Over the past year, DiscoverOrg and ZoomInfo combined forces – and sales teams, doubling in size. 

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.

While structuring 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! You’ll never be fully ready – so 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: Hiring people

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 and quotas do you set? How do you motivate and retain them?

But by far, the single most important decision we make as sales leaders 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 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 role play. Sometimes I call their references (that never feels like very valuable).

There’s one thing I do very differently: I give a cognitive assessment test to every candidate. The test, Omnia, takes 15 minutes. It includes math and verbal questions, similar to the SAT. I don’t consider candidates who get less than 70% on that test.

What does this give me?

It gives me a wicked smart sales team. It gives me a team that can figure out things on their own – although we support them – 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. It’s 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 who drink 40 ounces 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 equitable access to resources, we also provide aspects of safety; not just to the team we are building, but to the overall organism – our organization. The people feel safe because they have the tools required to achieve their goals. The company feels safe because its foundation isn’t full of growing cracks in productivity due to access to resources.

In short, we 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. But ask yourself: “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.

“Data isn’t this bright, shiny, sexy toy that people become enamored with and want to run out and buy,” said Trish Bertuzzi, President and Chief Strategist of The Bridge Group consulting firm. “Data is just ugly, old data. But it’s more important than ever before.”

In addition to tools, don’t underestimate the importance of great data on your prospects. It’s not just “nice to have” – it is foundational.

Love/Belonging and Self-Esteem: Messaging and audience segmentation

The next two stages of Maslow’s hierarchy, Love/Belonging and Esteem, deal primarily with the internal and external actualization of feelings.

Now 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 our product in a positive light (Esteem).

DiscoverOrg’s buyers are B2B sales and marketing professionals with different lead generation targets and objectives, in different industries, with different roles.

Both our sales and marketing teams segment our messaging by 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.”

On the other hand, my message to the VP of Marketing at the same company might talk 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, and don’t use HTML. Make it seem like a 1:1 “handwritten” message.
  2. Be short: Seriously, be short. Someone once said, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.” (A quote often misattributed to Mark Twain). Take the time to be compelling, but be short.
  3. 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 – and segment them by those dimensions. Then, figure out the shortest way you can communicate your value to each of those personas.

Download the study: Why Didn’t They Buy? A Deep-Dive into the Buyer Persona

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.

Many companies seem to 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 far more important than ensuring, say, a dialer that makes those calls get executed in a quick, systematic way.

Putting Maslow aside for a moment: A lot of processes can give you outsized gains.

Here’s 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 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 SDRs stay laser-focused on responding to leads ASAP
Inbound Leads: Outreach – Inbound Good Fit sequence This automated email cadence responds to potentially good fit prospects that fill out a request for more info or a demo, via our website Same as above. In addition, 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 in driving traffic to our website. This email sequence ensures that every prospect is touched at least once, allowing SDRs to focus their time on those leads most likely to convert
Go-Backs Campaign We run this campaign on the Outbound SDR team for people who filled out forms but had not converted after 45 days This campaign is one of our highest converting, and helps us get back in touch with prospects who expressed interest but have gone quiet
Past Users Campaign We target former users of DiscoverOrg that left to work for new companies Demos from past users are easy to book, and the deals are easier to close
Triggers The sales research team finds funding events, new sales or marketing leadership changes, and companies planning to hire sales reps These scoops 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 and 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. The SDR’s persistence moves DiscoverOrg back up the priority list at the prospect account
Sales Dataset Our research team 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 2/3 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: 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 – 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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About the author

Patrick Purvis

As Senior VP of Revenue, Patrick manages sales and customer success at DiscoverOrg, where he is responsible for strategic account growth. Formerly Chief Revenue Officer, Purvis is a graduate of Oregon State University where he studied Economics.