Why Culture does (and doesn’t) Matter to SDR Teams

Culture is meaningless. The word itself has become a catch-all for perks and amenities companies offer to compensate for poor work environments. Everyone says they have great company culture and screens for culture fit while hiring but few can clearly articulate what that looks like.

So why does everyone keep bringing it up? Because strong culture is the natural result of cultivating a cohesive, functional team, while poor culture is a symptom of a dysfunctional work environment.

For sales development teams, this challenge is especially acute. Burnout is common and a workforce dominated by new college graduates leads to emotions running high. Additionally, most young organizations are set up for the SDR team to be blamed for many of the breakdowns in the sales/marketing process.

When the deck is stacked against you – how can you create and participate in a culture where people thrive?

Step 1 – Have a mission statement and values that leadership can model daily

Mission statements aren’t just for companies – SDR teams need them too. They keep SDR teams from taking on too much or failing to contribute enough. Moreover, they act as a beacon to keep teams united in achieving common goals and give SDRs a sense of purpose that will drive them on the days when nothing goes right.

Step 2 – Hire people who get excited about that mission

Hiring is the second biggest lever you have to influence and course-correct your team culture. Make sure you have clear, specific job descriptions and hiring profiles. Then find people of varying personality type who get visibly excited about your company and team mission statement and values. Interviewing and hiring is absolutely a skill – and one it takes time to develop.

Step 3 – Never hesitate to remove toxic people from your team

This is perhaps the biggest piece of advice I give new managers – do not be afraid to challenge toxic attitudes and remove them from the team if they cannot be changed. Team members who see toxic behavior need to be enabled to speak up and see management act on concerns. Many new managers (myself included) have at some point hesitated to remove someone and paid the price. A toxic personality on your team is a detriment which undermines everything you do.

Step 4 – Motivate the individual

Many of the best salespeople, while competitive, aren’t driven by cash or being at the top of the leader board; they live for time off, additional responsibilities or simple notes from leadership saying how well they’re doing. Managers and coworkers who can tailor how praise is given will encourage a constant stream of two-way communication and build a true team mentality.

Step 5 – Surrender control

The fact is each individual SDRs will dictate the culture of the team. Their actions will become a part of the shared legend of the team and as each new person joins or departs they leave a mark on the team as a whole. Surrender to this creative process and ride the wave – the moment you stop trying to control it and only respond when necessary is the moment you’re a part of something capable of lasting.

One last “pro-tip” for SDR managers – listen to your team when they say something is wrong. All too often they can act as the canaries in the coal mine and alert to latent issues that can be addressed before everything explodes.

So please, stop worrying about culture and instead focus on enabling everyone around you – managers and SDRs alike. While quotas are individual – SDRs rise and fall as a team. If everyone has a clear focus and gets in the habit of doing it consistently, you’ll experience a “culture” perfectly described by the show Futurama: “when you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”


Ashleigh Early is a Sr. Sales Development Manager at Okta. The postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Okta. Previously Ashleigh has worked in SDR leadership at Mattermark, PernixData and FireEye. You can find her on Linkedin and Twitter and she is always on the lookout for opportunities for mentorship and building the SDR community.

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