What Makes a Great Manager, According to 60 SDRs

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Mihir Deo
Mihir Deo



Over the past month, I’ve surveyed more than 60 sales development reps (SDRs) from 40 companies about what makes a great SDR manager. There are many articles on this topic written from the manager’s perspective, but oddly, there are very few from the SDR’s point of view. 

how anonymous SDRs define a stellar sales manager

I’ve distilled the feedback I received from these SDRs into the four major characteristics of a stellar manager. 

Note: The SDRs surveyed have on average 8-18 months of experience, which makes sense as most people only spend two to three years in this role. The majority work at B2B SaaS technology companies and sell to a wide variety of industries and prospects, from decision-makers at large agricultural farms to IT managers at small businesses. 

1) A Great SDR Manager Has Experience in the SDR Role

Direct experience was by far the number one thing most SDRs wanted in their managers, with over 90% of the respondents mentioning this. SDRs want someone who’s empathetic to the trials and tribulations of the SDR job because she’s been in their shoes.

“It’s really hard to take coaching from someone who hasn’t done the job before,” said one SDR from a Fortune 500 company. 

This qualification can be tough to meet. The modern-day SDR role is drastically different than the SDR role was 15 to 20 years ago, so some managers may not have equivalent experiences to their SDRS. However, even though the tools are different today, prospecting and qualifying have been around as long as selling has existed. If you’re an SDR manager, emphasize the most relevant experience you have.

2) They’re a Team Member and a Manager

SDRs want someone who will roll up her sleeves and help them get the job done rather than tell them what to do all the time. 

As Jeff Cuaron, a BDR at Zuora put it: “ [A great SDR manager is] someone that will get on the phone with the team, one that never stops prospecting and can find new accounts to target.”

This willingness to get their hands dirty and sit and help the team reach its quota is something that a wide range of SDRs said they value and admire in an SDR manager. It’s a challenging job, and they appreciate their manager taking on some of the pain! 

3) They’re Transparent

Transparency is huge when it comes to successfully managing SDRs.

About 75% of SDRs surveyed ranked transparency in the top three qualities that they want in their manager. 

“If I’m about to be fired or am not doing well at my job, I’d rather know ahead of time than be surprised,” said one SDR. 

When SDRs ask questions like, “How am I doing?”, they expect a straightforward, transparent, and honest account of their progress and whether they are meeting or exceeding expectations. 

Transparency about the sales organization’s health is also incredibly important to SDRs. 

They care about how the business is doing overall, and how their contribution fits into the picture.

To make SDRs feel like a valued part of the team despite always being on the front lines, consistently give them detailed insights.

4) They’re Invested in their SDRs’ Career Growth

I think all managers should care about and support their reports’ career goals. However, it’s particularly critical when managing SDRs. Many recent college graduates take on this position, often unsure whether they want to work in sales long term or not. 

It’s therefore unsurprising SDRs said they want their managers to help them pursue their career objectives, whether they want to become a quota-carrying salesperson, account executive (AE), or something else entirely.

Sometimes, this is tough on the manager; after all, some organizations expect that the SDR team to be pipeline of quality candidates into closing roles. 

But the worst thing that you can do as a manager is to force your SDR into a career they’re not truly interested in. Just like pressuring a bad-fit prospect, this will only end in churn (i.e. high employee turnover) down the line. Keep SDRs motivated to succeed by identifying what makes them tick and outlining a potential career path -- even if it’s not the traditional SDR-to-AE one.

SDRs are vitally important to an organization's revenue, as well as its future sales leadership. Invest in your SDRs now to reap dividends months and years down the line.

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