Quality leads are the fuel that make all companies run. No company is too big or too small to get around this law of growth.

And in order to get quality leads, you’ll need to have quality people who specialize in generating and developing quality leads.

But early on in younger sales teams, most of the reps take on all the responsibilities in the sales process -- from prospecting to closing.

The problem is that this leads to your sales team becoming “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

You want to have a Super-Bowl-winning football team? You can’t have 11 Tom Bradys playing every position on the field -- you need talented but specialized quarterbacks and running backs, receivers, and linemen.

In the same way, you can’t expect your company to “win” if your salespeople are trying to “play” every position. As soon as possible, you want to specialize the team into different roles.

So, how do you go about creating this new and specialized sales team?

There’s a lot to it, but here are four keys that will help you build a sales development team that will win.

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1) Don’t scale too quickly

When most managers build a sales team, they scale too quickly.

The temptation is hard to resist. If you have a documented process for lead generation, setting appointments, and a script for closing deals, trying to get as many new reps on board as possible so you can skyrocket your revenue makes sense.

However, when you’re bringing on new hires, you’ll have new challenges to deal with that you wouldn’t normally have if you were selling by yourself.

You’ll have to train them on your process, get them up to speed on your industry and your business, and potentially teach them sales techniques if they don’t have a lot of experience.

On top of that, you’ve got other risks: Are your sales reps coachable? Are they willing to learn new things, or do they think they know everything already? Are they good at reading people?

Sales development reps also typically have higher burnout rates compared to other sales roles, which means you need a solid hiring process that you can repeat over and over again.

If you scale too fast, you risk getting in over your head too quickly, and you might have to lay off some of your team members down the road.

2) Implement proper incentives for compensation

It’s important to have the right incentives in place so your employees are driven to hit their targets. Usually, salespeople are motivated by money (among other things), so it makes sense to have compensation at the top of the list. (While money is not necessarily most important motivator, it’s definitely how sales pros keep score.)

The challenge with SDRs is that they’re not directly responsible for closing deals, so you can’t solely incentivize them on deals closed.

You want to pay your SDRs to drive a high volume of leads, yet you don’t want to comp them on poor-quality leads -- or your closers won’t be talking to the right people.

For example, your compensation structure might be divided into “points,” where you give a certain number of points for every meeting set, a higher number of points for every meeting that’s actually held (i.e. the prospect shows up to the call), and an even higher number of points for every prospect that’s closed.

3) Set proper expectations up front

Even though it’s standard for the sales function to be divided into different roles -- like Sales Development Rep (SDR), Account Executive (AE), or Customer Success Managers (CSM) -- the specific definitions of and responsibilities for these roles often vary from company to company.

Make sure your new SDR candidates have a clear picture of every task and activity they are expected to perform daily, so they can understand what it will be like to work on your company’s SDR team.

Many times a sales rep may come into a SDR role wanting to close deals -- so they ask how long before they are “promoted” to AE (or a closing role). But their reasons for wanting to do so aren't always because they love closing -- sometimes, it’s because they see “closers” as being higher up the ladder.

If you set expectations and let them know that they’re specialists in prospecting and qualification, and your AEs are specialists in discovery and advisory, you’ll have a better chance at making your SDRs feel great about their work -- and stick with you for the long term.

4) Hire for attitude, not just skill

When it comes to hiring SDRs, attitude and aptitude can be worth a lot more than skill.

The "experience” an SDR needs to prospect and qualify new customers can be acquired pretty quickly. As long as you have a script and workflow they can follow, and it’s the right person, you can check off that "experience” requirement.

Finding SDRs with the right attitude is far more difficult.

Can you train them? Do they have empathy? Are they determined? How do you know they’ll stay consistent, even after having a long string of failures and rejections? Will they burn out quickly?

These “soft skills” are much harder to teach. They are personality traits that people develop over time, not qualities that can necessarily be trained quickly on the job. That’s why you should look for these traits early on in the interview process, and craft your questions appropriately.

For example, instead of asking them how many appointments they set in their last job, you might ask them to tell you a story about a time they were repeatedly rejected -- but persisted anyway.

You might ask them to sell you on a product of their choice to see if they come off as salesy, or if they ask good questions before diving into the pitch.

You might ask them to tell you about a time they had a tough time relating to someone, but ended up breaking through and doing it.

Skills are important, but for SDR roles, attitude and personality is far more important.

Hiring a team of SDRs is largely about timing and expectations.

Many managers (especially ones) are tempted to scale too fast -- which eventually results in layoffs, productivity loss, and lower morale. Instead of taking a massive leap forward, they end up taking a few steps back.

Other times, they might focus too much on getting people on board who have the “right experience” instead of people who have the right attitude to stay consistent when times get hard -- even after they have a long string of failures or back to back rejections.

But if you scale gradually, perfect your sales process, and set proper expectations throughout your hiring process, you’ll have a highly productive SDR team on your hands that will help you close more deals.

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Originally published Oct 3, 2017 6:30:00 AM, updated January 21 2020


Scaling Sales Team