Last July, I posted a survey on this blog. My aim was to learn how most sales organizations are handing vacation for their selling reps.
When a rep takes a vacation, are they offered quota relief?
If yes, what are the policy specifics?
If no, how are leaders ensuring reps take successful vacations?
I thought a few dozen companies would respond and I'd have some interesting results to share with the community. It turned into something bigger. Over 200 sales leaders (team leads, managers, directors, VPs) and 340+ individual contributors (AEs, SDRs, CSMs, etc.) participated. I combed through more than 250 individual, anonymous comments. Additionally, I interviewed seven senior leaders on the topic—four on the record and three off.
Do companies offer quota relief for pre-scheduled vacations? For example, monthly quota is reduced by 25% for a one-week vacation.
Our findings indicate a resounding NO. Whether or not relief is offered seems to hinge largely on four variables: rep role, sales calendar cadence, company revenues, and company type.
Part 1 of the ebook breaks down the survey findings and analyzes how companies handle PTO with their sales teams. Part 2 shares strategies and perspectives for blanacing making the number while also treating your people right. You can download your copy of the ebook below.
I hope you'll share what your thinking/seeing/doing in the comments. This is an important topic and one that's too often overlooked.
A few weeks ago, I shared my research on the failure rate of SDR-to-AE promotions. (Executive Summary: 26% of SDRs who take on an AE role fail. The shorter the SDR tenure, the higher the failure rate. The post-promotion failure rate for SDRs with 11 or fewer months experience was 55%. The failure rate for SDRs with 16+ months experience was just 6%.)
A few dozen InMails and 1.5K+ social shares later, I’ve concluded that this topic hits a nerve.
The most common feedback I heard was “Yes! I’ve seen this too. What can we do to address it?” I wanted real practitioners to share advice so I reached out to Kevin Dorsey, Head of Sales Development and Enablement at ServiceTitan, and Natasha Miller Sekkat, VP of Demand Generation at ClickSoftware. Rather than post the full transcript, I’ve grouped their thoughts below.
Why risk promoting SDRs to AEs at all?
Natasha Miller Sekkat: Successful SDR-to-AE transitions are key to making sales development economics work. Unless you’re selling a high-ticket solution into the enterprise, I’ve found it’s hard to financially justify the existence of an SDR organization. But, when you factor in potential savings on AE recruitment plus productivity gains from successful promotions, the equation flips to positive.
You’re looking for the "the trifecta" from your SDR-to-AE promotions:
Lower attrition rates than external hires
Higher performance versus goal than outside hires
And a lower cost per $ sold than external hires
In the best scenario, an internally promoted SDR-to-AE will cost less, stay longer, and sell more.
How do you reign in the need for speed?
Kevin Dorsey: If you’re moving an SDR to AE in under 6 months, it’s too fast. I know your SDRs are screaming “NO, I’m ready!” But they just aren’t. It’s something I’ve witnessed working with hundreds of SDRs—watching some transition successfully and some unsuccessfully. At least 1 year as an SDR is a good benchmark.
Yes, it can happen faster, but only for over performance. And what over performance means needs to be outlined from the very beginning in black and white. Achieve X and Y and you can qualify for the fast track; if not, sorry.
How do you structure your SDRs' first twelve months?
Natasha Miller Sekkat: There are four quarters in a year and the focus for each one is slightly different.
1st Quarter- new SDRs don't know anything (What is a lead? What’s Salesforce? What’s a gatekeeper? And so on.)
2nd Quarter- the performing quarter (It’s time to take off training wheels and be a monster SDR.)
3rd Quarter- start to pick up their heads a bit (Experiment with different approaches. Try more advanced qualification. Take on mentoring responsibilities.)
4th Quarter- the earliest to start thinking about what's outside the SDR domain (OK, now what's selling? What does it mean to ask for an order? What does owning a territory look like? PLUS keep doing your SDR job.)
The next few months or quarters are about showing an ability to succeed while both doing the SDR job while also owning and closing smaller deals. The challenge is no one wants to hear "you aren't ready to be promoted." I tell reps, "Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got another 30+ years ahead of you. What percentage is 6 more months over 35 years? It’s a drop in the bucket.”
What’s the biggest skillset mismatch facing newly promoted reps?
Kevin Dorsey: It’s often that from the outside looking in, being an AE is easy. No more cold calling. No 100 dials a day. Just taking meetings and closing business. SDRs have spent months, if not years, looking at AEs and thinking “I could do that sh*t.”
But they fail to realize that being an AE requires significantly more skill.
You can brute force your way as an SDR. Make more dials, send more emails, and results go up. Playing the AE game at the level needed to advance a sale, manage multiple decision makers, navigate RFPs is different. There are so many places that things can go wrong and most SDRs don’t realize this. Plus as an AE, the rejection is more personal. When you’re rejected as an SDR, there is always another fish in the sea to target. It’s nothing personal. When you’re rejected as an AE—after you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into bringing that deal across and it doesn’t happen—you start to question yourself. I tell reps, "Come in thinking it will be easy, you will fail. Come in thinking it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and are ready to work like it is, and you’ll succeed."
Natasha Miller Sekkat: The biggest missing piece is the blocking and tackling of selling. How do I go from “set a demo” to “signed PO”? There’s so much even the most senior SDRs have never had firsthand exposure to. They understand qualification criteria and pipeline categories, but not how to run a deal, how to identify the economic buyer, how to understand decision criteria, and so on.
How do leaders make SDR-to-AE transitions successful?
Natasha Miller Sekkat: As a hiring manager, you have to ask yourself how do I minimize risk? One way is to only hire people who’ve done the job before. Another is to modify the SDR role to begin to include some selling activities.
Leaders should identify ways—even if comp and title don't change—to let reps run smaller deals on a non-commission structure. There are a lot of hard lessons in sales that need to be learned firsthand. Let your reps fail safely on the things that don't matter. Give them support (pre-sales, an AE mentor, their manager), but the SDR themselves must play quarterback.
Kevin Dorsey: AE training that starts after promotion is already too late. You need a 2-3 month transition plan to get them ready. Ours starts 2 months out with AE-related trainings. These aren’t optional. If they don’t complete them, they don’t get the promotion.
Also, skipping new hire training is a huge mistake. The amount of SDRs that are expected to just “GET IT” is scary. Just because they’ve been at your company for a year doesn’t mean they know how to be an AE. They need to get the same onboarding training as an external hire. They need objection training, pipeline training, proposal training, closing training, pitch training, demo training, the works!
Ideally, they’ll have gone through some of this before they were promoted and you’ll test how well they’re performing before giving them deals to close.
Any advice for SDRs aspiring to become AEs?
Kevin Dorsey: You want to be a closer? Then start studying how to be a closer! Watch your current AEs. See how they manage their tasks. Study time management and how to time block (Jeb Blount’s Fanatical Prospecting has some great tips here). Think of how much further ahead you’ll be when promoted.
Also, start to think like a closer. Have you been creating just OK opportunities because that was your job? Or have you really taken pride in what you’ve created? If you focus on creating great opps, you will be a better AE because of it.
Finally, don’t wait for the company to train you. Start training yourself. Listen to calls, read closing books, watch demos, go for ride-alongs. Start doing all of that training ahead of time! Doing this, WHILE still maintaining your SDR quota will also set you up for all the multi-tasking you’ll need to succeed as an AE. ----
The post-promotion failure data are concerning.
But as you can see, there are steps you can take to address it. A huge thank you to Kevin and Natasha for sharing their thoughts on the approaches, actions, and investments Sales Leaders can take to set SDRs up for successful promotions.
The head of Sales Development for a $50M SaaS company recently shared some interesting team data with me. Excluding recent hires and the team currently in place, the group had 55 terminations, promotions, transfers, and quits over the last three years. A little high, but not too far above the median.
Breaking down the individual data, I found the following:
Roughly 60% of his SDRs were promoted or internally transferred. That’s great stuff! But on the flip side, and a concerning note, nearly 40% of the SDRs promoted to an AE role had been terminated. That surprised me.
I wondered if these results were above average, below average, or to be expected. I couldn’t find any public data on the post-promotion failure rate for SDR-to-AE transitions, so I turned to LinkedIn to do my own research.
How I Used LinkedIn
My search included AEs at companies located in North America. I then narrowed in on only those profiles that previously held SDR titles. A few notes:
SDRs and AEs go by a variety of names. I stuck with “Sales Development Representative” and “Account Executive” exclusively.
There’s a lot of selective truth on LinkedIn. A lot. When I ran a separate search for reps I knew had been terminated, at least a quarter of them spackled over that fact on their profiles.
I excluded reps who had made the jump within the last 12 months. A recent promotion doesn’t tell us anything useful about their future success or failure.
I counted it as a “promotion success” if the rep stayed 7+ months in the AE role. I counted it as a “promotion failure” if the rep stayed 6 or fewer months. I’m not sure what the right length of tenure is, but I needed a binary and this is where I landed.
What I Found
I built out a data set of ~205 reps – all 3rd degree connections. Again, only former SDRs who made the move to an AE role at least a year ago were included. Of these 205 reps, 26% failed as AEs.
That really shocked me. I expected the failure rate to be higher than an experienced external hire. But not that high. When I looked at SDRs who left their companies to take an AE role somewhere else, the failure rate climbed to 41%. Wow.
The Impact of Tenure
Along with success and failure, I captured months of tenure as an SDR prior to promotion. To say the impact is huge would be a huge understatement.
The post-promotion failure rate for SDRs with 11 or fewer months experience was 55%. The failure rate for SDRs with 16+ months experience was just 6%.
That’s a massive delta.
None of this is to say you shouldn’t promote your SDRs to AEs. For many SDRs, that’s the goal and more power to them! But it takes time to learn how “businesses” operate, evaluate, and buy.
What does a buying process really mean?
What’s the difference between signing on the dotted line authority and the ability to scuttle a deal?
How do you arm an internal champion? How do you disarm an internal foe?
What’s a financial win for the organization? A career/political win for a person? How do they differ?
How do you teach, tailor, and take control?
These skills are hugely important for success as an Account Executive. I’m not convinced that 10, 12, or even 20 months as an SDR does much to develop them. You might disagree, but the one thing I hope you’ll take away from this is the significant impact of SDR tenure on future success as an AE.
I understand the desire to advance (and earn the real money) on the part of SDRs. I also understand the need to fill open headcount and the challenges of this tight labor market on the part of AE managers. But what I’m hoping to point out is that the two tendencies, if left unchecked, set no one up for success.
In the US, our approach to vacation is unrecognizable to much of the rest of the world. In Sales & Sales Leadership, our approach to Paid Time Off (PTO) is incomprehensible to many of our own non-sales colleagues.
A quick trip to Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis tells me that workers in the US work ~11% more hours annually than our peers. That’s roughly an extra half day. Every week. 52 weeks a year.
I suspect you wouldn't argue against the benefits of time away--improved concentration, replenished performance, refreshed attitude-to name a few. But a quick trip to LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Slack, and LinkedIn tells me that taking PTO and making the number are in conflict in many sales organizations.
Search for yourself. You’ll find example after example of reps expressing frustration around taking even a week away. My reflective reaction was “kids these days” and “back when I carried a bag....” But I wonder if I was being too harsh and a bit short-sighted. I found a few examples of reps praising their companies for supportive policies and even a few job descriptions highlighting PTO with quota relief.
But the big question still looms: how are most sales organizations handling this?
After a fair bit of time googling, I realized there isn’t a great data set on how companies are handling PTO for their sellers. So I decided to create one.
If you’re either an individual contributor or sales leader, please spend 3 minutes on this PTO survey. We’ll compile the anonymous findings into a full report. If you’d like to share your experiences/perspective with me directly, please email me at matt (at) bridgegroupinc.com.
Over the last few months, we published our latest research reports on the Account Executive role (AEs, ISRs, etc.). Both the SaaS and non-SaaS versions are currently available. The reports provide base and on-target earnings for the AE role—both averages and broken down by specific factors.
A number of readers have emailed in and the top three requests have been:
Update the 2015 calculator with the latest data (allow tailoring by geography, rep experience, ASP, etc.)
Add a sheet for manager, director, and VP compensation as well
Comp reached all time highs. On-target earnings are up across the board. This is particularly true at the high end (i.e., high ASP, most senior sellers).
Sell SaaS? Earn a 6% premium. Controlling for as many variables as we could, we found that SaaS sellers earn more. On average, about 6% more than technology or service-selling peers.
Several metro markets are off the charts. Looking for senior talent to close enterprise deals in the Bay Area, NYC, etc.? Get ready to pay. To avoid skewing results for entire regions, we remove a chunk of rows from the data set. Net net, expect to pay another 12-20% on top of the calculated results.
Where did the data come from?
Exec-summary version: Survey responses from 336 B2B companies + a lot of Excel. The calculator should give you a good target. You know your local market factors, so adjust up or down as needed.
Nerd version: Multiple linear regression using several explanatory variables (geography, ASP, experience prior to hire, delivery model, level of leadership) to predict the outcome of the response variable (OTE). R-squared = .61.
Note: if you are looking for SDR compensation, you want this one instead.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
Call avoidance. It was a problem in 1997, 2007, and most assuredly is still a problem in 2017.
Today, sales leaders are battling rep reluctance, generational preference, and vendor “thought leadership” blasting the phone as antiquated. This is both an easy sell and entirely wrongheaded. Great SDRs, great AEs, and great leaders have grit. Cultivating grit requires embracing tension, encountering pushback, and experiencing confrontation.
That’s why I’m happy to share this tongue-in-cheek post from Matt Amundson, VP of Sales Development and Field Marketing at Everstring. Mastering the phone is an out-of-the-box skill of exactly no one. Which is why it is so important that leaders help their teams develop these skills. Without further ado, here’s Matt. ---
You know when you read something and it really sets you off? Something you disagree with so deeply that you can’t help not responding? That happened to me when I ran across shared on LinkedIn as a reason to not make sales calls.
Let me save you a click and offer my rebuttal.
1. Phone calls demand immediate responses.
Of course they do, and that’s the best part. Having a live conversation allows for real-time thinking, objection handling, and SELLING. Yes, selling, the lost art of having a conversation about a business challenge you can address. If either party needs to step back or do research then all they have to do is say so. That makes the next call even more valuable as both parties are fully prepared with information that is “specific” to their last conversation.
When over-relying on email, too many assumptions are made and too many generic answers are provided. Phone = specificity.
2. You can’t go back and review phone calls later.
There are amazing technologies that record calls and use artificial intelligence to provide analysis. You can even tag parts of the conversation you want to refer back to. With email you have to read through long threads. Yuck! Phone = conversation intelligence.
3. It’s far more difficult to batch phone calls.
Not in my experience. There are two ways to do this: good old-fashioned time management and/or use technology. What’s more, bunching like calls together makes each subsequent call better. Every stumble, pushback, or win makes you smarter for your next dial. There is nothing that enhances productivity more than having your sellers having real conversations with your buyers. Phone = achieving flow.
4. Phone calls are an awkward dance of silence and interruptions.
I’ll give you that one. But so are first dates. That’s no reason to avoid them. Selling over the phone is a skill that has to be honed and practiced. Having horrible calls is how we learn. There's miles of difference in meaning between “maybe” as email reply and how a prospect says “maybe” during a live call. Phone = rapid learning.
5. Phone calls cause existential overhead.
I’ll be honest, I had to look that one up. The best definition I found was “distraction and stress from uncompleted tasks.” The theory goes if you have a call scheduled at 3PM, apparently that scheduled call will hang over you all day long and tax your productivity. While with email you can work through at your leisure. Huh?
A phone call has an agenda and desired outcome. Email is like your worst nightmare. You drop it into the void and then…. wait. I’ll take the stress of 100 scheduled sales call over 100 unreplied emails any day of the week. Phone = game time.
6. Phone calls kill productivity and work flow.
7. Can’t hear or understand the person speaking? Too bad.
Yes, bad connections are a real thing. Landlines, cellphones, and telephony can let us down. But email isn’t black and white. Beyond getting caught in spam filters or being lost in the flotsam and jetsam of inboxes, it’s easy to make a typo, misstate, or otherwise be unclear with the written word. Let’s face it, most reps aren't Hemingway. Phone = plays to reps’ natural strengths.
8. Phone calls don’t allow as much flexibility as email.
9. They necessitate small talk, the biggest time waster known to man.
Building rapport is not a time waster. Building rapport has led to million dollar deals. Showing empathy and understanding your prospect's professional dilemmas (and in some cases their personal dilemmas) is a great way to develop a champion within an organization. One day that champion just may help you get a deal across the finish line. Phone = human2human.
10. They’re inefficient.
I’d argue they’re actually far more efficient. Each party stays on topic and can deal with the issue at hand. There is no need for guesswork, translation of tone, or missed action items with multiple recipients. Phone = clarity.
Parting thoughts for those new to sales (and their managers).
As automation and AI continue to make email seem more and more life-like, sales professionals must do all they can to 'prove' they are human beings. The best way of doing that is to communicate through channels that these systems cannot. The primary channel for B2B personalized outreach has been and will always be the phone.
Don't fall victim to believing marketing and sales tech can replace the power of one to one human connections.
Daily, I hear sales leaders commenting how hard it is to find great candidates in this market. A search I ran on LinkedIn this morning bears this out.
In just the last 15 days, 468 companies posted “Account Executive” openings in Boston alone. That’s a rate of five new postings per business hour. Beyond the sheer volume, we’re also missing the mark in messaging (see below). It’s no wonder the majority of posts on LinkedIn get fewer than 10 applicants.
While there’s no silver bullet, there is a relatively simple step that too many companies miss:
I’m sure you know the hiring profile you’re looking for. Most leaders have a solid handle on the behaviors and competencies that make for an ideal candidate. But far too few have spent much time thinking about their role from the candidate perspective.
Have you documented, however informally, your role elevator pitch?
Approach this as you would creating messaging against a competitor. You don’t need flowing prose or Madison Avenue ad copy. You do need a few bullets on why this role matters and why your company makes for an amazing opportunity. Imagine three overlapping circles.
Circle #1 is what candidates want.
Circle #2 is what competitors offer.
Circle # 3 is what your company offers.
The overlap between all three circles (red) are points of non-differentiation. This is what every employer offers, or at least claims to offer. Focus on the overlap between Circles #1 and #3 (green). The core of your role elevator pitch should be the intersection of what candidates are looking for and what you uniquely bring to the table.
Sharpening your hiring edge.
The role elevator pitch is the basis for your job description, outreach InMails, and recruiter messaging. It has to pop. I want to share a few examples with you. To simplify things, I’ve built a sort of Mad Libs™ for Hiring to get you started.
I found a few job descriptions that I thought were excellent. I worked backwards to mock up what their role elevator pitch might look like.
Inside Sales Associate at memoryBlue For goal-oriented young professionals with a history of rising to the top, Who are looking to start their professional journey in technology sales, Join us and lay the foundation for an amazing and lucrative career.
Account Executive (Unnamed Marketing Tech) For experienced Fortune 1000 technology sellers, Who are looking to join a well-funded start-up with A-list investors, Join us and take a seat on a rocket ship while you exceed $275K on plan.
Learning Technology & Creative Specialist at Rapid7 For serial podcasters, iMovie whizzes, or Final Cut Pro fanatics, Who are looking to be part of a growing technology company, Join us and put your talents to use creating and scaling formal and informal learning and training programs.
These examples should provide you with a starting point. You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway or Toni Morrison to pull this off. But you do need to flip your mindset from what traits do I need to what aspirations can I speak to.
I hope you’ll take a look at whole the ebook as well.
In the SaaS world, metrics can be finicky beasts. What works at LinkedIn, Salesforce, Twilio, or Zendesk might not be transferable from one to the other, let alone work for you.
Questions around how can I benchmark myself make leading an AE group all the more challenging. In our 2017 SaaS AE Metrics & Compensation Report, we analyze the biggest shifts in recent years and provide core metrics to measure AE teams. We also break findings down by company revenue, ACV, and other factors.
This is our sixth round of this research project and I can honestly say it's our best release yet. The report is organized into five sections:
Ramp and Retention
Quota and Compensation
Activity and Technologies
384 Executives from a broad diversity of SaaS companies participated. 89% were headquartered in North America. Median respondent revenue was $27M and median respondent ACV was $25K.
Download the 2017 SaaS AE Report
We wrote this report to provide a comprehensive look at the data, trends, and key metrics for leading an AE team in 2017. We couldn't do these types of research without this community. So thank you.
Arm yourself and your company with the latest SaaS knowledge and get the full report.
Do your SDRs often remark about how much they love using Salesforce? Do they feel bad for peers at other companies with poorly configured CRMs? Are they thankful that, unlike those poor sods, they aren’t drowning in manual steps and byzantine processes.
I suspect this isn’t a sentiment you hear very often.
I’ve asked dozens of SDRs to describe the experience of doing their jobs inside Salesforce. The responses ranged from “death by a thousand cuts” to “running in mud wearing cement shoes” to “sitting in the dentist’s chair five days a week.” I once heard “it’s fine” and considered that rather high praise indeed.
For all the attention and buzz the SDR role has received, the way companies support sales development in Salesforce hasn’t advanced much in the last 10 years. Where AE, managers, and senior leaders have been drowning in innovation and improvement, SDRs have been logging clicks and filling fields in ways that would be entirely familiar to a time traveler from 2008.
So I wrote a book about fixing it.
Lightning Sales Ops was just released. I interviewed 34 sales executives, SDR leaders, marketers, operations pros, and Salesforce admins for this book. I hope the stories, strategies, and thinking I share will inspire you.
It's a book for SDR managers and biz ops / marketing ops / sales ops pros. It’s a book with five parts:
IDENTIFY: Focuses on getting the right prospect to the right SDR at the right time.
PLAN: Presents stories and approaches for shortening the distance between valuable context and your reps’ fingertips. We’ll go deep on building pre-call planning into Salesforce.
CONTACT: Offers a roadmap for making Salesforce workable for SDRs. These chapters are filled with actionable advice for tracking outreach, implementing a cadence process, and measuring results.
QUALIFY: This section is all about the passing meetings from SDR to account executive. Handoff, qualification criteria, and acceptance processes are discussed in great detail.
REPORT: Switches gears and present strategies and examples for measuring sales development impact. There’s a lot to learn about dashboards for executive management, marketing, first-line managers, and the reps themselves. So those topics are covered in depth.
I'd been kicking around the idea for this book for the last 6 years and I learned quite a bit along the way of writing it. If you’d like a quick preview, you can download an excerpt.
I can't wait to hear your feedback.
Available now at:
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