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Building Outbound: How to build a High-Performing SDR Team

Sales Development teams filled with Sales Development Representatives (SDRs or in some businesses they might be called BDR) play a vital role in the growth trajectory of any business. They're the front-line soldiers of your sales process, carrying the responsibility of identifying, engaging, and qualifying leads before they are handed off to your sales executives, or Account Executives as they're often called.

The primary focus of an outbound SDR team is to create opportunities by proactively reaching out to potential customers, acting as the bridge that connects your business's value proposition to the appropriate decision-makers in your target markets.


Potential elephant in the room - Why do I even need an SDR team?

The realty is that the way that people buy has evolved, and selling simply isn't as simple as it used to be. We have technology that covers everything from data & intent signals to prospecting tools themselves. Using all the tools at a salespersons disposal either requires a 1% sales rep (which you absolutely won't be able to fill your teams with, no matter how much you pay) or an approach that focusses on having specialists in each role.

The why boils down to these two factors:

  1. Specialization: When AE’s can focus solely on closing, they can optimize their skills and improve closing rates. The SDR team, focused on lead generation and qualification, can fine-tune their outreach efforts.

  2. Consistency: An SDR team can ensure a consistent pipeline of qualified leads, reducing the feast and famine cycles of your AEs’ activities.

Ignore how appealing the simplicity of a pure 360 sales team is - They're dead from inefficiency, it's time to move with the times.

Deciding on the Size and Structure of Your SDR Team

Getting the right size and structure for your SDR team can be pretty challenging, and it all starts with your existing team, how big your business is, your industry, the complexity of your product, as well as your growth goals. So just a few things...

If you're a small startup you might begin with just one or two SDRs, whereas a larger enterprise could have a team of dozens, there's no hard and fast rule as it comes down to your own unit economics.

You also need to consider your sales pipeline and the volume of leads you plan to handle If you're aiming for rapid growth, you might need a bigger team to manage the influx of potential customers.

As for structure, a common historic practice is to have SDR's at a ratio of AE's, often seen as a one SDR to two or three Account Executives (AEs), but we believe this can potentially be the wrong approach.

Ultimately, the reasons for splitting out AE and SDR roles and responsibilities is to have a more targeted skillset doing each part of the complex job of sales - This means that ideally you can focus SDR teams entirely on generating opportunities and Account Executives entirely on managing and closing opportunities.

This means that your SDR teams should be sized to max out the capacity of your AE team - How many leads can your AE's handle, and how many SDRs are needed to provide that number?

What if I'm building a Sales Function from Scratch?

When building a sales function from scratch, it can be tempting to hire a team of AEs right away. However, starting with an SDR team can provide several benefits:

  1. Establishing a Sales Process: SDRs can help define and refine your sales process, testing messaging and identifying the most effective methods for lead generation and qualification.

  2. Cost Efficiency: SDRs, being entry-level roles, often command lower salaries than AEs. Starting with an SDR team allows you to build your sales process and start generating leads without a significant upfront investment.

  3. Scalability: As your business grows, you can scale your SDR team accordingly. As SDRs gain experience and expertise, they can be promoted to AE roles, ensuring continuity in your sales process.

Building a sales function from scratch gives you the flexibility to shape your sales team in a way that best serves your business. It's a process that requires strategic planning, patience, and a willingness to adapt and refine your approach based on results and feedback.

What to look for when hiring SDRs?

Perfect candidates have great communication skills, a hunger for success, and resilience in the face of rejection - Sales are a rare breed, and you're looking out for that in potentially junior people.

Hiring can be critical, but you're looking for people that can grow into polished sales people, not necessarily the finished product as your onboarding should be able to mould them into how they need to be.

If you're an earlier buiness you might want to consider previous experience in a similar role, industry knowledge, and whether an SDR/BRD has enough of a headstart in the role to get going. If your onboarding training and processes aren't particularly developed, you could pay the price if you opt for too junior, either in absolute performance or the drain on the team to provide the appropriate level of support.

Remember, sales development is often the first point of contact between your company and potential customers, so the right people can significantly impact your brand's image.

Training and Onboarding Your SDR Team

Once you've hired your team, it's time to train them. This phase includes familiarizing them with your company's products & services, sales methodologies, CRM software, and the process of generating & qualifying leads.

If you're opting to hire really junior people you're going to even have to introduce them to the basic concepts of sales itself - The role of an SDR is far more complex than giving them data & tools, they really need setting up for success.

Invest in quality training programs or use resources like sales bootcamps and webinars to ensure your team is well-equipped to represent your company. Continuous learning opportunities will keep your SDRs motivated and up-to-date on industry trends.

Motivating and Retaining Your Team

Sales can be a super high-pressure job, so it's key to keep your SDR team motivated and engaged to prevent burnout and high turnover rates.

Create a rewarding work environment by recognizing and celebrating small wins, as well as developing incentive programs that acknowledge not only the team's achievements but individual contributions as well.

We've built a completely free compensation planning tool for both SDRs and AE's, you can grab your copy of it here:

Career progression is a significant motivator for most SDRs, with progression into AE roles being artificially fast over the last few years due to skill shortates - Ensure there's a clear path for advancement within your organization and provide the necessary support to help your team members reach their career goals.

Measuring Success

Finally, it's tracking the performance of your SDR team is key to creating consistent growth. Key metrics might include the number of calls made, emails sent, appointments set, and leads qualified.

It's not however all about quantity:

Pay attention to the quality of leads and their conversion rates

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) if handling inbound, and SQL to Close rates of the opportunities that are closed can be key indicators not only of the quality of leads generated by both sales and marketing, but can be indicative the quality of what is getting passed through sales.

You should separately track the performance of inbound and outbound leads as changes to KPIs are things that should be investigated as either opportunities to generate more business, or risks that need mitigating to stem any opportunity bleed.

How do I plan for this?

Planning is inherently difficult - We've made a free capacity planning spreadsheet that can help you get going, however with shifting conversions, attainment & deal KPIs, your plans will constantly be updating and will be out of date before you've even hired:

  • Deal sizes decreasing? You're going to need more leads (and potentially more hires)

  • Deal cycles increasing? Revenue is going to land late, and you might need to add additional revenue to play catch up = More leads & hires

  • Conversion rates decreasing? You guessed it...

This is why we build Clevenue, a platform that makes sales capacity planning (or headcount planning) really simple and easy, using live data to make sure that your plans are always pointing you in the right direction - Towards revenue target.

Take a look yourself how we can help you plan your sales teams, it's even free to get started:


Q: What is the role of an SDR team in my business? A: SDRs are responsible for outbound lead generation. They proactively reach out to potential customers to qualify leads and hand them off to your sales executives.

Q: How do I integrate an SDR team into an established AE team? A: Establish clear roles, responsibilities, and handover processes. Ensure the SDR team is trained properly and that there is regular communication between the SDRs and AEs.

Q: Why should I start with an SDR team when building a sales function from scratch? A: Starting with an SDR team allows you to establish and refine your sales process, save on initial costs, and provide scalability as your business grows.

Q: How many SDRs do I need for my business? A: The size of your SDR team depends on the size of your business, the complexity of your product, and your growth goals.

Q: What qualities should I look for in an SDR? A: Excellent communication skills, resilience, motivation, and a positive attitude are essential qualities. You should also consider the candidate's experience, industry knowledge, and alignment with your company's values.

Q: How can I keep my SDR team motivated? A: Recognize their achievements, provide continuous learning opportunities, create a clear career progression path, and develop incentive programs to keep your team motivated.

Q: How do I measure the success of my SDR team? A: Key metrics include the number of outbound activities, the number of appointments set, and leads qualified. However, it's crucial to also pay attention to the quality of leads and conversion rates.

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