Research & Sales Development Process
Chris has spent the last 3+ decades founding, growing, and coaching startups as a veteran leader in sales.
As the CEO of ConnectAndSell he helps empower thousands of SDR & sales teams with the tools they need to do their job as effectively as possible.
The inner-workings of any sales development team is unique to their company’s business model, target buyers, and available resources.
SDR teams tend to have similar goals, but there are an endless number of diverse ways to book meetings and generate opportunities with qualified buyers.
With more lead sources, sales channels, and information available than ever before, today’s SDRs aren’t lacking access. The options are virtually limitless.
Yet most reps still struggle to consistently hit quota.
Because the daily activities of a poor-performing SDR is often inconsistent, inefficient, or out of touch with their buyers and market.
The core of sales development is process: clearly defined workflows that reps can learn, repeat, and master to generate predictable results.
Organizations create it. Managers train and monitor it. But SDRs are directly on the frontlines implementing that process in live conversations with buyers.
While sales development operations will differ from team to team, the big picture process behind the SDR role is largely similar for every company.
With mastery of process, reps can grow beyond just one company’s situation and understand how to generate opportunities for any sales environment.
Before You Start
Sales development is one of the hardest jobs in sales: contacting complete strangers in an unprompted conversation that disrupts their day.
All to convince them to spend time on more conversations with the company.
Despite the challenges of the role, most SDRs are hired as entry-level sales professionals in what is often their first job out of college.
How can inexperienced reps perform in such a difficult, important role?
The answer lies in the sales development process.
By understanding the key aspects of the business development role, even brand new SDRs can successfully learn to generate results.
SDRs Don’t Sell the Solution
A major problem in sales development is in the focus.
Too many reps try to sell their solution as if they’re going to close the deal while neglecting the value behind the meeting.
As an SDR, selling the product is a mistake because it gives buyers an easy, quick way to comfortably turn down a conversation.
Because educating a prospect on a product or service implicitly gives the impression that they are incompotent and negligent.
In an initial conversation, product talk or solution pitches can turn prospects off by making them feel like they don’t know what’s important.
The dialogue leaves buyers with no curiosity and an easy out, so most responses to product talk sounds something like, “Thanks, we’re all set.”
The SDR’s True Purpose
Rather than selling the solution, an SDR is selling the meeting.
An SDR’s true job is to pave the market with trust. Since this requires a lot of information flow, initial conversations must be navigated carefully.
There is compelling value a buyer receives from a discovery call that’s often needed before a sale can take place.
The meeting is where a prospect confesses their situation, gains important insights for the future, and learns about solutions to fix potential problems.
Trust is built on this information exchange and an initial meeting gives the company an advantage to host this trust-building journey.
An SDR qualifies these confessions and decides next steps based on the information they’ve collected about the situation. If the meeting revealed problems the company can solve, then a potential opportunity is created.
If no helpful solutions can be offered or no curiosity exists with the prospect at that moment, then it’s the job of an SDR to keep tabs, follow-up, and find ways to solve future problems.
The point is trust. Once a rep’s focus shifts from selling the product to selling the experience of a meeting, the value of their conversations skyrocket.
Fear, Curiosity, & Trust
Trust has been mentioned a lot, but it’s only one part of the sales development process. Unfortunately, buyers don’t easily trust SDRs.
Just like hostage-takers don’t easily trust hostage negotiators.
How is trust built in an abrupt conversation with a stranger?
To build trust, build curiosity.
This trust-to-curiosity path is not easy. In a cold conversation, SDRs must first confront the fear most buyers feel when answering a random call.
SDRs are often the one afraid, but it’s actually the buyer: they’ve been contacted by someone they don’t know with no idea what’s being discussed.
Before any productive conversation can happen, reps need to be transparent about the disruption and focus on getting permission to continue.
Regardless of whether an SDR sets a meeting, it’s essential that they focus on building trust in every sales touch they make.
Once a buyer is open to learning more, the focus shifts to building curiosity and making the case for further discussion.
Like a hostage negotiator, SDRs are on the frontlines in uncomfortable situations and must apply the process necessary to identify opportunities.
Sales Development Best Practices
To dominate a market, B2B organizations need an SDR team that can pave that market with trust through targeted, relevant conversations.
Without these reps, companies risk losing market share to competitors and missing out on opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
While the sales development function has long been perceived as an entry-level role, the profession is quickly becoming more competitive.
Today’s top-performing SDRs succeed because they’ve mastered the right practices to create curiosity, build trust, and sell the meeting.
Fear is an unavoidable part of abrupt, cold conversations with prospects.
Both parties are blocked by fear: SDRs are afraid to be the bad guy in a cold conversation and buyers are caught off guard by an invisible stranger.
Before any productive conversation can happen, reps must do the job of conquering their own fear so they can overcome the buyer’s fear.
When SDRs are afraid, it shows and impacts call outcomes. Without control over themselves, reps will struggle to influence anyone in a call or email.
Remember that the buyer has more of a reason to be afraid than the rep. The buyer is getting ambushed in an unplanned, unknown conversation.
Unfortunately, a buyer’s fear doesn’t just go away. It’s an uncontrollable variable that SDRs must learn to manage.
To dissipate this fear, the first thing a SDR needs to do is acknowledge it. Reps need to recognize that they are the problem in a cold conversation and use tactical empathy to show that they see the world through a buyer’s eyes.
“I know I’m an interruption. Can I have 27 seconds to tell you why I called?”
“I know this is abrupt and I only have a minute. Can I introduce myself?”
Once a buyer’s fear of the situation is confronted, it’s the job of the SDR to build curiosity so that prospects give the rep permission to continue.
Trust & Intent
As soon as a buyer’s fear subsides in a cold conversation, reps have a very short window to create curiosity, build rapport, and grow trust.
To pave a market with trust, SDRs must be experts at trust-building. Meeting or not, every sales touch should be focused on planting seeds of opportunity. With relevant messaging and enough curiosity, the right buyers will eventually take the next step in the trust journey by accepting a meeting.
However, a meeting is just the beginning. Trust and transparency is at the very center of a potential closed sale, so SDRs need to collaborate with their Account Executives to ensure the organization can maintain the trust they’ve built.
Once trust forms, confirmation bias arises: the trust a buyer gives will remain indefinitely until a rep (or organization) blows that trust. One of the most common ways buyer trust gets lost is through trying to sell them a solution too early without enough trust, information, or interest.
Trust and intent go hand-in-hand. If a buyer senses an ulterior motive, SDRs risk losing ground and making it harder to rebuild that trust in the future.
Don’t betray a buyer’s trust. Instead, focus on the value a sales development rep can actually deliver: the benefits of a meeting.
By framing the potential insights, learnings, and actionable tips a buyer can receive in a meeting, they’ll be much more likely to give out their trust.
Product & Buyer Knowledge
Confidence as an SDR comes from their familiarity with their buyers, industry, and the solutions they represent.
Top-tier reps are well-informed on their own solution and those of competitors. They understand the use cases, challenges, and common compelling events that make a good-fit customer for their organization.
Knowledge about buyers and the product is critical. Without this ingrained in the mind of a rep, navigating cold conversations becomes difficult.
Listen to recordings, research competitors, learn from more experienced team members, and make it a focus to become a master of industry.
Otherwise, how can an SDR build curiosity and trust with buyers?
The more information a rep can learn about their buyer or product, the better. With enough knowledge, conversations with buyers become easier.
Regardless of best practices, sales development is a hard function.
Most organizations hire entry-level professionals for the SDR role, so a lot of today’s reps have necessary skill gaps to fill before they’re crushing quota.
Knowledge prepares an SDR to do their job, but actually doing it is entirely different. Rarely will a new rep be able to successfully memorize a script, grab a phone, and start booking meetings without practice.
Take professional sports players for example. Even these top-tier athletes constantly scrimmage, complete repetitions, and improve their execution.
Whether it be alone, with team members, or a coach, continuous training for an SDR is critical for such a fast-moving profession.
Practice is about building competence, confidence, and authenticity in an SDR’s process. The more a rep self-educates, the better and faster they’re able to master the process behind their role.
While a sales development rep’s purpose is to pave a market with trust, there are an endless number of unique ways to accomplish this mission.
Opportunity creation in sales is done in a variety of ways depending on the business model, solution space, type of buyer personas, and more.
At the core of an SDR’s role is process: the ability to repeatedly execute on specific activities to generate consistent, predictable results.
An organization’s leadership is responsible for creating the process, but the reps are on the frontline making it happen.
With best practices in mind, let’s dive in to understand the general processes behind today’s SDR teams.
Sales Development Strategy
When it comes to process development for SDRs, simple is better.
The job of an SDR is not to develop their own system for prospecting and build their own list of target accounts.
The company should provide this foundation, starting with the list of accounts SDRs target.
Sales development is about paving a market with trust, but which market is important. The target list is the core of any SDR team’s strategy.
A market is built on a hypothesis about a specific list of companies that have unique characteristics and problems.
An SDR’s process will be different based on the type of list they target. Everything about the role blossoms from this targeting strategy.
Research is a time-consuming process when not automated with software, but it can provide powerful ammo for a rep trying to book meetings.
However, there’s a time and place for research. Depending on the business model, SDRs have limited time to spend on each account.
A meeting is the first step, where a majority of the information an organization will need gets confessed. Until then, reps need to be careful how much time they spend on research.
For example, let’s say an SDR spends 3 minutes on research before each cold touch. With SDRs averaging 1 phone conversation for every 22 contacted, that rep would spend 66 minutes on research to generate a single conversation.
Rather than individual, personalized research, focus on building knowledge about the buyer so a conversation and future meeting can be created.
Endless cadences and sequences exist for sales development teams, combining channels like phone, email, and social into a unified journey.
These journeys are unique to an organization and the buyers being targeted. SDRs are tasked with mastering their specific outreach journey.
While every channel can generate conversations on an outbound touch, the phone is still the most effective way for reps to connect with buyers.
Regardless of which sales channel is used, the point of a conversation is to build trust and display the value of a meeting.
Remember, a meeting has independent value that’s entirely different from the solution. Aside from trust-building, SDR outreach should be focused on educating buyers until they’re ready to take action on an initial meeting.
Time & Task Management
There isn’t enough time in the day for SDRs to reach out to everyone in a particular space. Even if they could, a majority of buyers would be unavailable or out-of-market.
Sales development process is dictated by the buying cycles of an ideal customer, so SDRs need to understand how to manage deals over time.
Cold calling a new list is one thing. Managing conversations with prospects in different buying stages from quarter-to-quarter is entirely different.
SDRs need to block out time for each process they have to manage in their weekly workflow.
How much time is needed for cold calls? What about follow-ups? Research? Meeting coordination? How does this get organized into a week?
Without good time management skills, it’s easy for SDRs to get overwhelmed by the velocity of the role and struggle to stay consistent.
Don’t just do the work. Map out the SDR role and create a repeatable workflow that can generate results without burnout.
Today’s SDR teams have access to more technology, channels, lead sources, and sales intelligence than ever before.
However, the core of sales development is the same. Process enables reps to align with their buyers and understand how trust is consistently built within their market.
Regardless of how SDRs get the job done, their process has similarities: data needs, buyer research, outreach, overcoming fear, and paving their market with trust.
Mastery of the sales development process goes beyond one company or industry. With the basics down, a rep can readily adapt to any sales environment.