sales hiring checklist

SDR Essentials – A Hiring Checklist

In specialized sales teams, Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) are indispensable in generating high quality meetings for their teammates. More often than not, interviewing candidates for an entry-level SDR role can be daunting when decisions tend to be based on little or no previous track record. Often companies think they need to look for mini-closers-in-training.  However the art of effective prospecting relies on targeted outreach, creating intrigue, and qualification.  Prospecting is very different from closing.  

As a prior member of the Predictable Revenue team, I’ve worked with numerous outbound teams while they were selecting and onboarding their first SDRs.  Here are the five most important qualities that top performing SDRs share.

1. Demonstrated leadership

It doesn’t matter if you have a team of 2 or 20, it’s essential that SDRs own their pipelines and take responsibility for their individual targets. SDRs need to be masters of their own KPIs. Look for candidates who have a history of taking ownership of opportunities – maybe they started a club, a non-profit, or took the lead on a volunteer project. Even if the project ultimately fell short of their desired goal, at least they were willing to take the risk.  Most importantly the experience will demonstrate their passion, initiative, and commitment, qualities that translate when planning how to penetrate their 100+ target account list.

Hiring tip: Look for previous experience that includes a history of leadership roles. If leadership has been consistent in their previous work, it’s fair to assume they’ll be able to step up and be a leader as an SDR.

2. Persistence

SDRs spend most of their time cold-calling and emailing prospects, and inevitably they will face rejection on a daily basis. Successful SDRs will be able to discern validity of the “no” and continue pursuing another prospect within the organization despite initial objections. Anyone who has prospected knows it can take up to eight touches to get a response from one decision maker. Even if converting an account takes six months, a successful SDR will keep at it until they find a way, all the while being respectful of the prospects in the process.

Hiring tip: Look for prior positions where they had to show tenacity to get the job done. Watch for evidence of persistence in a candidate’s post-interview communication. Are they emailing you with the necessary follow-ups? Are they checking in to make sure everything’s running smoothly? If they are, it’s a good sign that they’ll be just as persistent in their role as an SDR.

3. Ability to listen

SDRs are the front line of sales, so it makes sense that most people focus on their speaking ability.  A key quality that people often step over is an SDR’s ability to listen. 70% of communication is listening.  An SDR will spend a good portion of their time doing research calls and qualifying leads – if they are consumed by delivering the next line of their script, they can miss valuable information the prospect will share. That crucial information can make all of the difference in prioritizing their next steps or advising their teammate on positioning the close.

Hiring tip: In your interactions with the candidate, make sure they’re actively listening instead of waiting for their turn to speak. An interview is a lot like an initial sales call, so their behavior is an good indicator for how they’ll communicate with potential clients.

4. Excellent writing skills

Many people still think “writing content is marketing’s job,” but sales representatives are required to personalize existing email templates on a daily basis. It’s critical that your SDRs keep abreast of what’s going on in their prospect’s world and are using that information to personalize their outreach in both phone and email touches. Communicating relevant information in an engaging way makes connecting easier and clears the path towards building a deeper relationship.  SDRs should be able to write in professional, relevant and concise manner.

Hiring tip: Include a writing test during the interview to assess how candidates can take a current event in the news, interpret it and repurpose that content in a meaningful way.

5. Being Coachable

Prospecting is an “agile” process of iteration and testing. And even when you think you’ve got an approach that is working, it won’t work for every prospect.  You want an SDR who will use all tools at their disposal to engage and convert prospects into quality meetings.  Coaching is an integral part of helping SDR’s progress from Satisfactory to Masterful with all the tools in their tool belt.  A coachable SDR will take constructive feedback from all team members, have a willingness to try new approaches and continue to refine their skills.     

Hiring tip: Look for prior challenges or steep learning curves. How did the candidate deal with the challenge?  How were they supported and did that support work for them?   

While hiring and training SDRs can be time consuming and challenging, it is a worth-while investment as these entry level hires will most likely move into your future positions as Closers, Account Managers and Sales Leaders.

The above 5 essentials are key traits that have separated good SDRs from great ones.  I encourage every startup to come up with their own evaluation system. Having a grading rubric for SDRs will help you learn over time whether your early evaluations correlate with subsequent performance.  

Alicia Anderson

Alicia Anderson is the Director of National Sales at Captivate. She is also a sales strategy consultant for startups and mid-sized companies. In her previous role she served as the Director of Business Development at Predictable Revenue with Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler.