Regardless of what anyone will tell you, I truly believe that the SDR role (especially in growing tech startups) is one of the most nerve-wracking positions that one can hold. It has been stated numerous times in the past on this blog, but being the first line of offense for a company is a huge deal, and that is the SDR’s primary function. Often, your voice on the phone or your words in an email are the first that a prospect will hear from your organization. You are the face of the company for a short period of time. A high level of pressure comes along with that! So, before we go on, let me say: what we do as SDRs truly matters.
Generally, the SDR role is filled by a young college graduate. Not only will this be a first taste of sales for said hire — it will be the first taste of any full-time job, period.
Just over 18 months ago, I was that young college graduate, hungry to get my start in the real world. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the booming tech scene in Pittsburgh, and was lucky enough to land a position at a great company only months after graduation.
For me, things didn’t go as planned at the start. That’s where we begin the story.
The Beginning (The Bottom)
As stated above, I got my start at a great tech company in the Pittsburgh area. I was among a large group of SDR and Account Executive hires, as the company was in a place where scaling was really just beginning. In my mind, I was geared up and ready to be a star in my first ever role. My experience was quite the opposite.
I was quickly humbled. I have excelled at most things I have done in my life, but this first SDR role was not one of those things. I struggled to reach daily volume, because I was hell-bent on personalizing everything I touched. Not that personalizing is a bad thing — we all know the effectiveness of the 3×30 approach given to us by sales experts. I was hand-typing every single email sent. If that wasn’t bad enough, I found that speaking on the phone with prospects, especially on in an open-sales-floor setting, left me fear stricken.
Three months passed and I didn’t come close to hitting a goal: volume-driven, quota driven, or otherwise. My days consisted of getting in a few minutes late and leaving right at 5pm. I didn’t seek mentorship from anyone, and when I did, it was usually scoffed at because of how poorly I was doing. I sunk into my shell (a death wish for any real salesperson). I was a complete disaster.
Due to my severe underperformance, and the company’s recent hire of a new CEO, I was let go with a group of other sales employees. I thought my career in sales was over and began looking for other positions in other fields. I am eternally happy that I was so wrong about that.
It’s worth noting that I didn’t walk away from my first position as a complete failure. I learned to know product inside and out and how to evangelize both product and value propositions to prospects. I learned that volume (to a certain extent) is king. And I learned (from lack of doing so) that to succeed, you have to always be on the hunt. The hunt doesn’t sleep, especially as an SDR.
A few months later, I landed a position at another (much smaller) startup as their SDR. The company had a few customers but were facing challenges imposed by the long budget cycles within their target industry.
While I still didn’t succeed in hitting quotas in this position, it was a transformational experience. The small group around me helped me to feel empowered and allowed me to have a large part in developing the processes for their sales infrastructure. They were a great group, and I was sad that I had to go.
You’re reading this correctly: in a span of 10 months, I had been through two SDR roles with 2 different companies, and no real success to show for it.
The Present (Now We Here)
Coming into my role at Wombat Security Technologies, I was ready to hit the ground running — for real this time. Thanks to the valuable lessons and valuable failures I had already experienced, I did just that.
To make a long story short, I have succeeded more than I could have ever imagined as an SDR at Wombat. I’ve learned to effectively prospect, have hit a wonderful middle ground with personalization/ volume (thanks again, 3×30), and have created well over a hundred opportunities in the 9 months I have been with the company. Thanks in large part to the volume/ personalization balance, I have exceeded quota numbers every month and was recently promoted to Senior SDR on our wonderful team.
Like George Costanza, I started doing the opposite of what I had done in my previous roles, and things worked out my way. I get in early. My phone is always on, and emails are always answered within 5-10 minutes regardless of the time of day. I have searched for (and found) many valuable mentors. I network outside of the office whenever I get a chance (via LinkedIn or local events).
Reprise/ Last Word
Gary Vaynerchuk often says that self-awareness is one of the most important traits that a successful person can have. If you’re in a less-than-stellar situation like I was at one of my previous companies, take the introspective look at your daily processes that I never had the guts to do myself. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Leverage both.
My biggest fear as a young SDR was talking on the phone in front of my colleagues. How did I get over that? By making thousands of calls in front of my colleagues.
When you know your strengths, weaknesses, and your purpose, the only thing that is left to do is to win. Read industry websites. Learn what others are doing, and apply the tactics that make sense to you. Collaborate with your team, and be ready to do anything to help them.
Lastly, recognize and accept that you will go through times of trial, especially in sales. Realize, though, that times of trial (and lots and lots of failure) are necessary for future success.
EMBRACE THE HUSTLE.
Outside of hunting down Wombat prospects, Gavin enjoys hiking, fishing, Crossfitting, happy hours, and working on my side hustles.
Thanks for sharing your story, Gavin. Glad you stuck with it. One of the hard parts of joining a younger company just beginning to scale is that often times they lack the resources to properly onboard, train and coach reps. Couple that with the fact that the SDR role is a very difficult one.
Seeking outside resources is a great idea as you should never stop learning. The key is, find folks who have been successful in the role and don’t just rely on what you read. I’ve met a lot of smart people who are well read but lack real world experience. I have also met folks who have been wildly successful….in one environment. To top it off, many of those successes won’t translate to other situations and environments.
Keep learning and find mentors with the right experience to help you. Qualify your mentors like you qualify your sales opportunities.
Hey Mike! Really appreciate the kind words, as well as the advice. I will definitely keep plugging away — and the bit about qualifying mentors like sales ops is so beautifully simplistic. Thanks again!