How to Build a Sales Development (SDR) team

So you’ve decided to start a lead gen team to help make better use of your closer’s time? While very simple in theory, the reality is that it’s complicated to coordinate and incentivize 2+ teams in a rapidly changing startup environment. Here are some basic tips to get things started on the right foot:

  • Set clear expectations that this is additive
  • Do not position it as a Jr. closing role
  • Have a defined process for both SDR and Closing Role
  • Define the meeting stage in detail
  • Align Compensation
  • Both sides should shadow calls
  • Scale slowly

Set clear expectations that this is additive

When a company decides to launch an SDR team, they are probably thinking that the division of labor will result in closing sales reps being able to close more business. I.e splitting both appointment setting and closing activities and having teams that specialize in each.

Yet again, in theory this is great, but more often than not your closers are interpreting this in a completely different way. They think their jobs are super hard, and they think of the SDR team as a way for the company to provide them with some much needed support, and a way for them to take a bit of a breather.  Everyone wants to stop prospecting… and only close. The end result in most of these cases is that two people get paid to do one person’s job and productivity stays flat. Make sure to set expectations up front that this project will need to result in net additional closes for it to be viable in the long term.  This may require that closers still set some of their own meetings.

Do not position it as a Jr. closing role

SDRs don’t always make great closers, closers don’t always know how to prospect, and no one wants to be treated like an underling. SDRs are specialists in how to find and identify your future clients. Position them that way from the start, and the teams will be starting from a place of respect.

Have a defined process for both SDR and Closing Role

By now you should have a sales process documented from first cold outreach to close. Split this process in two where the handoff from SDR to closer occurs, and fill in the details. If the teams don’t know where the hand-off should occur, and agree on the steps to be completed before and after… this will kickstart the blame game.

Example: When the SDR sets a meeting, and the potential prospect no-shows, who’s responsibility is it to get the meeting reset? If the closer is forced to do a quick pitch, but not a full pitch is it their responsibility to follow up to get a better time, or does it go back to the SDR?

Define the meeting stage in detail.

When performance management and commissions are involved, tensions will rise. Understand how your most consistent performers qualify leads and use this to create a definition that challenges SDRs to set quality meetings.  Make it realistic, but give them very concrete criteria so the meetings will result in an opportunity to close.

  • Ex. Qualifying Questions
  • Who is the decision maker?
  • Is there budget?
  • Do they meet criteria A and B (the same criteria as most of our current customers)
  • Have they ever done anything like this before?
  • Whats the buying process?
  • Does the person understand they took a meeting?

Align compensation

A good process and defining the meeting are great, but ultimately all that will go out the window if compensation is not aligned. You want to pay SDRs to drive volume so that your closers are as busy as possible. You also want to drive them to drive quality, so that you’ll get business from these efforts and SDRs get paid on what Closers get paid on

Ex 1 or for a meeting set, 2 points for a meeting held, 3 points for a close

Both sides should shadow calls

To re-enforce the process / definitions / and compensation goals have the SDRs and closers shadow each other. SDRs should be on the call live to hand the call over to the closer so they can see for themselves how the actual pitch meeting starts. Closers on the other hand should take time to headset the SDRs in order to see what kind of objections they’re getting, and how the SDR set expectations for the meeting. Fine tuning here will go along way, and you’ll get a lot less of the blame game when they’ve sat in each other’s shoes.

Scale Slowly

All venture cash fueled startups feel pressure to grow, but remember people don’t scale like servers.. Inexperienced employees require 1:1 time with more experienced employees (sales people, trainers or managers ) to learn all the skills. Given most startups don’t have super structured training programs in place, and often have above ideal spans of control, most of the responsibility will fall on a sales manager.

I’d recommend no more than 25-30 percent of the floor ever be new hires ( in their 1st 3-6 months). More on this topic in a follow-on post.


At the end of the day, building an SDR team is easy, but scaling one that generates quantifiable value will require paying attention to each of the steps above.

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