What comes to mind when you hear the term sales development reps? Cold calling, the grind, rejection.
No wonder being an SDR is one of the toughest jobs in sales.
Day in and day out, reps are sending emails and making calls—and ultimately, they may only talk to or touch base with a handful of people. Sales development reps (SDRs) can’t control or predict who picks up the phone or how many meetings they schedule.
Amid this backdrop, high turnover for this role should come as no surprise.
If you manage sales development teams, how do you get your reps to show up and put in the work?
Indeed, it’s hard enough to simply hire the right people, but once you have the best team in place, how do you get them to stay, perform well, and make a positive impact on your sales organization?
Managers wear multiple hats
As a manager, you play different roles. While your main focus is managing and ensuring your team hits activity goals and metrics, you must also be inspirational and motivating—cheering on your team to make another dial, even after they’ve been hung up on.
Through it all, you will need to coach your team through their outreach efforts and give advice on how to strategize account management.
Here are just a few roles managers must play:
As you take on these various roles, your end goal is to lead your team to success.
Here are 10 actions you can take to help foster the type of environment that leads to a win-win for everyone.
1. Get in the trenches with your team
Actions speak louder than words. At times, reps may think, “My boss makes it sound so easy. I’d like to see them do this.” So, when you’re coaching reps, instead of telling them how to make effective calls, why not pick up the phone and show them how it’s done?
As a manager, you’ve likely been in the same shoes as your reps. That’s how you moved up the ranks, right? But in your current position, you may be removed from modern sales challenges.
And just as sales manager jump on the occasional account executive (AE) call and lend support, SDR managers can do the same thing with cold calls or other prospecting activities.
If your reps are coming in to do an early morning call blitz or staying late, show up for moral support. The mere fact that you’re there will speak volumes to them.
2. Show appreciation in non-monetary ways
Everyone loves monetary incentives, but don’t forget about other inducement options that may motivate SDRs on a more personal level.
For instance, showing up with donuts or bagels for breakfast goes a long way toward motivating your team. Or, perhaps you were impressed by how a rep handled a difficult client or how they helped a colleague. In these instances, send a handwritten thank you note that highlights their great week.
It’s these unseen moments that make your reps feel valued.
Case in point: I would always celebrate my reps’ birthdays by bringing in a cake. Not everyone can do that, so another idea is to send a private card thanking them for their work over the year on their one-year anniversary, or you can email a note of recognition to the rest of the team to showcase their impact throughout the year.
3. Have a career path
Because many AEs start off as SDRs, make sure you provide them with opportunities for internal promotion into closing roles. Some reps are motivated by long-term goals and working toward that next stage of their careers.
Present a clear path and milestones your sales development reps need to accomplish in their current role—whether that’s length of time spent in role, skills learned, or meetings or demos scheduled—to advance to the next level.
According to the Bridge Group’s Sales Development Metrics and Compensation Research Report, the average rep tenure is 1.5 years. If you’re lucky, you may even have a superstar who makes the jump to a full-cycle sales role in under a year. While there is a small percent of SDRs who stay in one role for 2+ years, you need to present a career path that will keep those reps at your organization and stimulate their performance. Then they don’t jump to another opportunity.
4. Offer step or mini promotions
Depending on the complexity of the product and length of sales cycles, it can take upwards of two years for SDRs to become full account executives. Some people don’t have the patience to wait that long, or they are motivated more by short-term goals.
Mini steps or promotions tied to hitting quota multiple times across a year may appeal more to these team members. To use this strategy, think of your SDR role as tiered.
Maybe if reps hit quota a certain number of times, they’re eligible for a small increase or title change such as “Senior SDR,” “SDR, Level 2,” or “Team Lead” as soon as six to nine months into their tenure with your company. These small promotions can go a long way toward encouraging reps to hit quota.
5. Offer competitions and incentives
Some people are motivated by competition. It gets their blood rushing and makes them work harder—for the money or the prestige. When offering competitions, be sure to figure out what drives your people. Consider whether it’s a combo of individual or team campaigns and prize preferences.
During my time managing reps, I’ve found that money or time off resonated the most. But for some people, it may be something less obvious like tickets to a sporting event, a special dinner out, or a gift card to their favorite store.
Bottom line: Figure out if it’s a March Madness-like competition or putting people in teams to see which rep schedules the most demos across a week. Most importantly, make sure your incentive programs move the needle on performance. If your team does just as well the week of a campaign or competition as they do every other week, what is the justification for spending that money?
Your competitions don’t necessarily need to be based on meetings or demos set. (Though, to be honest, isn’t that what we’re all trying to increase?) Don’t forget you can also measure other sales activities, focus your competition on specific accounts, or do a pitch-off contest. Some examples
- Team: have team captains and pair off your sales development reps or let them pick teams
- Individual: March Madness bracket-style with two bracket winners.
6. Celebrate, discuss good – and bad – moments
Celebrate the wins. For example, some companies have a huge gong that they hit when someone hits quota for the month or gets a hat trick (schedules three meetings) in a single day. Getting that public recognition, not mention the physical act of hitting a gong, brings satisfaction to the person doing it. Imagine hearing a loud noise in the middle of the afternoon; it’ll boost everyone’s energy and get the others wondering who did that.
You can also use team huddles or meetings to share good and bad moments. If someone has an email template that’s generating a lot of positive responses or they created messaging that is resonating with prospects, have them share it. On the flip side, encourage reps to share that horrible call they messed up on or if an angry person hung up on them. Venting will release the negative energy.
By sharing both good and bad moments, you’re letting your team know it’s fine to have both types of experiences. What’s more, hopefully, the group can learn from the shared experience.
7. Implement a mentoring program
One of the best ways for your reps to learn and practice their skill is by teaching someone else what they know. Ask seasoned reps to be mentors and show the ropes to a new hire.
This helps keep the more experienced rep engaged, and it makes them better at their job. It helps them stretch outside the confines of their day-to-day tasks and adds some variety to their role and increased responsibility.
8. Promote good AE/SDR relationships
Do your part in facilitating a good working relationship between your sales development reps and the account executives they are scheduling for.
Whether they’re supporting one or many AEs, make sure each SDR doesn’t feel like just a “caller” or “scheduler.” Make sure the AE understands the expectations for the SDR and any areas for improvement. You also want to support effective communication between the two.
Is the SDR sending over quality leads with the right accounts, or does the AE feel that they’re not sure of how to share ideas and information with the SDR? Are there other ways to grow the partnership between the two parties? For SDRs who eventually want to progress into an AE role, consider having them join some of the intro calls or participate in account planning and strategy.
9. Continually coach and build skills
Make certain your team is receiving ongoing training. If they’re going to get better on the phones, you don’t want them practicing on the actual call with prospects.
Treat sales like a sport, where athletes practice before the actual game. Set time aside for your reps to do role plays, for example.
You can conduct mock simulation exercises and call them out of the blue pretending to be a prospect returning a call. These activities help reps learn to think quickly on their feet.
10. Include non-SDR job-related activities
Sometimes it’s good to step outside the SDR role. We do so much role-specific training and coaching, but another way to expand skills and capabilities is by providing opportunities to learn and grow from others besides you or your sales department.
Bringing in a guest speaker—whether that is someone motivational who offers them a fresh perspective, a seasoned sales leader, or even interacting with an executive from another department—can be key to the growth of your reps.
Remember: with all these suggestions, everything in moderation. Too much of anything is forced and overkill. Instead, it’s good to have a variety of ways to build team culture and motivate your people. With a job that has a lot of burnout, a little effort can go a long way toward encouraging your team to want to work for you.