Maslow’s Hierarchy for SDR Teams

In the last year, DiscoverOrg scaled our SDR team from 5 reps to over 20. As a result, I’ve spent most of the last year thinking about how to accomplish that (and do it well), how to keep those reps fed with leads, how to keep them motivated, and how to optimize their process and results. Here’s what I learned along the way.

While building our SDR team, I thought about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy is often referenced in relation to sales teams’ revenue and technology needs, most prominently by leading sales consultant Nancy Nardin in her Hierarchy of Revenue Needs. But, Maslow’s Hierarchy can also be applied to the SDR team-building process. A “Team” is a being in a sense and beings need certain things, some more basic than others, to live and succeed. To grow the team, I knew these needs included hiring, building, scaling, and optimizing. But in what order should they occur?

Our philosophy has always been, “Take action, things will never be perfect. You’ll never be fully ready for something – just start doing, and iterate as you go.”

With that in mind, and after some trial and error along the way, here’s how I connected the hierarchy of needs to the goals of building a highly effective SDR Team.

Building a Sales Team with Maslow's principles

Remember, you can start at any level, but each layer builds on the rest. Without good people, the best messaging in the world won’t get you anywhere, because you’ll engage prospects, but won’t convert them. Without basic infrastructure, it’s impossible to have processes that optimize that infrastructure. Every layer builds on the ones beforehand.

So let’s take them one at a time.

The Physiological Base of Your Team: People & Hiring

One quick look at the definition of Physiology makes the connection to People & Hiring as the base of our team-building hierarchy absolute and for Maslow, the concept was summed up as meeting basic needs for survival.

Having a good people IS the basic need for any team, from the manager to newest member. There’s a lot that goes into having people work for you. How do you manage them day-to-day, what goals & quotas do you set, how do you motivate and retain them?

But by FAR, the single most important decision we make as sales leaders (or in any aspect of business), is HIRING.

A wrong hire at any time has the potential to have act as a virus and negatively impact various functions resulting in a domino effect of downward spirals. On the other hand, good hires keep the ideas fresh and flowing (similar to water) while continually evolving processes and procedures to keep the business alive, healthy, and growing.

So how do we hire? Generally speaking, we do it in a very normal way: a phone interview, followed by an in-person interview with myself and our Business Development Manager during which we do a roleplay (always valuable), and sometimes I call their references (never feels like that’s very valuable). There’s ONE thing I do very differently: I give a cognitive assessment test to every candidate – we use Omnia. The test takes 15 minutes. It includes math & verbal questions, similar to the SAT, and I never consider candidates who get less than above 80% on that test.

What does this give me? It gives me a wicked smart sales team. It gives me a team that – though we support them – can figure out things on their own and take initiative. A Team that can understand our product with relative ease and articulate the value of that product to the smart VPs of Sales and Marketing and CEOs that we’re calling on. A team I can count on as the foundation to get anything and everything else done.

When we started doing this:

  • The number of interviews I had to do dropped by a factor of 10
  • The retention rate of new hires four months after being hired (reps who “made it”), went from about 50% to 90%

Being good at math and verbal questions, or “good at tests”, isn’t everything. There are bad test takers who would do well here in sales. But I’m playing the odds, and the odds are drastically in my favor when we hire smart people with high scores and drink 40 oz of water every day.

Safety with Tools: Phone, Email, CRM, Data

The next step for our hierarchy of needs for building a high-performing SDR team is to provide them with the tools to get their job done. By ensuring that there is equitable access to resources we also provide aspects of safety not only to the team we are building but to the overall organism, I mean organization. The people feel safe because they have the tools required to achieve their goals and the company feels safe because it knows its foundation isn’t full of growing cracks in productivity due to access to resources. In short, they are able to compete in a hectic marketplace.

The reasons you need a phone, email, CRM and data are pretty evident, so I won’t say much here. The question to ask yourself here (stealing this from a blog our CMO wrote), is “if you were stranded on a desert island and still had to hit your quota, what three things would you take?”

For me, it would be my phone, my computer, and the list of my prospects with their contact data.

So, don’t underestimate the importance of great data on your prospects. It is foundational, not a “nice to have.”

Love/Belonging and Self-Esteem: Messaging & Audience Segmentation

For Maslow, the next two stages of his hierarchy, Love/Belonging and Esteem, deal primarily with the internal and external actualization of feelings. Building on the idea that because we feel safe and equipped, we can then explore and develop these facets of identity with the great SDR team that we hired. With those facets in place, we can take our pitch to the next level by refining and segmenting it to connect with the right audience at the right time (Love/Belonging) while presenting the brand/product/ourselves in the best light possible (Esteem).

DiscoverOrg’s buyers are either sales or marketing professionals all with different lead generation targets and objectives. While most of our clients are tech companies, their core offerings are very different: IT staffing, IT consulting, Information Security, ERP, Application Development, Big Data, Infrastructure, VAR, etc.

We segment our messaging on both those dimensions: role and objective. My message to a VP of Sales at a Security company will talk about how we have “direct dial phone numbers on every Chief Information Security Officer they could dream of selling to waiting for them” versus the message to the VP of Marketing at the same company might talk more about data enrichment or segmenting their audience by new parameters like technologies installed.

Pro Tips:

The most important things for successful audience and messaging segmentation for SDR teams:

  1. Sound personalized, don’t make it look like marketing copy, don’t use HTML, make it seem like a 1:1 “handwritten” message.
  2. Be short. Seriously, be short. Someone once said – Mark Twain is often miscredited with this – “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.” Take the time to be compelling, but be short.
  3. Finally, be short, but be persistent. Our reps put our prospects through an 18 touch point cadence (a mix of phone, email, and social connects) over a 6-week period. When we do that, we get a 30% response rate from our prospects.

Here’s what that cadence looks like:


DiscoverOrg Outreach Cadence

The ultimate takeaway? Figure out the most important dimensions of your prospects – their role, their industry, the size of their company – segment them by those dimensions. Then, figure out the shortest way you can communicate your value to each of those personas.

Self-Actualization: Optimize

In the same way that self-actualization relates to an honest assessment and a proactive, creative, and moral approach to improvement, optimizing SDR teams relates to constant process, tool, and people evaluation and improvement. The needs of a team are always changing, escalated by today’s ever-evolving digital world, but without the previous stages aligned the results of optimization activities end up with skewed results and circular patterns.

In many ways, it seems like companies love to jump to this step without the performing the due diligence on those that lead up to it. I would argue that hiring the right people is far more impactful than dialing in a process. Focus on quality hiring first. After getting people who will help crush sales goals, get quality data. Having quality data to call and email on is more important than ensuring say, a dialer that makes those calls get executed in a quick, easy, automated, and systematic way.

Prerequisites states of the hierarchy aside, there are a lot of processes that can give you outsized gains. Rather than extol the principles behind process & automation, let me just share a list of more advanced techniques we’ve put in place that combined, have given us outsized results. If you’d like to get into the weeds on how we execute any of these, don’t hesitate to reach out:

Tool or Process Description: Purpose:
Inbound Leads: Distribution Engine This app distributes inbound leads round robin to the SDRs. It also allows them to “login” and “logout” of distribution. Inbound leads are 600% more likely to convert if responded to in the first 5 minutes. this app helps to stay laser focused on responding to leads ASAP
Inbound Leads: Outreach – Inbound Good Fit sequence An automated email cadence to respond to potentially good fit prospects that fill out a request for more info, or a demo via our website. Same as above, plus this automates the majority of the email follow-up process for an inbound SDR.
Inbound Leads: Outreach – Inbound Bad Fit sequence An automated email cadence to respond to prospects that fill out a request for more info or a demo via our website, but, we believe based on their website that they target job titles and companies outside the scope of our database. Marketing invests a lot of resources to drive traffic to our website. This email sequence ensures that every prospect is touched at least once, while allowing our SDRs to focus their time on leads most-likely to convert.
Go-Backs Campaign We run this campaign on the Outbound SDR team for people who filled out forms who had not yet converted after 45 days. This campaign is one of our highest converting ones and helps us get back in touch with prospects who expressed interest but have gone quiet.
Past Users Campaign We also target former users of DiscoverOrg that are now at new companies. Demos from past users are easy to book and the deals easier to close
Triggers (from Marketing) The Marketing team finds funding events, new sales or marketing leadership hires, or companies planning to hire sales reps These triggers help the Outbound SDRs focus on prospects with a higher propensity to buy given trigger events happening at their companies.
Pre-Demo Surveys ClickTools automatically sends out a survey to prospects the day before the demo. Responses automatically sync to Salesforce and notify the Account Executive The survey not only reminds the prospect to attend the demo, but it also gleans insight into their business needs & challenges so we can better tailor our demo.
Relivens Campaign When an opportunity stalls out with our AEs, their outbound SDR calls into the prospect to re-engage. Often opportunities go quiet due to lack of bandwidth, and the SDR’s persistence moves DiscoverOrg back up the priority list at the prospect account.
Sales Dataset Our research team also profiles the companies and prospects we target, basically “DiscoverOrg for DiscoverOrg.” When our research team finishes profiling an account, they flag it in Salesforce which automatically notifies the assigned SDR to start prospecting the account This is the single most important “process” for our SDRs. Rather than them spending 2/3rds of their day researching, they know exactly who to call and have direct dials phone numbers and emails on their prospects. It’s game changing.



Our SDR team has been hugely successful this year as we’ve built upon our own hierarchy of needs and supported the optimization process with some honest evaluation and tough decisions on what to prioritize and which processes to change. That engine has gone from generating only about 20% of our wins to 50% and by implementing these flows, our sales development team has continued to increase the number of scheduled demos as headcount increases, and at scale.

Graph A: Outbound Demos Scheduled Per Week
(goal is 20+ demos per Outbound SDR per month)

Outbound demos scheduled by week

Graph B: Inbound Lead Conversion to Demo Rate

Inbound lead conversion to demo chart - DiscoverOrg

Wherever you are in your process of building an SDR team, understanding the connection between Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (for building a highly functional adult human) and the hierarchy of needs required for building high-functioning team will help improve results and build a scalable model for a successful sales development team. The specific methods we provided have helped us quadruple our SDR team effectively over the last year. We’d love to hear what has worked for you or which of these you are most excited to add to your arsenal.

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As Chief Revenue Officer, Patrick manages sales and customer success at DiscoverOrg where he is responsible more