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What Salesforce Has Learned About Sales Development


Inside sales is often seen as the lowest rung of a sales team’s ladder. But that first step on the rung — while not always viewed as the “sexiest” — is one of the most important for building a successful sales organization.

Too often, organizations undervalue the impact sales development can have on their top lines and talent pipelines. Simply put, it’s never too early or too late to start with inside sales. It’s an incredibly resourceful, low-cost way to build up your pipeline — not only with leads, but talent, too. From my own experience running the inside sales teams at Salesforce, here are a few things you should keep in mind.

Structuring your inside sales team

Sales managers can attest: Getting an account executive (AE) to pick up the phone as often as they need to for pipeline generation is tough — and costly. It’s much more cost-effective to have dedicated inside sales reps do the majority of this work instead of AEs, who could be using their time closing deals. But you also have to think about structuring the inside sales team to align with the buying cycles of your customer segments. At Salesforce, we split our inside sales team into sales development reps (SDRs) and business development reps (BDRs).

Our SMB pipeline generation tends to be primarily inbound. SMBs tend to do more buying of research online and inform buying decisions via word-of-mouth, and hence tend to respond to online advertising channels such as Facebook or Google ads. The most important variable in converting an inbound lead is time. Studies have shown that you can be six to 10 times more effective in converting a customer if you reach them within the first hour. By creating an inbound optimized around speed to lead, we have been able to maximize conversion of inbound interest.

For midmarket and up, where buying cycles tend to be more complex, we have BDRs who focus on outbound prospecting. Large companies don't tend to respond to digital marketing or advertising very quickly, and BDRs can be more proactive in their outreach. Unlike SDRs, for whom speed is the key variable tied to productivity, activity tends to drive higher activity. By eliminating inbound distractions, we allow the BDRs to do great account-based research and then drive activity across the account to generate demand.

The lesson here is that your sales development team should align with your customer buying processes and be segmented to optimize for the variables most closely linked with productivity.

Finding and molding new talent

Of course, the primary goal for an inside sales team is pipeline generation. At Salesforce, the generation of a talent pipeline is just as important. Outside of a high-quality deal pipeline, my core KPI as the leader of our group is developing the next generation of AEs.

We’ve developed strong relationships with colleges and universities to bring in top talent and train them as SDRs, helping them learn how to qualify leads. But we also coach them on foundational topics such as business acumen, sales methodologies, and our solutions. We typically promote an SDR to a BDR after about a year, when they will learn how to outbound prospect. In turn, we then promote them to AE after a year as a BDR. As such, within two years, we have fully trained and proficient AEs who are ready to hit the ground running. They know our organization and its culture, our sales cycles, the products themselves, and most importantly, our customers. This is a great talent pipeline for us, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to help infuse diversity of all kinds into the company.

Giving SDRs and BDRs the tools to succeed


In order for us to drive the next step-function improvement in productivity, we need to continue to evolve the tools we provide to our teams. That means ensuring that everything is trackable, repeatable, and data-driven so we can learn from everything we’re doing.

A few years ago, we brought in concepts like “speed to lead” for the SDRs and started measuring how quickly they were making those phone calls. However, we still weren't giving them the productivity tools to actually capitalize on their knowledge. We were telling BDRs that they needed to put five calls on every prospect before they moved onto the next one or before they archived it. Yet they didn’t have the software and the reminders to manage the 5,000 contacts at the 500 companies that they were calling. Tracking was close to nonexistent as well. That’s when we turned to technology solutions to solve these problems: tracking and increasing calls by having embedded telephony with automatic logging to Salesforce, streamlining the daily process in a single workspace, and making sure everything is reportable.

Hiring and building out your sales development teams is one thing. But you can’t just hand people a phone and expect success. Implementing thoughtful team structures, career paths, and software tools will only help your reps deliver on your top line and talent acquisition goals.

For more insight on inside sales, be sure to visit our High Velocity Sales collection page.

Implementing thoughtful team structures, career paths, and software tools will only help your reps deliver on your top line and talent acquisition goals.”

Jonathan Hunt | SVP, COO, Commercial Business Unit, Salesforce

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