5 Essential Components of a Sales Development Process

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Fergal Glynn
Fergal Glynn



Let's say your marketing team is crushing it. All the metrics they use to measure success are green. At the same time, your sales time is not feeling the effects of their efforts and are spending more time prospecting when they should be closing. 

sales reps going over sales development process

What's going on here?

In many organizations, a disconnect happens between marketing and sales: 

  • The sales team says that leads coming in are unqualified. 
  • Marketing says the sales team just can't close. 
  • There's no system to tell warm from cold leads, high-value leads from low-value ones. 
  • There's not even visibility into where the disconnect is occurring. 

Sound familiar?

The first step toward rectifying your marketing and sales alignment is implementing sales development into your existing process. 

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What Is Sales Development?

Sales development is the process of warming up leads or prospects and readying them for the eventual buying decision.

A complete sales process includes the following steps: 

  1. Prospecting
  2. Connecting and qualifying
  3. Researching
  4. Presenting
  5. Handling objections
  6. Closing

Sales development falls within stages 1 and 2 of that process, practically on the line between the marketing and sales hand-off. 

Why Have a Sales Development Process?

Sales development is critical in inbound marketing because your marketing team is likely generating leads at all stages of the buyer's journey. In essence, many prospects may not be ready for sales outreach (yet!) at the time they become a lead. If the lead isn't ready, the sales rep will only be spinning their wheels on a call (or, worse, alienating them).

When sales development is used effectively, prospects are primed for decision-making when they’re handed over to sales closers, making the close of the deal easier to achieve.

“Simply stated, the function of sales is to sell directly to the end customer. The function of business development is to work through partners to sell to the end customer, in a scalable way,” says Andrew Dumont, who advises several early-stage startups. Of course, the better your sales development process, the more deals your sales team will close, and the more time they’ll have to focus on selling activities.

Creating a Sales Development Process

Sales development encompasses three stages: 

  1. Identifying Marketing and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)
  2. Engaging those leads
  3. Qualifying those leads into real sales opportunities

Sadly, this doesn't just happen on its own, especially if marketing and sales are not aligned.

Here are some steps you can take to begin implementing your process: 

1. Define the qualities of each lifecycle stage after a prospect becomes a lead. 

A website visitor downloading an ebook doesn't automatically mean they are a prospect. For this reason, lumping everyone into the umbrella term "lead" ends up creating disorganization. 

The marketing team's job is to nurture leads who aren't ready yet and identify the ones who are close to a purchasing decision. 

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a lead that the marketing team flags as being ready for sales. Keep in mind that they could be right, or they could be wrong, which is why the next lifecycle stage is so important. 

A Sales Qualified Lead (SQL), on the other hand, is an MQL that the sales team has now flagged as being a qualified prospect. It's then their goal to qualify and engage that SQL until they become a real sales opportunity. 

In order for your marketing team to generate MQLs for the sales team, they need to have a definition of what the sales team is looking for. This isn't meant to put the entire burden of qualifying leads on your marketers' shoulders but rather provide a loose framework to increase the number of MQLs that turn into SQLs and reduce the sales reps' load by eliminating bad fits.

Learn more about this with HubSpot's free lead management course.

2. Identify gaps in the pipeline.

Once you have definitions for each lifecycle stageMQL, SQL, and Opportunityyou can now look for where the process is breaking down. Ask key individuals in each department questions about their efforts, such as: 

  • Who are the best fit leads?
  • What are the qualities that immediately disqualify a lead?
  • What needs to happen before a sales rep reaches out in order for the conversation to be productive?
  • Where are you wasting the most time in the prospecting and engaging stages?
  • How can marketing better nurture and qualify leads who are not ready?

These questions may lead to interesting insights into where the gaps are between MQLs and SQLs and/or SQLs and Opportunities. 

3. Establish a process to close those gaps. 

  • Is there a necessary step that's falling through the cracks? If so, who will be responsible for it moving forward?
  • What marketing activities need to be added for better sales enablement?
  • What collateral needs to be created so reps can have more meaningful conversations? 
  • How can technology support the alignment between marketing and sales? Lead scoring? Automated lead nurturing?

4. Create a Service-Level Agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales. 

A service-level agreement (SLA) is a contract that establishes deliverables from one party to another. Once clarity has been achieved and gaps identified, you can formalize the relationship between departments with an SLA that documents what needs to happen before, during, and after the hand-off as well as what success looks like. 

The goal here is to get both departments to agree on definitions and roles so that they can take ownership of their duties while understanding how it all contributes to the big picture goals for the organization. 

5. Put the process in motion. 

With clearly defined roles and a shiny new SLA, marketing and sales will be better equipped to support each other, and sales will be better enabled to qualify and close leads. 

Continue monitoring the process, and don't be afraid to alter it as the team adjusts and you learn more about what works best. 

Below are some additional things to incorporate into your sales development process as you invest more into these efforts.

5 Essential Components of Every Sales Development Process

Sales development processes are most effective when they contain several strategic elements, carefully designed to advance prospects through the buying journey. Here’s a look at what your sales development process should include.

1. A CRM That Supports Your Workflows

Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are only as useful as their ability to support your sales development representatives’ working methods, rather than create additional administrative requirements that don’t make efficient use of time.

Choosing the right CRM and sales software that supports your initiatives enables sales development reps to efficiently gather lead information and conduct prospecting activities. “From a sales perspective, sales development is a formalization of how the team reaches their customers with their products or services. It is all about ensuring that the method used to reach new prospects is cost-efficient and effective in terms of producing the right type of long-term customers,” says Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter

2. A Robust Lead Qualification System

What qualifies a lead? At what point does a lead become a prospect, and a prospect becomes ready for the transition to your sales closing team? Sales development requires clear definitions and processes for qualifying leads for the greatest efficiency. Sending non-qualified leads to sales development wastes valuable time; likewise, sending prospects to sales closers who haven’t been adequately educated on the product or service can result in the loss of otherwise targeted prospects who would have converted with proper lead nurturing. 

These definitions, and the processes for qualifying leads and nurturing processes, represent the movement of a lead through the buying journey. Marketing, sales development, and sales closing teams all require a comprehensive understanding of these concepts.

“With the mindset of specialization in place, build specific processes for your reps to follow. It helps onboard reps quickly and effectively defines best practices for your team. The playbook you build will be a soup-to-nuts guide that includes your hiring strategy to the cadence you use to reach out to prospects,” suggests Greg Klingshirn in an article on Forbes

3. A Central Content Management Portal

Sales development representatives make use of a variety of collateral and content assets to educate prospects and qualify leads. Often, these assets exist in silos, forcing sales reps to waste valuable time searching for the right content assets for various prospects or to educate leads on a specific selling point. 

Often, because assets are challenging to locate, reps resort to using materials that are less effective but suit their general needs. When you manage a central database that includes approved sales collateral that’s clearly tagged and classified for various buyer personas and various stages along the buyer’s journey, you’re arming your sales development team with the resources they need to impact buying decisions. 

4. Sales Analytics

In addition to providing easy access to content assets to support sales development teams at every phase of the buying journey, sales analytics provide data to inform sales development representatives on the most effective sales materials aligned with buyer personas and the various stages in the buying journey. 

“Marketing can only optimize programs if they have the data they need to be successful. Sales reps are notoriously bad at maintaining good data and sales leadership cares about sales forecast data (with good reason). On the other hand, well-managed sales development teams are remarkably good at providing data. Sales development teams literally ‘live’ in the CRM application all day and are incentivized to get good data to marketing to make their lives easier,” says Craig Rosenberg in a post on the TOPO Blog. By arming reps with the right materials, for the right prospects, at the right time, your lead qualification process is streamlined and your reps can spend more time doing what they do best: selling.

5. A Means for Collaboration and Feedback

Sales development is truly the bridge between marketing and sales, and ongoing input from both sides of the equation is necessary for continuous improvement. The most effective sales development processes contain a built-in feedback mechanism. This enables marketing teams to inform sales development representatives of nuances and specific challenges related to sales leads while enabling sales teams to provide feedback on the readiness of prospects and the ease of converting prospects passed on by your sales development team.

Wrapping It Up

Whether or not you define it as such, all sales organizations utilize sales development processes in some form. The more carefully you construct your processes and the more thoroughly your marketing and sales teams are trained in each element of the process, the more qualified leads your teams will generate and the more sales they’ll close. It’s worth your time to develop a strategic, data-driven sales development plan to boost efficiency and achieve greater returns.

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