Specialization in Sales Development

5 Questions with Karlie Morien

✨ Specialization in Sales Development

For a role as vital as the SDR, we sure do a bad job at focusing their efforts. From working inbounds to running an outbound motion to handling nurture accounts, reps are often split across multiple campaigns and channels.

But what if we specialized the role and focused their inputs on specific outputs? Karlie Morien dives into accomplishing that with specialization, and more broadly, SDR enablement.

Sales development isn’t “one size fits all.”

Companies can deploy their SDRs in a number of different ways, each with specific goals in mind.

Some companies use SDRs to generate pipeline revenue via outbound prospecting. Others use them strictly to qualify inbound leads. Some have them aligned with marketing to work events. Some create new roles based on their rep’s desired career trajectory.

There are a number of different ways you can build and shape an SDR team to fit your company goals. The function is very malleable.

And that malleability is on full display in this episode.

We grabbed time with Karlie Morien to talk about specialization in the SDR role.

Outside of the traditional “inbound vs. outbound” reps, Karlie digs into how and why you should be more strategic around the deployment of your SDRs.

Couple that with a healthy discussion around SDR enablement, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for SDR success.

Our Guest

What She Does: Karlie is currently the Director of Sales at Logixboard

How to Connect: Karlie’s LinkedIn

Some companies use SDRs to generate pipeline revenue via outbound prospecting. Others use them strictly to qualify inbound leads. Some have them aligned with marketing to work events. Some create new roles based on their rep’s desired career trajectory.

There are a number of different ways you can build and shape an SDR team to fit your company goals. The function is very malleable.

And that malleability is on full display in this episode.

We grabbed time with Karlie Morien to talk about specialization in the SDR role.

Play Video

Key Takeaways

  1. A common form of specialization is separating out the inbound and outbound SDRs. Let’s start by talking through the value of doing that. Why should a company consider it? Let’s go through the pros and cons.

  2. You’ve taken that specialization a step further and created a few different positions on your team – the Market Development Rep (MDR) and Re-Heat reps. Why did you do that, and what are they responsible for?

    • Pros and Cons as well, but speaking about specialization in general. What do you get with rigid roles vs. specialized roles?

  3. Do you allow reps to move between teams? What’s the value of sticking with your specialization? Of moving to a new one?

  4. I want to turn the lens to enablement, because I think we can draw a lot of parallels here. We invest a lot of resources into closing reps (and have sliced and diced their role a ton), but not so much for SDRs. Why do you think that is?

    • SDRs are too important to get the minimal support they do. They generate a higher proportion of pipeline than the resources given. Support them!

    • Is the SDR role too generalized in people’s minds? General means no need for specialization, and no need for enablement?

  5. When we chatted, you talked about how there are a LOT of opinions on what sales development should look like, but they often come from other departments. To truly know how to unlock the potential of that team, is it a necessity for you to have managed that team?

    • People think it’s easy. It’s not. It needs specialization and enablement to be successful.

    • Manager roles need to be specialized as well. Coaches, managers, ops roles, etc.

Highlights, Notes, and Resources

Biggest Takeaways

✂️ Is the responsibility of the SDR function really that cut and dried? Just because they’re entry-level reps doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect (or enable) them to do more than what they’re asked. Keeping an open mind around role specialization opens up new career pathways for your reps, gives you a chance to be more strategic around their inputs & outputs, and boosts the sophistication/maturity of your sales function.

📈 Specialization and volume go hand in hand. Getting granular and thinking about how each and every campaign or channel you manage can be optimized is great, but that only works if you have the volume to back it up. It’s hard to get granular if you only have 30 leads to comb through. Specialization isn’t for every organization.

🧓 Nobody is going to retire as an SDR. Instead of pretending like the role doesn’t have a limited shelf life, own it. Specialization allows you to really lean into the “stepping stone” idea and set your reps up for future success. Your current employees will be happy, they’ll stay longer, and you’ll attract future top talent. After all, it’s your job as a sales leader to build and develop your reps.

Conversation Highlights

Note: Timestamps correspond to the YouTube video

(2:45) This is a good “check yourself” moment. When you think about your SDR function, what is the number one goal that you want them to accomplish?

If your answer is simply “book more meetings for the sales team,” I want you to pause here. That mindset around the value of SDRs is quickly becoming antiquated. And a big focus of our conversation with Karlie is about continuing to bury that idea and promote longer-term, sustainable strategies.

(3:54) What do you think is harder – being an inbound SDR, or an outbound SDR?

Karlie always assumed outbound – and because of that, a reward for them would be the opportunity to work inbound leads. But when you give a rep both inbound and outbound leads to work, they typically take the path of least resistance (aka, working inbounds in favor of running an outbound motion). That means outbound metrics begin to suffer, and that sounds off alarm bells.

Outbound is what really drives a lot of organizational growth. Getting in front of people who don’t know you and educating them about the value you bring is crucial.

But SDRs who are charged with inbound & outbound aren’t incentivized to do that – they want to work the leads that enter the system from inbound channels. Specialization allows you to keep the two separate and ensure your outbound motion is full steam ahead.

(6:22) Specialization also allows you to drill deeper into what’s working and what isn’t.

Comparing an outbound campaign to an inbound channel is like comparing apples and oranges. The more you specialize, the easier it is to see how a particular campaign or channel is performing.

(6:51) You can’t discount that the skillset required for SDRs that run outbound motions is different than those who mainly qualify inbound leads.

Inbound rewards speed, relationship building, and qualification.

Outbound rewards a hunter’s mindset, research skills, and patience (play the long game).

That ⬆️ trickles down to the hiring and training process as well. The better you can select and prepare someone for a specific job, the more effective they’ll be.

(8:53) Alright enough with the “inbound vs. outbound” stuff, that’s old news. Let’s dig into some alternative methods of specialization.

Karlie has created 2 different specialized roles: MDRs (Market Development Reps) and Re-Heat Reps.

MDRs just work webinar and event leads. Why? Conversion rates from that channel were lower than expected, and instead of just accepting that Karlie decided to dig into the data. Her hypothesis was that by channeling more focus into following up with and qualifying those leads, conversion rates would regress upwards to match other channels. She was right, and the MDR was born (and conversion rates 3X since its implementation).

Re-Heat Reps are responsible for working closed-lost pipeline for their AE counterparts. Why? Because timing is a huge part of sales, and even if someone is all in on learning more the deal can be derailed by poor timing. And if you lose touch with that prospect between that demo and when they ask for a follow-up, you could be inadvertently shutting your window. SDRs are uniquely equipped to nurture those accounts and keep them warm until they’re ready to buy.

💡”Intent can’t be created in a timeframe fashion…either they’re ready to go through the process…or they’re not” Karlie’s point here speaks to the value of re-heat reps for organizations that thrive on good timing. If you don’t run into a lot of tire-kickers and your closed-lost funnel is full, strongly consider this option.

(10:14) A big component of MDRs working hinges on sales and marketing alignment. By rolling the MDR up to marketing they are fully plugged into and apprised of what marketing is doing – and that means how they tackle event follow-up is more targeted and impactful. It further bridges the gap between the two teams and forces them to work together, not separately towards the same goals.

(11:24) Volume is key. You need to have enough leads in a specific channel to create a specialized role. Otherwise, the outputs (pipeline revenue) won’t justify the inputs (salary + OTE).

(13:07) Alex’s experience isn’t unique – too many SDRs are currently responsible for too many channels/campaigns. Time management can only take you so far.

(14:30) Another plus for re-heat reps is reducing friction between SDRs and AEs. Eliminating the AEs ability to pick through the “slush pile” for quick wins – and stepping on the SDRs toes – means they focus on generating net new pipeline and the SDRs can focus on strengthening the relationship with the existing pipeline.

(16:40) Reduced friction + specialized roles = defined career paths. And a defined career path really helps SDRs build the skills they need to succeed as an SDR.

It’s great for the company because they have a farm of future AEs to pull from, and it’s great for the SDR because they have a model of success to emulate.

(18:51) And you have to make sure that there’s enough fluidity between the various specializations on your team. Rigidity can tank your retention.

Allowing reps to experience different facets of sales & marketing opens up a ton of career growth opportunities.

(21:22) And that ⬆️ isn’t just great for your current employees, but it looks really attractive to future candidates as well. If you’re struggling to bring in talent, take note.

(24:54) Knowing that the SDR position has a shelf-life, plan for it. Don’t cross your fingers and hope top-performers stay – be proactive about building them up and filling the space they leave.

Karlie lays out a great example of a basic SDR career path that promotes transparency, flexibility, and growth.

(26:53) It’s not all butterflies and roses with role specialization – there are still roadblocks to look out for.

For example, reps who are on a pure outbound motion tend to think the grass is always greener for other specialized roles. That can lead to an unnecessary desire to change your role, which can further lead to difficult conversations or general resentment. Don’t jump when it gets tough – cultivating the right mindset for your SDRs is crucial here.

(32:10) Ok, let’s talk enablement. How can an SDR leader set their team up for success?

  • First, you have to note the difference between enabling closing reps and SDRs. Both need some type of support, but the way in which you go about it is different. And traditionally, sales enablement (for closers) has been the only model to work off. Knowing what specifics go into building and developing your SDRs is a crucial first step.

  • We expect a lot from SDRs. And yet there are teams who think they can blast new reps with all the info they need in a week and never reinforce it. That’s crazy. Enablement teams are built to reinforce the basics and help reps improve areas where they struggle. One and done is never a good training method.

  • More than just reinforcing the right skills, enablement can come in the form of role plays, talking through industry trends, and how to function as a working professional.

  • SDRs are on the front lines. They’re the face of your business. They’re responsible for building familiarity. That’s too much responsibility to not have a team (or someone) dedicated to making their jobs easier, replicable, and productive.

(36:30) How much of your organization’s pipeline revenue is expected to come from the SDR function? In a lot of cases, it’s upwards of 50% – yet SDRs get significantly less support than the AE function. The numbers don’t add up.

(38:31) Repitition is key. After learning something for the first time, you only retain ~10 – 20%. Building a cadence where you regularly teach the same concepts over and over will help your SDRs not just learn, but master them.

(43:06) If you want to manage an SDR team, do you need SDR experience? After all, how will you connect with the trials and tribulations of being an SDR if you never went through that?

Karlie doesn’t think It’s necessary. But she does think that if you weren’t an SDR, get as close to that team as possible. You might not need the experience yourself, but you won’t be able to really connect with them if you don’t understand their day-to-day. It also helps you build buy-in with your team and develop a stronger relationship. Win-win!

Additional Resources

🎙️ Here’s Karlie’s Time Management podcast with the SDRev crew! She shares loads of insight and advice in ~32 minutes.

Aaaand if you’re looking for more time management best practices, we have plenty in our symposium recap AND podcast episode with Henry Shapiro of Reclaim.

🤑 Churn can be expensive, so it’s natural to focus efforts on retention. But as we discussed, it’s better to build a more sustainable system to move reps out of the roll and backfill their replacements. The better that system, the less churn you have to worry about. The team at Repvue mocked up an attrition calculator to illustrate how expensive empty seats can be.

If you want to change the numbers up for your team, copy/paste the sheet into a new doc and add your own data!

🚀 A lot of companies can learn a thing or two from Karlie about what a well-enabled SDR function looks like. For some supplementary material on that topic, check out the webinar we ran with our friends at ANNUITAS: The Power of Empowering Your SDRs.

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