Why Sales Development Doesn’t Have a Seat at the Table (Yet)

Have you noticed the disconnect between how executives talk about Sales Development and how they treat Sales Development leaders? Companies are beginning to understand the vital role SDRs play in building pipeline, but Sales Development leaders rarely have a seat at the proverbial table.

The Reason?

Sales Development can’t measure their outbound prospecting funnel in a meaningful way.

If you have ever attended a Sales Development conference, you’ve heard SDRs talk about email open rates, response rates, call volume, and other metrics that are not parts of their outbound prospecting funnel.

What you probably haven’t heard is real funnel metrics that allow Sales Development leaders to work backwards from their goals to estimate the resources they need to succeed.

Without these bottom-line metrics, those other numbers don’t matter. They’re fluff. They look impressive but don’t tell you the real value of the tasks being done.

Why You Must Have Real Funnel Metrics

You can’t scale a Sales Development program using vanity metrics. Without real funnel metrics, you will eventually hire too many or too few reps. If you hire too few, everyone below Sales Development in the revenue funnel suffers. If you hire too many, you run the risk of overloading your sales team and watching pipeline cost skyrocket.

Now, you may be thinking that there’s no such thing as too much pipeline.

That may be true of inbound interest, but it’s not the same with outbound pipeline. You see, outbound opportunities (or potential opportunities) don’t receive the attention necessary when the volume exceeds the AE team’s ability to develop them further.

So it’s important to have the right sized team –– and the only way to nail that number is to be measuring meaningful metrics.

Keep reading to learn:

  • Why measuring your outbound prospecting funnel is vital to your success as a Sales Development or RevOps leader
  • The stages of the outbound prospecting funnel
  • How to measure and report on those stages

So Why Don’t SDRs Measure Something More Meaningful?

The reason teams focus exclusively on activity metrics is because they’re the only metrics most SDR programs know how to track. These metrics are baked into most outbound automation tools and are easy to track using simple Salesforce reports.

And SDRs get away with such lean reporting for two simple reasons:

  1. Few other companies are measuring their outbound funnels
  2. Most SDR teams are small

Small teams can sometimes get away with making strategic decisions without data. A qualified manager with a team of three SDRs can listen to every call and understand who is struggling and why.

Even without a clear understanding of her funnel, she can probably estimate the impact of a change in headcount accurately.

But guesses become less accurate as you grow. Determining what additional resources are required to achieve pipeline goals is easy with 3 reps and damn near impossible with 20 if you don’t understand your funnel.

How to Prepare Your SDR Organization to Scale

In order to scale, you must be able to answer one question accurately: If I add 100 Accounts to my outbound prospecting funnel, how much pipeline will I create?

To answer this question, you have to clearly define the stages of your funnel, track outbound prospects as they pass through your funnel, and standardize the amount of your team’s bandwidth is consumed by each prospect account.

Let’s take a dive into these 3 steps.

  1. Defining the stages of your funnel
  2. Tracking outbound prospects
  3. Standardizing bandwidth

3 Steps to Gathering Useful Sales Development Data

To measure outbound sales prospecting, you need to create some internal processes that help you see what’s going on at a high level. Here are the 3 steps you must take. Defining the Stages of Your Funnel

Like sales prospects, pipeline opportunities must pass through a set of stages with the Sales Development team before they’re a true opportunity. Each stage must be clearly defined and measurable.

Unlike with Opportunity stages, which are different for every team, a single set of outbound prospecting stages can be used by just about every Sales Development team.

There are 5 standard Outbound Prospecting stages that work for most outbound SDR programs –– and I’ve laid them out in the infographic below. Remember, though, these stages are associated with the Account record for a company, not Leads or Contacts.

outbound prospecting stages infographic

Tracking Outbound Prospects

Now that you have well-defined stages, the next step is to build a mechanism to track prospects’ movement through them. For this we’ll use a combination of formula fields, rollups, and workflow rules in Salesforce.

Note: The version in this post is abridged. A more detailed, complete set of instructions is available from Outreach.io in an ebook: How SDR Managers Can Get Full Funnel Visibility.

We’ll begin by creating a few formula fields on activity records. Each time an activity is created, these fields will automatically check to see if they were created by an outbound prospecting SDR and whether they are outbound or engagement activities (usually based on the Subject line).

The subject lines are a great way to identify prospecting activity because most teams use sales automation software that prepends activity subjects with key information.

For example, Outreach.io adds “[Outreach] [Email] [Out]” to every outbound email and “[Outreach] [Email] [In]” to inbound email (AKA engagements).

Here’s what a formula field looks like for an Email Engagement (an inbound email from an activated company):

measure outbound prospecting email engagement

And here’s how that formula reads:

Owner:User.Role_Name_c = “{{insert your SDR role name here}}”,
CONTAINS(Subject,”[Outreach] [Email] [In]”)


Note: The formula is telling Salesforce to check whether the activity was created by an SDR and to check whether the subject line includes the text: ”[Outreach] [Email] [In]”. If both of these are true, it writes a 1 in the field. If not, it writes a 0.

If you don’t use Outreach.io, then replace ”[Outreach] [Email] [In]” with whatever your outbound email automation tool prepends to outbound emails.

Now that activities are properly marked as outbound (for activation) or inbound (for engagement), we need to push that data to the Account level so we know which companies are activated or engaged.

For this we’ll use Rollup Helper, an app from Passage Technology that is designed to help move information around Salesforce in ways that SFDC can’t do out of the box. We’ll use it to add up the number of outbound activities and put that number in a field on the Account record. We’ll do the same with inbound activities (engagements) and opportunities.

The last step is to build workflow rules that populate an “Activation Date” field on the Account record. This memorializes the date on which the account was activated. We’ll repeat the same thing for Engagement Date and Opportunity Date.

Having these dates makes reporting easy. With them you can answer questions like:

  • How many Accounts did we activate this week/month/quarter?
  • Of the accounts that we activated last month, how many engaged with us?
  • If we activate 100 accounts, how many become opportunities?

Standardizing Bandwidth

Knowing how likely an activated account is to engage with you or become an opportunity is powerful, but it’s not enough. You need to know what happens inside the funnel in order to know what resources are required to create an opportunity.

So how do you understand what’s happening in your funnel when every rep is doing something slightly different?

Hint: You don’t.

This is a common issue for outbound SDR teams. Reps are given quality training and enablement, then left to their own devices when it comes to how they prospect. This lack of consistency means that no two reps expend the same amount of energy to generate a meeting.

Even if we know 20% of companies entering our funnel lead to meetings (because we have defined that now), that’s not enough. If we need 10 meetings, we know we need to add 50 companies to the funnel.

What we don’t know yet is what resources are required to move 50 companies through the funnel.

To solve this problem, you have to make sure every SDR is expending the same amount of energy on each target account. This requires standardizing the activities within your funnel.

Here’s what it sounds like when an outbound SDR leader knows his funnel just like a VP of Sales:

Chief Revenue Officer: “We need $400k more outbound pipeline next quarter than you generated this quarter. What resources do you need to hit that number?”

Outbound SDR Leader: “Our average deal size is $100k, so that means 4 more opportunities. On average, we have to activate 10 accounts to get one pipeline opportunity. So we’ll need to activate 40 more accounts than we did this quarter.”

Chief Revenue Officer: “Can you do that with your current team?”

Outbound SDR Leader: “No I can’t. Activating 40 more accounts means 5,000 more manual activities next quarter. Each rep does around 4,500 manual activities per quarter. If we stretch, I can probably do it with 1 rep, but the math says that we need a bit more than one. I suggest we hire two.”

Gaining a Seat at the Table

Armed with REAL data, Sales Development leaders can accurately predict what resources are required to generate any amount of sales pipeline. This knowledge is what allows you to impact growth and strategic planning…

Which is why it will earn Sales Development a seat at the table with other revenue leadership.

The tide is turning in the Sales Development world. As more companies invest in experienced SDR leadership, the leaders are beginning to ask the right questions.

But it’s only when you answer those questions with measurable, trackable data that you’ll have data that’s truly valuable.

Helping SDR teams define and measure their outbound prospecting funnel has become such a big part of our business at Iceberg RevOps that we’re about to launch an app for that very purpose on the Salesforce Appexchange.

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