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The Career Path of a Sales Development Rep

5 min read
Updated Aug. 10, 2021
Published Oct. 11, 2016

Sales Development Reps occupy an interesting space in most companies. They’re often viewed as “entry-level,” or even, at times, “churn-and-burn” type roles. That perception has stigmatized the SDR role for years, to the point that most of us would tend to agree that the sales development role IS entry level. However, that’s often not the case at all.

SDRs are the public face of your company, the first human interaction most customers and prospects have with your brand. They handle high-pressure situations, often at a much higher frequency than other roles. And despite popular opinion, the job is not thankless. According to Trish Bertuzzi’s 2016 report, the average base salary for an SDR is $46k, with OTE over $72k. While that’s not an earth-shattering amount, it’s certainly not “entry level,” and is substantially more than the median income for the country.

Really Understanding the SDR Role

So why the perception that an SDR role is entry-level? It’s likely because the role is often used as a stepping stone, a foot in the door to an Account Executive role (or another sales position). Many companies don’t invest in the career paths of their SDRs, which forces many to take that step forward at another company. However, this is a HUGE missed opportunity for both the sales rep and company, alike.

The ramp up time for a sales professional entering a new company can be weeks or even months, depending on the sales cycle. They have to learn a new product, a new process, and build their pipeline. For SDRs, advancing within a company vs. moving externally should be a no brainer.

But the same arguments apply from the company’s perspective, as well. Companies should try to keep their SDRs at all costs, if not only because of the time and resources they invest into educating them on both the product and process.

So if defining a logical career path for SDRs holds huge benefits for companies and reps alike — what does that career path look like? Here’s a rough outline:

Interviewing: Understand The Value

Before hiring or taking an SDR role, it’s important to recognize the value SDRs play in an organization. They serve one of the most crucial functions within the company and overcome more challenges in a day than other functions encounter in a quarter. SDRs are not plug and play C players that should be hired on a whim. They are A players that will learn and grow while delivering results for the company. Companies should hire with that mindset and future SDRs should interview with an understanding and passion for that job.

Onboarding: Be Clear On the Path Forward

The struggle between SDRs and the organizations they work for often come from misaligned expectations on exactly what the next step is and what needs to be done to achieve it. The most successful organizations I’ve seen set clear expectations on how SDRs can advance their careers to the next stage. This can take the form of pipeline contribution, appointments set, or any other metric worth tracking. The key is for both parties to be clear on a path forward. SDRs will work hard to achieve those goals, not only advancing themselves, but also advancing the sales team and the company in the process.


Executing: Learn Ferociously

One thing worth mentioning is that the aforementioned path forward is not going to be an easy one. Companies need to set the bar high for their SDRs, pushing them to learn and to grow. Likewise, SDRs need to banish any illusion that they’ll be able to sleepwalk through to their goals. Sales development is tough work, but the rewards are worthwhile.

The surest way to achieve success and advance your career is to learn constantly, and do it ferociously. While having a prospect hang up or ignore your emails can be rough, every little challenge is a learning experience that helps you hone the sales skills you’ll need in whatever role comes next. The more you learn, the better you’ll become, more doors will open to you, and the better you’ll perform at the next level.

Advancing: Understand Your Performance

Even with a clear path forward, you can’t always expect your manager to know exactly how you’re progressing toward the next step. Don’t be afraid to ask for the role you deserve. Even if you’re working in an organization that doesn’t not offer a defined career path for SDRs, you can present your case. Just make sure you do it with data in hand. While SDRs deal with people all day long, their value and performance is determined with cold hard numbers. If you’re going to ask for a promotion or new role, you better back it up with performance numbers that show you’ve earned it.

If you want to learn even more about succeeding in a Sales Development role, download our free Sales Development Playbook!