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Does this story sound familiar to you? Your account executives are wearing many hats. They are identifying accounts, reaching out to secure first conversations, conducting discovery calls, working existing opportunities, and so on. Your reps are so focused on the top of the funnel, on opportunity creation, that they are actually elongating their own sales cycles.

If this describes your sales organization, you may want to consider building a sales development team. This team focuses on one thing and one thing only — building pipeline for your AEs. But before you rush to build out your team, there are three considerations to take into account.

1. Alignment

Are senior leadership, sales, and marketing willing to make the investment in time, energy, and money that will be required to make this kind of team successful? The first rule of sales development is no fighting in front of the kids. Shared goals, objectives, and expectations across the management team are a critical component of your success.

2. Market-Message Fit

Do you know enough about your market to build a solid process and strong messaging that fledgling reps can use to establish credibility over the phone? It takes more than “hungry” to be successful in sales development. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you hire eager and aggressive reps that they will be effective. Your prospects don’t have time to educate your reps on their businesses. Make sure your onboarding and training leave reps fluent in your prospects’ language, thinking, professional goals, and so on.

3. Skill of Closers

Does your sales organization have the attitude and aptitude to take early-stage opportunities and successfully launch the sales process? Take a dispassionate look at your sales team. Are they truly closers, or are they relationship builders? If you’re going to invest in building an early-stage team that aggressively focuses on building new pipeline, you need to have account executives who can effectively launch the sales process.

If you answered yes to all three, you’re ready. Awesome. Now you have to make your next big decision.

Reporting Structure

Early on, the decision needs to be made whether the team should be housed within sales or marketing. The sales development group is often the wishbone that gets tugged between the two. I recently published research, called the SDR Metrics Report, on the practices of more than 340 business-to-business (B2B) companies with sales development groups. I found that the vast majority of companies place sales development under the sales umbrella (76% of respondents).

Here is my take: Stop thinking about sales versus marketing. Your team should report to whomever has the bandwidth, expertise, and passion to lead it. Success hinges on who leads the group, not where it sits on the org chart.

A director of marketing with a track record of building process, recruiting talent, and developing all-stars is far better than an SVP of sales who expects the group to run itself. This is more important than what my research (or any other!) says that “everyone else” is doing.

Expectation Setting

I recently met the VP of sales of a technology services company. She wanted to get my take on the results of her fledgling sales development effort.

Over the previous 12 months, she had launched a team and grown it to four outbound reps. “All in, I think I have spent about $600,000 on the group so far. We have good forward-looking pipeline. But to date, the group has only sourced $750,000 in net new business,” she shared. She then inquired what I thought of the return.

I replied, “You said your sales cycle is roughly 120 days. I bet you’ve closed the majority of that revenue in the last four to six months. Am I right?” She said I was. I continued, “And for the six months prior, how much business did your account executives source from net new customers?” She thought for half a beat, smiled, and replied, “Well, about half that, and they cost me a hell of a lot more.” We agreed the group was off to a good start and in six months the return would be rock solid.

Setting expectations as you build and grow sales development is critical. Communicating up to the executive level, across to peers, and down to team members takes forethought and planning. Not every sales leader is willing to take the long view, like the one we met above, and consider “compared to what?”

It has been my experience that many executives view sales development as a sort of chemical reaction: Hire a team, add one part customer relationship management (CRM) to two parts leads and list, and POOF! Instant revenue. Sadly, it’s not quite that simple.

It’s a big investment to have a sales development team, an investment of both time and money. Of course, the end game is to get to repeatable pipeline and revenue growth as quickly as possible. But if you have a complex solution or one that requires that your account executives educate the market, you have to think long term.

I find that too many organizations aren’t realistic in setting expectations. They don’t take into account the time it takes to ramp up a team or properly account for the length of their sales cycle. They want results now.

A good sales development team adds value from day one. It is up to you to understand the value of the conversations they’re having, to quantify that pre-pipeline value, and to communicate it across your organization. What did they cost? And what did they yield? These are important questions. But they are not the end-all for fledgling groups. Sales development is an investment, not a cost center. Embrace that fact, and you are well on your way to setting realistic expectations.

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

There’s one universal truth in sales and human behavior that I’ve found to be accurate no matter where I go: The number one thing on the planet that everyone loves talking about is themselves.”

Trish Bertuzzi | President and Chief Strategist, The Bridge Group

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