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Best Practices for Managing the Sales Development Lifecycle

The number one challenge I hear from sales development leaders is how to successfully manage the SDR lifecycle. This can take many forms: hiring, onboarding, training, performance, motivation, internal promotions, attrition, and so on. The average SDR lifecycle is 14.2 months. Given this figure, it’s not surprising that the sales development organization is often described as the “minor league team” for the rest of the organization. This poses a unique challenge for SDR leaders who have to constantly fill seats in the “leaking bucket” that is the SDR team, and get each rep performing as early, as consistently, and for as long as possible.

Average Tenure of Sales Development Reps by Month

Sales Development Rep TenureBecause of the tenure challenge, successful sales development leaders follow five key best practices to achieve their goals.

The five best practices are:

  • Establish a scalable hiring process
  • Onboard SDRs in a week, get to full ramp in month two
  • Create an internal SDR promotion path
  • Monitor and troubleshoot underperformance early
  • Maintain a high degree of hands-on coaching

 

Establish a Scalable Hiring Process

Sales development leaders are in constant recruiting mode especially on successful teams where the irony of the situation is that the better you do, the more turnover you will have because sales will recruit all your team members. The key for success is to develop a scalable hiring process that is always on and to identify the right candidates quickly, with a 70% or higher level of consistency. Sales Development leaders don’t have time to spend 2-3 months finding the right candidates. Instead, they need to backfill positions within 3-4 weeks at worst.

A scalable hiring process requires the following:

  • A clearly defined ideal candidate profile that provides a large pool of candidate options. If you look at the data below, you will see that over 70% of high growth sales development teams opt for hiring without experience. The candidate pool for experienced candidates is much smaller and filled with competitive, more expensive recruits. This is especially true in the competitive markets in the major tech centers such as San Francisco and New York.
  • Establish a standard hiring process that vets candidates for your ideal profile but is quick. For example, many companies have created score sheets to rank candidates based on the skills and background defined in the ideal candidate profile and have a standard set of interviewers who are part of the interview process.
  • Always be recruiting — never pull the job description off the website, promote employee referrals, and interview great candidates whether you have an opening or not

 

Percentage of sales development teams that hire based on experience versus without experience

Sales Development Hiring

 

Onboard SDRs in a Week, Get to Full Ramp in Month Two

The math is very simple. An SDR is only in the seat 14 months; there is no time to wait 3 months for them to be onboarded. As a result there has to be a standardized onboarding process designed to get SDRs trained in a week and to full ramp by month two.

Quick but thorough onboarding requirements are as follows:

  • Develop a standard onboarding calendar and playbook.
  • Focus on the core skills needed to be successful. Many companies make the mistake of putting SDRs though the same product marketing driven training as sales which often confuses them.
  • Create certifications to ensure SDR comprehension of subject matter.
  • Check in with trainees every day to make sure they are picking up the training.

 

Sample one week training schedule

training schedule

 

Create an Internal Career Advancement Plan

One of the major challenges of short SDR tenure is keeping reps engaged and happy in the sales development role. Most SDRs are naturally ambitious, and by month six, they are asking when they can move into a closing role. Managing career ambitions can be difficult, and failure to communicate a career path can lead to SDRs leaving your organization. One of the ways organizations have solved this is by creating internal promotions within the sales development team.

SDR leaders who are exceptionally adept at managing the SDR career path:

  • Communicate expectations for the SDR career trajectory early, during onboarding.
  • Create milestones and mini-promotions along the SDR lifecycle to acknowledge and reward achievement.
  • Dedicate time every week to training, so SDRs never feel like they have stopped learning and improving.

 

Sample SDR career advancement plan

SDR Internal Career Advancement

Monitor and Troubleshoot Underperformance Early

With short SDR lifecycles, sales development leaders cannot wait long to deal with underperformers. In the same way three-month onboarding can hurt productivity, three months of underperformance, followed by a one-to-two month performance improvement plan, can severely impact pipeline growth. SDR leaders have no time to waste in addressing missed quotas. This is not meant to create a ruthless environment in which SDRs either hit their number or hit the road. Rather, it is meant to communicate that their performance matters to the company at large, and that the organization and management will devote particular attention and effort to their success.

Best practices in managing SDR underperformance are:

  • Put SDRs on a plan after one month of missed quota; the plan should last a month.
  • Track daily and weekly activities to predict underperformance sooner.
  • Coach SDRs to succeed. Avoid creating a cutthroat atmosphere by communicating that performance improvement plans are meant to help them hit their number; they are not a precursor to being let go.

 

MONTHS OF UNDERPERFORMANCE BEFORE A PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT PLAN IS IMPLEMENTED

underperformance

 

Maintain a High Degree of Hands-On Coaching

To manage everything we’ve covered above, as well as the myriad other unique demands of the sales development organization, maintaining a close relationship between SDRs and managers is crucial to success. Organizations with over 8 SDRs for every manager find it hard to dedicate the amount of attention the team requires to perform optimally. These organizations tend to have SDRs “going rogue;” they create their own ad-hoc processes, are distracted by the demands of their sales reps, and suffer from a lack of consistent coaching. Top-performing SDR teams operate like well-oiled machines, with standardized processes, plays, and metrics that allow them to improve and optimize every step of the way. These teams require close ratios of SDRs to managers to achieve this.

To effectively manage SDR teams to success, organizations:

  • Maintain a ratio of 1 manager (team lead ok) for every 6-8 SDRs
  • Dedicate 4-6 hours a month to SDRs coaching and training.

 

RATIO OF SDRS TO MANAGERS FOR COMPANIES WITH 2 OR MORE MANAGERS

Sales Development to Manager Ratio

While the SDR lifecycle poses a serious challenge to the vast majority of sales development organizations, a fraction of these organizations have built amazing strategies to address this challenge. Following the five best practices they use will help you not only achieve your pipeline growth goals, but will help you create an environment that attracts top SDRs, and graduates top sales professionals.

 

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