Managing Sales Development by the Numbers, Part 2

Without clear and consistent processes, guidelines, and expectations for your sales development team, your reps are left to figure out what works through trial and error. The result is highly unpredictable ramp times, wide variance in performance, and inconsistent revenue attainment. Here’s what to do instead.
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This article is part 2 of 2. To read part 1, click here.

Managing frontline reps is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs in sales. The higher up the sales funnel you go, the greater the opportunity to impact the professional lives of young sellers. 

Whether you call them ‘SDRs’, ‘BDRs’, ‘Market Developers’, or something else entirely, sales reps whose sole focus is hunting for Initial Meetings (IMs) on behalf of closing reps are largely responsible for generating the pipeline that fuels your revenue engine.

For many, this is their first role in sales, and often their first job out of college (where they almost certainly did not major in Sales Development Studies). Without clear and consistent processes, guidelines, and expectations – both in terms of activity and performance – these reps are left to figure out what works through trial and error (which explains the horrific attrition rates for these roles). The result is highly unpredictable ramp times, wide variance in performance, and inconsistent revenue attainment. Without guidance from managers to navigate obstacles and stay on track, success becomes a crapshoot.

If you want to help your Sales Development reps succeed, provide them the guidance they require. Give them a process to follow, eliminate unnecessary decisions, and focus their time and attention on productive activities. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, very few SDR teams operate under these conditions. Instead, we point them at a monthly IM target, give them a list of thousands of prospects, and wish them luck. We can do better. Here’s how.



How many prospects should be engaged at one time?

Once a rep understands how each day should be spent and how their assigned Leads and Accounts should be prioritized, they are ready to begin adding Prospects into sequences and starting the prospecting motion. The critical question at this point in the process is how many Prospects to add to sequence – and how many Prospects to have active in sequence – at any given time. The answer to those questions requires an understanding of each rep’s Daily Activity Capacity (DAC)how many manual activities can each rep complete in their allotted 4.5-hours of blocked prospecting activity time?

Some manual activities take longer than others to execute:

  • A highly personalized and well-researched prospecting email might take 15-20 minutes to compose
  • A phone call averages about 2-3 minutes from dial to end of voicemail
  • A LinkedIn activity may take from <1 minute (View a Profile/Like a Post) to >5 minutes (write an InMail)

Although much attention is focused on email touches, PHONE CALL STEPS IN SEQUENCES CONVERT 8-10X OVER EMAIL STEPS. In order to maximize prospecting efficiency, we recommend prospecting sequences with primarily automated emails, personalized by industry vertical, market segment, and buyer persona. These emails provide context for phone conversations, but getting prospective customers on the phone is the shortest path to success.

If manual steps in sequences are primarily phone calls and LinkedIn engagement activities, it will take an average of 3 minutes for a rep to complete each task. That’s 90 manual activities per day at 4.5 hours of daily prospecting activity time. This number represents an upper bound related to the number of Prospects Active in Sequence, beyond which reps may not be able to execute the associated tasks in a timely manner.

Because sequences are composed of multiple touchpoints spread across a number of days, activities will begin to accumulate daily as more Prospects are added to sequence. Take as an example an Outbound Prospecting Sequence with this structure over the first 9 days:

Step 1 – Day 1: LinkedIn Profile View

Step 2 – Day 1: Automated Email

Step 3 – Day 2: Phone Call

Step 4 – Day 4: Phone call

Step 5 – Day 4: Automated Email

Step 6 – Day 6: LinkedIn Engagement

Step 7 – Day 8: Automated Email

Step 8 – Day 9: Phone Call

Adding 30 Prospects per day will result in 30 manual activities (LinkedIn tasks) on Day 1, 60 activities on Day 2-3 (LinkedIn + Phone Calls), 90 Activities on Days 4-6 (LI+PC), and 60 activities on Days 7-9 (LI + PC), as illustrated in this waterfall chart:

Note that if we continued adding 30 prospects a day after day 5, we will have 120 activities on days 6-8 and 150 activities on day 9:

To stay within the 90 activity/day limit, reps should stop adding prospects after Day 5, resuming again on day 9. This chart illustrates one approach to managing Daily Activity Capacity by adding Prospects to Sequence in batches, respecting a 90 activity/day limit: 

Over this 30 day period, each rep will have engaged 540 prospects and averaged 69 Daily Activities. At a 3% conversion rate (Prospects Engaged/IM Set), this activity level would yield 16 IMs per month, per rep. 

While it might be tempting to just add more prospects into sequence to increase the IM/month results, you’ll quickly outstrip a rep’s ability to execute tasks, the sequences will grind to a halt, and your conversion rate will plummet. Conversely, you could remove all of the manual activity and use purely automated, email-only sequences, but that, too, could impact your conversion rate (recalling that phone call steps outperform email touches when it comes to conversion). Instead, focus on increasing the conversion rate by helping reps improve the performance of phone calls and other manual prospecting activities. 

Providing guidance & removing obstacles to success

Armed with an understanding of how they should organize their day, prioritize their Leads and Accounts, and execute a prospecting plan designed to maximize Daily Activity Capacity, reps have the tools they need to successfully execute your pipeline generation strategy. It’s the job of the managers to monitor progress – in terms of both activities and performance – to keep reps on task and on track to achieve pipeline contribution commitments. These are some of the most important Key Performance Indicators to watch:

  • Rep Activity (reported Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Quarterly)
    • Prospects Added to Sequence
    • Prospects Active in Sequence 
    • Overdue Tasks 
    • Skipped Tasks
    • Phone Calls Completed
    • LinkedIn Tasks Completed
    • Other Tasks Completed

  • Rep Performance (Reported Weekly/Monthly/Quarterly/Annually)
    • Call Connect Rate
    • Call Success Rate (IM Set, Call Back Scheduled, Referral, Introduction, Interested – Other Next Step)
    • IM Booked (#/$)
    • IM Hold Rate
    • IM Conversion Rate (IM -> Qualified Opportunity)
    • Pipeline Contribution (#/%)
    • IM -> Closed Won Rate
    • IM -> Revenue Total

Tracking these metrics will allow managers to identify individual and team strengths and weaknesses, as well as appropriate remedial interventions (including lobbying for additional tools or process changes to eliminate operational or organizational barriers to success).

This chart illustrates the distribution of Prospects Active in Sequence and Completed Calls for a team of 15 Sales Development reps:

In this example, assume that a “healthy” ratio is 2 calls for every 1 prospect in Sequence (the actual ratio is a function of the number of call steps in active sequences). Where the red and blue lines converge and cross, with red dipping below the blue, we have a problem. In this case, 9 of 15 reps are completing far fewer calls than required, and 2 have far more Prospects Active in Sequence than their peers (likewise, 3 reps – BC, JM, FG – have too few Prospects Active in Sequence). This chart reveals a team that is suffering from Call Reluctance.

One of the most common challenges managers will face is helping their teams overcome Call Reluctance. As already mentioned, phone call steps convert at a significantly higher rate than other touchpoints in a sequence. They are more personal touches than even the most well-crafted, personalized email, and can be completed in a fraction of the time. However, many reps, especially new sellers, may find that Call Reluctance – an anxiety-induced apprehension that keeps them from dialing the phone – is their primary barrier to success.

In The Psychology Of Sales Call Reluctance, after having interviewed over 11,000 sales people, Shannon Goodson and George Dudley found that:

  • 80% of all new sales people fail because of Call Reluctance
  • Companies earn 5X less revenue because of Call Reluctance
  • 40% of all veterans stop prospecting because of Call Reluctance and a fear of rejection.

In order to overcome Call Reluctance, managers should keep a close eye on these rep activity and performance metrics:

  • Prospects Active in Sequence – Having too many prospects active in sequences with manual activities can result in more tasks being generated than reps can keep up with, adding to their frustration and making it harder to muster the determination to dial.
  • Overdue Tasks – Overdue tasks are the main symptom of Call Reluctance, as these are by and large phone call tasks that reps have failed to execute in a timely manner. 
  • Skipped Tasks – Skipped tasks are another symptom of Call Reluctance, and one of the methods reps may use to avoid dialing.
  • Phone Calls Completed – Ideally, you are tracking call activity with recordings (for call coaching purposes) and a timestamp for each dial to know the duration of the call and deter premature hang-ups by call reluctant reps.
  • Call Connect Rate – Low connection rates may be a sign of Call Reluctance, since hesitant dialers may hang up prematurely to avoid the risk of having to speak with a person. 
  • Call Success Rate (IM Set, Call Back Scheduled, Referral, Introduction, Interested – Other Next Step) – Successful connections, meaning those that don’t end with a response of “not interested” or some other disqualifying reply, are an indication of how strong a rep is on phone call steps, which is inversely correlated with Call Reluctance (and therefore a measure of progress).
  • IM Booked (#/$) – Low IM Booked numbers frequently correlate with low call volume and poor call performance, and are both an indicator of weakness and a benchmark for growth.

Tracking these KPIs reveal which reps are struggling with Call Reluctance, from which you can determine if it’s an isolated problem or team-wide challenge (in this example, it’s the latter). Is the proper remedy individual coaching or team training? Using KPIs to identify reps in need of assistance will also help you prioritize which call recordings to review in order to provide more individualized guidance. Finally, these KPIs provide clear activity and performance targets against which to measure improvement. 

Providing insights to leadership

In addition to tracking team activity and performance to ensure prospecting plans are being followed and pipeline contribution commitments are solid, managers are also responsible for communicating the state of the top-of-the-funnel to revenue leadership (both Sales and Marketing). In addition to Rep Activity and Performance KPIs, managers should also track sequence metrics, including:

  • Sequence Activity (reported Monthly/Quarterly/Annually)
    • Prospects Active in Sequence
    • Email Sends
    • Phone Calls
    • LinkedIn Touches
    • Other Tasks
    • Overdue Tasks
    • Skipped Tasks

  • Sequence Performance (reported Monthly/Quarterly/Annually)
    • Fail Rate
    • Bounce Rate
    • Unsubscribe Rate
    • Opens (#/%)
    • Clicks (#/%)
    • Replies (#/%)
    • IM Set
    • IM -> Revenue Booked

The combination of Rep and Sequence Activity and Performance analytics reveal important insights to drive top-of-funnel strategy and tactics, inform and align marketing and sales efforts, and provide data to drive decisions about hiring, promotion, and other organizational changes. The data will also reveal gaps – in training, technology, and processes – which may require additional investments and commitments from leadership. Finally, manager reports to leadership will ensure top-of-funnel teams are providing the requisite fuel for your revenue machine to achieve its objectives, as well as opportunities to course correct in time to make up any shortfalls.

The difference between diagnosis and treatment

Engaged managers with an eye on these KPIs will be able to quickly detect problems and know at any time where their team stands in relation to activity and performance targets. However, knowing the state of things is only half the battle. A diagnosis without a treatment plan isn’t going to fix anything. Managers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that concerns are surfaced early, and that appropriate and timely remedial interventions are provided. 

Taking the example of Call Reluctance, a quick check on Overdue Tasks, Skipped Tasks, and Calls Completed in relation to the number of Prospects Active in Sequence will surface reps in need of assistance. In aggregate, this data will tell you if you have an isolated issue or a systemic problem. From there you can determine if the solution is individual coaching, team training, or more likely, a combination of both. Sales Enablement teams can focus on programs and training proven to reduce Call Reluctance. Managers can deliver one-on-one coaching, including role-playing and call recording reviews. With an accurate diagnosis, the organization can move swiftly (hopefully) to course correct. 

Finally, by tracking these activity and performance metrics in tandem, managers can ensure that the organization is accurately diagnosing pipeline generation issues. Taking the example above, if we didn’t know that Call Reluctance was the root cause of sequence underperformance, we might be tempted to spend our time focused on fine-tuning emails or testing different combinations and intervals between steps – things that may have marginal impact but won’t ultimately get at the source of the problem. By cross-referencing Rep Activity against Sequence Performance KPIs, we can better understand the primary drivers of success – and failure. 

Your Sales Development team is critical to the success of your revenue organization. They have one of the most difficult jobs in sales, and in many cases are some of the least experienced members of the team. To succeed, they’ll need clear directives and clearly defined expectations, as well as the support of a frontline manager who can quickly and accurately diagnose deficiencies and provide corrective action. Provide both and you’ll have a hard time not filling the funnel.

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About The Author

About Sapper Consulting

Sapper's sales prospecting team becomes a natural extension of your existing sales efforts, helping you find new leads that are a great fit for your business.

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