How to Build an SDR Team: The Traits to Look For & Strategy to Follow

January 21, 2016

At KiteDesk, we get to work with and observe some of the best SDR teams in the country. We’ve been able to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t.

But, before I talk about building the SDR team, there are a couple of prerequisites; you can’t build a team without a strong scaffolding in place.

The Scaffolding for Your SDR Team

First, you must have a basic sales process that your team follows. It doesn’t have to be confining and rigid, but without formalized sales steps, you’ll be putting your leads into the hands of inexperienced salespeople. Your people should know the steps to a typical sale to give them the best odds of success. (This process is less intimidating than you think, here’s a good resource from Sales Benchmark Index).

The second prerequisite to hiring is having a hiring process in place. Again, this doesn’t have to be super detailed, but it’s important to hire your team using the a common set of steps and analytics. This means thinking through a way to systematize by:

  • Asking candidates the same questions and scoring numerically by their answer, e.g., using a 1-10 score
  • Identifying desirable traits and rating them by strength of these traits, using a numerical score
  • Finding ways to rate candidates on categories that don’t lend themselves to a numerical score (e.g., +1 for more than x years of experience; +1 for extraordinary communication or writing skills, etc.)

This way, when several people are interviewing candidates, there’s a common language used for assessment and it’s easier to make decisions logically rather than just on a “gut feeling.”

With these two critical components in place, it will be much easier to proceed with team building. As you interview and make decisions, these are three traits I think are most important:

The Golden Triangle of SDR Traits

1. A Need to Achieve — We look for people who like to set goals, reach them, and then set higher goals. Good SDRs are ambitious and self-driven.

2. A Competitive Spirit — You want to uncover, with your questions, the sacrifices they’ve made as they went for a win or vied to earn something important in their life. Dig deep into their competitive spirit and get them to reveal the role it plays in their success.

3. An Optimistic Nature — If they wilt at the first rejection, then their optimism isn’t high enough for the role. Great SDRs let rejection roll off their back, take lessons from it, and move on to the next opportunity.

Building a Team: The Cohort Strategy

Depending on how large of a group you need, I recommend hiring at least three reps at a time and start them all on the same day, making sure that they all have the same onboarding experience, that their compensation plan is the same, and that the “total opportunity” for each of them is the same.

I call this the Cohort Strategy. (In statistics and demography, a cohort is a group of individuals who have shared a particular event together during a particular time span).

Why three? Statistically, you have to expect that at least one of them is not going to make it. This leaves two — and you want those two to compete like mad with each other. Starting everyone at the same time makes it easy for you. At KiteDesk, we’re aggressively building our sales team and recently added five new people at the same time. In one case, we created an offer letter on Saturday for the person to start Monday. It pays to get things done strategically and efficiently when it comes to building a team – it shows that you are committed to making things happen and sets the right tone for new hires.

The Relevance of Sales Segmentation

I feel strongly that hiring the right people in a startup is even more important than in a larger company, because a small team runs lean and can ill afford expensive missteps. Sales Development is a strong segment of sales hiring, and acquiring the right SDRs has gotten way more competitive lately.

Keep in mind that the SDR is a relatively new role that requires thoughtful change around hiring practices. SDR leaders are looking for a new generation of sales professionals whose needs (and skillsets) will define sales departments’ architecture for many years to come.


Sean Burke is CEO at <a href="">KiteDesk</a>. He is a seasoned sales and marketing executive -- and an evangelist for smarter sales prospecting.