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By recognizing and avoiding mistakes leaders make, your Sales Development team will have greater ROI and deliver better results for years to come.
David Dulany, Founder and CEO of Tenbound, joins the podcast this week. We are talking about building the most robust SDR team that is laser-focused on qualifying leads and filling calendars with meetings. David shares with us the 5 biggest mistakes leaders make with their sales development program.
Mistake 1: Hiring SDRs before setting up their processes
Mistake 2: Hiring SDRs without an experienced Manager in place
Mistake 3: Using unstructured data
Mistake 4: Not having a go-to-market script or strategy in place
Mistake 5: Set it, forget it, and then criticize it
David is the Founder and CEO of Tenbound, research and advisory firm focused and dedicated to Sales Development. Tenbound has become the hub of the Sales Development industry, with a thriving online research center, market map, tool directory, training and consulting programs and The Tenbound Sales Development Conferences held yearly around the world and virtually. He recently published his first book, The Sales Development Framework, now available on Amazon.com.
George: You may have heard this term recently, sales development representative or sales development program. And no doubt we’ve covered it on previous episodes. But there is no doubt that more businesses are trying to understand how they would use sales development and how they would use it effectively inside their organization. So, we have a guest this week who is the host of the number one Sales Development Podcast on iTunes. And I met David Dulany a few months back when I was a guest on his show, but David is an expert in sales development. And for the past five years, he has led a company called Tenbound that consults and trains, and coaches on this motion of sales development for a company. So, we will learn from David in a few moments, but also, I really wanna investigate to see when businesses should look at sales development. When do I need to add that? I get asked that question a lot. So, let’s see what David has to say on the Conquer Local Podcast.
I don’t think that the Sales Development Representative role gets enough credit. So, we bring David in as the Founder and CEO of Tenbound and the host of the number one Sales Development Podcast on iTunes. David, great meeting you once again, because the last time we met, I was recording for your podcast, so it’s great to have you on the show.
David: Yeah, thank you. Thanks so much for bringing me on, and I’m excited to talk with you about this. Yes, SDRs and sales dev doesn’t get enough credit, so let’s fix that.
George: Well, I wanna ask a number of questions around this idea of Sales Development Reps and the motion of sales development. But first, I’d love to learn a little bit about Tenbound and your company.
David: Yeah, absolutely. So, I was running sales development programs at various tech companies here in San Francisco. I noticed that pretty much all the major tech companies had this sales development team, but there wasn’t sort of an industry center or a research and advisory firm that really focused on this one niche. So, started Tenbound about five years ago working with sales development programs on their playbooks and training and consulting. And then we started doing some of the media stuff that you mentioned. We’ve got a podcast, webinar, and we do a conference specific to this niche of sales development.
George: Well, it’s interesting, because I’ve been selling for a long time, and I was introduced to the SDR or sales development role in the software business. And then we adopted it at the company as you know our story. We grew from one salesperson to a couple hundred salespeople, and we recognized that we needed an inside sales motion with Sales Development Reps. What I’d love to understand from you because you’ve been doing this for a while, what is sales development and what is that role for those that don’t understand what the acronym is of SDR?
What is an SDR?
David: Yeah, absolutely. So, this role has always been there. I mean, as a sales representative, you were responsible for doing prospecting and cold calling and following up on inbound leads, and then running the sales call and taking care of the customers. And so, that hasn’t changed. And so, what has changed a bit is, at most software companies, they have the sales team broken out into these three parts. You’ve got the sales development team, the account executives, and the customer success. And everyone’s really laser-focused on their own part of that sales process. And so, the sales development team is laser-focused on doing the prospecting, doing the cold calling, following up on all the inbound leads, and making sure that the account executive team’s calendars are full and there’s plenty of new business meetings on the calendar at all times. And so, it’s a big thing in the tech industry, and I think it’s growing outside of tech these days. More and more companies are hearing about having this laser-focused team and getting into it.
George: Well, it’s funny that you bring that up, because I remember years ago when we were building out our inside sales motion. And we should talk about that as well. Outside sales, is you carry a bag and you go see a customer, and maybe there’s a steak dinner. Whereas inside sales, is where we do it on a Zoom or a Google Meet or a phone call, and it’s, I think telemarketing, I think call center, I think, but that’s exactly what we’re referring to. And then we get COVID happens, and now everybody is an inside seller to some certain extent because we can’t go face-to-face in a lot of different markets. But when I first heard about it, I’m like, where was this a number of years ago? You mean all I, somebody would set all my appointments and all I had to do was get on the phone with qualified buyers? It’s like a dream come true. I’m a big believer in segmented sales because I’ve lived it. When do we think about segmented sales, though? It’s not something that you just do. There’s a number of, and this is where we’re gonna learn from you now because I’m reading a white paper that you wrote around the five mistakes that you could make. When we talk about someone who is setting appointments, who’s doing all of the cold calling, dealing with inbound leads, qualifying those leads, and then booking the appointment, sounds great. When do I need it? When does an organization need to consider this concept?
David: Yeah, really good question. So, when you’re first starting out, it’s like anything else. If you’re starting a company, right, you’re the chief cook and bottle washer. When you’re first starting out, the sales rep will do everything, right? They’re gonna be in charge of all the cold calling, following up on inbound leads, running the demos, and taking care of the customers. But I think where the shift happens is if you get to the point where there’s enough inbound leads coming in and the sales rep is spending more and more time running calls and chasing deals and working on closing and they don’t have enough time to do the prospecting. It really, I think, where sales development comes in is it’s a skill. It’s a figuring out how to go out, and digitally, these days, knock on doors and drum up business for the company. So, if you’re looking at your calendar and all of your time is being spent doing closing activities and running demos and things, it might be time to start to think about the sales development team as your pipeline generator.
George: One of the questions that I get asked in one of my roles, which is I sit on an advisory board for tech startups. I get asked this question all the time, usually from a technical founder of a company, when should I make my first sales hire? I’m gonna ask you that question. In your experience, when should I make my first SDR or sales development rep hire?
When do I hire an SDR?
David: Yeah, so that’s a good question. The probably similar answer that you would say to the technical co-founder, it’s when you’re spending enough time on that one particular activity that it’s starting to crowd out the other important activities, and now you need to take it off your plate and start to delegate. It’s the same if your sales team is getting to the point where they just are not following up on the leads fast enough, they’re not available for chats on the website, or they’re not available to take all the calls that are coming in and things like that from an inbound perspective, and/or they’re not doing any cold calling, they’re not doing any prospecting, they’re just working the deals that are in the pipeline. That is the point where you might wanna think about delegating, breaking off that position, and starting an SDR team.
George: So, what I’d love to understand, that makes a lot of sense, by the way. I’d love to understand now, I’m a big believer in learning from those who’ve been there, what are the five mistakes that I could make and that we wanna avoid? Because you have these all codified. These are the five things you don’t wanna do.
Step 1: Expectations of the Process
David: You know, these are what we’ve seen over the years of people calling in and going, “Hey, I’ve got this SDR program, what do I, what am I supposed to do with it?” So, thing number one is, set up the processes first before hiring the people. And so, this is the number one thing, and you go back to that technical co-founder, right? He or she is looking at the calendar of the sales team, and it’s like, okay, it’s time to, we need an SDR to take care of all this stuff. So, they go out, there’s a lot of people who would love this position. And they just hire someone and stick them in the position with some tech tools and some data and things like that. And okay, check that off the list. Now I can go back to doing what I was doing. Wrong move. You gotta get the process laid out, even if it’s just in your notebook or on a whiteboard. What is this person going to do on a daily basis and what do we expect from them from a production perspective? Get that process first.
George: And I’d like to punctuate that, if I may. Make it part of the scorecard on the hiring so you can set the proper expectation with the rep, because the process and understanding what they’re gonna go through, and then saying, “You gotta make 150 calls a day, “and some people won’t like you calling them.” Really clearly setting that expectation follows that process, doesn’t it?
David: Well, that’s huge. I mean, clear expectations, you know from doing this for a long time, expectations are the key. You can’t hit a target that you can’t see and you don’t want someone who you say that this company’s great, we’re going places, we’re gonna the moon, and then they come in and it’s like, “Oh, by the way, you have to make 150 phone calls a day.” That’s the horrible situation because now you gotta go back to the drawing board and potentially find somebody else. So, you gotta have that process down first.
George: Yeah, and I don’t think there’s a way of sugarcoating it, I guess is my point, that this is the job. What I’ve found, and I’d love to hear if you’ve heard this from other organizations. And you talked about cold calling, so thanks for calling that out. We still have to cold call, But it’s almost like, well, I’ll do it here as an SDR for a while, and then I won’t have to do it in other roles. But you have to knock on the door a number of times to talk to even a paying customer. So, some of the motions in SDR aren’t lost on other parts of the company. Have you seen that as well?
David: Oh, yeah. I mean, we say it’s a great first position when you’re coming out because all your other jobs are gonna be a lot easier after you’ve done this for a while. But yeah, being able to work through the awkwardness of it all, and like you said, a lot of what success is out there is just follow-up. It’s in the follow-up because people just get busy and they’ve got a million other priorities. So, if you can learn that follow-up skill of being pleasantly persistent and professional, it’s gonna be super valuable, any job that you do.
George: How important is it to have somebody leading that has done this, somebody, that has a level of experience when you’re building out this team?
Mistake 2: Get Somebody That’s Been There
David: Yeah, I mean, that’s mistake number two that we see. And this is very contrarian because nine times out of 10, people just say, “Oh, you know, let me just hire an SDR, get them in there. “Very low commitment, low cost for the investment, “and we’ll see what happens.” But what we say, and sort of the flipping that on its head, is get a good player-coach in there right at the beginning who has built SDR programs in the past and can come in and not only be doing the calls and reaching out to your prospects and things like that from an individual contributor perspective but also can write the playbook and can write the processes and start to build out that internal structure for you immediately. And then you can start adding people to the structure, and you’ve got a manager already. So, thing number two to think about is get somebody in there that’s been there, done that, and has that experience that can build the foundation for you.
George: Where am I gonna get the list? Where am I gonna get the prospect list from, and how important is this next step in the journey of, who are they gonna call? Who are they gonna reach out to?
Mistake 3: The Productivity Killer
David: Yeah, 100%. What we call it is unstructured data. It’s just a productivity killer in the sales development world, and that’s when you hire someone and you put them in front of an unstructured database of old leads and maybe some potential new accounts that they could call on, and it’s just sort of a thrown-together Frankenstein of data. And we’ve all been there. I mean, it’s not a fun activity to go through and structure data in a way that’s gonna make it as easy as possible for the SDR to be able to reach out and actually have contact with people. But what we really recommend is, take a hard look at the structure or the unstructure of your data, and make sure that it’s set up in a way that’s going to empower the SDR to have as many conversations as possible. And it takes a little bit of work on the backend, but as you could imagine, the time savings on the part of the SDR from not having to call dead phone numbers and send bad emails and talk to people who don’t work at the company anymore, it’s gonna be a huge savings of time.
George: And they’ll use that as an excuse for why they weren’t successful as well, so you might as well just nip it in the bud.
David: Yeah, exactly. And we’re talking, if you’ve got an operations person or you can hire a consultant for a week to go through and say, “Can you organize our data along the outbound strategy that we’re trying to follow?” So, I’ll give you an example. We wanna call all the Inc. 5000 companies that have more than 100 employees and are growing by 100%, okay? All we need is a list of those companies, and then one person that works there that could potentially be interested in our product. If you give that to a consultant, get the list back, now your SDRs are ready to go instead of having to do that themselves.
Mistake 4: Script It Out
George: Now, the next piece, and I think it’s really important. And I remember when we, I think I might’ve mentioned this when you and I met last time when we brought in a consultant to help us build out inside sales. The first thing that they said was, “Okay, show me your talk track or script or messaging or whatever it might be, and is that what has closed more than 100 deals?” And I was sitting there going, “Okay, we don’t have that.” But yet, we did have a script. We just didn’t have it hardened. And people don’t like the word script, by the way. I don’t know how you feel about that term. We can use a synonym to describe it, what it is. Really, it’s a message that delivers a close and you know that it works in a variety of situations with a potential ideal customer profile. And then, how do we take that thing and make it repeatable? Like, it really is something that could kill this whole motion if you don’t have that talk track nailed down.
David: 100%. And I think you hit it on the head. People hear the word script, and they’re just like, “I, you know, that just feels weird.” They don’t wanna feel like they’re a robot or they’re just this replaceable actor in a play or something like that. But when we say a script, it’s, yeah, you’ve gotta have something down that’s sort of the hypothesis, at least, if you’re starting an SDR program. This is what we think based on whatever evidence that you have. This is what we think would work on a call or in an email or if you’re chatting online. This is the pattern that we think will work. Let’s at least get this down so that you can say it in a natural way, and then go out and start road testing it. Let’s see if it works and start to monitor the success of it. What we see a lot is, a lot of companies just leave that to the team, like that’s your job to make it. But it’s gotta be more collaborative with the marketing team and the product team and the sales team to pull together that first initial script.
George: And I’ll tell you in my experience, David, and feel free to jump in and add or subtract on this if you don’t agree, but this really is the secret sauce. You could have a process, you could have the most experienced manager, you could have the proper list that just every time you talk to a potential buyer. But if you don’t have the messaging right as to how it’s going to deliver for the customer, and that there’s some cycles on that that it actually has some fact to it. We worked with this customer, this is where they found the value, this is the piece that we need to use that resonates with this customer base. And I guess what I’m leaning into is what you say around mistake number five, and I admit I’ve done this, and that is, we’ve got it. Let’s move on to something else and not continue to pay attention to it.
Mistake 5: Set it, Forget it, then Criticize it
David: Yeah, yeah, exactly. We call it, set it, forget it, and then criticize it, right? So, if the results are not there from the SDR team, there’s a lot of finger-pointing that goes on because it sits in between various departments. You got marketing, sales, and all these different departments, and the SDR team is an easy target to start to blame for things going wrong. So, that’s the main, you hit it right on the head. Once you get that motion in place, and the process, the tendency is, okay, I’m done with that. Now I can go work on more, whatever my next to-do list is. But what we’ve found is, in really successful SDR programs, the keywords are project management. And so, when I say project management, there’s gotta be someone who’s running continual A/B testing of the messaging and the script and the tone, and just all those different factors that go into increasing the conversion from a conversation to a sales appointment to a pipeline deal to a closed deal. There’s gotta be somebody who’s running that day-to-day as the project manager so that it just doesn’t sort of fade off the tracks, and then you look at it in a few months and it’s not going very well.
George: I remember nine years ago I started my journey in SaaS sales coming from a long-lived sales career, and I found that you’ve gotta be data-driven. Not gonna work out for you in a technology company if you’re not. But what I also found was this role is vital to the exponential growth that SaaS companies talk about. And yet, you really gotta pay attention to it in the people that you hire, the expectations that are set, the way that you’re developing the process. It isn’t just, oh, this is where people start, or, this is, we need to have it, but let’s focus over here on the BDRs because they close the deals. We started calling it the tip of the spear. And I’m wondering, in your experience over the years, how important is sales development and that repeatable motion in really 10Xing a company or really getting that flywheel growth?
David: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just temper that by saying if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So, all I talk about all day is sales development and how important it is, and so, I’m a little biased. But I have to say that if there’s nobody out there knocking on doors or digitally knocking on doors, forging new conversations, following up on all the inbound leads, making sure that we have total coverage over what’s a potential pipeline deal, then we’re missing opportunities. And everyone would love to be able to optimize to the point where we can eliminate humans from the process, but as it is right now, we can’t optimize this to the point where we can get rid of all the humans. We still need somebody in there connecting the dots, improving their talk track, continuously improving the conversion rates, and that’s the SDR team. And so, yeah, I’m very bullish on it. I would check it out for sure if you don’t have one because it is a game-changer.
George: So, our audience on the show are individual contributors, but also sales leadership. So, we’ve been speaking to the sales leadership groups out there that are, they’ve been thinking, maybe we need to do some inside sales. But I also wanna speak to those individual contributors, because the rise of sales development reps punctuate something that we that have sold for a long time all know, and that is, you’re gonna have natural attrition of your book of business, so you need to dedicate that you’re going to be prospecting and knocking on new doors. We talked a lot about inbound leads, but this motion of qualifying, finding the proper people, and then going in and having a conversation around what their problems are, if we could also highlight that if you are just an individual contributor, you’re running a solopreneur business, you just have to dedicate some time to this because you always have to be prospecting.
David: 100%. I mean, and nobody’s off the hook, here, by the way. Even if you have an SDR team, if you’re a small business owner, if you’re an AE, if you’re in a referral business, exactly like you said, you still have to dedicate this and use your SDR skills on a daily basis to make sure that you’re not missing any opportunities. And it’s one of those things where it’s the first thing that you wanna move on and start working on something else. But it’s really important that you dedicate that time to prospecting because otherwise, something’s gonna fall through the cracks.
George: I had one of our reps that just had a record month, and we were unpacking the record month. And this is an account executive or a business development rep that has a quota. And I said, “You know, you had a really good month. “What’s going on there?” “Well, I actually have been listening to some SDR calls recently, and I’m just getting better at doing needs analysis.” And it was really interesting to me because when you segment sales, and this is what I’d love to hear from you, David, because you talk to way more organizations than I do. When you segment sales, it’s like, oh, all of the qualifying is gonna be done over there. But actually what happens is, now you’ve got professional qualifiers that could lend that experience to other parts of the business. Have you seen that, where it becomes a community of practice where I kind of forgot that I need to hone my skills of needs analysis and qualification?
David: It does go back and forth, I mean, and it’s really important that the expectations are set on both sides of that relationship, too, so that the SDR has a clear view of what the qualification level is going to be acceptable to the AE, and then the AE has a set of expectations that they’re going to do with that appointment to make sure that they’re fulfilling their side of the bargain if you will. And so, both sides can be learning from each other on, and cross-pollinating the skills as they develop them. And definitely throughout, I mean, you could see how I’ll give you an example. At one company, they have an installed base of very happy customers, and it’s very important that they keep the subscriptions going, right? Within that installed base, there’s potential opportunities that are untapped at this point. And the sales rep doesn’t necessarily have the time to go through and map and prospect within the installed base, and it’s a different motion than going out and doing cold calling. So, this company has dedicated an SDR team to call into the installed base in order to map and understand the different opportunities that might be there for cross-sell and upsell.
George: I love that you brought that up because I think that people believe that SDR just sits between marketing and sales, and it’s this qualification thing at the beginning of the customer journey. And what you’re saying is, you could also deploy this resource on existing customers where you have that farmer, maybe account manager-type motion, they’re doing a great job, but they’re not identifying new opportunities and setting the stage to qualify that. So, it could be used on both sides of the close, is what I hear you saying.
David: Yeah, and one other quick example is there’s a company that does outsourced SDR work. So, they focus 100% on the SDR work for other companies. And one of their business practices is testing the market for new products and services. So, they’ll go out and talk to potential clients about this new product or service that you’re cooking up, and just see if there’s any reaction or that they’d be willing to pay, how much would they be willing to pay, and things like that. So, doing market research before you spend a bunch of money and time launching something that nobody wants.
George: That’s brilliant. So, a few, first off, David’s been kind enough to give us five very hard-earned lessons so we can avoid some of the mistakes that he sees over and over and over again. And also, he’s shared that sales development doesn’t just live in one part of the company. It can be used in multiple parts of the company. I’ve got another question, though. I’m starting to feel something when I’m talking to businesses, and I wanted to see if you’re feeling this as well. Are there other, you know, we talk about SaaS software, software as a service, software companies. That’s really where this inside sales motion started to grow and where you’ve been working. Are you seeing other industries adopting this? Like a plumbing company. Got four sales reps, we need to get qualified appointments for these folks rather than saying, “Okay, four sales reps, you go be SDR, business development rep, account,” like, are you seeing other industries adopting this outside of software and tech?
David: Yeah, oh, yeah. 100%, I mean, and they’ve had it since the beginning of their sales team. They just call it different things, like a call center or a telemarketing team and things like that. And so, it’s just slightly different tools, different motions, different data. But it’s definitely out there and it’s happening. I think where tech has taken the sales development industry is there’s a certain role for them in the company that’s sort of beyond just a bunch of people in a call center. They’re integrated within the company. There’s a career path that usually goes to become an AE, and it’s just a little bit more a talent bench. It’s considered more of like a bench strength for the sales team in tech companies. But yeah, there’s a lot. A lot of industries are doing similar motions to this for sure.
George: Well, David Dulany has been our guest this week, the founder and CEO of Tenbound. If people wanna learn more about Tenbound, David, how do they find you?
David: Yeah, it’s just spelled out, so T-E-N-B-O-U-N-D.com. And definitely, you can contact us through there for more information about this, and a ton of free resources as well. So, we’ll see you over there.
George: Great, and your podcast, we wanna get you some downloads and subscribers. So, where do we find “The Sales Development Podcast”?
David: Yeah, I mean, it’s mostly Apple. I know Apple Podcasts, but it’s on a number of the other ones, and you just type in “The Sales Development Podcast”. Very original name. We bring on all, you know, sales development sits in between all these different functions, so we’ve got people from all different functions on there, talking SDR.
George: Well, great. We appreciate your time and joining us on the show, It’s great hearing from your learnings in this growing space of sales development.
David: Thanks for having me.
George: Well, I love David’s five biggest mistakes case study that he published online. I just wish that I would have found it six years ago because there definitely are some learnings there. I learned it from getting punched in the face with the school of hard knocks of just trial and error, David has this thing dialed into a methodology.
So, the first thing is, you need to have an infrastructure. You’ve heard me talk about this before on the show. I would hire revenue operations first and have a system and have a team that is building out the system underneath your sales organization. And David talked about that right off the top. We need to set up the process first. We need to have good data, so we need that list that we’re gonna call with proper contacts. And then we need to know what we’re going to say and what is the strategy behind the message that we’re going to deliver, or what information are we trying to gather or learn. And then bring somebody in there that’s been there, done that, and is a bit of a player-coach. Somebody that can be on the floor and working with the teams, and then has the ability to move to run the thing when you figure out if you have a process that can become repeatable. I remember the first time I heard this, I believe it was probably Roberge, Mark Roberge that said it, you wanna find something that is repeatable and then you invest in it. And I remember we, a few times when we thought, oh, we’ve got this thing in a box, it’s ready to go. We can rinse, repeat all of the colloquial phrases around we’ve nailed it, but we hadn’t. And having that script or strategy that you know is a winner and then putting it in the hands of new people and seeing if they can deliver on it. And that is the key to this. Not setting it, not forgetting it, and not criticizing it, actually living in it on a day-to-day basis and iterating and improving. And it’s as much about removing things or adding things as your business changes and maybe as your customer base changes. So, sales development isn’t a set it and forget it. It is a part of that journey, the buyer’s journey, and you’re jumping in there and you’re taking a lead and you’re understanding more about it. And then you’re putting it in the hands of the proper rep that can speak to that type of customer. It’s a really important motion, and if you’re going to grow exponentially, you’re going to need this revenue motion. I couldn’t be doing what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis without it. It’s a very important piece.
But one thing that David said that we didn’t get to dig into because of time, but I do wanna tell you, the sales development motion has a tendency to become the training ground. And I’ve learned this the hard way over the years, you need a component that stays there that are the professionals that are getting better. And you need to have some idea of what good looks like so that you can point the new reps in that direction. You know, do what Myron does or do what Brent does because they are the people that are doing this right on a day-to-day, but actually let’s listen to their call, or go over there and sit with them today. So, you need to have a corpus of sales development reps that are top performers that are doing that job on a regular basis. What I’ve found is you have a tendency to have that as the farm team where people learn your business and learn the industry and learn how to talk to customers. That’s important, too, don’t get me wrong. But you need to have that piece of the engine that’s running with people that are hitting their quota. But some great learnings there from David, and also, I love the fact that we highlighted that prospecting is important. I don’t care if you’re a solopreneur. You need to be setting aside some time, and really, that’s what sales development has become is this. We know we need to be prospecting. We know we need to be filtering through inbound leads. We know we need to be doing some outbound or remarketing. We need to have a dedicated resource. If you are just one resource, then you need to dedicate some time in your day to do this work. It’s vitally important to keep filling that funnel, and that is the role of sales development rep.
So, thanks to David Dulany, the CEO and founder of Tenbound, for joining us on this week’s edition of the Conquer Local Podcast, all about prospecting, sales development, qualifying of leads, and how to get that revenue motion correct in your organization. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.