Is AE the Only Way?

I recently had a conversation with the VP of Growth at Inside Sales Team about SDR career progression. Since we have both worked with SDR’s for a while now and also have done sales ourselves, it was interesting to me to see how our observations aligned. I asked him what he tends to hear from SDR’s when they dream of their next career step and they mirrored what I’ve found:

“My goal is to become an AE, that’s it.”
“The only obvious next step for me is the AE role.”
“I think I want to learn how to take this through close but it’s not like I have other options.”

Don’t get me wrong, the AE role is a solid next step for a top performing SDR and comes with a slew of benefits and next level challenges that will energize and motivate the right person. But it’s not for everyone and there may be another path where you’ll find yourself more empowered, happier, and maybe making more money. To crack open that door a little more, I wanted to shed some light on the personal development conversations I have with team members regularly to help them uncover if the AE role is the way.

1. Start with understanding the differences in the roles: I have seen countless SDR’s make the jump to the AE role but it hasn’t always been the smoothest transition. The #1 reason is lack of understanding around the behaviors and attitudes it takes to get the job done. Let’s look at a few examples I often like to share, but don’t forget to seek out others from those around you who have made the transition as well to make your own decision.

– Many future AE’s desire more ownership over their prospects and don’t like the idea of handing it off to someone else. The truth to this when you move to an AE role, that doesn’t change. Although there’s a lengthier relationship involved, and more opportunities to build rapport, once you close the deal you will often still hand it off to customer success or client relations and move onto the next.

– The thrill is in the hunt which feels exciting and competitive, but also recognize the hunt never goes away. It’s there after work, on the weekends, on vacations, and during holidays. Our VP of Sales Adam Weber likens it being in high school and having a paper due that you haven’t started yet. It’s always in the back of your mind. And once the month ends, you re-set back to zero and have to do it all over again. This takes immense patience and for some the stress isn’t realistic to manage.

– Understanding prospect personality and the psychology behind the decision to buy is much more crucial than on a cold call. The longer the meeting, the more the meeting is about the prospect which is a big shift from a 30 second phone call. I have to do a lot to build the relationship, understand the whole picture, listen long enough so they discover, and so on. A great challenge for some, and pain in the neck for others

2. Be honest with yourself and invest time in uncovering what brings you energy, and what doesn’t. The above examples are a good place to start but also seek knowledge from other SDR’s and AE’s in your environment too. I recommend shadowing AEs to see if you get excited or bored when you listen. Then, imagine yourself doing those behaviors and embodying those attitudes and ask yourself, “Is this me?” “Do I really derive energy from doing these things?” “How long can I keep this up and is there something else I’d enjoy more?”

3. Spend time with people who hold different roles in your company. This discovery is up to you, and it’s worth the investment to understand directly from someone who’s done it. Focus on understanding what it takes to be a marketer, to work with clients, to run a team, to develop new processes and procedures, and on and on. Offer to take your VP of each area to coffee and pick their brain. You’ll get levels of clarity and you’ll begin learning what makes you tick.

4. Find small opportunities to try tasks outside of the SDR role. This is the most exciting part of your discovery process, and it also a key way to avoid burnout as an SDR. Your managers and leaders will love your initiative – be sure to talk with them before diving in – and will be impressed that you’re willing to invest time in deciphering the best way you can add value to the organization. Also note the word “small” so you aren’t distracted from your current role. I took initiative with this and wrote a blog for the marketing team, set the agenda for a new client kick-off meeting, offered to review client data to pinpoint new knowledge, and put a plan around a new finance process. “Doing” will give you even more insight than “hearing” from others.

After going through this process for myself, I learned a few things. I love to sell but the process is too foreseeable for me. I derive my energy from developing teams and being in front of customers. I’ve found an opportunity that allows me to do all three. More importantly, no matter which role you dream or aspire to reach remember that promotions are earned. Now go get after it! #audeam


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