Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) are a critical part of sales enablement. Your SDRs often serve as the first point-of-contact for your prospects, making their role incredibly important. SDRs are tasked with prospecting and recognizing quality opportunities, as well as communicating initial value propositions to your prospects. Since the role involves extensive outreach across multiple channels, it is immensely important for frontline managers to be able to pull tangible data points around their team's outbound activities. As a result, organizations that prioritize building strong SDR teams convert leads to opportunities at much higher rate than those without an SDR team.

Developing your SDR function to maximize productivity and conversion involves thoughtful planning, execution and continuous improvement. In this blog, we’ll break down the role and responsibilities of an SDR and provide you with seven steps to building and managing a high-performance SDR team.

What does an SDR do?

Sales development is fundamentally different from the rest of the sales cycle, which is why organizations need to create a SDR-specific onboarding program. A SDR’s role focuses heavily on proper lead identification, research, development and qualification. Daily tasks for an SDR include online and social research, a LOT of LinkedIn magic, cold calling & email outreach, and CRM data entry – all in an effort to build up the sales pipeline with qualified leads. Gartner recommends employing one SDR for every three reps, though your perfect ratio may vary.  

How to build an SDR team

Whether you are building an SDR team from scratch or are looking to scale your existing team, take the actions below to build a top performing SDR team:

  • Develop an onboarding plan
  • Hire the Best SDRs
  • Build a compensation plan
  • Define and standardize processes
  • Provide the best sales productivity tools
  • Track the right metrics to identify top performers
  • Empower SDRs with content

1. Develop an onboarding plan

A strong SDR onboarding process begins with clear communication. Enacting a culture of teamwork and open communication that begins on day 1 encourages new SDRs to speak up when they have questions or need help.

A few of the key elements you will want to include in your SDR onboarding plan include: 

  • Company and culture overview
  • Existing sales strategies, processes and best practices
  • Education on how to best utilize your team’s existing technology investments
  • Shadowing of top performing SDRs
  • Roleplaying and actual cold calling/lead outreach
  • Training on your company’s Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Onboarding is not a one-time event. Since the average rep takes six to nine months to ramp, your SDR onboarding process becomes most effective when you adopt a data-driven ramping cycle. This approach helps reduce the risk of SDR failure and enables you to address any potential issues during onboarding.

 2. Hire the best SDRs

Hiring top performers is easier said than done. SDRs with extensive experience may have shorter ramp times; however, it’s important not to overlook reps who are newer to the game. Look for individuals who possess some key personality traits that can help leads feel comfortable, interested and engaged, such as:

  • Ease of conversation
  • Motivation
  • Curiosity
  • Focus
  • Drive
  • Coachability
  • Persistence
  • Growth-oriented

Look for individuals with a growth mindset, over one that might be fixed. A person with a fixed mindset may have shown success at prior organizations as an SDR, but if they aren't willing to invest in learning your company's solution and unique value proposition, they may fall short of your expectations. In most cases, it's easier to teach reps how to use a tool they've never used before, than it is to teach them how to have a positive, growth-oriented mindset. Hearing, "I'm not interested", is a daily struggle for many reps, therefore, those with stamina, persistence, and a glass half-full perspective on the role are likely to have longer tenures, and achieve better results.

3. Build a compensation plan that drives performance and retention

The right compensation plan can help keep SDRs motivated and incentivized. Many analysts recommend a 50/50 or 60/40 split between base and compensation, with the latter based on the number of qualified leads generated each month.

When it comes to incentives, the way it’s always been done is not necessarily the way it should be done. Let’s say the rep with the most dials at the end of the week gets a gift card. While call count is often a standard Key Performance Indicator (KPI), it doesn’t always translate to greater revenue. What is the quality of those calls? Are they with key decision makers? And how many of those contacts will accept a second call?

On the other hand, when SDR managers use signal-based incentives, they can set up contests that automatically reward reps for achieving the signals that matter most. For example, signals can show if reps are multi-threading, responding in a timely manner, collecting valuable data, or using the right messaging. 

This motivational strategy helps drive the behaviors that drive revenue, and our customers report an average 15x ROI on traditional sales incentives and a 16% increase in rep productivity.

4. Define and standardize processes

Standardized, well-documented processes and playbooks provide SDRs with a concrete plan of action for success.

  • Who to target: The buyer profile or persona should include job titles, industry, company size, annual revenue, job titles and pain points.

  • How to reach out: What are the channels, messages and frequency that typically have the highest success rates? What are the key objections that an SDR can expect and how should they respond?

  • What determines a qualified lead: SDRs are responsible for the exploratory conversations that will unearth these qualifiers, such as budget, urgency, motivation or business goals.

Once a lead has been qualified by the SDR, it's essential that they understand the internal handoff process between themselves and the assigned Account Executive. Whether it's providing and documenting context in your CRM, or sending an introductory email to the prospect and the AE, it's important that there are clearly communicated guidelines around your internal handoff process.

5. Provide the best sales productivity tools

It can take 60 to 90 dials to get a single appointment, so the use of technology and automation is critical to scaling an SDR team that can execute quickly and effectively. While there are countless productivity tools available, the four categories that will have the greatest impact are:

  • Sales intelligence and data solutions provide continuously updated information about the target market, leads and prospects – and how reps can best reach them.

  • Dialing or outbound calling technology helps SDRs save time with click-to-call functionality, cloud-based call centers, and direct integrations with CRM and other enterprise apps.

  • Sales email applications help to automate outreach with dynamic personalization, AI email writers and best practice templates.

  • CRM solutions act as the centralized database where SDRs will collect, track, access and hand off lead data. They often include sales engagement features, like email management or click-to-call functionality, eliminating the need for reps to juggle multiple tools.

6. Track the right metrics to identify top performers

Every SDR team has top performers. And while it can be easy for managers to identify WHO their top performers are, they need to understand WHY those SDRs are succeeding. What are they doing differently than other reps? Who are they talking to? What messaging are they using?

The right technology can help identify the WHY and uncover the leading indicators of SDR success. In turn, managers understand how to help the reps that are not hitting their marks. For example, are they only calling one person on the account team instead of reaching out to multiple decision makers and influencers? Are they using the wrong language? Are they straying from team or organizational processes?

7. Empower SDRs with content

While some SDRs are great at discovering, understanding and leveraging content to support their outreach, having a shared library of resources will drive better performance among the entire team.

Analyst reports, survey results, blog posts, playbooks, case studies, templates and sell sheets should be easily accessible and continuously updated. It is especially helpful to develop content (blogs, FAQs, etc.) that specifically addresses the questions that reps are regularly seeing and hearing.

Sales visibility matters

Once you have set the stage for SDR success, you need to track and analyze how your strategy is working and if you are meeting your goals.

With SetSail, you have visibility that extends deeper than the number of leads a rep is generating. You can see how they are interacting, the communication channels and messaging they are using, how long it’s taking to convert leads, and whether or not they are following the sales processes you have established. This makes it easy to pinpoint where things may have fallen through the cracks, identify training needs and have the intelligence you need to guide each SDR to success.

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