What We’ve Learned from Interviewing 2000 SDR Candidates

Sasanka Atapattu
October 4, 2016

For nearly two years now, I’ve been interviewing entry-level candidates for sales jobs. Over the course of that time, LaunchSource has changed. We’ve changed the way we operate, the questions we ask candidates, our business model, our office space, and many of the great people we’ve worked with at client companies have moved up or onto different roles.Throughout all the exciting and sometimes chaotic change that comes with running a startup, we’ve also seen a lot of consistency, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Specifically I want to look at what we’ve recognized as the most important traits to look for in an SDR or BDR candidate.Of course, when we started along this journey, we didn’t just run blindly into it. We did our research by asking VPs of Sales, Directors of Sales, Chief Revenue Officers, Talent Acquisition, and Human Resources People what they look for in these entry-level SDR and BDR hires.The answers were consistent, and not too surprising. Out of all the answers we got, the most common characteristics were Accountability, Work Ethic, Coachability, Drive, and Intellectual Curiosity. But after interviewing over 2000 candidates for our program and successfully training and placing 150+ Sales and Business Development Representatives, I’m confident in saying that there are 3 main traits that are at the core of every successful rep.The Top Traits of Successful Sales Development RepresentativesHustleThe top performing reps have a crazy work ethic. More important than being the first ones in and the last ones out of the office, they use their time wisely to get ahead of their peers. They won’t take no for an answer and aren’t afraid of rejection. If you are on the buyer end, they’ll continue to hunt you down. Hustlers are self-starters and go above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done.AdaptabilityThe nature of the SDR role in a growing company can constantly be evolving whether you're a startup that’s changing your messaging, or a larger company that’s been assigned a new territory, we’ve seen reps have the “no excuse policy” and take on whatever is given to them. These are your future leaders.Candidates that are able to understand not only your technology, but the vision of your company will be able to pivot fast and deliver your new message, try new techniques, and ultimately contribute to making your entire team more successful as a whole. Adaptive candidates are not afraid of change, and are able to analyze what works and what doesn’t when it comes to driving new business.Within the role, they’ll be able to quickly pick up new sales technology. As sales techniques continue to change, they’ll be able to recognize the messaging that stands out from the crowd.CoachabilityCoachability isn’t only about just taking feedback from the manager, it’s about really listening to what the manager is saying, asking questions, and dissecting the process to constantly get better. Coachable candidates can also self-critique effectively without getting down on themselves. Being able to separate the emotion from critique gives these reps a distinct advantage in being able to adapt their processes and be more successful faster. Coaching isn’t only about receiving feedback, it’s about acting on it. The most coachable people are the ones you can give feedback to, and they then go apply it immediately instead of falling back into old habits.Drafting the right playersMany managers building or expanding a team often look for experience in the role. While that is certainly understandable, experience doesn’t often translate to success. I’ve seen time and time again, that inexperienced hires with the traits I mentioned above are able to outperform candidates with a year in the seat under their belt. This can often be attributed to burnout and bad habits.Bringing in brand new employees gives you a fresh block of clay to mold into the ideal SDR for your team.  Entry-level candidates often have a much higher desire to prove themselves and are willing to do the tough work of an SDR. They will watch you and their new teammates and try to imitate the practices that are successful.  Additionally, these hires will become your future employees in other divisions such as customer success, marketing, operations, and other sales roles. Turning your SDR team into the farm system for great employees will breed loyalty into your employees and show the next round of SDRs that there is a path to promotion and professional - something that millennials say is the more important than even their starting salary.Skill DiversityIt’s important to remember that you are building a team, not a bunch of individual hitmen. To use the football analogy - a team full of Tom Brady’s will fail (although some of my Boston-based team members may disagree). You need to bring in people with different temperaments and talents, different ways of problem solving, and different ways of communicating. The best ideas and successful practices will rise to the top and the team will collectively succeed.Avoid bringing in clones of other employees or yourself. Those people and you, may be great, but having a narrow picture of what makes a good salesperson will limit your ability to adapt. Don’t be afraid to let people surprise you.Ultimately make sure you are developing and identifying their strengths through the process of growing your business. Your team is not only responsible for your organization’s success but your’s as well.