Managing Sales Development Teams By the Numbers, Part 1

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.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

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 to 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.

Empowering Top-of-Funnel Managers

Sales managers are the connective tissue between revenue leadership and frontline reps. It’s their job to make sure strategic decisions get translated to tactical actions on the frontlines. Their primary responsibility to the company is ensuring their team fulfills its pipeline contribution commitments. They meet that obligation by:

  • Keeping reps on task and on track, ensuring they’re consistently following clearly-defined processes and prospecting plans;
  • Identifying gaps in skills, tools, and processes, and providing individual and team coaching to remedy them;
  • Providing critical insights to leadership in order to detect problems early, provide an accurate diagnosis of underlying causes and appropriate remedial actions, and driving alignment across the revenue organization.

These managerial responsibilities form the bedrock of a successful sales development program.

It starts with a plan

When a sales development rep sits down at their desk each morning, they should know exactly what the next 8 hours will entail (for heuristic purposes, we’re pretending that sales is an 8-hour-a-day job). They’ll have an arsenal of tools at their disposal – Outlook or Gmail, Salesforce or Dynamics, Outreach or SalesLoft, Gong, ZoomInfo, Sales Navigator – and likely others. They’ll have a long list of Leads, or even longer list or prospective Accounts and associated Contacts, in SFDC (their territory). And they’ll have questions:

  • How should I organize my day?
  • How do I prioritize these Leads and Accounts?
  • How do I know I’m doing the right things each day?

The answers managers provide to these questions are the foundational elements of a prospecting plan – the process guidelines that ensure rep activity expectations align with pipeline contribution commitments. In other words, a prospecting plan helps managers ensure their teams are engaging enough of the Prospects in their assigned territory to hit their IM quota.

How should reps organize their day?

A prospecting plan begins with a decision about how Sales Development reps are expected to spend their day. That 8 hours includes more than just prospecting activities (making phone calls, composing emails, engaging on LinkedIn, and creating videos). There’s also research and prospecting preparation, follow-up with responsive prospects, internal meetings and training, lunch, breaks, and other non-prospecting activities. The proportion will differ by organization, but a reasonable expectation is 4.5 hours a day spent on the execution of prospecting activities (for this discussion, we’ll use tasks associated with prospecting sequences or cadences as a proxy for activity). 

Once a manager has set the expectation that 4.5 hours of each day will be spent on prospecting activities, it’s their job to ensure non-prospecting activities don’t encroach on this time. The easiest way to achieve this is by having reps create two 2.5 hour blocks on their calendar each day  – usually one in the morning and one in the late afternoon (though prime call connection times for your target market may differ). Note that includes 15 minutes of break time during each block. By standardizing prospecting time blocks, the organization will be able to plan non-prospecting activities around rep availability, and reps will be able to focus their undivided attention on prospecting at regular intervals each day. 

Another advantage of time blocking is the reinforcement of the idea that prospecting is a daily habit. Instead of executing call tasks haphazardly throughout the day, reps can execute activities during peak connection windows, get into a rhythm to execute tasks more efficiently, and avoid a pile-up of overdue tasks (which diminishes sequence effectiveness).

How should reps prioritize Leads & Accounts?

In addition to knowing how to organize their day, reps also need to know how to prioritize the Leads and Accounts they’ve been assigned. In some cases, prioritization is done behind the scenes, prior to a Lead being assigned to a rep, and the decision is either automated or dictated. In these cases, the manager’s primary responsibility is to monitor the distribution and quality of Leads to ensure equity among the team. In others, especially for outbound prospecting motions, reps will have considerably more latitude in target selection. Sales Managers should provide a framework for prioritizing Accounts and Contacts. 

Don’t overcomplicate the Account prioritization process. The objective is to focus rep attention on optimal targets – both Accounts and associated Contacts – remembering that they will only be engaging a handful at a time. For larger mid-market prospects and above, reps will be reaching out to multiple potential buyers in each organization. In all but a very few cases, they will never have more than 300 prospects at a time active in high-touch sequences (i.e., sequences comprising more than 40% manual activities). Assuming the rep has 4 Contacts per Account in sequence simultaneously, that means 75 Accounts engaged per sequence cycle (the average duration of the sequences). Assuming an average sequence duration of 30 days, each Sales Development rep will be able to engage approximately 225 Accounts per quarter. 

Keep in mind that those 300 month-1 prospects won’t be added to sequence all at once – the first week will likely require 100-120 prospects to be identified and added to sequence over the course of 5 days. That’s 25-30 Accounts in total, which is a much more manageable starting point. Additional prioritization can continue after the initial prospecting has started.

Prioritization doesn’t have to be an exact science. Start with a simple A/B/C designation for accounts, identifying 20% as As, 20% as Bs, and 60% as Cs. Within the A accounts, identify the most likely starting points for an IM. If you’re trying to sell software to an enterprise customer, you’re not likely to start a cold outbound conversation in the CTO’s office. You also don’t want to start so low in the organization that your Prospect can’t actually move an opportunity forward. Identify your sweet spot – the range of buyer personas that are most likely to feel the pain that will motivate them to take an Initial Meeting, and who have enough juice to advance an opportunity. They don’t have to be a decision-maker, but they need to be able to guide you to that person’s door.

Though you likely have several potential stakeholders involved in any given opportunity, your historical opportunity data will tell you which roles and titles correspond to the highest closed-won rates, ACV, and deal velocity. Use this information to narrow your focus to the most profitable entry points in order to conserve SDR resources, expand territory coverage, and avoid spamming any Accounts. Reps should have no more than 5 prospects in sequence at a time from any given Account (Parent-Child and subsidiary account relationships notwithstanding).

Once they’ve prioritized Accounts and identified the buyer personas of their prime targets, reps will begin working through their A Accounts first, adding prospects to sequence at a rate that doesn’t outstrip their ability to execute the associated tasks when they’re due. Timely execution of sequence activities is the key to prospecting success!

Stay tuned for Part 2…

If you’re struggling to streamline your rep performance,  Sapper’s sales consulting services can help you to realign. Click here to learn more.

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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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