How to Succeed in Sales Development (7-Step Action Plan to Become a Top SDR)

Sales Development

So you decided to become a sales development representative

My guess is your plan involved getting a promotion or making a lateral move within a year, as that’s the plan for most people who sign up for what I call “the struggle.” 

You either want to become a closer, slide into customer success or sales ops, or become a team leader. 

But regardless of your plans, you’re a sales development representative. What’s important now is how to succeed in sales

For that, I’m going to give you a solid 7-step framework for becoming a top SDR. So no matter what your career goals are, you can stand out as a sales developer.

In just a minute, I’ll walk you through that framework. But first, let’s take a quick look at…

Why It’s Hard to Succeed in Sales Development 

It’s a rare bird that wants to spend their career at the bottom of the totem pole in sales org hierarchy. In fact, one of your motivators throughout the SDR experience is probably the fact that there is an end to it. 

And who could blame you? Prospecting is often cited as the most difficult step in any sales process. 

Finding new opportunities among the sea of prospective buyers in your segment is always a challenge. Leaving this responsibility for account executives to handle has historically resulted in lacking or over-inflated pipeline since even the strongest closers will fade in the face of constant rejection and seemingly random success. 

With no formal sales development program in place, the typical scenario looks like this: 

  • Everyone is following tedious prospecting process A…
  • Account Executive Bob tries simpler process B and gets a new opportunity… 
  • Now everyone wants to do process B. 
  • It doesn’t matter if Bob got lucky. He got the same result with less work. 

This ad-hoc application of Occam’s razor will probably work for a while. But what companies are realizing is that a formal, structured approach is far more efficient in the long run. 

Businesses need to be able to reliably break into new business and add opportunities to the pipeline in order to sustain growth. Account Executive Bob’s company is probably doing great for now, but the foundation for growth is not yet firm.

Here’s where you come in. 

Ideally, your company has set up the SDR team for success, with qualified leads that contain accurate, up-to-date information and a well-oiled workflow with all the enablement tools you need to be fully integrated and operational. 

They train you on how to introduce yourself, the company’s value prop, and objection handling. 

If you are reading this as a current SDR, you might have just choked on your water. It’s true, all of these ideals are probably not true at the same time. And if you’re thinking about signing on to develop sales, be prepared for things to be less than perfect. 

C’est la vie.

7 Steps to Succeed in Sales Development 

When I started out in sales, I took several decisive steps to become a successful sales development representative. One of the most important is that I had a goal and a plan. 

In reality, my action plan started before I got the job. But the plan put me on the right path, guiding me in the development of success habits and sales skills.

Now, I’m giving you the exact framework I used to build my career. But I want you to be aware: While it worked for me, it’s only an example of what works, not a cast-in-stone process that will work for everyone.

Feel free to adapt these 7 steps to your own needs. The goal is for you to succeed in sales. For that, you need to use whatever process works for you.

If you are already working and trying to figure out how to get better, apply these strategies now and I would bet my last dollar you’ll be moving up the ranks sooner than later.

Now, let’s get started.

1. Set Your Mind on Being the Best SDR on Your Team

Mindset is a powerful tool utilized by the best in sales. Tell yourself every day, “I will be a top producer.” 

Repeat this mantra as soon as you wake up. It sets a long term goal in your brain. All of your background processes will be geared for accomplishing the goal, and eventually this will begin to influence your decision making both in and out of work. 

You need to be all-in. Continue this step every day as an SDR until it switches to, “I am a top producer.”

2. Read Books on Sales

One day, while hanging out with my two friends, they broke out a chess board. They asked me to start playing with them, and try as I might, I couldn’t win. 

Friend A had read some strategy article and explained it to Friend B. They were employing tactics I didn’t understand, and it gave them an insurmountable competitive advantage. They had intel I didn’t, and no matter how clever I was on my own, I was no match.  

My response? 

I picked up a book on chess, read a few articles, and started practicing online. Two weeks went by of us occasionally playing games and them saying things like, “Wow, Pat’s getting tricky…” and eventually I couldn’t lose. 

So when I started thinking about a sales development gig, I took this experience and doubled down on it. I started reading sales books (or listening — audiobooks rule) early and often. 

3. Practice Cold Calling 

My prep work for tech sales was cold calling life insurance leads. 

My intention was very clear. I was going into sales to make as much money as possible and to be the best. So I didn’t want to leave anything up to the imagination. 

It’s not hard to find an outlet for this. There are plenty of hungry agents out there who will let you sell for them and walk you through the process. There’s an exam to get licensed, but it’s multiple choice and you can study. 

If you’re not up for insurance, find a charity and do cold calls asking for donations. 

Getting over the reluctance to dial before you walk into your first startup or software company, coupled with confidence in establishing control and objection handling, will spell success. 

Being the best takes extra work.

4. Talk to the Top Sellers at Your Org

Don’t waste any time figuring out who the top AEs and SDRs are at your company. Ask them how they do it. 

Sometimes you’ll find people who are carrying contacts with them from company to company. It looks too easy, and it probably is. But they’ve been at it for a long time and earned it. 

You want to find the grinders and figure out what they are looking at that other people are not. Pay attention to their work habits and copy them. 

Even just acting like the top sellers puts you in a different place in everyone’s mind conceptually. 

5. Learn Your Industry and Prospect Hard

Know what you are selling and know who the competitors are. In the event that you catch a decision-maker at the right time in the right mood, he or she will entertain the call and probably not be impressed if the answer to every question is, “That would be a great question for my colleague. Do you have any time tomorrow afternoon?” 

Take the time to watch an AE give a demo. Put on your customer hat and research the competition to understand how your tool is different.

Prospecting is your game now. You need to be an absolute expert on the people who are buying your solution. 

  • Who handles procurement? 
  • Who answers the phone or is most likely to respond to emails? 
  • What are the decision makers’ job titles? 

Are you going after sales ops managers to get your first contact? You need to be able to quickly scan LinkedIn and find the right people. 

Learn as much as you can about your accounts, and do it efficiently. After a month or sooner, you can probably start to narrow down the options for the way the organizations you are selling into are structured and get a quick idea of who you need to speak with at a glance. 

Being able to drum up viable prospecting lists with ease is a vital part of success. I can’t stress this enough. You need to master prospecting to be a top SDR.

6. Time Blocking and Focus

The number of tasks you complete in a day as an SDR can get out of hand. 

There is an expectation around Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), so you’re always trying to “put up numbers” while fielding emails, prospecting, battling the CRM, all in the middle of a very exciting sales floor with more than enough social stimuli. 

Startups are the most fun places to work, but you need to find time to focus. The reps who can put the blinders on and get one specific task done for a specific amount of time are the winners. 

Schedule yourself and stick to it. Unfinished work bleeds into late afternoon and weekends.

7. Be a Team Player

Closely guarding your best tactics is common practice in sales. If you figure out the secret advantage for setting meetings while in the shower, you’re going to be tempted to keep it a secret.

Just like the chess example. I didn’t want my friends to know I had sought external resources, because it would ruin my advantage. If they had access to the same material, their level of play would elevate and if I wanted to keep beating them, I’d have to elevate also. They eventually figured me out, and we all studied together and got better as a group. 

Here’s the lesson: We got better faster by working together than we would have by keeping our secrets to ourselves.

Aversion to helping other people in a sales setting is natural. Everyone wants to be the best, and some people have the opinion that giving away technique will only help those taking the advice. 

I took the opposite approach. Every time I came across something that I found helpful, I made a note and compiled a list. I called for a voluntary team meeting every week and shared these with the team, elevating the level of those around me. 

Sure, my lead on meetings set shrank as others started to catch up. But the important part for me was that we were all becoming stronger together. 

At the end of the day, the camaraderie developed with those on the front lines is something you can take with you forever. 

Besides, you never know. Being helpful has a karmic ROI as long as you stick to it.

One Final Success Tip…

Create your own good luck out there. 

Control the things that you can (your behavior and attitude come first) and remember to have fun, take it easy, and unplug often. 

Being an SDR is the hardest job in the building and usually the least appreciated. Keep after it, start crushing, and you’ll be on your way to where you need to be in no time.

Patrick comes from a mathematics education and research background and is currently leading top-of-funnel efforts as Director of Business Development at Fullcast.io. He's a casual strategy gamer, yoga enthusiast, and dog lover. Patrick spent most of his life in Boston, MA, and the Pacific Northwest has claimed him, as he now resides in Seattle, WA.