The end of the SDR?

Aaron Ross, Co-CEO & Author

11 October 2019

Sure…rapidly improving prospecting tools and AI will change the SDR landscape, but predictions about the end of the SDR are incorrect.

Over the last handful of years, coinciding with the collective rise in all things Artificial Intelligence, the calls, blog posts, and podcast topics predicting the “end of the SDR” have grown louder and more frequent.

Like every profession, the SDR role has experienced consistent change since it cemented its place on sales floors in the early 2000s. But that change hasn’t resulted in a wholesale diminished SDR corps – this critical sales role hasn’t gone anywhere. 

In fact, there will only be more SDRs joining the world of sales in the coming decades.

 A whole new world(s)

So, why am I so confident in the continued growth of the SDR role? 

Thus far, prospecting has been, primarily, a feature of the tech / startup world. Nearly every growing SaaS company in North America and Europe has instituted some version of the SDR in their sales process.

But tech companies aren’t the only ones that needs leads – everyone interested in growing revenue does. So, even “established” industries such as manufacturing or advertising, to name just two examples, could benefit from incorporating the SDR (or, again, some version of the SDR) into the industry.

To be sure: the role of the SDR has not yet gone mainstream.

In fact, advertising presents a fascinating case for the SDR role. To date, advertising has not wholesale adopted the role of the prospector. That can be attributed to a few different factors: lengthy planning cycles where money isn’t being spent, entrenched agency relationships, and an age-old preference for face-to-face sales.

But this massive and varied industry, advertising revenue was north of $225 billion in 2018, does present the opportunity for companies to Nail a Niche – the foundational principle needed for outbound prospecting.

(Editor’s note: we’ve written extensively about the role of the SDR and outbound sales in advertising. To read more, click here)

The impact of AI, bots, and other tools

One of, if not the, impetus for those proclaiming the “end of the SDR” has been the proliferation of AI-powered sales tools over the last few years.

You’ve likely read about them…maybe some of you even use them. For those interested, G2Crowd has an exhaustive list here.

Arguably the most prominent tool in the AI software realm is Drift, led by my friend David Cancel. David, a veteran engineer and renowned entrepreneur with years of experience working in the sales and marketing space, has never been convinced of the necessity of the SDR. To him, the profitability of the role has simply not been proven.

That’s why there are no SDRs at Drift. The company uses bots for its qualification – bots ask qualification questions of a visitor to the Drift website, for instance – and when they deem that prospect qualified, the bot connects the prospect with an Account Executive. The Drift bot is also connected to the company’s CRM, so should an AE not be available, the bot can book a meeting for a time that works.

(Editor’s note: we had David on The Predictable Revenue Podcast a while back to discuss the future of sales. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the whole in-depth interview here)

The influence of the B2C buying process

Underpinning the calls to remove the SDR from the sales process, whether it be at Drift or other companies, is the B2C buying process employed by companies such as Netflix and Spotify. Buying a subscription to these companies doesn’t require any help from an SDR – no qualifying questions, no integration requirements, no second meeting booked.  

When we had Jeff Davis, noted podcast host and sales and marketing consultant, on The Predictable Revenue Podcast, he argued the popularity of these products, and the ease of buying them, has shifted the B2B buyer’s mindset. As a result, the B2B buying process should reflect what we’ve come to enjoy when buying mainstream applications.

“We need to realize that our personal lives are changing the expectations we have in our professional lives. When you begin to be serviced in a way that is easy and tailored to you, you start to expect that at work,” said Davis, on the podcast.

“If Netflix is easy, then why should I go through a long, drawn-out process with salespeople?”

(You can check out the rest of our conversation with Jeff Davis here)

The critical human connection

What removing SDRs from the B2B process fails to recognize, however, is the importance of education and the human connection in sales. When buying a complex piece of software, for instance, buyers are going to come to the table, right off the bat, with questions that will determine whether they are a fit for your product in the first place.

Relying on the buyer to do all of their own research and know they are a fit for what you offer is a big ask. And, with your AEs busy closing deals, do you really want them spending time disqualifying prospects that have only qualified themselves? And what about those perfect buyers that don’t find you on their own?

 Don’t forget: you need to fill that pipeline. 

Of course, the role of the SDR has, and will continue to, evolve over time. But the need for trained salespeople reaching out, qualifying, and supporting buyers at the outset of the sales process remains critical. We’ve already seen how important that job is in the tech world.

The role of the SDR, without a doubt, is just getting started.