What is a sales development representative?

Hi, I’m Alex! I’ve been working in sales for innovative startups like SoftBank Robotics and large corporations like NBC Universal for years. Now, I work as an industry mentor at Pathrise. I help people land great sales jobs through workshops and 1-on-1 mentorship. Check out my article where I answer the question, “What is a sales development representative?”.

Sales development representatives (SDRs) qualify leads in a sales funnel. They reach out to potential customers (leads) and connect them with another salesperson who sells the product. Basically, SDRs are the first line of sales defense. 

SDRs don’t usually sell anything directly–they “qualify” leads by communicating the value of the product to a lead and then, they pass the right ones upstream. Since each product and customer is unique, different SDR jobs require different skills. Qualifications for one SDR role may actually disqualify you from another role.

So, how can you tell SDR roles apart? To help you understand what exactly sales development representatives do, we have to first answer the question, “What is a sales development representative?”. We’ve broken down the most common backgrounds and skills hiring managers look for in an SDR so you can find out which SDR position is right to launch your sales career. 

What educational background do you need to land a job as a sales development representative? 

While many sales development representatives have degrees in business, communications, marketing, economics, and related fields, a lack of formal education will not necessarily disqualify you. Sales experience, persuasiveness, and even personality are often equally important as education since universities don’t train students in the interpersonal communication skills required for sales.

“Outbound” sales development representative roles may be an especially good fit for people with less education or work history as these roles require enthusiasm for cold calling above all else. Impressive communication skills may trump an impressive resume when applying for inbound SDR roles as well. Plenty of SDRs only have high school diplomas. However, the majority of sales development representatives have a bachelor’s or higher. A degree will help you get your foot in the door.

If formal education isn’t possible, aspiring sales development representatives can enroll in a sales bootcamp that prepares them for entry level sales jobs. Aspiring salespeople may want to consider a training program that includes real sales work like Uvaro or Vendition since having even minimal sales experience can help you stand out to recruiters. For even more resources to help you learn sales, check out our guide.

Breaking into sales

Once you’ve finished your degree, bootcamp, or certificate program, breaking into sales can still be challenging, especially without work experience. Consider putting sales skills to work in your current role or finding freelance, part-time, or contract work to help you build up your resume. Recruiters value any work experience that builds communication skills, including customer support and service industry roles. Most jobs require you to sell something, even if it is only yourself. 

Self-study may be helpful, but not to the same degree as it is for STEM jobs that require a technical interview. Since communication and interpersonal skills are critical to SDR roles, behavioral interviews are often extremely important in sales hiring. Check out our 5 phone interview questions and answers you can prepare to stand out in the first stages of the hiring process. You can use our list of the best questions to ask in a sales interview to show off your research and communication skills in your behavioral interviews.

What is sales development and what is a sales development representative?

Companies design a sales funnel, or a journey their customers go through on their way to actually purchasing the product. But a funnel by itself isn’t enough to sell a product. Where will the customers come from? How will companies find people who actually want to buy their products? For example, an umbrella company might have trouble selling in the Sahara Desert. The company could hire the world’s best sales team to sell umbrellas so perfect that each one comes with a Mary Poppins song–none of it matters without qualified leads. 

Sales development is adding more leads to the funnel by finding new potential customers and guiding them through the sales funnel. Companies don’t just need a steady stream of leads to stay alive–they need “qualified” leads, or potential customers who actually want to buy their product. Sales development representatives find these potential customers and then “qualify” them by communicating the value of their product. If the customer is interested, they then move on to a “closer” who gets the lead to actually spend money. This work is often done by account executives or more experienced salespeople.

Sales is selling a product. Sales development is finding people who want to buy a product. This includes customer research, reaching out to potential customers, communicating the value of the product, and passing the potential customer to a salesperson who will actually sell them the product. Basically, sales development is the process of adding leads to the sales funnel. Sales developers find the proper fuel for the sales funnel and provide a steady stream.

What types of roles fall under the sales development representative umbrella? 

While sales development representative jobs often include the industry or service in the title (i.e. pharmaceutical sales development representative), SDRs tend to perform similar functions regardless of the company. 

If you are looking for sales development representative roles, keep an eye out for postings with the following titles: 

  • Sales development representative 
  • Outbound sales development representative 
  • Inbound sales development representative 
  • Enterprise sales development representative 
  • Strategic sales development representative 
  • Inside sales representative
  • Outside sales representative

In general, sales development representative jobs fall into 3 categories: outbound SDR, inbound SDR, and enterprise SDR. To give you a better sense of what skills are required, we have broken down the responsibilities of each role so you better understand what sales development representatives actually do.

Outbound sales development representatives

Outbound SDRs generate leads. The stereotypical busy salesperson, making cold calls with endless enthusiasm? Textbook outbound SDR. While outbound SDRs may do some research to connect with people who may have an interest in their product, they often work with the coldest of cold leads. Since hustle is so important, outbound sales development representatives tend to be recent grads with lots of energy. Enthusiasm may outweigh experience in the job search. Outbound SDR roles are a great fit for high-energy sales professionals who excel at outreach. 

Job duties: cold outreach, lead research, mass emailing, colds calls

Inbound sales development representative

The Inbound sales development representative works with warm leads from contact form submissions, email subscriptions, and phone call inquiries. Inbound SDRs communicate the value of their product and then connect the lead with a salesperson upstream. Strong communication skills are a must for outbound SDRs. Apply for these roles if you have a way with words and make strong business pitches.

Job duties: connecting with warm leads, responding to inquiries, communicating the value of a product, handling objections

Enterprise sales development representative 

Enterprise SDRs, sometimes called strategic SDRs, map out potential customers. They conduct research to create more personalized cold emails, usually based on LinkedIn profiles. While these roles involve many of the cold calling job duties of outbound SDRs, enterprise SDR roles require more strategy and finesse. Strong analytical skills are a must. These roles could be a good fit for salespeople seeking quieter work, who prefer to write a few thoughtful emails rather than send barrages of cold messages. Apply for enterprise SDR roles if you can analyze people’s online profiles to craft compelling emails.

Job duties: create customer personas, identify potential customers, deduce interest based on online profiles, craft highly personalized emails

With the above information, you should be able to answer the question, “What is a sales development representative?” as well as know how you can become one. For even more tips and guidance, Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. If you are interested in optimizing your sales job search by working 1-on-1 with a mentor, become a Pathrise fellow. 

Apply today.

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