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Building a Business Development Team: 3 Lessons Learned

Oct 10th, 2017


Six months ago, I took over the leadership of a highly energetic and talented group of business developers (or account development reps, as we call them) at Brainshark.

Business development is very competitive by nature but I was incredibly surprised and impressed by how collaborative the business development community is across different organizations – and I attribute a lot of my early success to that.

In that spirit, I’m going to share three of the bigger lessons (among perhaps the thousands I’ve learned so far) that can help new or seasoned business development or sales leaders when developing a new team.

Preparing your strategy: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel

Every business is unique and leaders need to apply concepts contextually to what’s happening at their organizations. But you’d be surprised how many constants there are across organizations.

This ranges all the way from the types of personalities you should be hiring, how much activity you should be expecting from the team based on the nature of your sale, the best ways to coach, and the basic drivers that motivate ADRs to perform at their highest levels.

I read books from proven authors that cover the space directly or indirectly which got my mind spinning. I was blown away by how many of the lessons from each author applied to our business. Some of my favorites: The Sales Development Playbook by Trish Bertuzzi and Simple Rules by Donald Sull.

Another great time investment is meeting with leaders in the business development space to understand areas where they’ve failed. I found that one of the most common pain points was dealing with underperforming ADRs. Each leader I spoke to had a unique story, but many of them can be distilled to, “I knew this rep wasn’t a good fit within about 6 weeks, but I didn’t do the right thing about it for 6 months.”

Lastly, meeting with the different stakeholders within your own company is also critical. The key business areas for me were Demand Generation, Sales Enablement, my customer: Sales, and of course, the ADR team I was inheriting. It’s all about setting expectations. ADRs need to understand what their job really is, what their daily focus needs to be, and what the future can look like if they are successful for a specified period. The rest of the organization also needs to be acutely aware of what to expect from them – do not assume that they know these details.

Related: 3 Things Marketing Can Learn from Sales: A Marketing VP’s Week as an ADR

Connecting is a science; conversing is an art – Don’t confuse them

I developed this mantra after realizing one of the bigger misconceptions that I had coming into the role.

On Day 1, I believed that we could separate ourselves from the noise by spending tremendous amounts of time researching our prospects and getting in front of them with a perfectly catered message.

While logical, I was wrong because most prospects won’t pay attention to what you have to say on your first, fifth, and yes, even 10th attempt to get in touch.

There’s lot of science and literature to support this – and a market of technologies that can help overcome this., Outreach, SalesLoft, and scores of other technology solutions help teams improve their activity and connect with their targets.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t research your prospects and fail to ‘show them you know them.’ In fact, this is something my team prides itself on doing well. But when it comes to connecting with them, you don’t need to overdo it. This a game of numbers and a life of balance.

For outbound prospecting, I recommend focusing your efforts on drilling deep into one account, as opposed to jumping from one account to another after no initial bites, so you can maximize the amount of time you’ve invested in researching the business.

Know the prospect’s business triggers and how your solution can apply to their business. But if you’re emailing or cold calling and your goal is to set up time for a subsequent conversation, save most of your research for that conversation and leave the connection to science.

I recommend looking at firms like SalesFolk for their approach to connecting with prospects and how to make the math work without sacrificing context.

Once your ADRs are ready to have a conversation with the prospect, this is where the strategy, learning, and continuous development need to be focused. As a manager of ADRs, find ways to spend most of your time helping them in these areas. In support of these efforts, there are plenty of sales enablement and engagement technologies that will help you better manage the conversation and sales cycle.

Learning needs to be continuous, even with your best people

In my conversations with other business development leaders, I saw a lot of different approaches to getting new ADRs ramped up. The business development teams that put a big emphasis on getting new reps on the phone as quickly as possible (within reason) tended to see the best results.

But what was clear to me is that beyond the standard 30-60-90-day plan (which you should absolutely have), ADRs need to be in the habit of constant adaptation, coaching, and innovation. Frequent role playing and call shadowing are critical and measuring progress alongside this is what will ultimately allow you to systematically build skillsets. Get other ADRs on the team involved in the feedback and evaluation process too.

An important lesson here is that completion does not equate to competency. Finishing coursework and simply doing role playing doesn’t mean they “get it” and are ready to execute. Make sure that validating whether someone is applying the learning to their conversational process is a part of your continuous learning and coaching plans.

Another big element here is spending time with your best players too. I believe that you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by focusing on your middle 60%, but your best players have earned the right to continuous coaching. It’s just as easy for the best guys and gals to get loose with some of their disciplines when they know they’re on top. Spread the love and you’ll be rewarded.

For more on developing a coaching strategy for up and coming sales reps, check out our eBook: Next-Gen Coaching for the Next-Gen Sales Force.