As I sit here and watch the top two college football teams face off for the national title – I can’t help but think of the parallels between coaching a top college sports team, and coaching a high producing Sales Development team.  Inevitably, your top players are going to leave you.

Where you can expect most collegiate athletes to play for 2-5 years, the average SDR shelf life is significantly shorter; per TOPO, roughly 14 months.

Though focused on the game at hand– or target account – their eye is bound to wander towards the future, and what’s next for their career. 

What Makes a Top SDR

And can we blame them? Arguably, that’s what makes these SDRs the top producers; the ability to see the big picture, to formulate and execute both a short term and long term strategy.

They start each and every day with a call plan, they click through the CRM with intent, their phones and inbox are a steady buzz from the moment they sit down.  Not only do these reps look to the demos they can book today/ this month/ this quarter, they have a pipeline of forward facing activities and nurture accounts.

Point being, they have an attack plan for the future.

How then, can we determine when to let our A-players, or starting line, graduate to the next level? What skills should we look for to ensure our Heisman SDRs, become the Account Exec Rookie of the Year?

There’s of course the obvious – how do they perform against the rest of the team, are their KPIs in line with your expectations?  But then there’s the other the attributes you can’t measure from a SFDC report, or a dashboard.   

Coachability: Study and Teach  

The first is coachability, and that’s a two-way street. When making the transition to an AE, does your top SDR actively seek advice, can they adeptly adjust to the nuances of the role? The rules of college football are slightly different than that of the NFL, and a player looking to make the jump should understand the subtleties, and adjust their game accordingly.

Perhaps more importantly though – can they coach their teammates, the other SDRs? The best Account Executives don’t merely demo a product. They teach their prospects about why it matters, and why the solution they’re showing is precisely the answer.

If your top SDR can’t effectively relay tribal knowledge or best practices to a junior rep, how will they effectively reframe the way your prospects think about your product, or deliver your value-prop as the silver bullet that solves your clients’ pain-point? They must be more than just exhibitors; they must possess the ability to teach and persuade.   

Playing for Points

At most companies, Sales Development is transactional, by definition. To continue the analogy, Sales Development is the same as special teams. Short spurts, to give your offense (your closing team/AEs) the best field position to drive down the field and score points, I.E. drive revenue.

By contrast, a good AE will always keep an eye towards the end zone. They have a clear line of sight towards the decision process, the goal line, the PO. Where most SDRs are concerned only with the first down – the demo, the rep must start to think about the scoreboard, your revenue targets.

So how do you measure for this skill? Whether you qualify with BANT, ANUM, or something else, read through the notes. Don’t gloss over them, read them. SDRs ready to make the transition will ask the hard questions. They will push to get decision makers on the initial call, not settle for the easy book.

When a good, qualified, meeting is passed from top SDR to an AE – the vision is clear, the end goal mutual. Field position means nothing if it doesn’t turn into points on the scoreboard.  An SDR who’s ready to become an AE will understand that, and internalize the difference.

Understanding the Playbook

Sophisticated Sales Development Reps will have multiple plays to run. Even if at times the right call is to punt, an SDR who’s ready to move on to an AE will choose their next move strategically, and know when to make a hard push, or when to wait patiently on the sidelines.

To run an effective ABM approach, a good SDR can’t and won’t treat every target account, or call, as one in the same. Likewise – seldom are two sales cycles identical.

If your AE goes into every call with the same objective, or lacks a clear vision of what the next steps are to move the chains – they can’t expect to adapt and overcome. For an SDR, what may prove effective to combat an objection in one scenario, may be precisely the wrong approach for another prospect.

In preparing your game plan, look for the SDR that can call an audible as needed. The SDR that can read the field on the fly, is most likely to succeed when navigating an ever-changing sales cycle.

The Game vs. The Season

Ultimately – the decision to move an SDR to the next role is a contingent on their respective skill level, and what you need as an organization.  What’s the long-term goal, do you have a solid training program and succession plan in place?

The takeaway – an effective Sales Development Leader must not only accept that the tenure with a top producing SDR is more than likely finite, but recognize the role is to cultivate and groom the next generation of closers. Coach these A-players to drive immediate results, and also equip them with the skills needed to succeed at the next level.

Look for those who embody what it means to be a SDR, and who have the vision to study the game, go for the win, and push themselves outside the comfort zone when its 4th and inches, with seconds left on the play clock.

Jake Shaffren is the Manager of Sales Development at DiscoverOrg – a sales enablement tool with the most accurate data in the world. He’s helped scale the internal SDR team from  3 – 25 reps across three teams, and two offices. 

His experience also includes working with SumTotal Systems, where he worked first as an SDR, and then traveled to Sydney Australia, to build their APAC Sales Development Function.