The Progression of SDR to Account Executive

In any sales organization there needs to be at least two things: a funnel of leads that are brought in by Sales Development Reps, and a team of Account Executives to manage new clients once they come on board.

Historically the entire spectrum of the software sales process was handled by a single sales rep, but as time moved on the industry realized the value and efficiency Henry Ford’s idea of specialization of labor. As a result, the responsibilities originally held by that single sales rep were naturally broken up into three main roles: Sales or Business Development Representatives, Account Executives, and Customer Success Managers.

Let’s take a quick dive into each of these roles to help you get a better understanding of what they’re responsible for.

Starting first with the Sales or Business Development Representative, often written as the acronyms SDR or BDR.

Role of an SDR

The SDR is responsible for the very early stages of a sales cycle. Their responsibility is to filter through various conversations and pass the opportunities most ready to make a buying decision on to an Account Executive (AE) so they can contract out the proper terms and close business.

Now depending on the company, its product and go to market (GTM) strategy, there can be two flavors of this role. Some organizations may have both inbound and outbound SDRs while others may have just one of those.

Most organizations I’ve seen or heard about that have both an inbound and outbound SDR team structure often start newly hired reps as inbound reps and promote them to outbound reps after a little time in the role due to the difference in the nature of conversations when speaking with an inbound lead as opposed to reaching out to one cold.

Inbound leads already have a business initiative in place and are actively seeking information from vendors to solve a business challenge or pain. Outbound leads, however, are often unsolicited and therefore have much less patience in dealing with a sales rep unless they can quickly find relevance for their product in the world of the prospect’s business or role. Therefore, a successful outbound SDR will need to have the ability to think quickly on their feet along with a masterful understanding of their company’s product to handle any objections that come their way.

Should someone be highly successful in mastering the responsibilities of proficiently sourcing new business opportunities, they’re commonly presented with the option of moving up into a role either as an Account Executive or Customer Success Manager. This is also highly dependant on the organization and their specific needs to grow and support their product. Take a moment to better understand your organization and its needs if you are at this stage in your career and looking for a promotion before starting that conversation with management.

Role of an AE

As mentioned before, the role of an Account Executive is to engage with prospects who are ready to near a purchasing decision and provide the necessary information and assistance to the evaluation team. From this, they can reach a decision resulting in the account turning into “Closed Won” business for that organization.

Though this may sound simple and straightforward, there are many nuances to this last-mile stretch of the software sales cycle that need careful attention to detail for a successful outcome. Companies hardly ever make a purchase without due diligence. As a result, deals are often competitive, even more so if your company competes in a highly crowded space.

Account Executives need to effectively understand the needs of their prospects to illustrate how their solution is best suited to alleviate those challenges. There are also often proof of concepts (POCs) that need to be taken care of to validate the value of a given product which requires a rep to once again expand their skill sets. Great Account Executives, particularly those dealing with consultative sales cycles, must be prepared to be great project managers as well as salespeople.

And of course, the actual closing of the deal is no small feat. There are multitudes of potential headaches waiting in the weeds of conversation as details around pricing and terms are agreed upon on by both sides.

Once this entire process has been run through its cycle and the company has had the fortunate news of being informed they are the chosen vendor, the account will ultimately be brought to a Customer Success Manager (CSM).

Role of a CSM

The job of a CSM, as their title may suggest, is to ensure the success of the customer with the company’s product or services. A CSM may go by other titles such as Account Manager or something else depending on the organization, but as a whole they are responsible for ensuring the customer is happy with the use and value of the product and maintaining the relationship such that the customer will choose to renew once the original contract’s term has lapsed.

The clear distinction between the AE and CSM roles are that the former is responsible for bringing in new business while the latter is responsible for retaining existing business.

If a company has various product lines or product tiers, which is very often the case with software organizations, cross-sell and up-sell opportunities can also come into play. This essentially refers to the effort of getting customers to buy additional products or upgrade their contract to a higher tier. This responsibility typically falls under the role of either the AE or CSM at the discretion of the company’s leadership team.

Moving from SDR to AE

If you are looking to break into this line of work or are already in the early stages of being in the trenches, this should give you a fair understanding of what to expect as you move forward with your career.

Based on some analysis done by the Rainmakers team, the average duration for an SDR could be expected to be about 1.5 years with an average salary of $50-55K per year. The average salary of an AE or CSM will typically be in the range of $60-80K per year. This however refers primarily to your base salary.

SDRs should normally expect to make additional commissions based on performance against their quota which are commonly measured in meetings set or opportunities qualified. AE’s and CSM’s typically get a percentage of the deals they close. Depending on the deal size at your organization, this payout can vary widely but should definitely outpace your earning potential as an SDR.

Whether you are an SDR looking to move up within the organization or are already an AE, you can always set yourself up for continued success by going the extra mile with tasks, being efficient with time, having a little grit, and by adding your personal touch.

For more knowledge and insights on the software sales industry and tips on how you can get ahead in sales, subscribe to the Rainmakers blog and stay tuned for future posts. You can also start your journey or progress your career by finding a job at