If you’ve searched for anything sales-related on Google recently, there’s a good chance you stumbled across multiple references to sales development representatives (SDRs). With how often it’s mentioned, you might think that this role has been a staple in the sales world for the past few decades. In reality, the SDR role originated less than 10 years ago, right here at Abstrakt—when we were still an ambitious startup with a short list of clients.
The SDR role was born out of necessity. We needed a better way to provide a consistent experience across our growing client base, regardless of their sales team. So, we set out to create a defined set of guidelines, values, and skills a master prospector would need to take our process to the next level. After some trial and error, we rolled out the new position and we haven’t looked back since.
Here’s the full story of how we revolutionized the B2B lead generation industry by creating the SDR role.
Remember when “Boom Boom Pow” dominated the radio waves, “Glee” was the hit show of the moment, and vampires were suddenly everywhere? The year was 2009, and amid this pop culture madness, Abstrakt was just getting started as a brand new lead generation company.
We only had a handful of employees at that point, and we were more focused on getting our footing than shaking up the sales world. There was no such thing as a sales development rep, and many of the sales tools that are essential to lead generation didn’t even exist yet. That didn’t change until a few years later, when we were rapidly expanding our client base and needed a solid, actionable process to help them grow.
A few years after Abstrakt first opened its doors, we had a rapidly growing list of clients signed up for our B2B appointment setting services. Until this point, we had come up with a custom game plan for every client based on their industry, but that approach wasn’t sustainable.
It became clear that we needed an established process we could use across every client and industry. This process would ensure that every client received the same game-changing sales service across the board, and it also gave us room to grow. Instead of training employees on accounts, we could train them on procedures, allowing us to take on new industries we hadn’t previously worked with.
So, we thought about how we approached each client relationship and searched for common trends. Here’s what we determined:
- Our most successful sales reps spent extra time at the beginning of the sales cycle to make sure a lead was the right fit for our clients.
- The more specific a client was about their target buyer persona, the better. These clients closed more deals and were happier with their leads.
- When we had a clear idea of how to position our client’s company, we were more effective at setting appointments. Taking extra time to get to know their company always paid off in the long run.
- When we maintained regular contact with hesitant leads, they often set appointments eventually. The best sales reps didn’t take “no” for an answer if the lead was a good opportunity.
Based on our findings, we came up with a four-step prospecting process that our sales reps could follow for every client:
- Cleanse: During this step, we would use our client’s target audience to decide if the leads on our list were worth pursuing.
- Introduce: Our sales reps needed an opportunity to introduce our client’s company before moving leads into the sales process, which is where our first phone calls and emails came into play.
- Nurture: Qualified leads were rarely ready to buy immediately. They sometimes needed a few weeks or months of consistent contact and personalized communication to set an appointment. During this time, we needed to nurture them through the sales pipeline.
- Set appointments: Before we could hand off a lead to our clients, we needed to secure a sales meeting and give them a reason to show up.
Now, it was time to define best practices for our SDRs to follow during the sales process.
What separates a good sales rep from a great sales rep? That’s the question we asked ourselves when defining our new SDR best practices. After consulting our team members, we came up with the following guidelines that we continue to use today:
Personalize Your Approach
No one wants to be reduced to a number. If leads feel like you only care about their money and don’t care about their pain points, you’re going to have a hard time making a sale. Great SDRs know how to make their leads feel heard, respected, and valued, and they do so by personalizing their approach.
A personalized approach doesn’t mean you have to type out an entirely unique message every time you email a lead. It also doesn’t mean you need to learn everything about a prospect to make a sale. Personalizing your approach means you pick up on important information, remember it, and reference it during your conversations. Something as simple as using your lead’s first name in an email subject line or referencing a previous conversation can go a long way.
SDRs can’t take rejection personally. Sometimes, it takes 10 nos before you get one yes—that’s just the nature of sales. Just because someone hangs up on you one day doesn’t mean they won’t buy from you a few months later, but you won’t know that unless you keep calling.
In the years since we rolled out the SDR role, our clients have made millions of dollars as a direct result of our persistence. In some cases, the lead wasn’t ready to buy at first, but we kept them in our pipeline for years until they were. In other instances, leads tried to rush us off the phone at first because they were wary of sales reps—until they actually listened and realized they needed our clients’ services. The best SDRs never write off a lead that has a chance of turning into a sale, no matter how small the chance.
Focus on Building Relationships, Not Selling
In the past, prospecting was an impersonal process: dial a random number, give a rehearsed spiel to whoever answered, see if they would bite, hang up, and repeat. When we were developing the SDR role, the sales process was becoming more nuanced. The term “cold calling” had an increasingly negative connotation, and leads were tired of receiving sales pitches from random people who didn’t even know their name. As we looked forward to the future of B2B lead generation, we knew building relationships was crucial.
When savvy SDRs make their first call, they don’t immediately launch into a pitch. Instead, they introduce their business and then shift their focus to the lead. The account executive’s responsibility is to sell a product or service; SDRs are responsible for building a rapport.
Ask Tough Questions
Buyers often make purchases based on their emotions. If you can promise that a product will solve a frustrating problem, you increase your probability of making a sale. First, however, you have to learn what’s frustrating them—which is easier said than done. Your leads may be hesitant to tell a stranger about issues with their current provider, but you can typically make some headway by asking hard questions.
Once we had our process and best practices nailed down, it was time to roll out our new SDR role. It took a few months to get our current sales reps up to speed with our latest practices, but the effects were immediately noticeable once we did. Fewer leads were falling through the cracks because we had a lead nurturing process our SDRs were using across the board. When team members filled in on a different client account or joined a new team, they didn’t have to learn a new process.
Our SDRs were on the same page regardless of what client they were representing, and this unity enabled us to grow our client base faster than we ever had before. Suddenly, we were hiring several new SDRs and constantly onboarding clients.
After the SDR role had been in effect for a few months, it was pretty clear that our new role was exactly what we needed. Still, we needed a concrete way to gauge performance and see what was going right and what needed improvement. We used these guidelines to measure how our SDRs were doing:
- Number of qualified appointments: The most straightforward metric we could measure was the number of qualified meetings set by our SDRs. If our SDRs were setting several appointments with high-quality leads in a month, it meant their lead nurturing and relationship building efforts were working.
- Quality of calls: We couldn’t solely gauge an SDR’s performance based on the number of qualified appointments they set. Some leads took months to set appointments, but those few months were just as important as the appointment. If SDRs were having meaningful conversations and building relationships with leads, that was just as important as their numbers.
- Dials to appointments: This metric demonstrated how good an SDR was at identifying a key decision-maker (KDM), performing lead qualification, engaging the KDM in conversation, and moving them through the pipeline. Each industry had a different average, which we used to evaluate SDR performance.
- Appointment show rate: Setting an appointment didn’t mean much if the lead never showed up. If one of our SDRs had a low show rate, we worked to identify the cause and correct it.
- Client feedback: We weren’t happy unless our clients were. If our clients let us know they were excited about our appointments, that meant our process was working. If not, our SDRs needed to tweak their approach.
Ultimately, if our SDRs followed our best practices and cared about building relationships with leads, they were successful in their role. In the years since we rolled out the SDR job, our best SDRs have demonstrated their skills through both metrics and attitude.
Don’t have the time or money to build your own sales development team? Get the best SDRs in the game by partnering with Abstrakt.
The world has changed dramatically since we first introduced the SDR role. Salesforce introduced Lightning and the Einstein AI, allowing our SDRs to automate basic tasks and keep a thorough record of every client interaction. Social media became a new tool for B2B selling. The pandemic changed the way we sold and forced SDRs everywhere to pivot their strategy.
Today, our SDRs have to be more purposeful than ever in their sales efforts. B2B buyers are overwhelmed with hundreds of sales attempts every day, from cold calls to sponsored social media messages. To cut through the noise, SDRs have to focus on building trust with their leads and delivering a distinct message.
The role of the SDR may have changed since we first introduced it years ago, but B2B appointment setting is just as important as ever. If you want to grow your business, you can’t rely on referrals and disorganized marketing efforts—you need a focused, strategic approach, and Abstrakt can provide it. We offer an entire team of world-class SDRs for less than the price of one full-time internal sales rep. Plus, you get the expertise, proven process, and adaptability that only an established B2B lead generation company can offer.
Growing your business isn’t easy. We know how tough it can be to grow from a startup into a recognized company because we did it ourselves. Abstrakt went from a small startup in 2009 to a pioneer in the lead generation industry today. If you’re ready to achieve your growth goals, we’re here to make it happen.
Get in touch today to learn how our SDRs can grow your sales pipeline and provide predictable results.