How to build a winning outbound sales motion

There are no shortages of Go-To-Market strategies, sales motions, playbooks and opinions in the world today. Setting up an outbound sales motion in your company can be a winning strategy or a colossal flop.

Outbound sales is complicated. It’s much more than cold calls and email sequences. It’s a perfectly orchestrated mobilization of highly specialized roles in marketing, sales development and account executives all collaboratively operating a sales process in lock step execution.

To build the winning strategy it’s all about establishing and aligning the team functions to prospect the addressable market with a process that supports the ability to execute the sales methodology and strategy. Get it right, and it is highly effective, get it wrong and it is incredibly expensive.

Here is the framework for the winning outbound sales strategy especially for SMB and mid market customers.

Establishing roles for specialization following the AIDA funnel format

At the most basic level specialized teams should focus on specialized functions. Making sure those functions are properly aligned with the process model is critical.

Using the well known Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA) model you can see a clear distinction on which role specializes in which part of the funnel.

This is the journey a customer takes from the beginning (not knowing your company exists) to the end (becoming a customer).


PRO TIP: Do not lump SDRs and AEs into one unified interest/desire function. Doing so is not effectively leveraging specialization and further blurs the line of responsibility between the two roles.

Understanding your market. Breaking down TAM, SAM, SOM and SQM

There are three widely known acronyms when exploring and defining the target market for your business, Total Addressable Market (TAM), Service Addressable Market (SAM), Service Obtainable Market (SOM). To complete this picture I will tack on Service Qualified Market (SQM) which is probably another name for the more widely known Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).


Marketing coordinates which accounts the SDRs should prospect

In this model, marketing is the ultimate owner of the accounts for the business. The marketing team is responsible for identifying which accounts in the SOM the team will be prospecting. Once the accounts are identified, Marketing then starts awareness campaigns into those accounts and at the same time assignes them to to the SDRs for outbound prospecting. This model creates a unified workflow in which marketing provides supportive “air cover” through campaigns to create awareness within those accounts, while at the same time the SDRs are doing the outbound “ground work” prospecting them to turn the awareness into interest.

This model is incredibly agile for the marketing team to run several different air cover campaigns into the target accounts. As the marketing campaigns dynamically change, the marketing team can easily swap the accounts in the SDRs queue.

Rotating a portion of the accounts for SDRs keeps an evergreen flow of new and interesting prospects for the SDR and ensures they do not ever become stagnant and stale to the SDR working them. Nothing is more deflating for an SDR trying to prospect every day than the feeling of a stale account base that they already called ten times that month and now they have to call it ten more times. This account rotation also helps prevent your prospects from burning out of your prospecting efforts and causing them to opt out by unsubscribing.

As you can see, your addressable market is not limitless. In fact, the more well defined it is the more finite it becomes, the more critical it is to be able to have the right team manage and access it.


SDR and AE team alignment structure

The way an SDR and AE team is structured will have a direct impact on how the team performs.

The two biggest mistakes I see people make with SDR team structure and AE alignment are:

Assigning ownership of the majority, if not all, accounts to AEs.
Directly pairing an SDR to AE(s) to prospect into those accounts on behalf of the AE(s).


This is often referred to as team selling or a revenue pod.

In practice this team configuration will create 2 primary challenges:

  1. Team dynamics: The mentality that the SDR works for the AE. Not all AEs want to or (in some cases) should be coaching SDRs. Personality conflicts can cause an SDR to favor an AE over another and work harder for that AE in the pod.
  2. Staffing: PTO / sick days etc can cause havoc within a pod. Transitions cause significant disruption (onboarding, ramping, off-boarding). Unintended penalties if you do promote someone because you disrupt the dream team and have to go back to rebuilding it.

In addition, assigning accounts to AEs will create these negative impacts on the business:

  • It limits the ability for the marketing team to dynamically adjust which accounts are being prospected and provide supportive air cover campaigns within them to drive awareness accordingly.
  • The same team working the same account lacks different voices and creative ideas to break into the account.
  • It lumps SDRs and AEs into the same specialized process bucket.
  • After a while the same accounts become stagnant and stale and loose luster for those working them.


Pooling the SDR team for peak performance

Putting accounts in the SDR name for prospecting is the first step, setting the team alignment between SDRs and AEs is next.

Pooling the SDR team so that a whole team of SDRs support a whole team of AEs is the most efficient and stable team structure for peak performance.

Pooling an SDR team is essentially just creating a larger pod in the sense that you still have some ratio of SDRs supporting AEs. Except with a pool, there is one major difference.

In a small pod you end up creating specialized one to one business units, aka, pods. With a pool, you create specialized many to many teams within the function, IE SDR team and AE team. While this feels a bit of semantics, the impacted business outcomes in each model is anything but.

In this model many SDRs in the pool provides new prospects to many AEs in the pool.


Pooling SDR and AE teams


The benefits of pooling SDRs are:

  • An agile team structure with flexibility to pivot and adapt to new changes quickly.
  • Stable business outcomes throughout evergreen staff transitions of SDRs and AEs.
  • Evenly utilize sales team capacity automatically.
  • Easier to spot and correct when a rep is not performing at par with peers.
  • Consistent democratization of training, best practices, process and structure.
  • Clear swim lanes of roles and functions.
  • More consistent metrics from month to month making it easier to forecast performance.

Distributing prospects from the pool of SDRs to AEs

The final step to bring this all together is to establish how to distribute the prospects that SDRs source to the AEs.

The number one mistake people make in this pooled team structure is using a Round Robin distribution method.

The Round Robin lead assignment method simply assigns the next lead to the next AE in line. Even though there are now (many) technologies available to dynamically assist with round robin distributions, the method itself is flawed. While a Round Robin offers simplicity for distribution, it fails to take into account that each prospect is itself a unique person. It also fails to account for an individual rep’ skills, capabilities and bandwidth.

A Round Robin method fatally assumes two things:

  1. That every prospect and every AE is essentially the same therefore it won’t matter who they each get matched with.
  2. That every AE has the bandwidth to work the new prospect properly once assigned to them.

There are no bad leads, only bad lead assignments. The “worst” lead with the right AE can make the difference between missing the sales quota and crushing the goal.

The ideal way to assign new leads is based on what the individual AE is best suited to work, and also aligned with what kind of work the lead needs to move through the pipeline compared to how much sales capacity bandwidth that AE has at the time the lead is available. This requires a thorough analysis of each new prospect and an assessment of available AEs. In order to do this you need to shift from a lead assignment process to a lead alignment flow.

The obvious problem with doing a thorough analysis to find the best alignment is that there are no databases to refer to or technology to facilitate that analysis. There is however, the sales team, the people involved in the process.

The most effective way to transfer something of value between two parties is through a marketplace transaction.

After all, people buy from people. When SDRs list a prospect for sale in the internal marketplace it gives AEs the autonomy to evaluate each new prospect in the marketplace and choose the ones they feel best aligns with their skill sets, capabilities, interests and sales capacity bandwidth.

In the diagram of a marketplace below, multiple SDRs support multiple AEs. SDRs list qualified prospects for sale and AEs buy them with their Market Dollars budgets.


Marketplace lead distribution

Market dollars are the fictitious currency given to AEs to purchase new prospects from SDRs via marketplace. AEs have the option to pay more or less for prospects in the marketplace.

The better the AEs likes a prospect in the marketplace the more market dollars they will pay an SDR for that listing, the more the SDR makes.This pricing variability establishes a direct correlation back to the value the SDR is creating for the AEs on the sales team and rewards SDRs according to that value as established by what the AE is willing to pay for that lead.

How OpnMkt Works


Source and Sell

SDRs source qualified prospects and list them for sale in the internal marketplace.


Buy and Build

AEs use market dollars to buy the prospects they connect with to build a dynamic, personalized pipeline.


Connect and Close

AEs establish relationships with their prospects, turning them into buyers. More deals close, increasing revenue.

There are several benefits to a marketplace approach to distributing prospects. Some of these benefit everyone and others are unique to their role on the team:

“OpnMkt removed the feeling that leads happen to reps. It gives them autonomy over their pipeline, so leads go to the people that are hungriest to work them. Reps value leads they’ve won much more than leads they were assigned.”

Rachel Calomeni

SVP of Growth, HowGood