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How to Get Promoted From an SDR to Account Executive

This is the third piece in our ‘sales practitioners’ series, where we get in the weeds with a sales leader about the biggest topics in the sales world. In this article, we chat with David Dulaney, sales development consultant and founder of Tebound, about how to get promoted from a sales development rep to an account executive.

Getting promoted in today’s world is far from a straightforward process. Few of us have jobs that have a clear linear path and specific milestones to accomplish before we automatically get promoted. And making the transition from sales development rep (SDR) to full-fledged account executive (AE) is no different. Sure, moving from SDR to AE is the logical progression, but it’s not a step that everyone can – or should – take.

If your goal is to become an AE, what do you need to know to successfully make the transition? I recently spoke with David Dulany, sales development consultant and founder of Tenbound, to round out the insights he shared on an episode of The Salesman Podcast, where he gave his top tips for making the leap from SDR to account executive. If you’re all about closing deals and taking customers through the sales process, then the role of account executive could be the perfect fit for you.

Play Like A Champion

The end all be all of being promoted to account executive from the SDR role comes down to absolutely crushing your numbers. Not just one time – but every time. Every month. Every quarter. If you can hit goal consistently as an SDR then you can safely bet you will be the front runner the next time any account executive opportunity presents itself.

If that’s your ultimate goal, here are some key steps you can take to push your sales career to the next level:

Quit Multitasking to Boost Productivity

This is a bold statement, and one that seems counterintuitive, but David says that the biggest productivity killer he sees in SDRs is multitasking. “SDRs shift tasks too often, just ping-ponging through their day, not making any real momentum in one area,” he explains. “Instead, you should block out time on the calendar for certain things where everything else is shut down.”

David isn’t alone in stating that multitasking is a bad idea, either. Research from The American Psychological Association shows that multitasking is inefficient and ineffective. When switching rapidly between tasks, there is actually a brain delay, or lag time. The delay is so great that research shows that working simultaneously on complex tasks can take up to 40% more time than just focusing on one task at a time.

Time blocking effectively to minimizing multi-tasking is all about making sure you calendar everything. Block off time first thing in the morning to focus on what matters most. Typically, that is your prospecting calls. If you prioritize your getting in a heavy volume of calls first thing you’ll set the day up for success. Then find time blocks for all the other important tasks of the day like prospect research, admin tasks, and anything else that gets thrown your way.

Cut Distractions and Focus on What Matters

Multitasking may not be the best idea, but neither is focusing on anything other than your goals and the activities required to meet them. Many SDRs focus on extracurriculars like training new people, admin tasks, or organizing the office holiday party – and while some of those are necessary or useful, they aren’t getting you any closer to hitting your goals.

So what does? Understanding your role and your business at a level that demonstrates your mastery. “Do you know your numbers and what it takes for you to be successful?” asks David. “What are the activities and the inputs that you have to achieve on a daily basis in order to make your numbers?”

David advocates a laser-like focus on getting in your activity numbers so hitting your goal is all but guaranteed. “At a higher level at the company, you’re just there to fill in a number on a spreadsheet of qualified appointments needed for the company to hit the sales goals that month or quarter,” he says. “That’s the bottom line, and everything else is just noise. Once you cut the noise, focus on reverse-engineering your goals and crushing them every month.”

In order to optimize your daily schedule for maximum productivity, you should be entering into what author Cal Newport calls “deep work.” In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Newport teaches that truly focusing on the task at hand without distractions is a skill that can be learned, and when practiced, sets a tactical way of addressing the day’s most important demands.

Entering a deep work state is about focusing on a single task for an extended period of time, without distractions and under intense focus. Making time on your calendar for these marathons of work is critical, and these blocks of time should be defended at all costs from meetings, social media, admin tasks, and other shallow work.

Learn to Lead Conversations

While active listening definitely has its place, you’ve also got to drive the conversation in a specific direction toward the sale. When first entering the account executive role, SDRs tend to struggle most with actually closing the deal. To do so, you have to drive the conversation, learning when to interject and how to frame questions to get the information you need while simultaneously demonstrating business value with your product.

David believes that doing so comfortably requires business acumen and in-depth industry knowledge. The best way to acquire those things, aside from real-world experience, is to study. David suggests, “Do everything you can to become an expert in the industry you’re selling to. Master the vocabulary and be an expert in the 3-4 top personas so you can put yourself in their shoes and look at things from their viewpoint.”

Once you can relate on another level with your prospect and show you’re knowledgeable, it becomes exponentially easier to discover pain points, demonstrate value, and close more deals.

As an SDR, a conversion is getting a qualified lead to an account executive, an account executive, but as an AE, you need to be able to close deals. That requires two things:

  1. Knowledge of the industry, personas, and competitors
  2. Asking the right questions to demonstrate to prospects that you’re the right solution for them.

Work on developing those two skills in your spare time so you can show the AE manager that you’ll be ready to hit the ground running in your new role.

Prioritize Making Connections With Colleagues

Leading conversations should carry over to your interactions with your colleagues, as well. Just like with prospects, you have to demonstrate value. The difference is that when you’re trying to get promoted, you’re selling your value. Before starting any interview process, you should meet with every account executive and sales manager you can to understand what they’re looking for.

In the meantime, once you’ve met your goals for the month, look for ways to establish yourself as a leader within the SDR department. Help train other SDRs, or carve out time to enhance product or industry knowledge to make yourself more of a resource to the team. Share resources with your team or your boss about the industry or sales tactics.

Once you feel you’re ready to take the next step to account executive, be vocal about it. Discuss opportunities with the AE manager. Let them know what your goals are, and what you hope to achieve.

When you finally do get their attention, be sure to follow David’s rules for interview success:

    1. Don’t bring up your timeline with the company. Time isn’t a good indicator of whether or not you’ll be successful. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been an SDR for 6 months or 6 years, AE managers are looking for a good cultural fit, a good team player, and someone who knows the industry, knows the persona, and can close deals.
    2. Focus on talking about what you’ve sold in the past, even if it was at other companies, and even if it wasn’t at a company at all (like selling girl scout cookies or Cutco knives in high school). Show you can add value and close deals. Discuss your track record of hitting goals as an SDR as well. Every little bit of experience helps.
    3. Master your sales demo or pitch before you get the job. If you canlearn the art of demoing, following up, adding value, and roping people in before the interview, then it should be a no-brainer decision to promote you to account executive.
    4. Knock the test project out of the park. Many companies will have you give a presentation or run a test before promoting you. This is your chance to wow them, and you should take advantage. Be overprepared and knock their socks off.

Bottom line: start walking and talking like an account executive before you become one if you truly want to crush your interview and demo. Do that, and you’ll leave no doubt in their mind that you deserve the opportunity and are ready.

Skip the Line by Switching Companies

You may also want to consider going to another company. Research by LinkedIn shows that people are job-hopping more than ever, and sometimes it’s the quickest path to the position you truly want. Try leveraging your LinkedIn profile by making it accessible to recruiters reaching out, or actively pursue opportunities you find online.

Just make sure to do your research, think it through, and don’t make any impulsive moves or decisions. Sometimes switching companies in search of a promotion isn’t the best way to go. It could be a risky move because the company may not be a good fit, or they may not have SDRs feeding the pipeline, so you’ll be back to square one doing all the prospecting.

David recommends taking the long view. “Look at your current company from a long-term horizon,” he suggests. “We all want everything to be instantly awesome, but sometimes you have to just stick with it. Learn, grow, and contribute value over a longer time period than you think.”

If, after doing some digging and soul-searching, you do decide going to another company is the best move for you, make sure you come prepared to the interview with verifiable stats, numbers, examples, and anything else that demonstrates how you excelled at your current company. Awards and certifications for hitting your numbers are a big win. All of this information should roll off your tongue, so make sure you do a dry run prior to your interview.

These days, getting promoted is an art form – especially in the sales department. You’ve got to know your industry top to bottom, and come off as a valuable consultant instead of someone serving their own interests. You need to be good with numbers to make sure your activity and touchpoints will adequately fill your pipeline to crush this month’s goal. And finally, you’ve got to strike a careful balance between hitting your numbers, making connections with clients, and building rapport with your colleagues and superiors. If you can do all that, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an account executive in no time.

What are you doing to finally get that promotion to account executive? Share your story in the comments below: