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  • Mike Piddock

The Flame that Burns Twice as Bright: Managing ambitious SDRs

Such is the challenge of balancing SDR burnout and their quest for career advancement. The SDR life demands intensity and dedication, with the best often burning the brightest. Yet, constant rejection can also lead to stress and SDR churn. How do business owners keep alight the candle that burns at both ends, and build an SDR team to last?


In this final guide in the series, we jump into the challenges faced by fully-ramped SDRs and their managers, explore why they're more likely to burn out fast, and provide insights into how you can mitigate these issues.


We’ll also look at why the best SDRs also leave for bigger things, with many viewing this position as a stepping stone to more senior sales roles, creating a different but equally impairing headache for fast-moving businesses.


THE FLAME THAT BURNS TWICE AS BRIGHT


Sales Development Representatives are pivotal to the growth and success of organisations. But the role is tough and unforgiving, and many successful SDRs drop out or burn out. In the words of Lao Tzu:


"The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long."

The role of an SDR is not for the faint-hearted. They are the frontline; the foot soldiers in the battle of revenue generation. But despite their importance, the attrition rate among SDRs is alarmingly high, and the reasons behind it are multifaceted.


The demands of the role are relentless, and let's face it, rejection is part and parcel of their daily lives. SDRs make on average 52 calls a day (Bridge Group), and it’s fair to say the majority get more "no's" than "yes's."


This can take a toll on your team. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of rejection, stress, and burnout. This is not just anecdotal; Gong.io research says 78% of SDRs experience moderate to high levels of stress.


Even then, this feels low!


XANT found that over 50% of SDRs leave their roles within one year. Understanding why SDRs often seek greener pastures is crucial. So in this article we’ll cover burnout, repetitive stress injuries, and a general sense of unfulfillment.


BEYOND THE RAMPING PHASE


It’s easy to think that once a new SDR has been shown the ropes, provided with the right technology, and ramped up in terms of ability, it's just a case of ‘wind them up and let them go’. It’s not.


Areas of focus after the initial ramping phase


Continuous skills enhancement, role-specific knowledge expansion, and personalised career progression are fundamental to maximising their effective lifespan. The role isn’t static; but needs adaptation and constant refinement of skills.


Advanced cold calling techniques significantly improve their efficiency and success rates.


Effective email outreach strategies are vital; seek uniqueness rather than follow the current trends being spouted on LinkedIn, since other SDR teams will be saturating the market. Share best practices, and offer continued training on writing compelling and personalised emails.


CRMs, email automation platforms, and sales engagement tools are improving all the time, so encourage your SDRs to be naturally curious about seeking out new options, testing them, and bringing the best into the group.


Continued, in-depth product/industry training alongside a culture that drives SDRs to seek out expertise themselves, rather than being spoon-fed everything, is fundamental.


Competitive intelligence and analysis are key; SDRs should be able to differentiate your solution effectively, and as new entrants emerge, SDRs together find the angle to combat them.


A clear path for career progression motivates SDRs. Consider mentorship programmes that connect juniors with more experienced team members, and create custom learning tracks.


Develop career advancement plans based on their aspirations and goals, whether that's becoming a top-performing SDR, transitioning to an Account Executive (AE) role, or exploring leadership positions. Engaging them in career planning fosters a sense of ownership and long-term commitment to your team.


MR MOTIVATOR


Motivation and engagement are fundamental to building a positive team culture. You can implement incentives and recognition programs, and provide feedback and coaching that drives success, but getting the team dynamic right is a fine art.

Teams that are collaborative, in an environment where members support each other, are more creative and innovative, but also easier to retain. As with any team, recognising and celebrating successes is important. In the SDR role, where the day-to-day can be a real slog, even more so.


Achievements

All achievements should be recognised: activity volumes, successful connections, hitting quota, securing a significant meeting, or demonstrating exceptional performance or attitude. It motivates the individual but also inspires others to strive for more.


Gamification

Gamification might just be the natural evolution of ‘competition’ but approaching it in this way is better suited to Gen Z. Competitive challenges still work, increasing productivity by up to 50% according to Badgeville, but often these are now designed to be about an individual’s personal learning journey, rather than an aggressive ‘winner-takes-all’ head-to-head showdown.


Incentives

Incentives and recognition programs are powerful tools to engage your SDRs. Modern teams value inclusivity, diversity, recognition, and flexibility as much as financial incentives, yet aligning any bonus with performance drives the right behaviours.


Feedback

Regular feedback and coaching are essential for the growth and development of your SDRs. Provide constructive feedback. Use one-on-one coaching to provide tailored guidance. Ensure your SDRs feel that their growth and development are a priority for your organisation. Without this, the lack of demonstrable commitment to their ongoing success will see them heading for the exit.


THE ROLE OF LEADERS


Leadership is not merely a title but a set of actions that drive success. Lead by example, demonstrate the work ethic, show professionalism, and drive the dedication you expect from your SDRs. Lead with integrity, and your team will follow suit.


Setting the direction

Setting clear expectations is fundamental. Define the objectives, goals, and standards you expect your SDRs to meet. Ambiguity leads to confusion and demotivation.


Yet setting clear standards doesn’t mean being inflexible. Use an adaptive leadership style; recognise that each member of your SDR team is unique and may require a different approach to leadership. Be prepared to adjust your leadership style to suit their individual needs. Do they require more autonomy or closer guidance?


The CEO/Founder must offer SDRs transparent communication from the top. Keep the team informed about company goals, strategies, and any changes in direction. Open and honest communication creates a sense of trust and alignment with the overall mission, which is significantly more motivating than short-term financial incentives.


Handling challenging conversations is a skill that every Sales Leader should master, whether running the whole team or just responsible for the SDRs. Whether it's addressing performance issues, conflicts within the team, or difficult decisions, approaching these conversations with empathy and clarity is essential.


Effective cross-functional comms, especially with marketing or product development, is critical. The Head of Sales has a key role to play here, as a clear collaborative approach with her senior management colleagues will ensure the SDR teams are utilised most effectively, aligning their messaging with key marketing campaigns or new product feature releases.


Team conflict is not uncommon, and resolving it effectively is crucial. Here an SDR Manager must listen actively, understand the root causes, and mediate fair solutions rather than picking favourites. Building a cohesive unit is vital.


STAYING ON TOP OF TECH


Sales technology and RevOps is the backbone of your sales operations, aiding in managing contacts, automating routine tasks, writing copy, and providing valuable insights. Yet it’s changing fast - how do you keep up?


A culture of data and discovery

To keep your SDRs in pole position, they need to stay ahead of sales technology trends and you must develop a culture that encourages them to be curious about discovering new tools to give them the edge.


Decision making should be driven by insights and analytics. Utilise data for performance metrics, target lead scoring, and predictive analytics to guide your SDR team's efforts. Measuring the right key performance indicators allows you to gain valuable insights into what's working and what needs improvement.


Use of analytics can help you identify which leads are more likely to convert and where effort should be focused. Data-driven decision making empowers your team to work more efficiently and intelligently, with Gong showing companies that use analytics in their sales processes on average achieve 44% higher revenue growth.


Staying ahead of technological change

The sales tech landscape is constantly evolving, with new and improved tools emerging regularly. At Second Voice we reviewed over 200 in our first year of business and barely scratched the surface of what’s available.


Adapting to technological advancements is a key aspect of staying ahead. Ensure your SDRs are proficient in using new tools as they become available.


Provide training and support to help your team transition smoothly. Aberdeen Group found that companies that invest in technology training achieve a 62% greater increase in revenue, yet so many companies fail to support SDRs even by giving them time to train themselves.


By leveraging technology strategically, you can empower your SDR team to work more efficiently and effectively.


MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL CAREER PROGRESSION


SDRs often see the role as a stepping stone to more senior positions, such as AE roles or leadership positions. It's crucial to acknowledge and encourage this aspiration. Failure to recognise this will not delay the inevitable, and simply cause disruption to the team dynamic.


Retaining successful SDRs

Balancing the desire for promotion with the needs of your SDR team is a challenge. Highly successful SDRs may be tempted to leave for better opportunities. But retaining them isn’t just about competitive compensation packages, but rather recognising their achievements and giving them places to continue to grow.


Providing recognition for career milestones is important. Celebrate their journey and accomplishments within your organisation. Create a culture where they feel valued and appreciated.


Recognition doesn't always have to come in the form of promotions. Implement mentorship programs or specialised roles that allow SDRs to take on new challenges within their current positions. Keep them engaged and motivated, even as they aspire to grow.


Where do SDRs go?

Transitioning to an AE role is one of the most common paths for an experienced and capable SDR. You can facilitate this transition by creating structured advancement paths and clear criteria for promotion.


But this isn’t the only step up available. Some SDRs may find greater satisfaction and success in more specialised SDR roles, such as enterprise SDR, inbound SDR, social selling or RevOps if they show particular skills there.


Others will desire managerial positions, perhaps managing the SDR team itself, and then onto a fully fledged sales manager career. Some may even be entirely happy as an SDR...


Recognising and creating pathways for these SDR goals is vital for team morale, retention within the business as a whole, and productivity.


HANDLING CHALLENGES


To maintain a high-performing team of SDRs, you must address the inevitable challenges. Economic and market challenges will need to be navigated, you might have to manage remote work and hybrid models, and develop crisis management and contingency plans.


Economic and market challenges

Sales are inherently tied to economic and market conditions. Uncertainty, downturns, and industry shifts can all impact your SDR team's performance and motivation, yet they can feel like something outside of your control.


Stay informed and adaptable. Keep your SDRs updated on market trends and shifts, so they get a full 360 of the environment they are selling within. Encourage flexible outreach approaches to accommodate changing market dynamics.


Economic downturns often mean budget cuts and reduced spending that hit SDRs first. Double down on communication and ensure incentives are addressed to recognise the change in circumstances.


Generally, prepare for unexpected disruptions with a crisis management plan, training SDRs, and clarifying their roles and responsibilities.


Remote & Hybrid Teams

The rise of remote work and hybrid models has transformed the sales environment. Managing remote SDR teams presents unique challenges but also offers opportunities for flexibility and growth.


Communication and collaboration tools

Ensure that your team has access to reliable technology that fosters productive remote work. Emphasise trust and accountability in managing remote employees. Buffer found that 57% of remote workers struggle with loneliness, so invest in maintaining a strong sense of team cohesion.


In hybrid models, maintain inclusivity and equitable opportunities for all. Ensure that remote and on-site SDRs receive equal support, recognition, and opportunities.


HAVING TOUGH CONVERSATIONS


Sometimes things don’t work out, and SDRs need to be developed, disciplined, or moved on. How you handle this process is critical both to the individual involved, but also the wider team dynamic. Getting it right is the right thing to do. Getting it wrong can be disastrous.


Not every SDR starts on the right foot, and it's not uncommon for team members to fall short of their performance goals. When faced with underperforming SDRs, it's crucial to address the issue proactively and constructively.


It’s important you know the full circumstances for the performance issues. An SDR may be facing personal challenges, so ensure that you provide emotional and practical support.


Assuming you’ve crossed off such factors, the job is to see whether the SDR can be improved with a focused and personalised effort, or whether it’s time for both parties to go their separate ways.


Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) are a powerful tool for nurturing and developing talent, aligning team members with their roles, and driving results. It's not about punishment; it's about progress and potential.


Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs)

A PIP does precisely what its name suggests – it's designed to provide clarity and support to employees who are not meeting their job performance goals. The aim is to create a structured path for improvement by addressing specific areas of performance deficiencies, identifying skills or training gaps, and setting clear expectations for the employee.


The key stages of a PIP process:


  1. Assessment of Performance Issues

  2. Informal Feedback and Coaching

  3. Formal PIP Notification

  4. Performance Meeting

  5. PIP Implementation

  6. Review Meetings

  7. Completion of PIP

  8. Documentation


*** NB: this is a suggested approach and readers should take their own legal advice on employment matters. ***


CONCLUSION


Managing SDRs effectively requires a nuanced approach that balances motivation, career development, and the constant challenges of a high-pressure role. SDRs are crucial to the growth of an organisation, but their roles are inherently stressful and prone to burnout. By recognising the unique challenges they face and implementing strategies to address them, businesses can build resilient and high-performing SDR teams.


Key to this is ongoing training and skill refinement. Advanced techniques in cold calling and email outreach, coupled with a culture of curiosity about new tools and technologies, help keep SDRs engaged and effective.


Moreover, creating clear career progression paths, whether towards becoming an Account Executive, specialising in areas like RevOps, or even leadership roles, ensures that SDRs see a future within the organisation and stay motivated to grow and excel.


Leadership plays a vital role in this ecosystem. Effective leaders set clear expectations, provide regular feedback, and adapt their management style to meet individual needs. They also foster a culture of data-driven decision-making, ensuring that the team’s efforts are aligned with broader business goals and market realities. This approach not only improves performance but also helps in retaining top talent by making SDRs feel valued and supported.


In summary, to sustain the bright flame of SDR talent, organisations must blend structured processes with empathetic leadership and continuous development opportunities. By doing so, they can mitigate burnout, reduce turnover, and build a team that not only meets but exceeds its sales targets, driving long-term business success.

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