At Parse.ly, we view our sales team as analytics consultants. Our sales process and product are complex so the required skill sets for an Account Executive are very high. Top performing AEs have an in-depth understanding of the industry and our product, as well as mastery of our sales tools and processes.
We started seeing a trend as we hired AEs — often, due to the complex nature of our product, it would take AEs more than one quarter to get fully ramped. For the AEs, this was frustrating because they weren’t hitting targets early; for us, it was frustrating because we were covering AE training and salary without the immediate impact of revenue generation.
We didn’t want to assume we were getting the wrong people when hiring AEs, so we reviewed our process. We experimented by hiring people with a few years of sales experience and huge potential, starting them at the Sales Development Representative level and then ramping them up to gradually ease into an AE role.
Targeting the Right People
We didn’t necessarily target people with enterprise SaaS or SDR SaaS experience — our sweet spot was somewhere in the range of 2-3 years of sales experience where the new hire received solid training and built their chops. These candidates were not ready to jump into an AE role, but we showed them a real SDR – Enterprise AE career path, which was the major appeal when hiring.
Training the SDRs
Once we hired the SDRs, we jumped fully into training, dedicating three months to ramp up:
Month 1: First Two Weeks (Background Knowledge)
In the first two weeks, we cover all the background knowledge one would need on the sales team. We provide an overview of the digital media industry, Parse.ly product knowledge, and sales training.
For the product knowledge section, we walk through all the key Parse.ly features and how they align with pain points of our buyers. For sales training, we explain our internal workflows, tools we use and objection handling.
Month 1: Second Two Weeks (Hands-On Training)
In the second two weeks of training, we get the new hires involved and start assigning some inbound leads to new SDRs in a round-robin format. They’ll also jump on discovery calls where they’ll learn directly from a trainer.
As the SDR’s pipeline grows, they are expected to manage their own lead pipeline and to nurture leads all the way through to a qualified meeting set for AEs.
Months 2 & 3
We have the SDRs strive to attain 50 percent of their quota and work through lots of repetitions; however, many SDRs begin hitting their quotas in month two! We have sales exercises every Friday consisting of two parts: tactical and strategic training.
In tactical training, we’ll have SDRs practice cold calling and discovery calls, as well as brainstorming questions we should be asking the prospects. We also use this time to come up with clever email templates and campaign strategies.
In strategic training, we do heavy brainstorming on what markets we should get into, the problems with our current processes, and how efficiently our time was spent over the past week.
We normally see our SDRs hitting 100 percent of their quota by the end of month three.
Promotion to AE
After the SDR is fully ramped, they’re on track to be promoted to an AE within 6 – 12 months based on merit and demonstrated skills. We constantly evaluate people on a monthly basis to see if they’re eligible. In order to be eligible for promotion, you have to be succeeding as an SDR in two ways:
We measure quantitative success in our SDRs by asking some of the following questions:
- Are you efficiently handling your leads and accounts?
- Are you hitting your quota in meetings set?
- Are they quality meetings that are converting to revenue sourced?
Qualitative success is always more difficult to measure, but we do it in a couple of ways at Parse.ly. We ask ourselves if the SDR is thinking critically about how to close each deal and if they’re working with the AEs closely. We want the SDR to be demonstrating their ability to think strategically and creatively about an account.
Things that we like to see in our SDRs that show qualitative success include: not being afraid to walk away from business that’s not a good fit, doing the additional work besides setting calls that’s required in order to be a great AE (customer support, continuing to add value in the sales process to get a client to close, etc.), and showing that they care deeply about the customer and overall success of Parse.ly.
The Transition Period
Once the SDRs have gone through their three-month ramp-up and are qualified for a promotion, there is a transition period we have them go through where they are doing 50 percent SDR work and 50 percent AE work. In this role, they spend more of their time on developing enterprise strategies and collaborating with the rest of the sales team to close deals. They still set up meetings but many of those meetings will be for themselves and keeping those meetings through to close.
Once the SDR has fully made the transition from SDR to AE, they should be fully ramped without much additional training to start building out their pipeline. Even though it took a while to ramp an SDR to an AE, there are lots of benefits such as a shorter expected AE ramp time, less risk of a bad hire from outside the organization, and a clear career path progression for your SDR team. Additionally, these newly promoted AEs start contributing to revenue closed within a couple weeks of promotion. This early success is critical for building a rep’s confidence and allows them to start earning commission quickly.
For organizations like ours that have a more intricate sales cycle and complex product, promoting from within can be just as effective as hiring outside AEs directly into the role. While we still opportunistically hire AEs directly from the outside, we’ve found that the SDR “farm team” has managed to supply us with fantastic AEs. By investing in this approach, we’ve drastically reduced our pressure to hire externally for difficult-to-find AEs. Ultimately, it’s about a balanced approach. We’ll never turn away a great AE, but it doesn’t hurt to build out this process sooner than later.