A new sales leader reached out this week to ask when she should hire her first sales development representative (SDR). What a great question, and luckily, it’s a pretty black and white answer.
Let’s start with when it’s not time to hire your first SDR.
It’s too soon to hire your first SDR when:
- You haven’t landed any actual, paying customers yet.
- You aren’t certain of your ideal customer profile (ICP).
- You haven’t nailed down your differentiation or unique selling proposition.
- You don’t know the customer pains you solve, or the needs you fill.
- You don’t have a value proposition that resonates with your ICP.
- You don’t have a plan for feeding the SDR good leads or providing them a viable mechanism to source good leads.
- Product-market fit is still a long way away.
In short, don’t hire SDRs before you figure out the basics. Sales development reps are something you add to a process that is already getting off the ground, not something you do before you are actively selling.
I am not saying everything has to be perfect and written in stone. Because of course in a startup, things shift daily. Ideal customer profile, value proposition, differentiation—these are things that evolve as you learn more about your market and grow.
But, you need product-market fit before you hire your first SDR. Or at least, you need to see that product-market fit is near on the horizon and you are getting very close.
So, when is it time to hire your first SDR?
First, let’s not hire one. Let’s hire two. When you hire one, whether they knock it out of the park or totally fail, you don’t know why. You don’t have anything to compare to. So, it’s always good to hire salespeople in cohorts of at least two in the beginning before you have predictable benchmarks
That said, here’s when it’s time to hire your first two SDRs:
- You have an ideal customer profile.
- You have a value proposition that is compelling for your ideal customers.
- You have some paying customers and you know why they bought, and what problems you solve for them (or what goals you help them achieve).
- You have some messaging to help guide the SDR conversations.
- You have a fairly firm idea of what makes for a qualified prospect.
- You know where your SDRs can get quality leads.
If you hire your first SDRs before you check the above boxes, you will waste money and they will waste time. Even the most experienced & skilled SDRs need a guidepost. They need to know where to find good leads, who they should be going after and why. They need to know why your product matters to your prospects & customers.
You don’t have to have everything figured out when you hire your first SDRs, and things will always be evolving in a startup sales team, but you do need the basics locked down. Set your SDRs up for success, give them plenty of time to ramp up and be patient in the early days.