How to Motivate and Inspire your SDRs in 2021 and Beyond

Earlier this year I was scheduled to speak at SaaStr with two of the most dynamic SDR leaders in Silicon Valley, Lauren Wadsworth (Segment) and Alex Griffin (Reflektive), as part of a panel on “How to Motivate and Inspire your SDRs.” Unfortunately, the conference was canceled due to COVID-19, but the topic is one that continues to feel even more relevant now as we navigate our new remote reality.

As you think about improving your SDR program in 2021, there are three areas of focus for improved performance, engagement, and overall satisfaction. In our experience these are: creating meaning, fostering creativity, and developing careers.

  1. Create Meaning

When I was considering joining Cloudinary, one of the things that I noticed was that the average tenure of an SDR was well over 2.5 years — double the industry average for most SaaS companies in the Valley. During my interviews with the company’s CEO and Co-founder Itai Lahan I inquired why.

“It’s simple” he told me, “most SaaS companies treat their SDR as interchangeable parts and expect high turnover. But this is a group of people that are responsible for generating 40-60% or more of your pipeline? They’re a valuable part of the company and the sales engine, and we shouldn’t churn them every nine months, so we treat them well, pay them more than average, and celebrate their wins.”

It’s hard to argue with that logic and it is that type of approach that helps create a more meaningful workplace environment.

A second thing that the top companies do is enforce a strong partnership between SDR’s and Sales AE’s. Too often, sales AE’s treat SDR’s like their own personal lead monkey. For the SDR, this creates an environment of having two bosses – their immediate boss and the AE.

Instead, Lauren Wadsworth, SDR Director at Segment, recommends creating a partnership of equals between the SDR and AE. Ensure that they spend at least 15-20 minutes per day together reviewing leads, prospects, opportunities, and holding one another accountable.

This last point is critical to the success of any SDR program. Not only should the AE hold the SDR accountable, but the SDR should be holding the AE accountable for making the calls on time, following an agreed to agenda, driving next steps, & converting quickly.

This partnership betweenthe SDR & AE not only fosters a stronger relationship, but also helps the SDR see what the AE goes through on a day to day basis. Often, a next career step for an SDR is to take on a revenue based quota. This gives them a chance to see if that is right.

The second point to creating meaning in the job is that you have to invest in your SDR’s.  Your SDR team is a big part of your success as a company and investment in their career and success only motivates them further.

“This doesn’t need to be a significant monetary investment”, Alex Griffin says, “it can be something as simple as a lunch with an executive leader in the company.  We did monthly top performer lunches where SDR’s could get 1:1 time over lunch with a senior executive.”

The bottom line, to create meaning for your SDR’s, it can’t just be the SDR leader acknowledging their contribution to the organization, the entire company needs to get behind that.

And why wouldn’t you, it is, afterall, a huge part of your pipeline.

  1. Foster Creativity

If you have any type of influence at all in a company, you’re likely on some list and likely getting about 100-emails a day asking you, in some generic fashion for 20-minutes. It typically looks like this:

Hi Scott, 

My company XYZ Co. will help you to make some more money.  Can we schedule 20-min to talk about how we can help you make more money? 


Uncreative SDR

These emails are cranked out thousands at a time. They are likely written by the most senior person on the SDR team that doesn’t have a lot of business writing experience. You probably get a ton of them and if they aren’t ignored, they end up as ‘unsubscribes’, ‘remove me from your list’, ‘Not interested’. 

Sound familiar?

To decrease these negative replies, both Lauren and Alex encourage personalization and creativity.

Alex says, “It not only increases the aount of positive replies, resulting in more pipeline, but it also allows the SDR to feel a greater sense of accomplishment when they’ve booked a meeting with someone they’ve been working so hard to reach.”

Both have used video platform, Vidyard, to create unique experiences that range from saying ‘Hello’ in Hershey kisses to start the video for Hershey, to hosting a Heineken Happy Hour to get connected to the CMO of Heineken, or my favorite, an SDR eating the extra spicy ‘Blazin Hot’ wings from Buffalo Wild Wings.

These campaigns do take a bit longer to put together, but not only are they much more effective in connecting to senior leaders, they are much more fun to put together. SDRs leave their work day feeling like they’ve used their brain, not just hit send on yet another generic campaign. They have actually put together a compelling story and built a unique, targeted marketing campaign around it.

  1. Develop Careers

A big challenge that companies have with large SDR teams is what to do with them to help their career. All too often, companies just assume that the next step is to become a senior SDR, hen an SDR manager if that is the track they want to go down or maybe an AE if that is the track they want to go down.

There is little in the way of development beyond just taking the top SDR and putting them in one of those roles as the opportunity comes up.

This poses a number of issues including, but not limited to:

  • Is there an opportunity open? A company might have 15-SDR’s, but doesn’t need that many SDR leaders.  They may not need a seller in that territory.
  • Is it the career trajectory that the SDR wants? What about SDR’s that want to explore other roles?
  • What do you do with your second best performer? At some point, they are still excelling, but going to get burnt out.
  • You lose your top performer – If you take your top performer and put them in a leadership role, are they going to be able to take the rest of the team and make up that delta?

The last point is probably the most important. If you haven’t invested in making that person a good leader, not only are you taking them out of the field, but you haven’t given them the tools to make them successful to make up the delta from their over performance. It’s a double loss.

Companies have a group of people that spend their entire day pitching the company. They likely know more about the company, the value, and the product and how it all comes together than anyone else except maybe the CEO.

At her company, Lauren Wadsworth built out the SDR Career Growth strategy. She encourages the SDR’s to break out of the SDR leadership / AE career progression and look at all of the departments in the company including Marketing, Sales Engineering, Development / Engineering, Communications, Support, and other departments across the organizations.

She works with the leaders in these departments and sets up quarterly career fair lunches for the SDRs on her team to learn more about the roles, the openings, and the expectations.

She has developed a 12-month, 3-stage development program that has various milestones across the program that ensures that the SDR doesn’t lose focus of their day to day responsibilities, but also takes on the learning required to be successful in this new role.

An example might be that the SDR needs to hit their goals, but, if their interest is joining client success, they are also expected to take a few Gainsight training courses and go through internal certification.

The goal of this program is threefold 1.) Ensure that the SDR not only has a strong career path, but also stays at the company; 2.) the team doesn’t lose the production of that SDR by making a quick transition to a new role; 3.) reduce the ramp up period to the new role.

Finally, to help keep SDR’s motivated, Alex Griffin says:

  • Make it Fun – Break up the day with Power Hours, have a team standup outside and invite guest speakers, and create games that test role-related knowledge;
  • Make it Competitive – Focus on the outcomes you’re trying to drive and then create competitions at all scales. Create a bracket and have 1:1 dialing competitions, make teams within your team and let them battle it out for the most meetings booked that week;
  • Make it Positive – Send out a weekly email highlighting key wins from the week or just phonomenal outreach, take the time to send sales leadership a recap of the impact the SDRs have made on pipeline, give shoutouts for quota crushers and big wins;

Is this the answer to all of your company’s problems? Likely not. But if you have SDRs and you aren’t implementing some of these key ideas, you’re likely not popping on all cylinders. You have a lot of opportunities to not only make your team better, but to have a positive impact on a young sellers career.