Interviewing Your First SDR/BDA

by Whitney Sales

Scoring, Screening, and Everything In Between

In our last article, “How to Hire Your First Outbound SDR/BDA” we acknowledge that there will come a time when you as a founder will need to hand off the majority of your demand generation work to a Sales Development Representative (SDR/BDA). We’ll recap just a bit here. Only hire an SDR/BDA if:

1) You know how to set them up for success, meaning you’ve done the work yourself and have a repeatable process to train them on.
2) You need them to be successful, so you’ll put in the work to make sure they are.In “How to Hire Your First Outbound SDR/BDA”, we gave you a framework for writing an SDR/BDA job rec and reviewing resumes, but we also promised we’d be back with a framework for interviewing for your first SDR/BDA. We’ve outlined our framework below.

The Overview

Creating an interview process and flow is critical for making great hires in any role within your organization. We break it down into 6 steps. Keep in mind, you should be selling the candidate as much as they’re selling themselves throughout the interview process – it needs to be a two-way fit after all. First and foremost, you need to define what you’re looking for and to create a scoring framework around each stage in the interview process based on your target criteria.

Scoring

As we mentioned, when interviewing for any hire it is important to identify the criteria that you are looking for. But it is not just about finding people who have specific characteristics and competencies, it is about finding a person who meets your criteria at the highest level.

Certain characteristics and competencies will be more important than others for success in a role, and as a result, they should be weighted more heavily than others. In addition, scoring should be standardized. Most ATS’s have a 1-5 scale. You probably did something different for your earliest hires, but I would suggest a 1-5 scale for transferability once you start using an ATS. When using a scale for scoring, it is important to define what is a 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 before you start interviewing. Everyone has bias towards hiring people like themselves, but a structured, known scale for scoring helps to eliminate this bias and make sure you get the best hire possible for the role.

Finally, I say this all the time, and I’ll say it again – if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. This may be your first SDR/BDA hire, but it very likely won’t be your last. As your organization grows and you learn about what drives success for this role, weights, criteria and scoring scales may change. Tracking your criteria and scores from the beginning will provide you with the data to make decisions for improvements. This will be essential in allowing you to continue optimizing your interviewing process.

SDR/BDA Candidate Characteristics

Below are 5 characteristics we like to look for in early stage SDR/BDA hires. Yours may be different depending on who you’re selling to, whether the role is outbound or inbound, etc. The important piece of the process here is to know what you are looking for before you start interviewing candidates.

  • Grit: You want someone who has overcome obstacles in their life. Life in any sales position is full of rejection. To be successful in sales, a person needs a positive attitude, to be optimistic, but also realistic.
  • Coachability: Like with any Jr hire, you need someone who takes feedback well. This doesn’t mean blindly accepting what you say, but it means they know how to listen to feedback, try it, and iterate on your feedback to improve.
  • Resourcefulness: Your first hire should be an intelligent, creative problem solver. Pay attention to the questions they ask. Ask questions to understand how they approach problems. Give vague answers to see how they dig.
  • Self Starter: This is essential in any hire, especially considering that most of us are working remotely these days. You don’t have time to motivate someone to get their work done or monitor their every activity. Successful SDR/BDAs have a high output, look for someone who has a history of overachievement or going above and beyond.
  • Persuasive Writing Skills: Strong persuasive writing skills are essential in sales and especially in SDR/BDAs. SDR/BDAs are usually the first human interaction a customer will have with your customer. Make sure their style of writing aligns with the voice of your company.

Additional Tips

The above attributes are great across the board for early hires, but there are additional criteria to consider depending on the makeup of your founding team.

All male founding team: Consider hiring a woman as your first SDR/BDA. The sooner you bring mix-gender into your company, the faster you’ll establish a culture that is welcoming to all genders. Fun fact: Women on average have an 11% higher response rate to cold emails.

All caucasian team: Consider bringing on people from different ethnic backgrounds. Like with mix-gender, a culture that is welcoming to all ethnicities is important and the best way to do this is to start early.

Similar cultural backgrounds: Consider bringing on people from different cultural backgrounds and/or incomes. You get the jist.

Diverse teams have time and time again proven to have better performance. The sooner you start, the better. Don’t believe me? Check out this TechCrunch article on a study done by First Round Capital.
With these in mind, let’s get into the actual interview process.

Screening Email

We recently had a chance to read Pete Kazanjy’s Founding Sales, which I recommend at least skimming through. In this book he suggests screening emails as a starting point for the sales hiring process. We don’t recommend utilizing this for experienced sales hires (ie. enterprise AEs with 8+ years of experience), but for a volume based sales roles like an SDR/BDA or jr AE it can be a great tool for filtering out candidates.

So how does it work? Pick 4-5 questions that require the candidate to express an opinion, and allow you to get to know them a bit better. Then ask them to answer them in your response to their application. Think about questions like:

  • Tell me about something you’ve built or a project that you’ve worked on that you’re proud of and why.
  • What do you think about autonomous vehicles?
  • Android or iPhone?
  • Why do you want to be an SDR/BDA?

When reviewing responses to the questions put together a scorecard (1-5). Clearly define what a 1 is, 2 is, etc:

When reviewing responses to the questions put together a scorecard (1-5). Clearly define what a 1 is, 2 is, etc:

  • Persuasiveness
  • Grammar
  • Structure
  • Language
  • Personality

Why do scorecards? Well you’ve all heard the saying, ‘If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it’? The scorecard is the foundation for truly understanding what an ideal SDR candidate looks like for your organization over the long haul.

Competency Interview

I like to schedule a 30 min initial interview, before scheduling a longer 60 min interview (potentially in-person). In the initial interview, you’re mainly looking for how the candidate’s prior training, experience, performance and desired comp fit the role.

We like to give the candidate a chance to kick off the interview and build rapport.

Ask, “Do you have any questions for me?”, and look for someone that asks, “What are you looking for?”, or, “Tell me about the job.”

This indicates a candidate who is trying to figure out if the opportunity is a fit for them. They’re also looking for information on how to tailor their answers to the role. If you notice their answers cater well to the role chances are that you’re interviewing someone with a strong sales mindset.

If you’re looking for someone with prior SDR/BDA experience, dig into their experience to make sure it’s relevant:

Talk me through the typical SDR/BDA process in your last job.

  • How did you find your leads?
  • How did you get them to engage?
  • What were the unique identifiers for an ideal prospect?
  • What problems did they encounter daily?
  • What problems did your product solve for them?
  • How many leads did you generate on average monthly?

Look for how closely it matches your sales tempo and demand generation process. This may not be a deal breaker, but there should be overlap.

If you’re hiring people right out of school, you’ll need to dig into their experience a bit more to understand competencies. If they do not ask about what you’re looking for, give them a quick 2-3 sentence spiel.

“We’re looking for someone who… Can you talk me through any academic and/or work experience that you think is applicable”.

This may sound like a generic question, but it will allow you to understand if the candidate understands how to identify features (their experience) and benefits (what you’re looking for), but applied to themselves.

“In the screening email you talked about, (project they built or project they’re proud of).

  • How did you come up with that project?
  • Who did you work with, if anyone, on this project?
  • Why are you proud of this project?”

Look for someone who proactively finds and solves a problem. This trait is incredibly important in an early team member. You want someone who can solve their own problems and come up with ideas to improve processes.

Now it’s time to see the candidate’s skills in action:

  • “How would you overcome gatekeeping to get a high profile meeting? Can you tell me about a time when you were successful using this tactic?”
  • “A conference is coming up. How would you approach the conference to get as many meetings as possible set up for your AE?”
  • “What does an ideal AE / SDR/BDA relationship look like to you?”

Try to get a feel for whether there are any red flags you might need to consider in terms of personality and behavior.

Finally, be sure to align on role and logistics.

  • “What are you looking for in your next role?”
  • “When can you start?”
  • “What is your desired salary?”

These will give you insight into whether there is a clear fit.

To close out the interview I like this technique for learning a bit more about the candidate:

“I really like XXX in your background OR experience with XXX, but we’re looking for someone with XXX. In your follow up email, can you address this concern?”

This activity will tell you three things:

  1. How do they handle written objections
  2. How are they with feedback
  3. Perseverance

Now score the candidate on the predefined criteria + scale:

  • Grit
  • Coachability
  • Resourcefulness
  • Self Starter
  • Persuasive Writing Skills

Initial Interview Follow-up assignment:

After the candidate sends a follow-up letter, respond with a follow-up prospecting assignment.

Ask the candidate to build a list of 3 people they think would be a good fit for the product and ask them to craft an email for those people. Bonus points if they put together a full sequence.

What you are looking for:

  • Hook in the subject
  • Personalization to role
  • Brevity
  • Call to action

Then gut check:

  • Is this something you would want them to send to a customer?
  • Would you respond to their email?

Now score the candidate via a predefined 1-5 scale of these criteria.Anyone advancing to the second interview should score a 4 or 5 on all of your criteria. Review strengths and weaknesses and write up notes on where to dig in during the next interview.

Culture Interview

This interview is a 60 min interview to get to know the candidate better and make sure they are a good fit for the company. Like the competency Interview, put together a score card of 5-6 criteria that you think make a great team member in your company. You may look for criteria like:

  • Integrity
  • Playfulness / Humor
  • Accountability
  • Kindness
  • Directness
  • Humility
  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Team Player
  • Authenticity

Whatever these are for your company, you need to clearly define them and establish what 1 to 5 means. From there, craft questions for this interview that allow the candidate to talk about situations where they exhibited these skills. You want to give them an opportunity to show these skills. Questions l like to ask during the culture interview are:

  • “What is your superpower? How does it show up at work?”
  • “How would your coworkers, best friend, last boss describe you? Can you tell me about a situation that you think exemplifies this description?”
  • “What was one thing you liked and dislike about your last role? What was one thing you did to address (the thing they disliked)?”
  • “Can you tell me about a time you got frustrated at work? How did you handle this situation?”
  • “Think about a team you worked on either at work or in school. What made it work so well for you specifically?”
  • “Tell me about a time you had conflict with a coworker or team member. How was it resolved? Follow up – What was your role in the resolution?”

Now score the candidate on the culture criteria you outlined. Think about the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. How will this candidate be a culture add? Every candidate should be considered a ‘culture add’, but this is especially important for your first business hire. This person will be a role model for all future SDR/BDA hires. Do not settle – Remember the adage – hire slow, fire fast?

Team Interview

The number of candidates you’re still considering at this point should be fairly low, so ideally your close rate on candidates at this stage should be relatively high. This interview is designed to see how this candidate will fit in with the team. Pick an activity that you think represents your culture. It could be going for drinks at a local bar, going for coffee at an art gallery, or maybe a team lunch at the office. No matter what the activity is, the goal is to observe how the candidate and your team interact. Things I like to look for at this stage of the interview are:

  • Do they drop their guard in an informal hangout? If they don’t drop their guard here, they might not ever. This is a red flag.
  • Team player versus lone wolf
  • Do they proactively engage? They don’t need to be extroverted, but it shouldn’t be work to get them to engage either.
  • Is this someone you want to spend a LOT of time with because you will be spending a LOT of time with them.

After the team interview, your team should give you a thumbs up, neutral, or thumbs down. Be sure to dig into neutrals and thumbs down. If someone gave the candidate a neutral or thumbs down, you might need to set up a follow up interview for this person and the candidate. Be sure to prep your existing team member for the interview. If you notice that one team member consistently has challenges, it might be worth understanding the missing link to see if it can be addressed with them or the interview process.

At a later stage company, consensus across an org is a bit less important, but at a startup where the team is small and individuals depend on one another, teamwork and culture is vital. You can’t sacrifice culture for someone you’ve spent a few hours simply because they look good on paper.

Reference Checks

If the candidate has made it this far and you’re both still enthusiastic about each other, you’ve probably found a good fit, and it’s time to do reference checks. As a rule, our preference is to backchannel references whenever possible. We always let the candidate know we’ll be doing this. Usually someone on your team will have a mutual Linkedin or Facebook connection with the candidate. Here are some questions I like to ask during reference checks:

  • “In your opinion, what are two things that would help this person thrive at work?”
  • “As this person’s manager, what advice would you give me for working with them?”
  • “In your opinion, what is their superpower?”
  • ‘Given the opportunity, would you hire this person again?”

If done well, references are incredibly valuable, but hopefully you won’t be too surprised by what you find out.

HOORAY!

Congratulate yourself and your new hire. We know hiring is full of hits and misses. Like every process, it is a work in progress and there are always ways to improve. If you use this process, take a brief moment to reflect on the interview process. What worked, what didn’t, and what would change for next time? Then let us know. We’d love your feedback.

Now that you’ve made the hire, it’s time to begin to prep to ensure your SDR/BDA’s success on the job. In our next article, Onboarding your First SDR/BDA, we’ll outline the steps to take to make onboarding your new SDR/BDA’s a smooth success!

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Interested in learning more about Fundraising, Entrepreneurial Sales, and Leadership from Pre-Seed to Series A? Check out Whitney’s blog, sign-up for my newsletter, and follow me on Twitter @thesalesmethod.

Whitney Sales is the creator of The Sales Method and a General Partner at Acceleprise Venture’s Seed fund. Prior to The Sales Method and Acceleprise, Whitney helped four companies gain entry to the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies list, including LoopNet (IPO), Joby (acquired), Meltwater (acquired), and Tallie (acquired). The Sales Method is Whitney’s winning analytical process that looks at Sales-Market fit to align to a target market’s buying process, to ultimately help companies scale to market faster.

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