The Ultimate Guide to Sales Development

Converting people into customers used to be simpler.

Marketing was responsible for lead generation and building interest in a product. Sales would then pick up the baton and close deals.

But things have changed.

Marketing, driven largely by traffic goals, developed all sorts of techniques to build inbound interest and send leads pouring in— but this increase in traffic also increased the quantity of low-quality leads.

Sales has always been driven by quotas, cold calling, cold emailing, and so on. They are often busy and distracted, working to prioritize and qualify prospects—which means they leave some leads out in the cold.

So, we have a problem: Marketing asks why Sales isn't following up on all their leads. And Sales wonders why Marketing is sending them shitty leads.

Luckily, there's a solution. Enter sales development, the bridge between marketing and sales that can close gaps in your buyer journey and help both departments focus on the right prospects, turning more of them into paying customers.

What is Sales Development?

Sales development is a process that identifies potential leads and qualifies them so that sales teams know who to target. The goal is to bridge the gap between marketing and sales and reduce the time spent chasing low-quality leads.

Translation? Sales development reduces the time wasted on useless leads. Successful marketing campaigns bring in leads, but that’s only productive if those leads turn into customers.

The sales development process focuses on tactics like lead scoring and lead distribution to narrow down targeting. Lead scores rank prospects depending on their readiness to buy, while lead distribution spreads the workload across your team.

Sales Development Vs. Business Development: What’s the Difference?

In most organizations, sales development is handled by a team of trained Sales Development Representatives (SDRs), also referred to as Business Development Representatives (BDRs).

While there can be some overlap between sales and business development, there are some key differences to consider. BDRs focus on broad sales efforts like entering new markets, building connections to new business, and finding qualified leads. Meanwhile, SDRs are in the trenches, qualifying existing leads and pushing them through your sales funnel.

As the gears of the sales machinery turn, each representative plays a distinct role in the sales process. However, the ultimate objective remains constant: to contribute collectively towards the company's mission of closing deals and achieving success.

Just as understanding the nuances of total contract value aids in optimizing revenue potential, recognizing the unique strengths of BDRs and SDRs bolsters the overall effectiveness of the sales function, ensuring a streamlined path towards business growth and prosperity.

4 Reasons Why Sales Development Is Essential to Your Business

Sales development is more than just a buzzword.

Instead, sales development improves how your team approaches prospects—smoothing out the process, and increasing closing rates. To be blunt, a startup or SMB that does not have sales development in place will fall behind.

That's because sales development can:

  1. Improve response times and increase conversions: According to HBR, companies that respond to leads within an hour are 7 times more likely to convert leads to sales. Sales development makes this reality, as a team of well-trained SDRs can use a mix of email, SMS, and phone calls to connect with prospects ASAP.
  2. Increase ROI from sales reps: Without the right tools, reaching customers can take up huge amounts of time and resources. Heck, it takes an average of 18 dials just to connect with a buyer! Quota-carrying sales reps don’t have the time to follow up with leads across multiple digital channels. A sales development process can speed this up (or even put it on autopilot.)
  3. Improve relationships with prospects: Customers want to be sold to. And they want to feel like the only prospect on your radar. Your SDRs are the face of your company and, armed with the right attitude and content, they can deliver the personalized experience prospects want.
  4. Supercharge marketing: Marketing teams need data to improve their campaigns, but sales reps are busy. They can forget to update important information. With the right tools, like a sales CRM, all of this is tracked automatically, reducing the time sales reps spend updating customer databases. This gives marketing the information they need to optimize campaigns and target the right prospects.

If you don’t already have a process in place, you're probably kicking yourself right about now. But don’t worry—you can start today. Let's discuss what it takes.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Successful Sales Development Process

On paper, sales development teams sit smack bang between your sales and marketing teams. But how successfully the team brings quality prospects into your sales funnel will boil down to their leadership and training—not their spot on the org chart.

First, you need to put a basic sales development plan together so you know who to hire, and what tools you should invest in.

1. Map Out Your Sales Process

How does a typical prospect go from a curious window shopper to a paying customer?

If you have to think about it too long, you don't really know shit about your buyer’s journey. And having a solid understanding of your buyer's journey is the only way to map out a realistic sales development process.

We all know that someone looking at your website is in a completely different headspace than a prospect who has signed up for a free demo and reached out to a sales rep. That's why you must consider how to score leads based on their sales-readiness. The easiest way is to split them into two camps:

  • MQLs: A lead that has engaged with content and is ready for a sales conversation is called a marketing qualified lead (MQL).
  • SQLs: A sales qualified lead (SQL) has been researched and vetted by both marketing and sales and is ready for the next step in the sales process.

Once you know where leads fit into your sales journey, it's easier to allocate them to the right department—so they don't slip through the cracks.

Want to improve lead conversion? Check out our guide on MQL vs. SQL.

2. Hire the Right People (and Invest in Training)

I'll dig deeper into this point soon. But hiring the right sales reps is arguably the most important step in any sales development process.

Failing to hire the right SDR and train them properly is often the barrier blocking the path to success for sales development teams. While product training is important, there are some key training components to an SDR’s success:

  • The buyer and the buying experience: Every SDR needs to be trained on their target buyer and how they buy. They also need training on how to identify where the buyer is in the buying experience, so they can determine whether the prospect is ready to go to sales.
  • Situational plays: Train the team on a sequential set of plays that inside sales reps can execute, based on what the buyer says on the phone.
  • Objection handling: The objections faced by a quota-carrying sales rep are not the same as those an SDR deals with. Sales typically deals with feature, price, and other sales cycle objections. SDRs are trying to convince a potential buyer to talk with a quota-carrying sales rep.
  • Messaging sound bites: Sales development has two to five minutes to generate interest and turn the prospect into a qualified lead. They need compelling, concise sound bites for your value proposition and solutions (describe your company and why you are different in under 30 seconds).
  • Closing techniques and scenarios: Closing is not just for revenue-generating sales reps, but also for SDRs. The difference is: SDRs need training on how to close a prospect on an appointment or meeting.

Training should include an easy-to-read playbook that SDRs can reference later, and leaders should coach reps in group sessions—as well as one-on-ones. But again, this step will only help your team become successful if you hire the right people in the first place.

3. Set Realistic Goals Using Data

Next, decide how you will set goals for your sales development team.

Forecasting is a critical part of the process, because it will help keep your SDRs informed and in-sync. It finds trends in your target market and helps your team anticipate any changes so you can prepare and overtake your competition.

Accurate forecasting starts with good data. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Individual and team sales goals: What are your team’s success metrics? Review your top and attainable sales goals, and make sure they support your overall sales strategy.
  • A detailed sales process: Top-performing sales teams know how to move prospects down the sales funnel—and how long it will take, what their bandwidth is, and how to repeat the process consistently. Without steady numbers, it’s impossible to generate accurate forecasts.
  • Standardized definitions of leads, opportunities, and closes: As your organization grows, it gets difficult to keep people aligned. Don’t underestimate how quickly different definitions can develop for common terms. Everyone needs to be speaking the same language.
  • In-depth data: We're talking about the low-down on product costs, expenses, and potential market or price fluctuations. It’s never entirely possible to predict how each factor will impact your business, but make best guesses and look to history to provide some ballpark numbers.
  • Financial information: Businesses are simple things— money comes in, and money goes out. Get the specifics on where and how the money is flowing so you can build an accurate model that will help you plan for the future.

With all this data in hand, it's easier to estimate future sales, plan for growth, and anticipate problems before they happen.

4. Put Your Sales Development Plan Into Motion

Once you have the right team in place, and a strategy for them to follow, you’re ready to press "play."

A successful sales development plan is a self-sufficient one. SDRs won't ever wonder what their goals are, or which prospects they should talk to—it's laid out for them (and tweaked, as necessary).

Let's take a closer look at how to nail step two in the process: Hiring the right people.

Curious about the buzz around challenger selling? Dive into our comprehensive guide.

5 Steps to Build an Effective Sales Development Team

One of the first and most important decisions you’ll make as you build your sales development process is this: Getting the right team in place.

Here are the most common roles you’ll fill in a sales development team:

  • Outbound sales development representatives: Outbound sales development representatives (SDRs) play a pivotal role in an effective sales strategy, and incorporating appropriate outbound sales tools can amplify their impact even further. Their goal is to see what the prospect's problems are, and figure out if your product is a good fit. Expect to pay an average base salary of $48,682. These folks report to sales development managers.
  • Inbound sales development representatives: These folks are the opposite of those folks. They qualify inbound leads for further sales engagement, and are responsible for following up with prospects who have shown interest in your product. These positions have the same average salary as outbound SDRs, and they also report to your company's sales development managers.
  • Sales development managers: These team members interview, hire, and mentor other members of the sales development team. Training is also a big part of this role, as sales development managers coach SDRs using tactics like situational plays and call monitoring—all to help them close more deals. Some companies don't have this role. But, that can go south, when SDRs report directly to VP of Sales or similar who can't provide the support they need. Expect to pay around $71,598 per year for a Sales Development Manager, who will report to senior managers, directors of sales or business development, or the VP of Sales.
  • Director of sales and business development: Typically the head of your sales development program, they are in charge of strategy, delivering market feedback to company leadership, developing sales tools and collateral, and growing the number of opportunities in your sales pipeline. This hire reports directly to your company's VPs or C-level executives and the average salary for a Director of Sales & Business Development is around $115,627.

How many people you hire in each role will depend on your budget and growth goals. While it's tempting to have just one group of SDRs, your sales development team should specialize to maximize impact.

The most obvious decision is to split your SDRs into inbound and outbound. Converting inbound leads requires different skills than outbound prospecting. Because they deal with people who are aware of your product and motivated enough to make contact, inbound SDRs generally need deeper product knowledge than your outbound team.

Lastly, inbound and outbound SDRs face different kinds of objections and challenges that require specialized knowledge and preparation.

So, how do you make sure you're hiring the right people? Follow these four steps.

Step 1: Establish a Sales Development Program Based on Your Unique Needs and Product

No two organizations, services, or products are the same. Consider:

  • Your buyers: What does your target customer look like? Will your SDRs be speaking to executives or individual contributors? Identify who their audience is to figure out exactly what skills you need to hire for. (Creating an Ideal Customer Profile can help with that!)
  • Your product: How simple (or complex) is your offering? Do you need experienced SDRs, or can you hire college grads and train 'em up? The caliber of your SDRs can dramatically impact how your brand or products are perceived.
  • Your environment: Who are your competitors? Are you a scrappy startup surviving on outbound sales, or is there enough interest in your product that leads are coming to you? The structure and size of your SDR team depends on your inbound marketing engine and your company's position in the market.

At this early stage, you'll start to wonder how large your sales team should be—before you set up sales development.

There is no right or wrong answer. But, if your sales team is struggling to fit prospecting into their calendars and letting leads slip through the cracks, focus on hiring SDRs. A good rule of thumb? One SDR for every three account executives.

Once that foundation is in place, it's easier to build on.

Step 2: Hire People with Industry Experience (Inbound or Outbound)

To effectively scale your SDR team, you need to hire quality candidates.

And to make sure you hire the right people, you need to know that each SDR can practice what they preach. Alongside reference checks, consider adding an exercise for potential candidates to complete as part of the interview process. Fake sales calls, product pitches or demos … anything that will prove they're up for the job.

While the SDR role is typically an entry-level position, also consider applicants with experience in other areas like customer service and data entry. These skills come in handy when they need to solve a problem on the fly or manage detailed customer profiles.

A winning personality plays a key role in SDR success, so look for qualities like:

  • Competitiveness: The best sales teams are like athletes— they always want to win. Competition within your team can be good and push everyone to deliver their absolute best. Look for new hires that have this hunger.
  • Attention to detail: Customers expect personalized solutions, and they don't have time for errors or ill-fitting products. Top-performing SDRs are detail-oriented, focused, and can customize any pitch so that it fits the prospect.
  • Resourcefulness: Prospects have problems they need to solve. Successful SDRs earn the trust of potential customers by consistently providing information and solutions that fix their issues.
  • Phone skills: People underestimate how difficult it is to build trust over the phone. Phone calls will take up a ton of your SDRs’ calendars, so hiring people with strong conversation skills and phone etiquette is a must.
  • Time management: Sales development is all about reaching as many prospects as possible each day. CRM software can help—but you need strong time management skills.
  • Persistence: This is an important trait for everyone at your sales org. The SDR that continues to follow up and chase down leads is the one that will close the most deals.
  • Positivity: Let’s be honest, sales is a grind. Even the best SDRs will have more losses than wins. Staying positive and remaining polite at all times are non-negotiable for anyone on your SDR team.

Oh, and only hire SDRs that really listen to what you have to say—because they'll listen to your prospects, too.

They know how to uncover pain points and get to the heart of what your target customers want. Any conversation that leads to a closed deal isn't one-sided, so make sure SDRs are doing more listening than talking.

Step 3: Create Recruitment Programs to Attract Top Talent

Let’s talk about the candidate pool of potential SDR hires.

Did you know that, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate is now under 4 percent?

It's slim pickings. And you better believe there are other sales teams out there doing their best to snap up the small number of talented SDRs looking for their next job. To find qualified talent to fill your SDR positions, think outside the box:

  • Develop a recruiting program that appeals to college grads by offering additional training and skill building.
  • Generation Z values mentorship as much as they do healthcare. Offer coaching and career development to attract new SDRs that you can nurture into selling machines.

Use these tactics (and more) in your recruitment strategy to attract hungry SDRs that want to close deals and can help scale your company over time.

Step 4. Set Clear Criteria for Qualifying New Leads

Lead qualification criteria depends a lot on your industry and target customer.

Qualified leads are prospective customers that match your company’s ideal customer profile. They are aware they have a problem, understand that your company may have the solution, and are in a position to buy with the authority to do so.

There are many different methods your sales team can use to qualify leads. You can start with the most popular ones: BANT, NEAT, and MEDDIC:

  • BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing): This framework uses four criteria to discover whether a prospect is a good fit for your solution. For example, if a prospect has a $40k budget and your solution fits their needs, but their contract with a competitor doesn't end for another nine months, they don't qualify. But, your SDRs could make a note to follow up.
  • NEAT (Need, Economic impact, Access to authority, Timeline): This methodology flips BANT on its head and focuses on what your prospects need. It looks at everything from the prospect's decision-making process, to their needs and buying timeline.
  • MEDDIC (Metric, Economic Buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain, Champion): This one’s a mouthful. The MEDDIC framework is the most in-depth, and guides your SDRs to gather crucial information about each lead during prospecting. If the prospect is a good fit, SDRs will have lots of information to work with to help close the deal—and much more.

Remember, these strategies just scratch the surface—there are many others you can use, depending on your sales development goals. Check out more sales methodologies here.

Step 5. Set Up Regular Sales Development Training and Coaching for Your Team

Investing in a training program is one of the most valuable things you can do for your organization.

Previous experience is rarely necessary for the SDR role, so you’ll want to provide coaching and mentorship for your sales development team to reach its full potential. Arm your SDRs with best practices. A few teaching tools and exercises include:

  • Role play: Take the anxiety out of those early calls and prepare your SDRs for rejection through role play. Educate your team about what they should say based on buyer responses, so they are prepared to navigate difficult situations.
  • Sales scripts: Phone scripts and email templates prepare your SDRs for common scenarios. While your team should not repeat them verbatim (robot-like), a good script can help them remember key details and questions, and keep conversations productive. (Here are some proven sales script templates.)
  • Objection handling techniques: The objections your SDRs encounter are different from those your closers do. Improve efficiency by giving your SDRs best practices to counter common objectives.
  • Closing scenarios: While they may not be focused on closing sales, they do need to push leads down the sales funnel by scheduling a call or demo. Train your SDRs how to steer their conversations to reach this endpoint.
  • Tools training: Your SDRs will probably be using a bunch of different tools to connect with prospects and close deals. They must feel comfortable with this tech, so consider specific training.

Once your SDRs are out in the wild, listen in on their calls, ask to see their email templates—and provide feedback and coaching. Too often, training only happens at the beginning of tenure. Effective training evolves over time.

Measuring the Success of Your Sales Development Strategy: Metrics You Should Track

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Yeah, we know. It's cliche—but true. Measuring sales development efforts is the only way to track if the investment in sales hires and software is paying off. But don't track every metric under the sun.

Instead, pick a few relevant KPIs that focus on improving your strategy and getting results. Here are three such metrics.

Sales Development Activity Metrics

These metrics track touchpoints with prospects, like the number of calls or emails made, plus open and response rates.

Why it’s important: Use this information to determine SDR activity levels and bandwidth. These metrics are also useful to coach SDRs toward more successful outreach.

How to track activity metrics: Track SDR activity per day, week, month, and year—so you have a benchmark. A handy CRM (like Close) can do this automatically.

Sales Effectiveness Metrics

These metrics track how much revenue and deals your team is closing, compared to the amount of time they spend on calls and emails. We recommend tracking:

  • Conversation rates: The number of outbound activities that result in meaningful conversations or interactions.
  • Number of calls per win: The amount of outreach it takes to close a deal.
  • MQL to SQL: The number of SQLs your SDRs qualify per day, week, month, or year.
  • SQL to opportunity: The rate at which SQLs become an opportunity in the sales pipeline per day, week, or month.
  • Average deal size: This metric reveals the average value of the opportunities your SDRs are vetting. SDRs should focus on quality—not just quantity.

Why it’s important: Sales effectiveness metrics provide a granular look into where prospects are falling out of your sales funnel, how many touches it takes to convert a prospect, and what your average customer is worth. This information helps with everything from budgeting to marketing.

How to track these metrics: Use a CRM to automatically log SDR calls, emails, and conversions—plue other reporting metrics, like deal size—so you can track the length of your sales cycle and everything else you need to know.

Results Metrics

Finally, you should track metrics that show SDR wins (and losses). Results metrics track things like:

  • Opportunity to win/close rates: The percentage of SDR-generated opportunities that become closed business. Reveals the quality of your SQLs.
  • Win/close rate: This measures how many SQLs are won or lost over time.
  • Total & percentage of sales pipeline sourced by sales development: These are general measurements of the contribution your SDR team is making to the sales org.

Why it’s important: Your SDRs might be making 50 calls a day, but it’s worthless unless prospects are signing contracts. Results metrics are the source of truth for how many deals your reps actually close.

How to track results metrics: Track performance data through digital tools like CRMs and ESPs, and map these numbers to individual and team performance over time. This can help you identify which parts of the sales funnel need attention and which SDRs are creating the most impact.

Arguably, the most important part of measuring your success is the tool(s) you use to do it. There are many sales reporting and BI tools available, with advanced feature sets which can generate all kinds of reports. But if you don't have a dedicated data analyst and sales operations manager to dig through it all, these tools can be a waste of cash.

Most sales teams are better off with actionable reporting that helps them stay focused on the metrics that matter. We should know—we built Close for sales teams.

Measuring the Success of Your Sales Development Strategy - Use Close Activity Comparison

With built-in reporting, this CRM always has a real-time visual on how your sales organization is performing and what needs to change, while letting you drill into specific data points so you can get the information you need.

This is possible for both individual contributors and team-level. And, Leaderboard features make it easy to keep your reps focused on the sales activities that actually generate revenue.

(Go ahead, jump in with your 14-day free trial.)

Sales Development Tools: Software You Should Add to Your Tech Stack

Any sales development strategy is only as strong as the technology behind it. Think about it: How will your SDRs do their best work without the right toolkit?

You need tools that help your team find leads, follow up with prospects, and schedule demos. Here are the must-haves for any sales development tech stack.

CRMs for Sales Development

Managing leads, communication, prospect data, and interactions make up the bulk of an SDR’s day-to-day work. CRM tools keep all of this info in one easily-accessible and searchable database.

Yep, we're biased. But Close is a great choice for startups and SMBs to build a rock-solid sales development strategy.

Sales Development Tools - Use Close

Our CRM is developed for salespeople, by salespeople. We offer lead management, email workflows, predictive dialers, text messaging, and more—all to support and streamline your outreach. Manage your workflow, stay on top of your pipeline, track every touchpoint, and close more with Close.

Prospecting and B2B Data Platforms

One key responsibility for an SDR is researching and identifying prospective customers.

But getting a pipeline full of prospects is hard, especially when you don’t have the right tools. SDRs can use prospecting and data tools to scrape lead information and get helpful insights without wasting tons of time and effort.

Here are our top picks:

  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator: This tool is proving indispensable for SDRs. It enables you to filter LinkedIn’s 1 billion-strong user base down to the most relevant leads for your business. It provides actionable information, recommendations, and insights, so SDRs can find the best prospects to connect with.
  • DiscoverOrg: This marketing and sales intelligence provider guarantees direct-dial phone numbers, verified email addresses, and department-level org charts, so SDRs know exactly how to reach key buyers.
  • ZoomInfo: A data platform with a full set of sales intelligence tools including buying intent data, conversation intelligence, relationship intelligence, and customized workflows that use your ideal customer profile to trigger actions.
  • Apollo: Real-time data updates and enrichment for startups/SMBs, as well as lead scoring that updates based on the actions your leads take.
  • Datanyze: Simplifies cold outreach by providing icebreaker questions for SDRs to use. The Google Chrome Extension scrapes contact information and company data to create questions that will help turn cold leads into warm prospects.

Discover the science behind successful lead generation using LinkedIn.

Outreach Tools for Email and Phone Calls

Email and phone outreach are an SDR’s bread and butter.

These tools help your team monitor, track, and schedule their email communications—as well as log, record, and analyze phone calls.

Add some of these tools to your team's toolkit:

  • PersistIQ: This sales engagement system lets you schedule, automate, and personalize your email outreach at scale.
  • Rebump: A browser extension that helps you send friendly, automated, customized email follow-ups.
  • Reply: This email outreach tool allows you to automate and personalize communication with inbound leads.
  • Clearbit: Easily get in touch with anyone—Clearbit promises you'll be able to find anyone's email address in under five seconds.
  • CallHippo. Log, track, and analyze sales calls with CallHippo’s virtual telephony and workflow automation.
  • CrazyCall: Automate, record, monitor, and transfer calls with just a few clicks.
  • Get powerful visibility into your customer conversations with’s advanced call analysis.
  • Myphoner: Simple call tracking software for sales teams, with built-in email follow-up functionality.

Ready to Press Play on Your Sales Development Strategy?

SDR teams are a critical part of the modern sales org—but you know that by now.

They are usually a prospect's first human connection with your brand. They serve the purpose of transforming warm or cold leads into real sales opportunities.

But building out a successful sales development strategy starts with hiring the right people. Take your time finding SDRs that know what they're doing, can grow with in-house training, and are willing to work with your marketing team.

Once your SDR team is in place and trained, invest in technology that will support their best work. Prospecting platforms, outreach tools, and CRMs can help your team close deals faster.

Ready to supercharge your sales development efforts?

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