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4 Steps to Hire a World-Class Sales Development Team

More and more businesses are employing sales development representatives, or SDRs, to act as the glue between Sales and Marketing. As your company grows in size and your number of inbound leads increases, your quota-carrying reps will find it increasingly difficult to balance prospecting, qualifying, and closing.

A sales development team takes some of the prospecting and qualifying burden off your quota-carrying reps’ shoulders. But its grander purpose is to become a training ground for your sales organization. It’s a place for your SDRs to prove they can become quota-carrying reps and should feed new reps into your organization every year. 

SDRs qualify and disqualify leads, source new prospects, and tee up meetings for sales reps. As Director of Global Sales Development at HubSpot, I’ve learned a few lessons about how to build out a top-notch SDR team. Here are four essential steps to take to get started.

4 Steps to Build a World-Class Sales Development Team

1) Build the perfect candidate profile.

When hiring SDRs, you’ll probably be reviewing many resumes from candidates who’ve just graduated or have only been in the job market for one or two years. Talent is more important than experience (see #2), so define the personality traits you’re looking for.

Look for traits that will make someone good at sales. You can coach SDRs on their specific job functions; you can’t teach a natural aptitude for sales. The characteristics I look for are:

  • Desire to pursue sales as a career
  • A track record of achievement
  • Goal-oriented
  • Naturally curious
  • Strong aptitude
  • “Get stuff done” factor
  • Competitive nature

You have to craft interview questions that can quantify the presence of these attributes. Many interviewers get distracted by what I call the “woo” factor -- a candidate who says impressive-sounding things about their work ethic or talent, but can’t prove it. A grading rubric removes some of this bias.

One of my favorite questions to ask is “What’s the one thing you’re most proud of in your lifetime?”

A good answer demonstrates that the candidate can tell a succinct story and describes a real accomplishment, such as starting a sales club in college and bringing in outside speakers. A bad answer would be something like, “I really enjoyed the semester I spent studying abroad” -- that’s not an achievement.

2) Prioritize talent over experience.

When hiring young professionals, experience shouldn’t be the only thing you screen for. It’s far more important to source people who can become A players, groom them in your company, and prepare them for future career success. If you hire the right SDRs and train them well, you’ll be able to maintain a consistent hiring plan for your organization in the long run while training talented reps for the future.

When evaluating talent, I look for two things: aptitude and character.

When testing aptitude, I look at a candidate’s academic record and their business aptitude. For example, one question I’ll ask is: “Given that a company sells X product, who should they target?” We also use roleplays to test situational skills and provide on-the-spot criticism to evaluate candidate coachability and ability to incorporate feedback.

To spot character, look for involvement. A candidate who was an athlete or has worked in a team environment is promising. Success in those environments requires coachability, time management, and a competitive nature -- all characteristics which serve SDRs well.

As a test of personality fit, I level with candidates about what the day-to-day of their jobs will be like. I give them the good, the bad, and the ugly about HubSpot and watch their reaction. The best candidates perk up and view it as a challenge, while others might seem intimidated -- a bad sign.

I also look for involvement in extracurriculars and academic achievements. Did they do more than they had to? Did they commit to activities and stick with them? Consistent commitments demonstrate that a candidate is good at picking activities they enjoy and will step up to get things done.

3) Recruit talent from colleges and universities.

There are a few reasons why I think hiring managers should be eager to recruit new graduates.

  1. They come in without any bad habits. Many sales organizations have a prescriptive methodology that will differ from yours -- you should be spending time training and shaping your SDR’s routines, not prying them out of entrenched practices.
  2. They’re in learning mode. New graduates are fresh out of school, and are used to absorbing and applying new information. Their professional careers are just starting, and you won’t have a better opportunity to shape the way they think about business and sales.
  3. The cost basis is lower. Hiring someone with 10 years of experience is going to cost you far more than hiring a 22-year-old -- there’s no way around it. Hiring the wrong experienced candidate will cost you even more.

The biggest fear hiring managers have about recruiting millennials as SDRs is that they’ll discover that sales isn’t for them. But this is something you can suss out in the interview stage, using the following questions:

  • What are your career goals? If you hear anything other than “sales manager” or “sales rep,” this is a dealbreaker.
  • Why do you want to be a sales professional? Of course, some candidates will say they want to be in sales despite being unsure of their future goals. The answer to this question should confirm their commitment to sales and provide a coherent explanation. Not being able to tell their story is a huge red flag.
  • Why do you feel you’ll enjoy sales? If your candidate will like connecting with prospects, you won’t have to crack the whip. You can’t outsmart a lack of motivation, so make sure your candidates will truly enjoy doing their jobs.
  • Where else are you interviewing? Listen for organizations that are similar to yours or at least have similar sales positions. A candidate interviewing to be a recruiter at Company X, a copywriter at Company Y, and an SDR at your company is a candidate who doesn’t have a real commitment to sales. Pass on them.

To establish a presence on college campuses, you’ll have to demystify sales, demonstrating to students that sales in your industry is a viable and lucrative career option. Start local, and create strong relationships with career services professionals on campuses -- they need to be your new best friends. Hold events on campus to build your company’s brand -- it won’t happen by itself. Take advantage of career fairs and campus job boards as well.

4) Always be interviewing.

Whether you’re in charge of building an SDR organization from the ground up or scaling an existing program, your number one priority should be to create a hiring plan. What headcount will you need to start, six months from now? How much attrition do you expect in your SDR team? How many will be promoted to sales and need to be replaced?

Stay in constant communication with other sales managers so you know when they’re planning on promoting people or will have spots open on their teams, and hire ahead. If you know that Joe Sales Rep is going to switch teams or become a manager in October, have someone trained to take his seat by then so you won’t be stuck with a one or two-month productivity gap.

A common pitfall of interviewing is that managers can start hiring for themselves. While chemistry is certainly important, hiring for culture fit within your organization is a higher priority than having one manager and one SDR hit it off.

It’s also crucial to view interviewing as an investment. You need to set aside budget specifically for recruiting, whether it’s hiring a recruiter or money for recruiting visits -- just make sure you have the resources to keep your candidate pipeline full.

Once your company reaches a certain size, an SDR team is invaluable to keeping your larger sales organization running smoothly. Hire and train the right people and your SDR group will pay dividends for you for years to come. 

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