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What Makes a Great Sales Development Representative (SDR)? Key Traits and Skills to Look For

The Anatomy of a Successful Sales Development Rep: Key Skills and Traits

Did you know that the average tenure for SDRs is 14.2 months, with about 85% staying in the role for less than 18 months? With such a high turnover rate, it’s no wonder that hiring and retaining top SDR talent is a major challenge for many businesses.

Are you struggling to find the right SDR to drive your company’s growth?

In this ultimate guide, we'll reveal the secrets to recognizing and hiring the best SDRs. We'll cover the key skills and traits of top performers, offer tips for evaluating candidates, and share strategies for discovering them for your team. By the end, you'll be equipped with the insights needed to build a high-performing sales team that consistently delivers outstanding results.

What is a Sales Development Representative (SDR)?

A Sales Development Representative (SDR) is a vital member of a company's sales team, responsible for identifying, connecting with, and qualifying potential leads. They play a critical role in filling the sales pipeline with high-quality prospects, setting the stage for account executives to close deals. 

Also known as Sales Development Reps, Sales Development Associates, or Business Development Representatives (BDRs), SDRs are the first point of contact between a company and its potential customers. They focus on outbound prospecting, cold calling, and email outreach to generate interest and qualify leads based on specific criteria. 

The SDR role has evolved significantly in recent years, with the rise of new sales technologies and changing buyer behaviors. Today's SDRs must be tech-savvy, adaptable, and able to navigate a complex sales landscape to be successful.

Key Traits and Skills to Look for When Hiring an SDR

SDR success formula

When hiring an SDR, it's essential to look for candidates who possess a unique blend of skills and traits that enable them to thrive in this challenging role. While some of these skills can be taught, others are inherent qualities that are difficult to develop. Here are the key traits and skills to look for in your next SDR hire:

1. Strong communication abilities across multiple channels

Top-performing SDRs must be able to communicate effectively across various channels. They should be proficient in:

  • Phone conversations: SDRs spend a significant portion of their day on the phone, so they must be comfortable making cold calls and engaging prospects in meaningful discussions.

  • Email outreach: Writing compelling, personalized emails is crucial for SDRs to capture prospects' attention and generate interest.

  • Social media engagement: SDRs should be able to leverage social media platforms to research prospects, build relationships, and share relevant content.

SDRs should have excellent written and verbal communication skills, with the ability to craft compelling messages that resonate with their target audience. Look for candidates who are articulate, concise, and able to adapt their communication style to different personas.

2. Resilience and perseverance

The life of an SDR is filled with rejection and obstacles. Therefore, resilience and perseverance are essential traits for success in this role. Top performers possess:

  • Mental toughness to bounce back from setbacks

  • Maintain a positive attitude

  • Keep pushing forward

They view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than reasons to give up. Embracing this mindset ensures continuous improvement and lasting success.

3. Coachability and genuine desire to learn

Coachability and a genuine desire to learn are vital traits for SDRs. Great SDRs are lifelong learners, always eager to improve their skills and knowledge. They approach their role with a growth mindset, embracing feedback and new strategies. Look for candidates who:

  • Eagerly receive feedback and implement new strategies

  • Proactively ask questions and seek guidance

  • Show curiosity and genuine interest in their industry and craft

  • Take initiative to learn independently

Successful SDRs have an insatiable appetite for knowledge, constantly deepening their understanding of their industry, customers, and craft. They stay up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices, ensuring continuous growth and improvement.

4. Active listening and empathy

Contrary to popular belief, great sales isn't about talking; it's about listening. The best SDRs are active listeners, skilled at picking up on subtle cues and reading between the lines. They have a high degree of emotional intelligence, allowing them to empathize with prospects and tailor their approach accordingly.

Top SDRs excel at:

  • Picking up on subtle cues and reading between the lines

  • Demonstrating emotional intelligence and understanding prospects' needs

  • Tailoring their approach based on each prospect's unique situation

Look for candidates who showcase strong listening skills and the ability to build rapport with others. These qualities help them connect with prospects and address their needs effectively.

5. Confidence and assertiveness

Engaging with prospects and holding their attention requires a certain level of confidence and assertiveness. Top SDRs are comfortable initiating conversations, asking probing questions, and articulating value propositions. They project an air of credibility and expertise, even when facing skepticism or objections.

Great SDRs are:

  • Comfortable initiating conversations and asking probing questions

  • Able to articulate value propositions clearly and persuasively

  • Capable of projecting credibility and expertise, even in the face of objections

Seek candidates who possess a healthy level of self-assurance and the ability to communicate with conviction. These qualities ensure they can effectively engage prospects and convey value.

6. Self-motivation and drive

In a fast-paced sales environment, SDRs must be self-starters, capable of working independently and maintaining high levels of productivity. They should be intrinsically motivated to consistently prospect, follow up with leads, and push through difficult periods to meet their goals. Look for candidates who are:

  • Intrinsically motivated to consistently prospect and follow up with leads

  • Capable of working independently and pushing through challenging periods

  • Committed to meeting and exceeding their goals, even without constant oversight

Prioritize candidates who exhibit a strong work ethic and the ability to thrive in autonomous roles. These qualities ensure they can maintain momentum and achieve success even in demanding conditions.

7. Ability to handle objections and think on their feet

Top-performing SDRs view objections as opportunities to learn and refine their approach. They can think quickly, adapt their messaging, and find creative solutions to move conversations forward.

Look for candidates who:

  • View objections as opportunities to learn and refine their approach

  • Can adapt their messaging and find creative solutions in real-time

  • Remain composed and articulate under pressure

Top SDRs are able to think on their feet and navigate challenging conversations with ease. These skills ensure they can effectively address concerns and keep the conversation moving towards a positive outcome.

8. Time management and prioritization skills

With a high volume of leads to contact and follow up with, SDRs must be masters of time management and organization. They should be able to prioritize their activities, work efficiently, and stay on top of their pipeline.

Effective SDRs are able to:

  • Prioritize their activities based on importance and urgency

  • Work efficiently and make the most of their time

  • Stay organized and maintain a clear overview of their pipeline

Seek candidates who demonstrate the ability to manage competing priorities and maintain productivity in a fast-paced environment. These skills ensure they can handle their workload effectively and achieve their targets.

9. Tech-savviness and comfort with sales tools

In today's digital age, SDRs rely heavily on technology to do their jobs. They should be comfortable using:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to track and manage lead data

  • Sales engagement platforms to automate and optimize outreach efforts

  • Social selling tools to identify and engage with prospects online

  • Video conferencing and screen sharing software for remote demos and meetings

Look for candidates who are tech-savvy and quick to adapt to new tools and platforms. These skills ensure they can leverage technology to enhance their productivity and efficiency.

10. Relevant experience and proven track record

Relevant experience and a proven track record are critical traits for top-performing SDRs. While a wide range of skills and characteristics contribute to an SDR's success, experience is one of the most reliable predictors of strong performance in the role.

Key qualifications for top-performing SDRs include:

  • Two or more years of sales experience, with a history of exceeding lead targets

  • Previous experience as an SDR, with a track record of achieving sales quotas

  • Bachelor's degree or equivalent relevant work experience

Candidates who bring this level of experience to the table are well-equipped to navigate the challenges of the SDR role, from high-volume prospecting to objection handling and closing. They can also serve as mentors and role models for less experienced team members, helping to raise the bar for performance across the entire sales development function.

Evaluating SDR Candidates: Tips for Identifying Top Performers

SDR candidate checklist

Once you have a pool of candidates who possess the key traits and skills outlined above, it's time to evaluate their potential through a comprehensive hiring process. Here are some tips to help you identify top performers:

1. Conduct a thorough, multi-stage interview process

Start with an initial phone screening to assess basic qualifications and gauge the candidate's communication skills and enthusiasm. Invite promising candidates to participate in a series of in-depth interviews, including:

  • Behavioral interviews: Ask candidates to share specific examples of how they've handled challenges, overcame objections, and contributed to successful sales outcomes in the past. Look for evidence of the key traits and skills you're seeking.

  • Role-playing exercises: Simulate real-world sales scenarios to evaluate candidates' ability to think on their feet, handle objections, and articulate value propositions. This will give you a glimpse into how they might perform on the job.

  • Panel interviews: Involve multiple team members in the interview process to get diverse perspectives and ensure the candidate is a good fit for your team and company culture.

2. Leverage assessments and data-driven insights

Incorporate objective assessments into your hiring process to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each candidate's strengths, weaknesses, and potential. Consider using:

  • Sales aptitude assessments: These tests evaluate a candidate's natural sales abilities, such as persuasion, relationship-building, and closing skills. Popular options include the Sales Aptitude Test (SAT), Sales Personality Assessment (SPA), and the Objective Management Group (OMG) Sales Assessment.

  • Personality and behavioral assessments: Tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC, and Predictive Index (PI) can provide insights into a candidate's communication style, work preferences, and potential fit with your team and company culture.

  • Cognitive ability tests: Assessments like the Wonderlic Personnel Test and the Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test (CCAT) measure problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to learn and adapt.

When using assessments, consider them as one data point in the overall evaluation process, rather than the sole determining factor. Combine assessment results with interview performance, reference checks, and other relevant information to make a well-rounded hiring decision.

3. Evaluate performance and relevant experience

While past performance isn't always indicative of future success, it's still essential to evaluate candidates' track records and relevant experience. Look for:

  • Quantifiable achievements: Has the candidate consistently met or exceeded quota in previous roles? Have they received awards or recognition for their sales performance?

  • Relevant industry experience: Candidates with experience selling to similar target audiences or in related industries may have a shorter learning curve and be able to ramp up more quickly.

  • Proven success in lead generation and qualification: Look for evidence of the candidate's ability to prospect, engage, and qualify leads effectively. Ask for specific examples and metrics.

  • Formal sales training and certifications: While not a requirement, completion of sales training programs or certifications can demonstrate a candidate's commitment to professional development and their dedication to the craft.

In addition to these factors, consider the candidate's potential for growth and development within your organization. Look for individuals who are eager to learn, open to feedback, and have a clear path for advancement within your sales team.

4. Assess culture fit and alignment with company values

Beyond skills and experience, it's crucial to evaluate how well a candidate aligns with your company's culture and values. SDRs are often the first point of contact with potential customers, so they must embody your brand and represent your company in a positive light.

Consider the following when assessing culture fit:

  • Shared values: Does the candidate demonstrate the same core values as your organization, such as integrity, collaboration, and customer-centricity?

  • Work style and preferences: Does the candidate's preferred work environment and communication style align with your company's norms and expectations?

  • Passion and enthusiasm: Does the candidate exhibit genuine excitement about your company's mission, products, and services?

  • Team dynamics: How well does the candidate interact with other team members during the interview process? Do they contribute to a positive, collaborative atmosphere?

While a perfect culture fit may not always be possible, prioritizing candidates who share your company's values and vision can lead to higher job satisfaction, better performance, and lower turnover rates.

5. Conduct thorough reference checks

Before extending an offer to an SDR candidate, take the time to conduct thorough reference checks. Reach out to former managers, colleagues, and direct reports to gain a more complete picture of the candidate's strengths, weaknesses, and overall performance.

Some key questions to ask during reference checks include:

  • How would you describe the candidate's work ethic and attitude?

  • What are their greatest strengths and areas for improvement?

  • How did they handle challenges or setbacks in their role?

  • Would you recommend this candidate for an SDR position? Why or why not?

Listen carefully to the feedback provided and look for patterns or consistencies across multiple references. While no candidate is perfect, reference checks can help you make a more informed decision and avoid potential hiring mistakes.

Considerations for Hiring Remote SDRs

remote SDR traits

With the rise of remote work, many companies are now hiring SDRs who will work remotely, either part-time or full-time. While the core traits and skills remain the same, there are some additional considerations when hiring remote SDRs:

1. Self-motivation and discipline

Remote SDRs must be able to manage their time effectively, stay focused, and maintain high levels of productivity without the structure and oversight of a traditional office environment. Look for candidates who:

  • Have a proven track record of thriving in remote or autonomous roles

  • Are able to maintain high levels of productivity without direct supervision

  • Demonstrate strong time management and organizational skills

  • Set clear goals for themselves and consistently work towards achieving them

2. Exceptional communication skills

Excellent communication skills are paramount for remote SDRs, who rely heavily on virtual channels to collaborate with colleagues and engage with prospects. Top remote SDRs are:

  • Clear, concise, and articulate in both written and verbal communication

  • Proactive in reaching out to colleagues, sharing updates, and seeking guidance

  • Comfortable using a variety of communication tools, such as phone, email, and video conferencing

  • Able to build and maintain strong relationships despite physical distance

3. Adaptability and resilience

Working remotely can present unique challenges, so remote SDRs must be adaptable and resilient. Look for candidates who:

  • Are able to quickly adjust to changes in processes, tools, or market conditions

  • Maintain a positive attitude and persist in the face of setbacks or rejection

  • Proactively seek out solutions to problems and find ways to overcome obstacles

  • Embrace new technologies and are willing to learn and adapt as needed

4. Tech-savviness and remote work setup

Remote SDRs must be comfortable with technology and have a suitable home office setup to perform their job effectively. Key considerations include:

  • Proficiency with a range of sales and communication tools, such as CRMs, sales engagement platforms, and video conferencing software

  • A dedicated, quiet workspace that allows for focused work and professional communication

  • Reliable high-speed internet connection and necessary equipment, such as a quality headset and computer

  • Ability to troubleshoot basic technical issues independently

5. Collaborative and team-oriented mindset

Despite working independently, remote SDRs must be team players who actively contribute to the success of the entire organization. Look for candidates who:

  • Demonstrate a willingness to support and assist colleagues, even from a distance

  • Actively participate in virtual team meetings and discussions

  • Share best practices, insights, and lessons learned with fellow team members

  • Maintain a positive and professional demeanor in all interactions

By prioritizing these key traits when hiring remote SDRs, organizations can build high-performing, adaptable sales teams that excel in a virtual work environment.

Finding Top SDR Talent

In addition to evaluating candidates effectively, it's essential to have a strong strategy for sourcing top SDR talent to your organization. Here are some tips to help you stand out in a competitive hiring market:

1. Build an in-house SDR team

Develop a compelling employer brand that showcases your company culture, values, and mission through your website, social media channels, and job postings. Offer competitive compensation and benefits to draw top talent, and leverage employee referrals to tap into your current team's networks. However, building an in-house team can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, and you may face challenges with high turnover rates and the need for ongoing training and management.

2. Partner with sales training programs and universities

Build relationships with sales training programs, bootcamps, and universities that offer sales-focused curricula. These institutions can provide a pipeline of entry-level SDRs who have received formal training and are eager to launch their sales careers. While this approach can help you identify promising talent, you'll still need to invest in onboarding, training, and development to ensure their success within your organization.

3. Outsource your SDR function to a specialized business

Partner with a company that specializes in providing top-tier SDR talent and proven sales development processes. Outsourcing your SDR function offers several compelling benefits:

  • Access to a vast pool of experienced, highly skilled SDRs who can hit the ground running

  • Significant cost savings on salaries, benefits, and overhead expenses compared to building an in-house team

  • Flexibility to scale your team up or down quickly based on your business needs

  • Proven processes and cutting-edge technologies for lead generation, qualification, and management

By outsourcing your SDR function, you can focus on your core competencies while leaving the complexities of sourcing, hiring, and managing top SDR talent to the experts. You'll be able to tap into a team of high-performing SDRs who can drive results for your business from day one, without the challenges and expenses associated with building an in-house team.

4. Combine in-house and outsourced teams

Adopt a hybrid approach that combines a small in-house SDR team with the support of an outsourced partner. This option allows you to maintain some control over your sales development process while also leveraging the benefits of outsourcing. However, you may face challenges with communication, collaboration, and alignment between your in-house and outsourced teams.

While each approach has its merits, partnering with a specialized outsourcing company stands out as the most effective, efficient, and cost-effective solution for most businesses. By outsourcing your SDR function, you can access top talent, proven processes, and advanced technologies without the high costs and risks associated with building and managing an in-house team.

Bottom Line

Hiring the right SDR is critical to the success of your sales organization. By focusing on the key traits, skills, and experiences outlined in this guide, and using a comprehensive evaluation process, you can identify and find top performers who will drive results for your business.

Remember, hiring is just the first step

As you embark on your SDR hiring journey, keep these key takeaways in mind:

  • Look for candidates with strong communication skills, resilience, self-motivation, and the ability to articulate value.

  • Use a multi-faceted evaluation process that includes behavioral interviews, role-playing exercises, and assessments.

  • Consider the unique traits needed for remote SDRs.

  • Develop a compelling employer brand and offer competitive compensation to attract top talent.

  • Continuously refine your hiring process based on data, feedback, and results.

By following these best practices and staying committed to hiring excellence, you'll build an SDR team that drives revenue, fuels growth, and sets your company up for long-term success.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What skills would be required for an SDR?

A: Key skills required for an SDR include strong communication abilities across multiple channels (phone, email, social media), resilience and perseverance, active listening and empathy, confidence and assertiveness, and the ability to handle objections and think on their feet. Additionally, time management, tech-savviness, self-motivation, and a genuine desire to learn are crucial for success in this role.

Q: Do you need a degree to be an SDR?

A: While a bachelor's degree is often mentioned as a qualification for top-performing SDRs, it's not always a strict requirement. The blog post states that candidates should have a "Bachelor's degree or equivalent relevant work experience." This suggests that practical experience in sales or a related field can be just as valuable as a formal degree for aspiring SDRs.

Q: What does a good SDR do?

A: A good SDR excels in several key areas:

  • Consistently meets or exceeds lead generation and qualification targets

  • Effectively communicates across various channels (phone, email, social media)

  • Actively listens to prospects and empathizes with their needs

  • Handles objections skillfully and thinks on their feet

  • Manages time efficiently and stays organized

  • Adapts quickly to new technologies and sales tools

  • Demonstrates resilience in the face of rejection

  • Continuously learns and improves their skills

  • Collaborates well with the broader sales team

  • Represents the company's brand and values positively in all interactions



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