I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The sales development rep (SDR) is no longer an entry-level role.

Sales development has evolved far beyond the days when college interns could be groomed to become robotic gofers, desperately “fetching meetings” just to hit some arbitrary quota.

Here’s the harsh reality that sales leaders need to accept:

  • Old-school SDR success: “How many meetings did you book this month?”

  • New-school SDR success: “What was the quality of the opportunities created? How did they impact our sales velocity? Are we meeting exceeding our prospects’ expectations at every touchpoint?”

SDRs often represent the first human contact that a prospect has with your brand, so in order to deliver a positive experience at the first interaction, sales reps must know the world of their prospect pretty much inside and out.

There are likely multiple competitors targeting the same prospect as you. Depending on your ACV and sales model, this probably means you don’t have a lot of time to establish rapport and move opportunities down the pipeline.

The salesperson who makes the prospect feel like they “did their homework” is more likely to generate a meaningful sales conversation than the unprepared salesperson who shows up asking a bunch of redundant questions and annoying the potential customer.

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is skyrocketing due to increased competition, and challenges with efficiently scaling growth in the best customer acquisition channels.

One way to address this is to invest more resources into cost-effective channels such as reseller networks, referral programs, and co-marketing.

Or sales teams can work smarter. This means heavy collaboration with demand generation to build and execute a penetration strategy for their target accounts. This new way of working is called account-based marketing.

In order to avoid wasting precious sweat equity (I strongly doubt any SDR would enjoy cold calling a large set of unknown contacts from a random list), SDRs are partnering with demand generation teams to launch highly targeted account-based sales and marketing campaigns that focus on reaching specific accounts and key individual stakeholders rather than casting a wide net over prospects at the top and middle of the funnel.

This inverted funnel diagram from Intercom compares  modern ABM to the traditional lead generation funnel.

Demand generation and sales development are crucial business processes that focus on building awareness and driving leads into the sales pipeline, but nothing really happens until they work together in perfect harmony, just like a symphony orchestra. (I’m a guitarist, so I tend to see the business world through the lens of music).

Until demand generation marketers and SDRs  thoroughly understand their prospects (and how to delight them at every interaction), both teams will likely continue wasting time with leads that aren’t ready to buy, or leads that simply aren’t relevant.  

Because customers expect a higher degree of personalization than ever before, the need for stronger SDR involvement in demand generation is more urgent than ever, especially in the B2B arena.

According to the “State of Sales” report by Salesforce, 72% of buyers expect vendors to personalize engagement to their needs.

The report also revealed that sales professionals who are well connected to other customer-focused units (such as marketing) tend to increase their ability to:

  • Drive customer satisfaction (88%)

  • Acquire new customers (86%)

  • Reduce customer churn (79%)

  • Increase average deal size (75%)

  • Accelerate sales cycles (71%)

  • Close more deals (83%)

Nextiva’s top 100 customer service statistics also notes that 33% of customers who abandoned a business relationship last year did so because personalization was lacking.

In short, silos are on their way out the door, and all customer-facing teams need to establish a united front. It is time for a proactive transformation of the sales development organization.

Customers crave relevant, timely, and hyper personalized service, along with expert assurances that the offered solutions will help them solve their unique problems.

Brands that master personalization at the early stages of the buying cycle are clarifying where demand generation and sales development intersect.

Demand generation is a targeted marketing process that aims to drive awareness, interest, and demand for products or services using omni-channel marketing strategies, ranging from content marketing, email outreach, 15-second YouTube ads, events, and social media campaigns.

Lead generation — where the most promising potential clients are transitioned as sales leads — is often described as an advanced-stage subset of demand generation.

According to a TOPO report, 64% of respondents said SDRs in their organization report to sales, while 25% said SDRs report to the marketing department.

Regardless of which team they report to (either approach can achieve remarkable performance), SDRs can adopt these tactics to elevate demand generation.

  1. SDRs + AEs + demand generation must form a cohesive unit. Sales and marketing alignment is not just a buzzword. It is a baseline for success.

    1. SDRs should be involved in the formulation and execution of a unified game plan shared by the two departments.

    2. The sales development playbook must share an unbreakable link with the demand generation strategy via the sharing of identical definitions, brand messaging, content, total addressable market, buyer personas, and ideal customer profiles.

  2. Customers demand personalized and meaningful experiences. They readily go to vendors who can meet their expectations and ditch those who don’t. SDRs need to continuously improve how they engage prospects by:

    1. Identifying the messaging approaches and cadences that lead to the best outcomes

    2. Utilizing the right channel (email, phone, and so on) at the right time with appropriate content

  3. Just say no to list buying; this never works. So many reasons why this is a bad idea.

  4. Focus on quality over quantity for a streamlined sales development process that generates high-quality leads and accelerates pipeline flow. As needed, tweak lead scoring, buyer personas, and campaigns to achieve the metrics you aim for. Identify the ideal sequence (for example, prospect research, discovery calls, follow-up emails, and so on) that generate the best results.   

  5. Properly equip your AEs; don’t just “get meetings” scheduled. Provide more value to your AEs by furnishing them with a well-researched point of view. AEs should enter a sales meeting with a comprehensive understanding of how to achieve tangible business outcomes within a target account.

  6. Embrace ABM/ABS technology. Trying to manually personalize every touchpoint with all your prospects is not going to be scalable at some point. Use marketing automation, sales engagement, and other tools that can do the heavy lifting so you can focus on providing the human touch.

To win the game, SDRs must upgrade their playbook and expand their repertoire.

In the old days, SDRs focused mostly on making cold calls for outbound campaigns, or taking warm calls from inbound leads.

Given the massive changes in consumer behavior and market dynamics, the calculus for sales development has also shifted dramatically.

High-performing SDRs are much more than meeting gofers  — they are high-caliber consultants empowered by advanced sales technologies to find and engage the right prospects while exceeding expectations at every customer interaction.

Because customers expect a higher degree of personalization than ever before, the need for stronger SDR involvement in demand generation is more urgent than ever.”

Gaetano DiNardi | Director of Demand Generation, Nextiva
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