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How to Land Your First Sales Job as a Business Development Representative (BDR)

Business Development Representative wearing a headset while working on a laptop
BDRs primarily focus on the sales pipeline, generating the leads that account executives (AE) use to close deals. [Adobe/Skyword]

Succeeding as a BDR requires a unique mix of creativity, resilience, and strong communication, research and prospecting skills.

You’ve got the gift of persuasion and the ambition to match — and you’re ready to turn those strengths into a successful career in sales. But where should you start? One of the best entry-level positions for someone hoping to break into the sales industry is business development representative (BDR). Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a BDR, including how to succeed and what comes next.

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What is a business development representative (BDR)?

A business development representative (BDR) is the sales position responsible for generating new business opportunities for their organization. BDRs primarily focus on the sales pipeline, generating the leads that account executives (AE) use to close deals. Their duties typically include prospecting, lead qualification, lead nurturing, and booking meetings for account executives.

BDRs vs SDRs

The terms sales development representative (SDR) and business development representative (BDR) are often used interchangeably in the sales world, but sometimes have distinct roles within specific organizations. For instance, some companies may designate inbound presales work to BDRs, while tasking SDRs with outbound tasks like cold calling. Sometimes the difference has to do with career progression. BDR is considered an entry-level role at some companies, with SDR being the next rung on the ladder.

What does a BDR do?

BDRs typically have a few main responsibilities, including:

  • Prospecting: This is the process of identifying potential customers (prospects) who are worth pursuing. Prospecting involves researching companies and people that match your ideal customer profile, finding their contact information, and reaching out via phone or email to learn more.
  • Lead qualification: Once you’ve found leads that look like a good fit, you need to qualify them. This means researching leads in depth, using various channels like social media, cold calling, or emailing. When researching, pay close attention to their unique needs and goals, their budget, and whether they’re currently looking for a solution like yours or may be in the future, as these are good qualification indicators.
  • Lead nurturing: When a lead looks like a good fit, but the timing is off, staying in touch is crucial. Just because they aren’t ready to buy right now, doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. This is done through lead nurturing — the process of providing valuable offers and resources, typically via email or social media, that persuade prospects to advance through the sales funnel.
  • Booking meetings: When you’ve determined a lead is a good fit and is ready to be pitched, the next step is booking the meeting and prepping the account executive. This involves getting the AE up to speed on the prospect and their situation and expectations. Beyond booking the meeting, it’s important to set the AE up for success so all your hard prework pays off.

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Why are BDRs important?

BDRs help AEs do their jobs better by helping them focus more of their time on successfully closing deals. For companies, this offers three main benefits:

  • Increases sales pipeline velocity: By doing all the work to identify and qualify leads, BDRs help ensure the pipeline stays full while also shortening the sales cycle.
  • Provides valuable customer insights: The research BDRs do in the qualification stage gives AEs the power to personalize their pitches to every prospect’s needs. More personalized pitches are typically more effective at closing deals.
  • Improves sales efficiency: When BDRs do their job well, AEs waste less time on unqualified prospects. Instead, they can focus their efforts on deals more likely to close.

What skills and qualifications does a BDR need?

Succeeding as a BDR requires a unique set of skills:

  • Creativity: Your average prospect has a full inbox and is no stranger to sales calls. To set themselves apart, BDRs should be good at thinking outside the box. Consider these subject line tips for sales emails that actually get opened and other ways to stand out from the crowd.
  • Strong communication: When someone does pick up the phone or opens your email, you need to win them over. That requires the ability to communicate effectively across channels. It’s important to understand how you come across on the phone, via email, and on social media to make an impact with prospects.
  • Research and prospecting skills: You also need to know how to identify prospects and track down their contact information and other details about them. That includes finding commonalities — a mutual connection, an alma mater in common, or a place you’ve both been. Look for ways to make the connection personal.
  • Resilience: Some amount of rejection happens across sales roles regardless of experience. It’s important to learn how to compartmentalize the hard parts of the job so that you can keep picking up the phone to call the next lead on the list. Finding a like-minded community is a good resource for developing coping skills and learning new strategies.

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How to prepare for a BDR interview

I’ve hired hundreds of BDRs in my career, so I can speak from experience about how to set yourself apart. My top tips for getting an interview and impressing the hiring manager are:

Network: Proactively look for new people to connect with. When I was starting out, I networked with everyone I could — even the parents of some of my friends. Determine ten businesses where you’d most like to work, research their Directors of Sales Development, and add them on LinkedIn. Message them and ask if they’re willing to hop on a call with you to discuss any open positions (or potential positions that haven’t been posted). And start connecting and interacting with other sales contacts from the company on LinkedIn to get on their radar.

Do your research: I can’t tell you how many times people show up to an interview knowing nothing about me. Research is an important part of the job and you should demonstrate this skill in your interview. Find out everything you can about the hiring manager beforehand. Look for presentations they’ve posted on YouTube, appearances they’ve made on podcasts, or articles they’ve written online. Bring up specific things you learned about them — and the company — during your interview to demonstrate you did your homework.

Come with questions: Display your curiosity about the role and company. Think about the things you want to know that aren’t widely available online — things like how career advancement works or how performance is measured — and come prepared with those questions.

Ask for feedback: Before the interview wraps up, I recommend asking the hiring manager what you could have done to make the interview better on your end. It shows you’re willing to be coached and listen to feedback.

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How to succeed as a BDR

Once you’ve landed the job, some of the most important tips for success I recommend are:

Clarify your goals

Make sure you understand how the company measures success for your role, including the specific KPIs (key performance indicators) to focus on. Sales goals are typically set by your manager and tracked quarterly, but you should be sure you know exactly what you’re responsible for so there’s no confusion.

In my experience, some of the main sales goals to aim for as a BDR are:

  • Booked meetings: The number of meetings you set up between prospects and an AE
  • Completed meetings: The number of booked meetings that prospects attend
  • Qualified leads: The number of leads that are likely to purchase

Develop your research skills

To be successful as a BDR, identifying prospects is a crucial skill. And that means becoming a great researcher. Google and LinkedIn are good starting points. Once you have a list of prospects, dig into their online presence. Social feeds can tell you a lot about a prospect’s interests and priorities — good things to know when tailoring a sales pitch.

Search for them and their company on YouTube, read articles they’ve written, and listen to podcasts where they’ve been featured. By keeping an eye on what they post or who they interact with online, you can gain more insights about how likely they are to buy your product — whether they’re currently facing the kind of problem at work that your offering helps solve, for example.

Once you know enough about a prospect to reach out, Zoominfo is my go-to tool for quickly finding contact information.

Practice time management

BDRs have many responsibilities to balance. It’s crucial to stay on top of your to-do list, catch up on tasks you didn’t get to the previous day, and ensure every account on your list gets the attention it needs. It takes a lot of touches to book a meeting, so you can’t afford to waste time or let leads go cold.

I’ve found tools like dashboards and reports to be particularly effective. That visibility helps me keep track of deals and reminds me about overdue steps so that I can always keep up.

Stay in touch with prospects

Many companies use email drip campaigns for lead nurturing — a series of targeted emails that encourage action based on a prospect’s engagement with your product or website. But in my experience, those don’t always get traction. I’ve found LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator to be a more effective tool.

For example, save your prospect as a lead, then look for opportunities to engage with them on the platform. When they post something, comment. When you share something that’s relevant to them, tag them. This strategy gives you more opportunities to interact and keep the relationship alive when nurturing.

Keep learning

There are many free and paid resources you can use to build up your sales knowledge so take advantage. Keep an eye out for relevant articles, webinars, and courses. I’ve personally found a lot of value with Salesforce’s Trailhead resources, which includes courses and certifications to keep your skills sharp. Joining the Trailblazer community is also a good way to connect with other sales professionals and share experiences.

Ask for feedback

Regularly check in with your manager and AE to ask how you’re doing and understand how you can improve. Their feedback can help you boost your performance. It also shows that you’re invested in development and growth. Reflecting on feedback is a good way to understand your strengths and areas for improvement and can help you determine where you see yourself going in your sales career.

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What’s the next career move for a BDR?

For many, BDR will be your first role on the path to building a long-term sales career. The next level is typically to account executive. To move beyond an entry-level BDR role, you must prove your value and demonstrate your success by applying my advice above. You should also communicate with your managers about your career goals and intentions so that they can help you carve a path toward achieving them. Let them know you want that promotion and proactively check in about the steps you need to take to get there.

Work hard and success will follow

To find success as a BDR, focus on meeting the goals outlined for you, continually pursue new learning opportunities, and invest in building a network of contacts. Keep the lines of communication open with leadership about where you want to go and how to get there. When they see that you’re willing to work hard and can take direction, they’ll help you get there.

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