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The sales team is the backbone of a business. It’s composed of both SDRs and BDRs, both working to make sure the business is thriving through a steady flow of consumers. For this episode, we’ll discuss SDRs and how you can build a successful SDR team.
Kyle Coleman started his career in B2B tech in 2012 at an advertising agency in San Francisco. He supported clients such as Dell, VMWare and other large companies; however, Kyle eventually realized that advertising wasn’t where he wanted to continue his career. In a timely move, he was able to pursue an exciting new position in sales and marketing with a start-up called Looker, a data analytics company based in Santa Cruz. Kyle was recruited and became a member of the Looker team in 2013. He stayed with Looker for six years and was able to experience firsthand the growth of the company from six people to roughly eight-hundred sales reps and 100,000 ARR to over 100 million in ARR.
In 2019, Kyle made the move to Clari.
Growing the team
As a startup company, oftentimes it’s hard to know what really needs to be done. In the beginning, there can be a lot of trial and error. Sometimes you have to try different options to know what works and what doesn’t.
Kyle has observed many startup companies are reluctant to bring on an SDR function because they think it’s too soon; however, as the SDR for Looker in its earliest days, Kyle knows firsthand that it’s never too soon. He wasn’t just getting coffee and making sure that everyone was fired up. His main role was to partner with marketing. The SDR team became a three-person team in the first 12 months and it allowed their marketing leaders to test messaging in a variety of ways. They had the ability to use the tools to get in front of the right people from great companies and be the feedback loop for their marketing team.
What does the SDR team do?
The SDR team wasn’t just adding value in setting up appointments, they were also adding value on the marketing side. It helped them understand what they needed to do to differentiate themselves as sales reps in the market. They proved their value early and it was one of the reasons why success resulted in more successes. The impact was felt from the top-of-the-funnel column to the thought leadership marketing. The SDR team gave their company a solid start by offering insights about how to get to the right people faster.
The sales process was different back in Kyle’s time with Looker. The email market then wasn’t as saturated as it is now and their root force also helped in getting a lot of messaging out in the market. Their aggressive SDR method made them stand out compared to other SDR teams of that time. However, regardless of the changes in the sales process now, out bounding for companies in its early stages is critical to understand the company’s ICP, the personas, and the kind of messaging that should be delivered to the market.
Make the first right hire
A startup company has to make the right hires from the beginning. The ideal candidate has a little bit of experience but not so much he has forgotten how to actually do the work. The first hire should also be someone who is willing to take risks and to own success as readily as he owns his failures. Hire someone who is hyper, driven, and motivated. You can give them space to practice their own methodologies but also make sure to give them a support structure that allows them to fail with management ready to help with adjustments. You need somebody who is 100% dedicated to the cause, one who can communicate verbally and in writing, and someone who wants to help you achieve your company’s mission and vision.
Step 1: Describe your Ideal Customer Profile
Knowing your ideal customer profile will help define the right hire. While working at Looker, Kyle looked at the company’s number of employees and its funding. The ICP in Clari is much tighter due to the specifics around the tech stack. Ultimately, you want companies matched with similar personas.
Step 2: Work with the product marketing team
The product marketing team writes wonderful blog posts, white books, and e-books so don’t box them into just writing outbound emails. Blog posts and outbound emails are two different skill sets.
Hire a person who knows how to write outbound emails. These emails need to contain a call-to-action, personalization, and all the related content that comes from your SDR. It’s good for SDRs to get their leads from LinkedIn. It has the most trust-worthy data and is always up-to-date.
There are other additional tools that can be used as well such as ZoomInfo, LeadIQ, and Seamless.ai to get contact information. Cold-calling may be an old method but it’s still mission critical. Getting on the phone is how you get to hear a Yes or a No. Sometimes, it also depends on the personas. People who are more technical tend to stay away from phones. However, if you are connecting to salespeople who can talk about anything, then cold calling is a way to have real conversations and build relationships. Always include an omni-channel approach with your cold calling that includes email, LinkedIn, social media platforms, and other useful tools.
You can also make use of SalesAcceleration, Sales Automation, or SalesEngagement to make analysis easier for your SDR team. These tools will help the team report back to the product marketing team or the sales team.
Challenges in building the team
Most companies struggle because they create work for their SDR team that is too prescriptive. Instead of giving the team user guide, they give SDRs too many scripts.
At Clari, they provide their SDRs with processed frameworks that they can follow to attain success. Within the framework, they still have room for autonomy and personalization. They can still make the presentation their own and develop it from the bottom-up. Companies struggle because they expect their SDRs to be doing top-down mandates and it can make no sense.
Of course there has to be a process and structure but you also have to allow the people you’ve hired to think on their own. Giving them the space to grow will make them feel like they are part of a team. Make them feel comfortable that they can share their failures in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. This is important when you are building a team. People can’t be afraid to talk about their failures. Build an environment where SDRs are expected to try new things and where failure is the right of passage. Allow them to understand that if they’re not failing, then they’re not trying enough new things. They need to continue to push themselves in order to evolve.
The process time
There is no exact time frame for the entire process because every company is different. The role of SDRs and account executives are becoming more thoughtful and strategic so the ramp time is longer than it was in the past. Kyle has seen that it takes about six months for people to feel proficient in the process and then closer to nine to twelve months for them to become comfortable with the competitive ecosystem, the different personas, and the nuances within the culture. For Kyle’s company, it takes an SDR six to twelve months and then stay in that role for the same amount of time.
Kyle suggests that for people to be successful in their role, there needs to be gradations of incentives and levels that can be achieved. Without these in play the company risks losing high performers. Incentivizing is a great way to hold onto your best.
Keep your people in your team
There has to be one hundred percent transparency when it comes to relaying how the team can be promoted and what is at stake. For Clari, they tell their team the quantitative criteria they need to move through the four levels that can be achieved at their company. Employees know that the quantitative criteria is effort-based and result-based.
In Kyle’s company, these are the four levels of achievement:
Level 1: SDRs start with inbound only roles which means talking to warmer leads and doing qualification.
Level 2: Promotion to either senior inbound SDR or junior outbound SDR, depending on what is needed in the company.
Level 3,4: Supporting larger sales segments from SMB to mid-market enterprise.
There has got to be ongoing performance feedback. Tell team members what they’re doing well and where they need to improve. If needed, tell them what is keeping them from getting promoted. The review cycle should be a constant stream of feedback and this goes both ways. The SDRs should also be able to give feedback on how management can improve.
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Calling it quits
Some managers struggle in letting their sales reps go but if they are not succeeding in their roles and they are not happy with what they are doing, then it is reasonable to have the talk to find out where they would be better suited. These sales reps need something new, either in reinventing themselves within the company or letting them go.
The performance-based role should be explained as early as the interview phase of the hiring process. Let these potential hires know they will get the support they need but if that doesn’t work, they will get a performance plan, but if that performance doesn’t improve, you will have to go your separate ways. This way, they accept the job knowing exactly what is expected.
Being upfront in the beginning may cause you to lose some people you were excited about hiring but if you get someone who is not performing well, you owe it to them and to your company to create an achievable plan to improve their performance. It must have both quantitative (result-oriented and effort-based) and qualitative (attitude-based) measurements. If they don’t perform well then you have to help them transition out of the company.
Try Clari and other tools
Clari is a tool that will help you get leads from Sales Navigator and into your CRM. LeadIQ also helps in skipping a step as you can export people directly from LinkedIn to Outreach. Clari also uses Sendoso for direct mail for personalization.
Kyle suggests that managers should treat their SDR team as a strategic thought partner. Some of the best ideas come from them and you are doing the team and your company a disservice if you don’t listen to their ideas and feedback every step of the way.
As for individual SDRs, it is important to develop cross-functional relationships inside your company. The more the process is understood, the better the conversations with potential customers. Prospecting is born out of confidence and confidence is born out of expertise about the products, range of services, and the personas.
“Building A Successful SDR Team From The Ground Up” episode resources
Clari is a revenue operations platform that is useful for every single person across your entire revenue organization. Learn more about Clari by connecting with Kyle Coleman via his LinkedIn account.
If you are interested in more sales stories, you can talk to Donald directly. Reach him via these channels: LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook about any sales concerns.
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Audio provided by Free SFX and Bensound. Other songs used in the episodes are as follows: The Organ Grinder written by Bradley Jay Hill, performed by Bright Seed, and Produced by Brightseed and Hill.