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Leadership Professional Development Sales

Cut your SDR Churn Rate with good leadership

2020 was the kind of year that comes along once in a lifetime. It changed what we do in quite a few ways, especially with remote work becoming normalized. Right before the lockdowns hit that year, I accepted a job offer as an Enterprise Sales Development Representative at a company which was building out that function from scratch. I became the first East Coast SDR hired on the team with plans to fly me out west for training.

Then came lockdowns and the plans to have me meet the team in-person were cancelled. I ramped up in a role known for being a grind throughout the SaaS community and had the chance to do it remotely. All of this during the height of the pandemic and global shutdown while we were selling software meant for brick and mortar stores!

Somehow, some way, after fifteen months I am still an SDR at my current company and have found it quite difficult to leave despite all the adversity. As someone who has left previous jobs more readily I wonder what’s kept me around. I also wonder why my role is one where attrition has become the name of the game. Today, you get to hear from an SDR who has stayed at his company for a while and compared to places where he would have quit by now.

The SDR Role is Important and it is No Joke.


We all know Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) as the front line for a business to generate interest from prospects to the point that they actually want to evaluate your offering. From there, the prospect usually talks to an Account Executive (AE) whose goal is to further qualify and then turn them into your clients. If the SDR does not generate that initial interest, the AE has to deal with a smaller pipeline for your business with the likelihood of less sales overall.

According to Sales Hive, 12% of companies experience an SDR attrition rate of 55% or higher, annually.


SDR Attrition Rates

According to a study by BrainShark, the average tenure of an SDR is 1.5 years. I’m coming up on that average, myself. According to studies commonly shared featuring statistics by The Bridge Group, the attrition rate for SDRs is around 39%. The numbers do not lie, SDR attrition is a problem for most companies.

In an economy where the market is currently in the favor of the employees, your SDRs are in a better position now than usual to leave for another opportunity.

If You Lose One, They are Not as Easy to Replace.

According to a TOPO study mentioned by Salesloft, SDR ramp time to full quota is 3 months. Another study quoted by Gartner by the same firm mentions that 83.4% of SDRs fail to consistently hit quota each month. Let’s assume we live in an ideal world. You just fired an SDR or maybe one just left, so you hired a new one. Now that new SDR comes in and after month three, they hit quota. That is still three months of missing a fully-ramped SDR that could have been producing pipeline for your AEs.

Numbers aside, seeing a veteran SDR leave is also demoralizing for the rest of the team. New hires see this and wonder what they just got themselves into. Sure, sometimes it can be explained away with poor performance but when it is a somewhat decent SDR that quits, you are at risk of a Domino Effect that will have you losing even more SDRs soon.


I’ll Let You in on a Little Secret, Most of Them Didn’t Just Wake Up One Day and Decide to Quit.

I’ve been that SDR who has quit on a job well before I even put in that two-weeks notice.There is an art to it. First, it starts off with more “dentist appointments” and “personal time-off” than normal. Afterwards, it goes to being disengaged where we show up to “Happy Hours” less and voluntarily take ourselves out of team meetings. Slowly, it all evolves into that one magical morning when your SDR pulls you into a meeting and puts in their two-weeks notice.

Now if you are a halfway decent company, you do an “exit interview” but you know how much people want to hold back. Maybe if you are lucky and thick-skinned enough, your SDR will let you know exactly what you did wrong and how to fix it. Most of the time though, they will give you the politically correct and “nice” feedback in order to not “burn a bridge”. You’ll never learn the reason that they left.

Here are Some Common Reasons.

Sometimes, SDRs quit because an offer that paid better came around or because their chance to move into another more promising role (hint: It’s AE) came knocking. Occasionally, SDRs might realize that they are not cut out for sales and part ways with the profession altogether. The fixes to these problems seem obvious enough but they can be tough for an organization to really handle.

After all, you may want to promote that promising SDR to an AE but there are just not any AE roles open right now with the way things are. You may want to pay your SDR more but not be in a position to do that. Perhaps you want your SDRs to be enabled to better generate meetings but with the way things are, it is tough to make that happen. How do you keep them on your team? How do you keep them happy?

What if I Told You… That an Age Old Saying in the Workforce is Just as True in the SDR World?

People don’t quit their job, they quit their boss.

According to Career Addict, 79% of people would seek new employment because of bad leadership. In my opinion, sales is one of those professions plagued with not just bad but often toxic leadership.

In the past, I was a part of toxic sales teams where leadership ruled with fear, intimidation, humiliation of reps, and “tough love”. For a while, it seemed like a decent script for a Martin Scorsese film, until it didn’t. You had your more senior reps leave for better opportunities and shortly thereafter, others followed suit. Not long after that, the team slowly fell apart to where even the leaders either moved on or got fired.

So if people leave their job because they have a terrible boss, then it is fair to say that people will stay at a job if they have a great boss even if things are less than ideal.

Such is my story.

I onboarded remotely during the pandemic which was no easy task. Now, add to that being in an outbound role where you had to convince people to take a meeting to buy new software when the entire economy was on lockdown, particularly for the brick and mortar locations we service. I’ll add even more fuel to this fire, try being in a situation where you don’t even know if you will be promoted to AE even after you have been in this grind for over a year. Not ideal, right?

In the past, seeing this situation, I would actively be in the job market and interviewing. Given how the job market bounced back as 2021 progressed, I had every reason in the world to interview at other places, especially since I had recruiters coming at me with AE roles. Despite all this, I found it very tough to leave. Things were different this time. Most SDRs in my situation would have jumped ship but after fifteen months, I am still here and feel like I have found a long-term home (knock on wood!).

Because No Matter the Circumstances, Good Leaders Make it Very Tough to Leave.

In the past, I have endured poor, and especially toxic leadership, at work which made life outside of work miserable, too. After all, you spend eight hours a day at your job, it is tough to not take some of that energy home. I saw how stressful it was to my own well-being having leaders that ran a culture of fear, intimidation, and outright cruelty. Unfortunately, this is all-too-common in the world of SaaS sales. And even worse it doesn’t get fixed as most outgoing SDRs are too scared to give honest feedback in their “exit interview”.

The thought constantly came to my head: “What if I do leave for more money and a higher title but have to endure through that same toxic leadership which forced me and others to quit past roles?”

I had the most valuable thing any SDR could wish for, two good leaders in a row that just made it tough to leave. While in my past role I would be scolded for making a mistake, in this one I had a leader who understood that I am human and gave me guidance on how to do things better. In a past role, I had leadership that would micromanage and try to get me to change how I do everything, but in this role my boss gave me free-reign to do my own thing which led to good results. I witnessed in past roles where leadership would toss over countless inbounds to a specific rep and parade them as the best. Leadership shouldn’t run on nepotism. In a past role, I had managers who were too busy trying to show off. They were too busy trying to make their personal favorite reps look good instead of helping them succeed. In past roles, I had managers but in my current one I have leaders.

You would be surprised to find how much people will value sanity, peace of mind, and a positive atmosphere over a title or slightly higher pay. For me, showing up to work everyday knowing that even if I made a mistake, I would be properly coached through it, made it easy to stay.

Being human, I have made some mistakes and slipped up. In past roles I knew this would come with some serious consequences that would make it tough for me to have the same morale to do my job. I called, emailed, and talked in fear which even my prospects picked up on. By having good leadership, I can be fearless and bring my best to every call and interactions with prospects which has led to better performance. It’s not easy to stay in the SDR role past fifteen months when headhunters are calling you up for AE roles, but good leaders make it a lot easier.

If Your SDRs are Mysteriously Quitting, You May Have a Leadership Problem.

If you have a high churn in your SDR team, especially from those who are more tenured, it is time to start looking at their leadership. As tough as it may be to do, if you feel that it is not due to pay and career progression alone, it might be time you used your intuition a bit more to see how their leader is actually like. You might have to talk to some of your more senior SDRs who seem a lot less engaged in a creative way about how they really feel about leadership.

A good SDR leader can be the biggest difference between keeping those handful of reps on your team and stopping the entire SDR org from falling apart. In the future, I look to talk about traits that I have noticed in toxic and good SDR leaders.


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