Improving Your Org’s SDR/AE Partnerships
Collaborative SDR/AE partnerships can improve account conversions, creating higher quality opportunities that close more quickly and offer a powerful mentorship and learning experience for those involved. As a sales manager, there is a lot that we control to ensure SDR/AE partnerships are set up for success from the start.
Starting successful SDR/AE pairings means much more than publishing a sheet of names and asking the pairs to set up one-on-ones. As a leadership team, it means thinking about how you 1) communicate the intent of SDR/AE partnerships 2) establish the right collaboration expectations and 3) coach your individual contributors to be the best business partners. Let’s dive in!
Share (and report on) the intent behind SDR/AE partnerships
Most sales leaders put a lot of thought into their SDR/AE ratios – what percentage of account lists they share, and how each party can help the other maximize demo booking and close rates – but they often forget to share the intent with their team. The best SDR/AE partnerships are kicked off with a clear explanation of the intent behind the partnership.
Explain territory planning and the expected outcomes of pairings
Explain mutual goals and what aligned incentives AEs and SDRs have
Explain how great SDR work can influence deal size/velocity etc.
It’s important to show that SDRs and AEs are in this together (as are their leadership teams). You can do this literally with joint team dashboards to monitor success. For each key goal or statistic (let’s say pipeline generated), create a single dashboard. On the left, brainstorm with your business partner everything that the SDR team can contribute to this goal- maybe you have a report for how many outstanding no shows or reschedules the team has, or how many top accounts have activity within the last seven days.
Now, on the same dashboard, fill in the column on the right with everything the AE team can be doing to contribute to the same goal- for example, opportunities that need to be progressed, opportunities with a seven-day lull in activity, or unconverted top accounts with no AE activity contributions. These types of dashboards show the collaborative nature of AE and SDR team goals and are a great starting point for SDR and AE leadership syncs.
Have a similar “Wins” dashboard that monitors the success of your other intentions of partnerships. If one of your goals is for SDRs to bring in top personas for faster or larger deals, set up reporting to highlight any SDR deal that either closed in a certain time period faster than average deal velocity or for a notable ACV.
Now that SDRs and AEs are entering their partnership with a clear idea of why it exists in the first place and how they are mutually incentivized, it is the right time to give them expectations on how to actually reach these goals.
Establish the right working expectations
“Make a google sheet” is probably not the level of instruction we want for such a key partnership with clear potential to contribute to pipeline creation. When it comes to setting the SDR/AE partnership into motion, sales leadership should give clear examples and expectations for how to collaboratively territory plan and how to format ongoing 1:1s.
A google sheet might be part of the package, but let’s get more specific on some commonalities among great planning sheets:
They bring the right data– Use a mutual doc for information that doesn’t change (like account history) or needs to be highlighted (that juicy reply the SDR just got). For information that’s evolving, look to your tools. Show your AE where they can find the most up to date information- bonus points if you provide them a preset Outreach view or Salesforce report! The AE will have the best view and the SDR won’t be replicating data or explaining why it was taxing to update.
They have a framework that reinforces relationship expectations– for example, if you want both the AE and SDR to contribute to account research, there should be two columns on their account planning sheet (SDR research and AE research), not one. Clearly define the role of each person in this partnership.
They have a top accounts list– Especially if you have large territories, the SDR and AE might not have the bandwidth to use the same strategy on every account. If this is the case for your organization, consider different tabs for high, medium, and low touch accounts. Again, build in columns that show the expected collaboration path (maybe you have a column for AE linkedin requested top prospects, etc). Your SDR/AE pair should go through and determine top accounts perhaps due to fit in your ICP, prior engagement, or other criteria. As an SDR, it feels amazing when you can bring the AE the perfect prospect at the perfect account- so set them up to feel this achievement! On your top accounts list, have a column for “the perfect prospect”. I’ve seen amazing work going into booking this person. It also makes sure your SDR and AE are in lockstep on personas.
A planning sheet is a good place to start, but remember that the goal of the sheet is not to plan once, but to be an ongoing source of collaboration and guidance. If you see sheets go un-updated for more than 2 weeks or have more blanks than words, it might be time to iterate. It’s never too late to roll out a V2 or V3 :).
Once planning is in place, it is time to talk about SDR/AE 1:1s. If not done correctly, these meetings can feel like checking the box or just start getting regularly cancelled. So how do you do them right?
Start at the beginning- the first time the SDR and AE meet. It can feel a bit cheesy but give the team some guided questions such as:
What is your preferred method of communication? If I need to get in touch with you quickly, is phone or slack better?
What level of visibility do you want on outreach? What does this look like in our weekly 1:1?
How can you be involved in outreach for top prospects? What tactics have you tried before with success?
What meeting would you be really excited about if I book? Other than booking a lot of demos, how can I contribute to your goals this quarter?
Next, set the right ongoing agendas. Checking in on accounts and planning is important, but it is not the only objective of a 1:1. For the first several weeks, if not longer, try two 30-minute 1:1s with specific goals.
First comes the planning 1:1. This is the time for the partnership to share updates and decide how to approach the territory. Make sure teams aren’t over-focusing on “stuck” accounts. It can be tempting to use the 1:1 to talk through the accounts the SDR is having the hardest time with. Instead, have them think through “which account do I think I should have gotten a meeting with by now?” or my favourite “imagine you just got an email of a prospect taking a meeting- what account was it?”. Use partnership time on accounts that have a high chance of success.
Next, is the co-prospecting 1:1. Your team may only get through one account during this meeting and that is okay. The partnership should pick an account and have the AE share their screen. Start with the research, all the way through selecting a lead and sending a message. What article headline or prospect title jumped out to the AE that the SDR might have looked over? What easy tech stack tip was the SDR able to give the AE that will save them time? This will give the team a chance to find valuable and replicable strategies that they won’t learn from a high-level conversation.
Now that the partnership is off to the races, it is reinforcement time.
Coach the SDR/AE partnership
Like any important initiative or project, SDR/AE partnerships require check-ins and coaching to maximize health and potential. If you are an SDR leader, have a conversation with your partnered sales leaders about how you both will check in on the partnerships in your respective 1:1s. Agree to a cadence and make sure you are both holding to the same expectations.
Coach to the basics. Try coming up with a “partnership scorecard” and use this to assess which ones are meeting the mark. It might have items like:
The pair has a central point of planning that is up to date
The pair has a regular communication cadence outside of set meetings
The pair has regular 1:1s
The pair is collaborating on top prospects
But don’t stop there! Coach to how individuals can go above and beyond- if the partnership is going smoothly, why not push it to the next level? If teamwork is important to your organization (which I really hope it is) then SDRs and AEs should be held accountable to continue to improve these relationships. This means that a portion of manager/IC 1:1 time is designated for checking in and providing suggestions on how to go from a good partnership to a great one. For an SDR, this might be things like:
Before an intro call, let your AE know one or two NAMES and titles of relevant individuals to the sales cycle who aren’t on the call. These can be great to use when establishing the next steps.
Look at your AE’s LinkedIn connections and identify prospects they may be able to reach out to.
When asking your AE to reach out to a prospect, ghostwrite the email for them.
For your AEs, how about:
Keep your SDR looped in further in the deal cycle and have them do a deal “ride along”
Do a cold call block together
Outside of 1:1s with your ICs, you can reinforce the relationship and its impact by making sure your deal closure alerts credit both the SDR and AE, sharing partnership examples on all hands, and of course, leveraging top-performing partnerships to iterate your territory planning and other materials.
Here’s to many great partnerships in 2023! If you liked the tips here and want to see more on AE/SDR partnerships (or want to send these tips to your teams) check out more here.
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