How to hire a top-performing sales BDR
Updated: May 10
When you’re hiring business development reps, you can’t afford to get it wrong. Your sales development representatives are the first people your prospective clients talk to. This makes them very important to your company.
You have to hire BDRs who can make a fantastic first impression, do effective lead qualifying, and book meetings to drive pipeline. And if you plan to grow, you’ll be hiring more BDRs over the next year. You need to have the right people in place.
Hiring for a sales team is always a challenge. That’s doubly true with BDRs, who tend to be earlier on in their careers. They have less of a proven track record of sales experience and lack a large network of referrals. Interviewing them is also tough, because they may not know your product, sales process, or industry yet. It’s hard to put their skills to the test in real time.
You can try role-playing. You can turn their references and resumes inside out. You can create hypotheses like “people who played team sports make for better sales people.”
But in the end, when it’s time to hire, most hiring managers go on gut feel. They hold their breath, pick a candidate, and hope for the best.
Anyone who’s dealt with a revolving door on their BDR team knows there are big problems with this kind of guesswork:
Your gut isn’t reliable for hiring: It’s sad, but true. An interview is a lousy predictor of on-the-job performance for sales representatives. Even candidates who can charm your socks off might lack critical traits they need to succeed at a sales job, like organization and tenacity. Our so-called “gut hires” are one reason we see such a high rate of BDR burnout. We’re hiring people who were never meant to do this job in the first place, and that only sets them up to fail.
You’re moving too fast for do-overs: BDR teams scale with company growth. If you’re expanding, you’re hiring quickly and aggressively—sometimes hiring several BDRs in a week. If bad hires are churning out just as fast, you’re creating a never-ending, and very expensive, revolving door. Sadly, most BDR teams aren’t known for stability or longevity. In fact, some companies actually plan for a 20-30 percent sales team turnover. They over-hire the team and then absorb the expense for months while new hires filter themselves out. This kind of “spray and pray” strategy is tough on your budget and even rougher on the people who stay. Sales cultures with high turnover might be the norm, but they are not good for your business.
So how can you hire the best BDRs the first time, and keep them off that new-hire-quick-fire treadmill? Here are four places to start:
1. Define the skills the BDR role requires.
Every BDR comes to the interview table with a different background. Many are at the beginning of their sales careers, with more energy than experience. Most hope to someday move into account executive or outside sales rep roles. Others are seasoned veterans who have found their niche in business development work and plan to stay there. Organizations tend to see BDR positions as more entry-level and trainable. Because of this, managers often prioritize raw skills over a long resume.
A BDR’s tasks include varying degrees of cold prospecting, discovery, qualifying leads, and handling inbound leads. In terms of raw skills, candidates should be able to:
Maintain contact records
Speak with confidence on the phone
Communicate well via email
Present ideas clearly
Follow established processes
What is your ideal set of candidate skills? Decide what matters most and create a very specific job description that prioritizes those must-haves. Should they know your industry? Should they know how to use sales technology? Document it all, so you can make objective decisions later on.
2. Identify the critical behavioral traits you need.
Skills matter in hiring BDRs. But behavior and attitude matter a lot more. You can teach most skills, but innate behavioral drives rarely change throughout our careers. It’s important to identify the behavioral traits that will spell success in the BDR role.
Most teams look for:
We recommend that hiring managers create a Job Target. A Job Target is a profile you build through a quick assessment survey. It isolates the precise behavioral traits and cognitive ability a person needs to succeed in a role. Job Targets serve as a guide for interviewing and assessing candidates.
3. Use smarter hiring processes to find candidates.
Once you’ve defined what an ideal candidate looks like, the process of sorting and narrowing your candidate field is a breeze. Ask candidates to take a behavioral assessment and a cognitive assessment. Match their results to your Job Target to create your shortlist for interviews.
Our scientifically-validated PI Behavioral Assessment identifies individuals’ innate behavioral drives. After a candidate takes the assessment, we assign them a Reference Profile. There are 17 major Reference Profiles. These show us where the employee’s strengths are and help ensure job fit.
Our PI Cognitive Assessment measures a person’s ability to learn. It’s important that you hire someone whose cognitive score falls in the range you set in your Job Target. If you hire someone with a lower score, they’d struggle to succeed in the role and end up miserable—and quitting.
When you make science a part of your hiring process, you have fewer resumes to screen and a better candidate pool.
After you know someone’s a behavioral and cognitive fit, then you can scan for skills.
4. Address (and remove) hiring biases.
Unconscious bias creeps into subjective sales recruiting and hiring decisions. This happens even when managers try to be impartial. You can reduce subjective bias by increasing the role of objective science in your decision-making. For sales in particular, this can be a tough transition. Many sales leaders pride themselves on the quality of their gut-decisions. They will resist attempts to quantify decision making. But introducing science into the early vetting process help narrow the field. And any busy sales director will be happy to see those early resume stacks cut in half.
3 most common Reference Profiles for BDRs
Employers have created about one million Job Targets in our system. When we look at the Job Targets 3,851 different people set for the BDR role, we see the same Reference Profiles again and again.
These are the three most common Reference Profiles employers look for when hiring business development reps:
Mavericks can make great BDRs because they are so ambitious and driven. Success is a huge motivator for this Reference Profile. Mavericks’ high energy level makes them willing to take risks. They’re thrilled by the high pressure of a sales environment. They are also resilient to the day-to-day rejection of lead follow-up and cold calling.
Persuaders have a high confidence level. That’s helpful in a BDR role, where they will often face rejection over and over again. Extraverted and happy to take risks, Persuaders bounce back from these kinds of punches. They are certain that the next call will be the one where their unique brand of persuasiveness will pay off. Their energy and dogged belief in themselves make them a natural fit for the fast pace of a BDR environment.
Captains are all about goals. Because the BDR role is so goal- and quota-driven, it offers the structure and challenge a Captain thrives on. Plus, BDRs tend to work in close teams, which is an ideal work environment for the Captain type. They love the competitive camaraderie of an energetic team, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
All three of these profiles are Social Profiles. These extraverts make an impact at work through their relationships and enthusiastic communication.
How to attract top-performing BDRs
Here are a few tips for attracting Mavericks, Persuaders, and Captains:
Use the right channels.
It’s likely that the first thing your candidates will see are your job listings. Social reference types tend to be more talkers and networkers than readers. They aren’t the type to patiently scour job boards. You’re more likely to find them at networking events and job fairs—or better yet, through their network or peers. They may even find you!
Craft the right job listings.
It’s likely that the first thing your candidates will see are your job listings and job descriptions. These types move quickly and don’t want to read a long wall of text. Try bullet points in your ads. Snappy copy and visuals, maybe even some video listings, are good ways to capture their attention. Also, remember how goal-oriented these types are.
Tell them exactly what it takes to succeed in the role, and make it a worthy (but achievable) challenge.
Here are some bullet points you can copy and paste into your BDR job listing:
Seek out and build new business by researching, identifying targets, and networking
Triage all qualified leads and distribute them through the sales funnel
Make outbound phone calls, send emails, and use social media and instant messaging platforms to generate new prospects and push other prospects along the sales cycle
Develop knowledge of products through internal training
Log, track and maintain prospect contact and contact records
Achieve and exceed established monthly, quarterly and annual sales goals
Desired skills and experience:
Up to 2+ years of prospecting experience selling HR solutions or services
Must be able to interact and communicate with individuals at all levels of the organization
Excellent in-person, phone and written customer communication skills
Understanding of workflow systems and their application to customer business process improvement
Ability to make formal and informal presentation to prospects
Strong PC skills required, including use of standard MS Office applications; knowledge of Salesforce.com a plus
Ability to manage time effectively, work independently and be self-motivated
Strong lead generation and follow-up skills
Make the right job pitch.
Interviews aren’t just about sorting through candidates. They are also about about winning over top talent. Make sure you’re talking the right language. Mavericks, Persuaders, and Captains want to feel that this job is worth winning. They are competitive, so don’t be afraid to challenge them. Because they are not solitary workers, they will care about the BDR team and the culture of the company at large. Introduce them to people and let them feel, on an emotional level, what working with you will be like.
Onboard them with purpose.
The job of hiring a BDR doesn’t end with an offer. Part of the reason this job is so high-churn is that many BDRs are let loose without the tools they need to succeed. This group will be anxious to get started, so be sure to take the time to train them and set them up for success. Also, teamwork is integral to their work, so consider training them in cohorts. You’ll also want to help them meet and interact with the larger group. Don’t worry, they’ll take the networking from there.