My LinkedIn news feed has a lot of material regarding sales, sales leadership, and the imposition sales development representatives (SDR’s) often cause. As such, I felt compelled to write a quick opinion post concerning SDR’s and the bad rep they get. But is this bad rep warranted or is the role simply misunderstood?
When I started my business almost 3 years ago I was confident that I would create a revenue stream and would do so relatively quickly. After all, revenue is tied to value, and I spent my entire career selling value. While my background has lent itself to a growing business, the lead-time in which it took to land my first customer was a heart palpitating 7 months. Now, you may say that 7 months, or even a year, is not terrible and that it could’ve been worse- yes and yes for sure…But, it could of been a heck lot shorter of a timeframe had I been better at inside sales (i.e. a better SDR). The problem was that I didn’t really understand or appreciate what an SDR role really was.
I had a multitude of positions in my sales career, but none of which were a SDR role, and most were calling on very large companies with complex ecosystems. Most of the companies I called on were public companies. These public companies had known issues with a lot information in the public domain, so getting to a decision maker and illustrating value was not as hard as it could have been. The skills I acquired in my career were very different skills than those needed to open doors at smaller, mostly private organizations that didn’t publicize their issues or gaps. In fact, it took me upwards of 5 months to determine my inside sales skills were my biggest gap and another couple of months to begin to correct this gap. While still far from perfect, I began to overcome this gap through a ton of research and split testing (ie. figuring out what approach works the best and trying to continuously fine tune the approaches that do resonate).
What is really astonishing is how hard a job it actually is. The amount of time it takes to qualify a prospect and formulate messaging that resonates is staggering. Not to mention the follow-ups that are needed in order to set an initial meeting. The toughness of the job is compounded when considering the amount of resistance and negativity that can be received. The crazy part is the majority of the “negativity” I received came from sales leaders themselves or my fellow entrepreneurs. What I learned through this process, aside from a tougher skin, is the following; there are a multitude of sales skills that are utilized throughout the sales process. While everyone talks of closing and its importance, not many speak of the value of “opening” and the role it plays in the holistic process.
All sales functions have their role and importance in the sales cycle, but I have learned that opening doors is a very hard skill-set to attain and those that are adept in doing so, are extremely strategic at their craft and extremely valuable. Now there are of course those that give the “opening” portion of the sales process a bad name, namely because they “spray and pray”, but those that are strategic openers are an undervalued and under appreciated asset that should be nurtured, groomed, and studied.
So, next time you get a qualified meeting set by your SDR team, or even get called on by a SDR that has actually done their homework, maybe you should give them a compliment, even if you don’t plan on buying anything from them. Furthermore, next time you think your business or sales team has a “closing” problem, maybe it’s time to evaluate how the doors are opened and how qualified the leads actually are. After all, maybe it’s the other side of the equation that needs some fine tuning.
To sum it up- I think great SDRs are hard to come by and the whole inside sales process is misunderstood by most, but it is one of the most important parts of a sales arsenal, if not the most important. Bottom line, don’t skimp on the inside sales team and their training. Most of the inside sales reps that do use a shotgun approach are generally relatively junior in their career and have not been trained to do anything different, so the issue tends to perpetuate itself and opportunity is left on the table.
Beau Billington is the founder of the Free Agent, a consulting company immersed in the strategic-layer of the Gig Economy- www.thefreeagent.com