The Battle of the SDRs

There is a coming battle that will define how companies approach Account Based Everything.

Who owns the SDR function?

First, in case anyone is confused, some definition:

Sales Development Representatives (sometimes called Business Development Reps) are typically junior employees, often right out of college, who qualify accounts against a number of criteria such as budget, buying authority and company fit. The SDR job is to make sure that senior account executives don’t waste their time on poor opportunities. The ability to focus the attention on achievable deals is the life-blood of the sales person. The SDR is supposed filter out all of the bad deals.

It used to be clear that marketing and sales had easy definitions. Marketing talked to “audiences” and sales talked to “individuals”. However, marketing automation tools allowed marketing to get pretty specific on messages to small segments. Plus, sales has started to gain technology that allows them to scale their 1:1 activity to larger segments. In other words, the two departments are getting harder and harder to distinguish.


Additionally, SDRs have been asked to generate new leads, which is the bread and butter of marketing. If I were the Head of Demand Generation in marketing, I would sure as heck want to manage the SDR group if they were tasked with generating new accounts. It doesn’t make sense to have two different departments sending emails to people for the purpose of generating a marketing qualified account.

Thus, the battle: Should SDRs be managed by sales where they are primarily qualifiers of MQAs from marketing? or should they report to Marketing, where they participate in Tier 1 and Tier 2 demand generation? Is it worth disconnecting messaging in outbound SDR emails from other marketing channels?

Over the past 10 years, SDRs have been switching their org position to Marketing, Sales and even as a stand-alone group. Each model has pros and cons. For example: SDRs reporting to sales might makes sense because the SDRs graduate and often become full-fledged sales reps.


However, now is the time to choose sides. I believe that marketing has built up the skills and techniques to make the most out of the SDR group. The department mandate should be:

  1. Qualify incoming accounts to ensure good leads to sales
  2. Be the primary players in plays designed to cultivate target accounts (outbound)
  3. Keep branding/messaging consistent between marketing channels through to the sales handoff

If the SDR group remains in sales (or standalone) and continues to scale based on new technologies they will inevitably lose connection with marketing and messaging. Marketers will lose control of the medium and the message. I think it will become chaotic and also diminish the effectiveness and impact (and morale) of the marketing department. This battle is where marketing will win or lose the next 10 years. They need to realize that this battle won’t fight itself. It needs advocacy and technology. Plays need to be designed and marketing needs to evolve.

Choosing to do nothing in this battle is a choice. One that will have real consequences for the future of marketing.

Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger is the Head of Growth at Engagio, the Account-Based Marketing and Sales platform that enables teams to measure account engagement and orchestrate human connections at scale. He is passionate about the intersection between tech and psychology, especially as it applies to growing businesses. You can follow him on twitter @brandon_lee_09 or connect with him on LinkedIn.

4 Responses to “The Battle of the SDRs”

June 28, 2016 at 8:41 pm, Zahra Ardehali said:

Thanks for the article. I do not think the battle or issue is about where the function should reside, sales or marketing; it’s rather about how seamless the process and hand-offs are. The coordination of tasks and follow ups are the key; it should be a synchronized process that would enforce sales and marketing to work even more closely. In addition, your point about when SDRs are tasked to generate new leads and accounts is a good one that needs to be looked at very closely, since you do not want to overlap what marketing is already doing.


June 28, 2016 at 11:31 pm, Glen Lipka said:

Good points @Zahra. I do believe that for many organizations the hand-off, culture and priorities change depending on the org chart. In a perfect company, department should be irrelevant, but I think in most cases it does makes a difference.


July 05, 2016 at 1:12 pm, Trish Bertuzzi said:

So… in reality there is only one question to ask regarding where the SDR team should report. Here it is… “Who has the bandwidth, passion and expertise to lead this team?” Answer that question and the decision is easy.

PS – thanks for using a graphic from our 2016 SDR Metrics and Compensation Report!


August 24, 2017 at 10:33 pm, Joe Schwartz said:

Right on Trish. Well said, and couldn’t be more true.


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