Understanding Ramp Times for Outbound Prospecting

by Owen Richards in May 24th, 2021

When it comes to a new SDR program, people often expect miracles in terms of program ramp and personnel ramp. Many think they’ll start getting great results in one month, maybe two. The reality is, whether you’re outsourcing the SDR program or building an in-house team, it’s far more likely to be anywhere from six months to a year before you start seeing the results you want. 

In this post we’ll take a closer look at what data tells us about why ramp times are so much longer than expected, possible reasons for this, and how sales managers can ensure they’re on track to get the best results. 

SDR performance is not linear

When most people think about how performance changes over time, they imagine a straight line. We start at the lowest point, then improve consistently.

While that might seem reasonable, the data tells a different story. At Air Marketing, we measured the first three months of the SDR programs we’ve run for our clients over several years. Our research team discovered that the first two weeks were, on average, the best weeks until we reached week ten. Rather than linear progression, performance tended to actually drop, before it went back up again. 

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

  1. Programs start reasonably well before experiencing a drop in results.
  2. The climb starts somewhere between week nine and week ten.

People tend to think they’ll have a brief low period, then performance will climb from month two onwards. Actually there’s a very short peak, then a sustained trough as you learn, then the true growth begins as you start to build pipeline, which kicks in around week nine and ten. Some of the people you spoke to earlier are now ready to buy, and meetings start to climb. In addition you’ll naturally learn more about what kind of messaging and communication is most effective. 

That climb is then consistent until around month six (on average), at which point it plateaus. out around six months, give or take. 

Why SDR programs might experience a dip in performance

While we don’t yet know for certain why SDR programs follow this trend, there are a few likely reasons.

First of all, there’s usually a level of excitement and novelty when starting a new project. When we land a new client, we naturally want to impress them, which leads to higher initial performance levels. 

We also have to consider how results are measured. For SDR programs, people typically measure success by the number of meetings booked. However, when you start a new program, it’s normally with a broad criteria. After a few meetings, you learn more about your ideal customer and that criteria becomes more focused. While more of your meetings will be with better-qualified leads, finding those meetings will get harder, leading to an apparent dip in results. 

At the same time, there’s also the possibility we already know certain people who might be a good fit. We might have companies we’ve already spoken to, warm leads that are more likely to convert. Naturally, people go for the low-hanging fruit first and get those easy wins. However, if we expect to keep getting the same results, we’re potentially pulling the wool over our eyes. 

Setting the right expectations for your sales program

It’s important to move away from this idea that you can get some people, give them some phones, a couple of email templates, a cadence, and expect them to be getting great results at six weeks. Statistically, that’s going to be in the middle of the pain period, the valley of doom. The problem is that, when people invest in an SDR program, they want to see consistent improvement. By week six, people could start panicking and pull the pin on their investment. 

To get the fruits of their labour, people need to realize that between week two and week ten, they’re likely in for a rough ride. There needs to be the expectation that results will drop before they get better.

This will affect your view, not just of the SDR program, but also of the individual performances of your SDR team. If someone’s working on a three-month probationary period, you could be deciding on their future with the company around week nine or week ten—statistically the lowest point before performance starts to climb. If you don’t take that into account, you risk losing good SDRs. 

If it takes around ten weeks before performance starts to improve, then realistically you need to give it 16-20 weeks before deciding on whether that climb is good enough or not. Otherwise, you might be jumping off just as things start to improve. 

Have a tolerance for failure, but look for improvement

Nobody likes the idea of failure. Despite the negative connotation though, failure is part of the journey. You have to fail in order to learn in an SDR program. You have to get those wrong appointments in order to learn what a good appointment looks like. You need to spend three months being told that it isn’t the right time budget wise before you know when the right time actually is. 

You need a tolerance for failure in any marketing or sales investment. Sure, you can get lucky and get a sale straight away, or it could take six months. Too many boardrooms aren’t having that discussion. 

However, that doesn’t mean you won’t get any success in that time. You should still be getting some indication that people are going to say yes, even if it’s not right now. This means looking at your metrics, specifically relating to quality and quantity

With quantity, ask if you have reached the critical mass of activity? Are you making enough calls, sending enough emails, connecting with enough people on LinkedIn to support your goals? For quality, read the emails your SDRs are sending. Listen to the conversations they’re having. Is the copy in emails in line with agreed messaging? Are they engaging well when they’re on the phone? Rather than focusing on the outcome, check that the process is in place. Is there continual improvement? When I’m listening to calls, I want to hear an increased level of engagement, confidence, and assertiveness as time goes on. 

Final thoughts

There’s no fast track when it comes to a successful SDR program. It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at it. Statistically speaking, chances are it’s going to be ten weeks before you start to see the results start to climb up. 

Setting the right expectations is essential. If you’re the VP of sales and you’re trying to start an SDR program, telling the board that you’ll get results in three months is just setting yourself up for failure. Instead, view an SDR program as a long-term investment in your sales process. If you’re not in it for six months to a year, then save your money and try something else that’s a shorter term fix. 

If you can commit to an SDR program with the right expectations, you’ll understand that a dip in results is a natural part of the process. You’ll recognize that what’s often seen as failure is usually a valuable learning experience, taking you closer to your goals. As long as you have the right foundation in place, if you’re talking to the right people with the right message on the right channels, then you will get the results you’re looking for. Just be prepared for it to take a little longer than you first though.