Closing a sale is a team sport.
And no factor proves that more than the evolution of sales development representative.
A salesperson doesn’t need to be – and in most cases, shouldn’t be – a lone wolf. The sales development rep and salesperson roles are complementary. Ying and Yang. Salt and pepper. Sonny and Cher.
What once worked well enough singularly now works better in tandem.
How? Every organization’s structure is different, but most that divide the selling process between sales development and salespeople see an increase in conversions. When TOPO, a sales marketing research and advisory firm, looked at its clients over a six-year period, it found those that employed a sales development team converted leads at an exponentially higher rate than those that had just salespeople. In one industry, companies with sales development teams converted 40% of leads while those with just quota-carrying reps converted 5% of leads.
“The case for sales development is extremely compelling,” says Craig Rosenberg, co-founder of TOPO. “The best revenue machines have a sales development group to reach leads, overcome objections, make sure they are a fit, and get them connected to sales teams.“
Sales Development Rep defined
Sales development reps – also known as business development reps – usually qualify leads (both inbound and outbound), identify opportunities, cold call and set appointments for salespeople once the right opportunities arise. They don’t focus on closing business: They focus on the pipeline and keeping it filled.
How do they do it? According to InsideSales.com State of Sales Development study, sales development reps do an average of 93 activities a day. That includes:
- Making 37 phone calls
- Exchanging 36 emails
- Leaving 15 voicemails, and
- Making 8 social media touches.
All that work leads to about 14 meaningful conversations a day – nearly a 15% conversion rate, the study found. The conversions net about 23 appointments per month and 73% of those turn into opportunities passed to salespeople.
It takes sales development reps about 450 activities to close one deal per quarter – quite a journey through the pipeline.
Inbound vs. Outbound Sales Development Reps
Outbound sales development reps often use marketing lists to call and email prospects to qualify them for closers who can spend more time selling to just qualified leads and less – or no – time prospecting. They might spend time locating and researching buyers based on the personas and locations of current customers.
Inbound sales development reps act on contacts – via email, calls, social media networking, etc. – customers make, also qualifying those active prospects for closers.
Both models work well enough: 65% of the opportunities from inbound reps are accepted by salespeople. 75% of opportunities from outbound reps are accepted. But the InsideSales research found that a blended group of inbound and outbound reps is best: 84% of the opportunities passed on from a blended team were accepted by the salespeople.
When the sales development role exists in an organization, the definition of a traditional salesperson changes a bit. They don’t do everything from prospecting to closing.
Instead, salespeople who work in tandem with sales development reps focus on closing and the activities that lead to it. They build relationships, help prospects uncover needs and right-fit solutions, make presentations, demonstrate products, handle objections, draft contracts and ultimately close deals.
The quota-carrying salespeople spend little or no time prospecting, qualifying or cold-calling, focusing their efforts on bringing in revenue.
“Customers can think of a salesperson as someone who is trying to sell something, a supplier with whom they do business, a strategic partner who is of significant importance to their business, or a trusted advisor whose opinions on business and personal matters are sought out – and listened to,” says Steve W. Martin, a sales linguistics researcher and author of The Heavy Hitter Sales series of training books. “Obviously, a trusted advisor enjoys significant advantages over the competing salespeople.”
Evolution of sales development reps
Why did companies incorporate sales development reps into the sales cycle after decades of success with salespeople? Mostly because technology and demand have made it more difficult to find and reach prospects.
You can go back as far as the 1980s, when big-hitters such as Oracle and Salesforce started breaking up the sales process, creating separate roles for the beginning (qualifying and prospecting) and end (meeting and closing) of the cycle.
At first, many organizations used “appointment setters” to handle the front end and “closers” to get the job done. With the rise of data analytics, auto dialers, drip campaigns, email and online browsing, tracking and CRM, companies could marry technology, process and people. They break down roles and tasks where they found necessary while keeping the selling process seamless.
But, looking at sales research and Google trends data, the common term and role of sales development took off around 2011. Now large and small organizations separate the roles of sales development reps and salespeople.
Why it works
Companies that have sales development reps handling the early stages of the sales cycle and salespeople taking over on appointments with well-qualified prospects see a boost in revenue.
According to the Marketo Definitive Guide to Leads Qualification and Sales Development, salespeople who work with sales development reps realize a:
- 5% increase in selling time that yields as much as a 20% increase in revenue
- 1% boost in pipeline value that yields as much as a 25% increase in revenue, and
- 15% decrease in the length of the sales cycle that yields as much as a 30% increase in revenue.
When should an organization divide roles?
How do organizations know if a two-role sales team is right for them?
Aaron Ross, author of Predictable Revenue suggests that once you have a salesperson who can close, hire a sales rep who is dedicated to just generating sales leads for that closer.
Or, if you don’t want to jump in with two feet, follow the 80/20 rule: Once your group of salespeople spends more than 20% of their time on any one secondary function, break that function into a new role.
For instance, if someone’s primary role is to close, and she spends more than 20% of her time qualifying leads, it’s time to consider bringing on a sales development rep to focus on qualifying and setting up appointments.
When should sales development pass the torch?
“The truth is that the vast majority of leads do ‘suck,’” says TOPO’s Rosenberg. “A very good conversion rate is 30% from lead-to-opportunity which means that 70% of the leads contacted won’t turn into anything. Quota-carrying sales reps don’t have the time to expend the effort needed to reach these leads only to find that 70% will turn into nothing. Sales development solves this problem by sending sales only qualified leads ready to talk.”
So the first question is, when?
Every company will have a different moment when a lead moves from sales development to salespeople. But the timing will have one critical thing in common across all industries and companies: It’s the moment the lead turns “sales qualified” as defined by the sales team.
In most cases, several criteria need to be met before development passes the torch, according to researchers at PersistIQ. Sales development reps want to ensure:
- they’re talking to a decision maker
- the prospect has a problem and needs a product or service
- your product or service will solve the problem
- the prospect needs a solution soon, and
- the prospect’s budget and your solution are aligned
The second question is, how?
Sales development reps want to use questions to qualify prospects. Any of these common frameworks work well:
- BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline)
- ANUM (Authority, Need, Urgency, Money), or
- GPCT (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timelines).