The Best Sales Development Reps Don’t Suffer from a Lack of Focus

Sales Development Reps Focus

“Most successes aren’t the result of trying to be a huge success and settling for what you get. They are the result of focusing on exactly what you need, and getting it.” — Seth Godin

If you’re a serious sales development rep (SDR) striving to become a high-caliber salesperson, then lack of focus is unacceptable. It is one of five barriers blocking you from hitting quota, not to mention earning that promotion.

The other barriers include obscurity, inactivity, no conversation flow, and failure to keep improving. The good news is each of these barriers is self-imposed, and you can eliminate all of them.

This article will take an extensive look at focus methods used by the best SDRs, and what matters most when creating revenue pipeline at the top of the sales funnel.

Chasing Two Rabbits


SDRs don’t have time to lose focus. According to research experts TOPO and The Bridge Group, the average tenure of sales development reps is only 1-2 years.

That means your boss must ensure you’re ramped and producing pipeline in 8-12 weeks. It also means you must learn, develop, and consistently demonstrate a slew of core competencies in short order.

Average SDR Tenure Graph

Source: TOPO, 2014

SDRs who major in minor things are easily distracted. “Minor things” aren’t relative to your craft and don’t pull you towards achieving quota. Studies show those who choose not to focus have an attention span of eight seconds (a goldfish’s is nine seconds).

It’s like a scene from the Disney-Pixar animated film, Up, where Dug the talking dog is distracted in mid-sentence by a “Squirrel!”

You just HAD to watch the video clip, didn’t you? See what I mean? A concentrated grasp on process and desired outcomes will separate you from the mediocre majority of SDRs.

Cultivate an awareness and a disciplined approach to the following four areas and you’ll get game tight. It is how the best SDRs operate.

#1 First, Zoom Out

“Vision without action is a daydream.

Action without vision is a nightmare.” — Japanese proverb

You DO have time to gain perspective. Dark days will arrive, and without a crystallized vision of the big picture, you’ll have trouble maneuvering through them.  

Visualize your successful self a few years from now. Write down your response to these seven questions:

  1. Why am I working here?
  2. How much do I like what our company sells?
  3. Who will I be helping?
  4. How will I invest or donate my earnings?
  5. Where will I live throughout the year?
  6. Who will experience the journey with me?
  7. What can I do, right now, to move closer to the vision?

Clarify your purpose and goals

Someone once warned, “If you don’t know where you want to be in five years, you’re already there.” If I asked you to show me your goals, could you point to them? Do you see your goals every day?

If your purpose doesn’t haul you out of bed every morning, then tackling inbound leads and reaching out to prospects won’t ever matter.

Your written purpose must inspire you! Here are examples of people’s purpose:

Work Purpose

Your goals represent the outcomes you’re after. What you focus on is what you feel, so focus (with passion) on your goals every single day. And write them down every single day. Here are examples of what strong SDRs might write for quarterly goals:

Work Goals

Understand your leader’s objectives

Most sales development leaders have a two-fold objective:

  • Develop and maintain a viable revenue pipeline
  • Sustain a healthy people (or talent) pipeline

The better sales development reps are at knowing and supporting their leader’s objectives, the more valuable they are to the team. This doesn’t require you to become a bootlicker, but it does mean you must “manage up.”

A. Developing and maintaining a viable revenue pipeline. This is your job. It’s what deposits money into your bank account.

Get those awesome prospects engaged and excited to evaluate your offering. A comprehensive understanding of your ideal customer profile is imperative, but so is knowing what prospects aren’t a fit.

Start worthwhile conversations that blossom into long, prosperous relationships. SDRs sell the meeting, not the offering, and guarantee their account executives meet with the right people at the right time. That’s what creates viable revenue pipeline.


Predictive Revenue Model

Source: Aaron Ross / Marylou Tyler, Predictable Revenue, 2012

B. Sustaining a healthy people pipeline. Studies prove, when you ask employees and employers who is responsible for designing a clear career path, each believes the other is responsible. Both are right.

Companies should have a career path for SDRs to follow

The best companies and leaders craft a well-lit career path for SDRs. According to SHRM, a survey by Deloitte reveals “lack of career progress” as the top reason people begin searching for another job. Instead of waiting for career opportunities to surface, the best SDRs create those opportunities through their attitude, work ethic, reputation, and results.

SDRs must “act as if” they’re already account executives

A top sales development rep in my organization was Jordan Sanvictores. Now a national account executive, Jordan is closing deals in his assigned territory and carrying a big boy quota.

During the denouement of his sales development days, Jordan got so inspired to do whatever it took to become an account executive, he assembled a binder titled, “Act As If.”  

Business Motivation Binder

 Source: Jordan Sanvictores

Over time, Jordan amassed enough notes and action items to have his own catalog and sales playbook. Today, the binder serves as a reminder to Jordan, of how much diligence and resolve is required to level up. Its contents are separated by tabs labelled:

  • “You’re going to be an AE!!!” (SDR to AE checklist)
  • Competitive Intelligence
  • Customer Stories
  • Product and Organizational Positioning
  • Interview Presentation Preparation
  • Legal Documents: MSA / Order Form
  • Implementation Process Documentation
  • Pricing Details
  • Objection Handling
  • YOUR Elevator Pitch (Learn it, Know it, Live it)
  • Most Relevant Industry White Papers

What are you doing to shape your career path and influence a sustainable people pipeline? How are you taking responsibility for your future?

How are you fueling an active revenue pipeline? What are you doing every day, to ensure you’re contributing?

During those quiet weekday afternoons, or rough set of weeks, when “the vibe’s just not there” or prospects won’t correspond with you, remember to zoom out.

Perhaps, several years from now, someone will ask for your advice, or stories of “when you were in sales development.” Those stories are happening right now. Keep perspective.

#2 Then, Zoom In

“Done is better than perfect.”

Own your business within the business

It doesn’t matter if you’re an inbound-only or outbound-only rep, or a hybrid of the two. Everything that comes across your desk, your inbox, and your calendar represents your business within the business.

The best SDRs zoom-in, handling one task at a time. They own their business through attentive territory management, inbound lead response, and outbound prospecting rhythm.

All the while, the best execute as if they’re responsible for everything on their own: from qualification and discovery calls, to working deal mechanics, to closing the business. Nothing slips through the cracks.

A. Manage your territory

Business leader Anthony Iannarino advises, “If it’s your territory, work it like it is your territory. That means being organized enough to constantly and consistently pursue your dream clients. It means nurturing the relationships over time, all of the time, so that your territory is really your territory.”

Waking up to learn your biggest prospects went with a competitive offering is painful. Learning you and your company were never part of the conversation is worse.  

Questions to ask yourself when managing a territory:

  • Who are the customers and where are they (located and in contract)?
  • How well do we service them? Who’s the account manager or customer success manager responsible, and when did I speak with them last?
  • Am I familiar with why the customers bought from us? What problem did we solve?
  • What customers in my territory would refer us to other businesses?
  • What are the most precious accounts I want business from? Are their company logos pinned to my bulletin board, pasted to my bathroom mirror, or embedded in my calendar?
  • Who are the 3-5 primary contacts in those prospective accounts? How am I attracting those contacts to me? Why, specifically, would they take my call? Why now?

B. Choreograph your inbound lead follow-up

Streamline your inbound lead qualification process by first understanding your marketing colleagues’ world. Just as you do with your sales development leader, align your efforts with your marketing team’s mission.

Sales leader Bill Binch points out that “marketing and sales alignment allows a communication channel, so sales can funnel non sales-ready leads back to marketing for further nurturing. This means that every lead is accounted for, and more end up converting, instead of being lost in the cycle.”

Embrace the SLA (Service Level Agreement) between marketing and sales development, as well as between sales development and field sales. Deliver to both teams and leave no lead behind. If your organization doesn’t have an SLA in place, ask your sales development leader to contact me.

Questions to ask yourself when handling inbound leads:

  • How many new leads did I get this week (or month, or quarter)? Did I get more or less than last week (or month, or quarter)? Why?
  • What lead source did they come from (webinars, website, white papers, events, SEO)?
  • Have I stack-ranked the lead sources by conversion rate? (This will help me prioritize what leads to follow-up on first)
  • Am I looking at the lead score (behavioral, demographic information) and following up accordingly?
  • How quickly am I following up? Am I learning about the lead before responding, so I can engage with relevance?

C. Orchestrate your outbound prospecting

Inside sales leader Lars Nilsson believes “many forward-thinking B2B technology companies are breeding SDR’s at the same rate as their outside quota-carrying sales counterparts, making a new outbound approach possible.”

Though prospecting is one of the toughest parts of selling, applying methods like Lars’ account-based sales development, or Jon Miller’s account-based marketing, help you better navigate through it.

Sales Process Struggles Chart

Source: State of Inbound 2015, Hubspot

Actions you must take for productive prospecting:

  • Assess your territory, select your target accounts and key contacts
  • Investigate your targets: find connections and relationships, gather intelligence on your target accounts and key contacts
  • Connect with and engage your targets: schedule your outreach, choose your approach (face-to-face, phone, email, social media), educate the marketplace, execute

D. Own your day, so it doesn’t own you

Content marketing expert Neil Patel is excellent at execution. His secret to getting stuff done is going from point A to point B, gathering feedback, making necessary tweaks, then going from point B to point C, and so on.

Neil never tries to boil the ocean, going from A to Z at-once; and neither should you.

Applying the Pomodoro technique, tackle a single task, and only that task (like sorting your leads by title or vertical or location, or crafting an email to your top 3 prospects, or rehearsing a sales deck you’re getting certified on) for 25 minutes. Then, take a five minute break before beginning the next 25-minute session.

Getting From Point A to B

Source: The Motion Paradox, Poignantboy, 2012

Life coach Brendon Burchard uses a “1-Page Productivity Planner” you can download here. It steers your attention to:

  • no more than 3 main projects at a time,
  • the people you need to reach out to and hear from in a given day, and
  • the priorities that need your attention, like right-freaking-now.

1-Page Productivity Planner

Source: Brendon Burchard

If you don’t own your day, it (and everyone else) will own you. SDRs who arrive at the office with no plan or idea of how their day will unfold will fall behind those who do have a plan.

The metaphor of “zooming out” and “zooming in” comes from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor. When discussing how effective leaders toggle between standing back and seeing the big picture and honing in on the details, she reminds us to “flexibly move across the spectrum.”

While you move through the day’s tasks, remain cognizant of your two paths: the one you’re on towards becoming an account executive (or the next role you desire), and the one you’re on in life. That presence will enable you to focus.

#3 Measure Your Progress, Daily

You can’t win if you don’t keep score. Leverage everything from reports and dashboards in your CRM, to a spreadsheet saved to your desktop, to the team’s real-time scoreboard displayed in the office. Always know where you are against your plan, and what steps you must take to win.  

Reference the Lagging Indicators, Influence the Leading Indicators

Once you’re given a quarterly goal to reach, it’s time to work backwards. Based on lagging indicators, like historic conversion rates, you’re able to calculate what it will take to hit your number.

Manage and monitor the leading indicators, or warning signs, so you can course-correct and increase the probability of hitting the goal.    

For example, some SDRs are measured and compensated on the number of meetings they schedule with prospects that actually occur, while some are measured on the number of pipeline opportunities that come from those meetings.

A. Look at where you are vs. goal every day

Let’s say you’re measured on both, and your quarterly goal is 30 meetings occurred and 15 opportunities. And let’s say lagging indicators have shown ~50% of meetings that occur convert to opportunities.

In the first week of the quarter, three of your scheduled meetings must occur, which should yield one opportunity. By the second week, you should have five meetings on the board and two opportunities, steadily increasing both as each week passes.

An ideal quarter, then, would look like this:

Ideal Sales Metrics in a Quarter


B. Track progress from an individual dashboard (vs. a team dashboard)

Stay in your own lane. You need to worry about YOUR progress first. Once everyone on the sales development team fires on all cylinders, the results will take care of themselves.

Your dashboard, for example, could exhibit your inbound lead flow, lead disposition, activity metrics, and opportunities produced. It might appear like this:

The best SDRs are accountable. They take ownership of their actions, their progress (or lack thereof), and their performance. Tracking your improvement each day makes your aspirations real. It also allows you to see your “proven track record” take shape.

#4 Learn to Get Focused Fast

Sales leader Steve Richard cites the book The Joshua Principle when reminding salespeople what’s required to focus: “Be fully there. Pay attention and execute with excellence.”   

Whether you work “in the bullpen,” alongside fellow high-energy SDRs, or in your home office with dishes or laundry waiting to get washed, these shortcuts will eliminate distractions and get you “in zone” fast:

Momentum Plugin Motivation

Source: Momentum for Chrome

That’s how the best sales development reps focus. They don’t have the time to get distracted, so they employ a serious approach to these four areas: zooming out and seeing the big picture; zooming in on the little things that make the big things matter; measuring their progress, daily; and learning to get focused fast.

SDRs that do this consistently hit their quota, driving revenue pipeline every quarter; and also march forward on their career path, so they can move upward and onward in their professional lives.

You are capable of getting focused in seconds. For instance, you probably weren’t thinking about your right ear lobe – until now. That’s how fast you can focus. Next, we’ll uncover how the best sales development reps take massive action.

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    • This is an important piece for so many reasons.
      * It will set the tone and stage for new and future SDR’s to understand what it will take to be successful for themselves and their companies.
      * It will allow current SDR’s to reflect on what they are doing today and help shine the flashlight in the mirror on themselves and ask the question: How do I set myself up for success and advancement?
      * Because it Turns out that FOCUS is the the key to just about everything in technology sales (and in fact life). Without it, you have no path to success. If you do not focus, you will not achieve.

      Well done Ralph Barsi… you may have just helped push a 1000+ SDR’s that today consciously have this focus to gain the confidence to go to their managers and push for other roles that are hopefully there to advance into. If not, I have three different ISR roles here at Cloudera for you to apply for 😉

      Lastly, To the SDR that just read through this piece: Ask yourself if you think you have what Ralph has described? If yes, good on you! If, not…dig down, find it or develop it and begin using it. If not, you will get passed up by the next young gun that we both know is getting hired into the spot that the last person got fired from because they did not have it.

    • Thank you, Lars!

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