By Brian Hansford, Director of Client Services – Heinz Marketing

I download and read a lot of content from all kinds of vendors that may have something to do with B2B marketing.  Half the time I get a phone call from a Market or Sales Development Representative (SDR or MDR) to inquire why I downloaded the asset. I expect these calls and I know it’s part of the process. It’s a tough job and I try to be respectful and make my intentions clear. MDR’s play an important role in the demand generation and customer engagement process. But too often I feel they are set up to fail.

Case in point.

I received a call from an SDR with a large CRM-MarTech vendor. Several of us in the office receive random calls from this company throughout the year. This time the MDR started with “I see you recently downloaded some white papers. I wanted to see if you had any interest in our platform to help with XYZ function.”

Hard stop. Let’s review the call so far.

First, I haven’t downloaded any content from this company in a few months. I do read their blog on occasion. I respect their position in the market place and they do produce some quality content.  However, don’t game me with the old and tired ‘white paper’ call intro.

Secondly, even though the conversation starts with the white paper as the wedge, she moves rapidly into probing for my interest in their product. Awkward and clunky.

Let’s continue with the conversation.

I answered I wasn’t aware I downloaded content and that I was well aware of their platform because we have some clients that use it. I explained the services we provide to provide context.

Awkward silence. It seemed she didn’t know how to respond.

The SDR then went for the kill. She asked if I was interested in using their marketing product since we already use their flagship product.

I replied that we have no interest or need because we just completed our new implementation of Marketo.

She asked why we went with Marketo and I gave a list of answers that ranged from technical to business.

She asked when was the last time I saw the platform and if it was “pre-acquisition” because a lot has changed since then.

I replied that it’s only been a few months and I’m well aware of the capabilities.  It’s a good platform but we’re not moving and isn’t a fit for our business currently.

Awkward pause.

She replied with a defensive statement, maybe because she hasn’t heard people reply with specifics like I provided. “I’ve never heard anyone say we don’t have the same level of functionality as any other marketing automation product. I will make a note that you guys are using Marketo. Please give us a call if you have any questions about our platform.”

End of call.

Where B2B Companies Set Up SDR’s to Fail

There’s a lot to dissect here. At first I focused on her personal call style. But the problem is much bigger than my experience with a single SDR. I get calls like this from vendors all the time and they are all similar to this.

Companies are setting up their SDR teams to fail.  It’s a numbers game where transactions and call volume are apparently all that matter.  SDR’s are encouraged to be aggressive and steer the conversation to an appointment or request for demo. It’s like Stalin throwing conscripts through the gauntlet. Eventually the numbers will be so overpowering that results are imminent, regardless of the damage.

There are several problems with this shortsighted approach.

  • The company looks and sounds bad. In my example I come to expect these type of calls and consider them a joke. Not good.
  • Training is non-existent. Most SDR’s and MDR’s receive little to no training that will help them perform better and establish a positive customer impression.
  • Loose alignment between Sales and Marketing. SDR’s play an important role in the demand generation and customer engagement process. Help them understand they are an integration point between Marketing and Sales. Also, provide details on campaigns, with the context and desired outcomes.
  • Missed intelligence gathering. SDR’s can gather valuable structured and anecdotal information on competitors and trends. SDR’s don’t need to take surveys but they can provide valuable insights for a range of stakeholders.
  • Transactional focus. Number of dials, average call time, and demo appointments are transactional metrics. Yes, they are important. Balance the quantity with style by emphasizing context and attention to customer engagement.

If SDR’s are set up to fail, how can they be expected to deliver results that matter? SDR’s are often the first personal contact anyone will have with a company. Make sure they can deliver a quality experience.  Here are some ideas to help.

  • Provide better training – Help these people learn the tools and information to succeed in a challenging role. The ‘Glenngary Glen Ross’ approach to training doesn’t work.
  • Context drives the conversation – White paper contacts aren’t leads. Help SDR’s make calls with context without diving into features and functionality.
  • Listening skills – Listening skills are hard to develop. Help SDR’s recognize the path a call takes and offer the appropriate next steps.
  • Teamwork – Make sure SDR’s understand their critical role in the demand generation and customer engagement process. Treating SDR’s like a transaction engine will lead to treating customers like a transaction.

Companies with SDR’s should invest in their success. I am certain the results will be a positive impact to the pipeline.

  • TheIrreverentSalesGirl

    Dear Brian,

    I think it is very kind that you point to Training: Setting the Context, Listening Skills, etc. as remedies for this terrible problem.

    Most SDR’s are actually wonderful people who want to do a great job for their company and actually demonstrate value to the customer. Wouldn’t it be great if more companies were setting these people up to win with great training?

    Thank you for this generous article. I hope VP’s of Sales sit up and take notice!

    Love ’em ALL UP!

    The Irreverent Sales Girl

    • Brian Hansford

      Thanks TISG!

      Companies that invest in training and coaching SDR’s will get better results AND make a better impression with customers. Unfortunately I think too many organizations simply play the numbers game and throw bodies at the phones and hope leads will bubble to the surface.

      Thanks for the comment and sharing with your network!
      p.s. #GoBuffs

  • TheIrreverentSalesGirl


    This is a very kind and generous article. I appreciate how you diagnosed the problem at the training, coaching, and management level.

    I find that most SDR’s are really lovely people wanting to do a good job for their company and offer something valuable to their customers. If they don’t have the proper approach – as mandated by management – they are bound to get burned out.

    With proper training, coaching, and outreach messaging, I can see that they could thrive.

    Great article.

    Love ’em UP!

    The Irreverent Sales Girl

  • sketharaman

    Entry level people accept cold calling jobs but are not experienced enough to absorb your 4 actions. Experienced people can absorb your 4 actions but may not agree to do cold calling. There lies the challenge with the SDR function today:(