SDR You a Fit?

July 13, 2021

Before we get into it, let’s set the stage a bit…

*dims lights*

I got a cold call the other day, and something was…off.

Everything started out fine. The SDR introduced himself, congratulated me on my recent promotion, and jumped into his pitch. It was concise, and it was professional.

The problem? We never actually had a conversation.

He confirmed my title. He delivered his pitch. He asked for a meeting.

But…why? There was no exchange of information that warranted a follow-up call. Just a confirmation of things that he or I could find online. Nothing new was discussed.

I ended up requesting more information via email – a classic brush-off objection I learned through my years of being on the receiving end of it. He eagerly agreed to send me some more information and follow-up after I’ve read it.

From his side, he probably came away from that conversation with a bit of hope and some pep in his step. I know when I was an SDR a cold call usually felt good as long as someone picked up the phone and said anything more than “No, not interested, don’t contact me again.” To talk with someone who wasn’t a jerk? Highlight of the day.

Now he gets to log that as a conversation in his CRM and set a follow-up task to reconnect with me.

But as successful as that may sound, ultimately he fell short. While his by-the-books process looks good on paper, he’s not going to pass nearly as many leads as he could with the right strategies.

This example illustrates two major components of the SDR role that are critical to success:

Qualification & Mindset

Let’s dig in.


We can all agree that the example above isn’t a ‘job well done’ by the SDR. It shouldn’t be considered a ‘success’ by any measure other than the fact that:

  • He now knows that I’m a real person with updated contact information.
  • I’m not a jerk.

Other than that, nothing was gained. Why? There was virtually no qualification done on his side.

And qualification is too important to ignore.

Yes, the goal of an SDR is to set meetings for their Account Execs, but there are dozens of technologies out there that can do just that for much less than the average SDR salary.

Just like the product you’re selling, it’s important to differentiate yourself from other SDRs & technologies doing the same job.

This is why your ability to qualify potential prospects is so valuable. The most difficult challenge sales technologies (and most bad SDRs) face is dealing with personal, human interaction. This is where SDRs can prove their worth, and there’s no better conversation to have as an SDR than one centered around the potential fit of a potential customer for your product, even if it doesn’t immediately turn into a meeting.

If you’re looking to go from being an average SDR to a great one, here are a few tips on how you can turn your connects into quality conversations:

Go into it with a list of questions

No SDR should ever be ‘dialing blind’, and that goes beyond finding a few facts about the prospect on LinkedIn. Confirming things like role and title should just be the initial step in a conversation that you want to get much deeper.

Keeping a list of typical qualification questions handy is a simple way to keep them top of mind. Questions like, “How are you currently solving X challenge?” and “What are some of the biggest hurdles you face in your day-to-day?” are easy ways to open a dialogue between you and your prospect.

Notice how those questions above are phrased? They’re open-ended – the prospect can’t answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Qualification happens naturally during a conversation, not when you run down a checklist of simple questions.

Often once you start the conversation the prospect is happy to continue sharing as long as they see the potential for value with your product, but you’ll never get there without asking the right questions to get the ball rolling.

Be prepared for rebuttals

Unfortunately, not every conversation is going to go the way you’d like, that’s what makes it a dialogue as opposed to a monologue. Because of this, you have to be prepared for the answers that will come your way.

“No, we’re happy with your competitor”

Great, find out what they like about it and tell them what makes you different from them. Just because they’re happy with what they have doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. At the very least you’ll learn about their areas of interest for when you reach out in the future.

“I just don’t have the bandwidth to evaluate anything new”

Not a problem. Sympathize with their busy schedule and use the time you still have on the phone to learn as much as possible before scheduling follow-ups down the road. Don’t be upset that you didn’t get the lead today, be happy that you made it easier to get that lead in the future.

These are just a couple of examples, but the point is clear. By focusing on qualification instead of scheduling a meeting, you’re able to glean additional information that can be used by your marketing team, your fellow SDRs, and your own future outreach. Even if you don’t get a lead, prospects are much more likely to pick up the phone if you have an actual reason for calling beyond “‘just touching base”, and that starts with the information you learned when they picked up the phone the first time.

Stay personable

If you treat a prospect as a potential sale, they’ll treat you just as coldly. If you treat a prospect like the human being they are, they’re more likely to open up and share new information. Take the time to ask them about something other than work (no, “how are you doing today?” won’t always cut it). Ask them about the weather or traffic where they are (people love to complain). Ask them about any volunteer/non-profit work they display on their LinkedIn. Just because it’s a business call doesn’t mean it can’t be an enjoyable conversation. SDRs need to be excellent at building rapport because they are often the first introduction to their brand that a prospect gets. The pressure is on the SDR to represent the brand, and they should be trained in doing so. First Impressions matter, and if you come off as robotic or insincere, there’s a good chance the prospect won’t open up to you.

Being an SDR can be a grind, and the urge to push for a meeting when you don’t yet have the proper qualifications is understandable, but you need to fight that urge. Setting meetings just to set meetings will eventually deplete your pipeline and can even reduce your chances at a future opportunity if you meet with prospects too early. Make your conversations matter by asking the right questions, understanding rebuttals, and treating your prospects like people.

Qualification is just one side of the coin here today. The other? The mental side of sales.


The SDR in our example above was all too pleased to have a conversation about…well, nothing. Then log it into his CRM and move on to the next prospect.

Not only is he missing key qualification criteria to push me further down the funnel, but he’s also missing the right mindset an SDR needs to succeed and pull himself up & out of the role.

Controversy incoming: If you follow a playbook, read off a script, send approved sequences, and run through a checklist of questions…you’re not an SDR, you’re an order-taker.

The best SDRs – the A-players – take what is given to them, tweak it over time, and end up with a strategy that is uniquely theirs. They build on their success bit by bit and really understand what it takes to succeed.

They care about doing well.

The rest of the SDRs – B-level and C-level reps – are more than happy to do the job ‘by the book.’ They show up every day and follow the playbook, run the sequences, put in the activity, and go home.

The biggest difference between the two?

You guessed it – their mindset.

It’s a pretty loaded term, mindset. What does it really mean?

Below is pretty much a preview of what to expect on our webinar: Think Like a Salesperson AND our episode of UNSUBSCRIBE with Tad Bustin. Get more info on each below:

Mindset has a lot of definitions. What does it mean to you?

  • Self-Awareness?
  • A desire for growth?
  • The ability to remain positive?
  • Being comfortable with being uncomfortable?
  • The grit and resilience to push through adversity?

All of the above?

Having the right mindset is hard to explain but easy to recognize.

We look at it through 2 major categories: Accountability and Desire for Growth.


In our example above, the SDR demonstrated a lack of accountability. How?

  • He never deviated from the stock questions, plowing through his qualification with little regard for me or my situation.
  • He didn’t ask if there was anyone else to involve in the conversation, be it my manager or a colleague of mine, to provide more context.
  • Even though it became clear during the conversation that I was the wrong person to talk with and there was no real reason for us to meet, he pushed on with his process.

Accountability comes in all shapes and sizes.

It could be recognizing the need to go off script to deliver a valuable experience.

It could be going the extra step and asking about additional stakeholders.

It could be realizing that your targeting is off and cutting the prospect loose instead of wasting everyone’s time.

The SDR role is a learning experience. You grow by making little adjustments to your process based on past experience. That means taking responsibility for your actions and learning from your mistakes.

Sticking to the script and running the same process over and over again won’t help you progress within the role. I’ll go as far as to say that it will stunt your growth and hurt your chances of advancement.

An accountable rep is someone who’s hungry for progress. They experiment and fail, learn from those experiences, and iterate on their process. This leads us to the next point…

Desire For Growth

The SDR in our example above was ‘going through the motions.’  They’re running down their list of prospects, executing the messaging in the playbook, asking the approved qualification questions, and asking for a meeting.

It’s not too dissimilar to having a robot execute outbound prospecting.

The difference between this rep and an A-level rep?

Digging into the ‘why’ of their outreach. Building a use case for each persona. Crafting their own messaging. Asking substantive questions. Active listening. Embracing challenge. A love for experimentation.

In short, the difference is a desire for growth.

A-level reps understand the need for adaptability – especially with a shift in how modern buyers purchase software.

Nobody wants to be sold something they don’t need. They want to be guided down the funnel. SDRs who can act as a consultant instead of a salesperson gain trust and establish credibility with their prospects – two things you need for a productive relationship.

Reps who are rigid in their process and don’t look to grow within the role aren’t meeting these demands. It’s why we see email send rates at all-time highs and reply rates at all-time lows.

SDRs who look to learn and grow within the SDR role are more likely to see success within the current sales environment. They’ve adapted to the demands of modern buyers and, through experimentation and natural curiosity, found a way to stand out amongst their peers.

I’d be remiss not to mention the difference between growing with the role and growing out of the role.

Everyone in sales will tell you that it takes patience and hard work to get to where they are. They grew with the role – building and iterating the foundational skills needed to succeed. They took smaller, sustainable steps to where they are now.

A lot of SDRs now expect that if they put in their 12+ months, they’ll simply grow out of the role. They put in their time to prove that they can ‘hack it’ at the SDR job and handle the responsibilities of the AE position.

The problem with using time as an indicator of advancement? It’s not an indicator of skill.

Just because you did the job for 12 months doesn’t mean you can be an AE. Sales development and sales aren’t the same job.

Without a lot of those foundational skills, succeeding as an AE becomes very difficult.

It’s important that reps demonstrate a desire for growth, but it has to be the right flavor.

The SDR in our example above was showing the wrong growth flavor – they were simply putting in their time and (we can only assume) waiting for the inevitable SDR → AE promotion.

In reality, the best way to set yourself up for that move is with sustainable, tangible growth. Those small steps are where you learn more about the value of their product, engage in industry discussions with thought leaders, and revamp messaging to match their buyer’s persona.

While having the ‘right’ mindset is hard to define, it’s easy to spot. Reps who are accountable for their actions have it. Reps who are hungry for personal growth have it. It’s the it factor that pushes someone into that A-level territory.

It’s not easy to come by – if it was, there would be a lot of A-level SDRs out there. Slipping into bad habits and having your mindset waver is all too easy. It’s important that you reinforce the importance of a strong mindset within your SDR orgs and make it a point of emphasis during the training and onboarding process. This all starts from the top, and if you champion the importance of a strong mindset from day 1 you’ll have a sound SDR team.


Qualification and Mindset aren’t the only two things you need to have a strong SDR team. There are plenty of variables that impact the success of your org – from your continuous coaching program to your management style to how you recruit & hire, there are a lot of right and wrong ways to build an SDR team.

But we can promise you one thing – if leadership champions the right mindset and puts an emphasis on qualification, your team will go far.

UPDATE: Remember that SDR from the intro? He never sent me a follow-up email or calendar invite to reconnect either.

alex ellison

Alex Ellison is the Marketing Communications Manager at demandDrive. He started his career as an SDR before discovering a passion for creating content and resources that drew him towards marketing. In his current role he primarily works behind the scenes drafting, editing, and developing a wide variety of marketing materials and educational resources. He is also currently enrolled at the University of Washington pursuing a Masters in Communication Leadership with a focus on Digital Media.
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