Imagine you’re starting your sales team from scratch.

What’s your first move?

Chris Fago has had to answer that question not once, but twice – first, as SDR Team Founder at Mobile Labs, and later at cybersecurity firm RedLock. And it turns out, building a team looks very different from the inside than it does from the outside.

Now a Cloud Inside Sales Manager at Palo Alto Networks, Chris took a few minutes to tell us about his first moves, what life is like on the founding side of a sales team, and how he picks the tools he trusts the most.

What was it like building an SDR team from the ground up, twice over?

Both instances were completely opposite scenarios.

When I was at Mobile Labs, the goal was to bring in a sales development team to try and jumpstart the sales funnel. They had done the account executive model, and it worked for a couple of years, but like all good things, like our stock market, things don't go up forever.

With RedLock, it was the opposite. We had received our series A. We had less than 10 customers. We were really just trying to see what we could do with all that white space because everything was new.

What's different about founding an SDR team vs. joining or managing one that already exists?

Anybody should be able to join a team and execute on the plays that they have and be fairly successful as long as they put in the time. But if you are the first hire, you have to essentially craft the go-to-market strategy for outbound.

Being a founder just means you have to build and then execute. You don't just get to walk in and say, "Here's your pitch. Here's a couple cadences, and email templates, and a phone script." Everything had to be figured out from who to target at the account level, who to target at the persona level, and what to say to these people.

Thinking about the order of operations for investing in tools, where would you start?

If you're starting a brand new team, you really have to line up how you're going to tell your story, and that's in both phone and email. You've got to figure out, "How do I start attacking my personas and how do I want to proceed from a metric standpoint?"  

At the bare minimum, you've got to get your activity tools together. We were call heavy. Having a power dialer means we probably call six times more than we email, but if you can't afford that, you have to have a different strategy. Maybe you email more or you do physical mail or you do video.

What questions should organizations ask themselves to make sure they’re buying the right tools – and that employees are using them?

We need to look inward and say, "Who on my team is going to use this tool? Who is going to adopt it?” I feel like we buy more tools than we adopt. If you have 25% to 30% adoption rate, it means you're just throwing money away.

You have to tier them out. You have your tools that are organizationally required; Salesforce, Slack, whatever your meeting tool is. It doesn’t matter what your role is, you have to use them to some degree.

From a sales perspective, the team members should be the ones helping you decide what to evaluate. They should drive the conversation. The adoption needs to be driven by the team and not by the management.

Further, I actually believe most SaaS sales tools should be selected based on usage and need - if you can get a single seat because one person wants it and will use it then let them prove it’s worth before expanding it to your whole team.

What has you excited or worried about automation on your sales teams?

There's a lot more fear mongering than I think needs to happen. I don't think that the SDR is going to be replaced, at least not for a while. I'm talking like 20 years. Even when you automate in-bound, it still requires supervision. There are still people you have to stay on top of even if you do completely automate the process.

AI technology is all about using it to your advantage while you can. Whatever the AI tool is that you're looking at, you have to look past the basic premise and then figure out how you can outsmart it. If it's one-click personalization, great. If it populates a sentence that says, "Hey Mike, I understand you know French and Spanish," maybe write your subject line in French. That's one step ahead of the AI, but it helped you do your homework.


Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

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