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Understanding Ramp Times for Outbound Prospecting

Often, when people start a new SDR program, they expect miracles in terms of program ramp and personnel ramp. They think they will start seeing great results in just a month or two. The reality is, whether you're outsourcing or building an in-house SDR team, it's likely to take between 6 months and a year before you start seeing results. 

The facts behind why ramp times are so much longer than expected, possible explanations, and how sales managers can ensure they're on track to get the best results will be discussed in this post.

SDR performance is not linear

It is common for people to think that performance changes over time in a straight line. We begin at the lowest point, then steadily improve.

We analyzed the first three months of the SDR programs we have run over the past several years for our clients at Air Marketing, but the results tell a different story. It is our research team's finding that until week ten, on average, the first two weeks were the best. In contrast to linear progression, performance actually dropped, before returning to normal. 

After analyzing literally millions of cold-calling campaigns, this is the average trend we see. While there may be rare exceptions, we’re seeing two consistent trends:

  1. The results of programs start off reasonably well before dropping off.
  2. Between week nine and week ten, the climb begins.

There's a common misconception that performance will improve from month two onwards after a brief low period. A peak, followed by a sustained trough as you learn, then true growth begins once you build a pipeline. This occurs around weeks nine and ten. Some of the people you spoke to earlier are now ready to buy, and meetings are increasing. As a result, you'll naturally learn more about how to communicate effectively with clients and what kind of messaging to use. 

At around month six (on average), the climb plateaus, giving or taking a few months. 

Performance dips in SDR programs

SDR programs follow this trend for a variety of reasons, but none are certain.

It is natural to want to impress a new client when we land one, which leads to heightened performance levels at first. 

Additionally, it's important to think about how results are measured. Most people measure success with SDR programs by the number of meetings they book. When you start a new program, the criteria are usually broad. After a few meetings with your ideal customer, your criteria will become more focused. Although you will meet more qualified leads, finding those meetings will be more challenging, resulting in a decrease in results. 

Also, we may know someone who would be a good fit for our company already. We may already have companies we've spoken to, warm leads that are more likely to convert. Our first step is to grab those easy wins, but if we expect to keep getting the same results, we may be deceiving ourselves. 

Managing your sales program's expectations

At six weeks, if you just get some people, give them phones, email templates, and set up a cadence, you shouldn't expect great results. In the middle of the pain period, the valley of doom statistically, people may start panicking and pull out of an SDR program by the sixth week. They want to see consistent improvement when investing in an SDR program. 

There needs to be an expectation that results will drop before they improve between weeks two and ten if people want to see results.

Not only will this affect your view of the SDR program, but also your team's performance as a whole. You might decide about someone's future with the company around week nine or week ten if they are on probation for three months. This is when their performance improves. You risk losing high-quality SDRs if you don't consider that. 

After ten weeks, you should give it 16-20 weeks before deciding whether that climb is good enough. Otherwise, you will be tempted to jump off as things improve. 

Be tolerant of failure, but strive for improvement

While failure has a negative connotation, it is part of the learning process in an SDR program. You need to fail in order to learn. You have to get the wrong appointments to understand what a good appointment looks like. If you don’t know when the right time is, you have to be told that it isn’t the right time budget-wise for three months. 

Any marketing or sales investment requires a tolerance for failure. Sure, you might get lucky and get a sale right away, but it might take six months. Too many boardrooms aren't talking about that. 

That does not mean you won't get any success in that time. It still means you should be getting some indication that people are going to say yes, even if it's not right now. Look at your metrics, specifically in terms of quality and quantity. 

You need to determine if you have reached the critical mass of activity in terms of quantity. Read the emails your SDRs are sending. Listen to the conversations they're having for quality. Does the copy in emails correspond to the messaging agreed upon? How well do they engage on the phone? Instead of focusing on the outcome, make sure that the process is in place. Is there continuous improvement? As I listen to calls, I want to hear an increase in engagement, confidence, and assertiveness. 

Final thoughts

You can't rush the success of an SDR program. No matter what money you throw at it, statistically speaking, you're going to have to wait at least ten weeks before you start seeing results. 

If you're a VP of sales and you're trying to start an SDR program, you're just setting yourself up for failure if you tell the board you'll get results in three months. In reality, an SDR program should be viewed as a long-term investment in your sales process. If you're not interested in it for six to a year, you should save your money and try something else that's more affordable. 

With the right expectations, you’ll understand that a dip in results is a natural part of an SDR program. Failure is often viewed as a valuable lesson that takes you closer to your goals when it’s viewed as a valuable learning experience. As long as the right foundation is in place, you will get the results you’re looking for if you speak to the right people and share the right message on the right channels. Don't be surprised if it takes a few extra minutes than you expected.

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