Should SDRs Call or Email? That’s the Wrong Question

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 4.11.38 PMStanding on the sales floor of a fast-growing commercial leasing company in Los Angeles, I observed two sales development reps (SDRs) performing their work with opposite approaches. The rep on the left was quiet, but typed emails furiously throughout the day. The rep on the right spent the day transitioning rapidly from one phone call to the next, dialing and talking nonstop.

By the end of the day, the first rep had sent 186 emails and made only 2 phone calls. The second rep had made 48 phone calls and sent only 26 emails. Speaking to them separately after hours, I found out that these were typical days for both of them. Each rep had been in the SDR role at the company for just over 13 months.

With no more information than that, which rep would you guess is the top performer on the team: the high-volume emailer or the high-volume caller?

I’ll come back to that.

A recent study of 355 companies by The Bridge Group found a 50/50 split between SDR groups that identified themselves as email-centric and call-centric. Behind this split lies a wide-ranging and sometimes contentious industry debate.

Contributors to Salesforce’s official blog have variously declared cold calling dead and not dead; HubSpot has offered a three-step process for deciding whether to call or email a prospect; a Forbes writer produced 10 points to explain why phone calls are a waste of time.

In working with individual sales teams, I’ve often seen this split occur between managers and reps. Experienced sales leaders lament the inability or unwillingness of their reps to just “hit the phones,” and equally frustrated reps are convinced their managers simply don’t understand how communication has shifted in the past decade.

These are key issues, not just for immediate sales performance, but also for building success in the SDR space in the future. Tenure for SDRs is at an all-time low, sometimes as low as six months. The top cause for turnover in these roles is burnout, and it’s hard to imagine that some of the tensions between calling and emailing don’t play a role.

So which method is more effective – emailing or calling? To that I say, we’re asking the WRONG question!

Better questions

Back to our two SDRs in L.A. Who’s the top performer? It turns out … they both are! Despite their polar opposite tactics, both reps exceeded 150% of their quota last month and have spent the past year trading off as No. 1 and No. 2 among all SDRs.

How could this be?

The factors at play that lead to the success or failure of an SDR go far beyond the form of their outreach. Certainly the number of “at bats” for an SDR plays a role, but if “Emailing vs. Calling” is the wrong question, what should managers be focused on?

I would submit that better questions to ask include:

  1.     Fit: Is the product a fit for the prospect’s needs?
  2.     Timing: Is the prospect ready to buy?
  3.     Talent: What are the personal strengths/weaknesses of my reps?

When sales development teams stop obsessing over the wrong things — “Should we call or email?” — and start focusing on the right things — fit, need and talent — results naturally increase. Winning teams have figured out that the method they use to contact prospects isn’t as important as helping prospects see they need what you offer, and they need it now.  

What are the most important factors of success for your team? How would you rank the importance of Fit, Timing and Talent? Would you add something else?

Take this survey

We’d love to hear your thoughts with this short survey.

We look forward to hearing your experience and thoughts on the “right” questions. Stay tuned for the results of the survey and for additional actionable insights as we continue our research.

At XANT, our Momentum team helps customers by designing the right strategy for succeeding in a sales environment where a data-driven, systematic approach is critical. Momentum has worked with companies like Salesforce, GE and EMC both in the U.S. and globally to revamp sales models, build teams and processes, and affect transformational change.

A unique aspect of Momentum’s engagements is that in addition to strategy design, we have deep experience with on-the-ground execution and delivery. We’re particularly helpful at connecting high-level strategy with the daily actionable processes of the individual reps. Research bred from hands-on experience with thousands of customers on the front lines provides the foundation for our insights and recommendations.

Knowing that “Emailing vs. Calling” is the wrong question, I look forward to hearing your thoughts in this short survey above on the “right” questions to ask as you lead your organizations.

Download this free ebook and learn how to turn your entire team into top performers. 

A Day in the Life of a Top-Performing Sales Rep

Free eBook: Cold Calling and Sales Prospecting: A Day in the Life of a Top-Performing Sales Rep

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