Josh Garrison joins the Predictable Revenue podcast to discuss the hard skills needed to succeed at SDR Management and how to thrive in a sales management role.
Just because you were able to crush your quota as an SDR doesn’t mean the transition into sales management will be seamless.
Becoming a great manager requires a different skill set than the one you perfected in your dialing days, but our latest podcast guest has plenty of advice to help you prepare for the role.
Josh Garrison is the Head of Revenue at Teamflow, a virtual office software that helps remote sales teams recreate the energy of being in the same room. Josh joined the Predictable Revenue podcast to discuss what it takes to succeed in SDR management.
What skills to look for in an SDR Manager
Not every top-performing sales rep will make a great manager. On top of having basic sales competence, SDR managers need to understand how to develop other people.
Coaching is a critical component of the sales management role. To coach reps effectively, managers need to be empathetic, patient, and encouraging. Organization skills are also key, as managers interface with both their team and sales management.
Another trait to look for in an SDR Manager is strong writing skills. Those in a sales management position may find themselves writing call scripts, emails, or LinkedIn requests for their reps to use.
Lastly, look for people who are curious and willing to learn. Becoming a manager may be very different from their last role as an SDR or AE, but the best candidates will rise to the occasion.
Advice for SDRs who want to grow into a sales management role
Ask a new SDR about their career path, and most will tell you they want to move into a management position. Becoming an SDR Manager may be a common next step but it’s not the only way to grow within an organization. You could also move into RevOps, marketing, or become an AE.
If you’re interested in a sales management role, the best thing you can do is to start thinking beyond hitting your numbers. Ask yourself what you can do to help your team–start thinking like a leader, instead of just another rep.
A day in the life of an SDR Manager
For many reps, moving into a manager role means giving up their favorite parts of their job–but others will thrive in a management position.
SDR Managers spend a fair amount of time in meetings, both with their team, one-on-one with reps, and with other leaders in the organization. As a sales manager, you’ll be responsible for coaching reps, monitoring their performance, and presenting your team’s performance data.
A large portion of your time will be spent coaching, but you also need to lead by example by taking calls and showing your team how it’s done.
Prioritizing your tasks as a manager
If this seems like a lot of responsibility, that’s because it is! According to research from Gartner, 58% of sales managers struggle to accomplish all of their allotted tasks in the time given.
To help decide what to focus on in your sales strategy, review your team’s performance data to find what’s working and what’s not. What are your SDRs doing that delivers the best returns? Focus on that and scale it for an even bigger impact.
Advice for coaching your SDR team
Sales coaching is a powerful way to improve your team’s performance, but many managers aren’t sure where to start.
Josh recommends focusing on your “middle of the pack” reps–those who are close to hitting quota but aren’t quite there or the reps who have done well in the past but have been underperforming lately.
Don’t waste time coaching reps who cannot hit quota. Give new hires a few months to adjust, and if they don’t show improvement, then let them go. Likewise, don’t waste time coaching your top performers whenever they have a bad day. As long as their overall performance is still strong, there’s no need to step in.
How to run your one-on-one coaching sessions
Start by asking your rep if they’re enjoying the work. If they’re stressed out by the SDR role, there’s no point in coaching them to stay in a job they hate.
Ask them how happy they are at your organization on a scale of 1-10, and how you can bring that rating closer to a 10. Starting the coaching session this way helps your rep see that you’re on their side and that you’re committed to helping them succeed in the role.
Make sure to prepare in advance for every coaching session. Review the rep’s calls and emails beforehand, and look for patterns. You’re not just looking for what the rep did wrong but what underlying issue led to that mistake.
Lastly, whenever you’re giving feedback to an SDR, remember that everyone is different and each rep will respond to different coaching styles. Just like a sales call, you want to set the right tone during your one-on-one meetings.
One way to do this is to iterate why you’re giving the rep feedback; ultimately, your goal is to help them improve so they can succeed in the role.
How much feedback is too much?
Avoid the temptation to overcoach. When you have an underperforming rep, the tendency is to tell them everything they’re doing wrong all at once, which only overwhelms them. Instead, focus on one key area for improvement. Give them a TLDR (“too long, didn’t read”) takeaway.
With more experienced reps, you can provide up to three points of feedback, but stop there. Keep it specific and actionable. If the rep returns the next week with the same issue, that’s a red flag for them not being coachable.
Once a rep has been with your organization for a few months, you can move beyond coaching them on day-to-day sales skills and start discussing long-term goals. How do they want to grow in their career? What can you do to keep them engaged and motivated?
Navigating the hiring process as an SDR Manager
The SDR hiring process starts with a detailed and accurate job description. Be transparent about what the day-to-day job looks like, and let people self-select for the role.
After you’ve reviewed the initial applications, the next step is an interview with sales management. The format is up to you, but one question Josh recommends asking every candidate is: “What do you believe the difference is between an extraordinary salesperson and a mediocre one?”
Although newer SDRs may not a lot about sales strategy, what you’re really looking for is to see how they justify their answer. For example, if they explain their reasoning by referencing a sales book or podcast, that shows they’ve put some effort into learning about the industry.
The importance of a test project
After two rounds of interviews, the next step is a test project. Have prospective candidates complete a short one-page assignment, for example writing a cold email for a specific ideal customer profile.
The purpose of this assessment isn’t to measure their sales experience–it’s to see how well they follow instructions. If a candidate can’t follow the assignment instructions, that’s a sign that they won’t be a very coachable SDR.
The final stage is to check references. By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of whether the SDR will be a good fit. For more insight into the hiring process, check out our free eBook, The Foolproof Methodology to Hire and Train an Elite Sales Team.
What makes a great SDR candidate?
Past sales experience isn’t as important as the candidate’s willingness to learn. Top-performing SDRs come from diverse backgrounds; they could be teachers, bartenders, or have served in the military. Your job as a manager is to help them develop into the person they need to be.
The biggest hiring mistake new SDR managers make is to require 3-5 years of experience. Very few people stay in the SDR role for that long, which makes this type of candidate almost impossible to find.
Instead, look for people who are coachable, curious, and money motivated. If you can find someone who was an AE in another industry, they often make great SDRs (as long as they’re willing to be coached).
Watch out for red flags like how long the candidate lasted in past roles. If they job hopped often in the past, they’re likely to do the same again.
Put yourself in your SDR’s shoes
If you didn’t move from an SDR role into sales management at your current organization, then you should spend at least a few weeks in the role (ideally longer). Take on the daily tasks of the person you hope to hire. This will help you understand what it takes to thrive in the role
If you skip this step, your hiring process will be based on guesswork. Don’t default to hiring for what worked at your last company. Every organization is different, and the job you’re hiring for will be different too.
Building your SDR team
If you’re building the sales development function from scratch, it’s even more crucial to get those first few hires right.
Start by hiring one sure bet–someone who’s been successful in a sales role in the past, with 1-2 years of SDR experience. Josh recommends looking for someone who was passed up for promotion and is a little bitter about it.
Don’t wait for this person to find you. Create an alert on LinkedIn and start reaching out, and ask them why they haven’t been promoted at their current organization. You may have to overpay this person to get them on board, but it will be worth it to start your team off right.
Next look for someone who has some SDR experience (around 6-12 months) and is looking to change roles. Once you have those two experienced hires in place, you can fill the rest of your team however you choose.
Aim for a mix of both experienced and inexperienced reps. People without sales experience are easier to coach, but having a few seasoned SDRs on your team gives the others something to look to and emulate.
Coaching an SDR out of a slump
One of the more difficult aspects of sales management is helping your reps out of a slump. First, you need to be able to spot the difference between a slump and burnout. According to a recent survey from Dooly, 69% of salespeople have experienced burnout, and those figures are only on the rise.
If a rep was performing well in the past and is suddenly struggling to hit their numbers, it could be a sign of burnout. In order to hit quota, they may have sacrificed their health or vacation time.
The rep may not even be aware of the situation–all they know is that they’re tired and they hate coming to work every day. As a manager, it’s your job to step in. If you notice a rep’s motivation lagging or their performance suffering, have a look at when they last took a vacation.
Mandate or strongly encourage them to take at least one full week off. While the rep is away, you can start working on a coaching plan to get them back on track.
What if burnout isn’t the cause?
Aside from burnout, there could be other factors affecting your rep’s performance. Have a look to see what’s changed recently. It could be something entirely out of the rep’s control if the composition of their leads changed, they were moved to a different territory, or marketing implemented a new strategy.
Another common scenario is an experienced rep who decides to stop following the script. Of course, you should encourage your top performers to innovate, but if it starts negatively impacting their numbers then they may need to reassess.
Growing beyond SDR Management
Where can you move from sales management? If you’re ready to move on from SDR management, the best place to start is to follow your strengths. If you’re great at email automation or writing social media captions, look for opportunities with the marketing team.
If you haven’t worked as an AE before, you could try your hand at closing deals. There are many different paths available to SDR managers, whether you move upward or laterally.
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