How to Implement Career Development for SDRs

A Sales Development Rep (SDR) can be one of the hardest jobs in sales, but it’s a great position for someone to learn about themselves and where they’re headed within a sales organization. While it is an entry level position, it gives reps the opportunity to gain a great deal of experience quickly.

As a sales leader, it is your job to make sure you can motivate the SDR team and provide them a clear career development path. SDRs are often driven by the opportunity to learn and keep themselves challenged, so promotions and advancements will drive them to continue to work to the best of their ability. By showing your team that getting to the next step in their career and hitting their goals are attainable, you can drastically increase their productivity.

We’ve found that promoting from within and giving SDRs a clear career path keeps them motivated and eager to do a difficult job.

Setting the right expectations

One of the biggest challenges I ran into was setting proper expectations in terms of time. Early on when the SDR team is growing rapidly each rep has more potential for a quick promotion. But as the team gets larger those opportunities lessen. Managers need to help SDRs understand that even though it may take longer to become an AE or Manager, it’s not a reflection of your confidence in the SDR being successful in that next role.

Our goal is to make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn as much as possible as an SDR so that they will be prepared when they are promoted, or alternatively when they leave Greenhouse for the next role. It is imperative to be upfront and set expectations properly when SDRs are hired. Even if you see many open opportunities now, you don’t know when the opportunities may temporarily slow down. It is always better to under promise than potentially set false expectations.

Ultimately, SDRs need to be given the chance to consistently learn and be challenged in different ways. One way to accomplish this is to have different SDR levels in the career ladder. This will allow for multiple mini promotions, each of which provides the SDR new opportunities to learn and to increase their income. This ensures that leadership continues to show interest in the SDR’s career growth.

Below is an infrastructure for developing career ladders and career development for your SDR team:

Hire strong managers

You need to have a coaching culture in place if you’re focusing on promoting from within. We recently hired a Productivity Manager who is responsible for training and managing the SDRs and AEs. This is a great luxury and not something we had before. Typically it is the SDR managers who are most influential in the SDR’s development. Managers need to be listening to calls, helping to draft emails and assisting in responding to objections. Most importantly managers have to make sure to consistently role play with the team. Each rep needs to be as prepared as possible for different scenarios that might occur on the phones.

It is essential to ensure the managers you hire know how to train and coach in a “promote from within” environment. When hiring a manager, I put them through a structured interview process. A big part of that process is testing them on their ability to coach. This is done by role playing different types of scenarios that they may run into and seeing how they handle coaching reps in those scenarios.

Set up ladders that are challenging, but achievable

At Greenhouse, our SDR career ladders have had numerous iterations. In every version though, different steps are geared towards preparing the SDR for whatever the next role is that they want to achieve. The next role could be as an AE, it could be as a manager, it could be as a renewal rep or it could even be a position outside of sales. Laying out the steps to getting there is the difference between having motivated SDRs and having SDRs that think they will always be stuck in the same entry level position.

Our latest version of our ladders was created with the help of Meg Hewitt, who manages the SDR team in our sales organization. In order to move from one step to the next, SDRs need to be at that level for a certain amount of time, hit their goals and pass the appropriate knowledge checkpoints for that level.

Here are some of the different levels we have in our SDR career ladder:

SDR 1

All SDRs start here to learn the basics of their new role. They are in this role for a minimum of 5 months. In that time, they will learn how to prospect, get training on the sales stack, refine their phone skills, improve their writing ability, understand how to manage their accounts, perfect their pitches and handle objections. If they hit their required goals and get certified on all of their knowledge checkpoints, they will be promoted to an SDR 2.

SDR 2

As an SDR 2, reps will get an increase in compensation. But the bigger perk is they will become eligible for more specific training around the next role they are looking to get to. They are required to be in this role for a minimum of 5 months as well. In that time, they will receive continued SDR training, but they will also get the opportunity to learn how to demo the product and prepare training presentations for the rest of the team. If they hit their required goals and complete certification on all of their knowledge checkpoints, they will be promoted to an SDR 3.

SDR 3

SDR 3’s are eligible for significantly more compensation. If they are interested in the management track and a team lead position opens up, they can interview for the position right away. A team lead is a player coach that has a smaller individual quota, but also assists in training and coaching the rest of the team. All SDR 3s become mentors for less experienced SDRs. They receive much more detailed training on sales skills like discovery, negotiation, pricing conversations and closing skills. Once the SDR 3 passes their knowledge checkpoints, they are eligible to interview for AE, Renewals Rep or SDR Manager roles as they become available.

Implement a promotion process

Just because an SDR is a top performer doesn’t always mean that they will get the next promotion. Just like when hiring from outside the organization, you need to put a structured interview process in place. This process will test the candidates to make sure they are ready to be successful in the open role. For a promotion to AE, the SDR will mock demo our platform. We will stop them during the demo to give them feedback and see how they handle it. This helps determine how coachable they will be. This is a crucial part of our interview process. When it’s between a few SDRs – the biggest differentiation is often how they prepared and how they respond to coaching.

Make clear that If an SDR doesn’t get a promotion on the first try, it doesn’t mean they never will. It doesn’t even mean they are not ready to move to that position. It simply means there are other people more ready to move into the position at this moment. We’ve had a number of SDRs who didn’t receive a promotion on the first try, but eventually they did.

Benefits

Promoting from within means you don’t have to worry as much about a rep learning your product or fitting in with the company culture. This should cut down the chances of a bad hire and also shorten the ramp period. That’s not saying there will be no ramp – it’s just different. The new AE’s Sales Manager needs to be very hands-on when it comes to continued training and coaching on sales skills. Most of the promoted SDRs have never had closing experience. But if we did a really good job of training them through the SDR career ladder, they should be in a great position to become successful quickly.

Over the last 18 months we’ve seen the following promotions from our SDR group:

  • 8 SDRs to Account Executives
  • 4 SDRs to Team Leads and Managers
  • 7 SDRs to Team Leads
  • 2 SDRs to Renewal Reps and
  • 2 SDRs have found opportunities outside the sales department

At Greenhouse, we have found that an SDR career development ladder is the most effective way to continually challenge SDRs. It keeps them motivated and helps them prepare for their next role. By investing in the career development of your SDRs, you’re not simply providing individual reps with a better experience. You end up with a stronger sales force and a more efficient hiring process.

Want to hear more about this topic? Check out the Sales Development Forum.

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Marc is the SVP of Sales and Customer Success at CB Insights. Previously, Marc held sales leadership positions at Greenhouse, Virtustream, VMware and Thomson Reuters.