First and foremost, look for coachable candidates—those who are able to listen to feedback and use it to continually improve and excel.
If you’re a sales leader at a growth-focused organization, it’s likely that you’re either actively hiring sales development representatives (SDRs) right now or planning to do so in the near future. Bringing SDRs into the sales process helps businesses scale their sales outreach while reducing acquisition costs—both essential capabilities when growth is the goal.
(To see how one high-growth company built a sales-development program from scratch, read this GrowthBit by Bob Donnelly, CRO of Kemberton, another LLR portfolio company.)
But identifying and hiring SDR talent can be challenging, not least because they are likely to have shorter work histories to rely on when making a hiring decision. Knowing how to hire the right people for this vital role will enable your company to minimize churn, reduce costs and—most importantly—ensure that your company’s growth is supported by a strong, scalable, cost-effective inbound team.
As a former CRO, a former Managing Director on the Value Creation Team at LLR Partners and in my current role as CEO of Agility Recovery, I have helped many companies build strong SDR programs capable of accelerating their growth. Here are some of the tactics I use to support success:
The shape of that SDR role will depend on your industry, your market and your sales process; make sure you define it clearly so that candidates make an informed choice.
Set the Expectation
If I were to look at exit interview data across every company I’ve ever worked with, I’m sure that mismatched expectations would top the list of reasons behind people’s departures. This is especially likely for people who don’t have as much work experience to draw on when they make career choices, which is true of many SDRs. And the fact that the SDR role can differ so greatly from company to company adds yet another wrinkle.
So be specific about what they’re going to do in a day. How many calls are they going to make? Are they expected to close deals, or do they hand warm leads off to another team member? How much of the job is focused on research? How much involves feeding a cadence of communication? The shape of that SDR role will depend on your industry, your market and your sales process; make sure you define it clearly so that candidates make an informed choice.
Create a Scorecard
If you don’t use scorecards in your organization, the SDR role is a great place to start. My colleague at LLR Kristen Chang has written about scorecards recently, and her article is well worth a read.
At its simplest, a scorecard takes your mission, vision and values and translates them into the characteristics you’re looking for in a candidate. At Agility Recovery, for example, we focus on attitude, work ethic and coachability.
This doesn’t have to be a big job. It could be as simple as putting those characteristics down on a sheet of paper and asking candidates to rank themselves against each one on a scale of one to five. That’s all you need to get a sense of their (self-assessed) capabilities and start the conversation about company priorities and values.
Be Realistic (and Flexible) about Salary
Many factors go into a candidate’s decision to accept a job, but salary is always high on the list. Once you’ve defined the role, you’ll know what level of experience the successful candidate will need, and that, in turn, informs the compensation levels. While the salary needs to fit your budget, it also needs to match market expectations. This is where a little online research—salary.com is a great resource—goes a long way.
Keep in mind that in a candidate’s job market, you may want to top up the compensation to on-target earnings during the ramp-up period for new hires.
The ratio of base pay to commission varies widely depending on the industry, length of the sales cycle and other considerations, but it’s safe to assume that most organizations are offering between 50-70 percent base pay to 30-50 percent commission.
Keep in mind that in a candidate’s job market, you may want to top up the compensation to on-target earnings during the ramp-up period for new hires. Otherwise, you risk losing great candidates to competing offers that may have lower on-target earnings but a higher base salary.
Use Sales Assessment Data
Sales is not a fit for everyone, but it can be hard to weed out SDR candidates based on fit because they tend to have less experience for interviewers to draw on and less ability to self-assess. This is where having the right objective data against which to assess candidates can be invaluable.
By surveying your top-performing salespeople to establish a benchmark and then distributing the same survey to job candidates, you can quickly see how well they align with the ideal. Collecting this type of assessment data is a good complement to the interview process, providing visibility into factors that may not surface during more open-ended, one-on-one conversations. Examples could include identifying questions that can help uncover a candidates preferences around management style, work environment, approach to the role and motivation.
Use Interview Time Wisely
Interviews are an important part of the hiring process, enabling you to see whether a candidate who checks all the boxes on paper comes across the same way in the real world. I prefer a behavioral interview style, where the questions encourage candidates to provide examples of what they’ve actually done in specific situations to address a challenge or embody a particular value, rather than those that ask them what they would do, hypothetically.
In a competitive talent market, you need to move fast. If the hire takes more than 10 days, you’re probably losing good SDR talent to other opportunities.
Most importantly, I use interviews to determine how coachable the candidate is—a requirement for the SDRs at Agility Recovery and, I would argue, a key capability for any salesperson in the early stages of their careers. For example, I’ll share the company’s value proposition with them and have them try to communicate it while role-playing a phone call with a prospect. Then I’ll coach them on their delivery and have them do it again. Ultimately, I’m looking for an indication that they’re capable of processing my input and using it to improve their performance. If that motivation and ability is there, I know this is someone who will learn and progress quickly.
Maintain the momentum
Giving SDR talent an opportunity to spend time on site with your company is a good way to give them a sense of the work environment and culture, but in a competitive talent market, you need to move fast. If the hire takes more than 10 days, you’re probably losing good SDR talent to other opportunities.
Often, I have found a compromise by starting with one or two phone interviews followed by a half-day process that combines an interview with some on-site exposure to the realities of the job and the culture of the company.
Here’s the bottom line.
SDRs perform an incredibly important role in growth-focused companies, but it’s a challenging position to hire for. Setting the right expectations and salary is half the battle, and tools such as scorecards and benchmarking assessments are also invaluable. But first and foremost, look for coachable candidates—those who are able to listen to feedback and use it to continually improve and excel.