8 minutes
March 3, 2022

What makes a successful SDR?

What makes a successful SDR? We’ve got everything you need to know to progress in a rewarding career path in sales.
Elisia Guerena
Table of Contents

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Everything you need to know to progress in your career path

Whether working in sales is a job you dreamed of since eating Wheaties before school, or is a recently realized goal, being an SDR is a great starting point for many opportunities and successful career paths. So in between shaking off cold shoulders from cold calls and successfully landing meetings, you may wonder: what do I need to know to take the next step?

If there’s one conversation that LeadIQ knows best (besides how to make sales teams more efficient), it’s how to level up. To help you make the best use of your time as an SDR, we sat down with Senior SDR at LeadIQ Risa Khamsi to discuss her approach to breaking out of the SDR role as she strives to transition to being an Account Executive–and what experiences she had as an SDR that helped prepare her for the journey. Here’s the scoop from Risa, as well as advice on how to navigate your career path.

How Risa excelled as an SDR, and how you can too

Before becoming a rockstar SDR at LeadIQ, Risa spent 10 years working in the service industry. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” shared Risa, but as it turned out, that job gave her both thick skin and the ability to ride out highs and lows–skills that are crucial for working in sales. So when Risa witnessed a friend’s rapid success in the sales world, she decided to test her own mettle. Risa enrolled in a sales boot camp before onboarding with LeadIQ. “It took me six months to really feel confident being an SDR,” she said. “That might sound like a long time, but for me to really feel confident on the phone and just feel like I knew what I was doing–it was about a six-month journey.”

During that time, Risa cut her sales teeth by flexing her creative muscles. She sent emails with videos of her singing Britney Spears’ songs with repurposed lyrics, haikus, and other out-of-the-box approaches. One time she even sent a prospect a wedding gift. Within one year, Risa’s hard work paid off. She was twice promoted: first to Senior Sales Development Representative, and then to being an SDR team lead. What led to her success?

Pro tips for succeeding as an SDR

  • Consistently source feedback and support: Risa was both receptive to the feedback of her mentors and coaches, as well as actively sought out advice online (from LinkedIn thought leaders, for example).
  • Persevere no matter what: It can be easy to quit, especially if it feels like you’re chasing a dead end. But Risa found that following through, even in situations that seemed hopeless, gave her the backbone (and at times, opportunities) necessary for success.  
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude: Risa stayed positive throughout her time as an SDR. She made a point of silently saying “thank you” for every call she took, no matter how it went. This practice was part of an overall positive outlook that she credits as one of the main differentiators between her and peers who were negative and didn’t go as far.
  • Stay confident: Risa found small ways to infuse upbeat energy into her conversation with prospects. For instance, she found that ending sentences on a high-pitched note made her sound doubtful while ending them on a down note made her sound confident.

Important factors when considering next steps in your career

To help you discern the career path that’s right for you, here’s some information on three of the most popular choices available to SDRs, and what skill sets you can hone to get ready for each.

  • SDR Managers specialize in recruiting and training SDRs to be part of a sales team. A good SDR manager will bend over backward to ensure that new recruits are prepared for the role by offering consistent support, feedback, and insight. They understand teamwork, and excel at leading by example, throwing in elbow grease when necessary to help both the team and individuals navigate any scenario to the best possible outcome. A good SDR manager both enjoys and excels at coaching. One helpful way to think of the role is to understand that SDR managers essentially work for SDRs, meaning that their team member’s performance is a direct reflection on them. This dynamic places SDR managers in a position of great responsibility that–in order to successfully live up to–requires knowing how to reach goals (filling a pipeline, hitting quota), and being able to effectively communicate that process to others.1 SDR managers have more predictable schedules than some of their peers, and sometimes (depending on the company) take lower salaries than if they pursued other career paths.
  • Account Executives, on the other hand, specialize in maintaining relationships with current customers, as well as closing on leads. This position is perfect for people who thrive on curiosity, discovery, and of course – the hustle (and are also rewarded for this ambition with greater salary opportunities). Being an AE is competitive–not only are you now responsible for existing accounts and closing on leads, but you also are, more and more frequently, expected to prospect. Many AEs were highly successful SDRs that wanted to experience the full sales cycle. They are driven and determined, with a proven track record of hard work and success.
  • Cross-functional positions allow you to work with people from various departments while wearing a different hat than a strictly-speaking sales role. Success, RevOps, and Product are a few example areas. A cross-functional position allows you to pick what you liked best about being an SDR and focus on that area, while leaving behind what didn’t work for you. Say, for instance, that you strongly believed in a product’s value and loved discussing it with prospects. That passion could translate well to working in Product. If defining the strategy behind a successful sales approach appealed to you, RevOps could be your next move. Working in a cross-functional position allows you to experience and synergize with other departments, adopt new skill sets, and try something new. Depending on your level of ambition and dedication to the SDR role, that change could be very welcome–or could prompt yet another transition.

Given these options, how can SDRs know which one to choose? Risa seriously considered the two most popular paths–SDR Manager and Account Executive–before deciding. At first, an SDR Manager seemed the way to go. “I love mentoring people and coaching people,” she said, “So I thought that would be a really good role for me.” Her mentors thought so too, and trained her for the role until she realized that the role’s high pressure wasn’t the right fit for her. Risa knew that she wanted to stay in sales for the long run, so she opted for the Account Executive path. This role would fulfill her goals of experiencing and mastering the full sales cycle, as well as maintain a work/life balance that suits her. How did she make that choice?

How to choose the SDR career path that’s right for you

  • Talk it over with your mentors: Risa cultivated a close relationship with her mentors during her time as an SDR, and that allowed them to give insight on what they saw working best for her and her unique talents. Their experience also allowed them to provide some well-earned insights on how each role worked, and what she could expect.
  • Rely on your network: In order to get a well-rounded picture of what to expect as an AE, Risa reached out to an online connection who worked in that role, and talked to him  about this transition. Just a 15-minute talk helped Risa make the right choice.
  • Be open to the non-linear path: Any career path (including sales) isn’t linear. Don’t be afraid of slow progress, or heading in the wrong direction altogether. That’s what Risa did, when a company recruited her from LeadIQ by offering a position that looked perfect on paper. That dream job, however, turned out to be a mistake. Risa returned to LeadIQ after six months. The detour taught her valuable lessons about what not to do, as well as to recognize that no matter how well you plan, things don’t always work out. Sometimes, she shared, you have to “make a mistake, or try something – risk something – and fail, and just learn from it and take it with a grain of salt.”
  • Plan for the long term: Risa took time to get to know herself and what she wanted. She knew that she wanted to work in sales long-term and that being an SDR manager wouldn’t support that position. Her choice to be an Account Executive was aimed at sustainability and a long-term vision, not just what sounded good at first or what was expected of her.

If you want to learn more about SDRs and sales, check out our library of resources. Interested in SDR career opportunities at LeadIQ? Check out our current openings.