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Sales Development Onboarding Framework

Sales development leaders spend as much as 60% of their role recruiting. They spend significant budget working with recruiting firms, painstakingly define an ideal candidate profile, and spend countless hours interviewing. Ironically, the same rigor put on the recruiting process seldom carries over to onboarding. The result is, organizations dedicate time and resources to getting the best SDRs to join their team, only to leave them hanging once they are in the seat.

Of course, this isn’t true of all organizations, and perhaps this is hyperbolic. But here are the facts of the onboarding problem:

  • The average SDR tenure is 14.2 months.
  • 72.5% of high growth companies hire SDRs with 0-1 years of experience.
  • The average ramp time for new SDRs to hit full quota is three months.

This is all to say, we need to do better. Three months is too long to reach full productivity with such short tenures. Furthermore, the inexperience of new SDRs coupled with the lack of a stringent, SDR-specific onboarding program, often leads to underperformance down the road. A rigorous onboarding program must be created to decrease SDR ramp times and standardize SDRs on a successful process to ensure success throughout their tenure.

Sales Development Onboarding Guidelines

SDR onboarding must be SDR specific. All too often, onboarding combines totally green SDRs just out of college with tenured enterprise sales directors with 20+ years of experience to provide a broad overview of the company, the product, the sales process, and the buyer. Everyone learns the basics, but SDRs do not come away with enough information to be effective in their role, nor can they translate what they’ve learned into an actionable plan for their role. Dedicating training, focused on the core skills they need to be successful (e.g. buyer-centric messaging, outreach best practices, and live call execution), is essential to success.

Onboarding must be hands-on. Successful onboarding requires managers to be hands on and focus onboarding lessons on the essential skills SDRs must learn to be successful. This point is meant to combat the “trial by fire” approach to onboarding. While there is no substitute for experience to improve SDR skills, throwing the SDR into the role too early without structure or guidance can lead to them developing bad habits early, and actually taking longer to ramp. Furthermore, this style of onboarding leads to peers sharing their own bad habits, rather than the leadership laying an effective grounding in the right process and plays.

Onboarding programs should be hyper focused and ramp SDRs in one month. The current average of a three-month ramp time is too long for the short 14.2 month tenure, especially when underperformance later on compounds the problem. Some of the best onboarding programs dedicate a week to ensuring SDRs are up to speed and have SDRs go live in week 2. If done right, SDRs should hit quota in month two, not three, and they are typically tracking in month one (taking into account the week lost to onboarding).

Sales Development Onboarding Framework

Onboarding is the first step in the three-step SDR Lifecycle Management framework, which also includes training and coaching. The three critical elements of a successful onboarding program are: leverage a playbook, design an SDR-centric curriculum of core skills, and reinforce those lessons through certifications.


Leverage the SDR Playbook – The foundation on any successful SDR onboarding program begins with the SDR playbook. In fact, if you haven’t codified the SDR role into a playbook, start there. From there, the onboarding curriculum is meant to distill the playbook to the core lessons that an SDR needs to do their role effectively.

Design an onboarding curriculum – SDR onboarding should consist of specific training modules of no longer than two-hour sessions focused on conveying very specific takeaways. For example, an SDR messaging training should be focused on enabling the SDRs with an understanding of key buyer personas and the value props and use cases which most effectively connect with them.

Reinforce lessons with certifications – SDRs will retain 15-20% of anything they are told during onboarding. This is the downfall of most onboarding programs. The long-term solution is to continue managing the SDR lifecycle via two other components of the framework: training and coaching. However, you can mitigate the retention challenge during onboarding by creating a certification program to test SDRs on the key lessons they are meant to takeaway from each training. For example, an objection handling test in which SDRs must respond to the most common objections they will encounter on the phone is not only a great reinforcement tool, but a great cheatsheet for the reps to keep on their desk.

TOPO analysts are constantly studying and helping build world-class onboarding programs. For more information, reach out to analyst@topohq.com.

About the author: Bryan Gonzalez is TOPO’s Sales Development Analyst. He publishes research and helps clients design, build, and optimize their Sales Development organizations. Prior to joining TOPO, Bryan was a founding member of two high-growth SDR teams, and helped launch, execute and scale their Sales Development programs.

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