August 9, 2021

Sales Development 2.0: Sales Development at a PLG company

The SDR has transitioned from 24/7 cold-calling to data-driven outreach

Garrett Scott
Head of Marketing & Demand Gen at Calendly

Close your eyes. What do you think about when you hear the title, “sales development representative” (SDR, or sometimes BDR)? We bet that you immediately thought of - even if just for an instance - a fresh college graduate whose full job is to cold call a list of accounts until maybe someone answers the phone. Their account executive (AE) hands them an account list of companies that they should go after. The SDR spends the day scanning LinkedIn and cold-emailing / cold-calling every single contact at the organization in the hopes that one of them falls for their bait. If they’re lucky, the person on the other end of the phone will listen to the SDR while they give a general 15 minute pitch. If they’re really, really lucky, that person will allow the SDR to introduce them to the AE to explore next steps.

That is enterprise sales. 

This is product-led sales.

Product-Led Sales (PLS) is an end-user focused sales model that leverages self-serve users as the primary funnel for the sales motion. As you might recall from this article, there are three teams that sit within the product-led sales organization: self-serve, assist, and sales. The SDR is part of the sales team.

The SDR is responsible for identifying high quality leads, qualifying the leads, and passing the leads to the AE. In the world of product-led sales, the SDR is much more data-driven and user-centric than the traditional enterprise SDR. They rely on the self-serve funnel to inform their outreach, and their outreach is hyper-personalized.

We sat down with Garrett Scott, the Head of Marketing & Demand Gen at Calendly, to learn more about the sales development process at a product-led company. Garrett’s job is to find self-serve buyers and guide them through the traditional sales motion, and discover new ways to make the product-led sales motion more effective.

“The product-led sales development process is more efficient than the traditional sales development processes. The initial discovery calls are more tailored and structured to the individual users’ needs and the deals are qualified and ultimately closed at a higher velocity."- Garrett
The Role of The Sales Development in Product-Led Sales

As mentioned, the SDR is responsible for identifying and qualifying high quality leads before handing off to an account executive. But first, what is a “high quality lead”? A high quality lead is a user that has already experienced meaningful value from the product through self-serve (or maybe free trial / freemium model). This is also known as a product-qualified lead (PQL). PQLs are very likely to convert from self-serve to paid customer given they already understand the product and might have even raised their hand to talk to a sales team.

Garrett explains two roles of the sales development team:

1. Identify leads

There are two paths to identifying PQLs: inbound and outbound

  • Inbound: The job of the SDR starts as soon as the self-serve user raises their hand.  The SDR may be responsible for monitoring chat / email for self-serve users that raise their hand. Or, if the PLG company has a sales-assist / product specialist team, then the sales assist team may be responsible for identifying leads and passing them to the SDR for further qualification.
  • Outbound: The SDR is also responsible for proactively mining the self-serve pipeline to uncover PQLs.  They will analyze the users to understand who is a customer fit (industry, geography, company size, etc.) and a product usage fit (number of signups, total DAU, which teams are using the product, etc.).

2. Qualify leads

The SDR will qualify the lead by analyzing the customer fit and product usage data. The SDR wants to understand who the user is and how the user has engaged with the product so far.

Let’s use Calendly as an example. A user raises their hand to speak will Calendly about moving from an individual license to a team license. The SDR would first understand who the user is from a customer fit perspective:

  • What is the user’s title?
  • What team does the user sit on?
  • What company is the user a part of?
  • What is the company’s industry / geography / size?

Then, the SDR will analyze the product usage data to understand how the user engages with the product:

  • When did the user sign up?
  • How many meetings did the user create?
  • Did the user connect with third party apps, such as Zoom?
  • Did the user install the chrome extension?
  • Which features do they use the most?
  • Did the user invite their co-workers onto the product? Which teams are on the product?

After this quick analysis, the SDR might have a quick discovery call with the user to learn more from a qualitative perspective. In this conversation, the SDR is already equipped with data, so they are very prepared to have a productive and helpful conversation with the user. The SDR can tailor the conversation based on how the user engages today. The SDR can skip the long list of discovery questions about product usage, which typically frustrates the customer.

The quantitative and qualitative analysis gives the SDR a sense of whether this user is “qualified”, meaning that they will likely convert to a paid customer. If the user is qualified, then the sales team should dedicate resources to this customer, so the lead is passed to an Account Executive (AE).

The benefits of the Product-Led Sales Process for an SDR 
  • Time saved: The SDRs are equipped with data about their users, so they can have more efficient conversations with the users. Additionally, the SDR only spends time with high-quality leads, so they are not wasting their time on opportunities that are not ready to materialize.
  • Increased conversion: At the end of the day, the SDR’s success is based not only on the amount of leads they move through the sales process, but also on how many of these deals actually get closed. PLS transforms the SDR into a more intentional “picker”, thus allowing them to pluck juicer fruit. 

Great, now you know what the SDR 2.0 role looks like. But, who’s the right person for the job? 

What to look out for when hiring for Sales Development 2.0

When it comes to hiring a PLS SDR, there are certain candidate attributes that you need to maximize for. We include some of Garrett’s favorite questions to ask in the interview process to screen for these attributes. Let’s explore each of these one by one

1. Customer facing

The truth is, the SDR will have to interact with users a lot. And sales calls matter: you say the right thing and your revenues grow, you don’t and you may lose a customer. For an SDR to be successful in these interactions, they need to be user-centric and practice active listening. Yes, they will definitely make the relevant points then need to make, but they also need to communicate in a way that feels conversational. This makes the lead comfortable and much more receptive to what the SDR says. Typically, great candidates are those who can adapt their communication style to fit their audience. 

Sample screening question: Let’s role play. Assume you are an SDR trying to qualify a lead, and we (the interviewers) represent that lead. Think about the selling points you want to make, and convince us. Don’t be surprised if our personalities change mid-role play! 

2. Data-driven

There’s no way around it - the SDR role needs to be good at examining data and at understanding how independent data points translate into actionable insights. They should enjoy the process of using data to source PQLs, and should have an analytical mind that allows them to connect the dots about who those PQLs are and what they may need. Typically, great candidates are those who are quantitatively curious. 

Sample screening question: Imagine you have two leads in front of you. What data points would you use to try to determine which of these two leads is the PQL? 

3. Organized and detail-oriented 

SDRs typically have a lot of leads to sift through. It’s a lot of names to remember, product engagement metrics to keep track of, and firmographic data to keep straight. While SDRs do rely on systems to keep data organized, they also need to be the type of person who will organize their sales process so that it’s easily repeatable for every lead they qualify. Typically, great candidates demonstrate sharp time management skills, attention to detail, and an obsession with efficiency.  

Sample screening question: How would you keep yourself organized in your previous role? Tell us about tools you used to help make things efficient, and walk us through your day-to-day process. 

4. Persistent 

A wise man once said, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” The SDR needs to be like that water: determined enough to follow up with potential PQLs, and fluid enough to shake off those “no’s” and learn how to pivot their sales approach when needed. Typically, great candidates are those who are self-critical and coachable. They leverage data to maximize their potential for success, but are willing to try new things and put suggestions into practice for the sake of improving their sales performance. 

Sample screening question: Tell us about a time you had to overcome adversity. How did you pull through? 

Phew. That was a lot. But hey, it’s important to fully understand a role in order to hire successfully for it. Sign up to our newsletter below to learn about how to hire the second role within a PLS sales team: the Account Executive. 

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