How Sales Leaders Can Fight SDR Burnout

Sara Bookhamer

Jun 08 2022


After you’ve experienced SDR burnout a few times, you can spot it a mile away.

Typically, I start to see it around the 6–9 month mark. By their third quarter in the role, an SDR has hit their stride. They’ve made it through ramp. They know their day-to-day responsibilities inside and out, have identified what it means to be a top performer, and they’ve mapped their potential opportunities moving forward.

They hit a fork in the road. Do they see a future for themselves at the current company? Or is it time for a change?

The SDR starts to ask questions:

  1. Am I enjoying what I’m doing as an SDR?
  2. Am I hitting quota and making good money?
  3. Do I like the people I’m surrounded by and can I continue to learn from them?
  4. Is this an environment I see myself continuing to thrive in?
  5. Is there a promotional path for me?
  6. Do I see value in the skills I am learning?
  7. Is sales for me?

If the answer to any of these is “no,” you run the risk of your SDR entertaining that LinkedIn outreach from a recruiter at another company — one that might promise a faster growth trajectory, compelling work from home benefits, and maybe even more money. Though the grass is always greener, the reality is the same: you’ll be out of luck on your investment in training and resourcing that 9-month-old SDR and forced to start from scratch with a new hire.

The reality of the SDR role

Across all industries, the average rate of turnover for a company is 18%. For an SDR, that number more than doubles at 39%.

Why do SDRs have such a significantly high attrition rate?

While being an SDR is a right of passage to open more doors in a sales career, many also argue that it’s the toughest job in sales. Succeeding as an SDR takes grit and perseverance: there’s failure every day on the job, from objection handling to booking meetings to even just connecting to live humans. When you don’t see success consistently, a few bad days can turn into weeks and potentially lead to missing your quota.

SDRs are pushed to the limit — mental toughness comes with the territory. That constant feeling of fighting an uphill climb is a big reason why many SDRs change roles early on.

So how do you fight back against the reality of the daily grind? First and foremost, empathy. Managers that sympathize with their SDRs and forge a path forward with them can make a big difference in their teams — and their retention rates.

Here’s the reality of the SDR role:

  • Every day you know what to expect: Book a meeting by any means necessary, make calls, send emails, prospect some new people, and reach out on LinkedIn.
  • You aren’t an SDR forever: It’s a stepping stone to the next role. The lifespan of an SDR is 12–15 months, and potentially longer if you aren’t hitting quota. 
  • It’s an entry-level role: There’s a lot to learn about how a sales department works, how a business operates, and the importance of generating net new pipeline for consistent revenue.
  • Core skills to learn and level-up: SDRs master the arts of time management, organization, how to talk to people, professionalism, and negotiation.
  • You don’t always have a sales floor: More and more teams are adopting a remote work environment, making it more difficult to coach in the moment and emulate peers.

As a manager, you want your SDRs to have an amazing experience in their role. Your goal is to watch them get promoted into a position that allows them to grow and be challenged. The best way to prevent burnout is to prepare SDRs for their next role while simultaneously empowering them to succeed in their current role. Being able to see a path forward is a huge motivating factor for the hard days when failure seems to outweigh success. Help them build their brand internally and on paper to take their skillset to the next level.

Provide a clear path for growth

Consistency with daily expectations, growth path, and what success looks like needs to be clear. Once a new SDR starts, they should have a good understanding of what it takes to progress to the next step in their career. Then, after the SDR sees success in their first few quarters, they can take on more responsibilities, getting creative in their work because they’ve built trust with their manager and have earned the right to do so.

Coaching is key here. As a manager, you should be able to identify your SDRs’ strengths and areas of improvement, spending one-on-one time with them. However, these types of coaching opportunities may be even more difficult with the growing number of remote reps. Lack of an in-person sales floor can impact the success and growth of newer reps, making it more important to uncover new pathways and technologies for coaching opportunities.

For instance:

  • Live call coaching: Available in most virtual dialers, you can provide real-time feedback and help guide an SDR through a tough call or follow up with a successful talk track they could use in the future. 
  • Recreate the sales floor with tech: This is especially important for remote or hybrid teams. How do you replicate the feeling of a sales floor and help SDRs feel connected to their colleagues, no matter where in the world they are? You may have to get creative and build your own solution via options like Slack or Discord. This will also significantly impact onboarding, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration. 

Without a physical sales floor and regular touchpoints, it’s more difficult to assess an SDR’s progress and identify the growth path to skyrocket their career. Thinking outside the box and bringing in the right tools at the right time can be a game-changer.

Build a community of collaboration and teamwork

Get creative with your team and build a sales community of collaboration and teamwork. A strong team culture drives a sense of belonging and makes the job more enjoyable. One study found the likely turnover rate for companies with a strong culture is as low as 13.9%. Here are some ideas to try:

  • SDR pitch contests: Put their skills to the test! Have your SDRs go head to head in a bracketed pitch competition, giving them time to shine in front of other stakeholders and potentially open doors to promotional opportunities.
  • Team offsites: Getting everyone together will always benefit the team. Whether your team has in-office protocols or is fully remote, any excuse to create team bonding does amazing things for company pride and builds a sense of belonging.
  • Rewards and recognition: Highlight the right behaviors with fun competitions and spiffs. Make it a big deal to give certain people shout-outs and throw out some tempting prize money or experiences.
  • Team teach-backs: Sharing successes and learnings helps raise the talent of everyone. Assign a different topic to each SDR and have them present it back to the team. Topics can range from technical information about the product to what’s working in their sales process, how someone stays organized to see success, or anything else the team could see value from.
  • Show-and-tell: Bring people from different departments to your team meetings, sharing their roles and responsibilities and the journey to get where they are. This can help build a map of the roles an SDR could grow into later in their career.

Engaging burnt-out SDRs one-on-one

When you highlight your SDRs’ value to the group and recognize them for it, you raise the level of trust and buy-in to stay. And although recognition and appreciation can encourage 53% of employees to remain with a company while also driving an 11.1% boost in performance, it’s not always done. I’ve found that while recognition is simple and straightforward, it sometimes falls lower on the priority list. Don’t be afraid to put your SDRs in challenging situations in order to see how they step up and execute the task. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Here are some ideas to run 1:1 with some SDRs that need some extra attention:

  • Gather feedback on what the team needs. By taking action on a team-wide need, your SDR will grow their leadership skills and feel as though they’re making a tangible difference. Giving them a voice at the table can help you as a manager take action on a current area of weakness.
  • Share best practices on how they’ve seen success. Identifying and highlighting a successful tactic with their team helps them feel capable — plus you’ll hone their presentation skills.
  • Mentorship opportunities. Engaged, successful SDRs who grow their careers quickly will be both lifelong learners and willing to share the secrets of their success with peers. Top performers have firsthand experience of the day-to-day role and sharing that with a new hire can be rewarding. Give them a taste of what management is all about. 
  • Build a success plan to be a team lead. Working towards a compelling goal like a promotion is energizing, and offering them clear expectations and ideas on how to get there makes it feel attainable and real.
  • Assign them a project to work with a cross-functional department. SDRs are engaging firsthand with the target audience and pitching the product. This can bring great value to both the marketing and sales enablement teams. An SDR can provide helpful insight to other teams based on their experience.

As a manager, you’ll need to uncover each SDR’s unique motivation. The sooner you can tap into that motivation and build a plan to help them achieve their goals, the clearer it is that you care about their wellbeing and success.

Do they care about making a certain amount of money? Hitting a certain percentage of their quota? Acquiring the skills to help them stand out in an interview for a promotion? Hone a certain skill set? Whatever that reason is, if they know you’re willing to invest the time, energy, and care to them achieve their goals while holding them accountable to the steps it takes to get there, then you’re well on your way to reducing SDR team burnout.

Equip your team with tools for success

Keeping your SDRs engaged means making good use of their time. Automating the more thankless tasks of the job creates time for honing skills, team knowledge shares, faster ramp, and more. With Orum’s AI-powered sales software, reps are able to quintuple their live conversations with prospects, cutting down the time spent punching numbers and freeing them up for more impactful work that helps them hit quota and beyond.

Looking for more sales development tips? We've got plenty more where this came from.