The Courtship of Sales Development

One of the great things about executing sales development programs for almost every major brand name technology company over the last two decades is you get to see how different companies approach the sales and marketing process — especially the sales development stage. As you can imagine, over the years we’ve seen and frankly tried just about everything to engage potential buyers for our clients. What we’ve come to realize is the elements that make for a successful sales development program are similar to the basic rules of dating. With that, here are four tactics that lay the foundation for a winning sales development program and the start of a lasting relationship.

The First Impression is Everything

You’ve got one chance so don’t blow it. What always jumps out when we get training collateral from clients is how often the materials are well suited for inside sales or field sales, but not for arguably the most critical part of the sales process – the all-important first impression. Sure prospects may have visited your website and downloaded some content that looked interesting but eventually, you need to engage in conversation to see if there is a mutual fit and desire to proceed to the next step (think online dating). What you say and what you do in this first interaction will either start or end the relationship – and make or break the sale.

What you say and do in this first interaction will either start or end the relationship – and make or break the sale.

Therefore a key part of our role with clients is to help create a winning first impression by translating their messaging into simple, easy to grasp language--no industry jargon or empty buzzwords—buyers get inundated with offers and they all sound the same after a while. What makes you different and worth a few minutes of their time? Our sales development team needs to understand the business offering well enough so they can pitch everyone from potential industry buyers to a group of strangers at a cocktail party. Carefully crafted target lists are a mix of decision makers, influencers, tire-kickers and everyone in between. This is the nature of data — it casts a wide net and gets old fast so the sales development playbook must be designed to “work a room” and capitalize on every conversation. With that, you need to give just enough information to pique their interest and engage in a conversation to determine quickly if this is the right person and should I invest more time to further qualify? If not the perfect match, can I leverage them to gather information and hopefully introduce me to the right person or do I politely move on and continue my search?

You Have to Start the Relationship — Not Jump Into the Middle of One

Sales development dumps the speeds and feeds approach (you’ll get to those later in the “courtship”) and focuses on (1) engaging the buyer to uncover their needs and then (2) positioning the client’s solution to meet those needs, in order to (3) paint the big picture relative to improving their customer service, productivity, market share, revenue, etc. What’s in it for them to take the next step?

Going back to that critical first impression--the goal of the first conversation is to exchange the basics about each other to determine if there is a desire for a formal scheduled “first date.” In the case of sales, we work to uncover and qualify a business opportunity to queue up the “discovery meeting” with the client’s sales team. The initial conversation is designed to filter and segment potential buyers and unqualified marketing leads to reserve your investment of more specialized sales resources for follow on discussions around technical specifications, demonstrations, etc. Every subsequent meeting, or date if you will, acts as an additional filtering layer to gather more information on the prospect and build a rapport as you work towards a committed relationship, or in this case a closed sale.

Leave Them Wanting More

Don’t get hung up on pitching a product, or in too deep on features. Why? Because busy buyers are looking for ways to rule you out vs. rule you in.

Prospects are not sitting at their desk waiting for you to call with a solution to their problems. In fact, until you talk “live” you don’t necessarily know what they need and they might not even know. This is why we seldom lead with product specifics. Sure features are important and can be engaging and sometimes aid in interesting buyers, but it’s more important for prospects to understand the vendor has a potential solution to their expressed pain. We don’t want to get hung up on pitching a product or in too deep on features because busy buyers are looking for ways to rule you out vs. rule you in. Change is risky and typically requires more work on their part, therefore, protecting the status quo is just often easier. So like a first date, you don’t want to tell someone your whole life story off the bat. You want to provide just enough to leave them wanting to learn more about you — but not so much they might get “cold feet” after that initial encounter.

Make the Conversation About Them, Not You

The goal is not to talk about you. Get them talking about themselves. The majority of our conversations are about the buyer’s needs and circumstances, not our client’s offering. Prospects talk much more readily when the conversation is about them and get disinterested quickly when the call starts off talking about our client’s long list of accolades and unique selling propositions.

Once we’ve established their needs (this may not be on the first call) and get them thinking about the client’s potential solution to address their issues, we then determine a good next step (another conversation, an email with more information, a demo, etc.) and when that next step is convenient for them — not convenient for our client. This is another critical part of the sales development process — the follow-up and the hand-off for that hard-won first date.

The Takeaway

If you’re building an in-house sales development team, you’ll want someone capable of tailoring messaging for this stage and training the team. If you’re partnering with a sales agency, ensure they have the process, experience, and expertise to understand your solutions well enough to “work a room” and get you the first date with a prospect.

Tara Phillips