The Sales Development Career Path Paradox

We’ve been at it for almost 2 years at RevBoss and we’ve learned some stuff along the way. So I thought in 2016 I’d try to do a better job sharing what we’re learning and questions we’re asking.

There is no denying the popularity and effectiveness of the segmented sales model, which I’ve grossly oversimplified below:

  • Sales Development Reps cultivate opportunities from cold prospects.
  • SDRs hand off opportunities to Account Executives that get deals closed.

For most organizations, the Sales Development Reps are usually pretty junior — which is another paradox for another day. Depending on geography, SDRs earn $40k to $70k OTE. Depending on the organizational culture, the product they’re selling, and the market they’re targeting, the SDR’s role ranges from challenging to brutal.

Young SDRs take on a challenging (and frequently brutal) role with the goal starting their career, learning a craft, and — of course — moving up the ladder to an AE role where they’ll make more money, do big deals, etc. Organizations aren’t shy about this model. The pitch is usually along the lines of if you do a great job as an SDR, you’ll be an AE in 12 to 18 months.

If your business is booming, then no worries! Keep hiring great SDRs, keep bumping them to AE / BD roles, and let the good times roll.

If your business is less-than-booming, then you’ve got a supply / demand problem. Your SDRs might need to be SDRs for a long time.

We’ve heard from many prospects and customers that — because they didn’t have an AE spot at the ready — their SDRs bolted for an AE opportunity elsewhere, which means lost investment and lost institutional knowledge.

We’ve also heard from many prospects and customers that they would love to hire more SDRs, but they don’t have an internal path for them. Thus the you’ll be an AE in 12 months pitch is disingenuous, so they slow their recruiting role and probably slow their growth as well.

We’ve also wondered why organizations would spend so much time training a person to fill a highly specialized, incredibly challenging role…only to transition them to something brand new 12 months into their career.

I don’t really have answers, but I do have more questions:

  • Why not acknowledge sales development as a career path? Instead of treating the SDR role as a stepping stone, why not give your SDRs a path to make real $$$? I’m guessing that you’ll probably get a better output over the long haul and you’ll solve a recruiting/resource problem.
  • What can organizations do to make the sales development role more appealing and less brutal? If the role is about more than just grit and turning the crank, you can recruit better people that will generate better results. RevBoss has some strong opinions in this area…and plenty of ideas in the works.