Secrets of a Successful
SaaS Business Development Manager
The overarching goal of any SaaS organization is to build sustainable growth. The levers of growth are a combination of winning new business and keeping existing customers. In his notable work Predictable Revenue, author Aaron Ross outlined the engine he orchestrated at Salesforce in its early days, taking recurring from one million to one hundred million. That model is a template used by many organizations today, primarily because it’s logical, scalable, and often quite effective. We’ll outline the framework as part of our journey through the secrets of a successful business development manager.
Roles in SaaS Business Development
The ideal team includes a few key roles. With a small “pod” of sales people, leads can be generated, contacted, qualified, demonstrated to, and nurtured.
Sales Development Representative (SDR)
A sales development representative (SDR) is a member of the inside sales team. SDRs primarily focus on outbound prospecting, qualifying leads, and adding leads to the sales pipeline. While SDRs don’t close deals, they help sales reps by determining if a lead will be an ideal customer fit.
Business Development Representative (BDR)
A business development representative (BDR) tries to generate new business opportunities by qualifying leads and working with existing accounts to find potential buyers. A BDR typically uses email, cold calls, social media, and networking. The real goal is to book appointments that lead to sales opportunities. Once a meeting is booked, the BDR passes the prospect off to an Account Executive.
Account Executive (AE)
An account executive (AE) is a SaaS sales team member focused on closing deals, bringing in revenue for the business. They build relationships with prospects and work to fit the company’s SaaS solution to the prospect’s needs. Demonstrating the SaaS product, writing proposals, and closing deals are all the purview of an AE.
Business Development Manager
Oversight of the team and process belongs to the business development manager. The actual job title varies, but the goal is to build sales teams in these small groups, develop the talent, and close as much business as possible.
Tasks in SaaS Business Development
Marketing campaigns are supposed to deliver many leads to the top of the sales funnel. Inbound leads, however, may not be sufficient, so outbound campaigns are also needed. Some sales organizations specialize SDRs on inbound versus outbound (farmers vs. hunters!). The objective in lead generation is higher volume with building market awareness.
Not every lead is a good one — so qualifying leads early is paramount. That is, making sure the lead has purchasing authority (or at least strong influence), there’s pricing alignment, and there’s product/need fit saves valuable time. Finding out that the prospect has no budget after the third demo is no fun. Ideally, the SDRs know how to tacitly glean the qualifying data without sounding sales-y.
An old adage we use is “people buy when they’re ready to buy, not when you’re selling”. As part of the qualifying process, finding the timeline helps. If the timing is off, it’s not the end. A sustained nurturing campaign, with periodic emails and occasional phone check-ins, can win business later. Nurturing should lean more on education and social proof than selling. Giving value beats sales chatter any day.
Perhaps your pricing model is simple — flat monthly fees, no setup costs, no add-ons. But if it isn’t, it’s a sales task to craft enticing offers. Bundles & upgrades are better than discounts. Again, giving value is always preferred, beating out chopping prices (and appearing desperate).
The scorecard is mostly about revenue, of course. Closing deals (using well-crafted offers) matters. A good AE knows how to ask for the deal. And then a good AE knows how to get the signature and payment. You can’t Always Be Closing — deals happen when the client understands the deal and recognizes how your SaaS solves their problems. Closing is an art.
Good SaaS business development teams know their metrics. They share data to improve the sales process. Where did the lead originate? What were the pain points? How long was the sales cycle? What are the metrics of the deal (users, recurring revenue, one-time revenue, cost of acquisition)? Solid results reporting enables optimization and enhancement over time in the quest of predictable revenue and growth.
Ah, our favorite part. What works for Salesforce or Slack may not work for you. To grow faster, you have to try different ideas. You build a campaign around lead magnets that adds hundreds of unqualified leads. #fail. You run a series of webinars that double new revenue in a month. #winning. We prefer a blurry line between sales & marketing — silos suck, feedback loops win. An experimental framework, with ideation, metrics, and execution, can deliver far faster growth.
Sharing lessons learned and metrics internally builds great trust. That transparency also helps the organization iterate. Failure isn’t shameful in this environment — it is merely knowledge.
Traits of Successful SaaS Business Development Programs
Processes are executed, reviewed, and iterated regularly.
Teams share information, avoiding silos of data and communication.
Customers and employees are trustworthy and do what they say.
When things go wrong, it’s seen as a learning opportunity, not a disaster.
New ideas are shared and discussed as teams experiment.
Processes drive action, with regular reviews to improve them and fill gaps.
Secrets of a Successful SaaS Business Development Manager
Business development in SaaS should be designed to scale up. In the beginning, a SaaS business development manager could be (and probably is) one person. When the product is ready to reach a bigger audience, you can start adding a role at a time. A good SDR can start filling the funnel. An account executive helps demonstrate and close. A BDR fills in more business (you can promote your first SDR too!). As business continues to grow, you can add a whole pod. Over time, you can even build specialized pods around vertical markets (e.g., government, healthcare, SMBs). The more teams collaborate and share, the better the chances for finding winning messaging, building better processes, and reaching a better, bigger audience. Iteration and experimentation should be embraced — as the saying goes, what got you here won’t get you there. The very notion of SaaS is to innovate, and that should permeate business development too. A strong SaaS business development manager will build a team and processes that support it, leading to higher growth in the long term.