SDR Ops Lean Coffee Preview Part 2: Breaking Down the Discipline

In our last post about SDR Ops, I shared the story of how I learned about this interesting domain within sales through some tough lessons. The call to action was, “let’s discuss this topic as a community”, and our first step is to run a series of small group masterminds to unpack the topic more. You can register here if you’d like. 

Below, we summarize aspects of four key topics in the SDR ops conversation that we’ll discuss during these sessions: Tech stack, reporting, functional integration, and new mindsets. 

The last post also sparked a bunch of conversations about what we had written. Some pretty well-known figures in the sales world even started to talk about it on Linkedin, which means the hive mind is debating these issues. These conversations inevitably brought a handful of devil’s advocates who I disagreed with wholeheartedly, but their concerns come from a thoughtful place and I’d like to address them.

Nothing new here! 

I’m not claiming that there is a new area of sales that has recently been discovered. Most of the ideas that constitute SDR ops are familiar to all of us. Again, this is not your typical webinar series. This is an education & discovery experience. 

Isn’t SDR Ops just another word for RevOps? 

Sure, if you say so. What does RevOps even mean? We should debate the idea of org chart & scope when we discuss SDR Ops, but yes, this would be a branch organization within RevOps. Keep in mind that, despite the hype behind the function, many organizations haven’t adopted a RevOps philosophy. 

Isn’t SDR Ops equivalent to admin of Outreach / Salesloft? 

That’s a big part, but definitely not the whole ballgame. Similarly, CRM administration is not nearly the sum of what RevOps as a function needs to handle. 

At the end of the day, Sales development is sink or swim

That mindset is actually pretty common among sales leaders. However, that’s the whole rub here. You cannot attribute a seller’s performance to her own ability & skill UNTIL other variables are eliminated. Many SDRs spend hours per day fumbling around the CRM before being able to do any of their actual selling tasks. That’s why SDR Ops is so important. It’s a big piece of the “why is everyone missing quota” conversation. 

As a starting point, we encourage you to think about the following topics before joining the sessions, and offer these subtopic overviews to provide a baseline understanding. That said, even if you don’t prepare at all, you can still attend. Remember, we aren’t sharing answers here, we want to facilitate a communal learning experience. You will discuss these in small groups with other SDR leaders. 

Premise: Building a Machine

We often describe sales organizations as machines. So, what are the components of the machine? Said another way, if we all wrote a book on SDR ops, what could the table of contents include? What is clearly outside of scope? To my mind, the ‘machine’ refers to everything that happens outside of prospect outreach. The sales process, documentation that supports it, processes that make it real, and technology that accelerates the sales process are all included in that definition. There are human pieces here as well as technology pieces. 

Reporting & Analytics

We’ve all seen the infamous Salesforce activity dashboard. How many calls have you made this week? How many emails have you sent? Progress toward quota? Aside from reducing reps to racehorses competing in a one-dimensional game, traditional approaches to SDR reporting aren’t super useful. 

That said, no one would disagree that this is a critical area that one needs to get right to ensure the team is performing well. Reporting is also a pathway for the SDR management layer to prove value to the executive team.  Taft Love explained specifically why this is important from a c-level point of view during the 2019 Tenbound Conference (recording here)

The utility of outbound reporting is a pretty common issue debated between SDR managers & VPs of Sales. Taft and his team at Iceberg were seeing the same problem so frequently that they built an application called InsideOutbound to help teams query Salesforce activity data in such a way as to make it meaningful for the c-suite. 

Questions to Ponder: What exactly do we need to report on? Why do we even do reporting? What are different philosophies related to SDR reporting? Who in the sales organization owns reporting? Of all the data produced, what is essential? What data can we make use of easily? What data is interesting, but unlikely to yield an actionable process change? 

Tech Stack

We need to start seriously questioning the net value of technology in the sales process. If you ask ten SDR managers about their experience with sales tools, you’ll hear a vast array of positive and negative experiences. 

I help companies build SDR teams with an emphasis on revenue operations.  I recently had a client who had major issues with their CRM. They bought Outreach but did not configure it properly, and so their prospect data had become untenable. They bought Outreach to help scale the sales team, and it did quite the opposite. The lack of attention to SDR Ops basically sidelined the sales AND marketing teams for two entire months. I estimated the impact of this disaster at close to $500K (lost time + opportunity cost). 

Before I throw too much shade at automation tools, let me also say this: most of us couldn’t imagine doing our jobs without these tools. With a well-built sales engagement platform, a five-person SDR team can produce as much “output” as a ten-person team not using the tool. 

Questions to Ponder: What tools are essential? Which are optional? Are automation tools our friend, frenemy, or foe? How do we best use tools? How do we accurately estimate the administrative burden on our teams when buying tools? Who owns the tools and who gets a say in their configurations? Who ultimately OWNS the tech stack? Is it the SDR manager, or highest ranking Ops person in the company? VP of Sales? Does the answer depend on company type, size, or stage? 

Marketing

One of the most well-worn tropes in revenue land is the “where should SDRs report?” debate. 

The common answer, “it depends”, is not itself interesting, but the debate this topic sparks is usually worthwhile. 

What if the answer to this question has changed greatly in the past 12 months? I was talking to Alex Ellison about this topic, and he offered up an interesting perspective: 

“If you’ve seen the newest season of Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson (highly recommend) he talks about how siloed all the different science disciplines used to be. In order for our species to reach space they had to learn to be interdisciplinary and share their expertise. I see some similarities here both between and within sales and marketing, and the most successful teams, where they collaborate effectively, are the ones “going to the moon.”

A simple definition of the scope of marketing would include these types of things: define an audience, create compelling content & messaging, place the content in front of the buyer, and measure & optimize. If you think about it, that’s basically identical to an SDRs job description. So, what does this mean? It’s nice to talk about this topic, but functions exist for a reason. What does alignment look and feel like? 

Questions to ponder: Should SDRs and marketers be cross-trained? How might you divide the funnel between SDR / marketing? Think about inbound & outbound… are SDRs really just becoming the phone channel within marketing campaigns? How does reporting structure factor in here? Does it even matter who SDRs report to? 

Functional Integration

We singled out marketing above primarily due to their capacity as content producers. We should also be interested in how SDRs interface with every other commercial function. This includes product, CS, and perhaps even engineering. One specific topic of interest here is the idea of product-led growth. Thinking ahead, how does Ops support or enable the commercial motions of the future to occur. 

Questions to ponder: Where does it make sense to have integration points between SDR and other functions? Where does it not make sense? Do trends in the future of sales change the dynamic of how SDRs fit into the broader organization? 

Compensation

A year ago, Colin Cadmus and Aaron Ross discussed why the SDR Model is broken. One aspect of the discussion was compensation. They discussed a few factors here, including ramp, churn, average-time-in-role, quota attainment, and performance management. This got me thinking about how – specifically – SDR comp needs to change. I think that there are a few questions we need to ponder here.

Questions to Ponder: Does the machine ( team, manager, operations, etc.) outweigh individual rep attributes (skill, effort, etc.) in the performance equation? If we could properly measure all of the important activities conducted by the SDR beyond just generating pipeline, how would that impact SDR comp plans? Could SDRs be paid on data quality? Long-term outcomes versus monthly outcomes? 

Mindsets

I predict that when we discuss the ideas above, the group will find it easy to generate questions but difficult to generate prescriptions. Fundamentally, how important you believe SDR Ops is depends on your view on what the future of sales will look like. 

I use the word ‘design’ a lot when discussing CRM & technology. We’re used to hearing that word in the context of building products, but less so in the context of sales. 

In the context of SDR ops, the idea of design is important for a couple of reasons:

  1. Iteration: building the machine we discussed above takes a lot of small builds over time. You can’t sit down on day 1 and plan for a year out, that’s not how sales works. 
  2. Customer empathy: a designer’s mindset is to start with the user’s needs in mind, and then engineer a solution to meet the customer’s needs. In sales, we tend to engineer things to meet our needs. There are good reasons we do this, but it brings up an interesting debate.

We will discuss why design will be a critical mindset for SDR leaders in 2021 and beyond. 

Questions to ponder: What are other mindsets critical to making SDR Ops work? Are there different flavors and philosophies that might play well depending on the organization? Can mindsets – if widely adopted across the organization – replace headcount for this function? Who in the organization needs to embody these mindsets for others to follow? 

In summary, the goal of the webinar series is to unpack these key topics that impact our team’s ability to perform at the highest possible levels. Whether it be fundamentals like reporting & performance management or less visible processes like setting up the CRM & SEP, we will aim to access the hive mind and develop a better perspective on how other leaders view these topics. We hope to engage various possibilities on what SDR Ops ought to look like, including not only how other people do things, but also the philosophies behind our peers’ opinions. 

📅 Again, here’s the registration link with additional details!

Note: You will need to attend at least one of the three sessions to get access to the playbook that will be produced at the end of the series. 

Want to know why we’re doing this? Check out Mike’s blog that started it all.