How to build a sales development team

  • RK 
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Are the right people playing in the right positions in your Sales Team?

The case for specialisation

High quality leads power up the sales engine of any organisation, large or small and irrespective of industry sector. And to get a sturdy supply of high quality leads organisations need high quality people focused on developing the leads.

Many organisations, especially in the SME space, maintain a sales force of generalists, who work every stage of the Sales cycle. Typically, each Sales rep is assigned either a geographical territory or an industry vertical to work. They are usually responsible for working leads to a close and generating a proportion of their own business cold. Often, they will also be responsible for retaining and growing existing accounts. They serve as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ – the generalist model.

The reason for organisations embracing the generalist model is logical and it stems out from the financial constraints of organisations. The SME sphere frequently depends on five or fewer Sales professionals to drive their revenue line. Business and sales leadership generally perceives that a team so small cannot be structured into specialist roles and they gravitate to a generalist model. 

However, a generalist approach is a perilous one to take for an organisation with a growth mandate. Business owners want to see revenue – which eventuates from closed opportunities at the bottom-of-funnel. But without a team focused on widening the mouth of the funnel, the total number of opportunities in the sales funnel drops. Opportunities exit the funnel owing to a variety of reasons – closed because they are won, exit because they are lost to a competitor, go cold in the funnel owing to client apathy etc. Net result is that the number of opportunities that enter the funnel are lower than the number of opportunities that exit the funnel. In a generalist model, with no one focused on entering opportunities into the funnel, net new revenue takes a hit. 

“Generalisation leads to failure when nobody is focused on filling the top of the funnel.”

And no – organisational size is not necessary to build the right structure. Even a team of two can be given a good structural mandate: one person can focus on top of funnel, and the other focuses on the opportunities that have been progressed to the middle of the funnel and takes them to the bottom of the funnel.

In fact, this is exactly how we grew our startup (Resonate). We have an excellent Sales Development Representative (SDR) that focusses on the top of the funnel, relentlessly filling the mouth of the sales funnel with new opportunities. We have a Business Development Manager (BDM) who focuses on the middle and the bottom of the funnel and is responsible for taking opportunities to a close. Once the business has been won, we hand over the relationship management to the Account Manager (AM). 

These three team members of mine all have vastly differing abilities, skills, experiences, and strengths. My SDR is a quick and bright thinker, a master of good market research, and a gun with both phone and Social. The BDM is a senior seller driven by results, who can find a way over, under or through any obstacle standing in the way of a close. Like many AMs, ours is a brilliant relationship builder and a calm and reliable sort who customers depend on like one of their own team.

If you think about your own organisation, much of this will ring true. Even if you have generalists in the team, some of them suit a certain role better than others. They prefer it. They indulge that part of their job. They like playing in a certain part of the park and they play well in that position.

Sales is a team sport

This sort of ‘team sport’ thinking is a must for every startup, SME, and established business. Do you have the right players on your Sales team, and are they in the right positions? Have you established the right balance of defence and attack? Do you have a good captain and sharp midfielders who can direct play and re-strategise against the competition?

Some specialist sales teams focus on products, others focus on markets, and yet others on customer segments. But the most important specialisation ensures the total number of opportunities is always growing. They ensure the health of the sales funnel. The star role here is the Sales Development Representative.

Careful how quickly you scale…

A good friend of mine built a fantastic consulting business with a few excellent business partners, scaling up revenues in their first couple of years at a terrific rate and sustaining strong double-digit growth for the next few. They had the product, the market, and the budget to make some Sales hires…and they did. They hired fast, doubling the team in the space of a few months. They decided to bring on Sales Development Reps with a mandate to fill the funnel and help the company quickly grow market share.

I can see why the decision was made to grow so speedily. Their customer satisfaction rates and close ratios were industry-leading; their market growing; their vendor partners in complete support. It looked too solid a business proposition to fail.

Unfortunately, they were met with a raft of new challenges to deal with. None of these new SDRs fully understood the company culture, value proposition, or the way of working they’d need for success. Very few new hires ever do. And the directors of the business did not have time set aside to train them on your process, bring them up to scratch with the business and market, or teach them anything about Sales (for the staff they hired from a technical/product background).

For about a year, this organisation struggled to make their new structure work. Ultimately it failed, and many of the new hires moved on. It was an expensive and painful exercise. And it was a pain that could have been avoided.

When building a sales team, restructuring, and hiring new roles, do your thinking. Don’t act too quickly: give yourself space to perfect the model, then scale. You may find some of your current staff are in the wrong positions, or perhaps they are not a right fit for your company anymore. You must make sure your new hires complement the good talent you intend to retain.

Reward the right behaviours

SDRs are generally not responsible for closing, so it is impossible to use the same metrics, measures, compensation and bonuses as a BDM. Instead, think of what behaviours you want to drive and encourage.

In my experience I have found that focusing entirely on input measures such as phone calls is a mistake, because it fails to reward quality. It can lead to burning a territory through allowing poor sales behaviours – driven at scale!

I have also found that failing to set and enforce metrics turns an SDR force into an SDR flop.

Think about ‘halfway homes’: soft advances that indicate a prospect has moved forward and is ripe for a BDM to progress. Face to face meetings are a common soft advance, but not the best: what if those meetings are unqualified? The best halfway homes involve a time commitment from a prospect, such as their attendance on a webinar or completion of an assessment or trial.

Planning a robust Sales pipeline and rewarding SDRs for the right behaviours will lead to consistent and rapid growth in the number of opportunities in your pipeline.

He who defines roles clearly… WINS

Once you have started down the line of salesforce restructuring, and you have some SDRs getting into a rhythm, you will need to redefine roles further downstream. You will need to consider how each member of the team passes the ball to each other at what stage.

In particular, you must define who is responsible for the next step with a customer. There must be perfect clarity of the next step.

I live by the acronym ‘WINS’: What Is the Next Step? WINS lead to wins…if your sales team knows and executes next steps, there is a good chance the opportunity will have its best possible chance of progressing to a close.

This extends well beyond a close. Once again you will need to think about customer retention and customer satisfaction. While top of funnel is the most crucial stage of the Sales cycle, neglecting later stages will not help either.

An SDR must be able to clearly hand over a customer to their BDM, with both people thoroughly understanding WINS.

Hire for attitude, not (just) skill

SDRs are frequently junior roles. Although that does not have to be the case, it is a reality in most markets that senior salespeople take roles where they can leverage existing relationships. They are drawn to senior Account Management or BDM roles. SDR roles are then filled by people keen to begin a career in sales, or who see the SDR role as their ticket to a career inside your organisation. They may not have the kind of Sales skill they need.

This is why you should hire for attitude first, then skill. Yes, you will expect aptitude (intelligence, work rate, EQ, etc.) but you will find that a positive attitude in your SDR hires will allow them to listen and learn.

The SDR must not be a person who likes to put blame on others or avoid responsibility. Accountability is a must. Your Sales Development Representative is the one who decides who your next clients will be! They have one of the most important roles in the organisation. They have the keys to unlocking revenue and growth. They must see this responsibility, take it seriously, and act on it.

An organisation cannot hire an academic or a ‘talker’ in an SDR role, either. A person who loves a chat can keep prospects engaged on the phone, but to what end? Those SDRs must value their time above all else. Their attitude must be like that of a hunter finding food for a whole tribe. It must be ruthless and relentless.

Your mandate is revenue

In summary: you will only meet a growing revenue goal if your total number of opportunities is growing. The number one resource for top of funnel is the Sales Development Representative. Could the number one team member for revenue growth be… the SDR?

“Focus on the Funnel to avoid Failure; take the SDR role seriously and reap the rewards.”