The Dire Fate of Leads and How Sales Development Can Save Them

This post was originally published by Fast Company

“It takes brass balls to sell…” says a theatrically gesticulating Alec Baldwin in one of the greatest movie monologues of all time in Glengarry Glen Ross. But those days of sales development are gone. What was once the simple yet tedious task of hyped-up “dialing for dollars” is now a sophisticated process that includes the need for speedy response times, leveraging remote work retention trends, respecting millennial and Gen Z values on mental health, and harnessing cutting-edge innovation with artificial intelligence.


As the founder of a business-to-business marketing agency that generates the lifeblood of the sales development rep—their raison d’etre—let me tell you one scary truth marketers never admit: Leads are useless.

The marketing qualified lead too often dies a lonely death after being neglected from any follow-up sales motion, rendering the creativity and hard work of any marketer valueless. The MQL never has a chance to mature to adolescence, to emerge from their walkabout in your customer relationship management software as a mature sales qualified lead. Your return on investment is nil and you’ll have finance pulling back marketing budgets based on your inability to tie to valued business outcomes like revenue.


Converting low maturity leads to real business outcomes is the genesis of sales development as a business function. You can save a lead’s life. Sales development is not just sales and not just marketing, but a bridge to qualify gobs of lonely leads to being worthy of the almighty sales team.

As the leader of a marketing agency specializing in the sale of enterprise software for tech giants, I know what we’re good at—lead generation. What we’re not good at? Sales development. And that’s why we partner with companies that have this down to an art.


1. Retain SDRs to save money

Retention is good for the bottom line, and the financial comparison is not even close. What’s helping extend notoriously short SDR tenure? Better mental health, for one, according to Transcends Marketing sales development partner demandDrive.

As an entry-level position, SDRs benefit from role structure. Like many of us, SDRs experienced burnout and downturns in mental health during lockdowns when regular workplace rhythms were all but abandoned. And better mental health can lead to longer tenure, and longer tenure can mean higher quality work outputs.

2. Sales development works in the gig economy

Flexibility is the new workplace reality. While freelancing the SDR role is only in its infancy, this trend should continue as platforms like Upwork and Fiverr become increasingly recognized as legitimate.

If Mark Cuban is right, we’re heading toward a primarily “gigged” economy where people work for multiple brands in order to create the flexible schedule they desire. Gig work is a great way for go-getters to get a foot in the door on a dream sales job, experience a new industry, or skirt the traditional college-to-work life pathway.

3. Robots aren’t good enough to mature your leads—yet

Deep in the heart of 2021, you would be hard-pressed to find an influencer on LinkedIn who wasn’t insistent that the future would be run by technology. But are we ready to permanently leave pre-pandemic practices behind?

Here’s what’s actually happening today in the world of tech-assisted sales development—phones are autonomously dialing with tools like Google Assistantcontact information is being provided by web crawlers, and personalized videos are being created by a plethora of new AI apps. But none of this works without human input, so don’t think you can eliminate the mighty SDR just yet. Perhaps after 10+ more years of development, this technology will outpace a human SDR in every metric. Good news for prospects. Bad news for human SDRs.


Guess what I’m hearing from our clients in real time today: The economy is down. Marketing budgets are tight. Investment is being pulled back from sales development. And to what end? Say goodbye to the future value of any leads.

So if a sales development function is the answer to a graveyard of leads that never reach their potential of real revenue, stop divesting this capability when faced with adverse financial circumstances. Get ahead of the curve and keep your sales development function strong.

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