“Inside Sales” is a rapidly growing model for business-to-business (B2B) sales. Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) are a key part of that model and there is a big increase in hiring SDRs, especially among technology companies. This post provides a simple explanation of ‘Inside sales’ and describes what a Sales Development Representative does as part of the sales team.
In the Beginning There Was Field Sales
20 years ago, most sales people in business-to-business companies worked in “Field Sales”. They spent a lot of their time on the road meeting with prospects and clients. They did a lot of their own sales prospecting or else worked with a lead generation team. Those lead generation teams (often known as ‘telesales’) worked their way through cold calling lists, trying to identify potential prospects. But the model was centred around the concept of sales teams identifying and pursuing customers in person, face-to-face.
So What is Inside Sales?
Inside Sales can be defined as sales where leads are mostly generated, pursued and closed using the web and phone. Inside sales teams originally focused mostly on generating sales leads, but now they can demonstrate products and close sales too, usually for products in a price range of $5,000 to $100,000. Field sales are still used in a lot of industries, and for higher value deals, but Inside Sales teams are growing across almost all sectors.
The Rise of Inside Sales
Sales has changed in the past decade, both in the way sales teams sell and the way buyers buy. Where most of the process used to be face-to-face, now a lot of it happens over the phone and online. This has happened for a few reasons:
Buyers do more research online – where people used to rely on vendors to supply product and market information, they can now gather this information themselves. Even in more traditional sectors buyers are becoming more comfortable using the web and social media when looking for solutions or products. This is illustrated by research from the Savvo Group that found between 58% to 70% of the buying process is completed before talking to a vendor.
Sellers are looking for more efficient ways to sell – there are huge savings for companies if they can close most sales over the phone and web versus in-person sales calls. This diagram from David Skok of Matrix Partners highlights the relative cost of moving from an online sales model to a high-touch face-to-face model.
Sales Role Specialisation – sales teams that break the sales process into separate, specialized functions are more effective. So teams now allocate functions such as lead generation, lead qualification and subsequent lead management to different roles in a sales team. The Sales Development Rep is a good example of that new specialized type of role.
There are better tools – 10 years ago tools for web based selling were limited – for example video web conferencing was relatively expensive and pretty flaky. Today a sales person can easily demonstrate a product over the web to a customer, have a video call, chat directly with them on live chat or connect via social media. The tools are better, faster and lower cost and it’s possible to get close to a ‘virtual’ face-to-face experience.
How are Inside Sales Teams structured?
Inside Sales teams are structured in an assembly line layout, with lead generation at one end and sales qualification and follow-up at the other.
The process starts with lead generation. There are usually two flows for lead generation – outbound and inbound.
Inbound lead generation starts with web marketing execs who drive traffic to the company website to generate leads and inquiries. They review these enquiries before passing ‘sales quality’ inbound leads to an Inbound Sales Development Rep. (Leads that aren’t ‘sales quality’ can be sent to a ‘Lead Nurturing’ workflow to keep in contact, or else rejected). The Inbound SDR’s role is to establish contact with the lead they received from marketing, confirm there is an opportunity and schedule an initial call or demo, before passing that lead to an Account Executive (AE).
Outbound lead generation starts within the Inside Sales Team, with the Outbound Sales Development Representative preparing lists of potential prospects through online research. The reps then make contact with these prospects, starting usually with initial outbound ‘cold emails’ followed up by phone calls with prospects who respond positively. Again, the SDR will try to confirm there is a real opportunity before passing the qualified leads to an Account Executive.
Follow-up and closing belongs to Account Executives, who manage the qualified leads until they are ready to become paying customers. For B2B companies this may involve multiple interactions over weeks and months until a sale is agreed.
What are the key tasks for a Sales Development Representative?
The goal of the SDR is to identify and qualify as many candidate customers as possible in as short a time as possible. You measure their success by monitoring how many qualified appointments and/or demos they schedule for your account executives. Breaking this down a little, their main tasks are:
Understand the ‘Ideal Customer Profile’ – the SDR needs to be clear on who he or she is trying to target. This means target industry, role, company size, geography, region etc. There is good information on how to create your ideal customer profile in the books “Predictable Revenue”, by Aaron Ross, and “Lead Generation for the Complex Sale” by Brian Carroll.
Create prospect lists: once they know who to target, the key task of an SDR is to research online and build lists of contacts that fit the profile. This can be through a combination of web searches, LinkedIn searches, association membership lists, 3rd party database providers like Jigsaw, and purchased lists from list providers. The SDR can use tools to improve the accuracy of their lists to ensure the names and contact details are correct.
Run outbound emails and calls: once they are fully up-and-running, SDRs can be contacting 30 to 60 people per day, in a controlled process. These initial contacts are brief and exploratory – the SDR is trying to establish if there is a potential interest and requirement for your solution, not actually trying to sell it.
Handover to Account Execs: when an SDR is sure that one of her contacts is worth pursuing, they capture all relevant details and then do a controlled handover to one of their Account Exec colleagues. This handover can include confirmation by the Account Exec that the new lead meets all the necessary criteria for them to pursue.
Make use of technology at each step: there are tools available to help SDRs do their job better and faster. From prospect databases, email verification, outbound email automation and CRM systems, SDRs should use tools at each step to identify prospects, contact them and record their interactions, and to measure their overall progress.
What makes a good Sales Development Representative?
This person needs to be (a) good at written communication, (b) great at phone communication, (c) efficient in researching lists, (d) rigorous in the use of tools and (e) disciplined in managing their time and monitoring results.
For example, your SDRs will be emailing and calling senior executives at target companies – you need to be comfortable that they can represent you professionally. They need to be able to give an online demonstration of your product where necessary, and they should use your CRM and other automation systems effectively so they can automate as much of their work as possible.
Beyond these skills, the SDR should have certain characteristics. They’ll be working as part of a team and need to have good interaction and collaboration skills. They are going to be trying to investigate whether a prospect has a business problem you can solve, so they need to be curious and good at probing for useful information.
Perhaps the most important characteristics are optimism and persistence. By the nature of the job, they are going to hear ‘no’ a lot of the time from people they contact, so they need to be determined, focused and optimistic.