Process Development & Performance Management
for Sales Development
Ryan has over a decade of experience in direct sales, lead generation, and digital marketing. He’s the co-author of Outbound Sales, No Fluff and co-founder of The Sales Developers. Ryan builds repeatable, scalable processes and systems for sales programs and is a leader in process development & optimization.
Sales development can be broken into 3 different parts: people, process, and technology.
In the past, companies relied heavily on the people and technology behind their program due to the advent of predictable outbound sales development and the rise of sales software.
The process was simple: increase headcount to increase revenue while empowering sales development reps with the most competitive technology on the market.
However, modern selling environments are much different. Additional reps and cutting-edge technology no longer bring the same competitive advantages if the selling process is ineffective.
Many companies rely on people or technology to generate the outcomes they want, but this way of thinking is backward and leaves you reliant on specific people or technology for success.
Process development for your SDRs is vital to the success of your program. The right process should be used to find good people and technology to support it, not the other way around.
Before You Start
In the past, sales development was simply an additional part of your company’s existing sales strategy.
Now, sales development has grown to the point that requires its own process, structure, and strategy to align with the rest of the organization.
The order of operations when you’re setting up a sales development program is more important now than ever.
Sales Development Processes Are Out-of-Date
5-10 years ago, the prevailing wisdom to increase sales was simple: increase headcount, buy all of the new and innovative sales technologies to support those reps, and have them hammer the phone all day.
This prevailing wisdom created big challenges with lead quality, as there were no good processes around account and prospect selection. Sales development reps were left to call as many people as they could with the tools they were given.
Now that modern buyers have become desensitized to cold outreach and haven taken over more of the early-stage buying process, conversions are much lower for today’s buyers.
The heavy-volume approach of the past and reliance on entry-level SDRs has created major issues for organizations that generate enough leads but at a much lower quality.
Low conversions combined with no solution for improving lead quality has caused many companies to cycle through new hires and tools at a rapid pace in vain attempts to fix the issue.
When outcomes don’t meet expectations, companies blame those same SDRs and sales tools, repeating the cycle by finding new ones to fill the gap.
This cycle continues until at some point companies realize that the tools and reps aren’t the problems here, it’s the selling process itself that needs tweaking.
SDR Success Starts at Process
The business development process has always been missing in sales development programs outside of traditional practices from sales like dialing blindly through a list of prospects.
There hasn’t been a good, formal process developed yet for identifying the best new and existing accounts for SDRs to target or to determine who at those accounts you should be reaching.
Although situations vary from company to company, there’s no real formalized business development process across industries that SDR teams can rely on for sustainable success.
Just like building a house, even the strongest construction crews and best-class materials won’t create a stable house without the right design and building process.
Building Process for Sales Development
Process frameworks for sales development are scarce. Some companies have methods that work well for them, but it doesn’t translate to other industries or markets.
Performance is somewhat based on your SDRs and their inability to execute, but it’s mostly the process they have to follow in the first place that causes inconsistency or missed quotas.
Processes need to be adaptable and have really clear definitions to make it consistent and repeatable as you train your team.
SDR Process Frameworks are Scarce in Sales Development
So much time, energy and effort go into helping those in a closing role.
There is a multitude of philosophies, strategies, and approaches like Heimen, MEDIC, Sander, Miller, and more that teach what to do once you’ve got a lead within your sales process.
For example, they teach you about crafting effective qualification questions, how discovery meetings work, stage definitions, exit criteria, and objection handling.
However, there’s nothing out there for the processes before an initial meeting.
A lot of organizations are working on building out a definitive process for sales development, but there currently aren’t too many well-known process frameworks out there.
How do reps find, attract, and start conversations with qualified buyers in a repeatable way?
The sales environment has changed, how we target companies has changed, and how people research and buy products have changed.
You need a framework SDRs can use to consistently generate leads and meetings.
Process for Sales Development is About Clarity
When building out a process for business development, you need clear definitions about everything from stages and exit criteria to account selection and messaging.
If you choose the wrong accounts, the wrong contacts, or use irrelevant outreach methods, then not even the strongest reps or most innovative technologies will be able to move deals forward.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and “flip the funnel” approaches are the closest standardized methodologies available for SDRs to generate leads with a clear process, but these approaches often lack adaptability to organizations with different teams, budgets, and business models.
Thinking about the step-by-step workflow your SDRs follow to get their job done will help you find opportunities to create clarity in your process.
The Sales Developers Process: Bucketing Methodology
For an example process that sales development teams can use to their advantage, we look to the bucketing methodology used by The Sales Developers.
Their system helps SDRs prioritize leads, structure activities, and create repeatable, data-driven outcomes with 4 buckets: uncontacted, working, priority, and meeting scheduled.
Bucket 1: Uncontacted Leads
Uncontacted leads are at the very beginning of the process and should be target accounts that meet your Ideal Account Profile or Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
These are companies you know you can help because they meet clearly defined qualification criteria that is either researchable or trigger-based. For example size, geography, technographics, hiring activity, or mergers could all be used to identify an uncontacted lead.
During an SDR’s daily workflow, they would use this bucket to do preliminary research on accounts to ensure they’re working on qualified potential buyers.
As the uncontacted leads bucket gets full, SDRs can find the best person within that account to contact in a future process. While there are multiple prospects you can reach, the qualification criteria should help your SDR find the best person to start.
Bucket 2: Working Leads
Once an SDR has an initial bucket of target accounts and prospects, they can start making outbound attempts in order to validate the contact information associated with each buyer.
Whether it be over the phone, email, social, text, or through live events, SDRs should document their path towards an attempt to connect with the buyer through a specific channel.
If an email bounces or a phone number is out-of-date, then the prospect remains in bucket 1 until they can validate contact with the buyer on a certain channel.
If the connection attempt reaches the right person, the SDR now has a validated channel they can use to continue contacting the buyer in the future. This is known as a working lead.
With every lead in bucket 2 being qualified and validated on a channel, SDRs can spend less time on busy work and focus their efforts on engaging with the working leads in bucket 2.
Bucket 3: Priority Leads
Prospects remain in the working leads bucket until SDRs can successfully connect on a real conversation. Much of sales development is working leads until they’re ready to engage.
As SDRs contact their working leads, they’ll eventually engage with prospects on their validated channel and successfully start a sales conversation.
Once an SDR has had a conversation with a prospect, they’re moved into bucket 3 so the rep can prioritize these warm prospects over the larger pool of working leads.
Bucket 4: Meeting Scheduled Leads
While a prospect might get moved into bucket 3 after a brief chat with a rep, that doesn’t mean the SDR was able to successfully schedule a meeting with the prospect.
Once working leads are prioritized, it’s the mission of the SDR to capitalize on this momentum and book scheduled meetings with the prospects in bucket 3.
Once an SDR has actually booked a meeting or event with a prospect on the calendar, then the prospect is moved to the meeting scheduled bucket. This is where the rep has their final qualification criteria questions and passes the prospect over to a closing rep.
Using the SDR Bucketing Methodology
Now that the buckets are defined, your SDR needs to know how to use them to increase their day-to-day productivity. The basic strategy is to work the buckets backward, from 4 to 1.
First, an SDR would go into their CRM and confirm all of their meetings. That means combing through bucket 4 and handling all high-priority conversations first.
From there, they’d reach out to everyone they’re prioritized in bucket 3 to continue driving momentum and attempting to convert them into a scheduled meeting.
Once they’re through bucket 3, they can move on to the working leads in bucket 2 using a more traditional list-based approach. Because they’ve built the list over time to include only validated prospects, this allows the SDR to quickly go through the list without interruptions or bad data.
When an SDR is finished with working leads, they can go through the unverified leads in bucket 1 to in an attempt to validate any channels and move them into bucket 2
Once your SDR has gone through all their buckets, they can move onto the last step of filling bucket 1 with new unverified leads based on qualification research. Keeping bucket one full is essential for this process because the other buckets won’t grow if bucket 1 is always empty.
If you’re consistently filling these buckets, there are some conversion ratios associated with each bucket so that you can figure out many leads should be in a bucket at any given time.
Over some time, these conversion ratios will give you clear insight into how many leads you need in each bucket at any given time to consistently produce the results you need.
This is referred to as your” Math of Sales” and it involves reverse engineering the numbers you need to hit your goal: how many conversations are needed for a meeting, how many meetings are needed for an opportunity, and how many sales opportunities are needed for a closed deal?
These metrics give you a formula you can use to keep a consistent and sustainable sales development pipeline. This is how you operationalize sales development in a way that’s trainable and easily repeatable.
Process Improvement for Sales Development
SDRs are the most involved with the everyday activities for sales development, so they’ll have a lot of good feedback and advice on how to improve the process.
That doesn’t mean every piece of advice is good, though.
As a manager, you need to have a way to consistently determine whether or not the SDRs’ feedback warrants a change in the process. This is an essential aspect of sales performance management.
Sales Development is About Testing
The different hypotheses you run within your process is the whole point of sales development: always testing and trying new things to successfully connect with buyers.
Managers should always be measuring and comparing the performance between different segments, channels, and strategies so your team can improve conversation rates.
Time is usually the death of outbound. A lot of organizations give up a little bit too early when testing out new things, which ends up wasting time and resources. Ultimately, it can set your new SDRs back and cause you to re-hire and re-train.
The truth is, a window of 3 – 6 months just isn’t a long enough period to see the long-term impact of building sales pipeline with a business development process.
Jeb Blount talks about the rule of 30, which states that what an SDR does in the next 30-day window will impact the next 90+ days of sales performance, depending on sales cycles.
Giving outbound the time it needs to play out is one of the biggest challenges for companies, especially startups, because they want to see ROI quickly after a new test.
Process Should Be Clearly Defined for Testing
The process is the process. It’s great to test different industries, departments, verticals, and try new things with the process, but the process itself needs to be clearly defined beforehand.
Buckets need to be clear, defined, and consistent for each campaign or segment your SDRs use to fill their funnel.
Clearly defined buckets for SDRs gives managers the ability to see the conversions through each stage of the process for any particular segment, allowing you to easily test process.
Follow the buckets, measure the conversion ratios within each bucket, and use your math of sales to then determine the best strategies to focus on with testing.
Build a Model to Measure the Performance of Your Tests
You have to look at the conversion ratios you generate at each stage of the sales development process and build a model that can help you understand how tests compare to another.
When you have these ratios ahead of time, you can understand the number of conversions you can expect for any particular strategy or target market you test. This makes it easy to keep track of your conversions and compare changes in performance as you test.
If you don’t have those numbers yet, you should at least have a model based on some averages and use the data you gather over time to improve your model.
Can SDRs Contribute to Process Improvements?
A lot of organizations use the anecdotal and metric-based information that their SDRs gather daily to influence their testing and the direction of the sales development program.
However, it’s risky to let somebody early in their career select your next best customer or determine the focus of an outreach strategy.
A lot of companies that rely too much on SDRs for process improvements end up failing, not because the SDRs aren’t doing a good enough job but because the process was never clearly defined in the first place.
Forcing SDRs to figure it out in real-time is different from listening to their input. You should let SDRs have some freedom and flexibility when testing, but they still need to follow the process.
Make sure the data and experiences within the organization can corroborate an SDRs insights before letting them test it or validate it as true.
Tips for Testing Business Development Processes
No one expects their business development process to be perfect on the first attempt. The adjustments you make after you’ve implemented your process are just as important as the decisions you make building it out in the first place.
To make the right adjustments, it is paramount that you go about testing your current process in a repeatable way that can produce accurate results.
Testing Needs Structure
When managers gather insights from SDRs to test improvements, there will be knowledge and communication gaps that managers need to bridge.
Disorganized and unstructured testing creates an environment where it’s easy for things to get uncontrollable, time-consuming, or misleading.
That’s why it’s so hard to understand what you should or shouldn’t test and what’s considered a valid outcome. Structure helps isolate how changes perform and make tests more consistent.
Testing Needs Significance
With the amount of technology that’s coming into the market, modern tools exist that will allow you to A/B/C and multivariate test a sequence to death.
The reality is most companies are testing too much for the volume they generate. They split-test 4 different subject lines, 2 different call-to-actions, and the exact same sequence for no more than 100 people and then draw permanent conclusions.
The issue is statistical significance. Most teams are testing groups too small to glean any real insights. To get real, strategic information from a test, you need to expand to cover thousands of accounts instead of a few hundred.
Testing Needs Objectivity
People want to be objective and use data to drive their reasoning.
In reality, we’re all subjective and use our gut to make decisions when we don’t have definitive information to dictate our thinking.
We tend to see too many subjective outcomes and not enough objective outcomes come to the surface because of small, quick, silver-bullet wins that emerge from testing ground.
If you’re selling into a market that has a long sales cycle, it’s really hard to sit back and let the data play out objectively because your gut is pulling you into different thoughts and directions.
This reliance on subjectivity can leave you blind to long-term, sustainable trends.
Buckets help bring objectivity into testing because they have to be the right accounts, the right people, and SDRs have to be saying the right thing in order to convert each bucket.
It’s so important to keep the process consistent with enough structure to generate objective, unaltered information instead of making improvements off of gut decisions.
Testing Needs More Leadership Buy-In
In the executive suite, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in sales development is the misalignment between expectations and reality for the leadership team.
Organizations and leadership often don’t see or care about all of that work that goes into generating a meeting or opportunity.
Instead, they tend to have a “what’d you do for me today?” mindset.
We put so much emphasis on celebrating the wins that we don’t look back at the losses to see what we’ve learned.
As a sales development manager, you need to get top leadership to understand not only the successful outcomes you produce but also the work involved in generating that success.
Advice on the Future of Sales Development Process
The future of sales development is exciting, but it’s not without its challenges.
Automation has gone from becoming an asset to a detriment as teams find themselves relying too heavily on technology and not enough on their process or people.
Additionally, there is so much technology out there designed to help sales and sales development that its easy to get lost amongst the tools and never find the right one for you.
Beyond that, sales and marketing need to start seeing eye-to-eye with their sales development team and use it as a bridge between them, not something they’re fighting to control.
Evolving Career Paths for SDRs
The career path of SDRs has opened up in the last few years so that it’s more than just a stepping stone to becoming an AE. They’re starting to realize that sales development applies to many career ladders, including sales, marketing, product, and even future entrepreneurship.
Many sales development professionals will choose to stay in their role and become a specialized master of the sales development function.
You’re going to see career sales development reps making a significant impact in the organizations they work for, without the pressure of having to go somewhere else.
The industry is evolving to the point where people aren’t getting into sales development as a last-ditch job, but because it offers them the chance to pursue their business passions.
Motivating Reps Will Be Harder with Automation
From a management perspective, it’s going to get more and more challenging to keep SDRs interested and motivated about the job if automation continues to be overused.
Making sure SDRs have their own autonomy and don’t feel like their job is boring will be paramount to avoiding burnout in the future of automation.
Automation has handicapped the creativity and unique components that used to drive folks to the sales development role. As creative, strategic individuals leave, many companies will be left with nothing but coin-operated, process-oriented individuals.
Your team needs personality diversity and motivation should be a primary focus for managers trying to build momentum for an SDR team using automation.
Evolve Your Process as Technology Evolves
Technology is going to keep evolving and nobody can accurately predict where it’s headed. However, the possibilities are limitless if you start with the process.
Try and take advantage of new technologies where it makes sense, but be wary of overusing or over-purchasing certain tools as they hit the market.
As a manager, use technology as it evolves over the next 5 years to empower your process instead of letting technology define your process.
It’s all about enabling your team to do their best work, not the most work. If you can find the right tools to make your process work, you can find the right people and see incredible success without as many headaches.
As the sales development role evolves, we have to look past the reps executing the activities and the tools they’re using to do it.
Without the right process, even the best SDRs and most expensive technology won’t help you convert accounts and build pipeline.
Process development is becoming more of a focus for teams looking to build successful, sustainable sales development functions. A lack of standardization across the board has opened up the doors for a lot of experimentation.
Consistent and structured testing, utilizing the Math of Sales, buy-in from all levels, and a motivated sales development team are all key components of a strong process build.
As industries and buyer behavior continues to modernize, a flexible and iterative business development process will become integral to the success of sales development teams.