An Alarming Trend In Sales

Has anyone else noticed that our new reps aren’t staying as long as they used to?

Five years ago the average lifespan of a sales rep was close to two years.  The concept of the BDR / SDR on the front edge of sales was also brand new. Today the latest report by The Bridge Group shows that the average tenure of a BDR / SDR is down to 1.5 years.

Guys, this is a pretty dramatic drop in a short period of time.  And I think the way we as Leaders are managing the BDR / SDR role has a lot to do with it.  Here’s what’s at play:

  1. The freshest talent goes into these roles.  They are our “starter” positions, right? Makes sense.  Trouble is…
  2. The BDR/SDR role is also the toughest sales call to make.  These guys have the coldest leads in any organization. We’re kind of running them right into brick walls here.
  3. We haven’t changed how we train and onboard these roles.  There has been little to no change in the average training spend by organizations over the last five years. This is especially painful when we consider…
  4. We’re scraping the bottom of the talent barrel.  Inside sales is growing 10-20x the speed of field sales (depending on the study) and current unemployment rates are at a record low.  Result: Our talent pool is going dry. We’re hiring with less experience, less education, less “perfect fit” sellers. 
  5. One last scary trend:  Our demand for results is skyrocketing.  We can thank SaaS for this. A VC-funded SaaS startup (who hire BDR’s like my 7year old goes through a pack of M&M’s) has the pressure of “disruptive growth” on their shoulders.  Up and to the right isn’t good enough, these guys want lines that go straight north. This means we aren’t taking the time to develop these folks, we’re not letting a natural learning and experience curve happen. The train is moving fast and as leaders we’re more worried about throwing fuel on the fire than caring about whether or not our fuel is sustainably sourced. (I think that makes new reps coal or wood in this analogy. That was a bit awkward…but the picture it paints isn’t wrong.)

So is this “the perfect talent storm?”  I’d venture to say your recruiting budgets and empty seats say yes.  Recruiting and interviewing is nearly a full-time pursuit for most sales leaders – pulling focus from the real business of driving sales and developing our reps.  If the BDR / SDR position has a revolving door, it’s a big problem for you and a bigger one for the sales industry. Because reps that could have succeeded in better-fit jobs, less pressure, or with more development are revolving right OUT of sales.  So what can we expect on the other side of this perfect storm?

A drought is coming.

Because the BDR/SDR role is both a revolving door and entry-level for sales, we’re seeing more promising young talent straight-up leave the sales profession.  Old-timers like me remember when we looked at a rep’s skills and decided if they were hunters or farmers. And hell yes, the hunters were harder to find, keep, and motivate.  Starting ALL reps in this position will frankly automatically dis-qualify at LEAST half of them from being successful.

And what are we doing to ensure their success?  Well, mostly we’re writing them scripts and giving them tools.  Hey, I love a tool as much as the next gal, but 

No one ever left your organization for lack of tools.

Really.  I’ve seen reps still using Excel as a CRM and staying for love of the company, the team, the product.  Know why they are leaving?  

Reps are leaving because they want development.

A “lack of development” has been cited for many years as one of the top reasons reps leave a company.  Could this possibly be more important for entry-level millennials with less experience and an automatic un-fit for the cold outbound role?

Young people are exiting sales faster than we can get them successful and show them what an amazing profession this is.

The freedom, the thrill of the hunt, the instant satisfaction in a great call and the deeper feel-goods in helping others.  And did we mention commission checks? There’s so much to fall in love with for this profession but we have to update our approach as leaders to get these (sorry, but) kids to drink the Kool-Aid.

Three years ago it was ping-pong tables and free lunch, what is it today?  Here are 5 tips on engaging, developing, and KEEPING your new millennial BDR SDR reps longer:

How to engage, develop, and KEEP your new millennial BDR SDR reps longer

Show the career path right away.  Don’t just talk about it, let new reps shadow an AE,  Account Manager, Sales Manager, or Customer Success Rep in their first 3 months on the job.  This helps get a better understanding not just of their future, but of their job today!

Provide ongoing development.  A recent Forbes article *link, not sure it was Forbes* taught us the number one thing millennials want ton the job isn’t the paycheck, it’s the development!  If you don’t have training in place after onboarding, fix this first. Bonus: it will also help increase sales. (scary fact by AA-ISP in 2019: over half of inside sales companies have no ongoing development in place.  Are you one of these?)

Ditch the script.  I KNOW it’s tempting.  And the fastest way to communicate what you want done on a call.  But scripts are demoralizing, ineffective, and confidence killers (*link to more blogs on this).  The fix? START with the script and in an interactive training class talk about the GOAL of each section of the script and encourage reps to put this into their own words.  Listen to good calls by other reps who go off script. This is a win-win-win folks and it doesn’t have to take a long time.  

Customize the development.  BDR SDR reps who do as much product training as Account Executives in training will suffer.  AE’s need more work on closing and BDR’s need more help with the transition to closing.  Need more in the pipeline? Focus on top-of-funnel sales skills like voicemails, introductions, and overcoming brush-off’s.  Just like field sales training didn’t help your Account Executives five years ago, your AE training of today isn’t the best fit for your top-of-funnel rep sales skills today.

Teach managers to be great coaches. Just like training can help reps be more successful, work with managers on helping reps FEEL more successful. No one likes waiting a week for a win or leaving a call coaching session feeling like a loser.  Young managers (and let’s face it, your BDR managers were probably reps 6 quarters ago, right?) struggle with good call coaching techniques. If they were great reps, they will naturally NOT be great coaches (I live this you guys, trust me.  I’m a good seller and a lousy coach and I’ve been working on it for over a decade).  In terms of small wins, can your team find three to five KPIs that happen daily? Like callbacks, conversations, follow up appointments booked?  If you really want to dig into this and solve it, watch the webinar that I did with ZoomInfo about small wins. Watch it here.

I hope these tactical tips can help us all get ahead of the problem. As leaders, it is imperative that we start to stare at our BDR / SDR attrition and the top solutions of rep development and manager engagement.  We know what we need to do. The studies show us in neon letters. Now the tricky part is prioritizing it and executing it.  

Our mission at Factor 8 is to help every new seller and manager in inside sales get the blocking and tackling skills to make them more successful at work sooner.  There aren’t many companies that focus on this as singularly as we do, and it leaves us a lot of ground to cover. So last year I put 11 years of Factor 8 rep and manager sales skills online and made it an unlimited subscription model that also engages managers.  It’s called The Sales Bar.  It’s exactly what I wish I had when I started this gig 20 years ago.  I also made it a SaaS model (WITH transferable licenses) so you could sneak development into your tools budget.  I hope it helps.