The Expanding Role of the Humble SDR

April 11, 2016 Mark Emmons


They can have different titles. Sales Development Reps. Account Development Reps. Business Development Reps. Inside Sales Reps. Marketing Development Reps.

But Lars Nilsson, vice president of global sales at Cloudera, has a different name for in-the-trenches B2B salespeople — the quarterbacks. He compares those often entry-level employees to arguably the most important position in sports. SDRs, he argues, are instrumental to making an Account-Based Sales Development strategy operate smoothly as they focus on booking meetings for Account Executives.

“The SDR is the perfect quarterback for a campaign,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts and you can’t forget to do anything or the process won’t work. An Account Executive already has too much to do. This should be done by an SDR who is on the front line and understands how to work accounts, convert leads into contacts and then organize the campaigns.”

And here’s another name for SDRs: the door-openers.

A new eBook called “Breaking Down Doors: A Guide to Account-Based Sales Development” explores how the process meets the mounting challenges of the modern buyer’s journey. Business leaders explain how ABSD is a winning formula because it drives targeted sales efforts at high-value accounts using relevant, personalized content in hopes of scheduling initial meetings with prospects for the Account Executives.

LeanData Account-Based Sales Development - ScreenshotAnd the person at the center is the humble SDR.

“The SDR role has become the lynchpin,” said Manuel Medina, co-founder and CEO of high-frequency sales platform Outreach. “He’s your infantryman who is penetrating an account by creating multiple landing points. He’s creating the beachhead and trying to gain a foothold. The SDR needs to be smart and shrewd on how to get the proper intelligence on an account.”

The widespread use of SDRs has grown over the last decade. A 2015 survey by The Bridge Group of 342 SaaS businesses found that nearly six in 10 companies now have an SDR team. That figure increased to 67 percent among businesses generating at least $5 million in revenue.

But while there is an understanding that the role is crucial to business success, it remains an under-appreciated position. SDRs often are seen as a sales equivalent of 911 dispatchers who only gather and pass on information to other reps who are better equipped to do the really heavy lifting. SDRs can be the most inexperienced people at a company — often straight out of college. Frankly, it can be a grinding job that is prone to burnout. Lots of emails. Lots of phone calls. Lots of soul-crushing rejection. The job can feel like being on a hamster wheel. SDRs are judged largely by completing a large number of activities as they relentlessly prospect, hunt and farm for potential customers.

But in an Account-Based Sales Development plan, SDRs have greater stature. They’re empowered to take ownership of the initial campaigns that find creative ways to open up those all-important accounts.

“There’s a misconception that does a tremendous disservice to SDRs” said Tawheed Kader, founder and CEO of sales acceleration platform ToutApp. “Many sales leaders hire them and then just have them robo-email thousands of people. Honestly, you can get a computer and a basic marketing automation system to do that. You don’t need human beings. SDRs are supposed to be incredibly smart thinkers who constantly are figuring out ways to break into an organization. That requires strategy.”

It makes no sense to put them in a box and just tell them to do the same exact thing again and again, added Steven Boone, the sales strategy and operations manager at e-commerce intelligence company BloomReach. You hired them because they have a skill set of being able to start conversations. So let them do that. “The job is really important because it drives pipeline and bookings,” Boone said. “We trust our SDRs enough that they have freedom. We believe in giving them as much authority and responsibility as possible within their accounts.”

“As account-based sales becomes the standard, the SDR will be elevated … You’ll see the role receive more respect.”

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But it’s not like businesses are putting the entire fate of their sales success on the shoulders of SDRs. In an account-based model, they only prospect into companies that the sales and marketing leaders already have decided are likely buyers. So they are set up for success, said Sean Kester, vice president of product strategy at SalesLoft.

“When SDRs know these really are prime targets, they will stop at nothing in order to convert them,” Kester added. “It allows them to be better stewards of the accounts.”

Also if businesses are going to have high expectations for SDRs, they have to invest the time and energy in getting them ready to meet that challenge. It’s OK to be young and inexperienced . . . as long as you are also prepared, said Outreach’s Medina.

“If your SDRs are going to handle a big role, good training becomes a necessity,” he added. “You can be trained so they can maneuver around and get into a real conversation, get the needed intelligence about an account and give a preliminary lay of the land to the AE.”

The “Breaking Down Doors” eBook goes into greater detail about how businesses are finding success with ABSD strategies. As that continues in the coming years, ToutApp’s Kader said he expects attitudes to change about the SDR position.

“As account-based sales becomes the standard, the SDR will be elevated because they will no longer be blindly looking for leads,” he said. “You’ll see the role grow and receive more respect.”

In other words, look for more touchdowns from those SDRs.

You can download the eBook, “Breaking Down Doors,” for free here to learn more about how Account-Based Sales Development is transforming B2B sales.

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