12 steps to build and lead a high-performing SDR team

Leading a sales development team is a big undertaking. Many of the folks on your team are likely new to the role and junior in their careers. Their day-to-day is a grind: researching for new prospects that match your ideal customer profile and relentlessly trying to engage them. More often than not, their hard work hits a hard wall—radio silence or direct rejection. Yet, as a team, you’re all responsible for generating leads that support pipeline (and, ultimately, revenue) growth. And, it’s your responsibility to create an environment where they can become a high-performing SDR team.

So, how can you—as a new SDR leader—empower your team to do their best work? You start by building a solid foundation.


1. Take the time to understand the SDR team dynamics

Before you make any changes to the SDR team, you need to understand the dynamics. Whether you’ve taken over a team, been promoted to lead or are starting a team from scratch your leadership will change the team’s environment. As a leader, you need to begin the relationship by observing.

Sit down with each SDR  for a candid discussion:

  • What are their favorite parts of the job?
  • Where do they see themselves in one, three or five years?
  • What problems do they notice or want to be addressed?
  • What are their expectations for a new SDR leader?
  • Do they have a prospecting process in place? If so, how does it work?

Once you meet individually, observe a few team meetings to see how they interact with each other. When watching these meetings, stay silent, but don’t let things get out of hand. If you notice any egregious behaviors, step in, but getting a feel for behaviors without intervention is necessary.

Once you get a solid sense of team dynamics, you can start putting a plan in place for the improvements you’d like to make.


2. Audit pipeline practices and current strengths

Sales teams know that pipeline is key to success. How SDRs audit, update and organize their pipeline is essential to your ability to lead a high-performing SDR team. When you first enter a leadership role, you must know what you’re working with. Go through your company’s CRM to understand how your team is using it and what the pipeline looks like.

“We all know the old phrase ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ Unfortunately, that tends to not be true in our sales funnel. Garbage in, garbage tends to sit there quarter-after-quarter, with someone saying they might close.”

Jonathan Spier, CEO of Rev

Don’t let inadequate opportunities clog your pipeline. Make sure your team is intimately familiar with your ideal customer profile, knows exactly how to speak to their pain points and is able to identify a prospect that could benefit from your product/service (vs. trying to force fit them).

When you have all this information, it will make it easier to uncover what shape your company’s pipeline is actually in.


3. Become a smarketing champion

According to a study by LinkedIn, “90 percent of sales and marketing professionals say the two teams are misaligned in a number of areas spanning strategy, process, content and culture.”

When sales and marketing align at work, it leads to positive outcomes for the business and customers. Sales and marketing leaders must do what they can to be aligned and become smarketing champions.

Solving sales and marketing misalignment isn’t an easy task. You’ll likely need to dig deep to undo years of bickering or personality clashes. It’s vital to center these conversations. Marketing and sales have at least one thing in common: wanting the company to grow and succeed. Start with that positive seed, and work to figure out what else the two teams have in common. You can also schedule regular smarketing alignment meetings, so everyone is on the same page.

For example, you might find that your SDRs need to refresh a few outreach sequences. Connect with your marketing team to get recommendations on assets your team can share and how to speak to them. 


4. Implement better quality tech tools

You need the right technology to run a high-performing SDR team. Sales tech can help your organization thrive, and it’s one of the main components of revenue generation.

When implementing better tech, you should:

  • Audit the current technology you use. What’s working? What’s causing your sales team trouble?
  • Think about what your competitors are using. Do they have any tools that make them better salespeople? Are there industry standards you aren’t meeting?
  • Consider your budget. You won’t be able to get every tool on your wishlist. What will make the most impact? What fits within your budget?


5. Become adept at being a roadblock remover

SDRs face a lot of roadblocks. They may not know which companies to target or which prospect to contact next. They might also struggle to get a response from the prospects they’re calling and emailing. As an SDR leader, it’s your job to help remove these roadblocks—and that often comes by coaching your team on how to remove the roadblocks as they arise.

In order to remove roadblocks, you need to be aware of them first. Set regular meetings with your team to walk through their process and workflow. You can even review email messages or phone calls together to spot the roadblocks and provide coaching on how to navigate around those barriers the next time.


6. Keep an eye on SDR engagement, burnout and happiness

Burnout is common in the sales industry. According to data from UNCrushed, about 67% percent of sales professionals agree that they are feeling the weight of burnout. For SDRs, that number is much higher. Companies must address these issues or risk losing stellar people.

As a leader, you can do several things to address engagement, burnout and happiness:

  • Send out quarterly surveys like Gallup’s Q12 to keep an eye on engagement trends.
  • Encourage and support employees when they take time off to relax and recharge.
  • Ensure that your organization employs the correct number of SDRs, so everyone has a manageable workload.


7. Focus on improving SDR onboarding and ongoing training

When you begin your sales leadership journey, you’ll likely need to onboard new team members. Most importantly, you’ll have to ensure that your current team members are learning and growing in the field. Onboarding and ongoing training will help your SDR team advance in their careers.

First, think about your own company onboarding experience. What did you lack? Talk to current team members to see where they want to see improvements. Onboarding a sales team member takes time, but focusing on small improvements makes a big difference.

Ongoing training is a must. The sales industry constantly experiences changes, and you want team members who can handle them. Implement programs like weekly office hours to work through issues together. You can also implement monthly training sessions around objections, cold calling and other sales activities. And, get your team involved. Make it a point to have top-performing SDRs share new tactics and approaches they’re found to be helpful in meeting quota.


8. Set realistic goals for your SDRs

When SDR teams miss a goal, it’s common for the missed goal to be tacked onto the next month. While this makes sense from a business perspective, it can be demotivating for SDRs. Eventually, a lofty goal will become even harder to achieve. Most of all, harsh quotas can make it challenging to rethink your sales strategy. Sometimes your employees have to slow down to speed up.

Begin the practice of working on quotas with sales teams. Listen to ensure that you are addressing the issues leading to missed quotas. SDR leaders must balance the needs of the company with the well-being of the SDR team.


9. Bring in new and exciting ways to get better leads

SDRs have one primary mission: bring in high-quality leads. If your team is struggling with prospecting—maybe they spend most of their time looking for new prospects and not enough time trying to contact them—they’re not yet running at a high-performing level. Part of your job as an SDR leader is to help them know refine their approach.

AI can work wonders for prospecting. It can tell you what makes your best customers your best, find other companies that look and act like them, and serve you a prioritized list for outreach. No more guesswork. Your team can focus 100% of their time on turning prospects into leads.


10. Provide sales feedback consistently

Feedback is essential to sales growth and success. While you don’t want to jump in to save every cold call, providing feedback will ensure your team grows. Feedback isn’t just for the once-a-year performance review. Employees need frequent feedback to refine their skills and stay aligned with the company’s strategy. 

Giving your SDRs feedback helps them see how they can improve, do their jobs better (and easier), and reach their career aspirations. (You know. The ones you asked about when you first joined the team.)


11. Encourage camaraderie over competition

Sales can be a competitive career, but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you are a B2B company. You shouldn’t run B2B companies like a showroom floor at a car dealership. It’s important to set boundaries and territories, so sales development reps don’t fight over the same prospects.

When companies focus on camaraderie, it makes sales—especially the art of prospecting—a more enjoyable profession. For example, more of your team will be able to take time off because a tight-knit team will step up to offer coverage while that rep is gone.

Camaraderie and friendship is key to a high-performing SDR team, and will take you further than sowing division will.


12. Tweak and update compensation to improve motivation

Last but not least, update compensation. Sales teams are the backbone of a business, because without sales your organization doesn’t have revenue. Compensation isn’t just about commission. You can also implement other strategies like bonuses, base salary raises or time-off. Get creative with how you reward your sales development team members.


You are on your way to leading a high-performing SDR team

When you first step up to lead an SDR team, it can feel intimidating. Businesses rely on SDRs to build high-quality pipeline. When SDR teams don’t have the right leadership, innovation halts and companies aren’t able to grow. This is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Luckily, there are many best practices you can use to create a high-performing SDR team. Slow down and get to know the team you have. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can you help them succeed? By taking time to understand the lay of the land, it becomes easy to speed up and make changes that improve any organization.