When I was halfway through my tenure as the Director of Sales at inDinero, a growing Silicon Valley tech company, I stepped into an SDR team that was setting an average of 7 appointments per month per rep, to one that was setting 21 appointments per month per rep. Even while simultaneously increasing variable compensation, we were able to triple the overall ROI of the team in several weeks.

As a humble student of sales development leadership, I’d like to share a few things I learned while my team went through this amazing transition. Credit goes to the fantastic SDR team (love you all, always!) that held strong through this, and to the skilled management team I worked alongside to make this happen.

DATA Is Your Religion

It can’t be emphasized enough that the first thing you need to leave at the door is your ego. Use your experience as a guide, but be open to questioning everything you’ve done in the past. Come up with criteria that will tell you if new ideas hold merit, then test those ideas with discipline.

→ Not sure whether a radically-different approach to email copy will work? Give it a go on a small subset of contacts. Wow — looks like it was effective!

→ Heard that putting emojis in your emails will increase response rate? Try it for a few weeks. Oops, it had a horrible reply rate — back to the drawing board.

Always follow the bright spots. If one rep is doing something very right, encourage her to quantify what it is she’s doing right, and to share it with the team.

Track your efficiency ratios. Start by figuring out the percentage of calls and emails that result in positive outcomes, contact other sales leaders to benchmark your performance, and figure out where the lowest-hanging fruit is. That will tell you where to focus your efforts: is it increasing activities, or refining your reps’ communication skills?

Always start with the lowest-hanging fruit, because these big improvements will cause your team to build excitement and MOMENTUM, which is incredibly important to morale and future performance.

Don’t Believe the HYPE

I’ve seen SDR teams — and, individual reps on SDR teams — work very well with emails, and others very well with calls. In every organization, and for every individual sales rep, there is a balance to be struck between emails, calls, social touches, etc.

Your job as a sales leader is to 1) find the optimal balance for your product, and for your team as a whole — then, 2) to provide an environment with sufficient guardrails to ensure everyone generally follows best practices, but that the star performers can innovate within those guardrails to find the method that works best for them.

In other words, establish a data-driven best practice for how to be a great SDR at the team level, and then at the individual level. Make it EASY to do the job, thus giving star performers room to be what they are: STARS.

Don’t make the mistake of taking sides on “whether cold-calling works” or not, or on similar debatesI can’t stand those LinkedIn posts from people debating whether calling is dead, or not. It’s one technique of many — figure out whether it has a place in your organization, or not, and iterate over time. When material changes happen to your target market or your sales rep profile, consider forming a new hypothesis as to whether a specific technique should be used.

Be as open-minded as possible, without letting yourself be sucked down wild goose chases.

Drive Best Practice Adoption Through INCENTIVES

Take a look at your compensation plan, and ask two questions:

  1. Are commissions based on something that is wholeheartedly under each sales rep’s control?
  2. Is total compensation set so that it’s roughly market-competitive, but also makes financial sense for the business?

People lose motivation when their pay is determined by something outside of their control. Models where SDRs are paid based on the closed revenue resulting from their appointments are very tough to swallow: while that may protect the business as a whole, this is a crutch that you shouldn’t rely on, because it will hamper performance. People need to know that their performance will closely correlate to their earnings. This will reinforce good behaviors and motivate your team.

At inDinero, we scrapped the ‘closed revenue’ portion of SDR compensation, and it made an enormous difference in the team’s performance.

Simultaneously, I worked with Accounting to make sure that the compensation model was scalable, and wouldn’t break the bank in the long term. Sure enough, the cost rate of the team went from 75% of ACV to 25% of ACV within just a few months and stayed below 30% thereafter.