How to Hire a Rockstar SDR in Crazy Times
It’s always been a challenge for B2B sales organizations to find and recruit high-performing SDRs and sales reps. But now we are in a new era that makes it tougher than ever. With more than 200,000 open positions for SDRs and BDRs nationwide, sales recruiters are facing an increasingly competitive hiring market—a market in which the number of workers is falling as the number of open positions is heating up.
Since the typical SDR candidate has no or very little sales experience, and because of the critical impact an SDR has on a sales team’s performance, it’s worthwhile to know how you can circumvent the labor shortage problem and pinpoint a Rockstar SDR in this crazy hiring climate.
Listening Skills Are Paramount
Obviously, sales recruitment has changed a lot in the last year and a half, and there are some new dynamics that have come into play. Nonetheless, one of the first things I look for in a potential candidate is listening skills. Are they actively listening and are they able to answer questions correctly and directly, or do they go off on a tangent? Do they have that one- or two-second pause before they speak to let you finish the conversation, that in the real world would allow a customer to keep talking? Do they show that they are listening to details, or do they summarize?
A Winning Spirit Can Win the Day
An SDR must be good at persuasion, possess the right degree of assertiveness, and of course be able to close. They must have a strong work ethic, too—and energy. You need to know that an SDR is as willing to pick up that phone and send those extra touches at four o’clock in the afternoon, as they were at 10:00 in the morning. One of the tricks I use is to conduct an interview later in the day so I can assess their energy level.
Then, there is their ability to ask questions. A natural curiosity about people and things is a positive quality that leads to great questions. Do they know how to ask good questions in the interview process? That tells you that they’re going to know how to ask good questions in the sales role.
And I look for results-oriented people. Are they winners? Have they been winners in the past? Are they competitive? Do they have a competitive spirit? Any great salesperson has this trait. I think an SDR must have the right mix of these attributes.
Comfort With Digital Communication is Essential
Now that times have changed and the buying process has changed, there are some new attributes to identify. Among these are digital capabilities.
Is the candidate comfortable and confident in an omnichannel approach? The SDR role is not just limited to email and phone anymore. Before the pandemic, digital was already evolving, but in the last 18 months, it has accelerated.
You must hire people who are comfortable building relationships through social media and adding video to their email. When you add video to email and use different ways of connecting with prospects and buyers, you will see significant increases in open rates. It’s a matter of being adaptable to different channel preferences.
And since the SDR will have to do some amount of presenting before the official handoff, you need to evaluate how they communicate virtually. Are they comfortable in an on-camera setting and use it to their advantage? For instance, do they have the correct speech cadence, the right volume and lighting, and background? You should evaluate all of this in the interview process. These are all just traditional skills that combine to meet the general requirements of an SDR today.
Life Skills Can Be an Advantage
I am a fan of behavioral-based interviewing. It’s particularly helpful when hiring people right out of college. They don’t have much real-world experience yet, but they often demonstrate desirable skills gained through life experience. For instance, they may show that they are results-oriented through participation in sports or other activities in their lives that made them more competitive. Ask for an example where they strived to achieve something in life. If they do have sales experience, ask for an example where that ability to pursue a goal paid off in terms of getting a new customer. These examples demonstrate skills they can transfer into an SDR position. And you can adjudicate listening skills throughout the entire interview this way.
A fundamental measurement of suitability is the proper match between who the person really is, and the dreams and aspirations of your company. The ideal candidate shares your company’s vision, as that’s what’s going to motivate them. If they don’t follow the same beliefs or have the same level of passion as your sales team, they are probably going to get kind of bored with what they are doing.
Connect Attributes to Performance Outcomes
The assessment we use at MarketSource is comprehensive and tests a wide range of qualifications and personality traits to assure a prospective SDR will make a good fit. It’s extensive, so candidates must be willing to take the time to do the assessment in the first place; and it’s designed to ultimately predict how successful a newly hired SDR will be in the role.
For instance, a disciplined approach to pursuing specific tasks, and the ability to do this in a remote work environment, are of great importance. We have seen that it takes an average of nine attempts to reach a typical prospective contact, and therefore you need to have a cadence and a plan in place where you’re making twelve or more attempts. To evaluate this, I want the candidate to tell me where and how they have been persistent in a previous job. There is a high correlation between persistence and successful sales outcomes.
Another thing we pay attention to is business acumen. Are they able to identify the business problem and then take advantage of this as an opportunity to solve a problem rather than merely talk about a product and its features? We assess this as part of our ongoing sales training with our current clients, listening to calls and using conversational intelligence tools. Persistence and business acumen are high on our list of behaviors in SDR hires that correlate to successful outcomes for our clients.
Be Open to Spot Greatness in a ‘Green’ Candidate
One of my most favorite people I’ve ever hired was a young fellow who lived in Cabrini-Green, a notably dangerous place to live in Chicago at the time. He had to literally duck from bullets being shot through his neighborhood and through his apartment, but he stayed out of all that trouble. He went on to school and eventually became an elementary school teacher in Chicago public schools. But two years into that role, he realized it wasn’t a good fit for him. So, he interviewed for a sales role at the B2B company I was working for at the time. Through the interview process, talking about the attributes we discussed earlier, and through behavioral-based questions, we identified him as a good candidate.
He is a super competitive guy. One of the things that he didn’t like about teaching is that he never knew how he compared with other teachers. He wanted to know how he stacked up so he could rank himself alongside the others. You don’t really get that as a teacher, nor should you.
He wanted to be great. He wanted to be number one at something, which told us he was competitive. We knew he had high energy. You could tell he was persuasive, and he had smart questions for us during the interview process. He had excellent listening skills. This guy had zero field experience but had all the necessary fundamentals to be a great salesperson.
In his first year he beat out hundreds of other reps to become the president’s cup winner and rep of the year for that company. He then went on to become a manager. He’s one of my favorite success stories.
The lesson learned in this scenario is that the drive to succeed, the motivation and perseverance a person demonstrates in any one field can transfer to another field quite easily.
Be Thoughtful About Promoting an SDR
It’s common for SDR candidates, especially recent college graduates, to view the role as a stepping-stone to account executive and beyond. And certainly, the role offers plenty of opportunity to learn and improve competency in selling performance. There are many future leaders out there!
But not everyone is cut out for being a number-one sales rep or sales leader. Helping others grow their careers has always been my passion. Some senior-level account executives (individual contributors) I have groomed will make far more money than me and that is a great thing! Some people are a great fit for leadership roles, while others are more suited for operations-type roles or sales enablement. We need to recognize that there are all sorts of different career paths.
This may be somewhat controversial, but I believe that the speed of your career progression or promotions may depend on the space that you’re selling into. If you’re selling into something that’s more transactional, typically selling into SMB, for example, your career path may progress faster. Enterprise sales require a lot more development. You’ll need a higher level of business acumen when talking to an executive at an enterprise, where there is a buying committee and a long sales cycle. You may need to read and understand financial statements and tie your solution to how you help the financials of the enterprise.
That’s not something you can learn in just three or six months. It takes time to learn how to communicate with high-level executives.
Roll Out the Red Carpet for New Hires
When you find great people, roll out your welcome mat. Make sure you like them a lot and that they, in turn, really like your company, your management, and their colleagues. Let them talk to some people that might be their peers. Your entire recruiting experience must be dynamic and exciting and welcoming; this could make the difference between them joining you or deciding to join another company they are interviewing with: And there’s a strong likelihood they are interviewing with multiple employers.
Be mindful that today’s recruiting process is quick. Since today’s candidates are interviewing at multiple places, you can’t be slow in recruiting, or else you’re going to lose because they’re going to take another offer that comes their way. So, examine your hiring processes and try to find ways to shrink it down.
Recruit for Diversity and Inclusion
The language in your job descriptions and job postings should be sensitive to issues of diversity and inclusion. Be intentional regarding your commitment to a diverse workforce as it relates to both hiring and career pathing of prospective and current employees. Diversity should be part of the DNA in your recruiting process. This starts with telling recruiters to cold call all walks of life and from all sorts of different backgrounds.
This is an excellent way to be proactive in recruiting. In a tight labor market, it’s no longer viable to merely post openings and wait for leads to come in. Your recruiter needs to reach out and be the first one to ask people if they’re open to a new opportunity. And remember, as you get referrals from your current employees, if you have a diverse team, you’ll likely get diverse referrals.
Be Compassionate and Empathetic
It’s vitally important to understand the effect the pandemic has had—and continues to have—on the work environment. For instance, parents are facing significant childcare challenges. Some parents have chosen to keep their school-age children out of classrooms and enrolled them in virtual learning programs from home, and still others are not willing to put their younger kids in daycare. Moms and dads are juggling family and career at home, and the situation is forcing many able, eligible workers to remain jobless because they have to remain at home.
It behooves us to understand the challenges that everyone, not just parents, is up against and be empathetic to their plight. We have to adjust our thinking to align with potential candidates and be creative in how we structure work schedules, expectations, and compensation.
Make sure you have the proper training available for every new hire, whether virtual or in person. Sometimes sales leadership is so busy closing deals and other revenue-generating details that they don’t have time to train SDRs. You want a mentoring, training, and coaching program in place that has proven to deliver results.
Recruiting and hiring SDRs may be a challenge in today’s environment, but it’s not impossible. Look for excellent listening skills, high energy and a strong work ethic, a results orientation, and a focus on goal attainment. These lay the foundation for a successful and happy hire.
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