Sales development is a cost-effective resource that bridges the gap between high-volume marketing and high-touch sales.

In mid-2018, Kemberton was a smaller company with fewer than 150 employees. Despite our size, we had been able to grow a network of 150 hospital clients in 25 states for our revenue cycle management services.

However, to reach the next phase in our growth, we knew we had to change our sales process. Our market stretched across North America, but we didn’t have the budget to hire enough experienced (and expensive) salespeople to cover the whole territory.

We decided to build a sales development process to support our sales team, and less than a year into the experiment, it was an unqualified success. For us, sales development was a cost-effective resource that bridged the gap between high-volume marketing and high-touch sales. Using a team of Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) to engage, qualify and nurture prospects quickly and efficiently, we were rapidly filling the sales pipeline with quality leads which would enable our small sales team to focus on closing more business.


How we built an SDR process from scratch

We had no experience in sales development and no idea where to begin, so we started by talking to companies who had gone before us. We were lucky to be able to talk to Phreesia, another LLR portfolio company who built an incredible sales development team. (Read “Why Our Sales Development Program Did More than Just Double Bookings in One Year” by Phreesia’s VP of Sales Operations for more on this story.) We took that learning, adapted it to our unique situation and, through trial and error, built an SDR process that worked for us.

Our process was based on these core functions:

1. Lay the groundwork.

Lack of awareness was a big barrier for Kemberton, and SDRs weren’t going to see much traction reaching out into the void. We started with a marketing campaign that targeted a specific market segment by sending three tailored emails over a three-month period. Prospects who visited the website or interacted with our marketing content at any point during this time were automatically forwarded to the SDR team and inserted into their outreach program. Prospects who opened the emails but don’t act on them stayed in the nurture until all three emails were sent. Those with higher open rates were then sent to the SDR team, while those with one or no opens were nurtured further by email. Once the initial three-month marketing period was complete, we moved on to the next market segment with new, refined messaging, and the process began all over again.

This marketing phase was critical to our process. By the time our SDRs reached out to new prospects, these companies already knew who we are, what we offer and how we may be able to help them, so they were much more likely to engage.

2. Do the research.

Before reaching out, our SDRs did an incredible amount of research. They used social media and other sources to discover everything they could about potential leads, including what content they like to consume, what issues are top of mind, what solution they have in place, whether they in-source or outsource, the volume of accounts they process and what level of success they have in collecting on those accounts. They also mapped the organizational hierarchy to determine exactly who we needed to speak to.

In no more than 3 to 5 minutes, the SDR could gather valuable, qualifying information and get a commitment to meet with an account executive where there’s a clear fit.

3. Start the outreach.

By the time our SDRs reached out to a lead, it was not a cold call. They knew enough about the organization and the person they were talking to that the communication was tailored to the organization’s priorities and needs. In no more than 3 to 5 minutes, the SDR could gather valuable, qualifying information and get a commitment to meet with an account executive where there’s a clear fit. And the SDRs logged everything they do so that there was a complete record of every interaction, all the information gathered and all the decisions made. Every lead passed on to an experienced salesperson had been pre-qualified and came with a complete history so that sales could pick up the conversation seamlessly.


What we learned in our first year

In the first few months, we made mistakes, but we learned from them and used them to improve the process. If you’re considering putting together a sales development team, here are some tips:

Find a champion.

Finding someone who can take ownership of the initiative and be passionate about it can make all the difference. It took us a few tries to find the right person to run our SDR team, and we found that experience wasn’t as important as aptitude and interest. Look for a willingness to try new things and a mix of analytical and people skills. This is someone who needs to be comfortable both analyzing data and managing people.

Experience is not as important as aptitude and interest; look for a willingness to try new things and a mix of analytical and people skills.

Structure everything.

Our process is hugely programmatic. From the qualifying criteria to the time of day that SDRs make prospecting calls to the text snippets they use in their emails, SDRs follow a detailed plan and they know exactly what they need to do to make the best use of their time. There’s still enough flexibility that they can personalize or adapt the content, but the overall process is highly repeatable and based on what’s proven to work across hundreds of engagements.

Measure (and optimize) continually.

To build that structured process, you need to measure every part of it. We use a sophisticated sales prospecting platform called SalesLoft that integrates with Salesforce, so there’s no intuition or hunches; it’s all data driven. By analyzing the data, we know the times of day that calls are most likely to be answered or that emails are most likely to be opened. We know the subject lines and prospecting questions that work best. And we know how many calls the SDRs need to make to support Kemberton’s sales goals. We’ve learned what works, but we’re continually testing and refining to raise the bar and improve our outcomes even further.


Here’s the bottom line.

Creating a sales development function can be instrumental in helping smaller companies beat far bigger competitors to the punch. Using SDRs to find, qualify and nurture prospects can enable you to penetrate new markets, widen the sales pipeline and improve lead quality while keeping the cost of acquisition manageable.


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