What Is Sales Development? How to Nurture New Sales Opportunities


If you want your business to have high sales growth, you need a sales development strategy. A sales development strategy formally defines how your marketing and sales teams reach potential customers to sell products and services to.

Types of sales opportunities

A sales development leader or team aims to find leads and prospects. We often use the terms “leads” and “prospects” interchangeably, but they are different. Leads are gathered and need to be researched to see if they fit what you sell. Prospects are people you have already identified as being viable customers.

When a lead is verified, also known as being qualified, it means the person matches the company’s ideal customer profile. The lead or prospect is deemed worthy of expending sales representative resources on them. This can be done either with an in-house sales team or an outsourced sales outreach team.

Prospects and the sales cycle

That means bringing the prospect into the sales cycle. So, what is the sales cycle? A sales cycle is a blueprint for motivating a prospect to buy. With a sales blueprint, the sales rep always knows the next move with the prospect in advance.

Once you’ve fine-tuned your sales cycle blueprint and successfully made sales, you can then repeat it with other prospects. It’s important to keep fine-tuning the blueprint as you use it because nothing is static. Changes are constantly occurring in your business or the industry you are selling in.

Remember, sales development focuses on identifying leads and vetting them to unearth viable prospects. The sales cycle is about moving your prospect through your sales cycle blueprint to make a sale.

A brief overview of how sales development started

Sales development originated in the tech sector inside Oracle back in the 1980s. It became evident that sales growth depended on specifically identifying prospects in the tech sector. Oracle split the process into two areas. One dealt with prospecting leads and vetting them to identify prospects. The second dealt with moving prospects through the selling process, known as the sales cycle or funnel, closing the sale, and finally following up to ensure the customer is satisfied.

Keeping a customer satisfied means they will potentially buy from you in the future because they know you, know your product, and trust you. All this eliminates the early sales development phase. This frees up your sales representatives to sell more products and services to new prospects.

More than 40% of salespeople sa prospecting is the most challenging part of the sales process

What is a sales development representative (SDR)?

A sales development representative’s primary job is to find leads and prospects for the sales reps. They make the initial contact with a new lead or prospect. SDRs are the experts at finding both and keeping the company’s sales pipeline filled with potential customers. They also determine whether a prospect is a good fit for what the company sells.

Finding leads and prospects

The key difference between the two is the level you have qualified each at. Note: sales qualification is the process of evaluating a potential customer to determine if they’re a good fit for the service or product you’re selling and ultimately will buy.

● Your algorithm usually collects leads in large numbers through website traffic or social media platforms. Some will fit your sales qualifying criteria (your avatar) as an ideal customer in a large group of leads, but many will not.

● On the other hand, your algorithm has already preselected prospects that are a good match for your avatar. To find prospects, you could purchase a list, search for them on the internet, e.g., LinkedIn, or search through the cold leads your company has stored in a database. To be sure, the prospect will have at least some, but probably not all, of the criteria set forth by your company as to what makes an ideal customer.

The 2 types of leads

● The marketing department identifies inbound leads and sends them over to the sales development representative (SDR). The SDR follows up and contacts the lead to vet them. The SDR is looking to see whether the lead shows interest in one of the company’s products. At this stage, the SDR is trying to foresee if it is worth spending company resources trying to sell to this particular lead. If the SDR detects a potential for making a sale, they will assign the lead’s name and contact info to a sales rep. The sales rep makes contact and begins the sales process. The initial sales rep may or may not be the sales closer.

● The second type of lead is the outbound lead. This is where the SDR, all on their own, identifies people they feel will find the product beneficial and might buy. To identify an outbound lead, the SDR will use criteria the company or business had already identified as an ideal fit for the company’s products. This criterion is called the ideal customer profile (ICP).

Whether the lead is inbound or outbound, the SDR must find a way to contact the lead. They will usually do this by telephone or email, but the phone is better. Various sales automation tools help increase SDRs productivity when reaching leads.

SalesLoft, Apollo, and Outreach combine phoning and emailing into one platform. SDRs also use social media platforms, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, to connect with prospects. Often, SDRs or their teams will use a combination of phone, email, and social media to communicate with a lead. This is known as using a multichannel touch pattern. It increases the chances of the SDR connecting with the lead.

SDRs use these touchpoints (phone, email, social media) in a specific touch pattern. This means contact is made at specific times and for a predefined period. If they can’t make contact, the SDR will stop trying to make contact and move on to contacting other leads. The number of qualified appointments and meetings an SDR schedules for the sales reps or an account executive determines how successful their work output is.

Contact with a lead

When a lead responds to the SDR’s outreach via email or social media, the SDR will usually call the lead. During that first conversation, the SDR vets the lead. If the lead shows interest, the SDR will move the new “prospect” along to a salesperson.

Many SDRs will use qualifying criteria spelled out in a well-defined sales qualified lead (SQL) document. The SQL outlines the minimum info the sales development rep needs to gather before the lead is classified as a viable prospect and moved to the next step in the sales cycle. Some standard criteria for an SQL are:

● Does the lead have a budget for making a purchase?

● Does the lead have the authority to decide and/or purchase?

● Does the lead/company need the product?

● What is the lead’s timeline for purchasing?

Once the SDR accrues this information, they will set up an appointment with the lead. At this point, the SDR hands the lead off to the sales team, freeing them up to pursue and vet more leads.

A sales development rep can clock dozens of calls a day. These include making follow-up calls to leads and making appointments with them. If a lead is sitting on the fence, the SDR should assess whether his company’s products or services really can benefit the lead. Based on the assessment, he will either keep pursuing the lead or drop it, placing it in the company’s data bank.

Remember, the SDR’s primary job is to keep the pipeline filled with prospects for the sales team.

3 elements of a sales development strategy

The purpose of having a strategy is so your business has a chance of meeting your company’s revenue and growth goals. The three critical elements of a sales development strategy are:

● Process

● People

● Technology


The business world has evolved into centering on the customer, so the buyer always comes first. Crucial in a buyer-centric business landscape is that your business should pinpoint your “ideal” buyer.

Next, identify what criteria to use to qualify leads, turning them into prospects. Once you’ve laid this groundwork, you can then come up with the processes, tools, and various tactics, in other words, your mechanism, that embodies your sales development blueprint or strategy.

Steps in the sales development process regarding prospects

● Determine what constitutes a viable lead based on the criteria your team formulates.

● Make sure marketing and sales efforts are on the same page based on sales-qualified lead criteria.

● Layout processes.

● Appoint people to handle inbound and outbound leads.

● Create engagement with leads through phone, email, or social media platforms.

● Qualify leads to determine which are viable prospects.

● Determine if the prospect is worth pursuing based on whether the resources required to sell are more than the number of potential sales made to the prospect.

● The SDR hands over the prospect to the sales rep or account executive after successfully setting up an appointment.


Regarding people, we’re talking about a team comprised of the sales director, manager, sales development rep, account executive (AE), and/or team of sales reps.

The sales development representative (SDR)

The SDR is very much the heartbeat of a company’s sales department. This person should relentlessly search for new leads and prospects to keep the sales machine rolling. It’s a pivotal position, and its importance can’t be emphasized enough.

The 3 things an SDR must be qualified to do:

● Perform research to find new leads.

● Identify potential prospects from those leads who are likely to buy.

● Do outreach to set up appointments and meetings, adding prospects to the sales force pipeline.

Traits and skills of a seasoned SDR:

● Knowledge of the company’s products

● Understands the buyers’ journey (known as the sales funnel or sales cycle)

● Good listener

● Agile at various forms of communication

● Can handle client objections astutely

● Familiar with lead generation tools and sales software

● Driven and self-motivated

Account executive (AE)

Account executives or sales reps are responsible for getting the prospect to buy or sign a deal. To make this happen, they demonstrate the product or service. Sometimes, it may call for customizing the product or service to suit the prospect’s needs.

AEs are also responsible for ensuring that the customer is satisfied after the purchase. This creates customer loyalty through ongoing engagement. The number of sales the account executive or sales rep closes measures their effectiveness. In some companies, there may be a designated sales closer.

Each member of the team contributes a specific skill set. When everyone is working in unison, company revenue growth is logical. Working in unison requires a mutual understanding of the following topics:

● Familiarity with its products and services and their relevance to potential leads and prospects.

● The company’s ideal buyer persona and the best ways to serve a potential client by addressing their needs and pain points.

● The company’s best practices when it comes to what discovery questions to ask of a lead or prospect.

● Using the CRM (customer relationship management) software to log in lead information and an assessment of the lead or prospect’s sales readiness.

● A clear understanding of what metrics are used to measure success.


Because of the job demands, SDRs rely heavily on technology to keep their productivity high. SDRs use software apps often when managing outreach to clients, such as through emails or phone calls. Here are some software automation recommendations:  

Bigtincan Augmented by Artificial Intelligence (AI): Software that provides in-the-moment intelligence about leads or prospects. It can suggest the logical content to engage the prospect.

CircleBack: An app (application) that assists SDRs in organizing all their contact information into a digital address book.

Cognism: An app that helps SDRs speed up their prospecting endeavors making it easier to find and connect with the right potential buyers.

Datanyze: An app used to scan a prospect’s website to give an overview of the services and technologies they use. This provides the SDR with information to match the right product to the lead.

Engagio: An app that gives a focused view of the prospect’s organization’s decision-making means. This helps the SDR pinpoint who to contact and engage with.

Hoopla: An app the SDR and the sales reps can use to track their sales performances.  

LinkedIn Sales Navigator: Helps SDRs identify a company’s decision-makers.  

Yesware: An app that helps SDRs track how many emails leads have opened and their response rate. It also has inbuilt analytics and outreach automation, to name just a few of its features.

The sales cycle

After the dedicated work put in by the company’s sales development rep or team to find and vet leads, it’s time for the sales reps to take over. A sales cycle or sales funnel involves a series of very specific steps taken to turn a prospect into a buying customer. There are usually seven stages or phases the sales rep helps the prospect advance through that will eventually and hopefully lead to a sale.

The account executive or sales rep must complete each step of the sales cycle with the prospect before moving on to the next one. Each of the seven steps has a particular purpose. There is a rhyme and reason to these steps, as you will see.

The seven-step sales cycle is not set in stone. Your business may have more steps or less. It depends on what you are selling. The main thing to focus on when designing your sales cycle is the progression your prospect must make at each stage of the sales cycle to ensure a quality experience for the client. The sales rep’s job is to guide and inform the prospect while answering questions and countering objections by highlighting benefits.

The 7 stages of a sales development cycle

To recap, the sales development plan starts with the SDR, and in some cases, even the marketing department. The SDR does their job by finding leads and locking down prospects before turning the prospects over to the sales team. A sales rep meets with the prospect, and the sales cycle begins.

Step 1: First contact

This step is covered by the sales development rep (SDR) if your company employs one. The SDR uses the buyer persona or avatar that the sales development team creates to assess the lead. The buyer avatar describes your company’s or product’s ideal customer. It gives you insights into your ideal customer’s interests, concerns, what they need, what causes them pain, and your company’s means to address these factors.

SDRs use company or business avatars to seek out leads or cold prospects that match the avatar profile. Your company may not have an SDR on staff. In that case, a sales rep is responsible for finding leads or cold prospects that match the company’s customer avatar. An excellent place to start is searching for leads on social media platforms. LinkedIn, for one, is a good place to start. Search its referral section.

Step 2: Qualifying compatibility

Once the account executive or sales rep receives a list of leads that have been vetted and are now officially prospects, the sales rep will assess where the prospect is in the sales journey. For instance, do they know what they need? Are they still in the middle of searching for some solution that will solve a problem?

This information informs the sales rep about what the prospect could use next to solve their problem. For instance, let’s say your company’s website has an offer and your prospect accessed it. This tells the sales rep that the prospect is open right now to take a closer look at your product. Or it could be the prospect is still locked into the research phase of trying to solve their problem and not yet at a point where they’re ready to select a service or a product. Or maybe the prospect isn’t ready to be advanced to the next step in the sales cycle.

The SDR and the sales rep must strike while the iron is hot. That’s where automated apps come in handy. They help with prioritizing follow-ups with the prospect. This ensures SDRs and sales reps never overlook prospects.

Step 3: Analyze needs or wants

It’s time to qualify the prospect further now that you’ve made contact.

The sales rep must gather some information from the prospect that the SDR has identified as having the authority to decide to buy or not. The sales rep may ask various questions to determine their company needs and budget.

The sales rep can determine whether a prospect is ready to move toward making a purchase. They ask a series of questions based on the BANT model. BANT stands for budget, authority, need, and time.

Using the BANT model saves the sales rep time. It will help the sales rep determine if the prospect is likely to buy. If the prospect isn’t predisposed to buying, this lets the sales rep know there’s no need to invest more time trying to sell to this prospect.

Step 4: Make the pitch

Once the sales rep determines the prospect is interested, this is the stage in the sales cycle where the sales rep starts nurturing the prospect until they reach a point where it’s time to make the pitch and close the deal. Building rapport is essential at this stage.

Here, the focus needs to be on the prospect, not on the product or service. During this step, the sales rep responds to objections by pointing out the benefits and how they will help solve the prospect’s particular problem. Keep the prospect actively engaged. Person-to-person contact is excellent, phone contact is good, and setting up an email campaign works.

Step 5: Deliver the proposal

If a prospect signs up for a trial offer or asks for a demo and pricing, these are indicators that a purchase is close at hand. Now is the time for the sales rep to deliver a proposal that includes an irresistible offer.

Step 6: Negotiate

During the negotiation phase of the sales cycle, it’s common to get pushback from your prospect once you’ve made the offer. For instance, the prospect may feel your price is too high, or they might mention they are speaking to your competitor. Or they may want more add-ons to the services or products you are offering for the stated price. To counter these types of objections, consider adding more value to your proposal that comes at a minimal cost to your company. For instance, offer free delivery or extend the support contract.

Step 7: Close the deal

Now it’s time to close the sale. If you’ve moved your prospect seamlessly through the previous sales cycle steps, the closing of the agreement should unfold naturally. Ensure all your paperwork is in order and ready for your prospect to sign on the dotted line. You started the sales cycle as a professional, so you need to end on a professional note.

After you have delivered the product or service to your customer, be sure to follow up and stay in periodic contact to continue nurturing the relationship. You worked hard to develop this individual from a lead, then a prospect, and finally a paying customer. It’s much easier to sell more products and services to someone who already knows and trusts you than to a stranger.

5 essentials to include in your sales development plan

Here are five things note as you create your sales development plan:

1. Choose the correct CRM

Be diligent about selecting the customer relationship management (CRM) system best suited to support your SDR’s working style. If you choose the wrong one, rather than increasing efficiency, you might get just the opposite.

You want your SDR to work as efficiently and productively as possible when gathering leads and prospects. When SDR and sales reps reach potential customers, it should be timely and cost-efficient. This is how you increase revenue.

2. Have a powerful lead qualifying system

Clearly define what makes a qualified lead. Marketing and sales teams need to brainstorm the criteria and be on the same page. Determine when a lead becomes a prospect, and at which point a prospect is ready to be closed by the sales closer. The sales closer can be the sales rep who’s been moving the prospect through the sales cycle or a person on your sales team who specializes in closing all sales.

For enhanced efficiency, ensure that you have clearly defined your sales development blueprint with definite processes for qualifying leads. You waste valuable company time if you don’t stringently qualify your leads. And it follows that if you are trying to close a sale with a prospect who hasn’t moved through the sales cycle, you have a good chance of losing the sale.

The investment of a sales rep’s time costs the company money.

Sales reps, the marketing team, and the sales development teams should all adhere to the company’s sales development plan. Your sales development plan is your company’s playbook, from hiring strategies, to outreach, to leads and prospects, to closing sales. Take this very seriously if you want company and revenue growth.

3. Central content management

A company’s SDR uses many ways to inform and educate prospects and qualify various leads. Sales reps need to be able to access the SDR’s content assets while in the field and working to move a prospect through the sales cycle. If sales reps don’t have access to these assets in real-time, they can lose time tracking valuable information to educate the prospect.

This leads many sales reps to resort to using fewer effective materials, which may lower the sales rep’s effectiveness. Your company should keep and actively manage a central, up-to-date database that sales reps can access. This database may include sales data that classifies and tags various buyer types at certain sales cycle stages. The sales rep can use this vital information to move the prospect toward making a buying decision.

4. Sales analytics

Sales analytics software provides content assets that support sales reps as they move their prospect through the sales journey. It also holds data that lets sales reps know which types of sales materials align with the prospect at various stages in the buying cycle.

Sales reps on their own have a reputation for not keeping track of valuable sales data. However, if you want a skilled sales development team, keep track of sales data to benefit the company in the future. For instance, the data can help streamline the lead qualification process so that the sales rep can spend more time with viable prospects.

Or, the data bank can provide the right content for the right prospect at the right time because it’s only a few computer keystrokes away. All this adds to your sales development team’s efficiency and high productivity.

5. A process for collaborating and feedback

Sales development bridges your marketing and sales teams. Ongoing input from both teams makes for ongoing improvement to your sales development process. Any sales development strategy needs to have feedback integrated into it. Why?

● Feedback helps the marketing team inform the SDR of subtleties and challenges regarding sales leads.

● Feedback helps the sales team identify how ready a prospect is and the best way to convert a prospect into a buyer.

Use Smith.ai to improve your sales development plan

In any business or company that sells products or services, your salespeople use some form of a sales development system. It can be very loosely defined, but it exists. But the tighter and more defined your sales development process, the more qualified leads or prospects your teams will identify. Ultimately, this leads to more sales being closed.

Along with solid training of your marketing team and salespeople, consider adding Smith.ai to your sales development team. We can help qualify your leads to help you narrow down the pile before it even gets to your department. You can feel confident empowering your in-house sales team to chase down the leads that matter because Smith.ai is working behind the scenes 24/7 to give them qualified leads, demos, and sales calls that are most likely to convert.  

If your goal is steady revenue growth, develop and hone a customized sales development plan using our platform. We also offer the following services and more:

24/7 answering services

Outbound call and campaigns

24/7 website chat

Lead screening and intake

Appointment booking

SMS text answering

Smith.ai has also been recognized by Clutch as a top sales outsourcing provider. If you are ready to start designing your own sales development process to convert more leads and prospects into buying customers, you can book a free, 30-minute sales consultation with us. You can also review our general pricing. If you have questions about how we can help with your sales development goals, don’t hesitate to call or text us at (650) 727-6484. You can also email us at hello@smith.ai or chat with us live, 24/7, right here on the site.

Sales Development
Sales Tips
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Lead Generation
Written by Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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