In a traditional sales organization, closers often take center stage. But this is changing rapidly as the pace of sales drives the need for more specialization in the sales process and more emphasis on the sales development role.
The typical sales development team is focused on the front end of the sales cycle, qualifying sales leads, setting appointments, and handing qualified leads off to closers. This specialized role ensures an earlier human touch point, less neglect of early stage leads, and ensures closers are focus on later stage opportunities.
Craig Rosenberg, founder and chief analyst at TOPO, shared learnings from his career-long experience with this critical role that often sits between sales and marketing and has the potential to drive incredible growth for an organization if executed effectively.
Q: The idea of sales development is not new, yet it is becoming increasingly popular. Why do you think that is?
Craig Rosenberg: It’s truly amazing. I was a consultant from 2000-2005 building sales and sales development teams for a company called SalesRamp. We used to have to spend the first portion of every sales cycle CONVINCING CEO’s and VPs of Sales to create a sales development function. Now having a sales development team is table stakes.
What’s changed? Salesforce.com was the turning point. One of the biggest B2B SaaS success stories of our generation leaned heavily on sales development. They are the bellwether in SaaS and everyone follows their blueprint. Aaron Ross’ popular book about the Salesforce.com sales development process, Predictable Revenue, helped spread the word. Now, you will be hard pressed to find a B2B company that does not have a sales development function.
Q: What does it take to make the sales development role a successful piece of the sales and marketing engine?
Craig Rosenberg:At TOPO, we believe there are 41 factors to a world class sales organization. You can find our framework here. Of course, if I had to narrow it down to one thing: the single most important factor is having a clearly defined, mutually agreed upon qualified lead definition. This definition details the criteria that must be met in order for sales development to hand off a prospect to sales. With a clear definition, sales development understands what they are delivering to sales and expectations with sales are set to avoid constant conflict.
Q: How has sales and marketing changed since you first started your career and what has stayed the same?
Craig Rosenberg:Trick question (obviously). Yes and yes. Marketing is more demand generation focused and numbers-centric than ever before. Today’s marketing department signs up for a lead or even a revenue number and mobilizes their resources to hit that number. Technology has helped drive this change. You can manage and track marketing efforts better than ever before. And technology continues to make marketers more effective, more scalable, more industrial-strength than ever before. When I started, marketing had zero budget for tech, now they have as much budget as the IT department.
When I started, sales was about hiring sales people and when you needed to hit a bigger number, it was about hiring more sales people. Now, sales is a predictable, metrics-driven, scalable machine. Hiring is still a key part of the equation but hitting the number quarter over quarter is about strategy, people, process, standardized plays, and technology.
From a sales rep’s perspective, the modern sales environment is drastically different than before. Sales management is focused on eliminating mundane tasks and freeing up sales to focus on selling. In the past, sales reps had to do everything on their own. The dialer is a perfect example – in the past, sales was left to organize their own lists, make the dials, and enter all their activities in the CRM. Now, they can use a dialer to just dial which focuses them on the core activity we pay them for – engaging with prospects.
Q: The hiring wars are definitely raging in the inside sales world, and arguably the biggest battles are in the area of sales development. What tips do you have for sales leaders looking for sales development talent?
Craig Rosenberg:Rule #1 is to develop a hiring profile. Rule #2 it can’t just say: “Hire A-players”. Here is the key: create the hiring profile based on key attributes versus past success. In today’s environment, you have to be realistic without having to settle. For example, one high growth company that was hiring 20-30 people every 3-4 months built a realistic hiring strategy. They had quantitative “tests” for verbal and written aptitude combined with requiring candidates to have some experience that proved they were able to overcome a significant challenge. Examples of these experiences might include military experience, competitive sports, or even, starting their own business in college. This type of profile allows the organization to be more creative in finding A-players than the traditional resume-centric approach. It is important to note that with a creative hiring profile, the onus then falls on onboarding, training, and coaching to make these candidates successful.
Q: You’ve had a lot of roles in your career that cross over both marketing and sales. What are your thoughts on how organizations can bridge the divide?
Craig Rosenberg: First of all, I tell both sides of the fence that friction is inevitable and when controlled, can actually be productive. I think it’s important to realize this before moving forward. I tell marketers that alignment does not mean that they will be invited over for Thanksgiving dinner. There are going to be arguments and there are going to be fights. It’s okay.
Secondly, alignment is achieved first and foremost by a CEO that can moderate this friction. Remember, I said earlier that the tension can actually be productive. Healthy dialogue will allow both sides to improve. In order for this friction to become a positive, a referee must determine where the “truth lies.”
For example, I recently worked with a company with a huge divide between marketing and sales. Marketing was achieving the MQL number, sales development was hitting their number of qualified meetings, but sales was missing the revenue goal. Sales blamed marketing and sales dev and vice versa. The meetings were over the top in terms of finger pointing, etc. The CEO intervened and asked everyone to take a step back and look at the data. The leads coming in weren’t bad, the meetings set weren’t bad, sales wasn’t bad – the problem was sales was really only closing organizations in the finance and healthcare vertical. Everything else wasn’t working. The CEO said: “let’s focus exclusively for the next 8 months on these two verticals, and then roll out a new vertical every quarter after that.” The problem required a review of their “Ideal Customer Profile” not placing blame on either side. By the way, they are killing it now.
Finally, there has to be tightly defined definitions of leads generated by marketing, meetings or appointments passed to sales, and opportunities. If you don’t rigorously define these 3 handoff points, then there will be too much gray area and tension will never let up.
Q: You are a big believer in “patterns and plays” in sales, how have you seen this play out in a real sales scenario?
Craig Rosenberg: Recently, at TOPO we have seen a surge in standardization in sales process and plays. In other words, sales leaders want their sales reps doing the same processes from how they qualify, how they demo the product, etc. In the old days, we would leave sales reps to “figure it out.” In the modern sales organization, companies figure out the steps a buyer must take from lead to close, then they design a process that met the needs of this buyer, and everyone in sales then follows a similar process. Without this standardization, it is impossible to create a repeatable, scalable process. As a modern sales leader, you can’t answer the question of “what’s working?” with “I don’t know.
In your view, what is the biggest challenge sales leader’s face right now?
Craig Rosenberg: Doing more with less. For many, it’s not a question of headcount, no one wants to hire their way to the number anymore. Sales leaders are focused on onboarding, training, enabling, and automating to lift their ACV (annual contract value) / rep. As you mentioned before, hiring is one of the hardest things to do in this environment, so capitalizing on the people you already have in the seat is critical.
Q: You have a big conference coming up – the TOPO Sales Summit, April 7-8 in San Francisco. Who should attend and what can they expect from the event?
Craig Rosenberg:Sales and marketing professionals who are interested in high growth, including sales leaders, sales development managers, sales operations, marketing leaders, and individual contributors.
Q: Sales leaders have a lot of events to choose from, what makes the TOPO Sales Summit different or unique?
Craig Rosenberg: The TOPO Sales Summit has 4 major differentiators:
1. The best sales leaders in the world will be speaking and attending. We have invited revenue leaders from high-growth companies to speak and attend. You will literally be able to learn from the world’s best sales leaders.
2. Specificity wins – That is the motto for TOPO. We ask all of our speakers to provide specific details on how to operationalize their recommendations. The result is valuable content that attendees can go execute on right away.
3. Topics that matter – We built an agenda of topics that you can’t find anywhere else. We have speakers talk about how they achieved growth like “Value Selling at Scale” and “Massively Scalable Sales” not “The 5 Don’ts in Leaving a Voicemail.” These are topics that can help you change your business, delivered with depth and specificity.
4. Fun – Trust me on this one.
If you are looking to grow your organization and aren’t a part of this great TOPO community, you should be – visit http://topohq.com/ to learn more. And if you are in the San Francisco area, come join Velocify, Craig Rosenberg and 600+ other like-minded inside sales leaders for the TOPO Sales Summit.
Meet the Author
Alyssa Trenkamp is the director of marketing communications at Velocify and a 15 year veteran in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to Velocify, Alyssa spent nearly a decade as a marketing and public relations consultant for Microsoft. Alyssa holds a BA in Journalism from Western Washington University.