Six Lessons Learned at the Sales Development Conference

Last verified May 21, 2021

The Guru team recently gathered in San Francisco for the 2nd Annual Sales Development Conference (SDC). We knew we were in for a great day full of insights from sales development leaders, and I walked away from the event feeling how many of us have felt leaving a conference: I was ready to conquer the world and implement every process, idea, project, and methodology I’d learned about. After getting some distance from the conference over the weekend, I realized I couldn’t do everything I wanted, so I narrowed in on my biggest personal takeaways.


Here are 6 lessons I learned at SDC that I wanted to share with the rest of our community:

1. Sales development metrics are broken because they don’t align to revenue

Bryan Franklin, Co-founder and CEO of OutBoundWorks, began the conference with an outstanding talk around sales development metrics. Bryan gave us a shocking statistic: even though our industry grew by over 570% in 2017, the pipeline generated from sales development didn’t come close to keeping up.

Why not? According to Bryan, we have a systemic problem in sales development. “Our activities, our metrics are all broken,” he said. “What you get is what you measure.” Bryan went on to explain that sales development teams are often too focused on activity metrics — like emails sent, email replies, and calls made — and not focused enough on creating revenue or driving ROI for their companies.

“Stats are great for troubleshooting, but are bad for managing people.” Activity metrics can create good habits, but Bryan explained why teams need to differentiate metrics from statistics. Thinking about using better metrics enables sales development reps to truly succeed. His examples of better metrics include account penetration (accounts with engaged opportunities/ total number of target accounts) and time to value (the length of the sales cycle for an individual opportunity). By prioritizing meaningful metrics that map to business objectives, sales development reps can generate quality leads and deliver a better ROI.

I thought Bryan’s session was one of the strongest talks of the day. His message resonated because it’s our responsibility as SDR leaders to give our reps a target to increase ROI. Our team at Guru is working on key revenue-driving metrics like lead efficiency, which refers to lowering the number of people we engage with to create opportunities.

2. Sales enablement is dead

That’s right, Guru’s own Steve Mayernick led a session entitled “The Death of Sales Enablement”. Let’s unpack what he means. Sales enablement is a $66 billion industry, but it’s failing SDRs. 71% of sales reps say they don’t have enough knowledge to move deals forward, and sales enablement doesn’t do enough to equip them with the information they need to close. He argues that traditional sales enablement programs focus too much on marketing assets and too little on product and sales knowledge and training. It also operates on the assumption that sales is the only team that needs to be empowered with resources to drive revenue, when the reality is that all customer-facing teams have the ability to impact revenue.

Steve went on to explain why customer success and support should not be left out of any enablement process, and why the word enablement itself is misguided; at Guru, we focus on empowering all customer-facing teams to become valuable members of a larger team: the Revenue Team. We know that sales teams win when they are aligned with success and support, and have access to vital information held by other departments, like marketing and product.

"When client-facing teams like sales, success, and support are aligned and have access to ongoing knowledge and subject matter expertise, they are empowered to have valuable conversations that drive revenue.” - Steve Mayernick, Guru

By focusing on revenue empowerment rather than sales enablement, organizations can provide ongoing and contextual learning and training for all customer-facing teams. So, how can SDR teams get started with revenue empowerment? Steve shared three steps: Align sales development with customer support; invest in products or processes that work not just for sellers, but also for subject matter experts; and keep pace with your market and product.


3. SDRs make the mistake of “choking on the science”

“Choking on the science” was one of my favorite lines of the day. It came from Lars Nilsson, CEO of SalesSource, during a panel about the science of sales development. The panel was led by Pete Kazanjy of Atrium HQ and Modern Sales Pros and also featured Mitch Touart of and Brandon Bornancin of Seamless.AI. The panel began by discussing how important it is for teams to set up processes and playbooks backed by data, but the conversation quickly transitioned into a debate about the art and science of sales.

What Lars meant by “choking on the science” is that many teams have tunnel vision when it comes to data. They focus so much on the science that they neglect the art of the sale. “So many stories are being sourced by SDRs. You need to capture these stories, new messages, events, and curate them across your entire sales organization,” he added. Pete chimed in and explained that “Artistic innovation is done by people, not science. You need to systematize that thing that is driving success and do it at high volume.”

Forsaking the quantitative for the qualitative strips the sales process of the human touch — the art — that moves it along. We need to return to that art, to capturing the stories and personal interactions that have proved successful for SDRs, and empower our teams to replicate those tactics.

4. We need more coaching to reinforce our sales training

I didn’t know how much of sales nerd Sean Murray (CRO) at SalesLoft was until I watched his presentation on the modern sales experience. Sean left us with a ton of stats on the modern buyer's journey, and exclaimed that “Modernizing revenue is hard!”

“We are spending less time in front of customers than ever before,” he said. People make purchases based on experience, and Sean believes that our reps need to prospect with more sincerity. That’s where coaching comes in.

Training reps goes a long way in getting them to hit quota, develop their careers, and most importantly, create great customer experiences. But training alone doesn’t do enough. Sean presented the mind-blowing stat that 90% of sales training is gone in 30 days, which is why it’s important to extend that training with coaching. Based on research, he recommended spending 3-5 hours of coaching with each rep to help reinforce sales training on an ongoing basis. At Guru, we believe in a 70:20:10 learning model, which holds that individuals learn 70% of their knowledge from on-the-job experience, 20% from interacting with others, and only 10% from studying and reading. If you accept that training only drives 10% of learning, the emphasis on continuous coaching becomes more important.

How much time are you spending one on one with your reps and actually reinforcing your training material? Best-in-class teams are such because they find the perfect balance for their reps. The SDR team at Guru attends two training sessions a week that are focused on value-selling or learning SDR processes. Additionally, they have weekly one-on-ones with their team leads and me. Coaching in context is important, so at Guru we do that on a daily basis.

5. Product-led sales development is the next big thing

Liz Cain of Openview Venture Partners opened by stating that we should brace ourselves because the future of sales development is product-led. Product-led sales development refers to product usage serving as the primary driver of user acquisition, expansion, and retention.

Liz talked through prime examples of how leading with product — rather than sales and marketing — helped drive the explosive growth at companies like Guru customers Slack and Shopify. She went on to explain that to execute on this strategy, companies really need to understand their buyer journey and what buyers need in any given moment.

Here’s the formula: Lead with your product, step in with marketing when prospects lost steam, and let your sales team focus on the highest impact efforts. Saving sales for placement further down the funnel gives sellers the ability to provide value to prospects who need help or are looking to engage.

6. Sales development is here to stay

David Dulany, founder of the Sales Development Conference and CEO of Tenbound, envisions a new role in the near future for sales development teams: the creation of the Chief Sales Development Officer. I agree 100% with this prediction.

The sales development function continues to evolve, but it remains a main revenue driver for B2B companies around the globe. Over 300 of us were able to gather in San Francisco last week, but as David pointed out, “The ecosystem and the tools to support our ecosystem continue to grow and evolve.” I, like David, am hopeful for the future of sales development. I encourage all SDRs to leverage the great minds in this field and focus on driving great customer experiences for customers and prospects alike.

Final thoughts

The Sales Development Conference included over 20 speakers, including Morgan Ingram from SDR Chronicles/JBarrows, JBarrows’ own John Barrows, and Julie Hogan from Drift. If you haven’t attended previously, I highly recommend catching this conference next year.

My next move, post-event, will be executing on what I learned at SDC. To optimize our SDR team at Guru, we have to prioritize the right metrics, coaching, processes, and career development for our team. Realigning on these priorities will help us master the art of the outcome and create better customer experiences.

I would love to connect with any SDR professionals interested in discussing these industry trends. I’d love to hear your takeaways from SDC and learning what drives sales development success in other organizations. Do you think we’re becoming too data-driven? What kinds of methods are you using to provide great customer experiences? Let’s talk! Drop me a line at