As the manager of a prospecting sales team, I face different challenges than other sales managers. Prospecting reps – also known as Sales Development Reps (SDRs) or Business Development Reps (BDRs) – are typically entry-level employees, usually working their first job out of college, and most don’t have sales experience.
As such, a prospecting sales rep is, at many organizations, a transitory position that’s heavily focused on learning. It’s my job to guide these new employees and teach them how to become successful at selling. As an SDR manager, if I’m doing my job well, it means these reps won’t be working for me in a year. They’ll be promoted, and closing big business for InsightSquared – this year alone we’ve promoted 5 BDRs to closing roles. Whenever possible, we try to promote from within because our BDRs already know our product, sales process, and are de-risked from a culture perspective.
Here is my advice to fellow prospecting sales managers on how to guide your new and inexperienced sales reps to success.
Focus on Hiring
Sourcing new candidates and hiring is a constant part of my job and one of the biggest challenges. You’re not going to be able to hire a demonstrated hunter-killer rep who’s closed millions of dollars in business, unless you’re willing to pay 3x the salary of a BDR. Prospecting is almost always an entry-level job. You don’t know if your SDRs are capable of doing the job and you have to put an intense focus on hiring reps with key traits that are leading indicators of sales success.
A word of caution though; you can’t just hire a clone army of yourself. You probably came up through the team. You got your promotion because you were successful as a prospecting rep and had a certain selling style. But your team of sales reps can come from very diverse backgrounds with very different styles, and still be successful. People can achieve success in different ways, so try to keep an open mind about the reps you’re looking to hire.
Onboarding for SDRs
The onboarding process for new reps is a huge focus for me, because it gives reps the tools they need to start selling. Newly-hired SDRs have to learn a huge number of things in the first month on the job, including:
- Sales process training – Learning how to decide who to call and when and how often.
- Product training – Understanding the company’s value proposition and why customers buy our product.
- Sales training – Showing reps how to overcome the most common sales objections.
- Systems training – Teaching reps how to use tools like InsightSquared, Yesware, HubSpot Signals, Rapportive and more.
Again, if you’re hiring people who haven’t sold before, they need to be thoroughly trained up on every aspect of the job. It can take a while to fully train an SDR before they’re ready to start making calls, and you should set expectations accordingly.
Let Reps Learn on the Job
Once you’ve fully onboarded new reps, it’s time to let them loose on the phones. There will be struggles and failures, but the best reps will learn quickly as long as they keep dialing. The key performance indicator we measure is qualified opportunities sourced, but the only real thing I can do to improve results is upping the rep’s number of dials. If your SDRs aren’t maintaining a high level of activity, they aren’t likely to succeed. Give your team a quota of dials per day to encourage activity levels, and help your team to be set for success. That being said, if a top rep is able to source enough opportunities to hit quotas but their activities are slightly down, I don’t worry too much.
But putting new reps on the phones also leads to one of my toughest challenges as a manager – being constantly interrupted by reps with questions about their calls. There are days when I’m interrupted literally five times before even getting to my desk. Luckily, there are strategies you can employ to prevent being interrupted so often and wasting valuable time. One technique is to offer reps office hours – for example, every day between 2 and 4, I’ll be at my desk to answer questions. You can also ask reps to save questions for your ongoing sales coaching meetings, or pair newer reps with more senior reps, employing a buddy system.
Offer Constant Coaching
Coaching is the key to sales reps continuing to learn and improve on the job. Prospecting managers must come up with a consistent plan for coaching reps, and stick to it. I offer reps both structured and unstructured coaching regularly. Structured coaching consists of scheduled activities like weekly one-on-ones, where I focus on individual reps. My team also does weekly role play sessions and deep-dives into recorded sales calls. In both sessions, we’ll talk about a good call or a bad call, and try to understand what went well and what could have been done better. We also do a sales team book club and read and discuss insightful sales books.
Unstructured sales coaching is impromptu and on the spot. A rep will get on a call, and either myself or another senior member of the team will overhear the conversation. The rep will say something wrong or get shot down, and miss out on an opportunity. As soon as the call ends, I’ll talk with the rep about the call, for example: “It sounds like you got a pricing objection, so here’s how you may want to handle that in the future,” and then we can quickly go over how to handle this problem on the next call.
Keep it Fun
Let’s be real – sales prospecting can be a monotonous job. You are calling people all day long, day after day, and trying to convince strangers to talk to you. As a manager, I need reps to make a high number of calls every day, but I recognize that it can be boring. That’s why part of my job is to liven things up in the office, usually with contests. This week, we had a pushup contest on Monday morning. Last week we did a SPIF, a Sales Performance Incentive Fund, offering a cash prize to whoever got the 50th booked meeting for the week. I encourage managers to do lots of in-the-moment competitions with prizes to encourage activity levels and keep things fun. At the end of the day, I know the reps aren’t here to do this job forever, so let’s make that as fun as we can while we’re here.