So you’ve been hired as a sales development representative. Congratulations! It’s a grind, but the job lays the foundation for a successful future career in sales.
In your first 100 days, you’ll learn hundreds of things -- your company’s value proposition, what a good fit customer looks like, and how to prospect efficiently, just to name a few. My first sales role was as an SDR, and I’ve since made over 100,000 prospecting calls. The lessons I learned from that first job have served me well ever since, and I’m now a sales manager.
The early days of being an SDR can feel like drinking from a fire hose, so take a step back and set attainable goals. It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be fully up and running in your first couple of weeks.
This can be difficult for competitive, successful, young professionals to accept. But instead of getting frustrated early on, you need to prioritize what’s essential for you to master. The following checklist contains the skills you need to hone and milestones you need to reach during your first 100 days on the job.
1) Set expectations with your manager.
Your manager is there to help advance your career, as well as offer coaching and resources for professional development. Here are some of the questions you should ask during your one-on-ones:
- My career goals are X, Y, and Z. What do I need to do to achieve them?
- Given our previous conversations, what are you looking to see out of me?
- What are the qualitative and quantitative metrics I’ll be judged on?
- What are the indicators that I’m ready for my next role?
- Who are the best SDRs and reps at our organization? What makes them successful?
The key to a productive relationship with your manager is to do more than just show up to your meetings. Make sure you’re bringing questions, challenges, or points of discussion. After all, your manager can’t help you if they don’t know where you’re struggling. Come to your one-on-one meetings with the top three items you think you’re mastering, and your top three challenges.
2) Find mentors in your organization.
Part of your discussion with your manager should be about finding professional mentors. Ask for multiple suggestions -- I set up all the SDRs on my team with more than one potential mentor because there’s no guarantee the SDR will click with the one I arbitrarily assign. Most recently, I connected an SDR on my team with four mentors, and the last pairing was the best fit.
Be proactive and let your manager know if a match is or isn’t working out -- the more feedback you provide, the better they’ll be able to help you succeed.
3) Establish a good cadence with the salesperson you’re booking meetings for.
You might be prospecting for multiple salespeople, or you might be booking meetings for just one. Sit down with them to understand their expectations. How thoroughly do they want you to qualify prospects before handing them off?
It might be helpful to set regular weekly one-on-ones with your reps. Like in your manager one-on-ones, you should be proactive about surfacing areas where you want to improve.
Your manager should have communicated what metrics they’re using to measure your performance such as activity volume or qualified meetings booked per day, week, or month. Ask your reps for advice on areas where you’re getting stuck. What obstacles are you having hitting those goals? Are there objections you’ve heard multiple times that you’re having trouble answering? Don’t be afraid to use your rep as a resource.
4) Shadow calls effectively.
In your first few weeks, listen in on sales reps’ and other SDRs’ calls. Make sure you’re not just passively sitting there -- actively listen and take notes on the following:
- Objections you hear and how the rep handles then
- Sound bites you’ve never heard before that you can leverage in your own calls
- What’s resonating with the prospect
- Indicators that the prospect is a good or bad fit
- What went well, and what you think the SDR or rep could have done differently -- a simple good/bad column format is highly effective
Afterwards, debrief with the person you’re shadowing. Compare notes and ask questions. How did they think the call went? Does their perception match up with yours? Why did they handle certain objections the way they did? The more you can pick their brain, the better.
5) Get comfortable picking up the phone.
In your first few weeks on the phones, you will make mistakes. But the quicker you fail, the quicker you’ll succeed.
The more calls you make, the more objections you’ll hear. Write down every objection you encounter in a spreadsheet and crowdsource your team’s best practices in handling them. Then, leverage what you’ve learned in future calls.
You’re simply not going to be comfortable speaking with prospects until you’re used to doing it regularly, so get your reps in and learn from your mistakes.
6) Prioritize your time.
Over my years in sales, I’ve found the best times to reach prospects are 8:30 - 10 a.m., 12 p.m. - 1 p.m., and 4:30 - 6:30 p.m. local time. Monday mornings tend to be terrible for sales calls because prospects are getting ready for the week, while Tuesdays, Thursdays, and early afternoon on Fridays are far better days.
Ask your manager and sales reps when they have the most success calling, then block out those times on your calendar and hold yourself accountable to making calls during those time blocks. Save your prospecting and research for off hours.
Work during times that align with your territory’s local time zones. I tell the SDRs on my team who sell into California not to come into the office before 11 a.m. EST. You’ll get burned out before you reach the prime calling hours on the West Coast, and it’ll be evident on the phone.
7) Define what trigger events help you find good-fit prospects.
The most effective trigger events vary by industry and territory, so get creative when you’re sourcing new prospects. Some triggers that I’ve seen SDRs have success with include:
- A new hire within the department you sell into, or a hire in a related department indicating a strategic shift
- A change in the C-suite
- New product releases
- A former customer getting a job at a new target account
- Funding rounds
8) Find the sweet spot between under- and over-qualification.
Ensure that you’re not under-or over-qualifying prospective customers on your connect calls. The former can lead to wasting an hour of your sales rep’s time. The latter can lead to lost opportunities if you’re spending too much time researching each prospect.
You need to strike the balance between understanding a prospect’s business model and not overinvesting time. Five minutes of research per company is acceptable when you’re first getting started. Once you master calling, you’ll be able to spend less than one minute on a prospect and still have a productive and meaningful conversation. Of course, this depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to.
You don’t need to learn every single thing about a prospect before you pick up the phone, and trying to do so will eat up your time. An indicator that you’re spending too much time on research is happening is your activity level dipping far below what your manager expects.
On the flip side, you might not be doing enough research. If you’re making 100 dials a day and booking one meeting, you need to take a step back and refine your calling strategy. Reexamine the time of day you’re making calls, how much due diligence you’re doing for each prospect, who your target contacts are, and so on.
Making a large volume of calls so you have data to review is one of the best ways to understand if you’re falling into either one of these potholes. Record all of your calls and review them with your mentors and manager.
9) Get comfortable disqualifying prospects.
One of the biggest mistakes newer SDRs make is to try to book meetings with everybody they connect with. On the flip side, they’ll also allow prospects to disqualify themselves.
During your first three months, train yourself to understand what’s a valid objection and what’s not. Learn to differentiate between a prospect trying to disqualify themselves and a true red flag.
If it turns out that a prospect isn’t a good fit right now, thank them for their time and wrap the relationship professionally. Offer to send some resources and advise them to follow up if something changes and a conversation is warranted. You’ll save yourself and your rep time in the long run if you only set meetings with prospects who can actually become customers.
(Not comfortable with qualification yet? Use this disqualification checklist to help you.)
If you want a career in sales, then an SDR role is the best way to get your sea legs. You’ll gain perseverance and the confidence to bounce back from rejection quickly. The knowledge you’ll gain from your reps and managers will be invaluable when it’s your responsibility to run product demonstrations and close deals on your own.
Master these nine fundamentals and you’ll be on the promotion track in no time.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.