5 Keys to Launching a Successful BDR Program

By: Chris Cassidy

Many founders of software companies we speak with agree that a Business Development Representative (BDR) function is important, however they often hesitate to pull the trigger on investing in a BDR team due to a number of factors.

A lot of this hesitation stems from a reluctance to invest in a non-quota carrying BDR team when you could keep growing your quota-carrying sales team. But the decision to delay building out this function can actually limit your sales team’s productivity and waste valuable marketing resources. How often have you discovered an inbound MQL that has not been properly followed up on by a Sales Rep? Or found that your Sales Reps are experiencing the productivity rollercoaster as they focus on building pipeline one period and closing deals the next? An outbound BDR program can also expand your top of funnel. As digital and other marketing channels get saturated, BDRs focused on outbound prospecting present an opportunity to build a very measurable, scalable, and targeted lead generation channel with a clear ROI. But only if it’s done properly.

Very few companies nail the BDR function the first time. Similar to any lead generation channel, it requires constant testing and iterating to get it right. Below are five strategies that can help increase the probability of success for a first time BDR program.


Commit to the Function
Many bootstrapped companies wait too long to launch a BDR program because they’re hesitant to hire a non-quota carrying headcount. When they do take the leap, they hedge on the investment by having their first BDRs also sell, upsell and cross-sell.

This hybrid structure may help justify the cost in your mind, but it can lead to confusion around goals and responsibilities. Further, it can delay your ability to develop a true BDR team that can make your closers more effective.

When you decide to launch your BDR team, commit to building a true BDR function.

Define the Goals of the Function
Be clear about what you are trying to accomplish with your BDRs. Are you trying to create a new channel to generate new leads? Is your goal to more efficiently qualify leads flowing in from marketing? Are you prospecting into your customer base to identify expansion opportunities?

Decisions about who you hire, how you compensate and how you measure success will cascade from the objectives you set for your BDR program, so don’t skip this step.

Define the Goals of the BDRs
Once you’ve committed, develop goals to measure your BDRs’ performance.

There are two pitfalls we often see in this step that we recommend you avoid:

  1. BDR goals that are too high in the sales funnel, such as the number of scheduled appointments. In this case, BDRs may be incentivized to convince prospects to agree to a meeting, regardless of their level of commitment. This can have a negative effect on the productivity of your Sales Rep resources, wasting your Reps’ valuable time on unqualified meetings. Make sure your BDRs are incentivized to ensure that meetings are attended, not just scheduled.
  2. BDR goals that are too far along in the sales funnel, such as bookings from BDR-sourced accounts. This might work for a high-velocity model (sales cycle of 7-14 days), but for businesses with longer sales cycles it can cause BDRs to focus too far outside of their lane. They may get preoccupied with which rep they want to feed their leads to, or tracking down “stuck” opportunities to move them along—which is really the job of sales.

Better options for measuring BDR performance include: Meetings Attended, Sales Accepted Leads (SALs) and pipeline creation. These goals not only help keep BDR teams focused on near-term results, but also keep the team accountable for the quality of the leads they are generating or passing on to the sales team.


Nail the Profile
The BDR role can be a challenging hire because many BDRs are early in their career or fresh out of college, meaning they have little in the way of a performance track record. As a result, many successful managers hire BDRs based on character traits rather than experience.

Traits we have seen most correlated with success include:

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Competitive drive
  • Coachability
  • Outgoing personality
  • Resiliency
  • Positive attitude

Of course, it helps to have sales experience, but don’t get hung up looking for a BDR who has sold software. Instead, look for people with competitive drive or natural sales talent. One of the sales leaders in our portfolio found his best BDR at a Men’s Warehouse when he went in to buy a suit.

Hire in Twos
Many companies hire a single BDR to “run a pilot.” The risk you take with this approach is that you may get a false positive or false negative and not learn anything to inform future hires. A/B testing is as critical for the BDR function as it is for any marketing channel.

Additionally, hiring in twos allows you to create a competitive dynamic that should drive results. A single BDR will provide you only a single data point on “the right” level of activity and results whereas two BDRs provide multiple data points from two individuals pushing each other to perform.

Lock down your onboarding
Because you’re emphasizing aptitude over experience, your training needs to be on lockdown. Comprehensive, yet focused training is essential for getting the desired results from your BDR team.

Example onboarding process and schedule:

  • Weeks 1 – 2:
    • Shadow AEs on demos and calls
    • Intensive training on the following topics:
      • Product training—learn the elevator pitch on all products
      • Systems training—get conversant in Salesforce, Outreach.io, phone system, etc.
      • Customer training—memorize personas and pain points
      • Prospecting training—learn protocol for emails, calls and scheduling
      • Social media training—know how to use social to research and prospect
  • Week 3: Develop personalized call scripts and emails and start calling low value leads
  • Week 4+: Begin making calls to target leads
  • Week 6: Check-in and follow-up training on areas of weakness


As you ramp up your BDR program, the structure of your sales team will evolve. You will hit critical milestones along the way, some of which will require making decisions and changes.

Here are some key decisions and recommendations along the path to scale:

  • Should BDRs report into Sales or Marketing? This is an age-old debate with no single right answer. We tend to see more success with Sales Leaders managing the BDR team based on several factors: 1) The need for tight alignment between Sales Reps and BDRs, 2) The inherent capabilities of the Sales Leader as a coach and 3) The common career path of a BDR into a Sales Rep. But in some cases, it simply comes down to whether the Sales Leader or Marketing Leader in your organization is more qualified to manage the BDR team.
  • When to hire a full-time BDR manager? Once you have 4 BDRs, consider hiring a full-time manager or transitioning one of your BDRs into a manager role. We’ve seen a lot of success with a BDR who has demonstrated leadership abilities transitioning into a player-coach role and ultimately into a dedicated manager once the team has scaled.
  • When to specialize BDRs into inbound and outbound? We recommend separating out the inbound and outbound roles as soon as you can sustain inbound lead generation to support a full-time dedicated person. The BDR role should progress from outbound to inbound, meaning give your new BDRs the challenge of calling outbound and reward your better and more experienced reps with higher quality inbound leads.
  • When to hire your next BDR? This is just math. Think about your inbound lead volume, the number of potential accounts in your database and the opportunity to identify new accounts. These factors relative to the capacity, conversion rates and ramp time for single BDR should inform the hiring plan. Mainsail has developed a capacity planning model to help our portfolio companies map resources to bookings goals.
  • When to team BDRs with AEs? When first launching a BDR program it is likely that the first couple of BDRs will be serving a large team of Sales Reps and trying to team them up won’t work.  But once you get to scale we recommend teaming BDRs with AEs. In our experience we’ve found this team structure can create tremendous leverage, increase coordination between BDRs and Sales Reps, and create a competitive dynamic amongst the teams.


As with most functions, the success of a BDR team, or an individual BDR, is measured in activities and results. While every company is different and will have nuances around the specific target metrics, Mainsail has developed some target benchmarks based on a combination of third-party research and our own experience working with fast-growing software companies.

Key metrics for success:

5 Keys to Launching a Successful BDR Program

Targets for these benchmarks will vary based on a number of factors, including the Average Sale Price (ASP) of the products being sold, brand awareness, the quality of the contact database, and the mix of inbound vs. outbound efforts.


A common downfall we see in new BDR teams is a failure to coordinate efforts with the marketing team. When done right, the BDR team should spend most of their time running campaigns that are supported by marketing campaigns, content, themes and events.

Here are three ways you can organize your BDR team’s efforts:

  1. Tradeshows and conferences: Without BDR resources, the approach to tradeshows is often to show up and collect business cards with inconsistent follow up. A well-orchestrated campaign led by BDR teams calling into tradeshow attendees in advance should yield meetings and demos pre-scheduled to occur at the event. We find that shifting to this strategy can result in dozens of meetings set up in advance at a tradeshow, ultimately increasing the ROI for that event.
  2. Target specific market segments and verticals: Building out campaigns around specific market segments or target verticals creates focus for your BDRs, allowing them to hone in on key messages, create repeatability in their sales motion and leverage specific assets to prospect more effectively. Marketing should support these efforts with case studies, industry-specific thought leadership content and campaigns targeted to specific personas and market segments. When done right this focused strategy has the opportunity to increase conversion rates at every stage in the funnel.
  3. Product launches: New product launches provide an opportunity to re-engage prospects who may have been closed lost or moved to a nurture campaign due to product or feature gaps. BDRs should be part of a coordinated effort with marketing and sales to communicate new products to the market.

BDR outreach becomes exponentially more effective when it’s focused on specific themes and targeted audiences and coordinated with marketing efforts.


We’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy to helping our portfolio companies launch and scale BDR teams. Time and again, we’ve seen a hesitancy to launch and a tendency to tread lightly in order to test the function. While BDR teams may at first seem like additional overhead and costs, they can ultimately increase the ROI on the significant investments you’ve made in your sales team and inbound marketing programs.

Chris works with Mainsail’s portfolio companies to optimize their go-to-market strategies by helping sales and marketing leaders build their teams, clearly define their target market segments, build data and technology infrastructure and implement best practices to drive growth efficiently.
More by Chris Cassidy
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