The ups and downs of RevOps building the SDR function itself
What went right. What went wrong.
Read Time: 5 minutes
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Let me tell you about the time I led an SDR team.
When I first stepped into a Sales Operations role I was assigned the SDR team reporting to me. It's atypical for an SDR team to report into Ops but there are times where the organization is bootstrapped for leadership headcount. Sales Ops at the end of the day is also a sales leadership role. So the responsibility of leading the team fell onto me. I was not expecting this assignment but it was one I had to run headlong into. Here's what worked and what didn't.
Luckily there were a few things that went right. Let's set some context. We sold into the Enterprise segment. We defined this as companies with 1,000 or more employees with a few additional parameters. Companies with headquarters in English speaking nations such as the United Statea, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore fell into our strike zone. Lastly, we targeted financial services, healthcare, and high technology companies. When you filter your database for these parameters we had roughly 3,000 companies to sell into in total.
Knowing who to reach out to reduced waste in our prospecting. The second thing we did well was to develop two key tools in partnership with my Product Marketing and Sales Enablement counterparts.
The tools that helped me succeed:
1. Ideal Customer Profile
2. Persona Value Maps
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These deliverables required prospect and customer interviews. The goal of these conversations was to actively listen to the interviewees. If willing and able to share their insights with you, you should learn about the issues they face, both big and small. By stepping into the shoes of your prospect it'll be that much easier to devise the right questions to ask. The conversation should flow as if between two buddies sharing war stories. You get them. In fact, you might even hear "that's right!" Chris Voss style more than ever.
Another thing that went right was to constantly evaluate the moneyball side of sales. We learned that personal emails were better than canned emails. Open and reply rates tanked with canned copy. They weren't great with personal emails either but it was better than a big fat goose egg. Videos and gifs were fan favorites. Keeping them near the top of the email body helped open rates because many email applications on a desktop browser feature a preview pane. Seeing those images and animations elicited a good chuckle making it more likely they'll click on a link in the email. We also broke down which hours were best, by prospect timezone, to call.
Our key metrics were the following:
1. Pickup rate
2. Positive conversation rate
3. Call to power
4. Persona compliance
These are different and unique to one another.
Pickup rate is the percentage of all calls where the prospect answered the call.
Positive conversation rate is a subset of pickup rate. Some calls end up with a rude outcome such as immediately hanging up or telling you off. It's part of the game. Also, some great conversations might lead to good conversations but you might not be calling the right level or the right persona.
Call-to-Power is the percentage of calls at the appropriate job title level. If you're calling an individual contributor (IC) you're likely calling to the level which will be using the tool. Helpful for product. But not really when it comes to sales. For the team I managed we focused on calling Director level or higher.
Persona Compliance is the percentage of calls made to the correct persona. Job titles differ across industries so this one is a finger-in-the-air type of metric. Overall, you want to look at the list of contacts an SDR is calling out to and know they're barking up the right tree. Calling to the wrong department is a waste of time. And time is a precious resource not to waste. Use it wisely.
What went wrong
Operations teams tend to think of the GTM organization as a machine that can be optimized. This often leads to viewing the world in terms of process and metrics. Numbers dominate the conversation. If you're mostly analytical and methodical in your thinking, the theory says that you're left-brained. If you tend to be more creative or artistic, you're right-brained. RevOps can lean too heavily on the left brain. Holistic perspective and a balanced point of view will serve you well in RevOps.
People aren't machines
Teams are made of individuals, each with different motivations and goals. I came prepared each week with scorecards, dashboards, and metrics. I was armed to the teeth. But I was missing some critical factors to the team's productivity.
Going after results is a given, but inspiring the team to drive the right behaviors is not. No amount of operational rigor was going to get me over that hump. I had to spend more time on getting to know my team. This involved more emphasis on personal check-ins. What makes them tick? What are their personal and professional goals? Making 100 calls a day can and does feel like a sweatshop. It shouldn't have to be like that.
I hadn't made sales calls in MANY years. So when I finally rolled up my sleeves to do it myself... I completely SUCKED! Not only did it give me great empathy, but it showed me where the gaps were.
▶️ We were missing a consistent cold calling script.
▶️ We didn't have a sales engagement tool to automate our sales plays.
▶️ We lacked battle cards for which the team could fall back to when they were hit with an objection.
My team and I had our work cut out for us. So we extended our Ops and Enablement roadmap and deprioritized the more mechanical pieces of the roadmap.
After a month of developing these deliverables we went live with it on the sales floor. Most of it worked well and parts of it clearly did not pass the initial stress test. Instead of a final deliverable, the tools we just "finished" were marked as "living documents". We established a cadence to discuss, review, and adjust them to better suit the situations we ran into.
Another failure of mine was not to set a firm timeline or condition when to spin out the SDR team. When ops also leads the SDR team it can lead to diluting the performance from both the ops and SDR functions. They have different impacts to the company. Both need to be executed well, not just good enough.
If I were to do things differently the plan would something like this:
Build out a "founding SDR team" to serve as the springboard to a "scalable SDR team" as measured by hiring a team which can be managed by a part-time SDR leader with a consistent hiring rubric. We ended up hiring a team of four and consciously decided to keep it at that size due to a wide span of control for a part-time leader as an untenable choice.
Prove out the cold call script as measured by 100% certification by the team, 80%+ cold call scorecard samples using the script, and a 15% meeting booked from call connections
Hire an overqualified SDR leader who will roll their sleeves for two years as measured by three finalist candidates. We ended up not "hiring fast" and lost one or two great candidates due to their timing. We leaned on our timeline over their timeline. May not have been the greatest choice but this was a two year commitment we were looking for. We believed hiring slow gave us a shot to quickly grow.
I hope that if you have the opportunity to build a founding SDR function that my experience can help you shortcut the trials and tribulations I faced.
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