Great sales numbers are often backed up by a team of business development representatives. But how do you get there? Here are some practical tips and tricks from our VP of Sales, David Craig White. His insights come from over 20 years of training sales teams, setting up BDR teams, and sales leadership consultancy.
At Ocean.io, we use the term BDR (business development representatives) for reps that are responsible for outreach, whether that's cold outreach via the phone or any other channel. They find the right prospects for the business, reach out, and try to get them in the sales funnel. Other terms often used are ADR’s (account development representatives) or SDR’s (sales development representatives).
Either way, having a team like this doesn’t make sense for every company. It’s easier to justify the costs of a BDR team if you have high order value and complex sales cycles. When growing your B2B business, you need sales executives to spend their time efficiently. With a BDR team, sales executives can focus on moving conversations down the funnel, while BDR’s make sure to fill up the pipeline.
But how do we get there? Let’s dig in . . .
1. Hire the right candidates for your culture
Whether it's for a BDR position, or any other team member in sales, hiring the right fit for your culture is critical for your business. Every company has their own unique culture.
Some companies are diverse, with different nationalities and room for diversity. But sometimes, when there's a very broad mix of personalities in a room which just clash with each other, then that can have really detrimental effects, especially on the sales department.
Therefore, when you’re recruiting for your BDR team, try to go for a blended culture, while making sure you’ve got certain traits in there that make up a good mix.
At Ocean.io we’re generally looking for a small number of experienced BDR reps, typically a bit older and with no ambitions of becoming account executives. They’re happy in their job, typically really good at it. These are the hardest to find.
Young, ambitious BDR’s make up the rest of the team. Often fresh out of university or with a few months experience. They are looking to grow within the business and develop their skills. Being a BDR can be hard, so you need them to be at least a little passionate about sales and the product.
The right attitude
Sales is never the right job for the thin skinned. You need to be resilient and confident, otherwise you’re probably not going to survive as a BDR. This doesn’t mean you have to be extroverted or outgoing. More introverted people can excel at sales, as long as they have a good level of confidence and resilience.
As a manager you need to accept there will be some churn in your BDR team, around 20-30%, depending on how fast you are scaling your team. A BDR job is typically quite easy to get into without too much experience. However, after a few months into the job, some people will simply figure out that it’s not for them. Or you decide it’s not. Either way, do not be afraid of this churn. Eventually, you’ll realize it is actually good for your business, as it will fuel a feedback loop made of learnings for scaling up the team in the future.
2. Deliver a consistent onboarding experience
The onboarding process of your BDR’s is very important. Think of it as not just an introduction to the role, but to the overall company, as well as its culture!
Make sure you have a clear onboarding program laid out, so you deliver everything in the right way. A chaotic onboarding process that is all over the place can be a really bad start to someone’s career at your company.
At Ocean.io we try to avoid onboarding new people on their own, in the middle of the month. Instead, we onboard small groups at the beginning of the month, when we know their new colleagues and team members have more time to flank them. Starting alone as a BDR can be a bit daunting, especially at bigger companies. Having someone to share the experience (and the burden) with is incredibly important.
Create a consistent onboarding program that you optimize over time, and remember to include introductions to other departments and to the product on a basic level. Try to avoid an overload of information during the first days. Instead, spread the onboarding over a few weeks so your new BDR’s can start picking up the phone sooner rather than later.
It’s recommended for your BDR’s to get on the phone quickly. Yes, without much experience they will likely end up getting slapped in the face. But it’s a great learning experience. Only then you’ll have relevant feedback material to talk about how to deal with similar scenarios! This process is often more effective than the other way around, where you first train your new BDR’s and only then they experience being turned down. After all, you didn’t learn to ride a bike by reading a manual!
3. Know your people
Understand the individual, as there is no “one-fits-all” solution when it comes to managing human resources. While your new team members might seem similar in their background, each of them will have different preferences in how they learn and function as individuals.
Take cold calling feedback as an example. Cold calling is a hard job and you don’t want to make it any harder. That’s why it’s important to think about the format you use when giving feedback. Some people might prefer you to be in the room while they cold call, and give feedback while muting the call. Other people might not be comfortable with that, and would prefer you to sit in another room and give feedback over Slack. Whatever works for them is what you should go for.
We have discussed why it’s a good idea to hire a diverse group of people. When doing so, keep in mind that you need to treat them like a diverse group too. Understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses, and ways of learning. Yet again, one-size-fits-all approaches will likely fail.
Often BDR teams work with volume. Cold outreach conversion rates are generally not that high and it takes a lot of outreach to get to modest goals. For us at Ocean.io, cold outreach is a combination of cold calling, emailing, connection requests and certain automations, since different prospects are more sensitive to different channels.
4. Structure + Organization = Efficiency
A lot of outreach requires a structured approach. We divide our target companies into smaller batches and have the BDR team running through them. First, we qualify the companies and we do some light outreach through LinkedIn, adding them to a call queue. Only then do we start calling every company in the batch that is considered a good fit.
Because we do the cold calling in batches too, we are able to organize dedicated cold calling hours. Around those we organize feedback sessions. That way, feedback can be incorporated in the next few calls in the same cold calling sprint.
When you are starting a BDR team, it’s important to keep an eye on conversions. Especially when the whole team is brand new, you will see low conversions to meetings. The important thing also is to gather input from the team and try to find out what message or channel is working best.
Without any structure you will end up with a CRM with messy data and outreach that is not converting. Instead, if you help your team by providing structured processes and an organized CRM and tool stack, you are saving your new BDR’s lots of time that can be spent elsewhere. At the same time, you are also creating the right foundations to build the learnings upon.
Creating the framework
“Poor prospecting is by far the number one reason start-up businesses and sales rookies fail every single day. It’s also the number one reason why salespeople lose motivation and leave the sales profession altogether” - from "Stop Talking, Start Selling" eBook
Motivation is pivotal for salespeople, and for new BDR’s in particular. If you don’t set yourself up for success when it comes to prospecting, you will fail in your outbound strategy, as it will have a negative effect on motivation. Only with a structured prospecting strategy can you create a framework which allows to properly measure performance and create feedback sessions which actually target the problems encountered by new BDRs and make them grow and develop.
5. Set flexible goals
Goals need to be flexible to avoid losing motivation. If you don’t leave room for recovering and catching up from a downturn by adjusting the monthly goal, you might end up having four bad weeks, rather than just one.
But it’s a matter of balance. Some people might slack off when they know there is goal flexibility. However, teams usually try and go above the expected target at any time, if properly motivated.
Especially in a new team with a lot of inexperienced BDR’s, you need to leave room for error. This will have a tremendous impact on motivation and, as a result, on their performance.
We have discussed how it’s important to know your people (3). As a sales manager you need to manage people, not numbers. Numbers are important to support the growth of the business, but you get there by successfully boosting your team’s motivation.
6. Communicate Daily - Coach Weekly
Here the difference is between team and individual learning experiences. At Ocean.io, we have daily communication with the team, and weekly 1-2-1 coaching sessions for each BDR.
Daily team communication can take place in different formats. Whether it’s a quick 15 minutes prepping session in the morning, or a recap at the end of the day. The important thing is to get together as a team daily, and share feedback and learnings between team members. For BDR’s specifically, this will help them align with your organization’s culture, build up their morale, and maximize their learning experience.
For weekly coaching sessions, always keep in mind that too much information is not good. What might seem concise and clear to you, can quickly become overwhelming for your new BDR’s. Without a solid understanding of the basics, your new BDR’s might risk totally losing control of the context. Break down your information into smaller parts that will be tackled in the weekly individual coaching sessions. In this way, new BDR’s can better digest it and apply it throughout the week.
Here’s a pro tip for the numbers-aficionados out there. Try and take performance numbers as a reference to analyze the reasoning for it. This way you can simultaneously keep in check the individual performance, and narrow down what your new BDR’s need specific coaching on.
7. Team work, Dream work
No man is an island. This is true both for your account executives and, even more so, your BDR’s. Make sure your BDRs feel part of the process and the end-result of their calls. Otherwise you might risk them feeling disengaged.
If your BDR’s are involved throughout the entire sales cycle of a big prospect they started with one of their calls, it will not only boost their morale, but it will also strengthen their sales skills. By participating in a demo-meeting alongside one of your account executives, BDR’s will improve their understanding of customers’ pain points and concerns, and how your product tackles those. Eventually, they will get out of those meetings with more arrows at their disposal when pitching the product to future prospects.
Try to adopt an open and cross-departmental approach. There is a lot of potential in welcoming different department representatives in your sales process, rather than remaining stuck in silos. This doesn’t only build a strong organization culture, it also looks good to the eyes of the customer.
For instance, at Ocean.io we have seen time and time again that customers have reacted positively when other company’s stakeholders from the marketing or the customer success departments have been directly involved in the sales process. Customers highly appreciate a well-organized company that has different experts ready to jump in the conversation. This satisfies the expectations, builds trust, and eventually makes customers more prone to do business with you.
8. Celebrate every win, together!
We all do better, when we know we are performing well. Therefore, even if it’s a small achievement like a demo being booked, celebrate it! And make sure the entire organization knows it too, not only the sales team.
It could be something as simple as ringing a bell on the office speakers for every booked meeting. The important thing is that you make everyone in the organization aware of their contribution with their daily work! This will boost confidence in your BDR’s, build up traction across departments, and, in the long run, strengthen the organization culture.
Use previous wins to create good internal competition within your BDR’s team. You can use leaderboards for keeping track of the best selling BDR, and motivate the entire team to go that extra mile.
As mentioned before, teamwork makes the dreamwork. Don’t just celebrate the account executive who closed the deal. Celebrate the entire team instead, and everyone who has participated in that big deal. Also, do not get stuck on the mere individual bonuses granted at every booked meeting to your BDR’s. Instead, try and see what motivates them as a team, and use group reward schemes to boost team morale.
Eventually, it all comes down to creating the right culture which is capable of fostering a motivating environment for people to perform at their highest potential!