How to Build an Outbound Sales Team in 6 Steps
Ask any B2B marketer about their top priority and you’re likely to get the same answer— generating leads. Without quality leads, your business is dead in the water when it comes to controlling revenue growth, no matter how good your product is.
And while inbound marketing is an important part of any sales strategy, outbound sales—reaching out to prospects directly—remains the key to realizing your company’s potential. After all, most successful B2B companies find about 70% of their opportunities through outbound, compared to just 20% from inbound and 10% from referrals.
But that doesn’t mean outbound sales development is easy to get right. Connecting with prospects who might have never heard of your company or product requires research, determination, and a good old-fashioned dash of charisma. To succeed, you need a powerhouse outbound sales team and a dynamic sales process.
So how do you build an outbound sales team that’s ready to take you to the next level? Read on to learn how we set our clients up for success.
Step 1 - Perfect Your Team Structure
No salesperson operates in a vacuum—powerful sales performance comes from a strong team with well-defined roles. We often see companies, especially startups, that expect their sales team members to do too many things at once. While many of us wear many hats, in our experience, expecting one person to be responsible for the entire sales funnel is a recipe for disaster. When individuals are tasked with everything from initial outreach to unqualified leads to closing deals, they don’t have the time and bandwidth to really hone in on what makes a prospect tick.
Building an outbound sales team that works requires having the right people in the right seats. That’s why we recommend the following structure:
Sales Development Reps (SDR)
These team members focus solely on the top of the funnel. That means they’re the ones making the first contact with cold leads and are responsible for moving them further through the process. The day-to-day responsibilities of SDRs include sending emails, making calls, and following up with prospects. (Side note: you don’t need to refer to these team members as SDRs. Think about how their title will appear to prospects on places like LinkedIn and consider a variant like “Security Strategist” or “Software Strategist” that will signal a certain level of expertise).
Account Executives (AE)
You can think of AEs as the “closers.” Generally more experienced than SDRs, AEs take those qualified leads that the SDRs have developed and bring them across the finish line. They handle key meetings, conversations, and demos, and work with the prospect to identify the exact mix of products and services that will best serve their needs. While SDRs talk to 30-50 prospects a day, AEs work directly with far fewer potential clients.
When both the SDR and AE roles are filled with talented salespeople who understand your product and ideal customer, your outbound sales team has a solid foundation.
Step 2 - Create an Automated System with the Right Tech Stack
Sure, cold calls are still essential to outbound—but that doesn’t mean your SDRs should be scribbling notes in a Rolodex like it’s 1970. Today’s automated marketing and sales systems save you time and money while making your sales efforts far more impactful and effective. It’s no surprise that 76% of salespeople who use digital tools say that sales technology is “critical” or “extremely critical” to closing deals.
At SalesLeap, we set our clients up with HubSpot, a powerful customer relationship management (CRM) platform, as part of our sales process training. HubSpot allows sales teams to track leads as they progress through the funnel, store emails and notes on conversations so other team members can refer back to them, and track performance.
HubSpot also offers powerful tools for building and sending automated marketing emails and setting up sequences, which is essential since eight in ten prospects prefer communicating with reps via email, at least early on.
Follow-up with prospects should never be haphazard; instead, we work with our clients to develop a playbook grounded in data. Typically, that includes a combination of personal outreach and automated follow-up, starting with direct outreach from an SDR before interested prospects enter a pre-developed task sequence. Thanks to the power of HubSpot, SDRs can check in any time to see what content prospects are engaging with, allowing them to jump in with one-off calls and messages to keep the ball rolling at key moments.
Of course, you’ll still need killer sales content writing to seal the deal.
Step 3 - Build In-house, Don't Outsource sales
If you’ve been in business long, you’ve probably heard a pitch from a firm offering to take over your outbound prospecting. While this model might work in certain specific circumstances, in general, we advise our clients to build in-house and not outsource.
Here are a few of the benefits of building an in-house outbound sales team:
Maintain Brand Control
Your brand is your most valuable asset as a company, and external SDRs who aren’t enmeshed in your company’s culture and values are far less likely to convey that brand effectively. In-house SDRs, on the other hand, are solely devoted to selling your business and products and are far better equipped to help your customer understand your unique value proposition.
Ensure a Positive Customer Experience
When in-house salespeople handle customer contacts, they’ll be equipped to act quickly and move prospects through the pipeline without any of the stumbling blocks that an outside rep might encounter. Since they know your product and your team inside and out, in-house salespeople know who to turn to when questions arise, preventing any miscommunications or delays.
Capitalize on Opportunities to Iterate
Often, there’s a communications gap between companies and externally-contracted sales reps. Those sales reps aren’t enmeshed in the day-to-day operations of your company, meaning they won’t see the opportunities to improve and iterate that in-house salespeople will. Your sales team should be a foundational part of your broader operation—their customer insights are invaluable in marketing and even adapting your products, and you don’t want to lose out on that.
Grow Employees from Within
Sometimes, sales can feel like a revolving door. When you bring SDRs in-house, though, you have the opportunity to develop them as employees and gain their loyalty, ensuring that you can benefit from their talents and tenure within your company even as they rise through the ranks of the sales world.
Step 4 - Hire the Right SDRs, and Hire More than One
Outbound sales are not for everyone. Cold outreach is tough, and it’s not uncommon for people to quickly realize it isn’t for them—especially in more junior roles.
That’s just one of the reasons we advise our clients to hire two SDRs instead of one whenever possible. First of all, having an extra SDR ready to go protects you from interruption if one of them doesn’t work out, gets another opportunity, or is out for an extended period of time. Second, outbound sales can scale really quickly. Having twice the SDRs can help you gain momentum, rather than languishing.
We recommend that our clients look for SDRs with the following traits:
- Newer to sales: Look for newer SDRs who will be willing to stay in that role for at least 18 months, rather than more experienced salespeople who are simply looking for an entry point to your company.
- Process-oriented: Once you’ve nailed the perfect sales process, you need employees who can stick to it. Look for candidates who are comfortable following a system.
- Self-motivated: Success in sales requires grit and personal accountability. Potential SDRs who have demonstrated that they hold themselves to high standards—in school, athletics, or another career—are far more likely to get results.
- Passion for learning: Sales is always changing and there’s always more to learn. Look for candidates with the energy and enthusiasm to invest their time and energy into personal and professional growth.
- Good with people: Sales requires excellent interpersonal skills. Often, candidates with some other kind of customer experience background, like in hospitality, make excellent salespeople. Use the interview process to ensure that your candidate is personable and can keep a conversation going.
Step 5 - Use Account Executives to Train SDRs
SDR training, especially for those in their first sales role, might seem daunting. But in all likelihood, you already have the perfect teacher on your team!
Most AEs have, at one point, held the role of SDR. And since they will work together closely with your new SDR, they’re perfectly positioned to provide training that sets them up for success.
Plus, having AEs onboard your SDRs ensures that they have focused time to work together to set up strong shared processes. Since AEs come in later in the process, when they train SDRs, they can ensure that the SDR’s messaging tees them up to close the deal. Since customer handoffs from SDR to AE are a common failure point in the sales process, getting both parties aligned about how to handle that critical moment is essential.
Training also gives the AE and SDR a chance to build a strong working relationship and get to know one another’s preferred communication styles. When the two roles can think and act as part of a tight-knit outbound sales team that shares wins and losses, they’ll provide a powerful source of motivation and support for one another.
Step 6 - Keep an Eye on Sales Performance
Of course, filling positions isn’t enough to ensure an outbound sales team’s success. Creating a powerful sales engine requires constant assessment and adjustment.
From the start, it’s essential to set clear metrics and expectations with your team. At SalesLeap, we encourage our clients to consider many performance benchmarks including these two:
- Each SDR should bring in 7-15 opportunities per month, depending on your average contract value.
- AEs should close 25-35% of all the opportunities they receive.
Be sure to check in regularly with your team to see how they’re doing against those metrics, identify challenge areas, and adjust processes if needed.
Sometimes, low numbers point to a problem with your prospect list or hunting activity levels. Other times, it may be a sign that the team in place isn’t quite right. In either case, communicating early and often about any concerns is critical.
Building a high-performing outbound sales team isn’t easy, but the payoff is immense. With a clear focus on structure, processes, roles, and responsibilities, as well as a commitment to iteration and improvement, your team will be well on its way to controlling revenue growth. And once that team gets rolling, its momentum can take your company to places you’ve never dreamed of.
Interested in learning more about how to build an outbound sales team that blows the competition out of the water? Let’s set up a time to talk about SalesLeap’s proven outbound sales process.