Despite handling key responsibilities such as prospecting and making first contact with potential buyers, he says SDRs don’t get enough credit for the value they provide to marketing agencies. Management teams need to take investing in their SDRs seriously or risk losing opportunities.
Dulany, who also co-authored the book The Sales Development Framework, recently sat down with Vendasta Chief Customer Officer George Leith, during a recent Conquer Local podcast, to explain the role of SDRs and the biggest mistakes company executives make with their sales development strategy.
You can listen to the full podcast or read a summary of the discussion below.
A 101 on SDRs
The genesis of SDRs as a role can be traced back to the technology sector, but the concept of sales development is expanding rapidly across multiple industries including digital agencies, Dulany says.
Traditionally, a salesperson manages a deal from end-to-end, handling everything from cold calling to executing contracts and providing ongoing client care. The downside of this approach is that they spend too much time on prospecting and customer support rather than winning deals and generating revenue.
Software companies reinvented this process by introducing SDRs, who handle one key responsibility and work alongside account executives and the customer success department as part of a three-pronged sales strategy.
“The sales development team is laser-focused on doing the prospecting, doing the cold calling, following up on all the inbound leads, and making sure that the account executive team’s calendars are full and there’s plenty of new business meetings at all times. And so, it’s a big thing in the tech industry, and it’s growing outside of tech these days,” he explains.
Dulany says SDRs are typically hired when a company needs to support a salesperson who no longer has the capacity to find new clients and provide post-sale services. That’s a good thing as it means they’re busy with and proficient at closing deals.
He adds that the value of SDRs is heightened by the pandemic as representatives have had to re-tool and figure out how to connect with prospects virtually.
“They’re figuring out how to go out digitally these days and knock on doors to drum up business for the company. So, if you’re looking at your calendar and all of your time is being spent on closing activities and running demos and things, it might be time to think about the sales development team as your pipeline generator,” Dulany says.
Whether you’re thinking of establishing a new sales development strategy or seeking to maximize the output of your current SDR team, Dulany urges business leaders to avoid falling into five common traps.
rap #1 - Hiring SDRs before setting up their processes
The biggest mistake companies make is by not establishing proper processes, procedures, and targets before hiring SDRs.
“CEOs often just hire someone and stick them in the SDR position with some tech tools and some data and things like that, check it off their list, and go back doing whatever they were doing. Wrong move,” Dulany says.
How to avoid this trap
Dulany understands that it can take time for organizations to piece together and fine-tune their sales development strategy, especially if they’re a startup.
But he strongly recommends having clear support systems and expectations upfront, and determining:
- What exactly is the SDR going to do on a daily basis
- What is a realistic amount of calls and follow-ups to make
- What can be done to help the SDR understand the business, products, and customers
- What are their targets
“You can’t hit a target that you can’t see, and you don’t want to tell someone that your company is going to the moon and ‘oh, by the way, you have to make 150 phone calls a day.’ That’s a horrible situation because you’ll be going back to the drawing board and potentially needing to find somebody else. So you have to have that process down pat,” he says.
Trap #2 - Hiring without an experienced SDR manager in place
The next significant error Dulany sees most companies making is to “cheap out” by hiring a junior employee as their first SDR and hoping that person will do great things.
This almost never works as there’s no substitute for experience. In fact, businesses may end up wasting time and money with an inexperienced representative that isn’t generating enough qualified leads and struggling to work effectively with the team because they don’t have proper coaching and guidance.
“I suggest flipping this approach on its head by getting a good player-coach in there right at the beginning who has built SDR programs in the past and can come in and not only be doing the calls and reaching out to your prospects and things like that from an individual contributor perspective but also can write the playbook and can write the processes and start to build out that internal structure for you immediately,” Dulany says.
Once you have an experienced SDR manager who has laid the foundations of your sales development strategy, you can then add junior staff to effectively scale your outreach.
Trap #3 - Using unstructured data
You could have the greatest product in the world, but your business won’t make money if you don’t know who to sell it to. Dulany says company founders often overlook the crucial step of having a list of valuable prospects ready to go so that SDRs can start hitting the phones.
He observes that companies often sit on treasure troves of “unstructured data” comprising old leads and potential new accounts. But the issue with this data is that it doesn’t give SDRs an idea of how to prioritize prospects from most to least valuable.
How to avoid this trap
Dulany recommends calibrating or building your data in a way that supports an ability to drive conversations with the most valuable leads. This could be done, for example, by hiring a consultant or tasking an operations specialist to reorganize data in line with your business’s outreach strategy.
“So, I’ll give you an example. We want to call all the Inc. 5000 companies that have more than 100 employees and are growing by 100 percent. All we need is a list of those companies, and then one person that works there that could potentially be interested in our product. If you give that to a consultant, get the list back, then your SDRs are ready to go instead of having to do that themselves,” he says.
Trap #4 - Not having a go-to-market script or strategy in place
Your agency could have an outstanding process, an experienced SDR manager, and a structured list of clients to start contacting. But if you don't have a clear and consistent sales message, you may be less effective at converting prospects into qualified leads than if you have a script in place.
While many companies recognize the benefits of a script or talking points for sales calls, the mistake they end up making is thinking that it’s only the sales team’s job to come up with this document. This risks not capturing all the essential messages and questions SDRs may encounter during a call.
Dulany suggests that SDR conversion prospects improve greatly when all key stakeholders including the company founders are collaborating with the sales, marketing, and product teams and contributing to the script.
He adds that businesses shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking of a script as something that restricts SDRs into rigid and robotic conversations with prospects. It is a guide.
“You’ve got to at least have a hypothesis if you’re starting an SDR program. ‘This is what we think based on whatever evidence you have. This is what we think would work on a call or in an email or if you’re chatting online. This is the pattern that we think will work.’ Let’s at least get this down so that you can say it in a natural way, then go out and start road testing it. Let’s see if it works and start to monitor the success of it,” Dulany says.
Trap #5 - Set it, forget it, then criticize it
The last major trap Dulany sees companies falling into is neglecting their SDR strategy.
“We call it, set it, forget it, then criticize it. So, if the results are not there from the SDR team, there’s a lot of finger-pointing that goes on because it sits in between various departments. You’ve got marketing, sales, and all these different departments, and the SDR team is an easy target to blame when things go wrong,” he says.
How to avoid this trap
Dulany says the most successful companies embed “project management” as a mantra in their sales development programs. Agencies should be tracking the success of their SDR strategy and seeking to make continuous improvements to keep their sales pipeline humming.
“There has got to be someone who runs continual A/B testing of the messaging and the script and the tone, and just all those different factors that go into increasing the conversion from a conversation to a sales appointment to a pipeline deal to a closed deal,” he says.
The stellar success of technology companies over the last two decades has clearly demonstrated the value of a sales development strategy.
Regardless of what stage your agency is at, the key to success is ensuring the right infrastructure is in place for your SDR team and having an experienced SDR manager committed to continuously improving and tracking your sales development strategy.
By avoiding the five major traps identified by Dulany, your business will be well-positioned in ensuring that your sales pipeline is full of qualified leads which in turn should lead to higher revenue.