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How to get promoted from SDR to AE: advice from real Account Executives

5 min readMarch 26, 2019

How do you transition from a sales development role to an Account Executive role? This is likely the question of hundreds of SDRs or BDRs who are looking to move their career forward. Many likely have ambitions of becoming a sales leader, manager, or even starting their own business. But, at this stage of the career, the next natural step is becoming an AE.

While we could write out our thoughts about the qualities needed for an SDR to become an AE, for this post we decided to go directly to the source and ask real Account Executives “what advice would you give to an SDR who wants to transition to an AE role?”

We put 6 of the best responses together – these thought leaders are incredibly successful account executives who started in sales development, business development, or market development roles. Check out their advice, and connect with them on LinkedIn to thank them or engage more! Here they are, in their own words:

Overall, the best advice I can give is to hold on to the same principles that made you a successful SDR.
Some principles that helped me make the transition:
– Positivity – The rejection rate in tech sales is something like 80+%. Keeping a positive mindset at all times is critical to maintaining your confidence.
– Accountability – Set goals for yourself for the year, month, and day. Hold yourself accountable by starting with the small goals, and the rest should sort itself out.
– Open-mindedness – If you’re not the top rep, who is? Keep an open mind and learn from what top performers are doing.
– Inquisitiveness – It’s OK to have assumptions writing an email or cold call, but don’t let those hinder your ability to learn from your prospects.

Gaining experience dealing with Enterprise-level customers has been extremely valuable to my growth as a sales pro. Enterprise customers and larger deals require a certain level of attention care – exposing yourself to the fire early in your career can prepare you for the rigors required at the next level of the sales chain.

As you look to become an AE, you should keep your goal in sight, top of mind, and celebrate the wins.

There is so much rejection for SDRs who are making a high volume of outbound calls, if you celebrate the wins, it will offset the fear of rejection, but it also has some added benefits:

By building out your own Salesforce reporting or dashboards, you can celebrate the wins better and actually see your own success. This puts you in the position to eventually negotiate to become an AE – if you can show your success, and say “I’ve accomplished this,” then you can push for your position change. This is also an insurance policy for your role.

Celebrating your success means you follow through with demos or meetings you book – it is really satisfying to see where the deal has gone, and see how much money your work has generated for the company. If you are keeping an AE title in sight, this is an education, or stepping stone that helps you better understand your company’s sales process, and how to help a deal progress through the pipeline.

You are understanding any early problems with the prospecting process and how those move down the funnel, and you also see how the impressions an SDR sets change the results of the deal through time.

1. Make every call count. Use each one as an opportunity to work on the skills that will not only get you to the next level but help you thrive there.

2. Listen actively. Discover intentionally. Prospect creatively. This position can get monotonous if you simply show up and check out – switch things up to help keep yourself interested and engaged! This will not only help prevent burnout, but also foster the skills that will help you excel at the next level.

Often it’s assumed that the Account Executive role differs greatly from that of a SDR or MDR. However, in my experience the transition can initially appear seamless – seeing that many of my daily tasks remained the same (i.e. creating opportunities, prospecting, etc). Although I’m fairly new to the role, I’ve quickly learned that in order to ensure success you must sustain the same mentality you had as a SDR, if not more.

With more commitment, comes more responsibility. Seeing that this phrase is true for most, I find it to be more applicable in sales. The reason being, it’s one thing to hand over opportunities to Account Executives, but it’s far more difficult to work an opportunity/sales cycle from beginning to end. To keep matters short, my best advice for those looking to make the transition would be to remain relentless, uncomfortable, creative, and most importantly remember to be yourself. An Account Executive’s purpose is not only to close business, but also to deliver value and a solution along the way. People buy you, not what you’re selling.

To become an AE, you have to be crushing your numbers as an SDR – get the little things right, make your call numbers, get the correct outbound volume down, continuously be prospecting. Do the task management and follow up.

You must become a better listener – because in the AE role you have to listen more than you did in the SDR role. You have to really understand the problems that people are facing, and you have to be a solver of those problems, otherwise you won’t win. Rather, in the SDR role you can gain enough interest to book a demo without getting that deep with the customer.

You need to become a better storyteller. Telling a story is huge as an AE, and while they are powerful as an SDR, it will paint a picture. Be prepared to tell relevant stories to the prospect.

In order to be a great listener and great storyteller, you have to have strong emotional intelligence.

It all comes full circle – being able to tell relevant stories, you have to be a better listener. If you are good at these things, you can crush your numbers because the qualitative behaviors that happen on a call will be better as you adjust the quantitative output of your call volume.