Let’s start off on the right foot. The outbound SDR function is alive and well, what’s going away is the Inbound SDR (or BDR) role.
We conducted research of over 50 companies who have SDRs as a key step in the early qualification of a deal. That is, where a Sales Development Rep takes a 10–30min call in order to qualify (or light discovery) of a prospect who expressed interest by contacting the company through their website.
We are going to cover what we learned, why the role is dying, and how leading companies are evolving the qualification step from the classic flow below.
This is not a post about removing your qualification step. Chances are you have inbound SDRs because you have enough flow of leads that simply don’t meet your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). You are not alone. Research shows that an average of 75% of marketing leads are not ready for sales to engage (Gleanster Research). You need a way to filter what gets to your Account Executives, and the best practice has been an SDR step. Well, at least it was.
After researching over 50 of the best companies (big and small), it became clear: the qualification step is here to stay; but the role of the SDR during qualification is changing in a big way. Let’s go through the WHY first.
1. Perpetual Hiring & Training
A great SDR is like a shooting star — Beautiful to see; but if you blink, you missed it. That’s because the turnover in SDR teams is very high. The turnover across all jobs, all industries, is 13% per year. However, it’s 42% for SDR teams. One of these likely sounds familiar in your team:
- Great SDRs get promoted quickly.
- SDRs quit in search of Account Executive roles.
- Turnover due to performance gaps.
- People who landed in sales for the money but realized it wasn’t for them.
The impact is clear. It slows down sales organizations, adds cost, and forces teams to be constantly hiring, and re-training the SDR team. This leads us to the second reason the Inbound SDR is dying.
2. Prospect Interrogations
High turnover is frustrating, but it also means that SDRs never get to the “Expert” stage in their performance. While new blood can be great for a team, it also means that they have a hard time understanding the buyer’s business, and market.
Therefore it’s no surprise that SDR qualification calls sound like scripted interrogations. SDRs simply lack the experience to ask the deep and provoquing questions that tenured AEs would ask. In our research, we found that the average SDR qualification call lasts 17 minutes, and only 15% of questions are open ended. Over 85% of the call is focused on asking basic situational questions with sometimes a superficial pain-focused question.
Prospects are not eager to jump on the phone to be interrogated by someone who barely understands their own product. This has a serious cascading impact to the deal. Since buyers find no value in the qualification call, they tend to reschedule and sometimes ghost (no-show). Even when they do show up, the first impression for the company is a junior rep without much experience.
3. Slowing Deals to Death
Speed matters. Harvard research showed that when a prospect fills out a “contact” form on your website, your chances of advancing the deal decrease by 400% if you respond slower than 10 minutes after their submission. This is just one of many stats out there showing the importance of speed. While there are many factors, the two biggest include:
- Buyers are evaluating competitors → The first to a successful solution wins;
- Buyers are impulsive → If you take too long, they’ve moved on to another problem.
In our research, we found that on average it takes 1.5 days for an SDR to reach out to a prospect. All-in, it takes an average of 8 days from when a contact form is submitted, to the day the prospect is talking to an Account Executive on the phone/zoom. In addition, it leads to over 20% drop-off in the pipeline.
4. A Serious Cost to Run
SDRs don’t earn AE salaries so the economic case feels compelling. However, it all adds up. A 15 minute qualification call is anything but 15 minutes. Consider the effort:
- Account research
- Putting them on email sequences (e.g. Outreach)
- Preparing for the call
- Actually running the call
- Sending follow up email
- Writing/cleaning up your notes
- Adding details to your CRM
- Routing it to the right AE
- Following up with the prospect to make sure they show up to the call
- Taking a break to decompress
= Average of 65 minutes for a 15 min qualification call.
When you spread it across all calls, and accounting for salaries, the average SDR qualification call costs a company $95 (Excluding the impact of deal speed and conversion).
What’s the Alternative?
It’s entirely possible that at this point you are calling me Captain Obvious. There is nothing here that is groundbreaking research. In fact, you are probably thinking of 10 other challenges with inbound SDRs.
At the beginning I promised not to be all doom-and-gloom. So let’s get to what companies are doing to overcome these challenges.
What if we gave prospects the option to self-qualify. You can argue that it’s simple “math”:
- IF qualifications can be done by someone with little experience;
- AND a simple set of questions does the trick;
- AND prospects don’t enjoy being interrogated on the phone;
- THEN why don’t we just ask them to do it themselves.
We took the research insights and we put it to the test. We presented prospects with the option as soon as they completed the basic contact form. The options were:
A. Take a 15min call with an SDR; OR
B. Answer a series of questions online (Approximately 5 minutes).
…What do you think prospects picked?
We were shocked. 95% of prospects preferred to fill out lenghty forms instead of talking to an SDR for 15 minutes. But why? …Well, we asked them. It breaks down into 3 personas:
- The Impulsive Buyer: This buyer is too busy to wait around. They are researching right now, and they want to talk to someone as fast as possible. They have no patience to wait for a call and much less attention span.
- The Allergic Buyer: This buyer is often introverted and doesn’t want to talk to a person, or holds a negative belief of sales people. They will avoid a sales person if they can.
- The Practical Buyer: This buyer is simply looking to optimize their time. If a call takes 15 minutes but doing it online takes 5 then they’ll choose the online route.
Buyer behaviours have changed over the years and this is yet another major change that is leading to what we call the Automation of the Sales Qualification.
Yes, it ryhmes. But it was by accident :)
Automated Sales Qualification
This research exposed a massive opportunity. So big in fact, that we decided to build a company to tackle the problem. It’s called Caddie, a product to help companies automate their qualification step, score leads, and then route them to the right Account Executives.
The intention was to write an unbiased post about a very real challenge in sales. It is certainly possible to automate your sales qualification by building a solution yourself and leveraging tools like Workato to stitch it together.
We built Caddie so that accomplishing this could take hours, not months.
This post takes a stance, but it does not mean that this works for every type of organization. Make it your own!
Wanna reach out? Let’s chat! — You can reach me at email@example.com