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How to Build a Great Sales Development Team (Part 2)

Last week, in the first post of our Sales Development series, The Rise of Sales Development, we went over the brief history of sales development, the emergence of the Sales Development Representative -- the SDR -- and the beginning of the sales process.

Assuming you now have a leads list, an SLA between the marketing and sales teams and specialized roles for each segment of your team (and if you don't, go back and read Part 1), now you're ready to build a sales development team.

In his book The Sales Acceleration Formula, Mark Roberge emphasizes the importance of hiring the right people: “World-class sales hiring is the biggest driver of sales success” (click to tweet this).

 

Hiring

Hiring is a tough, lengthy process. But if you put in the work up front, it will pay dividends down the road. With the right people in place, you'll have a loyal team capable of delivering great results, with low turnover and high morale. And it's a virtuous cycle. Great-functioning teams attract more great talent, making it easier to hire in the future.

Start by identifying defining your company and team culture. Don't skip this step. Max Levchin said his biggest mistake at Slide was failing to define the company's culture. This will be your north star as your interview candidates and turn them into employees. As Anurag Gupta of Amazon says: "Culture is made by the people in it, and you have the opportunity for every new hire to strengthen the environment you've envisioned."

After you've defined your culture, you need to find people who can actually do the job.

A sales development representative will probably spend a lot of time on the phone and writing emails, so look for people with good phone and writing skills and a track record of success in roles that required those skills. During an on-site interview, have candidates do a mock call, or draft a quick email to a fictional prospect. This way, you can see first hand how they might perform on the job.

Screening for the so-called "soft skills" is more difficult. The ability to listen well is critical to the success of an SDR -- after all, they can't handle objections at all if they aren't paying attention to exactly what they are. Find ways to make sure they're tuned in to what's said during an on-site interview or phone screening. Ask candidates to explain back a complicated point about your product that you walked them through. Or ask candidates to review to review a case study before the interview, then and have them explain it to you live.

At Hubspot, Mark Roberge notes five traits that correlate most significantly with sales success: (click to tweet this list)

  1. Coachability: the ability to absorb and apply coaching
  2. Curiosity: the ability to understand a prospect’s context through effective questioning and listening
  3. Prior Success: a history of top performance or remarkable achievements.
  4. Intelligence: the ability to learn complex concepts quickly and communicate them clearly
  5. Work Ethic: proactively pursuing the company mission with a high level of energy

Another way to get at soft skills is to ask behavioral questions. For example, rather than asking someone their values, ask them what they like to do in the spare time.

So, where should you look for these highly-qualified candidates?

Ken Krogue of InsideSales.com offers some valuable suggestions that have also worked well here at PersistIQ:

  • Encourage employee referrals.
  • Profile candidates on LinkedIn.
  • Hire recent college graduates who are energetic and competitive
  • Hire people who have recently finish professional accelerator programs

Krogue explains, “SDR candidates have a college degree and some selling experience, hopefully over the phone. They’re naturally competitive. Leadership experience is a bonus” (click to tweet this).

 

Onboarding and Training

There's a fine balance between holding a new hire's hand every step of a six-week onboarding process and throwing a new hire out into the field with zero training. Young startups with small teams don't have the time, resources or existing processes to onboard new hires as completely as they might like. Still, it's important to tell new hires what to expect on the job.

Spend the first week on basic product training. This is an opportunity to get new reps familiar with company processes, play with the product and ask questions. The more familiar your SDRs can get with the product, the more natural their calls and emails will come across to prospects.

Week two should move from product to customer-focused training. If you don't already have a playbook new hires can study and follow, create one. This can include script outlines, objection handling suggestions and value selling tips. It's the rare sales development call that gets into the details of pricing and features. Instead, they can expect objections like "I'm not at all interested," or "I already use a competitor." So remember that SDRs will get very different objections than account executives, and tailor the training material to the job.

By the end of week two, new hires should be role playing these scenarios internally. Week three can consist of more specific process training and role plays. By the end of the week, they should be comfortable making calls.

Training doesn't stop when you let your SDRs loose on the phones. After the initial onboarding, maintain weekly one-on-one hour-long coaching sessions. These keep everyone sharp and are a good excuse to check in with each member of your team.

In a recent report by Rain Today, continued sales training isn’t up to par: “Nine out of 10 sales training initiatives have no lasting impact beyond 120 days” (click to tweet this madness). There are many reasons for this, such as failure to define, support, and drive action, failure to deliver trainings that engage, failure to make learning stick and failure to hold reps accountable after training.

Exams and certifications add predictability to sales trainings, but it’s also important to have management participate as well.

That’s why it’s important to establish this culture early on during your onboarding, and do not deviate from the plan. We could get into how to run training sessions, but we’ll save that for a future post.

These tips should help you staff and train your first team of SDRs. Next week in part 3, we'll answer some of the most common questions asked after the team is up and running, like when to hand of leads from the SDRs to Account Executives and how to pick the right metrics to measure the success of your SDR team.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.

UPDATE: Part 3 is now available: The Most Common Sales Development Questions Answered

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