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Top 3 Challenges in SDR Qualification

By Mark Gibson on Apr 20, 2020 1:01:13 PM

A sales development person

The Sales Development Representative (SDR/BDR) is central to successful lead generation in leading B2B companies, yet a lack of a repeatable framework and objective qualification criteria impacts performance, creates confusion, mistrust, and waste. This article explores the top SDR team challenges as well as the issues around lead qualification and hand-off

In recent weeks we have interviewed sales development leaders to understand their challenges and will present some of the findings. This article could be of interest to sales development leaders, marketing managers, and sales leaders struggling with making their numbers in the current environment. The article concludes with a proposal for a more complete and objective criteria for lead qualification and handoff. Find out more about objective lead qualification 


While researching this subject, I discovered TOPO’s 2019 Sales Development Benchmark Report of 179 companies and will include relevant excerpts from the report.

Top SDR Challenges

The SDR role is challenging, particularly for newcomers. The Topo survey indicates that only 36% of SDR’s are attaining quota with another 12% overachieving against quota.

SDR’s are thrown in at the deep end and churn is high. A new hire with only a month of experience is required to engage and set up meetings with executives and decision-makers in target organizations in industries where they have little or no experience. Hiring the right people and ramping them quickly, using technology and live call execution are the critical success factors for SDR teams.

According to Topo’s 2019 report, the top 6 challenges to sales development success are:-

  1. Live call execution
  2. Execution of ABM go-to-market strategy
  3. Using technology tools to increase rep activity
  4. Clearly defined Ideal Customer Profile of target account list
  5. Hiring and onboarding
  6. Alignment with sales on lead definition

With average tenure in the role of 16 months, hiring and onboarding are critical to productivity.

Organizational Alignment

For the Sales Development function to achieve its potential, the marketing, sales development, enablement and operations, and field sales team must align on the inputs and outputs to the sales development machine. The questions below could surface integration issues that must be addressed.

  • Are SDR-converted opportunities wasting AE sales cycles?
  • Are your AE’s frustrated when first meetings fail to convert?
  • Is your SDR ramp-time 14 weeks or more?
  • Are less than 50% of your SDR team making quota?
  • Is your ABM sales messaging having an impact?
  • Are MQL’s being rejected that should qualify?
  • Can your account executives execute a high-quality initial call based only on the CRM record?

For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that inputs to the sales development machine are working as they are outside the scope of this article and examine the execution of the sales development process and handover.

Top 3 Challenges in SDR Qualification

We conducted our own informal survey of sales development and sales leaders and asked the question, what are the top 3 challenges in the SDR qualification process?”

  1. Lack of objective alignment on what is required to qualify a lead can lead to a bucket of stale, unfollowed-up leads.
  2. Mismatched lead hand-off criteria leads to lead rejection and disputes.
  3. Not knowing the right questions to ask, under-pressure SDR’s qualify on happy-ears, hope, and gut-feel and AE’s waste time.
  4. Not differentiating tire kickers from serious buyers wastes AE’s time when there is a no-show, or no second meeting and leads to mistrust.
  5. Lack of solution knowledge, customer stories or use-case examples, means SDR’s uncover superficial needs that are incorrectly marked as qualified and subsequently qualified out by salespeople.

Our survey echoes some of the top problems Topo identified in their survey. Live call execution, onboarding, training, and organizational alignment. A common thread through the sales development process is the use of BANT and ANUM for qualification. We believe that a broader set of discovery data is useful in addition to identifying prospect need, urgency and authority and valuable to the salesperson receiving the hand-off. Find out more about objective lead qualification 

The word cloud from our survey


Objective Qualification beyond BANT AND ANUM

The TOPO survey examined criteria companies use for lead qualification and the answers varied depending on sales mode and average annual contract value (ACV). For inbound low ACV qualification, Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe (BANT) was the preferred method. As ACV increases, Authority, Need and Urgency (ANU) are the criteria with Urgency dropped as a qualifier in large enterprise inbound and outbound mid-market and enterprise deals.

We believe that the above criteria - while useful indicators, fall short of an objective assessment of the opportunity’s likelihood-to-close. Based on our experience, we propose that the following are important criteria for qualifying a lead and assessing likelihood to close in both a quantitative and qualitative fashion. Scoring and weightings should be be applied to each of the elements to develop qualitative and quantitative lead status and hand-off threshold.

  • Lead Source - this matters. A white-paper download has a vastly different value to a pricing inquiry.
  • CompetitIon - competition could come in the form of internal forces in favor of the status-quo, in-house development, incumbents or new players and it matters.
  • Requirements - if there is no need or perceived need expressed in the form of specific business and technical requirements, there is no opportunity.
  • Use-case - it is important for SDR’s to understand and ensure a high-level use-case fit to qualify a sales-ready opportunity
  • Buyer authority - this is important and the buyer must have an influence in a decision process
  • Interest in the next steps - one of the phrases I hate to hear is “we are always interested in learning about new approaches”. If you hear this, you are going to get your tires kicked.
  • Timeline - obviously a timeline is important in qualification. If your product has a 6-9 month buying cycle and the buyer is just starting a new budget year, you may have to wait to engage and keep the prospect warm

Extracting the first letter of the bolded keywords above produces an acronym for objective lead qualification that we call SCRUBIT. To find out more about objective lead qualification and how to apply SCRUBIT to reduce SDR ramp-time, improve lead qualification, and handoff, hit the objective lead qualification button. Find out more about objective lead qualification 

Objective Qualification- SCRUBIT