The Importance of Casting a Wide Net for SDR Talent

September 11, 2015 Mark Emmons

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A talented Sales Development Representative can be found anywhere. Take, for instance, the car wash. That’s where Brian Birkett once came across a good SDR.

“The people who work at car washes make their money on upsells,” said Birkett, the vice president of sales at technology company LeanData. “They’re personable and really good at quick pitches. Anyone who has worked in some form of retail already knows how to hustle. So as long as they’re qualified, it shouldn’t matter what that specific experience is – even a car wash.”

How to source, hire and retain the best SDRs will be the topic of a live webinar featuring Birkett and Jason Vargas, managing director of sales development at Datanyze, on Oct. 2 at 10 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. You can visit here to register. Also a forthcoming eBook, produced by Datanyze and LeanData, focuses on how to build a productive sales development team.

The trend among B2B companies, especially in the technology space, is to divide sales teams into two categories: “business generators” and “business closers.” The SDRs are those generators – foot soldiers who do the heavy lifting at the front end of the sales cycle by qualifying inbound leads and making outbound calls and emails. The meetings and demos they schedule set the stage for the account executives, who then serve as the deal closers.

Being an SDR is a challenging job that requires a resilient, upbeat attitude. That’s why Vargas, Birkett and other sales managers at Silicon Valley tech companies stress the importance of thinking broadly when looking for candidates who can thrive through adversity. That’s especially the case when the combination of a red-hot economy and the increase in sales development teams has made finding SDR talent a challenge.

“When you limit yourself to one specific profile, you might miss out on someone special,” Birkett said. “You should be open to bringing in someone outside your profile because you find diamonds in the rough that way.”

Jason Seeba, the chief marketing technologist at BloomReach, has a knack for finding hidden gems. He has hired SDRs from law schools, the financial world, the oil and gas industry, and advertising. In fact, Seeba prefers to look outside of the tech industry and consider people who don’t necessarily have traditional sales experience.

“You’re looking for undiscovered talent in undiscovered places,” Seeba said. “You want a profile that’s more about who a person is rather than what a person has done. In the end, I just want smart people who are good communicators and are likeable. People still buy from people. And they want to buy from people they like.”

Typically, the SDR job is a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. It might be a first job out of college. Or it’s a foot in the door for someone trying to break into the tech field. As the director of inside sales at Netskope, Jin Daikoku, prefers hiring people who are just starting their careers.

Daikoku once was a high school assistant track coach, and he said that being a sales manager can be remarkably similar.

“I could very well only hire people who have a lot of experience and would be able to hit the ground running,” Daikoku said. “Maybe that would make my job easier. But that’s not what’s rewarding to me. What’s fun is hiring a younger person with less experience, coaching them and giving them an opportunity to be successful.”

Vargas, of Datanyze, has created a structured interview process to identify promising SDR candidates. But he wants the top of the hiring funnel, so to speak, to be as wide as possible so he can consider candidates with intriguing backgrounds. He has hired people from the College Works Painting program where students run their own contracting businesses during the summer. Vargas also recruited someone who attended an SDR training boot camp for military veterans that Datanyze hosted with Sales Hacker.

“I look for people who are coachable – regardless of whether they have been in this kind of exact role before,” Vargas said. “I want people who can grow and who want to do more.”

Eric Gonzalez, the senior manager of sales development at Glassdoor, said he doesn’t necessarily look for SDRs in unusual places. But he also doesn’t discount candidates who have unusual backgrounds. One of his SDRs was a golf course assistant superintendent and another had been a professional poker player. But just like that car wash employee Birkett once hired, both had strong academic backgrounds and then stood out in the interview process.

“What I look for is: Can this SDR tell a good story?” Gonzalez said. “Are they able to communicate how this ‘different’ background led them to want to be in sales? I always feel there is a story to tell and as salespeople, we are paid to tell stories. I like candidates who can display that in the interview process.”

Caelum Shove, the business development manager at Extole, agrees that being able to share compelling stories is vital for an SDR – including the ability to tell their own tale. Nothing at a startup is going to be completely polished, Shove added, and that should include the resume of a potential SDR.

That’s why he has a succinct answer to the question of where he looks for talent.

“I’d say anywhere,” Shove said.

Don’t forget to register for the webinar to learn more about how to find great sales development talent.

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