The sales development representative (SDR) role is one of the toughest in any company. It takes grit and hustle to make close to 100 dials a day, deal with countless prospecting setbacks, worry about hitting your quota, rinse and repeat—all with the hope of becoming an account executive (AE). But, when you get the SDR motion right, you can easily combat industry challenges around retention, productivity, SDR ramp time, and sales-readiness.

“Every day is challenging in its own way, whether it’s rejection or having 200 calls and no pickups for the day,” says Spero Dimas, a sales development team lead at ZoomInfo. “It helps to remind yourself why you’re in sales and ask, ‘What would I like to look like in one year from now, in five?’” 

At ZoomInfo, we’ve built an efficient and effective SDR framework that’s been integral to our go-to-market success. Forget the 1-to-1.5-year average tenure…our SDRs stay longer and bring their A-game every day to set a best-in-class standard of sub-90-second lead response time.

How did we get started? We invested in raw talent, upskilling, coaching, and we built a clear trajectory of long-term success. 

“Thankfully, today’s SDRs are willing to grind and put the time and effort in to help generate the funnel that closes opportunities,” says Henry Schuck, ZoomInfo founder and CEO. “They just want transparency around where that is leading them. At ZoomInfo, we have worked really hard at making this progression path real, meaningful, and transparent.” 

This is how it’s done. This is what continues to work for us—and we can help you get there. First, we’ll walk you through our SDR team’s role within our go-to-market motion:

Enter the ZoomInfo Method

Our SDR success starts with how our go-to-market team is structured. Everything is broken down into specialized roles, starting with the demand generation team, which leverages our data for lead flow and campaign effectiveness. This feeds our sales development teams, which are structured into three critical roles:

  1. Inbound SDRs, who are solely fed inbound leads
  2. SWAT SDRs, who are working with warm leads who haven’t filled out a form
  3. Outbound SDRs, who are cold calling in a very targeted nature by leveraging data fed to them through our data lake, which is ingesting both data from our platform and our CRM

From here, we move to the new sales team—these are our AEs who close the deal. Then, we move to our customer onboarding team whose focus is getting the customer provisioned, trained, and integrated. And finally, the customer management team nurtures overall growth and the customer lifecycle. 

Now that you have the big picture, let’s take a look at what this all looks like from the SDR perspective. How do they feed this model? And how are we training them and driving a performance-based culture built on accountability that allows us to then promote from within?

Define Your Inbound and Outbound SDR Specializations

Our inbound SDRs are held accountable for a 90-second response time, attendance rate, and qualification rate, and they’re responsible for confirming prospect details, rescheduling calls, and they need to have a value add: “It looks like we haven’t been able to connect. What do we need to show you in this meeting to make sure that you’re going to be there?” This qualification process signals what’s worth the AE’s time. 

Here’s what this investment translates to in real time: On the new business front, our marketing team generates more than 10,000 hot inbound leads a month. And we have a dedicated group of 70 inbound SDRs whose sole focus is to handle these leads, with care, as fast as possible. From those 10,000 leads, those 70 SDRs are booking more than 6,500 demos per month.

We’re able to take those 10,000 leads, route them into our system, and we’re able to respond to them in under 90 seconds. It’s really hard to do. You can’t simply buy technology and say, “OK, I want to respond to a lead in 90 seconds.” We support our SDRs with the tech adoption and training, implementation, maintenance, and repeated execution—without fail. This doesn’t just help them become better sellers, it also helps them progress in their career goals.

Then we’re able to move them from the SDR team into the SWAT team—they call people who visited our website or downloaded a whitepaper but haven’t agreed to a demo or to get a free trial. So, that team is kind of an in-between. They’re warm leads. They’ve been nurtured. They know who we are.

Later, they move on to outbound motions where they operate in more of a hunter role and primarily focus on cold calling targeted prospects and setting meetings for sales. If you want to continue to scale, you have to proactively go out in the market. You need a process and a team built to be able to go out and find people who are or should be interested in what you do. 

This outbound SDR process is contributing 25 percent of ZoomInfo’s new business sales. And while this is a “smile-and-dial” type of role, it’s extremely targeted and automated. We know the industries, employee sizes, marketing automation, and other attributes that make companies a good fit. We feed that data to our outbound SDR teams so that they aren’t just calling any company—they are calling GOOD-FIT companies. 

And they know who the decision-makers are and how to reach them because they’re armed with the ZoomInfo platform in their workflow. They know how to talk to them because we’ve trained them on how to talk to a vice president of sales or a vice president of marketing and how to change messaging when they’re talking to someone in software or supply chain or manufacturing. From there, if they can’t get that decision-maker on the phone, then great—then we go one level down and get all of those people on a call to create that groundswell.

There are three steps we recommend for setting up specializations within your SDR motion:

  1. Specializing your inbound team by gaining an understanding of where your leads are coming from. Are they new business? Existing contacts? Existing customers of your business? 
  2. Identify which campaigns are (not) working well? Do you have higher conversion rates in one versus the other? What does volume look like?
  3. Once you understand what your leads are, where they’re coming from, and how many you’re getting, you can then start to design how you want to specialize your inbound team in tiers.

Manage Your Talent Pipeline

It’s important to note that our SDRs don’t just reach success overnight; it takes a lot of mentorship and guidance (in addition to good data) along the way. 

Mentorship at ZoomInfo looks like this: Once our SDRs have made it to the senior outbound SDR team, they’re paired with a senior AE.

“Having one-on-one mentorship is really important,” says Steve Bryerton, vice president of sales at ZoomInfo. “All of the best SDRs have pairings with AEs. And their AEs demand a lot from them, too. It’s not just about being in a pool anymore.” 

This mentorship gives SDRs hands-on experience managing a pipeline, giving us the chance to “talk through sales and negotiation strategies and everything else it takes to be an efficient seller with someone who does that for a living,” Schuck explains. 

Then we get to a point where we have a senior SDR who has been paired with a top-20 seller for months. They’ve watched someone manage pipeline, run a demo, overcome objections, and the list goes on. It’s also in the AE’s best interest to have made sure this person is supporting them in the best way possible, meaning that if we promote this SDR to a commercial AE, they already know the things they need to do to be successful, and they’ve seen it in action. They understand the why behind the day-to-day activities needed for success.

And we’re proud of the fact that we move these SDRs into a commercial AE role within 12 months or less all while extracting value from them in the process. From the commercial segment, we’re able to move them to corporate, then strategic, then strategic plus AE roles. You want to talk about career progression? Imagine coming out of college and being a rockstar AE in three to four years making four times the OTE you started with.

We have the next generation of AEs ready for their call up to the major leagues we can promote from within. Having this process ingrained in what we do is a HUGE advantage for us—they move all across the company. This SDR motion drives placements in product marketing, account management, product management, engineering—it acts as a feeder system to the entire company.

“There is incredible power in being able to pitch this career progression to candidates for an SDR job that is a daily grind,” says Schuck. “We are able to say, “Come in, work hard, and you’ll have the potential to earn the opportunity to move to anywhere in the company.”

Here’s our proven formula to upskill your SDRs:

  1. Create specialized SDR functions to gain control over your lead funnel and help promote from within.
  2. Build a structure with milestones to progress SDRs.
  3. Incorporate consistent training, mentorship, and real-time feedback mechanisms.
  4. Communicate their career progression points and the expectations, timeline, and skill set required for promotions.
  5. Start SDRs at an entry-level tier, followed by qualification, and then open up the best leads to the best SDRs trained on the process, and filter these downstream so AEs are getting the most out of their day.

Hire the Right Talent

Your SDR motion is only as good as the talent you hire. One of the aspects we’re really proud of is growing our team internally at ZoomInfo. The SDR motion that we have built out allows us to use the SDR team as a feeder to the AE team and the rest of the company.

It starts with us going out to the market, bringing in people at a relatively low OTE—first job, second job out of college—and because this process is so efficient, we’re able to start getting value from these reps in weeks. 

“We literally have these reps on the phone within three weeks adding value and handling inbound leads,” says Schuck. “This is why structuring your team in specialized functions is important—it allows the individual to learn something, refine that skill, master it, and progress to be promoted to a new role, all while contributing to revenue.” 

But that only happens with securing the right talent. How do we hire? 

“We took all of our best sales reps and said look, let’s give them a baseline test to find the data points to correlate success that we could spot in new hires,” says Bryerton. “We took this intelligence portion and married it with other soft skills to determine good hires.”

And the payoff was big. Doing that upfront work to find quality SDRs improved our retention rate from 50 percent to 90 percent. 

In addition to our cognitive test, we also had candidates pitch the ZoomInfo product during their interview. After they were finished, we would tell them how we would change their pitch. Then, we gave them the opportunity to pitch to us again. If they changed their pitch based on our feedback, we knew they were coachable. 

That’s a very important piece in this puzzle. Our SDR team’s grown more than 10 times in size since 2015 and continues to grow.

Here’s how you can ensure you’re hiring top-quality SDR talent:

  • Audit your top sales reps to identify the common trait(s) driving business outcomes.
  • Incorporate the same cognitive assessment into your hiring process.
  • Add a qualitative assessment, and have them meet your team.
  • Test for coachability with a pitch prompt. 

Implement a High-Accountability, High-Growth SDR Culture

One thing that we’re particularly proud of at ZoomInfo is the cultural commitment our team has. Every day, we’re committed to taking pride in what we accomplish. To add to that point, the SDRs’ promotions are based on meritocracy. They know that if they work hard, they better their chances of becoming an AE in less than nine months. 

When we first set targets for our reps, we would hear things like, “Well, what if I’m in the bathroom and can’t meet that response time?” or “What if I’m on another call, and I get a lead routed to me, so I just email him?” But because we made this a cultural commitment and then explained why it was important—the team cared and created smarter systems and processes to care for all of those “issues.” 

In the bathroom? No problem—flip your router off before you go, and we’ll route that lead to someone who is available. None of this is possible without your team buying into that culture. To create a foundation for this to work, high-accountability culture and a sprinkle of motivation is the recipe for getting your reps on track. 

Building a winning SDR structure doesn’t have to be complicated. To be successful, it comes down to this: having the right people in the right roles who want to grow and establishing a culture that fosters growth. If you have that, you’ll plant the seeds for having an unrivaled B2B sales team. 

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