James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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Recruiting & Hiring SDRs: A Step-by-Step Process

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James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

Being in B2B sales, I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories about hiring SDRs. I also know hiring managers who have lived those stories. (Margie was never the same again… )

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Hearing scary stories, though, made me want to get to the bottom of the SDR hiring paradox. Too many of these stories have similarities. 

“He interviewed so well! I don’t know what happened.” “She was charismatic on the phone, just couldn’t make enough calls in a day.”

Take some advice: Don’t use any of this advice. ——-> Listen to your gut. Follow your heart. Trust your instincts.

No, no, and no! You make other business decisions using data and analytical thinking; hiring for SDRs shouldn’t be any different.

There’s a reason the SDR role is notorious for its turnover. Not enough hiring managers are taking the time and research that’s necessary to recruit and hire the right person for the right job. 

Many just “listen to their gut.” Why? Because it’s easier in the short-term. Then they act surprised when the person ends up not working out. 

It’s time we recognize that the problem isn’t the SDR role — it’s the hiring process!

That’s why I asked my good friend Jeff Thomas, founder of Predictably.pro, to join me on The B2B Sales Show. Jeff is an SDR hiring master. He knows what hiring managers are going through and he knows why.

Jeff is helping us answer today’s big question.

How do you recruit and hire SDRs? To successfully recruit and hire SDRs that stick, follow these 7 steps:

  1. Decide if you’re looking for a transitional or career SDR
  2. Figure out who can meet your daily requirements of an SDR
  3. Encourage the wrong people not to apply
  4. Assume that you’re a bad interviewer
  5. Use a structured interview process
  6. Adopt team interviewing
  7. Evaluate candidates based on scores, not your instincts

If you’re curious about the details of these steps, keep reading.

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If you’re content with constant SDR turnover, you should probably get a different job.

Recruiting and hiring SDRs: a step-by-step process

When it comes to recruiting and hiring sales talent, Jeff has seen it all. And when you have as much experience as he does, you want to share your knowledge with the rest of your industry. (Well, if you’re nice like Jeff is, anyways.)

So, here’s Jeff’s SDR hiring process summed up into 7 steps.

Step #1: Transitional SDR or career SDR

There are two types of people in this world: those who love TSwift (aka, Swifties), and those who have no taste. That’s just my (correct) opinion.

Getting more granular, Jeff points out that there are two types of SDRs: transitional and career. Before deciding to recruit and hire a new SDR, make sure you’ve determined the type of SDR you’re looking for.

Transitional SDRs

Historically, transitional SDRs are reps who are looking to stay in the position for a year or two and eventually transition into an account executive role.

These are individuals who want to get into the sales game and move up through the ranks.

Career SDRs

The second type of rep you should be familiar with is the career SDR. 

These folks have no fear of being on the phone. They can derive energy from making calls and can become quite good at it. When someone has an innate talent for connecting with people like this, there’s no reason they shouldn’t make a career out of it.

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Which will you choose?

It’s crucial to understand the type of SDR you need in your sales organization. If you need a career SDR but you’re recruiting for a transitional SDR, neither party is going to end up satisfied.

“Most people want a transitional SDR but they hire for a career SDR.”

Jeff Thomas

Step #2: Who’s going to meet your daily requirements of an SDR

Just like there are transitional SDRs and career SDRs, there are SDRs who are going to handle their work differently.

For example, there are reps who are comfortable with making 120 calls in a day. Their strategy is more quantitative in that the more calls they make, the better the chances are that they land a meeting.

A different SDR, however, may find success in making 40 heavily researched calls. Their strategy is one of quality. This type of rep will use their time to prep and call a few very qualified leads.

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Depending on your organizational goals, either kind of SDR can achieve success for you. But, you need to determine what your requirements are going to be of the rep first.

Is it as many calls as they can fit into a day? Or, is it a few high-quality calls?

Step #3: Discourage the wrong people from applying

News flash: More applications is not always a good thing. It means your job description is too vague and that means future turnover.

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Jeff encourages hiring managers to be blunt about what they’re looking for in an SDR. Not mean, just candid.

Here are a few tricks Jeff has used to discourage the wrong people from applying:

  1. Don’t require a cover letter with the application. If a candidate doesn’t send a cover letter anyway, you know that you can exclude them from the next round. If a candidate sends in a well-written, customized cover letter, you know they’re the real deal.
  2. Let candidates say something extra about themselves. Whether it be via a cover letter or the application page, give applicants the opportunity to share something about themselves apart from their resume. If they choose to pass up that opportunity, it’s probably safe to exclude them from the next round.
  3. Be as honest as possible. If you need an SDR to make 100 calls in a day, put it in the job description, make sure they know it. Why try and hide any aspect of the job?

Discouraging the wrong people from applying is just as important as encouraging the right people to apply. It’s not doing you or the rep any good if you’re not firm in what you’re looking for.

Step #4: Assume you’re a bad interviewer

The thing with human beings is that we’re not as good a judge of character as we tend to think we are. 

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Even for as long as he’s been in sales leadership, Jeff does not rely on his gut reaction when hiring SDRs. He coaches others how to use the same logical approach.

The fourth step of this approach is to assume you’re bad at interviewing candidates. Maybe you’re the Indiana Jones of interviewing, but unless you’re using an unbiased scoring system, you’re going to have SDR turnover.

When you stick with the assumption that you’re a poor interviewer, it can motivate you to put in the extra effort to be a good one. You start taking the steps to conduct a more effective interview, such as

  • Reading through the candidate’s resume beforehand
  • Understanding the candidate’s qualifications and making notes on them
  • Preparing questions beforehand
  • Actually listening to the candidate’s answers
  • Making connections between the candidate’s answers and their resume
  • Scoring the candidate on a predetermined rubric (more on that in a second)

Conducting an interview on the fly is a waste of everybody’s time. Do your future self a favor and take some time to prep yourself.

“You have to prepare for an interview just like you prepare for a sales call.”

Jeff Thomas

Step #5: Use a structured interview process

As an organization, it’s extremely helpful to have a structured interview process that everyone uses. This is one of Jeff’s main points when it comes to successfully recruiting and hiring SDRs.

By implementing an organizational interview process, each candidate will be asked the most important questions and scored on a set rubric.

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This way, you’re able to uncover behavioral and presumptive trends like Jeff’s team does.

Behavioral questions

The purpose of asking behavioral questions is to understand how the candidate has handled situations in the past.

Examples of behavioral questions in an interview include:

  • Can you give me an example of a time you were behind on your quota and you sourced a large deal in order to close the gap?
  • Was there ever a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important? How did you handle that?
  • Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a sales situation differently. How would you have handled it differently?
  • Describe a time when you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to interact with a difficult customer. How did you handle the situation?
  • How do you prioritize your customers’ needs?
  • Describe a time you were under a great deal of pressure. How did you get through it?
  • How do you go about meeting any goals you set for yourself?
  • What’s your proudest professional accomplishment? Why?

The options are pretty much endless. It all depends on the information your organization finds telling of a person’s professional past.

Remember: You’re not asking these questions to make your own personal judgments. You’re asking them to assign a numerical score for each answer.

Presumptive questions

On the other side of the coin, you have presumptive questions. Questions about the future if the candidate were to be hired.

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Presumptive questions address issues your organization is facing right now, allowing the candidate to weigh in on a potential solution.

Examples of presumptive questions include:

  • Our team is surpassing their call quota every day, but scheduled demos are at a standstill. How do you think we should handle this situation?
  • One of our company values is to never stop learning. How do you think we should support our team in their continued learning?
  • If you were tasked with improving the user experience of our website, what would you do differently?
  • There’s a disconnect between our sales team and our marketing team. What do you think we could do to encourage better communication between the two?

Of course, you’re probably not going to solve your organizational problems by asking someone who isn’t very familiar with your company. The candidate might even suggest a solution that you’ve already tried.

The goal of presumptive questions is to see how the candidate thinks through a problem.

In all honesty, the presumptive questions you ask don’t even have to be true to your organization. As long as the question helps you assign a score to the candidate’s response, it doesn’t have to be a real situation your team is facing.

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Side note: Even an amazing sales rep isn’t always going to give you great answers to presumptive questions. They’ve only known about the problem for 10 seconds. What you’re really looking for is how their thought process works.

Step #6: Adopt team interviewing

Once you establish a scoring system for interviewing SDRs, it’s easier to give team interviews a try. More people to assess the candidate lessens the effect of one person’s biases.

Hiring managers: When you have a colleague in the interview room with you, it gives you more room to actually listen to the candidate’s responses. Instead of taking on all the pressure of conducting an interview by yourself, adopt a team interview strategy.

Plus, when there are predetermined questions and scoring guidelines, interviewers are all on the same page.

Who’s on your interview team?

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Jeff suggests conducting 3-4 interview rounds with the following personnel from your organization (not all at once):

  • A hiring manager
  • 1 or 2 executive-level people
  • 1 or 2 SDR peers
  • A disinterested party (someone who won’t be affected in their day-to-day by the new hire)

Each person on your interview team should have the same rubric for evaluating answers.

How many interview rounds are you conducting?

Every company has its own interview process, but Jeff’s team has found success with 3-4 rounds.

Interview rounds include:

  1. Phone screening (10-15 min). See how the individual interacts on the phone. Because that’s a pretty big part of the SDR’s job, right?
  2. The first in-person interview (40-45 min). This interview should include two people from the organization. It’s up to your team to decide which two people conduct effective interviews together.
  3. The second in-person interview (40-45 min). If you choose to conduct more than one interview in a day, make sure you and the candidate are getting breaks in between.
  4. Role-play test (time varies). The fourth round of interviews should only consist of final candidates. Basically, the candidate will be scored on how they handle a simulated sales scenario. Depending on the complexity of the scenario, candidates are sometimes given time to prepare beforehand.

Your SDR interview rounds should be specific to what works for your team. Nonetheless, all interviewers need to use the structured scoring system for the most useful results.

“As human beings, we’re inherently bad at evaluating people, especially the people we don’t know.”

Jeff Thomas

Step #7: Evaluate candidates based on numeric scores

It’s worth pointing out again that we cannot rely on our gut instincts when hiring SDRs. Use numeric scores to be as objective as possible. 

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Benefits of using numeric scores

Using a structured scoring system offers numerous benefits.

  • Interviews become repeatable processes.
  • Biases are taken out of the equation.
  • Things don’t get personal.
  • No one’s time is wasted.
  • SDR turnover decreases.
  • People enjoy their work more.

Those are fantastic benefits, aren’t they? A numeric scoring system makes it so much easier for hiring managers to do their jobs well!

Mistakes to avoid

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Jeff also emphasized a few pitfalls to look out for when you’re starting to implement a structured interview process for hiring SDRs:

  1. Not basing the evaluation in data as much as it should be. Remember, it’s not about the individual. It’s about the hiring process.
  2. Evaluating people on who we think they are, not the job we want them to do. That’s where the predetermined questions can help. Once you figure out what type of SDR you need, ask the questions that reveal the necessary qualities. Then, assign those qualities a numeric score.
  3. Not preparing for the interview beforehand. Although a structured interview process makes interviewing SDRs easier, it’s still helpful to put in some time to prep. You’ll thank yourself later.

While a numeric scoring system may not achieve total objectivity, it’s still a valuable tool for hiring SDRs. 

Currently, the failure rate of sales reps in the first 18 months is 55%. So, there’s quite a bit of room for improvement. A little more objectivity in the hiring process isn’t going to hurt.

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Hiring the right SDR

The big things to take away from this article:

  • The problem isn’t the SDR role, it’s the SDR hiring process.
  • Know the type of SDR you need to hit your organization’s objectives and discourage the wrong people from applying. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Assuming you’re a bad interviewer, establish a structured interview process with a numeric scoring system.
  • Take the time to prep yourself before the interview.
  • Try interviewing as a team to lessen the impact of one person’s biases.

In order to decrease SDR turnover, we gotta put some work in on the front end. Luckily, pros like Jeff Thomas are here to help.

The ability to match the right sales talent to the right job is sure to make your job more enjoyable. And we all can use more joy in our work!

For more tips on building a strong sales team, subscribe toThe B2B Sales Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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