In the beginning, there was sales. For a long time, it was as simple as that.
Salespeople would work their Rolodex and run the full sales process with just one goal: ABC, Always Be Closing.
However, the idea that one role can address all the complexities of modern sales has changed. Over recent years, the Sales Development role has exploded in popularity, spreading from Silicon Valley companies to sales organizations of all types and sizes.
With the advent of Software as a Service, the importance of dividing the sales team into three parts—Sales Development, Account Executives and Customer Success—gained viability.
Sales Development finds new leads and follows-up on inbounds, Account Executives close deals, and Customer Success ensures the customers never cancel their subscription.
The success of companies such as Salesforce.com and myriad of others has proven out the Sales Development model.
Quite simply, Sales Development is the dedicated practice of creating sales pipeline for your company through proactive outreach to prospective customers and of following up on inbound leads created by your marketing efforts. Instead of a single sales rep handling everything, it divides the job into specialities.
While that may seem simple, we're still seeing confusion in the Sales Development industry, with a lack of clarity on what’s actually involved and lack of expertise on how to implement it effectively.
In this post, we'll cover everything you need to know about Sales Development, from what it is to how you can build it successfully into your organization.
What is Sales Development?Sales Development covers the early stages of the sale. From researching potential prospects to carrying out the initial lead and ultimately generating sales-qualified leads (SQLs).
In Sales Development, the people responsible for carrying out this work are Sales Development Representatives (SDRs). In many sales organizations, they sit between marketing and sales, in some cases reporting to Sales, in some cases Marketing.
Their job is to carry out those early-stage sales tasks, with responsibility for prospecting and qualifying. In a nutshell, their job is to maintain a full pipeline of qualified leads for the sales team.
Depending on their exact role, they’ll either take inbound marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) from Marketing (for example, those who’ve engaged with content), or they’ll go looking for leads themselves.
In either case, they’ll reach out to those leads with the objective of qualifying the lead ready for the sales team. This might involve a variety of channels, tools, and strategies. While the traditional idea is of a rep working the phones, today they are as likely to be sending emails, recording videos, or sending connection requests on LinkedIn.
Is the lead a good fit? Are they interested? The SDR will follow up with the lead, usually with the objective of priming them and booking a meeting. At this point, they’ll then hand them over to an Account Executive (AE) as a qualified lead.
To be clear, SDRs carry out a very different function to AEs. AEs will usually be involved in the tail-end of the sales process, getting the SQL across the finish line and signing the contract. The SDR sets up the deal, the AE closes it.
SDRs are also different from Business Development Reps (BDRs), although some companies use the term interchangeably.
BDRs usually have the objective of identifying new markets and making connections with businesses in that market. The SDR job is more focused on finding and qualifying inbound leads.
Of note: “Sales Development” in this context is sometimes called “Business Development”, which is confusing because Business Development is also the specialty of forging strategic partnerships with complementary companies for integration and cross-selling purposes, something totally different than Sales Development. For this article I'm talking about Sales Development, as defined above. Sales Development Reps (SDRs) are alternatively called Business Development Reps, Lead Development Reps, Account Development Reps, Revenue Development Reps, or a plethora of other creative terms.
Benefits of a Sales Development programDon’t all these different terms and roles just confuse matters? Why do we need all these different job functions?
For a start, connecting with prospects requires time and resources. Having a team of SDRs allows your sales team to keep a tight focus on specific objectives. This focus means they can use different playbooks and receive training that’s specifically tailored to their tasks.
In their State of Sales report, Pipedrive found that only 62% of salespeople spend most of their time actually selling. By having SDRs who stick to prospecting and qualifying, sales reps can spend more of their time getting leads signed up and closing deals. As an entry-level position, a dedicated Sales Development team means you’re not paying your top closers top dollar for the job, saving you time and money.
SDRs also have the opportunity to contribute to strong prospect relationships. As the first point of contact that a prospect has with your company, they can make a good first impression on your prospects, for example by quickly responding to any inbound interest.
With their clear objective, SDRs have the freedom to experiment and expand how they achieve that goal. They can try different channels and approaches, from the traditional calls and emails to newer avenues, such as video messages, on-site chat, and SMS. In turn, leadership can work on standardized processes, creating playbooks of best practices for the role.
Importantly, today’s SDRs are often tomorrow's sales managers, AEs, and Customer Success leaders. The role is used by many companies to identify and develop sales talent that they can use throughout their organization in key roles.
Implementing Sales Development in your organizationSales Development is powerful, but it isn’t a magic bullet. You can’t just hire a few SDRs and expect to get amazing results. It needs to be set up correctly to be beneficial.
One of the first steps is to determine what kind of Sales Development program you need. For example, who is the ideal customer for your product? Will SDRs have to deal with the C-suite at enterprise companies, with multiple decision-makers needed to approve the budget? Will they be relying exclusively on MQLs, or will you need SDRs to go out looking for leads?
With a better idea of your requirements, you can start hiring. It’s a good idea to start by employing a sales manager with Sales Development experience to build and lead the team. The right leader will know what to look for in new hires, and how to train them to get the best results.
Alternatively, you may decide to outsource the Sales Development process entirely. With the right leadership in place, you’re ready to start recruiting the talent.
Top Sales Development skillsWhile everyone would like to bring on experienced SDRs, the reality is that anyone with several years of experience as an SDR has most likely moved on to a more senior position. Instead, it’s likely you’ll have to create a program that identifies the key skills, then nurtures that talent with additional training. Skills to look out for include:
Communication. Whether it’s sending a video message or jumping on a phone call, SDRs spend a large amount of time talking with prospects. On the one hand, that means being able to clearly and confidently get their message across while overcoming objections. However, it’s even more important that they’re able to listen. Paying attention to what the prospect does (and doesn’t) say is key to identifying their most pressing concerns and determining whether or not your product/service is a good fit.
Detail orientated. SDRs need to pay attention to the details, whether that’s product knowledge or prospect information. This enables them to confidently explain how your product/service can specifically help a prospect, rather than offering vague features and benefits. This also comes in handy when updating the CRM, ensuring all relevant parties have access to all the necessary information.
Discipline. If an SDR lacks self-discipline and motivation to carry on making calls and emails, they won’t succeed. To get the best results, an SDR needs to be capable of using their time wisely and getting on with the job, even when their manager isn’t looking over their shoulder. Being an SDR isn’t an easy job, and it takes persistence to keep on going despite hearing ‘no’ more times than you thought possible.
Solution-focused. The best SDRs are always looking for solutions, both for their prospects and themselves. For example, being able to quickly assess a prospect’s situation and provide genuinely helpful advice increases trust and perceived value, demonstrating that the SDR has their best interests in mind. At the same time, your SDR needs to be creative and resourceful when overcoming unexpected objections. While your SDRs should have a playbook to use, they should also be resourceful enough to think on their feet and find new solutions.
The SDR processOnce you have your SDR team in place with the right skills, what do they need to do? The process typically looks something like this:
1) Confirm your ideal customer profiles and buyer personas
If you’ve been following along, you should have already given serious consideration to your ideal customers when you were planning out your Sales Development strategy. Now you need to make sure you know every last detail. For your SDRs to do their job, they’ll need to know exactly who they’re looking for, and how your product/service helps them. For effective targeting and outreach, your SDRs need to know everything from job title to company size, from pain points to product fit.
2) Align sales and marketing
It sounds simple. Just four little words. But aligning marketing and sales can be an overwhelming challenge. When it’s working well, Sales Development can help. However, it’s important that both departments are on the same page, which starts with agreeing on what exactly an MQL and SQL look like. That way, SDRs will be approaching the right prospects, and passing on the right leads to the sales team.
3) Establish clear roles and processes
As with any job, the SDR needs to know exactly what’s expected of them. Many companies find it handy to separate the inbound and outbound functions, as they require different skills and approaches. In either case, having a documented and repeatable step-by-step process, with guidance on how to find and engage with the right prospects, makes it much more likely that your SDRs will succeed. Think about the whole process, from start to finish, covering how your SDRs should find prospects, what channels they should use, how they should follow up, and so on.
4) Hand over qualified leads to the AEs
The SDR’s last step is to hand over SQLs to the AEs. Along with a full understanding of what makes a SQL (see step two), you’ll need to make sure the handover is as seamless as possible for the lead. Again, have a documented process that covers the process to prevent leads falling out of the funnel. This is one of the reasons a CRM is so useful, as it helps all relevant parties keep track of leads and their details.
Building a Sales Development tech stackIn this modern age of sales, you can’t just hand an SDR a phone and a copy of the Yellow Pages and expect good results. Rather, you need to equip them with the specific tools necessary to do their job to the best of their ability.
Advances in AI and technology means that a large number of mundane and repetitive tasks can now be automated. The right software will save significant time and allow your reps to focus on high touch activities that provide more value to the prospect. While there are many different types of tools you can use, the most important categories are:
Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) software. SDRs spend a large amount of time in the company's CRM, managing leads, and making sure prospect information is up to date, accurately reflecting where they are in the buyer journey. Popular examples include:
Data sources. Whether it’s learning more about MQLs or identifying new prospects, SDRs need a reliable and comprehensive source of information to do their job. Rather than having to waste time trying to search for businesses on Google, the best data tools bring all the information together so that it’s easy to filter the results and find everything you need to know about your next prospect. Popular examples include:
Outreach tools. If your SDR is sending out emails from their inbox or manually dialing each prospect, it’s time to upgrade. As well as allowing you to dramatically scale up your outreach, using dedicated software enables you to see how you’re performing, from tracking email opens to analyzing phone calls to identify best practices. Popular examples include:
Sales Development training and tacticsEven with the right skills and tools, your SDRs need more direction than just being told to get on with it. They need the right training to build up those skills, with instruction in the best practices so they can be confident from the very first call.
Scripts. Your SDRs should never pick up the phone or start writing an email without knowing what they’re going to say. While over-reliance on templates can lead to awkward conversations, they’re still a good place for your SDRs to start from. Rather than facing the horror that is a blank page, you should provide them with scripts and templates that cover the essential points, from key questions to how to ask for the appointment.
Then, encourage them to personalize the outreach, both to prospect but also to their own individual style. Don’t have any scripts or templates? Start by breaking down the high-performing messages you’re already using.
Role play. No matter how well trained an SDR is, the first time they make a call is likely to be a stressful experience. Help them overcome their fears and get used to the idea of talking on the phone by role playing. Mock calls give them a chance to work through any anxiety and help you spot potential problems in their delivery before they ever talk with a customer. Run them through the most common objections, then throw the odd unexpected question in. By gaining confidence with mock calls, they’ll be more comfortable when they move on to the real thing.
Playbook. Once you have enough information gathered and have mapped your SDR process, pull the information into a Sales Development Playbook. The playbook can be a digital document put into Google Docs, use a specific software program, or even a paper-based binder. The important thing is to get everything together into one document so you can have a first version to start improving it.
If you’re struggling to find time to build a Playbook or regularly carry out training for your SDRs, you might find it’s worth outsourcing this to a reputable sales coach.
Monitoring the right metricsTo find out if the SDRs you hire are doing a good job or not, you need to establish what metrics you’ll be using to measure performance. Specifically, you need to measure their activity and their results.
Activities refer to how your SDRs are spending their time. For example, how many calls are they making each day? How much time are they spending on those calls? How many emails are they sending?
Results. SDR success is normally based on the number of meetings they’re able to book. It’s their main objective, so it makes sense to use this as a KPI rather than holding them a quota of closed sales.
However, there are other metrics you should consider. For example, look at the metrics relating to their outreach. What’s the positive response rate? How many calls does it take on average for the SDR to book one meeting? How much pipeline are they generating compared to other SDRs? How are they converting?
You should also look at the quality of the leads they’re generating, using metrics such as average deal size. While an SDR isn’t responsible for closed sales, it’s useful to track how many SQLs go on to become paying customers. If it’s too high, it’s likely that the SDR is reaching out to prospects that aren’t a good fit.
ConclusionAs Sales Development has grown in popularity, it’s become an essential part of the modern sales organization. However, to get the full benefits, it has to be properly implemented. With the right underlying processes in place, by hiring the right team with the necessary skills, and by providing them with the right tools and training, you can enjoy more appointments, more pipeline, and more sales.
If you’re looking for ways to set up a Sales Development program or improve your existing process, contact us at Tenbound today for a no-obligation exploratory call.
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