Typically, product-led SaaS companies start their demand generation motion with a 100% inbound model, majorly driven by content and performance marketing.
As organizations get to the next phase, moving from pre-seed to seed-stage or Series A, they start streamlining their inbound efforts and build a team of Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) for outbound efforts.
According to a Bridge Group survey of 406 B2B SaaS businesses, ~60% have an in-house SDR team. If you exclude companies below $5M in revenue, 67% have an SDR team. Amongst those with an ACV (annual contract value) above $100k, that number jumps to 89%.
But does an SDR team only work on outbound efforts? Aren’t there gaps in the inbound processes where your SDR team can play a key role in bridging the gaps?
So, the key question is—what to expect from your SDRs? How to hire and build a strong SDR team?
Through this post—we’ll try to lay out our journey and experience of defining the expectations from the SDR role, how we go about hiring our SDR team, what to look for when hiring SDRs, and our learning along the way.
But first, let’s establish a common ground on defining the role of SDRs and why they are key.
Role of SDRs and why do you need them?
Sales Development Reps (SDRs) typically tend to be professionals in their early-career stage whose primary focus is to build a healthy and consistent revenue pipeline for the organization. They typically acquire or qualify opportunities and schedule meetings for Account Executives (AEs) who demo the product to these qualified prospects and eventually close the deal.
There are several debates and schools of thought regarding the SDR role. However, here is a couple we often come across most often:
- Should SDRs qualify the inbound opportunities? Or should they primarily focus on creating opportunities by going outbound?
- Who should do the discovery? Is that the role of SDR, or should it be done by an AE?
And we at Avoma have a point of view on this debate.
SDRs can start inbound and transition to outbound
Many growing companies don't necessarily have the budget or scope to hire sales and business development teams separately. So they start by forming a sales development team that starts with inbound prospecting and gradually moves upstream to focus on outbound opportunities as the company's requirements for new opportunities grow.
At Avoma, we are still at the former stage. Of course, your mileage may vary. But for the scope of keeping things simple, let’s talk about SDRs as a team that owns the inbound and outbound sales efforts both.
But let’s be clear about one thing—being a product-led organization doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go outbound.
We need to understand that every opportunity created goes through an acquisition phase and a conversion phase.
So, we strongly believe that the role of an SDR isn’t about the typical BANT qualification of the trial signups and scheduled demos but rather offering sales assistance.
Here’s what a product-led and sales-assisted journey looks like:
When someone is trialing your product, people like to be left alone to experience the product (without the feeling of someone breathing behind their neck). At the same time, it’s important to have someone ready to assist them whenever the prospect needs help.
Why? It’s because some of them are hand-raisers who will reach out to your support team when they hit a wall, whereas others will leave without talking to anyone on your team.
This is where an SDR can reach out to those prospects and understand what they’re going through and (i) educate them to make the most of their trial, and (ii) Remove any possible friction in their journey.
Handling the inbound opportunities created and offering sales assistance is a great way to help your newly-hired SDRs understand your customer ecosystem and the problems your product solves for. This helps you ensure that you’re not dropping the ball on any prospect while giving them a great experience.
As your SDRs get into this process and understand your customer ecosystem, they can transition into going upstream and building the pipeline by going outbound.
The survey done by Bridegroup shows that as companies mature, they move from being heavy inbound organizations to heavily outbound. And that makes a lot of sense because going outbound gives you better control over the ticket size of deals coming into your pipeline.
Who should do the discovery? Should discovery and demo be separate?
From the prospects’ point of view, qualification-only calls offer a bad experience. If you look at it from the lens of modern SaaS—the prospect just expressed their interest and is eager to know about your product. They probably clicked on a call-to-action button that said: “Schedule a Demo.”
The prospects expect a demo to be scheduled and not an intermediary step where they are interrogated and then qualified.
While there is merit to running discovery and demo separately, it makes sense to do that only if you get a lot of junk leads. But in reality, the problem that most SaaS companies struggle with is—not having enough opportunities in their pipeline. So adding more friction in such cases is a self-sabotaging move that hurts your pipeline and, thereby, your conversions.
As long as your marketing and SDRs consistently generate the right kind of demand, i.e., accounts that fit your ideal customer profile, the conversion rates (signups/demos booked -> qualified opportunities -> closed-won deals) keep improving even as the pipeline continues to increase. So let the AEs do the discovery and demo as a show-and-tell conversation.
With that, let’s look at the process of hiring SDRs.
How to hire a Sales Development Rep (SDR)
The hiring process is the most important step in building a kick-ass SDR team. It starts with clarity on what you’re looking for in the person you hire. At Avoma, our hiring principles and processes continue to evolve as we onboard more new SDRs.
Our general hiring criteria
We at Avoma set a high standard when it comes to hiring. And that means we have a stringent process. We’re quite particular about the kind of people we want on our team. So while we have a clear process to assess the qualities we’re looking for, it is also important to realize that you cannot codify everything.
We are always looking for candidates willing to go above and beyond to ensure a great customer experience—be it the meticulousness of crafting an extra email, how the SDR follows up after their call and more.
The SDR hiring process at Avoma
As you can imagine, it all begins with clarity on the expectations of the role. We try to very clearly list the expectations from the role. For instance, we clearly list the roles and responsibilities and, more importantly, the kind of techstack experience we are looking for in a new hire.
Here’s an example of our job description:
It gets posted on all key job boards such as AngelList, LinkedIn, etc., which obviously brings in a flood of qualified and unqualified candidates.
And keep in mind, we at Avoma are 100% remote, so none of our interviews happen in person. Our process comes from a remote-first mindset. Our Sales Development Manager (SDM) gets involved right from the screening stage, helping our recruitment team make selections, build observations, and help them develop the eye to spot the kind of candidates that fit our bill.
At the same time, we also strongly believe and encourage the candidates to qualify us, our values, workstyle, and the organization's overall culture. We have a six-step interview process and here's how it looks:
1. Phone screening with the recruiter
First, our recruiter reaches out to the shortlisted candidates to have an exploratory phone conversation and identify if they’re interested. If they are, it becomes a two-way conversation where the recruiter looks to identify whether or not the SDR candidate has the qualities that we look for in a sales role and the candidate tries to evaluate their fit with us from their perspective. The candidates in this stage must exhibit creativity and a customer-first mentality.
2. Interview with the SDM
This conversation happens over a web conference tool—Zoom or Google Meet. Avoma joins the conversation to record, transcribe, analyze and offer interview intelligence for the rest of the hiring panel. It helps the hiring managers, recruiters and everyone involved in the interview panel to gain deeper visibility into the interview process, create smooth feedback loops between the panelists, and improve the overall recruitment process.
In this interview round, the SDM tries to get to know the candidate personally and learn what motivates them, inspires them, and how they think as a person. We believe that every candidate is more than the conversation that happens in a typical interview. So we’re trying to truly understand if both the hiring manager and the candidate are excited about the opportunity. A few key things we look for at this stage include:
- Their grit, i.e., how structured they are, how hard they might be willing to work, etc.
- Their current abilities and coachability
- Ability to think strategically
- Their tech stack experience
- Their IQ and EQ
- Ability to articulate
- If they ask meaningful questions, and more
Those who qualify and fit the criteria are greenlighted to the next level, where we share a take-home assignment with them.
3. SDR take-home assignment
Our take-home assignment typically includes:
- Writing a cold call script
- Writing a personalized email
- Building a prospecting list
- Doing a mock prospecting call with us
At this stage, we’re not expecting the candidate to get everything 100% right, but rather looking for the amount of effort the candidate puts into understanding the context, how much they take customer experience into consideration at each stage, etc.
All these conversations are recorded and transcribed in Avoma and our VP of Sales watches the recording to get enough context as part of the preparation for the next round interview with them.
4. Interview with the VP of Sales
Nathan Hymas, VP of Sales at Avoma is a treasure trove of sales knowledge and an amazing sales leader that people across the board enjoy working with. Before joining Avoma, Nathan was a customer of Avoma. With his 20+ years of experience in sales, what he looks for in the SDR candidates at this stage is:
- Whether they fit the culture, strike a balance between confident, assertive, and yet polite
- Can they grow within and with the company (by understanding the growth they want to take)
- If they have the right combination of mindset, skill, and knowledge
Once Nathan approves, it’s time for a conversation with Aditya Kothadiya, the CEO at Avoma.
5. Interview with the CEO
We love that Aditya, our CEO, is still involved in the SDR hiring process. As we build the core team, we need to be aligned in terms of the expectations from the candidate and the standards we set as a company in terms of every external-facing touch point. It’s tough to say the direction this interview round will take, but overall, Aditya is always looking for three fundamental aspects:
- Ability to create a great customer experience
- Value additions the candidate can make at each step of the prospecting process
- Tech stack and SaaS experience
But these are only a dipstick of the things he tends to look for. So, in case you stumbled on this article as part of your interview preparation for the round with Aditya, my guess on how the conversation would go is as good as yours. And once our CEO gives a thumbs up—you’re almost in!
6. Finally, a meeting with the HR and then offer roll out
This is the final stage, where the candidate meets Kelly Loudermilk, Head of HR at Avoma. Because we record every conversation, everyone across the board, including Kelly, has enough context about the candidate, which helps in the discussions from an HR perspective. Once that’s through, they have the last-mile discussions on the joining date, salary, and a few other logistical details. Finally, Kelly stamps her approval and releases the offer.
Remember, always hire two or more SDRs at a time
Given the investment and commitment that goes into building an SDR team, companies often hire one SDR and try to establish a working model before hiring a full-fledged SDR team. But in our experience, we’ve seen that hiring a minimum of two SDRs makes more sense as you create an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Like marketing campaigns, you want a point of comparison to understand what works, what KPIs to optimize for, and what kind of quotas to set. We’ve noticed that when you hire in tandem, SDRs support and push each other at each stage of their development.
Set up leader boards and dashboards for performance—but don’t reward and celebrate the numbers alone. Instead, celebrate and encourage the right habits.
We prioritize building the right habits over the emphasis on numbers because:
- Predictable revenue happens when you have a predictable pipeline.
- A predictable pipeline happens when you have a predictable and reliable SDR.
- Predictable SDRs have a predictable day/ calendar.
- A predictable day happens when you have a predictable routine/habits.
Have an onboarding roadmap to make your SDRs successful
Brandon Lawson, our Sales Development Manager, is a master of building processes. And, we can say with confidence that the sooner you build an onboarding map and a 90-day playbook, the better it is for your SDRs.
At Avoma, the onboarding process is almost waiting on the newly hired SDR’s desk to be kickstarted on the first day. It includes everything from scheduling introductory and overview meetings with stakeholders across the board to software access, weekly goals, and more.
In the next post, we will cover the details of how to onboard and accelerate the ramp-up of newly hired SDRs.
Finally, there’s always room for improvement
Through this post, we shared our hiring process and our point of view on how important we consider the SDR role. Our process works for us because it stems from our mistakes, experiences, and learnings along the way.
Though this process may inspire you, we highly recommend you tweak the SDR hiring process based on your needs.
Test our process and keep iterating it because there’s always something to improve.
On that note, we hope this was helpful. Feel free to reach out to any of us at Avoma; we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.