Most SDRs Fail or Burn Out. Here's How to Fix That

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Brian Trautschold
Brian Trautschold


The sales development rep (SDR) is the most overlooked, misunderstood, and mistreated professional in modern B2B sales and marketing organizations. That is not an opinion. It’s objective fact.

Ever since Predictable Revenue sent the general B2B sales community into its current evolution -- characterized by segmented sales roles, massive activity volume, and tightly measured metrics -- the industry has struggled to properly grasp, implement and appreciate the sales development function. More importantly, it’s failed to appreciate the people operating in the role.

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SDR Burnout and High Turnover: The Ongoing Epidemic

Ambition’s core mission is keeping front-line sales professionals focused, inspired, and goal-oriented by bringing clarity and transparency to sales performance -- not just at the managerial level, but at the rep level as well.

One of our most popular use cases is sales development teams at high-growth organizations like Birst and Outreach. Working day in and day out with sales leaders has given me an up-close-and-personal-view at the ongoing challenges facing SDRs: Burnout, attrition, and disengagement.

These are far from trivial. The costs of running a high-turnover, high-burnout sales development team can quickly multiply and cripple growth instead of driving it.

Unhappy SDRs are less active prospectors, less effective communicators, and less likely to deliver long-term return-on-investment. Accumulating burnt-out SDRs is a surefire way to build a negative culture, bottom-line and the overall outlook of your sales organization.

Top 3 Solutions to Prevent SDR Burnout

I repeatedly hear that in every sales development team, there is an unspoken agreement between the hiring manager and each front-line rep. “Trust the process” … and you’ll be moving onto a more enjoyable, lucrative role very soon.

Unfortunately, most orgs don’t have a clearly defined path to move from SDR to Account Executive (AE) or more advanced selling position.

So for reps, the “apprentice” period can seem endless and promotions can seem ad hoc.

That lack of clearly defined “graduation” causes a chain reaction of problems to an already extremely challenging role: Lack of clear development, frustration, more demands from management, more frustration, less training than expected, and finally, burnout.


Source: Learn Agile Sales

Typically, this experience breaks down because of poor expectations and training, followed by short-term SDR buy-in and lack of coaching at the manager level. In other words, the same things that separate the Caliparis and Sabans of college sports from their less-accomplished counterparts.

The good news: There are easy solutions you can implement today to keep SDRs engaged and continually progressing, as well as feel appreciated and important. Here are my top three strategies with insights from the LinkedIn sales community’s response to this exact question.

1) Track small wins.

"We only celebrate the close. But there are so many other small wins! What if we celebrated:

  • Getting someone to call us back?
  • Engaging a decision maker in a conversation over two minutes?
  • Finding the right decision maker?
  • Qualifying out leads and accounts?
  • Setting follow up appointments?

These are all leading indicators of success and great chances to coach, celebrate, and feel successful. Small wins celebrated equals a team of bad-ass SDRs!"

-Lauren Bailey, president of Factor 8

"Give SDRs time during demos to actually run color commentary, then lead parts of the demo, then own parts of the sales cycle, then close their first deal. Progression is important. We tend to treat SDRs like monkeys: "50 calls per day, five leads per week, etc." Recognize their value, and publicly. Nobody wants to tell their friends they’re a cold-caller. It's a bottom feeder role in sales -- at least that's the perception. Change the optics of the role through the above [tactics], and [SRS] will stick longer.

Finally, people don't leave jobs, they leave people. I've often found that the worst SDR team leaders lack empathy (perhaps because their bosses once lacked empathy toward them). Find people who inspire and value the ideas of the team."

-Kris Hartvigsen, founder at Dooly

2) Make sure there's a clear advancement path.

"Being the first externally-hired SDR at VersionOne, this [question is] close to my heart. Here are a few things I feel made our initial SDR team successful:

  1. Clear career path; no false promises.
  2. Continuous improvement promoted within the team.
  3. True understanding of the problem the company is solving."

-Mohammed Khalid, principal solutions engineer at BetterCloud

"SDR burnout and turnover comes from not feeling appreciated. It’s all about “the close” -- but every day SDRs generate revenue, just not in the form of a "close." As the manager, a large part of my job is taking the temperature of my team each day and helping turn up the heat through coaching and encouragement.

Having a clear career path is extremely important in quickly ramping individual players, knowing they can be promoted to Senior SDR and play a larger role in decision making, training, and ultimately their career path, keeps them focused on the end result and less on the here and now."

-Lynda Vesy, sales development manager at Wombat Security Technologies

3) Integrate them into the broader sales organization.

"In the Boston area, we are seeing a massive increase in the amount of open SDR positions, making it easier for SDRs to job hop if they so choose. Besides throwing dollars at the problem, I think the best way to fix this is through creating the right culture and allowing reps that are hitting quota or on pace to earn flexible working hours or work from home days, so your top performers aren’t burning out and will value the environment they are working in. This may also push under performers to want to get in that position as well, so it helps directly and indirectly."

-Mike Coscina, inside sales manager at demandDrive

"I think it would benefit efficiency to see more roles touch the entire sales cycle (talking B2B SaaS here). This is very ambitious, I know, as some sales can be long and extremely complex.

However, being involved in proposals and closes undoubtedly makes SDRs better prospectors, qualifiers, and closers. There are non-risky ways to approach this (less risky than uplifting your sales team structure or risking a new hire on a totally new idea), but they require some creativity.

Even post-sale, experiencing what account managers or up-sellers do can have a profound effect on being a better SDR, AE, or whatever the pre-close role is. At a minimum, it will increase their motivation."

-Thomas Wolfe, director of North America at Switch Software Solutions

SDR success is incumbent upon you: Sales leaders. Get creative and innovative. Develop agile and efficient sales management strategies to engage your entire team. Arm your team with the strategies and processes they deserve to reach maximum altitude.



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