Moving From SDR to AE: Challenges You Need to Go Through
Professional development is always rewarded. We are proud of our achievements, we start earning more, and we are more respected. But everything has a price. So we must change, grow above ourselves, and develop to reach new heights.
What awaits the one who dreams of leading the Account Executive (AE) position but is still in place of Sales Development Representative (SDR)?
Roles of account executives and sales development representatives in the sales process
To understand how to rise to the level of AE, let’s figure out how this position differs from an SDR and whether they have anything in common.
What is in common?
The main focus in both jobs is on people, finding potential customers (SDR task), and making them buy as many times as possible (AE task).
Yes, the goals are different, but people are the same. Therefore, the skills that employees in these positions must have overlap in some ways. The ability to build relationships and create trust, active listening skills, and empathy are guaranteed to help salespeople at any level.
What is the difference?
But there are more discrepancies because the tasks facing AEs and SDRs differ.
The primary goal of a sales development representative in the early stage of the sales pipeline is to determine whether a particular person meets the criteria of a potential customer. If not, weed out and move on; if so, work through objections, give as much information as possible about the product, and prepare for the next stage. As a result, the lead turns into a potential customer.
Remark: There are also business development representatives (BDRs) who focus on the outbound opportunities of sales prospecting (cold calling, sending emails, finding leads in social networks), while SDRs work with inbound requests.
The number of leads contacted by the SDR plays an important role. Yes, the work must be done qualitatively, but there are clear criteria by which applications are filtered. Therefore, the SDR should only learn to follow the algorithm and qualify potential customers effectively and quickly.
What does an AE do?
Prospects move further down the sales funnel and reach them. And the goal of AE is not just to sell and close the deal but to make customers come back again and again.
The market has become so highly competitive that it is increasingly difficult to find new customers and “warm up” with them. It is much easier to sell to those who have already appreciated the quality of your product and trust your service.
So, constant communication and a high level of service are what people want to feel when contacting certain companies.
The following account executive responsibilities can be distinguished:
- to negotiate and close deals with potential clients;
- to assist new customers in product use and build long-term relationships with them;
- to notify existing clients about new products and special offers, stimulating repeat purchases;
- to coordinate internal tasks related to accounts;
- to take care of meeting the needs of regular customers and form a good impression from contacts with the company.
Thus, as you can see, scripts will not help AE’s work. Therefore, it is necessary to find an individual approach to each client, be flexible and even more empathetic, and not forget about any buyer. But let’s consider all the necessary skills closer.
What a sales development representative should know to become an AE
Each job has a certain set of desired skills and abilities. They are also conditionally divided into hard skills, which directly affect the quality of the work performed, and soft skills, which strengthen your core skills and promote professional development. Separately, we will consider what programs AE should know how to use.
As we have already noted, SDRs rarely sell. Instead, they have the task of preparing qualified leads. Therefore, the essential skill that should be mastered by a person who aspires to become an AE from SDR is precisely the skill of selling.
And as you can see, we are talking about selling a solution, not a product. That is, the attention of the AE should be on the question: “How to solve the request of a potential client with the help of our service/product? How to convey the value of our company to him personally?”
Although this skill is classified as a hard skill, it is influenced by many social skills. Empathy is the ability to listen to a person, ask questions correctly, assertiveness (the ability to use adequate models of behavior), stress resistance, and self-regulate.
And the fact that you have experience in SDR work will come in handy. After all, you already have them if you have achieved specific successes in your work.
Advice: continue to develop them in communication even with raw leads, try to hear their problems, and offer a beneficial solution.
Long-term relationships with regular customers are the priority and actual value of account executives’ work. They turn into a series of parallel projects requiring much attention.
Project management skills will help in the following:
- Creating realistic project schedules
- Building a cohesive, consistent understanding of project goals among all stakeholders
- Creating effective project plans with clear responsibilities and milestones
- Identifying concerns when they are still small enough to solve
AE’s contact with a client is not limited to phone calls and sending emails, as in the work of SDR. However, there are often live meetings or video conferences where sales reps present a product or solution.
And many other skills are connected here. Public speaking, self-confidence, correct diction and body language, and the ability to negotiate and resolve conflict situations. In general, be a leader and lead the client, not the other way around.
Here are some tips for SDRs to train presentation skills:
- take the floor at general meetings
- try to conduct a sales onboarding training
- act as a speaker at professional seminars
Yes, it can be a big step out of your comfort zone, so start with small groups of people you know well and whose opinions you can trust. Gradually increase your audience to gain confidence.
Most hard skills are highly dependent on soft skills. This is a feature of salespeople’s work – a lot of interpersonal interaction. Therefore, developing soft skills to become an AE is sometimes even more important than developing hard skills.
Time management skills
Each of us has only 8 working hours on average, but if we compare the duties of the SDR and the AE, the latter’s duties are broader and less regulated.
For example, SDR has a call script, and the duration of the conversation rarely exceeds 5 minutes. There is a quota, for example, to process 80 calls per day, and then there are several duties that are also quantifiable and quite clear.
What do we see in an AE’s schedule? To make a presentation for a potential client. Yes, it may have specific time limits, but if the manager sees that the client is ready to buy, there is a stage of negotiations and the conclusion of the contract. And if the client wants to close the deal here and now? Or does he like to discuss this in more detail? The meeting goes on longer; fewer priority tasks are postponed.
Therefore, without solid time management, you can quickly lose control over your time and, as a result, productivity.
How to train it on the SDR role?
Optimize your workflow. Make sure all tasks are completed on time and find ways to do something faster without losing quality. Make more commitments, letting your managers understand that you know how to manage your working time.
Sellers are individualists in most cases. Yes, there are specific team metrics that the sales team must achieve, but most of the work is done independently and has little dependence on other people.
In the position of AE, something is changing. For example, a client needs attention, and to effectively manage AE projects, it is necessary to communicate with many company employees. In addition, an account executive often acts as a mentor for beginners in the sales department.
How to develop skills?
Build good relationships with as many of your colleagues as possible. Use your empathy and social skills not only in your work with clients but also in communication during lunch, coffee breaks, and any other informal communication opportunities.
You can also take the initiative and help newcomers adapt to the team and get used to the workplace.
If you compare the work process in sales with growing plants, the SDR checks the soil for fertility and sows the seeds, which must then germinate. How qualitative it will be is determined by the work of AE. Will he fertilize the soil in time, notice the plant’s unhealthy sprouts, and provide enough light and water for its growth?
Difficulties can arise at any stage of plant growth. Even when it is fully formed, it can unexpectedly get sick or dry up. So it is with the client. Even regular customers can, for some reason, stop buying and start thinking or saying things that had not occurred to them before. And external factors also influence the economy, politics, fashion trends, and competition.
The AE should have much better negotiation and objection skills than the SDR. Instead, he must strive to learn to anticipate the doubts and even the thoughts of customers to prevent “unhealthy sprouts.”
How to strengthen these skills?
Delve into the psychology of people, and explore their nature with interest. Learn negotiation techniques, and ask your colleagues to be your imaginary customers to put them into practice.
Programs and features
What software can be useful for you in the account executive role?
This is the primary tool in the work of AE. All project control is carried out with the help of CRM, so it is essential to use it skillfully.
The key in the work of AE is the presence of pipeline management features in the CRM system used by the company.
Project management platform
In addition to CRM, platforms such as Asana are used for high-quality work on a separate project. In this way, you can easily attract the people you need to work with, delegate tasks and monitor their performance without leaving your workplace.
Sales forecasting software
Part of the AE’s work is also the analysis of actions already taken and their effectiveness. They make reports, analyze metrics and compare results over different periods.
Often, CRM has high-quality analytics tools, but specialists prefer to use professional programs that can visualize data, automatically generate reports, and do deeper analytics.
If you are still in the position of SDR, you probably have not had to work on such applications. But you can start training your analytical skills with the Ring.io feature RingInsight. You can also ask the management which program AEs use in your company and try to master it yourself, at least at a basic level.
Tools for effective communication with customers
It can be anything. Emailing, phone calls, texting in social media, video calls, and one-to-one meetings. Some communication channels require special applications (for example, Ring.io for convenient telephony and Zoom for video calls).
In conclusion, we would like to add. There is no better way to learn something than through other people’s experiences. Therefore, in addition to self-learning, try to find an AE who wants to become your mentor. It doesn’t have to be an employee of your company, but you have to touch the person.
Build quality networking and be helpful to others so that they want to teach you and help you in professional self-realization.