5 Keys to Starting an Effective Sales Development Team

Posted by Doug Davidoff

May 9, 2016 12:00:00 PM

Effective-sales-development-team.jpgOne of the hottest trends in sales today is the utilization of sales development as a key tactic in growth. This is no surprise (we predicted it here almost 18 months ago), as the need for focused prospecting is becoming increasingly crucial to sustain, let alone accelerate profitable growth.

Sales development takes the traditional inside sales function that existed for years, and raises the game by integrating other tactics and increasing the specialization of the role, focusing exclusively on prospecting. Some teams focus on pure appointment setting for account executives, while other approaches focus on generating true sales qualified leads (SQLs).

Done properly sales development increases not only the velocity and volume of leads generated, but enhances the performance of the new sales team as well. We’ve been at the forefront of this trend with our programs that provide outsourced sales development services as well as in helping companies design the process for themselves.


Download our guide - How to Effectively Hire Sales Development Representatives - here to learn what it takes to build your own team of SDRs.


An indication of this trend is highlighted by the fact that three years ago we used to have to spend significant time explaining to companies what sales development is, and why it’s a viable strategy; to today where we are regularly encountering organizations that are already trying to figure it out on their own.

This trend represents good news and bad. It’s good that more and more growth oriented companies are opening up to changing their current approaches to adopt new process that are proved to work. It’s bad news, because increasingly we’re seeing people jump to the tactic of sales development without spending the necessary time to fully understand it and make the changes necessary for it to work.

Implementing sales development is a smart decision for a growing number of businesses, in a growing number of industries. However, it is by no means easy to be successful. It requires commitment, discipline and, yes, a meaningful investment of energy and money. Simply hiring someone to “work the phones,” and send out emails is not a recipe for success.

Over the years, we’ve developed some important keys to creating an effective function. Here are five of the most important ones (you can learn more as well as get a sample job description and interview questions in our How to Effectively Hire Sales Development Representatives guide).

1. Be clear on why you’re doing this

I get it, you want more sales. You’ve been reading blogs and you’re hearing everyone involved in scaling a business talk about sales development. It just makes sense to jump on the bandwagon and hire a SDR yourself. Not so fast.

Sales development works because of the impact of specialization. Having someone or a team dedicated to proactive prospecting allows your new sales team to focus on managing the actual sales process for qualified prospects.

However, specialization has a significant downside if you don’t work to fully build out the process to manage the potential gaps that exist when you move to such an approach. Additionally, you’ll typically have a young, inexperienced rep making first impressions to high-value, experienced leads and prospects.

These challenges (and others) can certainly be managed, but it takes a significant effort to do so. Sales development is a bad choice if you’ve got poor lead generation or an ineffective demand generation strategy. You need clearly defined personas, a strong message and the content to resonate with prospects. If you don’t have these in place, sales development is not where you should start.

2. Don’t mix job functions

It’s very tempting, especially if you’re just hiring your first SDR. After all, you may not even need a full-time prospector. So you decide to have your new (or existing) SDR handle the entire sales process for small opportunities. Or maybe (and please don’t do this) you feel like the SDR could help out with some marketing tasks.

It’s tempting, but resist. Sales development is a tough job. My friend and industry expert, John Barrows, says it’s the toughest job in sales. While I think that’s an overstatement, I agree it’s hard work. It’s virtually impossible if their focus is split.

An effective SDR is going to make 60 - 100 calls a day, have 11 - 17 conversations and is going to deal with a lot of resistance in the process. When you ask them to do other things, their efficiency and effectiveness will both drop. Sales development is a full-time mindset. Mixing the job creates complexity and drags performance.

If you’re not ready to commit at least one person to full-time sales development, you’d be better off outsourcing the function (disclosure:  Imagine provides sales development outsourcing services).

3. The crucial importance of process

Sales development is a high volume, process driven discipline. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in building out sales development programs is the absolute, critical importance of process. While in the traditional sales process a good salesperson can overcome an average or even poor process, the opposite is true with sales development.

The process should be documented in a living, breathing sales development playbook. You can read more about creating a playbook here, or you can download our Sales Development Playbook Workbook.

4. Data, Data, Data

I’ve got a bone to pick with the sales world in general. Far too many decisions are made by observation or gut, when data should be what drives decisions. This is especially true in sales development, where you must track and monitor everything. Emails, scripts, lists, soundbites...everything.

An effective sales development effort is always being tweaked. You’re constantly testing variations and approaches. If you don’t have the discipline to stay on top of the data, sales development is not for you.

Additionally, the data must be shared. Good SDRs are competitive and tend to be a bit headstrong. They must constantly know the score to stay motivated. SDRs also need constant feedback; both to learn from the results of their actions and to see what works and what doesn’t.

5. Glorify the role

This is probably the biggest challenge companies with small and one-person SDR teams have. SDRs are competitive. To stay motivated, they have to feel like they’re winning. They need to be heros.

It’s far too easy to complain about a lead that shouldn’t have been passed on and to overlook SQLs that are created, while celebrating the salespeople who close sales. It is important that you celebrate and glorify the role of an SDR. You must constantly remind them of the important work they do and to show your appreciation for how they contribute to success.

Always be looking to create short-term and long-term incentives to keep them motivated and tie compensation to the results they can control.

We’re (obviously) big fans of the sales development trend. If you’re ready to step up with the resources and commitment, and combine the right people with the right process, there are few things you can do to create more momentum for growth.

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