I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kristina McMillan, Director of Sales Development at Five9, to discuss best practices for sales development and lead follow-up. We did a webcast together, and I wrote up the highlights and some Q&A with Kristina below.

Kristina is a real expert in this field, leading the sales development team at Five9 and previously having helped top tier venture-backed startups ramp and optimize their sales development efforts while she worked for at SalesRamp.

Kristina McMillan of Five9 and Eric Bohren of Conversica in deep conversation on sales development best practices

Kristina and I during the webcast

Read on for the questions I asked Kristina to answer. If you are interested in learning more, please listen to the full recording of our webcast together.

Question: Should you use Sales Development for inbound lead follow-up or outbound prospecting?

You should do both! But, it depends on where you are in your company’s maturity. In the early days, you probably won’t have many inbound leads to chase, so your SDR team is 100% focused on prospecting people you think will buy your solution. When that’s working well, and you have good product-market fit, your marketing team cranks up the inbound leads, and your SDRs split their time (or specialize…see next question!)

Question: For an early stage company, how do you know when to specialize your sales roles?

In the early phase of your company, say when you have less than 5 people selling, it is hard to specialize. Often startups at this stage have the same team doing sales development, sales and customer success. One of the key signposts on the road to begin sales specialization is when you begin to crank up marketing and your inbound lead funnel grows dramatically. Now you want to have some SDRs focused on following-up on leads, some SDRs focused on prospecting target accounts, and sales reps focused on closing business. You shouldn’t have your most expensive sales talent qualifying inbound leads or prospecting.

Question: How do you keep sales people energized?

Try gameification and leaderboards to track performance, recognize leaders and make winning as a team fun. This is particularly important if you employ millennials, who value their peer relationship highly.

You should also be passionate about sharing customer success stories with your team. When sales reps can talk about a transformative customer use case, it makes conversations with prospects authentic and powerful.

Question: What is a good career path for a sales development rep?

TOPO, a sales and marketing research firm, has determined the average tenure of a sales development rep is about 14 months, but the best reps often move on, or move up after 10-12 months. If you account for a ramp up period of about 3 months, you’ll get less than a year of productivity out of each rep. That means that as a manager you have to have a solid process for hiring, training and getting the most productivity from your team.

In order to retain your top performers, consider starting sales development reps on inbound qualifying, then moving them to outbound prospecting, before you finally promote them to an account executive or inside sales role. This extra step in sales development career path better prepares them to be a sales rep and provides recognition of advancement within the first year.

Question: What is your opinion about building teams in the Bay Area versus elsewhere?

With the high cost of sales talent in the Bay Area, we have seen companies establish telesales teams in cities such as Austin, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and Toronto. These cities have the balanced combination of lower cost of living and access to large talent pools.

Question: What tips can you share on how to make the most out of your outbound prospecting efforts?

Whether you are just getting started or have been doing outbound prospecting for some time, there are a few fundamentals that must be defined for your efforts to be productive:

1. Define your ideal customer prospect.
Your reps need to be able to get into the head of the person they are targeting to understand how you can help solve their problems and get them to a better place. Giving your reps this insight is key.

2. Define your target accounts.
Teach your SDRs how to identify accounts that are likely to be a good fit with your value prop and how to navigate those accounts. Educating your SDRs on how to do this will ensure you get the most from each prospect interaction.

3. Define clear rules of engagement around qualification.
You *must* have a qualified lead definition that everyone agrees on (marketing, sales and beyond). Defining a hand-off process for what an SDR should do from the moment they sense that a prospect is interested, defining those next steps and setting up the handoff to a Sales Rep is critical for a seamless transition. Not having a clearly defined process only leads to frustrated SDRs and high turnover.

Question: How do you prioritize your inbound leads?

Our biggest challenge was that the volume of leads was so great that our SDRs were wasting a ton of time sifting thru the leads trying to figure out which ones were meaningful prospects. I needed my SDRs more focused on prospects that have a higher likelihood of converting. A solid content marketing program, a killer demand gen team and sales enablement tools like Conversica, have helped us scale our inbound leads but also our inbound lead follow-up most cost effectively.

Question: Why did Five9 choose Converisca?

As a manager I have long feared that my team is not persistent enough in their attempts. I can measure how many activities they do daily, but it’s not always clear if we’ve exhausted our efforts on each individual lead. Our justification for using Conversica was not only to give me more confidence as a manager that we are meeting our SLAs for marketing, but also to offer my team some relief from the overwhelming volume of activities.

“Instead of having sales reps…try to make the first contact, we have an automated virtual assistant do this” – Kristina McMillan, Five9

So, instead of having sales reps, who are expensive human resources, try to make the first contact, we have an automated virtual assistant do this on the behalf of the sales rep. This allows my SDRs to spend more time on the “core of the job,” which is talking to prospects.

Well, that’s it. Thanks so much to Kristina for sharing her best practices for sales development. I enjoyed the time we spent together and am happy to learn of Five9’s success using Conversica’s AI virtual assistant to help follow-up on inbound leads.