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How to Transition From an SDR to the Top of the AE Leaderboard

7 min read
Updated Oct. 18, 2023
Published Sep. 25, 2017

For Sales Development Reps (SDRs) aspiring to climb the sales career ladder, the next step is often graduating to an Account Executive. If you’re an SDR, this is likely the goal motivating much of your work and performance. However, once you attain that sought-after AE title, a whole new type of work begins.

Many of the skills from your days as an SDR will help you hit the ground running as an AE. But if you want to be top of the heap, you need to supplement that momentum with a whole new set of skills.

We sat down with a Salesloft AE that recently made the transition from an SDR to a top-performing AE in a matter of months to find out her recipe for success. Here are the skills she cited as essential to the success of an SDR making the transition to AE.

Practice Handling Objections

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.” — Vladimir Horowitz

Just because you have hit a career milestone by becoming an AE doesn’t mean you’ve mastered selling. Quite the opposite in fact. A newly minted AE has more to learn than virtually anyone else in the company, and that learning never stops.

As an SDR, you probably learned a number of talk tracks about common objections prospects have to your product. After you’ve made the transition to Account Executive, it’s important to keep up with competitive intel and objections you may encounter. Then you can put that intel into practice by role-playing with other members of your sales team to help prepare you actual sales conversations.

Learn to Listen

Believe it or not, sales isn’t all about talking the talk. According to Gong, reps should listen more than they talk during their sales calls. Ideally, your talk-to-listen ratio should be 43:57. Listening more than you speak allows you to learn your prospect’s pain points and objectives.

For those of you who find it difficult to strike the balance between listening and speaking, you can take steps to flip your script. If you need a reminder during your calls, write a message like, “Listen more, speak less” on a Post-it and stick it on your desk or computer where you can see it. You can also ask your potential buyer more questions. Asking questions will prompt your potential buyer into speaking so that you can take the time to listen.

Take Good Notes

With superior listening skills in place, you will have a lot more valuable information to keep track of. Maybe you have an amazing memory that can recall prospect details at the drop of a hat, but a majority of people will need to rely on the notes they take.

By taking good notes you can refer to any topics, pain points, or objectives that were previously mentioned in the sales process. Plus, notes keep you from wasting your prospect’s time by asking the same questions repeatedly.

Does this mean you need to jot down everything the prospect says word-for-word? Of course not. Pay close attention to any goals or struggles that your prospect mentions. If you have a list of questions that you are prepared to ask, go ahead and have those written so you can easily fill in your prospect’s replies.

Learn to Manage a Full Pipeline

SDRs have a relatively consistent flow of activities as they reach out to prospects through emails, phone calls, and social touches until they book a demo. But as an AE, you have multiple accounts at different stages in the sales cycle to worry about. So you have to learn to juggle your entire pipeline while simultaneously closing deals.

Luckily, technology has made this overwhelming feat easy to accomplish. With platforms like Salesloft you can take care of the more menial tasks in your sales process with automated steps. For example, you can automate a series of emails to go out to any opportunities that may have gone dark to get them to re-engage. With automated steps in place, you can focus the bulk of your time personalizing messages to create a genuine connection with the rest of the accounts in your pipeline.


Sales is not an individual effort. If you want to reach the caliber of top AEs, you should work with other members of your team to help you achieve your sales goals. Collaboration involves more than the role-playing exercises with your fellow sales reps I mentioned earlier. Joint efforts can happen across your entire company. Here are a few additional teams you should be working with:

  • Sales Ops can provide you with the data you need. From CRM management to simplifying reports, your sales op teams will make sure you are engaging with the correct accounts.
  • Bring in your Customer Service team whenever you want to show your potential buyer the “white-glove treatment.” Whether they join sales calls for trial assistance or an introduction prior to the end of your sale, this team helps set expectations for the buyer’s post-sale experience
  • Your Managers are going to be with your sale every step of the way. They continually push you by coaching sales tactics you will use throughout the buyer’s journey. Managers are also a helpful addition if your sales are struggling. They can join your calls to help push the sale forward.
  • Whether they add extra pizazz to a presentation or develop personalized content, your Marketing team can help give your sale a positive boost that will catch your buyer’s eye.

Never Stop Cold Calling

Most people who work in sales would probably agree cold calling isn’t their favorite part of the job. Some may even think that once their title changes to AE, they can leave cold calling behind. But you should stick to it.

The compelling communication that goes into cold calling keeps your sales skills fresh. Plus, as an AE, successfully executing your own cold calls can add more qualified accounts to your pipeline.

Set specific times to cold call during the week. With Salesloft, you can efficiently work through a cadence of call steps. All you have to do is import a list of leads to your cadence and then use the dialer to make your calls.

Fail Fast

In the fast-moving world of sales, there’s not a lot of time to dwell on mistakes. If a deal goes south or you slip up, learn from that experience and move on.

This may be much easier said than done for some reps. But consider your failures as additional chances to develop and work through problems as a sales rep. Each failure you overcome improves your abilities as a seller.

Most important, be persistent. Don’t let lost deals, missed opportunities, a string of “no’s” drag you down. Take each failure as a chance to try a new technique or script, ask for further coaching from a manager. Do whatever you can to keep improving.


Between waiting for deals to move forward and delivering an empathetic sales experience, being a top AE requires patience.

Even though working in sales can feel like you are in a race, don’t push the buyer down the sales cycle. Patiently walk with them through the sales journey. By going at their pace, you invite them to do business with you, and steadily you can cross the finish line together.

Transitioning to a new role may feel like an overwhelming change. But as a former SDR, you have a baseline of skills that will make you a stellar AE. By implementing these skills you will leap to the top of the leaderboard in no time.

Download a copy of the eBook today and take your account executive team into the modern sales era.

Your Sales Leadership Roadmap for Account Executive Sucess