How to Specialize Your Sales Team so You Can Actually Scale

How to Specialize Your Sales Team so You Can Actually Scale

In this panel moderated by sales guru and author Aaron Ross, Bridget Gleason, Sumo Logic’s VP of corporate sales, and Don Otvos, Datahug’s VP of inside sales and sales operations, discuss the keys to building a strong sales team from handoffs to leadership structure to the ideal AE:SDR ratio.

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In a nutshell:

  • Data, data, data. It can lead to valuable insights and stave off territory disputes - and, if you don’t ensure that it’s clean, screw up your entire process.
  • It’s better to clearly delineate between customer success and account management; and between account executives and business development reps.
  • Seamless handoffs are crucial.
Q: How can you make business development representatives’ lives better?

Gleason: Hire top-tier BDRs. Her finance team pushed back on the high salaries they commanded, but they found the investment well worth the cost. She also recommended specializing early - specialization allows focus, and when people are asked to do several tasks, they’ll usually just go with the easiest one.

Finally, she usually has one SDR for every three salespeople, and emphasizes the importance of clean data.

Otvos: He has a ratio of two SDRs to one AE, with an average deal size of $25,000. He also has one customer success person for every 40-50 customers.

Ross: Ratios differ across personas and businesses - you have to find the one that’s right for you. He strongly advocated for having both an inbound and an outbound sales team, arguing that inbound isn’t inherently better just because it’s readily available.

“Inbound and outbound are like peanut butter and chocolate. They’re both good, but they taste better together.” -Ross

He echoed Gleason’s emphasis on clean data, saying that you can’t have a successful, scalable outbound team without it.

Q: How do you handle handoffs between teams?

Gleason: Hand off an account as soon as the motion swings from selling to account management. Look at the data - if your sales team is distracted with AM work, it’s time to fix that. She says a close team dynamic is essential - if your team doesn’t have a close relationship, your customers will know.

Otvos: Incorporate everyone into your strategy. Decouple the customer success team from upsells - their KPIs should have nothing to do with revenue. Instead, they should focus on engagement, retention, etc. Account management teams, on the other hand, should be compensated for “land and expand” deals, but be careful to of over-aggression.

Typically, his sales team handles the account until a contract is signed, though customer success is involved in the trial - the earlier, the better. After the ink dries, customer success handles the account until she identifies upgrade potential or it’s up for renewal, at which point it’s transferred to account management.

Ross: Specialization is all about relationships. If customers hate being passed from an SDR to an AE to a CS manager, you're not doing it right.

Q: What does your leadership structure look like?

Gleason: Customer success reports to the CEO, sales operations to the SVP of sales (who reports to the CEO), and SDRs and AEs report to the VP of corporate sales.

Otvos: Customer success reports to the CEO, while SDRs, sales operations and AEs report to the VP of inside sales and sales operations.

Q: What’s your dividing line between SMBs and enterprise?

Otvos: He uses the number of people listed on the company’s LinkedIn profile. He says to find one data source to use as ground truth. Even if it’s occasionally incorrect, consistency is key.

Gleason: She also uses LinkedIn, and has the cutoff at 1,000 employees. She agrees with Otvos’ point on consistency, adding that you should have a rule in place for companies that grow past the benchmark - having a policy to refer to avoids territory disputes.

Q: How do you hire and train inbound SDRs? How many leads can one SDR handle?

Ross: Cold-calling scripts are handy when it comes to training, but after that, they shouldn’t be used. People know if they’re being read a canned template, and that’s the kiss of death. As an aside, he says one dedicated SDR can handle 400 leads.

Otvos: Inbound sales is a great place to bring in entry-level hires. Inbound leads are easiest, so it’s a good way to build confidence. His typical career path is from inbound to outbound to AE. He also swears by tracking app usage data in Salesforce. That can lead to valuable insights like “We have a lot of engaged users in Atlanta. Let’s do a roadshow there.”

Gleason: The number of leads an individual rep can handle depends on how easy it is to qualify leads out. For Sumo Logic, they had to do a lot of research on qualifying before they could come up with a number.

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