The current way sales development representative (SDR) teams are set up ignores the reality of what is actually needed today to be able to reign in sales technology expansion and align with the way prospective customers operate.
Consider the seismic changes in the sales development landscape over the past few years. Not that long ago, the sales development process was a manual mess of Salesforce, Google searches, Excel sheets, sticky notes, and duct tape. Whether qualifying inbound leads or going outbound, it was slow, clunky, and difficult to execute.
Fast forward to today, where the explosion of technology to support sales development around data quality, workflow organization, and email messaging is amazing. SDRs now have the power and speed afforded by this technology in their hands. They can work faster, be more organized, and send out more messages to more people than ever.
However, having all this great technology available can also be damaging. As we have seen, putting that much power in the hands of an untrained, disorganized SDR team can lead to negative reactions fromprospective clients. We all know that a bad message, sent out to lots of people over and over, is still a bad message (and potentially damaging to your company's reputation).
You may recall back in the day when only the marketing team had access to marketing automation programs set up to send out one email after another. Those campaigns were generally planned, approved, and vetted. Not so much anymore. Now even the newest SDRs enjoy that same power at their fingertips.
The result isn't always good. Prospects are bombarded by irrelevant messaging. Potential clients tune out or get annoyed. Brands are damaged. All in alll, it’s getting tougher to break through the noise.
Then you have the rash of “SDR shamings” on LinkedIn and social media, on which people actually post emails and social outreach made by SDRs and complain about how badly they were executed. Ironically, this SDR shaming is usually done by sales leaders who then turn around and pushing their own SDR team for more meetings, using similar tactics.
So how can SDR teams break through?
Most sales development organizations are still set up in a way that doesn’t give SDRs a chance to establish context and build basic trust and value with prospects. Many SDR programs simply fall back to the spray-and-pray tactics of yesteryear.
The current setup also doesn’t harness the explosion of data being created by those tools, which, if set up correctly, could actually improve overall team performance.
Instead, a typical sales development organization requires SDRs — usually people fresh out of college in their first job with little or no experience — to do several different and, at times, conflicting jobs. The average SDR may need to research massive amounts of prospect information, handle email copywriting, develop scripts, master new SDR technologies, build lists, conduct cold calls, send out mass emails, gain product knowledge, and keep up on social media updates.
In the face of this daunting list, many get overwhelmed and end up falling back to silently researching and sending out mass emails all day.
I argue that SDRs need to be better equipped in order to regain focus on their true purpose — having high-quality conversations with target prospects and setting up sales appointments.
Meanwhile, the typical organization asks a sales development manager to not only be a trainer, coach, and administrator for the SDR team, but also to be an expert analyst of the mass amounts of data being created. Managers must also translate that data to actionable and relevant insights.
Additionally, sales development managers need to become experts in the SDR technology tools and back-end connections to make sure nothing slips by.
These are two very different jobs that can and should be separated to improve efficiency.
To maximize investment in the many new tools out there, and to discover best practices to gain more appointments, you may want to consider setting up your SDR organization in a totally different way.
I believe the following structure works better:
1. Break the SDR role into two parts
SDRs: They focus their time on quality conversations with prospects. They own phone calls, emails, and social outreach to a high number of target prospects per day. They customize messages to the personas and pain points of each prospect based on available research, using their creativity, training, and experience. They ensure quality sales appointments take place.
Account researchers: They ensure all contact information is correct on leads, contacts, and accounts in the database. They find relevant, timely information to help SDRs craft their messaging. They maintain a quota of facts and trigger events entered per day, week, and month to create lists. They own data cleanliness and research readiness for a set number SDR accounts per month or quarter. They ensure all information is available for an SDR to make a high number of phone calls and send out a high number of highly customized emails.
By dividing these two roles, the SDR has the research needed to touch a large number of prospects each day in a customized and focused way. The SDR is also freed up from researching to instead improve on the hardest parts of the job — calling and talking to people versus spending a great deal of time each day searching for contact information and trigger events, i.e. “The Silent Sales Floor” effect.
2. Break the sales development manager into two roles
Sales development managers: They own overall team results and relationships with senior management. They focus on daily sales training, coaching, mentoring, administration, and gathering target market intelligence. They set the strategic direction for the team and stay updated on industry best practices.
Sales development productivity analyst: Reporting to the sales development manager, this role owns data quality, quantity, integrity, analysis, and compliance for SDR teams. The analysts ensure the team has enough data, tools, and efficient processes to run smoothly and continuously improve performance. They run split tests on messaging and report on all analysis and insights regularly to sales dev managers. Analysts also suggest course corrections based on data, and they contribute to the direction of SDR training plans based on data-driven choke points.
3. Clarify the role of sales operations to support the sales development organization
Sales ops professionals: They own all sales development tech systems and connections; ensure tools truly enable the team and are fully utilized; and handle all vendor relationships, negotiations, and contracts. Sales ops folks liaison with marketing operations and sales leaders about processes and technology. They work closely with sales development productivity analysts to ensure maximum ROI on sales development teams.
So how could this setup work at hiring time?
Let’s say you have headcount for a six-person SDR team. Before you hire the usual structure of five SDRs and one manager, consider this approach: Hire an experienced sales development manager with a proven track record first, before any SDRs. Give the manager a month to set up all the systems, processes, and sales technology needed to build a team.
Then, hire one SDR and one account researcher. The sales development manager gets them up to speed. Then repeat that process with another SDR and one more account researcher.
Finally, bring in a sales development productivity analyst to walk in lockstep with the manager to translate the data being produced by the team into actionable insights that help improve messaging, training, morale, and performance.
An upward spiral of performance is created. In other words, sales development nirvana.
It’s interesting to note that this structure is how larger companies are already doing it. And they’re winning. However, there's no reason not to replicate that success at a startup.
What do you think of this structure? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
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