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Sustainable Sales Programs Use Specialized Sales Roles

The continual rise and fall in sales production may not be due to your content or channels, but to your sales staffing practices.

When companies are in their earliest stages of growth, with one or maybe two salespeople managing their entire sales process, results tend to go up and down like a wave (hopefully trending upwards). This famine or feast situation means your revenue is unpredictable and unstable

In sales, sustainability is the rock upon which scalable programs are built. That wave pattern, when used in production? Not a great example of sustainability. 

The problem is two-fold: 

  1. By design, revenue can only be generated intermittently. There are downtimes between productive periods, which makes it difficult to predict growth. 
  2. From a workload management standpoint, team members hit their capacity limits really quickly. That means if you push them further, they burn out, so you’re forced to reinvest in talent sooner and more frequently in order to grow (which cuts into profits).


The good news is, you can change these waves into a smooth, upwardly-trending straight line by specializing your team into SDR and AE functions. 

Investment capital is limited in growing businesses, though. You can’t always start with a diverse team. So how do you know when it is the right time to hire and specialize? 

We can learn a lot by looking at how your current sales team manages their time.

Time management in full-cycle sales environments

When your reps run the entire sales cycle, the time they spend on each vital activity is probably designed to look something like this:

  • Prospect research: 25%
  • Outbound prospecting: 40%
  • Intro/qual call management: 25%
  • Pipeline management: 10%


If things are really humming from a production standpoint, reps no longer have the time to service the top of the funnel. As a result, the percentages will shift to look something like:

  • Prospect research: 5%
  • Outbound prospecting: 20%
  • Intro/qual call management: 50%
  • Pipeline management: 25%

However, because there’s been less emphasis on top-of-funnel business development, once they have closed deals at the bottom, the reps need to shift their focus again:

  • Prospect research: 40%
  • Outbound prospecting: 40%
  • Intro/qual call management: 15%
  • Pipeline management: 5%

(Note that even if you're not using a time tracking app like Harvest or Toggl, success rates can sometimes give you clues on where time is being spent because success rates reflect volume at different stages of the sales funnel.) 


These shifts in time allocation happen repeatedly, so you can see where the wave comes in — 50% and 25% of time spent on high-value production, then 15% and 5%. Those are some big swings. And neither of them are at the ideal 25% and 10% spots that we aimed for in the beginning.

Why full-cycle sales programs are not sustainable

If your reps handle the entire sales cycle - from lead procurement, prospecting and qualification, and pipeline management - it could work for a while, but in the long run, it’s unsustainable. A normal human cannot adequately manage the sheer breadth and diversity of those functional responsibilities. 

The consequences of running your team like this for too long can be severe:

  • Performance decreases in critical actions like timely follow-up, thorough qualification, and persistent chasing through the pipeline
  • Unpredictable revenue figures that discourage investment from funders
  • Stress and burnout for your sales reps (who will probably leave anyway to seek a sales program with a more supportive structure)

How SDRs fuel sustainable sales growth

When your one or two full-cycle sales reps are working at full capacity and cannot humanly produce anymore, you may be tempted to simply hire another full-cycle rep. You have the budget, and it seems to make sense... add more labor, get more output. 

However, that’s the exact time to think about specializing your sales team into SDR and AE functions.


Looking at the four functions in the section above, your SDRs will carry out the prospect research. They’ll also be most active in outbound prospecting and setting intro calls to be picked up by AEs. 

AEs still have a role to play in prospecting, but they only focus on named target accounts that require an emphasis on networking and relationship development. The rest of the AE’s time would be spent on handling qualified calls and pipeline management. 


Looking at the time management breakdown again, we see the distribution look more like this: 

SDR time management: 

  • Prospect research: 25% 
  • Outbound prospecting: 50% 
  • Intro/qual call management: 25% 

AE time management: 

  • Outbound prospecting: 10%
  • Intro/qual call management: 50% 
  • Pipeline management: 40%

Even if workloads do get a little unbalanced in this structure, there’s little chance for any one task to ever drop to 5 or 10% (except for AE outbound prospecting to target accounts, but they’re managing less volume for that task anyway). 

In other words, there’s never a low point to the production cycle. No more “wave,” and no more inconsistency. Just sustainable, predictable revenue generation. 

As an added bonus, this strategy also makes your sales team hyper-effective within their roles. They become experts in the smaller number of activities they carry out, and are more capable of improving success rates and outputs accordingly.

When is the right time to build an SDR team?

You probably know in your gut when it’s the right time to specialize your sales team. However, it’s always better to take a data-driven approach.

Look at implementing time tracking to understand how reps spend their time. If you don’t have time tracking, you can also look at quota attainment for outbound activities, the number of intro/qual meetings held, and the volume of active opportunities. This will give you an idea of where your salespeople are spending their time. 

If one area or another is getting less attention, it’s probably hiring time. The last thing you want to do is interrupt your demand gen engine.

Hiring time

Making an adjustment to the makeup of your sales department is a big step that does require investment, but it will make a significant difference to accelerating your rate of growth. 

Check your P&L to make sure you have the budget to hire without totally collapsing your gross margins. After that, you should focus on understanding workload management and capacity in the sales team. If your historical success rates show signs of dropping with your current full-cycle sales team, then it may mean they’re stretched for capacity and unable to perform as well as they once did. On the other hand, if your success rates have never been satisfactory, there are likely other problems with targeting, qualifying, or some other aspect of the sales program. Solve those problems first before attempting to scale. 


Are you developing a growth plan for your sales and demand generation program? SalesWorks offers consulting services focusing on sales process design and organizational alignment that are ideal for growing companies. Visit our website or meet with a SalesWorks consultant to learn more.