I began my sales career as a Business Development Representative (a BDR, also commonly known as Market Development Representative or Sales Development Representative at other companies). I was succeeding in the role for over a year and was anxious to get promoted to the account executive role, but my company was only hiring sales reps with far more experience than I had, from the outside. Finally, my chance came — and I quickly had success in the new role. I ramped, built pipeline, closed business and climbed the leaderboard far quicker than the typical hire.
This is not because I’m special — actually far from it — but I was set up for success, had a chip on my shoulder, and had the tools to crush the role. Now, as a sales manager, I’m writing why I believe BDRs make the best sales reps.
While there’s no exact science to knowing who is going to succeed as a seller and who’s not, there are ways to play the odds. And from looking historically at AEs I’ve worked with that have been successful, much more of them came through the ranks.
There’s a debate because (understandably) companies value experience. Some organizations even ask, “why would we want someone with no direct sales experience when we can hire someone that has been selling for five years?” They lean towards hiring more from the outside, and promoting only the few best from within.
I agree they have a point, and that there should be some percentage of AEs that come from the outside to provide a balance and fresh perspective — but in general, experience is overrated. It’s not about the number of years you’ve done a job, it’s about how ready you are to succeed in the next one.
What to look for
When I’m hiring an AE, there are four main qualities (in order of importance to me) that I evaluate:
- Hunger: If they aren’t hungry, and don’t truly want to succeed, then it’s impossible to motivate them. AEs that aren’t determined are generally lazy, like to complain and are hard to work with.
- Coachability: After hunger, coachability is key. Are they willing to grow and push hard to get better? Coachability doesn’t mean they have to implement every piece of feedback or that the manager is always right; rather, coachability means that they are willing to listen to others, take things in, and constantly improve.
- Intelligence: Is the person smart enough to do the job? Sales is hard. It takes time management, adaptability, strong problem solving skills, the ability to read your audience, and more. Not everyone can do it.
- History of Success: This is pretty straight forward. Are they done well in previous positions (ideally competitive environments).
When you promote a BDR from within, you already know those four things right off the bat.
I’m not saying external hires don’t have those four attributes, but it’s harder to identify in them without having the same history with the individuals.
What History with the Company Gets You
Other than knowing that a BDR has those four key attributes that lead to success, the biggest benefit of promoting a BDR is they’ve been at the company. They know the space and product, and they have already been talking the talk. They may be more raw in sales skills, but they make that up in the corporate knowledge they have obtained.
Additionally, they have the internal relationships. You can’t win in sales by doing it alone. But BDRs have already been helping other sales reps by creating meetings, and have likely formed many friendships across multiple departments, that will be key resources to help them succeed. Lastly, they are more invested the company, in part because of the personal relationships they’ve fostered in the trenches, but also because they’ve helped build the company. Plus, the company just promoted them, so they are satisfied with the growth they were provided. They want to continue to help it succeed, so there is generally additional motivation besides just the paycheck.
The Skills, Habits, and Psychology of a BDR
Another huge win is that they know how to create their own meetings — they know how to get their foot in the door with the exact type of person they need to sell to. That, in itself, might be the biggest advantage, as a big part of selling is prospecting.
Furthermore, and this is sometimes a case by case basis, but a BDR’s motivation is often larger than people from the outside. Not to say people from the outside don’t have something to prove, but it is more of a guarantee from someone that just got promoted. They inherently have a chip on their shoulder, as more often than not BDRs that get promoted think they’ve already been in that position longer than they should have been. They want to prove that they deserved the promotion. Plus, to now be on an equal playing field with people whom you were setting up meetings for is incredibly motivating.
Lastly, promoted BDRs have a strong sense of urgency. They came from a role where you should be creating a new opportunity almost once a day. Going into a role where closing a deal is far less frequent, makes them more impatient in a good way. They make things happen quicker. Similar to people that come from a transactional background, having the desire for constant wins is big.
The Cultural Importance of BDR Promotions
Promoting a BDR is a win-win for everyone. For the BDR they get career growth that they have been craving since when they got hired, but it goes beyond that. For the company, it leads to better culture, less attrition, and greater passion. One way it helps the culture is that the role of the BDR is often often under-appreciated or unrecognized. This is ironic because it’s one of the most critical functions of the company. When you promote BDRs to AE’s that leads to the sales team appreciating the current BDRs, and more of a culture of mentorship and gratitude. Sales reps from the outside don’t fully understand the function of the BDR if they haven’t worked with them in the past, which leads to confusion about the relationship between BDRs and AEs. If the majority of people have been BDRs, it’s a different story.
The main point I want to make, is whether you’re a manager that is 100% for your people, or you’re a manager that only cares about the numbers, promoting BDRs is the move. Not because it’s the right or fair thing to do, but because they bring the skills, knowledge, connections, and temperament to help your team achieve its goals.
In the end there’s no exact science. And some of the best sellers on the Mid Market team here at Percolate came from the outside. There absolutely has to be a balance.
But when I look to hire on my team, the first place I look is the BDR team.