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At a recent Enterprise Sales Meetup event I met Emma, an MBA candidate from a local university. We got to talking about her future plans, and she shared that she was debating between sales or marketing leadership as her best job options right now. She asked me which I’d recommend and, without hesitation, I replied, “Not just sales, sales development.”

Sales development, or the art and science of finding leads and qualifying opportunities, is on fire. According to a recent headline, it’s the biggest trend in sales today, and I couldn’t agree more. 

Two major waves are colliding.

First, there’s an exponential growth in the number of ideas, options, and solutions available for prospects. Prospects are drowning in a sea of could do. Vendors are publishing new and often contradictory “thought leadership” pieces at a startling rate. In response, prospects have developed a bias for the status quo. It just seems safer to stick with the way things are.

The second wave concerns the number and diversity of people involved in purchasing decisions. The buyer has become the buying unit, and is quickly growing into the buying battalion. Just about any single sale process seems to require dozens of yeses and risks running aground in the face of a single no. These two waves are changing the way B2B selling and buying are done.

While sales cycles haven’t elongated exponentially, the amount of effort required to win a single sale has. As a result, account executives (those reps who close sales) increasingly lack the time — and often the desire — to focus on building new sales pipelines. They argue that their time is better spent advancing and closing opportunities. “I’m busy doing demos, drafting proposals, and chasing contracts. I’m not prospecting because I just don’t have the bandwidth,” they say. 

Enter the sales development function.

The sales development role is our best response to the realities detailed above. If both prospects and account executives are crazy busy, we need a dedicated role that is purpose-built for generating new pipeline. For many companies, the sales development reps are the first line of human contact with prospects. They can also be the best opportunity to spark curiosity and generate interest.

The sales organizations that win today are those that are willing to reach out, stand out, and point out flaws in status quo thinking. According to the recent State of Sales report, “[A]chieving sales excellence takes a village.” That is the mindset winning companies have.

Sales development is about aligning the entire organization toward more pipeline, more revenue, and more new customers. After years of second-class status and often derogatory labels — Oh, that’s telemarketing or That’s just teleprospecting — the role has finally come into its own. Venture capitalists, CEOs, and boards of advisors now pay as much attention to pipeline reviews as they do forecast reviews.

So to Emma, the future MBA I mentioned earlier, I offer this advice: Start with a job in sales development. This function matters. You’ll have the ability to influence not only the culture of your team, but also how your company is perceived by prospects.

You’ll have the chance to shape not only the career trajectory of dozens and dozens of reps, but also the growth path of your entire organization. For you personally, success with this team isn’t just a stepping stone; it’s a giant leap forward. 

While sales cycles haven’t elongated exponentially, the amount of effort required to win a single sale has.”

Trish Bertuzzi | President & Chief Strategist of The Bridge Group
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