualify leads either. As an early stage startup, think of your SDRs as your eyes and ears into the market. You need these candidates to demonstrate that they can process information and clearly feed it back to the rest of your organization. They should be tremendously helpful to your Product and Marketing teams.

Response #6 – David Lyon, CRO at RoungPegg  |  @lyon_david

Resilience tops my list. Without it, the other qualities become irrelevant quickly and we all know that the best in sales/sales dev are going to hear “no” more than “yes”. The best SDRs I’ve worked with are usually optimistic people who can quickly grasp the importance of the fact that they’re part of a selling team. They’re competitive, but against themselves more than others. They understand the natural give and take of effective communication. They know that generating interest and obtaining specific information is the name of the game, not selling.

The SDR sophomore slump sets in as people gain product knowledge and pick up the jargon of the folks on the other end of the phone. The best SDRs can adapt to most situations and people, but not everyone will be an “a” player. That being the case, matching some of the attributes of your buyers to your SDR hires goes farther than you might think.

In my experience, your last question is where most sales leaders fall short. Once they’ve established the hiring profile, they overlook the value of establishing an efficient process for finding what it is they’re now so enthusiastically looking for.

As your company succeeds you’ll be glad that you invested in a process when you realize that you need to hire 10 SDRs in the next month and another 10 the following month. Below is an outline of the process that’s worked for me. You end up spending less than 1.5 hours with each pre-qualified candidate and get plenty of information to make educated decisions.

  1. Resume sifting and phone screen (with a specific set of questions) by someone other than you, maybe it’s HR, a current SDR or one of your average AEs.
  2. A pass fail role play with you, by phone of course and having provided them with adequate instructions on how to prepare along with the “rules” for the 3-5 minute call.
  3. 30 minute phone interview with you.
  4. 30-45 minute face to face interview with you.

Response #7 – Henry Schuck, CEO at DiscoverOrg  |  @henrylschuck

Hiring a team of SDRs is something you’ll need to do VERY strategically. We’re really proud of the sales team we’ve built at DiscoverOrg, and can confidently tout that it’s one of the best SaaS sales teams in the world. Here’s a couple of qualities we look for in an SDR:

  1. Intellectual Curiosity – your SDR should always be asking questions. They should be genuinely interested in developing their skill-set.
  2. Coachability – this can be broken down into two parts: ability and willingness. The SDR should be both willing and able to be coached.
  3. Hardworking – or furthermore, the HARDEST working.
  4. Articulate – they are representing your company, after all.
  5. Competitive – top dog is a good place to be. Your SDRs should all want to be there.

The last thing you’ll want to make sure of is that the SDR candidate has is a good culture fit. We really like “The Canoe Test” that the VP of Sales at Pardot introduced us to. Imagine being stuck in a canoe with the SDR candidate. Can you trust them to pull their own weight? And furthermore, will you enjoy that time stuck in the canoe with them? If you won’t enjoy spending a few hours paddling around in a canoe with them, you surely will NOT enjoy working with them.

Response #8 – Gordon Jen, Regional Manager, Sales Development at AgilOne

To keep it relatively short, I look for these following traits:

  • Accountability
  • Resiliency
  • Passion
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity

In today’s noisy marketplace, SDRs really need to dig deep and cut above the standard email and phone call.

Response #9 – James McDonald, Account Executive at SYNETY

In terms of one attribute I didn’t find on here that I believe should be is the strong ability to communicate, but also communicate concisely. It’s sales after all. How are they on their elevator pitch? In a way, Clark touched on this – he’s totally right.

Additionally, do they network? It’s obviously an email and a call won’t do it any longer. Generating a base and leveraging happy customers and those in their networks can be the determining factor in their success or mediocrity.

Key Takeaways

In Summary, here are some of the traits you’ll want to look for when hiring Sales Development Reps.

  • Have had customer facing roles in the past
  • Creativity AKA thinks outside the box
  • Passionate
  • Motivated
  • Integrity
  • Capacity
  • Understanding
  • Experienced
  • Curiosity
  • Active listeners
  • Resilience
  • Coachability
  • Hardworking
  • Articulate
  • Competitive
  • Culture Fit
  • Accountability
Max Altschuler is currently the VP of Sales Engagement at Outreach. He is as passionate about the sales profession as they come. He created the premier B2B Sales media company for all things sales innovation, Sales Hacker, and ramped them up to over 150,000 monthly visitors before joining Outreach through acquisition. At Outreach, he leads all things marketing, along with the continued evolution of the Sales Hacker community. Max is a highly regarded sales thought-leader published by Forbes, Time, Inc, Harvard Business Review, and Quora. He wrote the book on modern sales called Hacking Sales: The Playbook For Building A High Velocity Sales Machine, which was published by Wiley.

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