How To Prevent Your Sales Development Reps From Burning Out

July 7, 2015 Jason Vargas

Being an SDR can be pretty strenuous. Metrics reset, quotas linger, and rejection is rampant. As a manager, you’ve got to confront these facts and investigate how to keep your SDRs happy in the face of these challenges. So what’s your best course of action? How can you make sure your team is on the road to efficient development and sustainable growth? And what can you do to lead them away from exhaustion?

 

It really comes down to the principles you have when viewing, interacting with, and responding to your team on a daily basis. We’ve outlined a step by step guide to creating and maintaining a first-rate SDR unit.

Step 1: Hire correctly

When building out an SDR team, the first critical task is to choose a solid foundation of people. You want to select individuals who are likely to flourish in the role and, as a result, have a desire to remain in the organization for the long haul. To do this, you must pay strict attention to the candidate’s natural personality during the hiring process — their disposition has to be aligned with the tasks expected of them, because it takes a distinct sort of mentality to make sense of the unique challenges they’re going to encounter.

What types of qualities and personalities are particularly well-suited for the job?

The best SDRs are active problem solvers. For example, when confronted with healthy competition, they’ll remain civil and focused on personal excellence. They would rather wonder: “How can I, personally, innovate and improve my skills?” than reflexively clinging to jealousy and resentment.

They’re self-starters. When they encounter repetitive, monotonous tasks, they’ll think: “What type of software could I use that would make my job easier, sacrifice little to no quality, and free up precious mental energy for other problems that require a more human touch?”

They’re also curious, coachable, and always seeking to learn as much as possible. So instead of becoming overwhelmed or just continuing to shoot off the same emails even though their outreach attempts aren’t being responded to, these candidates are mature and self-aware enough to thrive in the face of massive amounts of rejection. They’ll logically ask themselves: “How can I craft a better, more tailored message that will stand out?” and then implement their ideas to see if they worked.

Acknowledging that there is a set of characteristics particularly well-suited for this role is setting the stage for the development of future leaders in your organization. It’s arguably the most important foundation you will put in place, because the people that are an exceptional fit will show up ready to endure the challenges SDRs regularly confront, and have their eye on sustainable, long-term growth. If you don’t take this to heart, you’re likely setting yourself up for frustration and disaster.

Step 2: Be transparent

It’s absolutely essential to outline a defined path to mastery via tasks and reward systems. There should be no ambiguities about how to advance in the organization — show your team members the light at the end of the tunnel, and paint a clear path to get there. Let them know the specific benchmark performance measures they must achieve, and when they hit these, gradually allow them additional levels of autonomy.

As an example, use clear-cut goals like a number of qualified demos booked to reinforce behavior, not metrics that can be easily manipulated or gamed. When these are accomplished over time, gradually offer them more freedom to make adjustments to the standards. All of this creates goals they’re excited to achieve because they can visualize themselves moving up the ladder.

Being honest and straightforward is a fundamental tenet of effective leadership. You can leverage this by saying: “Here are the goals. Here is the framework for success, based on what has worked for us before. You’re welcome to improve or alter things where you see fit after you’ve achieved a level of success. Go for it.”

Step 3: Remain aware

Team members will likely not come directly to you when they’re becoming fatigued. Burnout often builds up gradually over time, so you need to pay attention to common warning signs. They could very easily slip under your radar if you don’t know what to look out for. Also, keep in mind that the SDR role is an entry level position that should last between 1 to 1.5 years. An individual might not be the right fit if they’re taking longer than this to achieve goals and move up in the organization.

Here are some examples of how the road to burnout frequently manifests itself:

  • Productivity levels slip (e.g. demos aren’t being booked)
  • There are more complaints than proactive resolutions
  • Interaction and engagement with team diminishes

Step 4: Be proactive when you notice something

If you’re concerned about someone’s performance, bring them in for a quick chat to see what’s going on. Understand that the ultimate goal of this meeting is not to get upset with them — that won’t fix anything. The purpose is to find out what’s blocking them from performing and figure out what they can do about it.

Explore ways to solve performance issues by focusing on the positive. For example, hires will naturally have different strengths (e.g. some people are not so great on the phone, but they are great with social). Encourage them to play to those. In day-to-day communication, continually remind them that they’re highly respected and cared for, they’re never going to be in trouble, and that they’re in the most important role at the company. This is both accurate, and the most proactive strategy when resolving concerns.

Step 5: Use transparency as the basis for creativity, growth, and trust

We discussed the importance of being honest and straightforward about what it takes to succeed in this role. But how can you leverage your openness to engage team development?

One way is to share your experiences. If you want to create a safe environment that will empower individuals to become leaders, you’ve got to show them what a developing leader looks like. How did you perform when confronted with particular challenges? What have you seen work for others in the past? Are there any novel challenges you might want oncoming SDRs to research and become intimately aware of? New team members need a basis on which to act; they’ve got to have something to grab hold of, in terms of how to get the job done.

Another way is to work on becoming an active mentor to individuals and groups as you see fit, while really focusing on helping the senior players guide the new hires into a leadership mindset. This unquestionably aids in their growth, while reinforcing the idea that they are embedded within a safe, supportive environment.

Once your hires have spent some time in the field, a great way to inspire continual growth is by encouraging them to try something new after they’ve proven themselves. Have your eye on helping individuals earn and transition into leadership roles within the team (e.g. training new hires, trying out prospecting approaches, creating new messaging, adding an additional step in the cadence), but remember that the amount of trust allotted should always align with their accomplishments.

Also, keep in mind that accomplishments do not have to be extremely lofty to be effective; for instance, finding ways to create mini-wins and rewards for your team can be a very productive way to replace exhaustion with excitement. Being recognized for overcoming these various challenges — no matter how small — will allow them to feel in control of their growth, and will feed into a cycle of optimal performance and healthy development.

The definitive goal of transparency is to build a supportive, family-like, team-oriented culture, despite the underlying thread of competition. Through nurturing honest communication and a supportive team structure (while peppering in rewards determined by progress) you’ll create relationships based on deep mutual respect that will inspire personal development and professional achievement simultaneously.

Conclusion

Once you’ve refined your hiring process, remaining aware, proactive, and indebted to your team’s growth at the individual and group level should be your sole recurring objective. To set the stage for this, it’s crucial that you view each individual as a high performer. When issues do arise, you can calmly and proactively identify what’s going on, and then efficiently remove what’s obstructing their performance. On top of this, you need to become intimately aware of how skillfully rewarding top performers fits into the plan for long-term growth. Earnest attention to this will drive their development into leadership territory.

Ultimately, the goal of a manager should be to facilitate hires through the SDR path (e.g. to an Account Executive or Customer Success role). There shouldn’t be any lack of clarity in terms of how to succeed in this role. By remaining honest with them about what success requires, illustrating how to act, and regularly giving advice when you deem appropriate, you’ll create a safe, structured environment where team members are encouraged to explore and chart their own territory. This is absolutely the most fertile ground for an SDR to thrive in the face of laborious and challenging situations.

About the Author

Jason Vargas

Jason is the managing director of outbound sales at Datanyze, where he's responsible for building and scaling the SDR team.

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