5 Ways to Get Your SDRs to Start Thinking More Like AEs

October 4, 2019

Sara Howshar

What sales leader doesn’t want highly skilled and motivated account executives (AEs) on their team? Here’s another question: Have you looked at your bench of sales development representatives (SDRs) to find up-and-coming AE talent?

You’ll find you have many potential AE candidates just waiting for the chance to build their skills and move up the sales organization ladder. #

But how do you help an SDR prepare for an AE role? How can you help SDRs progress in a way that’s empowering, so they feel like they are in the driver’s seat on advancing their career?

Becc Holland, Head of Sales Development, at Chorus.ai, has quite a few ideas for how to turn SDRs into AEs — which she shared in a recent episode of our “Flip the Script” webinar series.

“This a special topic, close to my heart,” she says. “I see many SDRs who want to crush it in their current position, but they’re also looking for that next role and how to get there. As a manager, I want to secretly help turn them into an AE, so that when they do make that transition, they will kill it for me in that role.”

Becc recommends applying these five tactics to help SDRs start thinking and acting more like AEs, so they can reach that next level in the sales organization: #

1. Use key performance indicator (KPI) systems #

Becc says the first step in helping SDRs to elevate their skills is to “define what great looks like.”

What are you comp-ing your reps for? What are you encouraging them to do? It’s important to answer these questions because you may discover that you’re inadvertently setting the bar too low for your SDRs — and, in turn, undermining sales success.

Becc recalls her first experience coming into the SDR ecosystem:
“I was given a meeting quota and told the meetings would be ‘round-robin’ regardless of quality. Whether it was a senior manager or a VP or an even a higher title in the room, I was given the same credit.

So, on the premise that it’s easier to reach a senior manager than a VP — and I’m getting the same credit for both — I’m going to hunt at the senior manager level, even though it’s not nearly as valuable to my AE team.”

Becc’s Tip: To motivate SDRs to reach higher, and measure their performance, you need KPI systems.

The two goals of a KPI system are to measure:

  1. A reps efficacy
  2. A reps work ethic

Here’s how she would set KPIs based on the type of SDR you’re working with:

Inbound KPIs for SDRs #

These SDRs field inbound calls. Typically, they are measured by:

  • The number of meetings they set
  • The influenced annual contract value (ACV) as well.

For these reps, Becc says she measures “50% on speed-to-lead and the other 50% on what percentage of objectively qualified leads led to a meeting.” That way, she says, “if marketing’s MQLs fluctuate up or down, the SDR is not over-penalized or over-comped.”

Outbound KPIs for SDRs #

These SDRs only hunt for outbound leads. They’re usually measured by

  • The number of the meetings set with maybe a spiff, such as if someone’s an ideal buyer, according to Becc.

“For outbound SDRs, I use a points system that defines what ‘good’ and ‘great’ look like for the company,” she says. “So, when I think about if from an AE standpoint, ‘good’ and ‘great’ mean one of two things: either there was a great title in the room, or it was a great company. So, I comp the SDR accordingly.”

Check out Becc’s Tic-Tac-Toe inspired matrix here.

All-bound KPIs for SDRs #

These SDR hybrids, usually found in small to midsize businesses (SMBs). They are often measured by:

  • A meeting or influenced ACV quota
  • If marketing dips up or down, the reps are then asked to make up the balance on outbound.

Becc notes that setting up a KPI system for these reps can be tricky.

“So, for all-bound reps, I will typically set a 10-meeting quota. Then, every inbound subtracts 0.2 from the quota to a floor of six, and no lower. They make up the quota from outbound meetings only because I want to reward them for taking the time to make that transactional meeting happen.”

2. Encourage personalized messaging #

Another strategy to help SDRs start thinking more like AEs is to have them send out personal messaging to prospects.

“That might seem pretty controversial, seeing as the industry standard today is for SDR teams to send out mass blast templates,” says Becc. In the best cases, SDRs will send messages based on the buyer persona or case studies relevant to a certain industry.

Becc says when she worked as an AE, she always made a point to send very calculated messages to very direct prospects that talked about the prospect.

“I mentioned the wonderful things they were doing that I thought made them a very valid buyer for me.” She adds, “I don’t buy anything that doesn’t have personalized messaging and I don’t think my prospects are much different than me.”

Becc recalls going to her sales leadership and suggesting a different approach:

“I said, ‘I have an idea and I want you to give me complete autonomy on this. If it doesn’t work, I want you to let me go because my instincts are wrong as a leader.’”

The idea was to pivot away from mass blast templates to 100% personalized messaging.

They didn’t let her go -- it was a complete success.

“We went live March 1 and by March 5, we had doubled our numbers,” she says. “By March 10, we had tripled our numbers. And by March 15, we had quadrupled our numbers — all without changing the size or makeup of our team.”

Becc’s Tip: Encourage their SDRs to make product messaging conversational, and to make messaging about the buyer.

3. Let SDRs run webinars #

Another way to help SDRs think more like AEs is to ask them to run product webinars.

“If you have an SDR looking to transition to AE, the first skill they need is to be able to demo the product,” Becc explains.

The webinar allows them to practice, not in a mock case scenario, but with real prospects who might one day be in a position to buy.

Funnel unqualified buyers — those who request a demo just to learn more about the company’s brand and products — to a biweekly webinar that is a one-to-many instead of one-to-one presentation.

“These individuals may one day become actual buyers, but for now, having an AE run a demo with them is not the best use of the AE’s time and calories,” says Becc.

4. Listen to calls #

“The fourth way to turn your SDRs into AEs is to have them — drumroll please — listen to calls!” says Becc. “With tools like Chorus.ai, SDRs don’t have to spend time shadowing AEs. I give my SDRs a quota of calls to listen to each week so that, over time, they get to know organically what the AEs are saying to customers.”

Becc says she requires SDRs to listen to five types of calls: #

  • Calls they set. These calls help SDRs get to know what “good/great/bad looks like for the calls they set, so they can improve their prospecting along the way,” says Becc.
  • Segmented calls. SMB, midmarket, enterprise … how do each of these calls differ and what do the conversations look like?
  • Staged calls. What does a discovery call, a first vision, a pricing, or a negotiation call look like?
  • Competitive calls. When a prospect mentions a competitor on a call, how do AEs respond?

“Unicorn” calls. What technique did an AE use particularly well that SDRs should also use when they are demoing their prospects?

5. Provide training #

Training is especially important if the team is underperforming, as a whole. However, Becc offers some words of advice: “If you hire an outsourced trainer, have them spend more time training the trainers than the individual reps. The in-house trainers can then train the reps better on a day-to-day basis, which will improve your chances of success.”

The five strategies listed above can help sales leaders to strengthen their SDR bench, make the best use of all their talent, and build a team of well-trained, intuitive AEs who can help win more sales.

Becc’s Tip: Sales leaders should equip their SDR teams with appropriate training to help them elevate their skills and think more like AEs.

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