Will Chatbots Replace BDRs? And 14 Other Questions to Ask about Biz Dev

Like any part of sales, business development is an evolving discipline. While some aspects are staying tried-and-true, others that worked in the past might not be providing results today. How can you figure which is which? Here are the questions you should be asking to stay on top of what’s new and changing in BD today.

will chatbots replace bdrs?

19 min. read

A cold wind whistles through the top of your deserted sales funnel.

You shiver.

Your flywheel is rusted and refuses to spin. The pipeline has dried up. There’s not a lead in sight to sell to. A tumbleweed bounces slowly through your abandoned sales department.

This is the fate of your sales team in a world without business development.

(Okay, that’s hyperbole. There probably wouldn’t be any office tumbleweed.)

The function of business development is to identify new markets, territories, and verticals in which to prospect, create relationships with potential customers, and set up opportunities for account executives to close the deal.

So, yeah, safe to say it’s a vital part of the sales process. Business development reps keep your closers flush with qualified leads, helping create long-term sales relationships and revenue.

And, like any part of sales, business development is an evolving discipline. While some aspects are staying tried-and-true, others that worked in the past might not be providing results today.

How can you figure which is which and save your BDR team from a fate worse than death? (Irrelevance.)

Here are the questions you should be asking to stay on top of what’s new and changing in business development today:

Click the linked question below to directly to the answer or scroll to read them all.

The State of Business Development

Will chatbots and artificial intelligence replace business development reps?

What tools are BDRs using these days?

What skill sets do business development professionals need to succeed in today’s sales environment?

Is field sales dead and being replaced by in-house business development?

BDR Process and Tactics

How many touch points do BDRs need in their cadence?

Should BDRs work from a script?

How can BDRs use video as part of prospecting?

Do voicemails still matter in business development?

Does cold calling and cold emailing still work?

How can BDRs leverage social media?

BDR Management

Do you need a business development manager?

Should BDRs be making sales?

Should BDRs earn commission?

Is a BDR role a starting point for a future account exec or a more long-term gig?

How can you keep your biz dev team from burning out?

Will chatbots and artificial intelligence replace business development reps?

AI and machine learning in sales is a huge trend right now. Companies like Drift and Intercom help sales teams use chatbots like virtual salespeople. The chatbots answer questions, qualify leads, and book appointments for their human counterparts, all from a website’s chat window.

A chatbot is great for a straightforward interaction and answering those frequently asked questions. However, AI and chatbots can’t fully substitute for a human BDR.

Sales is based on relationships and while artificial intelligence has made much progress, there will always be a need for a human touch.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for AI-powered automation in business development.

As Jill Rowley, Chief Growth Officer at marketing software company Marketo, explains, “It will not displace the sales person, but instead amplify and accelerate the sales person's ability to understand and employ data—not just to improve productivity and boost performance, but to improve the customer experience.”

Rowley sees AI as a tool for giving both customers and salespeople what they want in a low-friction, lower-value interaction. The customer wants to buy and doesn’t need a salesperson’s help. In that case, AI could step in to guide them through a self-serve buying process.

The sales rep could then spend their time on the high-value transactions, where they can act as the prospect’s “trusted advisor.”

What tools are BDRs using these days?

The tech stack a BDR uses can be unique to them and their team. These are some of the tools that get mentioned when talking about what’s essential to business development.

  • Online databases, like ZoomInfo and, that aggregate information about business people and companies. Plus search tools like LinkedIn Navigator, which helps filter LinkedIn’s database.
  • Email tools like Marketo Sales Connect (formerly ToutApp), which makes writing, sending, and tracking emails faster, and TextExpander, which lets you insert snippets of text as you write from a repository of past emails or boilerplate content. Great for efficiently answering frequently-asked questions.
  • Sales-specific tools, like Discoverorg, which tells salespeople which software a company currently uses to help them tailor their sales pitch, and, an AI-powered pipeline tool.
  • Professional development programs, like Toastmasters, that help sales reps polish their public speaking skills and get more comfortable and confident speaking in front of people.
  • A writing assistant app like Grammarly, which can be added to platforms like Gmail, Facebook, and LinkedIn, helps sales reps avoid errors and communicate clearly and professionally.
  • It hopefully goes without saying that all BDRs should be using a good customer relationship management (CRM) system. This software is a must to store easily accessible data, control email automation, and monitor the status of qualified leads as they move through the closing process. Perennially popular options include Salesforce and Hubspot.

What skill sets do business development professionals need to succeed in today’s sales environment?

Many of the skills that will help today’s BDRs are the same as in the past: a competitive, can-do spirit, the ability to bounce back from rejection, self-motivation, and active listening skills.

The biggest attribute that sales pros point to for BDR success? Perseverance. It’s more than just being able to deal with hearing ‘no’ a lot.

It’s finding new ways to get things done, whether with new technology or trying new avenues to reach leads. It’s consistently putting in the work to see good results, not taking a ‘spray-and-pray’ haphazard approach.

Business development is one of, if not the, hardest job in sales. And, in many ways, it’s never been more simultaneously difficult and easy to reach people. Succeeding as a business development rep requires constant effort and resilience.

Is field sales dead and being replaced by in-house business development?

In certain industries, face-to-face sales is the bread and butter. Based on the number of companies with online job postings actively seeking a field sales rep, it seems like declaring it dead is definitely premature.

However, the role, like many others in sales, is undergoing change. Field sales reps are being asked to do more in the same amount of time.

Field sales reps are still expected to visit with their prospects and customers, plus stay on top of the administrative side while they’re on the road. Travel time is a reality that can’t be avoided, so CRM data entry and other organizational tasks may suffer.

Using tech can make field sales reps more efficient. Think using location data, like GPS, to map well-planned routes, maximizing sales reps’ facetime while minimizing time spent in traffic.

Or software solutions, like Proposify’s online proposal creation software, that can be used to follow up with a prospect from a smartphone before the sales rep even leaves the prospect’s office.  

How many touch points do BDRs need in their cadence?

The contact cadence will depend on the rep and what works in their industry or market segment.

For example, when selling to an industry like SaaS, a BDR’s cadence might be heavily weighted towards email touch points.

On the other hand, if their product is specialized equipment in the medical industry, the lead list would be much smaller for such a niche product so relying on calls would make more sense.

Studies say you need 6-8 touch points before a person considers buying from you. Anecdotally, on an enterprise sales level, it could be as high as 15-20 direct (email/phone) and indirect (social media) touch points over a 3-month period before the lead is ready to be handed off to an account executive to close.

As mentioned, some touch points will be more aggressive or intrusive than others. Making 20 phone calls over a two-week period might seem excessive to some. To others, it might seem about right.

To those who deem it excessive, 30 “softer” touches, like emails or social media connections within a similar time period might not come off in the same way.

It’s more important to have a plan for the BDR cadence than worry about hitting an exact number of touch points. When you have an established cadence, your BDRs will always know where they are with a lead and you can see who’s where in the pipeline.

If your BDRs are disorganized in their approach, it will be hard for them to know what’s working and what’s not. A well-planned cadence lets you, the rep, and the BDR manager see the bigger picture in order to finetune it, like adjusting the aggressiveness of individual touch points or their timing.

Using this data to adjust your lead outreach is vital to keeping leads in the sales funnel. If a BDR’s cadence is too aggressive, it could turn leads off. If the cadence is sloppy and inefficient, once-promising leads could get lost in the shuffle and never receive proper follow-up.

Should BDRs work from a script?

Some sales pros say you should use a BDR pitch script only for training purposes or when brand-new business development reps are starting out. Forcing an experienced BDR to follow a script might come off as micromanagement.

Can you not?

That doesn’t mean BDR teams should avoid scripts entirely. Having some sort of outline to follow helps maintain consistency.

It should act more like a framework than a word-for-word script, though. That could make BDRs sound robotic and inauthentic, which is the opposite of what you want when building a sales relationship.

it should provide enough detail to give BDRs a good idea of what’s expected and what a compelling pitch looks like for your company.

This makes sure the right questions are being asked and the right information is being collected.

How can BDRs use video as part of prospecting?

Now that we know that Facebook inflated the view numbers for video and the whole “pivot to video” movement seems to be losing steam, is video still relevant for BDRs?

Video can be an interesting way to personalize outreach. It helps leads put a face to a salesperson’s name and their company’s name.

Using video can shake up the BDR cadence, as it’s between a voicemail and an email and something a little different. Proposify co-founder and CEO Kyle Racki talks a bit here about how one of the best cold emails he ever received used video to reel him in.

BDRs can use video to show a new feature, answer a question, or, like in Kyle’s example, quickly show, how the lead could use your product or service. Instead of setting up a time for a screen share for something simple, the BDR records a quick video explaining or demoing the answer.

Video is not replacing email and phone calls. And there is some learning curve. When using video, BDRs will have to become adept at spotting good candidates for video prospecting and figure out what an effective video looks like in terms of content, length, visuals, and audio, plus learn how to record and send it properly.

No flying cars, but we do have smart watches. So that’s… something, at least.

Do voicemails still matter in business development?

The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is yes, but…

Again, the results BDRs get from leaving voicemails depends on the industry and the people they’re trying to reach.

There might be some industries where people are unlikely to answer a call, let alone listen to a voicemail and call back.

Some salespeople argue that leaving voicemails as an early touch point serves to introduce the the BDR and their company to the lead, even if they don’t respond.

Leaving voicemails can also help new BDRs practice and perfect their pitch. It can get them used to talking on the phone in an office environment where your coworkers can likely hear every word you say. And it can be an iterative process to make their intro pitch as informative and concise as possible.

Does cold calling and cold emailing still work?

Guess what? It depends. Overall, yes, to a degree, cold calling and emailing still works.

Cold calling and cold emailing get a bad rap because so many salespeople get it wrong.

The biggest mistake BDRs make in cold outreach is that they focus too much on themselves and what they need. In order to do it right, BDRs need to provide value.

Why should a lead, a total stranger, bother reading an email or returning a call? That’ll only happen if the contact provides value right off the bat and respects their time.

This is why canned cold outreach fails. It’s not personalized and adds no value. Not only can it damage your BDR’s results, it can damage your overall brand. You’ll look like a spammy bot, not a trusted partner.

Even worse are the dirty tricks. Duping someone into reading a cold message, like by adding RE: to the subject line to imply an ongoing conversation, is not the way to build trust or a lasting relationship.

Check out this post from Proposify account executive Rachel Gray for her thoughts on the dangers of cold outreach, including some examples of poor prospecting she’s encountered recently.

Call me maybe?

How can BDRs leverage social media?

Social media is a great way for BDRs to establish contact. It gets the BDR’s name and company name in front of the lead in an unobtrusive way.

Actions like commenting, adding to networks, or in-app messaging can also takes leads from ice-cold to lukewarm. It could be as simple as going onto LinkedIn and viewing the prospect’s profile. They can see the BDR’s view, but it’s not as invasive as asking to connect or sending a message. It’s more like a friendly wave than a knock on the door.

In order to do social selling right, BDRs need to be where their customers gather. For B2B that might be LinkedIn or Twitter, but could be Instagram, Facebook, or other social media channels, too. A BDR should also be sure to include their ‘elevator pitch’ in their bios on the social media they use for work in case a lead stops by.

However, leads won’t be stopping by a BDRs profile unless they have some incentive to do so. BDRs need to really engage with social media. This means consuming content, like liking and commenting on other people’s posts, but also posting their own quality content.

By “their own,” I don’t necessarily mean that they become a prolific blogger (although they could). They could write posts or amplify the posts and articles they’ve come across that they’ve found helpful, or sharing content from their company’s marketing department

The key word here is helpful. Social media posting from salespeople can’t all be promotional. It should be a mix of industry and company news, blog posts, commentary, videos, and more. The feed needs to provide value or, like with cold outreach, people will tune out.

To find appropriate content, BDRs can monitor keywords to see what’s being posted and said, and by whom. #Hashtags can help stay on top of the conversation, too.

Don’t forget that integrating social media efforts with your CRM will keep things organized and help when the sales relationship moves from social to email or phone.

And, as always, BDRs should be their friendly, authentic selves. No one can half-ass social selling and succeed. People can smell inauthenticity from a mile away, even online.

Betty White isn’t a robot (as far as I know). I just enjoy her.

Do you need a business development manager?

In some companies, BDRs operate as part of the sales team, under the sales manager. In others, they’re a separate business development team with their own separate business development (or BDR) manager.

If the BDR team is made up of less-experienced salespeople, a direct manager might be needed to keep them on track and provide coaching. On the other hand, senior business developers may be more able to work more independently.

A BDR manager is in charge of high level aspects of the BDR team, as well as the day-to-day activities. They handle the hiring, training, and onboarding team members and monitor leads, metrics, and KPIs.

A BDR manager is expected to provide ongoing coaching, feedback, and professional development, keep the lines of communication open, and motivate their BDRs to hit their goals.

Should BDRs be making sales?

The answer to this question can be summed up in one word: no.

Keeping a division of labour between “openers” (BDRs) and “closers” (account executives) allows salespeople to specialize and focus on the specific task at hand.

This makes goals clear, and reduces multitasking and time lost to switching gears between prospecting and selling. Business development is about relationship building and that takes time, research, and a lot of touch points.

BDRs should go through training on the full sales process, including the closing process. They should be able to track what’s happening with the qualified leads they’ve brought in and the account executives. This allows the BDR to reach out to the account executive to help them close.

Should BDRs earn commission?

Most BDR compensation is set up with a base salary, sometimes with commissions and bonuses if the BDR hits their targets

Targets and quotas are usually made up of KPIs like number of calls or emails, or total amount of talk time. Quotas are usually set by the number of appointments, meetings, or demos booked with qualified leads.

Make sure there are strict standards in place for what each metric or quota means. Hitting the talk time target doesn’t matter if the BDR was calling their grandma to top it up at the end of the month.

And there has to be consensus on what a “qualified lead” truly means. What criteria must they fulfill in order to be considered qualified?

Is BDR a starting point for a future account exec or a more long-term gig?

The answer to this one could go either way. It really depends on the person.

Sometimes, people start out in business development and realize it’s not for them. After gaining experience, they move on to another sales role.

Sales and BDR managers are keen to recognize excellence and promote great salespeople. In any promotion situation, make sure you’re thinking about the skills and mindset needed to excel in a BDR role versus an account executive role.

Sure, there is a fair amount of overlap. But it could be that someone moving from ‘opening’ and consulting with leads to closing and selling to them might not be a superstar in both roles.

It’s important to look at individual strengths, rather than instituting a blanket policy of promoting experienced BDRs to the closing side. They might be more valuable to your company as a BDR.

No one wants to stagnate, though. There can still be career growth in the BDR arena—team leads, BDR managers, and business development executive roles are all possibilities.

How can you keep your biz dev team from burning out?

Business development can be frustrating work. Prospecting is tough, especially when you’ve been hitting walls everywhere you turn and hearing a lot of nos. Fatigue is all too common in this line of work.

Company and team culture can be a huge contributing factor to burn out. Is everyone worked to the bone and stressed out? BDRs will likely feel that, times ten. 

Do people believe in the product or service they’re selling? That goes a long way to fueling workplace happiness. What’s the leadership structure like? BDRs need enough oversight to help them out, but not so much that they’re micromanaged.

If your BDRs are killing it and setting up meeting with tons of qualified leads, make sure your closers are firing on all cylinders, too. When the account executives aren’t holding up their end, it could mean resentment, apathy, and, ultimately, more burnout for your BDRs.

What are your thoughts on these pressing sales and business development questions? Let us know in the comments section below or on our social media channels. They’re linked up at the top of the page.

Will Chatbots Replace BDRs? And 14 Other Questions to Ask about Biz Dev

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