When a Business Development Rep (BDR) is promoted to Account Executive (AE), it’s a moment to celebrate. The rep has proven to be the best of the best on their team of BDRs, and has been rewarded for their hard work with an internal promotion to a closing position. It’s a great cultural win for your business – you get the chance to show other BDRs at your company that there is a path forward in their careers and offer them something to strive for.

Although the promotion is a reward for a job well done, it’s also a huge challenge. BDRs and AEs are both sales positions, but they are fundamentally very different roles. You don’t necessarily need a lot of sales experience to be a BDR; all you need is perseverance and an attention-grabbing approach to get prospects excited to speak with you and take a meeting. In contrast, an AE doesn’t just need someone to commit to a 30 minute discovery call – they have to take the prospect from a meeting all the way through to signed contract. This requires a more comprehensive set of selling skills.

As a manager, you want to prepare your newly-promoted reps for success, so they can continue to deliver amazing results in their new role. It’s up to you to ensure they have what it takes to successfully transition from a BDR to AE.

Learning New Skills

A lot of the skills reps learn as BDRs will translate to their new role – such as the ability to offer a powerful value proposition and knowledge of the product – but there’s a whole new set of skills to develop in order to be successful as an AE. Reps need to be able to give detailed product demonstrations, quickly ascertain the needs of the prospect and then translate those needs into the value your product provides. In addition, it’s very different asking a prospect to take 30 minutes to watch a demo than it is to ask for a purchase order or a commitment to buy. Closing deals takes a much deeper level of trust and requires building much stronger personal relationships with prospects.

Rather than just taking my word for it as a manager, we surveyed two reps on the team here at InsightSquared who were recently promoted. Both were top-performing BDRs and have successfully become high-performing AEs (92% and 150% quota attainment for Q4’14). However, both said that it was a serious challenge to change roles and start closing deals.

With an in-house transition like this, a lot of companies don’t invest enough in terms of training.

- Dan Strauss, Account Exec

“One of the biggest challenges is as a BDR, you’re trying to book meetings for the AEs you report to and you don’t see the back half of the deal,” new AE Matt Sanda said. “You don’t know what goes on after a prospect’s been qualified, in terms of getting them to the point where they’re willing to buy.”

Dan Strauss, another new AE, said that the key to helping a new AEs is offering the right training program to help them learn these skills.

“Any new person who joins a company obviously needs to be trained, but with an in-house transition like this, a lot of companies take it for granted and don’t invest enough in terms of training,” he said. “There’s a number of processes you must learn as a new AE, like when do you move something from stage to stage, when do you call in your VP to make an executive touch, or how do you negotiate a deal.”

Building an AE Training Program

It’s your job as a manager to help make this transition less daunting for your new AEs. It’s your responsibility to set up a program that gives reps the skills they need to close deals and be successful in their new role. You can’t just pat someone on the back and say, “Congrats, you’ve made it. Now go book me 100K in deals in the next month.” You have to offer continuous guidance in a rep’s first few months on the job. A great BDR-to-AE training program should include:

  • Regular training sessions run by management and senior sales leaders
  • Call shadowing with experienced reps
  • Manager supervision on calls throughout the sales process

You’ll also want to have a well-defined set of acceptable parameters within which the AE can operate. New reps need to understand discount structures, schedules for customer trials, and guidelines for each sales stage. While you can be much more flexible with senior reps, junior reps need these boundaries so they know what they can and can’t offer, what they can and can’t do. It’s not intended to hinder them, but will help them feel confident and secure in their new role as they move forward.

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Setting the Right Quota

While you want to have ongoing training for new AEs, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t assign them a quota to hit right away. However, you want to set appropriate expectations. You want to hit your team’s revenue goals, but if you’re assigning unreasonable quotas to new AEs then you’re setting yourself, your employees and your company up for disappointment. I recommend that if you have enough data, you should do a historical analysis on bookings by rep, and then cohort them by start date. Figure out your true employee ramp – not what is the ramp on paper in terms of quota, but what reps actually produce in their first 3, 6, or 9 months. I’m willing to wager that you’ll be surprised at how long your true ramp is compared to what you have on paper.

However, I’m not saying you should give a new AE an 8-month ramp that has them booking their first deals in month 6, because that’s also not reasonable from the business perspective. Try to find a balance between what you’re asking them to do, and what your analysis suggests is reasonable to expect. Then, use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track how each rep is performing over time. Analyze pipeline inflow and outflow, look at the sales funnel conversion rates, and compare new reps to their more senior peers. If you promote a rep and find that in 6 months, he or she can’t convert anyone to the buying process, you’ll be able to find the root cause and offer more training (or take more drastic measures). Just like you would coach any AE on your team, you can use the KPIs to inform your understanding of their progress and growth in the new role.

Promoting BDRs internally to AEs can be incredibly productive for your business, but only if you prepare them correctly. You have to be aware of the challenges, offer the right training, and set the right quotas. But with the right training program, you can turn your best BDRs into your best AEs, and drive serious growth for your business.

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