Sales Excellence
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11 best practices for sales development teams.

Many sales would never close if it weren’t for the right open. And the right open usually comes out of a highly effective sales development team.

Sales development teams are a monkey-strong engine, pushing leads along the track until account executives can pull the deals to a close.

And seriously, the engine works: When sales development reps are part of the sales cycle, the close rate is 22%, researchers from TOPO found. Salespeople working the pipeline solo don’t usually hit that rate.

But the sales development engine needs to be fine-tuned.

“Train your (sales development reps) to be ‘businesspeople who can sell,’ rather than salespeople,” says Aaron Ross, author of Predictable Revenue, who is often considered the father of sales development. “Not only do they need to have a multi-step outbound sales process that works, they also must be able to have an intelligent conversation with high-level executives, whether via email or phone.”

That’s a giant first leap. Beyond that, here are 11 best practices for building, refining and developing a world-class sales development team.

Build the sales development team

Build from within or bring on new professionals. (Outsourcing is another option, but we’ll stick to in-house here.) Either way, start strong and with a solid vision. Keys:

Optimize size

The TOPO study found the optimal ratio for sales development to account executive is 1:2. If you’re building a team, ramp up. Some salespeople may be reluctant to have development work their leads (at first, anyway).

Hire with coachability in mind

Many companies consider and offer development rep positions as points of entry into their sales program. So many prefer – and have success with – hiring candidates who have two or fewer years experience in sales or their industry for a few reasons. They’re:

  • open to building different and good habits
  • adaptable to the preferred sales methodology, and
  • coachable because they don’t have established habits

Start with a baseline

New sales development reps need to have a set of baseline skills (and you can read more in-depth about each here). Screen for the ability to:

  • build rapport
  • listen actively
  • adapt
  • customize
  • speak with animation
  • think critically
  • manage time
  • be self aware
  • have self control
  • adapt with technology
  • collaborate
  • seek more knowledge
  • work in social media
  • be creative

Don’t rush it

The most effective sales development teams don’t rush through training or put undue quota pressure on new reps.

Start them with tight scripts that are developed through your sales team’s best practices. Give SDRs more freedom from the script once they prove they’ve mastered it.

Ideal ramp-up time is four months,  according to research from InsideSales.com. Streamline the training process with classroom, virtual and hands-on training, plus weekly feedback sessions. For ongoing training and coaching – on everything from new products and services to software updates to sales technique – plan five to six hours a month, TOPO researchers say.

Refine sales development team

Sales development teams need to evolve with an abundance of factors: new products and services; shifting markets; fickle customer preferences; industry regulations; increased quota expectations; internal dynamics: sales funnel shifts; etc.

So the development teams need to assess, progress and refine, too. Seven keys:

Be the bridge

Marketers usually complain salespeople don’t follow up on their leads. Salespeople usually complain marketers don’t give them quality leads. So the teams are at odds.

That’s where sales development saves the day. Sales development reps take the leads from marketing and only pass along those that are sales ready. Some unique qualifying questions that work:

  • What’s prevented you from trying to solve (prospect’s admitted challenge) in the past?
  • What happens if you continue to do nothing about (prospect’s admitted challenge)?
  • Considering the impact this has on you, how much are you willing to invest in the right solution?
  • What are you currently spending on (prospect’s admitted challenge)?
  • How would the decision-making process work when you face a challenge like this?
  • Has your organization ever considered a solution like this?
  • What hurdles do you foresee in adopting the solution to (prospect’s admitted challenge)?
  • What does success look like to you as far as quality and quantity results?
  • Based on what you’ve heard so far, does this seem like a viable solution for you?

Cut qualification criteria

With a sales development team, you can cut the number of criteria to qualify a lead. Authority and need are the most common qualification criteria to be met for a sale to go through, according to the TOPO research.

So the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Time frame), ANUM (Authority, Need, Urgency and Money) and GPCT (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timelines) approaches aren’t as important as qualifying standards for development reps. When you cut the need to uncover budget and an active interest or pending project, you allow sales development to better qualify prospects.

Limit talk time

You’d think the longer SDRs talk with prospects, the more likely they’d convert. Not necessarily, says TOPO research.

Six-to-10 minute calls have a 29% conversion rate. More than 10 minutes: 22% conversion rate. Fewer than five minutes: 16% conversaion rates.

When sales development reps use their time efficiently to qualify and set appointments – by asking concise questions and listening closely – they create value, engage and convert.

Get more social

Sales development reps connect on a personal level with prospects through email and phone calls. But social media is a gateway to making more of those personal connections happen.

Follow and engage with prospects on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (or any social media platform that’s relevant to your industry and prospects). More importantly, offer valuable content – white papers, research, check lists, best practices, tip sheets – through social media that prompts prospects to interact with you. Create short prospecting videos that you can send when leads ask for more information. Post those videos on YouTube and link to them in your social channels.

Track progress

Sales leaders want to track development team performance almost more vigorously than account executive performance. Most organizations use one of the many CRM solutions to track SDRs efficiency and number of calls, emails, meetings and qualified leads. With time and training, those basic numbers should increase.

From there, you want to monitor the quality of their work in the sales process, measured by metrics such as percentage of qualified leads that become paying customers, average deal size and the average time it takes to move customers through the pipeline from lead to closed deal.

Here are seven of the most important metrics to track in a sales development team:

  • Number of outreach attempts. You’ll want to set daily, weekly and monthly goals for outgoing emails, calls and arranged meetings.
  • Response rates. Track how often prospects open and/or respond to those emails, calls and voicemails.
  • Number of sales qualified leads (SQLs). Set weekly and monthly goals for and track the number of solid leads they pass along to account executives.
  • Number of contacts to win. Track the number of contacts (email, call, Skype, etc.) it takes to reach a successful deal.
  • Average deal size. Track this to see how well SDRs areat vetting high- and low-value opportunities, and moving each kind effectively through the pipeline.
  • SQL win rate. Keep track of how many of the qualified lead opportunities are lost or won per month or quarter. This metric also points to the quality of the leads they’re passing along.
  • Share of pipeline volume. Monitor the number and size of deals that come up through the sales development team to track its contribution to the organization’s overall health.

Automate as much as possible

While this story mainly focuses on skills and techniques, we can’t overlook the importance of implementing and using the right technology for sales development. Technology can improve efficiency and help SDRs work at optimal levels.

Most important: Automate as much administrative work as possible. SDRs should touch base with hundreds or thousands of prospects every week – and having to do administrative work for each contact will hinder performance.

Dig deep into your process to identify every step that can be automated, then use as much of the automatic data capture features in your CRM solution.

Likewise, create email templates with a cadence of delivery that’s right for your different types of prospects. As long at the templates are customizable, SDRs can personalize the messages to answer specific questions, respond to objections and add value with marketing content.

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