• April 2, 2024
  • By David Malpass, senior vice president of marketing, Apollo.io

Revolutionizing Sales and Marketing: How AI is Unleashing the Potential of SDRs

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The year 2023 was a wild one—shrinking bottom lines, longer sales cycles, and huge market expectations. The motto “Do more with less” became commonplace as companies conducted deep headcount cuts to stay afloat. The introduction of generative AI further intensified these challenges, with some organizations excelling in adapting to AI while others struggled and failed. In 2024, we will continue to see organizations leaning into AI in order to be more “efficient” in a down market. The question remains: How do we dig deep and commit to aspirational sales goals despite tough economic conditions?

It’s a daunting amount of change, but it can be done through intelligent tweaks designed for our current moment. For example, changing how you leverage your sales development representatives (SDRs) and business development representatives (BDRs). Think back on your career to when you yourself were a junior sales rep. Hungry for more responsibility but saddled with all the mind-numbing administrative work no one else wanted to do.

Today with AI, we can create systems that hand that work off: keeping bright talent engaged and creating efficiencies at every rung on the ladder. By automating routine tasks like prospecting, customer research, and engagement, SDRs can spend their time doing more strategic work. Imagine the time reinvested—and the inherent lead potential—that comes with shifting that work to client relationship building alone.

The way I see it, all these fears around “AI replacing our jobs” is a backward way of viewing things. This is a huge opportunity to enhance our workflows and reinvest those resources into developing the best possible product for the AI era.

The Evolving Role of the SDR

We all know the SDR of yesteryear—endless database hunting, cold emailing, background researching, and hours spent supporting more senior salespeople. But that’s changing. Gartner’s sales skills guide recommends companies integrate technology just as they would a full-time member of the sales team. With generative AI, that’s never been easier. Companies are unlocking the benefits of AI like delegating low-value tasks to AI and giving SDRs work that drives the business. For instance, SDRs can personalize their communication with potential clients instead of sending generic email blasts or cold calling. They can also automate note taking and action items coming out of client meetings, freeing up their time to better support their sales leader in presentation building, for example.

The Opportunity

Adaptation to AI is essential to produce real results that move the needle across every sector of the business. I know, because we’ve done it. Here at Apollo, we used our own AI-powered platform to scale the business. How? By automating prioritization and personalization, learning from our vast, living data network and buyer intent data. With this approach we have generated more than 2,000 leads in a down year without increasing our sales headcount or burning time on writing and following up on emails. As a result, our sales team can focus on what sales do best: building relationships. One of the best parts about this whole model is that it shows “adapting for the AI era” doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to throw out your entire business model and start over. You can start by rethinking just one staffing model and reap the benefits of each change as you go.

The other great thing with leveraging AI is the positive outcomes we’ve seen with employee retention and recruitment costs. By redirecting our junior employees to more thoughtful, strategic work, we’ve seen employee morale improve and reduced turnover rates compared to industry averages.

That’s not just a “Wow, that’s nice” result. It’s had huge impacts for our leadership team. Krishan Patel, our VP of Product, was employee No. 7 when he joined Apollo as an SDR in 2017. Over the past seven years, he’s grown within the company and built our Product and Growth functions from the ground up. Krishan also famously led the charge behind Apollo’s transition from a sales-led motion to product-led. Looking back, all of these changes have resulted in 9x annual recurring revenue growth since 2021. Today, Krishan is one of our longest-serving team members, and a perfect example of the benefits of empowering your people to achieve their career goals.

With these efficiencies and improved retention, we’re staying ahead of the “AI adaptation curve” by reinvesting into our product teams. Last year, we invested 60 percent of our revenue back into our product, reinvested our recruitment savings, and used staffing efficiencies to cross-train sales and product pros like Krishan. With this approach, we’ve managed to keep all the best parts of a sales-led model while growing into the product-led model that helped us achieve 427 badges in G2's Winter 2024 Report with 100 percent customer satisfaction. And the best part? It’s allowed us to stay at the front of the pack in the sales industry—committed to an always evolving product suite that exceeds consumer demands for AI-driven GTM solutions.


Let’s get to brass tacks: how to implement this in your business. It’s as simple as following these steps:

  1. Prioritize one-on-one meetings with your senior and junior sales staff to find tasks ripe for automation. Ask yourself where your team spends most of their time and what pain points might affect retention. Focus on automating repetitive tasks such as annual reporting, email drafting and sending, and contact information research.
  2. Research and select an AI tool specifically designed for these tasks. Then, work closely with your procurement and leadership teams to fully understand the tool. And most importantly, don’t keep those conversations isolated. Include your people managers and division leads. Include young and promising leaders in your junior ranks to get everyone on board and make sure adoption is quick and easy.
  3. If you need to do additional product education, do it! Provide demos or product walk-throughs and be sure to emphasize different benefits depending on the employee you’re talking to—i.e., time saved for people managers, the ability to focus on bigger and better things for junior staffers, and better-quality leads for senior leadership.
  4. Then collaborate with everyone involved—people managers, leadership, and HR—to determine how you can train your SDRs for this change. Define the new ways you’ll measure performance, and new metrics and incentive systems that prioritize key outcomes rather than individual inputs.
  5. Keep in mind that AI is like having a skilled co-pilot; it requires a human in the loop to steer the ship. Recognize that the main challenge in adopting AI is not technology access, but rather finding people with the necessary skills and capacity to implement and optimize the program.

2023 was a rough year for many businesses, and the same challenges exist in 2024. But if we can look at this moment as an opportunity for intelligent adaptation and growth through AI, we can create better systems. We can more effectively manage teams and give SDRs the opportunity to cement their own legacy in the tech world. To reach those results it’s a near requirement to tap into your org’s “secret sauce:” to work with your teams in a way that empowers them. Eliminate mundane tasks, reinvest in your people, and prioritize the strategic work that aligns with both your team and the company's goals.

David Malpass is the senior vice president of marketing at Apollo.io, an intelligent go-to-market solution trusted by over 500,000 companies and millions of users globally. David has more than 15 years of experience in SaaS marketing, driving brand and product marketing and demand generation strategies, as well as building highly functioning B2B marketing teams.

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