SDRs want recognition.
Many sales development reps (SDRs, BDRs, prospecting agents, etc.) and SDR managers find themselves frustrated by the fact that account executives (AEs) get all the clout and recognition for driving revenue. And they should be.
The fact is, a productive demand generation model would break if SDRs and AEs didn't both handle their responsibilities together.
First, a quick note — keep in mind that for this topic, we’re focusing on the “B2B solution sale” model, simply because that’s usually where you see both SDRs and AEs involved in the sales process.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that some of the principles we’re going to talk about wouldn’t also apply in a transactional selling environment, or to a B2C organization, so take away what you will.
Alright, let’s get to it. We’ll start with a couple high-level fundamentals, then work our way to the tactical stuff.
There are 5 Principles to a Healthy SDR-AE Hand-Off Process:
- Get Comfortable with the Concept of a Specialized Sales Team
- Spell Out the Job Descriptions for Each Role
- Establish KPIs that Recognize the Right Accomplishments
- Define the Hand-Off Point
- Define the Hand-Off Criteria… and Re-Train On Them!
1. Get Comfortable with the Concept of a Specialized Sales Team
This point might seem obvious to the point of stupidity, but maturing organizations usually hold on to the full-cycle sales role a lot longer than they should. A full-cycle sales rep, at one point or another, will have so much more responsibility and such a high volume of leads to manage that they’ll inevitably become less effective at any one aspect of the sales process.
And even if they are still adequately executing all of their responsibilities, they’re probably not doing it continuously. Productivity over time tends to resemble a wave-like pattern, where you have hills and valleys representing your revenue production.
That’s because the full-cycle rep has to break away from meetings and valuable activities to spend time on research, and filling up their prospect lists again.
You want sales production to run in a cycle, rather than along a wave, and the only way to do that when volume increases is to narrow and diversify the responsibilities of your team members.
(By the way, this is why companies that continue to hire full-cycle reps don’t usually see their issues solved just by doing more hiring. The problem exists within the system of practicing full-cycle sales, simply because it’s an overwhelming set of responsibilities for a single person).
So step 1 to getting the hand-off right is to actually introduce the hand-off to your process by diversifying your sales functions.
2. Spell Out the Job Descriptions for Each Role
Revisiting Job Descriptions, or JDs, is important for two reasons. Obviously, it helps you with candidate selection in the hiring process.
But it also helps us face our own opinions on a HUGE stigma, and that’s that SDRs are NOT second-class citizens. The SDR has a related, but entirely different set of responsibilities from an AE.
Compare them to a field scientist and a lab scientist. They’re both scientists, they’re both educated in similar areas, it’s just that one gathers fresh samples while the other looks at them under a microscope.
If the field scientist weren’t collecting samples, the lab scientist would have nothing to analyze. If the lab scientist weren’t analyzing samples, nobody would gather data.
Good luck finding any results if you're looking at a blank microscope slide.
To keep with the science theme, the SDR and AE share such a symbiotic relationship that it’s absurd to think of one as less valuable to the overall company’s ability to generate revenue.
"SDRs are NOT second-class citizens."
Test Yourself: If you’re not sure if you implicitly treat SDRs as "lesser salespeople," consider whether your company’s career development path mandates that SDRs eventually graduate to AEs. If so, you're implicitly broadcasting that your SDRs are simply AEs-in-training; not essential, standalone assets in your sales program. Food for thought.
All right, with that rant over, here are some starting actions that should probably be on your JDs.
Essential Responsibilities for Sales Roles
- Researching new prospects
- Setting appointments
- Conducting intro or discovery calls
- I know I just said not to do this in the first part, but full-cycle sales specifically to named target accounts.
- Your AEs tend to be well-suited for account-based selling because they tend to have a longer tenure in the industry and understand how to navigate complex org structures, which are essential to successful account-based selling tactics.
- Conducting qual calls or demo calls
- All other aspects of pipeline management
Clarity is key right from the start with your sales team because if everyone understands how they fit into the cycle, then that critical hand-off is no longer arbitrarily set at the behest of management, but meaningful to the salesperson’s own role. So make sure you define the team’s responsibilities.
3. Establish KPIs that Recognize the Right Accomplishments
In theme with some of the other points I’ve mentioned already, alignment is crucial. By establishing your clear JDs, you’re setting clear expectations up front for how your reps fit into the picture.
But it’s in our reports that we reinforce those expectations.
And it’s not just from an accountability standpoint for the sales execution layer, but it also helps the management and executive layer understand the importance of the diversified sales roles, and celebrate when the demand engine that leads to revenue is running smoothly, and not just celebrating the revenue itself.
But let’s make no mistake: the top objective for everyone at the organization, whether they’re sales, marketing, operations, product, HR… it’s always revenue at the end of the day.
Knowing that, it’s dangerous to fall into the habit of evaluating sales off of activities, like calls made or emails sent. At very early stages when your company is still figuring things out, it can even be risky to assess activity outcomes like meetings booked, because you may not have a solid understanding of your conversion rates.
Based on your org’s maturity, set KPIs that start with the most literal metrics, and then work backward to inferential metrics. To put that more plainly:
- Start with revenue contributions. AE’s contributions are obvious, because they’re handling pipeline, but make sure your CRM is set up to keep SDRs names attached to opportunities. When an AE earns a win, acknowledge the SDR’s win, as well.
- When you have more data to work with and you’ve nailed down your qualification criteria (we’ll come back to that) and understand your average conversion rates, then set the outcome-based quotas for your SDRs. It won’t be “meetings booked,” but rather “qualified prospects produced,” i.e. prospects that were both vetted by the SDR and accepted by the AE.
- Depending on your sales process (and we’ll get to that, too), an easy way to check that using your CRM data is to see where net new business opportunities have been created after an SDR engaged with prospects. The implication is that the opportunity is only made when the target is fully qualified.
After they’re defined, the “celebration” component of setting the KPIs is vital. As leaders, we owe it to our team to recognize when they’re producing something good. That especially applies if they’re smashing goals, but even a one-off tally to production needs to be recognized, publicly, to reinforce when sales users are doing their jobs well.
4. Define the Hand-Off Point
Now to the tactical stuff. If you’re doing all of the above, then you’ve established an environment that embraces and encourages the hand-off. Now we just need to give our sales folks some simple instructions.
To identify the hand-off point, we need to talk about conversion. Based on our JDs, we basically are saying that hand-off only happens if the SDR says to the AE, “Hey, the prospect is ready to talk to you.”
Hand-off happens after the intro call is completed by the SDR, as long as the prospect still seems qualified.
From a CRM usage standpoint, that could mean changing a lifecycle stage or hitting a "conversion" button in Salesforce CRM or reassigning ownership or any number of technical actions. Regardless of what your CRM requires:
- Keep your instructions to your SDRs focused on the event.
- Choose technical actions that make sense to the sales user.
- Make sure the conversion is highly visible to the SDR, to the AE, and in your KPI reporting.
Have a step-by-step process doc for this that you can fit onto a sticky note, and probably make separate ones for the SDRs and the AEs to follow, both handing off actions and receiving actions.
Keep in mind that this principle is particularly important to the SDR’s success, so visibility and accountability for the AE should be a huge focus here. If the qualified prospect is not pursued with total urgency by the AE, you are wasting your investment in that SDR and devaluing their work.
5. Define the Hand-Off Criteria… and Re-Train On Them!
Okay, this is the last principle, and it’d be fair to say it’s the most important one. Similar to the previous point about the AE being accountable for hand-off visibility, the SDR is totally accountable for this one.
If a lead is not adequately qualified, it is a waste of the AEs talent and time. It will cause your demand engine to sputter and start.
To make it simple, this is about qualification. It doesn’t really matter that much which methodology you use (though simple frameworks like BANT or ChAMP are often good frameworks for SDRs and more relationship-focused frameworks like MEDDIC are useful for AEs), just make sure of three things:
- Both SDRs and AEs understand what the framework means,
- Both SDRs and AEs understand when your qual criteria are being met (those are two different things),
- And anyone reviewing a CRM record can observe those recorded details, especially at the point of hand-off.
Finally, reinforce this principle fairly often. You could issue a simple quiz on a quarterly basis, or have teams run a live whiteboard session twice a year, whatever works best for your company and learning culture. The point is that we learn so much about our markets on a continuous basis, and different teams and job functions that have different experiences with the market may make different contributions to the qualification criteria. Make sure everyone is on the same page, all the time.
The bottom line, if you picked up anything from this article, is to work on your language as executive leaders.
- Define what your team’s roles mean and how they contribute to the big picture of driving revenue.
- Identify the actions expected of each position in a daily setting.
- And celebrate the accomplishments of every team member.
Doing so helps keep employees engaged, prevents burnout, encourages creativity, and most importantly (at least for this topic), fosters collaboration within your sales org.
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