How to Get Promoted From an SDR to Account Executive?

Earning a promotion is not an easy goal to accomplish by any means. And we’re not even talking just about the traditional kind of hard. Rather, we mean more in the sense that we’re simply not dealing with a straightforward process that has a predefined linear route dotted with clearly indicated milestones. 

Earning a promotion from a sales development rep (SDR) to a full-fledged account executive (AE) is not an exception from this rule. In fact, the road from an SDR to an AE perfectly reflects just how fickle maneuvering a way to a promotion can be.

Nevertheless, making the transition from SDR to AE is the logical progression for anyone looking to build a career in sales – and making that step can be pulled off in a number of ways. The article before you will teach you all you need to know about how to make the leap from SDR to account executive.

Hopefully, by the time you’re done reading this text, you’ll not only know how to go about chasing that AE promised land but also if this career move is something you’re truly ready for at the present time.

Step Number One – Be the Best SDR You Can Be

First things first – nobody’s going to consider you a valid AE material if you’re not thriving in the SDR role. In other words, the only way to become an account executive is to first be great as a sales development rep.

However, as is the case with any other job, you’re bound to have bad days, weeks, or even months. Hopefully, the people in charge of picking the next account executives are aware of that fact. 

You have to be able to brush off failure and learn from it. That’s the only way you’re going to make it. Not getting caught up in mistakes will enable you to start creating solutions to problems that arise from everyday work. That way, you will be building a professional skill set necessary for when you do get handed the AE responsibility.

That being said, the be-all-end-all of getting promoted to an account executive from the SDR role comes down to absolutely crushing your sales numbers. You should be looking to bring in new opportunities every day. Every month. Every quarter. 

If you can do that consistently as an SDR, you can safely bet you will be among the front runners the next time any account executive opportunity presents itself.

What a Sales Development Rep Needs to Do in Order to Position for an AE Promotion?

Here’s a stone cold fact for you – while this may be unfair to some extent, the reality is that most promotions are a result of a mixture of luck and hard work. You can’t win a promotion with either of the two missing.

However, luck can’t really be relied upon, can it? It’s simply not something you can control. That means you will have to double down on the other part of the promotion equation – hard work. 

However, while there’s no avoiding going all-in during work hours, you can stack the deck in your favor by combining hard work with smart work

The following set of tips and work habits will make sure you can differentiate yourself when working in sales and quickly climb the ladder. It won’t have a direct impact on luck, but hey – fortune favours the bold, so let karma do its thing and you worry about what you can control.

Quick Links:

SDR to Account Executive

1. Learn from Past Mistakes

In the fast-paced world of sales, mistakes are bound to occur once in a while. However, if you really wish to make it in this business, you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on mistakes. If a deal goes south or, even worse, you slip up, you have to learn from that bad experience and keep moving forward. Don’t allow failed deals, missed opportunities, or a string of “no’s” to drag you down. 

Depending on your personality, this may be easier said than done, however. If this is something that demoralizes you, what may help is looking at your professional failures as additional chances to develop and work through problems as a sales development rep. 

Each failure you’re able to overcome improves your ability as a seller and brings you one step closer to becoming an account executive. That’s the mindset you should have at all times as an SDR.

2. Know How to Lead Conversations

If you’re to truly be a great AE, you have to know how to drive the conversation in a specific direction that leads to your ultimate goal – the sale

No matter how much natural talent you may have for this, being truly in control of a conversation can be learned only through practice. You can role play and practice all you want, but no amount of preparation will substitute the real thing. The ability to push different types of people and various scenario in your favor is something that only comes naturally over time as you hone your sales skills.

One thing you can do to even the scales a bit is to have in-depth industry knowledge of the product or service you’re trying to sell. In other words, doing your homework will always give you a distinct advantage in any conversation.

Master the vocabulary. Know your competitors’ USPs. Know 3 to 4 top personas in your industry and how they operate. Understand customer pain points and your company’s value. With all that in your pocket, you’ll have a strong grasp over any conversation you take part in, but you will also better understand the prospects as you’ll start to look at things from their viewpoint.

It’s also worth noting that, when first entering the account executive role, “rookies” tend to struggle most with closing the deal. The ability to drive the conversation is what plays a key role here – knowing when to interject and how to subtly nudge conversations in a certain way is what sets quality account executives from those less talented for the job.

3. Be “Armed” with Questions

Another good idea is to always have a set of questions prepared that demonstrate to prospects that you’re the right solution for them

Strategic and well-timed questions can both help you drive conversations in desired directions and demonstrate your knowledge of the industry. They are also a great asset to have when a conversation hits a standstill and you feel like there’s nothing else to say at the moment. No SDR (or AE, for that matter) wants to hear that deafening sound of silence from a potential lead.

4. Learn to Listen

Contrary to popular belief, sales aren’t all about “talking the talk.” In fact, according to Gong, sales reps should actually listen more than they talk during conversations with prospects. 

Ideally, you should strive to keep the talk-to-listen ratio somewhere around 43:57. Listening more than you speak enables you to get better acquainted with your prospect’s pain points and objectives – you can’t really expect to close a lot of deals without having a clear picture of what those are, right?

5. Be Able to Manage a Full Pipeline

SDRs’ main role is to reach out to prospects through emails, phone calls, and social profiles until they book a demo. However, if you want to be considered for the AE role, you need to understand how the entire sales process works, not just how it starts.

You must know your company’s entire pipeline, starting with the initial contact with the prospect and going all the way to the moment a deal is closed. 

Knowing this information will help you be prepared for when you actually get to the AE position, but it will also enable you to stand out as an SDR that sees a wider picture than the rest of his colleagues.

6. Be a Team Player

Providing your company with sales should never be an individual effort. It’s a team game and you’d do well to understand that before you become an account executive.

As an SDR, you should work with other members of your team to help achieve both your and their sales goals. These joint efforts both develop chemistry and lead to more sales. 

Needless to say, being known as a team player will also help you a lot when you do become an account executive – when that happens, you will (probably more than ever before) have to rely on other people to get the job done before you actually sit down to close a deal. This includes having access to correct business data, the right prospect info, top-notch presentations for pitching projects, etc.

7. Above All, Have Patience

Between waiting for deals to move forward and delivering an empathetic sales experience, being a top SDR requires a lot of patience. The same can be said for an account executive.

Even though the nature of your work may suggest otherwise, working in sales should not be a race – do not rush the buyer down the sales cycle. Instead, patiently walk them through the sales journey. That’s how you will get results both as an SDR and AE.

Implementing the skills and tips listed above will help you leap to the top of the SDR leaderboard in no time. It will also provide you with an ideal baseline of skills that will make you a stellar account executive, one that will help you hit the ground running once you do get the career bump you deserve.

An Alternative Route – Skip the Line by Switching Companies

In some cases, even doing a great job and displaying everything we listed above may not be enough to earn a promotion in someone’s eyes. If you feel like you’ve done everything in your power to earn the AE position and that other people are unjustly getting it over you, there’s always another option – seeking out an opportunity outside of your current workplace.

While you may not be appreciated at your current job, we bet there are hundreds of other companies that would jump at the opportunity to hire a hard-working, talented salesperson for their account executive position.

However, while this may be the quickest path to the position you truly want, it should be noted that we’re talking about a high-risk-high-reward scenario

Sometimes switching companies in search of a promotion can turn out to be a huge mistake. The company may not be a good fit for you. Maybe your new colleagues have a problem with you stepping over someone’s toes. Maybe their SDRs are not doing a good job as the case was in your previous firm, so you’ll have your work cut out for you. 

That’s why it’s of vital importance that, if you are indeed ready to pull this trigger, you do your research, think it through, and don’t make any impulsive moves or decisions

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So, if you do decide to make this move, how should you go about doing it? Well, leveraging your LinkedIn profile by making it accessible to recruiters and actively pursuing opportunities both off and online is a great start. 

But what will truly help you land a good AR job is being prepared to showcase precisely what you bring to the table

Make sure you have verifiable stats, numbers, examples, and anything else that demonstrates how you excelled at your current company. That way, your new employer will know that you indeed slipped through the cracks at your previous job, instead of thinking that you’re simply jumping ship after not meeting the previous boss’ expectations.

Getting Promoted is Like Chess, Not a Game of Checkers

These days, earning the promotion can comfortably be described as an art form. This goes double for the ever tricky sales department. As you’ve seen, you’ve got to know your industry top to bottom, be a constant learner and be able to prove yourself as a truly valuable asset to your company. 

Ultimately, you have to strike a careful balance between hitting your sales numbers, making connections with clients, and building chemistry with your colleagues, as well as your superiors

The good news is that, if you can do everything we taught you today, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an account executive in no time. If not at your current company, than certainly at another local business looking for hard-working people like you.

And remember – becoming an account executive doesn’t mean you’ve mastered selling. Not by a long shot. A newly-minted AE has more to learn than virtually anyone else in the company, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, keep your eyes on the prize and be the best possible version of an SDR you can be.

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