So you want to be an Account Executive?
You must first become a top producer to make this career advancement.
How do you become a top producer? You follow the steps I outline in my latest article The Secret to Sales Success: Outwork Your Boss. Work ethic is a prerequisite for any promotion, including SDR to AE.
Once those basics are in place, it’s time to really get ahead by following a strategic roadmap, like the one I share below. Thankfully, 90 days is plenty of time to work with. But it will take discipline and grit on your part to see it through.
Thankfully, if you’re reading this, you probably already have the grit and desire to wake up and win, day after day. So you’re halfway there!
Now before we dive into the 90-day plan, let’s lay a foundation by defining some terms.
SDR vs. AE: What’s the Difference?
Chances are you already know what these different roles are all about, but here’s a quick refresher:
What does an SDR do?
SDR stands for Sales Development Rep. These sales people are responsible for prospecting, initial outreach (cold call and cold email mostly), lead qualification, appointment setting, pipeline management, and more.
What does an AE do?
AE stands for Account Executive. These sales people are responsible for needs assessment, product demos, negotiations, closing sales, upselling and cross-selling, client success and support, and more.
Some so-called sales experts will tell you that if you want to become AE, it’s all about the product. Learn the product and you’re golden. Well, that’s only half true. While product knowledge is important (and baked into my 90-day plan below), it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
There are other important aspects of the sale that I would argue are even more important than understanding your product. For instance, handling objections, empathetic listening, tonality, etc.
OK, with that, it’s time to dig into the plan.
SDR to AE in 90 Days
Weeks 1-2: Set Your Intentions & Seek To Understand What an AE Does
First things first, you have to set your intentions with your sales manager. Verbally tell him or her that you have ambitions of becoming an AE. They should be excited for you and help to develop you in that direction. But… don’t expect them to put it on a silver platter for you. You have to take the initiative and follow through with an action plan.
Next, get to know what an AE does in your org. Meet with an AE and pick their brain. Ask to shadow them for an hour here and an hour there. Try to listen in on client calls and attend sales meetings. This is all valuable insight into the day-to-day of an AE. In these first weeks, you should also familiarize yourself with your company’s full sales process and typical sales cycle.
Weeks 3-4: Really Get to Know the Product
You should have a good understanding of the product already, but now it’s time to dig deeper so that you’re an expert on the offering. Read all of the literature you can find online regarding the product (bet you haven’t done this yet). You must get to the point that you can effectively articulate the ins and outs of the product or service you’re selling.
Will product training be included when you move up? Sure. But remember, you need to make a case for your promotion to AE. So get a jump on it! When your manager sees you doing this deep research into the product (even if you have to mention it yourself) it will signal to them — as bright as a flair in the night — that you’re hungry for the promotion.
Weeks 5-6: Master the S.A.L.E. Method of Closing the Deal
My S.A.L.E. method stands for “Speak Authoritatively, Listen Empathetically.” You know how important a role that speaking with authority and conviction plays in the SDR world. Now double that for the AE. Yes, it’s that important for gaining your prospect’s trust and respect.
Same goes for listening. You must learn how to listen 60-70% of the time during sales meetings. The more your prospect speaks, the more they’ll share. And the more they share, the more they’ll come to trust you and the more intel you have to close the deal. And don’t just listen… but listen with empathy. Really try to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. If you personally feel their pain, you’ll be able to prescribe the right medicine, so to speak.
So how do you do this? You can start by reading my articles Tonality in Sales: Getting C-Level Executives to Listen and Sell More With Silence. Also, become an avid reader of sales books. You can read approximately six books during this 90-day program. And trust me, reading is a habit that will serve you for life.
Weeks 7-8: Learn Demos & Sales Presentations
Now it’s time to attend demos and sales presentations. Even if you’re a fly on the wall, sitting in the corner of the room (or quiet on the phone), you can soak it up like a sponge. Your sales manager should have no problem with this, as it will only help you in your SDR role.
Then, work with a trusted AE to help you refine sales techniques. You should also create a mock sales presentation and seek feedback on it. Practice this at home, morning and night, and on weekends. The day you’re promoted to AE you’ll want to hit the ground running and feel comfortable in sales meetings and demo environments. It’s higher pressure than what an SDR experiences on the daily, so get acclimated early.
Weeks 9-10: Learn How to Handle Objections
During these two weeks you should start to learn objection handling. You should have a solid idea of what these objections are, as you’ve already done some mock demos and sales presentations. Overcoming objections is all about confidence, and confidence comes with repetitions. The more reps you put in, the stronger you’ll be at turning objections into positive selling points.
Also during these weeks you need to learn about other closing techniques like the assumptive close, the trial closing question close, the alternative close (AKA the three options close), the time sensitive close, etc. The main idea is to learn how to lead your buyer through the selling process to get ink on paper. That’s the AE’s main job, after all.
Weeks 11-12: Collaborate with AEs and Start Selling!
Roll up your sleeves and start closing deals yourself.
That’s right, nothing says you’re ready to become an AE quite like closing deals on your own. Of course, you’ll have to get your sales manager’s blessing, and you’ll need to work closely with a trusted AE. But there’s no reason you can’t take ownership of small accounts and begin working certain sales opps… even if it’s just relationship building. This will help tremendously with your confidence. Just don’t expect to have a masterful touch at first. It takes practice. Be willing to fail, just be sure to fail forward!
You’ll also want to seek feedback and constructive criticism. Of course, you should know where your weaknesses are, but it helps to get a third-party perspective on it. And take notes! With the right approach, you can start shoring up these weaknesses and crush your first couple of quarters as an AE.
This 90-day program is all about relationship building, which is the key to sales. But this time we’re building important relationships with, and being mentored by, other AEs and sales managers.
You also must begin tracking and measuring KPIs! We’re talking calls made, follow-ups, demos performed, proposals sent, closed deals (won and lost), etc. Numbers don’t lie, so it’s never too early to start crunching numbers like a true AE. Start a simple spreadsheet with these metrics. And be sure to visit it at least monthly to analyze your results and train any weaknesses into strengths.
OK – I know this is a lot. But again, it will take a focused effort to become an AE in 90 days. The best way to approach this program is by making weekly SMART goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Taking small bites out of this big “elephant” will help you stay on track without feeling overwhelmed.
So get out there and take the AE role by storm. Success belongs to those who take it!
Until next time…