BDRs or Business Development Reps (also called SDRs, sales development reps, or inside sales) are responsible for filling the pipeline, so that Field Sales can focus on closing. An effective BDR program can improve quota achievement, speed close rates, and reduce cost per sale.
Unfortunately, most companies fail with their first BDR hires. They throw new reps on the phone without the training or tools necessary to succeed. They invest 6-12 months in “dialing for dollars” before giving up, having learned an expensive, painful lesson.
I wanted to know what it takes to make a BDR team successful out of the gate, so I reached out to Liz Cain. Liz Cain is currently the VP of Go To Market at OpenView Partners. Before that, she built a highly successful BDR team for Netsuite. Now she helps OpenView portfolio firms build their business development programs.
In today’s podcast, we discuss the keys to BDR success. First, we address the importance of hyper-focus on a specific customer type and providing meaningful case studies and use cases. Then we address the training, tools, territory planning and metrics needed to make a BDR team effective.
So listen in to get tips you can put into use today with your BDR program.
You can get more information about Liz Cain and OpenView by visiting the links below:
Edited Transcript for Equipping a BDR Sales Team For Success
Candyce Edelen: Thank you so much, Liz, for joining me. I’m really excited to talk with you today and learn more about how you build a business development or BDR team. I became aware of you when I read an article you penned about your experience building a team at NetSuite. Then we chatted more about your experience at OpenView. I’m very excited to talk to you about what you’re doing with some of your portfolio companies. So thanks for joining us.
Liz Cain: Really excited to be here today. Thank you.
Candyce: Just before our call, I had a conversation with a client who I’m really encouraging to build a BDR team. He commented that he doesn’t think that dialing for dollars is very effective. In fact, his exact quote was, “Dialing for dollars is a low-yield activity.” He described his own process of ignoring his voicemail for a month before he checks messages. Can we start there? Explain to me what is a BDR and how do companies build out that part of the sales team?
Liz: Sure. Absolutely. I think that’s a great statement that “dialing for dollars is low yield.” I would completely agree. Let’s take the Yellow Pages, and you literally dial down a list with no kind of thought process or prioritization or strategy. You’re not going to have a high return on that activity. Where I think it becomes impactful is if you get really thoughtful about who your ideal customer is. You narrow your segments, and then take a lot of action to warm up those accounts, through email or social or marketing activities, and eventually phone calls.
I think you can actually have a much warmer conversation. You can actually narrow in on the few people you really care about reaching instead of using a “spray-and-pray” broad approach.
I think where people tend to go wrong when they start up an outbound team is they don’t give enough thought to what it takes to get that narrow. It’s really hard to focus like that. It’s hard to say “no” to deals that are not in your wheelhouse or to think that you’re going to have a better return by only calling on 100 accounts rather than 500. But time and time again, I’ve seen that work. The tighter you can get the team focused, the better the results are going to be.
Candyce: I’ve had that same experience with building sales teams regardless of whether it’s a BDR team or the core sales. Niche focus makes a big difference.
Liz: Yeah. Absolutely. We certainly see that across a number of companies. You’re right whether it’s BDRs or sales, it’s about that hyper-focus.
Candyce: In your opinion, what are the things that make a BDR team effective? How do you go about planning what’s going to make somebody effective? You’ve probably seen stories of firms that were successful at this and firms that weren’t. Maybe you can share some of those ideas of what’s making them work?
Liz: The first thing that makes it work is that segmentation exercise. Make sure you understand not only the types of customers and the ideal customer profile, but who the buyer is within those accounts. Make sure you’re really clear on what the pains, needs, and goals are of that buyer, so that your messaging is thoughtfully targeted at those individuals. Then, the next piece is setting both realistic but aggressive goals and being very clear in your expectations of the team.
I often see companies say, “Hey, we’re going to hire a BDR. We’re going to take one person, put them in a seat, give them limited direction, and just let them have at it. We’ll point them to the database we already have or to a particular region with very little direction.
I think the more planning you do up front — understanding the line of reporting, aligning the BDR with marketing, ensuring the messaging is consistent, confirming that you have the right lists and contacts for them — the more successful you’re going to be when you actually get into it.
I think that planning process is integral to making your first couple of BDR hires successful. I often see companies do a false start where they hire a couple of people. They maybe have them in a seat for, 3-4-5-7 months, and then say, “This isn’t working. Let them go.”
Then six months to a year goes by, and they start again. But then they do it totally differently after that learning process of that they didn’t plan for the first time. Before, they just put butts in seats.
Candyce: When you’re talking about that planning process, how much does things like buyer personas, case studies, and things like that play into that process and then what else plays into that process?
Liz: Buyer personas and case studies, I think, are huge. There are a lot of things that go into the planning process. But first, figure out who your point person is on this. If you have a VP of Sales or VP of Marketing—somebody who’s in charge of a go-to-market function—usually the BDRs tend to report into one of those groups. Yet they’re relying on each other too. I’ll see a head of sales hire two BDRs and expect Marketing to make sure all the collateral and messaging is ready to go for them, but with very little planning around what it takes to get these people up to speed.
About the buyer personas and messaging—I hope that exists in a company already. But it may not. If it doesn’t, make sure you have two or three profiles that you can train your BDRs on. Often, these guys are really junior hires. They probably have less than two years of work experience and are coming right out of school. They don’t have business acumen, and they don’t have experience to fall back on. So making sure you help them understand exactly what your buyers are going through is really key.
I love templates and messaging. If you can, arm them with the right emails to send, the right scripts on the phone. I don’t mean like overtly scripting the conversation. You don’t want them to be tied to that script, but for the first month on the phones, make sure they understand what “good” looks like. If you can, paint that picture of the North Star and show them what it should be. This really helps them get up to speed faster.
Then, I think the case studies you mentioned, or customer stories, they’re not easy to write in a really customer-centric way. Usually, when you look at a website you find that they’re very much about the organization rather than the customer, or they’re about the products and the features, not about the impact.
What I try to get people to do with customer stories is learn them in two ways. You want the 20-second snippet that they can say quickly during a call on the phone. Then, when someone says, “Tell me more about that,” you need to know the two-minute version. It’s like the 20-second and the two-minute versions.
If all a BDR has is a snippet quote with some metric from your website; if they can’t speak in an educated way about what it took for that customer to get there; if they can’t speak about the journey the customer went through with your product to actually reach the solution, they’ll lose the prospect. That kind of 20-second and 2-minute customer story is something that I try to get all BDRs to focus. I make sure that they know ones that are relevant either to the industry, to the vertical, and/or to the size of customer they’re calling on. They should always have a few of those stories at the ready. I think those are things you can actually prepare for BDRs before they start.
You can work with your current account managers, your current sales reps, and maybe your marketing team. You shouldn’t be starting from square one.
Candyce: Right. I see a lot of marketing organizations build case studies that, like you said, they’re very company-centric. Years ago, I was at a conference at Content Marketing World where somebody said that they had reached out to their customer asking to do a case study and the customer said, “I will do a case study provided that you don’t make me look like the damsel in distress being rescued by you as the White Knight.”
Liz: I love that.
Candyce: Isn’t that great?
Candyce: So many case studies do start with that. It’s like, oh, the company was falling apart and nothing was working before we came in. That’s just not true.
Candyce: It’s dishonest. It does not set the sales rep up to have a rational business conversation either.
Liz: No. Not at all. But if you can talk about sort of the improvements they saw and the results or how it made someone’s life easier like that human element, that makes it compelling.
Candyce: Right, but you have to make that message be in alignment with the way that the customer is experiencing their reality too. I think in that phone call prep that you and I did, I told you about that client that the stories that they were telling were these very dramatic, people running around in a pressure-cooker environment when the customer’s actual value proposition was it made us feel more comfortable with our decision.
Liz: Yeah. Very different.
Candyce: Yeah. It is. That wasn’t an indication that the customer felt that there wasn’t value in the product or that it wasn’t worth the money. It was well worth the money in their mindset, but you can get so out of alignment if you don’t listen to the customers.
Liz: Totally. No. It makes complete sense.
Candyce: We talked about the geo-territory versus a broader territory. You were talking a little bit about the focus. Can you tell us a client story about a company that you guys have been working with it started too broad and went narrow perhaps and what happened there, how they approached that?
Liz: Sure. I think territories generally are just a really tricky thing. It’s funny, this time of year, I’m getting a ton of questions about how you cut territories because we’re going into that 2018 planning process, and people’s teams have grown. They’re looking at their headcount for next year. They’re thinking about, “Where do I make things smaller, how do I divide again?”
I think probably the most natural places I see people cut territories are by geography, by industry, or by company size. I’ve seen some other ones, but those tend to be some combination of those that are most common. Maybe named accounts at the high end. Most companies start with round-robin. Let’s just like call it what it is. These may be coming inbound. You round-robin them across your sales team, and everything else is sort of up for grabs.
As you grow and you have more salespeople that are added to your sales force, you start to have to think about how do I divide this pipeline up and this opportunity and total addressable market in a way that’s fair and equitable for the new hires I’m bringing in. I think, first, people tend to gravitate towards giving their best reps better territories. That will always happen, but, honestly, we continue to see the smaller and more narrowly focused you can get people, the better results you’re going to have.
I don’t think it really matters how you cut these as long as you give everybody enough opportunity and there are enough accounts that they can hit their number. Whether it’s by geography, or by industry, or by company size, I think (it) depends on the type of business you have and what’s most similar about your buyers. If you have a product where the lingo in use cases and customer stories are very different by industry, it probably makes sense to cut based on that.
If you have a product that has some sort of network effect or a local virality, maybe in the real estate market, it makes way more sense to do it by geography. I think you need to be really thoughtful about what your market dictates rather than just a spreadsheet where you cut and paste the numbers. But I think you can work in any way. There’s one company that I have in mind right now that has recently switched from round-robin to a geography-based territory. They basically assigned out the major cities across their sales team and said, “Okay, you got New York Metro. You’ve got Bay Area. You’ve got Chicago.”
Within that, each of their sales reps is tasked with setting up their target accounts sort of the top 40 companies that they have to get into this year. Then, they have like a B-tier of accounts. That’s the next set. The goal is to use this planning process to define how you’re going to go attack that territory and say “no” to other things. If random distractions that are popping up throughout the year, align that to the list you said you were going to go after and make sure it actually makes sense before going down that rabbit hole.
It’s not to say you can’t change your mind or you can’t change that list and pivot and iterate. But sometimes there’s inbound interest that is not in one of your target account lists or your target industry. This can become a massive distraction when it may not be the best deal for you.
Candyce: I’m finding that a lot with inbound. It’s much more random and, yes, you might close some of those deals, but the randomness does not help.
Liz: At all.
Candyce: Most of our clients are working with target account lists at this point. They recognize that they need to go after those accounts. One of the things that you were mentioning was assigning a specific number of accounts. How are the companies you’re working with, how are they managing accountability for the sales reps to make sure that enough activity is happening in those target accounts and that the pipeline is at the size that it needs to be? Let’s start with the BDRs themselves. How are you measuring that activity to make sure that the right behaviors are happening to get the results you need?
Liz: If we stick with the BDR front for a second, I think there’s really two very different sets of metrics that people look at. There’s the activity metrics that are driving your daily tasks, and then there are either results or output. I like to pay people and measure them based on the output, but you need to measure that activity along the way so that you understand what it takes to get to those results. It’s so much more compelling if when you hire a new person, you can say “I know for every 50 activities you take, whether it’s phone or email, that you will get one meeting. So there’s a reason why I’ve set a goal of 50 activities a day because I need you to get one meeting a day.” Help them actually understand the “why” behind the “what” in that number.
In an account-based world, I look generally at the number of accounts, the number of new contacts that are added, the penetration of those accounts. I ask how they’re working their way down the funnel? It’s about the initial contact. It’s the number of contacts that have responded.
It’s also whether or not you have a meeting scheduled, a demo that has occurred, and an opportunity open. I look all the way through the funnel, looking at the percent change in that week over week.
It looks really different if you’re targeting a really large enterprise space or if you’re working on deals that are $15K at a time. The volume of accounts you work on tends to be really different. But I find that the number of contacts tends to be about the same.
So, if you’re targeting a really big company like GE, or if you’re targeting a very small, more local or startup software company, the number of contacts that can be your buyer is pretty dramatically different. You may be able to work 50 accounts on the low end with three contacts each. On the high end, maybe you have five to ten companies, but there’s 15 to 20 people within each of those that could be your potential buyer across different subsidiaries and divisions. That’s why I recommend focusing on the number of contacts you’re actively managing and the number of resulting meetings that could come out of that.
Candyce: So, you count the people rather than just the number of accounts. It’s about the number of people a BDR is chasing. That’s a really good point. Then, measuring the number of people that you’re interacting with in a given account is an important metric to be watching.
Liz: Absolutely. Track the number of new people too. Sending the same type of message once a week, every week to the same set of prospects that haven’t responded to you in six months isn’t going to get you anywhere. You want to work on short bursts of activity to new contacts and see if you can reach the right person at the right time.
Candyce: Right time. That’s an important thing. Timing is so crucial in terms of whether or not you’re going to be effective. We know that there are certain buying triggers. I’ve heard a lot of noise about predictive marketing and using different technologies to be able to predict that and some companies can afford a big mar-tech stack and others can’t. What types of predictive things are you finding that are actually working?
Liz: In the most low-tech answer to that, I would say that segmentation work we talked about early on of understanding who your ideal profile is. It’s really basic, but if you look at your current customer base and the prospects you have and you think about what is the total addressable market within one of these industries, company sizes, geographies, again, how you cut it is up to you.
You look at your win rate. You look at your cost of acquisition. You look at the lifetime value of those customers. That should be pretty indicative. You should have some that rise to the top. There are top segments that you target. You should also look at churn. Maybe, there’s a industry is easier, where it’s inexpensive to acquire a customer. But if those customers always churn after X months, it’s probably not the best use of your time.
First, figuring out how to get more of my best customers is probably the easiest most obvious answer. Then, on the higher and the predictive front, I’ve used a number of tools that have been really successful for us. When I was at Nestlé, we partnered with a company called 6th Sense that did some pretty amazing work within our database trying to leverage the triggers that we indicated. They aggregated news sources and data from a whole bunch of different places, doing the analysis I just described within our customer base. Then they gave our next most likely customers a buying score. That was unbelievable.
There are certainly companies that are not quite in that same enterprise space. Companies like EverString that are doing some really compelling work. As with any technology, it’s only as good as the data you put into it. It’s not a magic bullet. It does take the dedication and the work of figuring out, “what does good look like today, and then what do I do when somebody gives me that name?” It’s not that they’re bubbling up an automatic opportunity. You still need to have a systematic approach to actually getting into that account.
Candyce: Right. We know that with a lot of clients that we work with that there are triggers that indicate that a company might be ready to take a look. A new hire in the department that you’re targeting is a really good indicator. An acquisition, an announcement that they’re either cutting costs or they’re trying to do a big expansion effort. Those are all good triggers. Are you finding that BDRs are pretty good at … Even if they don’t have these tools, can a BDR find these triggers like using Google Alerts and things like that? Are you seeing success with companies that don’t have the large mar-tech budget or do they pretty much need to make budget available for the tools?
Liz: No. I think you could definitely do it. It’s expensive, but I think probably the most obvious tool there is LinkedIn—paying for some sort of premium edition for two reasons. One, it allows you to find the contacts and those triggers in the same place. If you look at like a Sales Navigator tool, you can follow companies. You can follow leads. It’ll actually bubble up a lot of that information for you.
If you don’t have that, Google Alerts or Owler will help. I think the key is to pick one or two data sources and stick with it and be really diligent in making sure that all of your companies and all of your individuals, your contacts are actually loaded into it, so that when there is news, you get it. I find people are doing it in a little bit of a more ad hoc way, like when they need the information rather than, okay, I retired five accounts this week. I’ve got to add five new ones in. It is an ongoing process, but I think you can definitely do it without expensive technology.
What I get weary of is actually the opposite problem. I call them “The Librarians.” I’ve had people who would like study an account for like 45 minutes and not make a phone call. You know every single thing there is to know about that buyer. But if they’re not on the phone with you, it doesn’t really matter. There’s a balance between “do I have enough information to be relevant when I call or email?” versus “Am I taking too much time out of my day to find that?”. You have to find that happy medium.
Candyce: Going back to activity numbers can help to manage some of that, I think.
Liz: Yeah. Absolutely.
Candyce: Another question a client asked me about the impact of brand recognition. This is a CEO of a company in the $10 million range in revenue. So fairly small. They don’t have a lot of brand recognition in their target audience. They do have some, but not as good as some of their better-known competitors. He commented that when he gets a call from somebody from Cisco, he’s more likely to recognize that name and maybe pay more attention to that call than he would from some no-name company that he’s never heard of. He was wondering if it takes brand recognition to make a BDR program like this successful?
Liz: That’s a great question. It certainly helps. Let’s just acknowledge that. But I don’t think it’s necessary. There’s a few things to consider. One, it’s important to have really good reference-able customers and strong case studies like we were talking about before. I would lead with that rather than with your own company’s name. If you can, lead with the success that one of their competitors and your customer achieved and the results that they got. Lead with that and have a discussion about how you’re helping within their industry, in their market. Show that you actually understand who they are. That can make up for the brand side.
Second is making sure that you’re really warming up those accounts. It may take a number of emails and in-mails and social touches before you can pick up the phone and say, “Hi, I’m calling from company XYZ.” Laying the groundwork and the foundation to make that call is even more important when you don’t have the name recognition.
Candyce: That totally makes sense. One of the things that you said when we were planning this conversation was the importance of making a BDR also working without the tools and teaching them cold calling. Can you talk more about that?
Liz: Yeah. The sales tech stack has kind of gotten out of control. We spend so much money on technology. We have automated away so much of the job. Sometimes, I feel like it’s actually removed the human aspect. I had a really good example last week. I got an email from a woman. I thought it was to me. It was definitely a bulk email in retrospect. I responded. I said, “Hey, this doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. This is actually what I do, but it’s interesting. I’d love to learn more.” The sender never responded. Three days later, I got the exact same message again.
I think the big takeaway there is teaching people how to do this job without the automation first. It makes them much more interested and impressed and thankful for the technology. It also makes them better at the job of being more human. When I start a BDR team, I am keen on having people do this job without tools. I tell them, “Pick up the phone and dial yourself. Find your own information online. Do your own research. Write every email yourself. You’re going to find that it’s pretty slow.” It’s a painstakingly slow job to do it right if you want to send a relevant message.
Then you layer in technology. I say, “Now you have a cadence tool. It’s going to track. It’s going to show you that you’re on your third touch for this contact, so here is the next best message to send.” That’s great, and it also means you could probably send a couple hundred emails a day. But that may not be the best thing to do. Are you going to get a better response rate if you sent 50 really well-crafted messages, or if you send 300 that are generic just based on a buyer persona or industry? I don’t think there’s a right answer to this. I think you’re going to probably test these things along the way, but I think it’s important to teach those individuals who are just starting out. There are other ways to do it and that just because that technology exists doesn’t mean it’s the best way.
Candyce: That’s a really good point and going back to your example of that person that contacted you and then sent the same exact email and didn’t respond — if you’re sending out 200, that email probably came from marketing as opposed to being explicitly sent by a salesperson. I assume that based on the behavior. It’s really critical to be monitoring and paying attention to possible responses. Don’t just jump to the next step.
Liz: Yes. Exactly. Pay attention to responses in real-time and also think about what it does to that contact. If you have them in a message cadence and they respond, how do you get them out of that cadence? How do you make sure that they don’t get that next message until you’ve dealt with their response?
Candyce: Right. That’s a good point.
Liz: Most of the technology handles this naturally. It just needs to be set up correctly. Which brings me to a whole another issue around administration of the tools. Rarely are they thoughtfully installed with a strategic approach behind them. Usually, it’s a quick rollout, “I want to get this in place. Everybody load up your own templates. Go.”
Candyce: How do you manage that cadence? We’ve both worked with different marketing automation systems, and some are better at managing cadence than others and manually pausing things. I know how to do it in my marketing automation system, but you’d have to train the BDR to do that. How do you approach managing the cadence in the event that somebody actually replies?
Liz: Yeah. I think most tools will do that for you and are pretty good about making sure that, “A”, it gets delivered to your inbox when there’s a response and that a person automatically gets pulled out of a cadence. Let me start with that like while I sound like a technology naysayer there, I’m very much not. I just want people to understand what the baseline is.
Then, I think whether or not you’re using that, I think there’s like really important pieces we’re like missing here around time management and making sure that you are timed down and boxing your activities. You understand what is the most important. I try to be really thoughtful when I’m teaching a BDR how to organize their day, but there are periods where you should be researching, there are periods where you should be responding, where you should be actively prospecting and making sure that you get down to inbox zero and you’re cleaning this out and then you understand like the necessity to respond quickly and promptly to these things.
It’s a balancing act. You can’t do it all. If you have somebody engaged today, you need to make sure that you’re following up on that before you find the next person.
Candyce: Right. Absolutely. It’s so crucial. In just the last few minutes that we have left, can you sum up what you think are the three most important things that a company that is thinking about either launching a BDR program for the first time or restarting after they’ve had a failed start, what are the three most important things that they should be thinking about?
Liz: All right. My first one is going to be that that target customer and making sure you really understand the type of customer and buyer that is the right fit for you. So, defining your ideal customer profile.
The second is actually something we haven’t talked about. It really, I think, is important. Don’t hire just one BDR. Hire at least two people into this job if you’re going to do it. Because, with one, you’re really not going to know if it’s working or not, or if it’s just that person. And this person really needs someone else to lean on and brainstorm with, especially if you’re in a small environment. The investment in two or three versus one is worth it.
Then, the third thing I’ll say is they take a lot of time. That is not a negative or bad thing, but you need to make sure you’re actually ready to train and mentor and coach these individuals and whether that comes from your sales team or your marketing team or your CEO, I don’t really care, but the investment to actually make these people successful is key. If you don’t put the time in, the returns aren’t going to be there.
Candyce: Yeah. I used to work for a company that … This was really early in my career. I was young and inexperienced. I was working for a technology recruiting firm. I was recruiting UNIX programmers. I didn’t have the slightest idea what UNIX was. I went to my boss. I said, “I’d like to go to this training for recruiters,” and his answer was, “Sure. You start closing some deals. I’ll send you to training.” It was kind of like asking a fireplace to give you heat and then I’ll give you wood.
Liz: There you go. It’s so true.
Candyce: It was very aggravating
Liz: Yeah. Sure. You were like, “I’m trying to learn how to do this for you.”
Candyce: I’ve actually lived in that BDR’s life. That’s a very painful and depressing process too because it makes you feel like you’re stupid if you can’t figure it out.
Liz: Right, but if you don’t have the support in doing it, how are you supposed to?
Candyce: Right, especially if you’re young, a couple years out of college.
Well, thank you so much for doing this interview. This has been very informative I’m hoping our audience is enjoying it as much as I am because this has been a fun conversation.
Takeaways from “Equipping a BDR Sales Team For Success”
Wow! I could talk with Liz for hours on this topic!
My biggest takeaway from this conversation is how important it is for management to invest time into making a BDR team successful. If you’re not willing to mentor your BDR team and arm them with the right tools, don’t expect them to succeed. But the more you invest, the more they’ll be able to boost your pipeline with well-qualified opportunities.
For more information on doing case studies, check out this article.
Persona Research is Vital to Sales Enablement
Persona research can help educate the BDRs and sales team about your buyers and provide them with more effective sales messaging. The findings and quotes from customer interviews are powerful tools to form the foundation for more effective emails and sales prospecting scripts.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. If you have ideas for future guests and topics, send your suggestions to us by .
Or visit propelgrowth.com/trendspotters and scroll to episode 15.
There, you’ll find a transcript for this episode and links to Liz’s website and social profiles.
While you’re there, check out our other episodes. Each session dives into topics that help drive growth in your business.
We’re going on a hiatus for 3 months. We’ll return with a new TrendSpotters episode in March. Join us then! In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season!