Perfecting the SDR to AE Handoff
By Anna Talerico
Aug 08 2019
A while back I spoke on a panel at the Salesloft Rainmaker event on the topic of perfecting the handoff of a prospect from the SDR to the AE. The handoff can make or break the sale. This is a topic often left orphaned by sales leaders and something that needs far more attention than it is given.
SDRs are virtually a given in tech-focused startups and SaaS companies. We all tend to follow a pretty similar demand-generation and sales model (because it works) and part of that model is using an SDR team to generate qualified pipeline for the sales executives. It takes a lot more effort to get a prospect to engage these days. And SDRs are an efficient way to expand the bandwidth of a sales organization.
If you use an inside SDR team to prospect and book qualified appointments for your salespeople, you have prospect handoffs happening every single day.
Define, Document and Reinforce the Process
I was grateful to be asked to participate in the Rainmaker panel and equally grateful to be interviewed on this topic by my friends at Costello. It helped crystallize how my thinking has evolved on this as I have built and optimized different types of sales teams over the past few years.
It’s a given that a sales team must be built atop a robust playbook that defines how the team sells, provides easy access to key resources, and is a repository for all team processes. I’m a big believer in playbooks and processes because they help ramp up new reps and provide day-to-day guidance to sales teams.
So naturally, the handoff process from SDR to AE must be documented so expectations are met and managed on both sides of the team. An SDR needs to know how to qualify a prospect, set up the appointment, and how to pass key information to the salesperson to set them up for success.
Consider the Buyer Experience
It’s important to consider the buyer experience when designing your process. I’ve seen rigid handoff processes that rob the early SDR conversations from any meaningful human conversation. And that’s a horrible experience for the buyer. If you have ever been through a SaaS sales process as a buyer, you have no doubt experienced the robotic qualifying questions and stiff, brief responses to your own questions from a sales development rep that is no doubt being forced into a specific qualification and handoff process.
When sales teams are too process-driven, it’s not going to be a good buyer experience because it forces your buyer into your process instead of meeting the buyer where they are in their process.
A sales team only run by process is going to lead to robotic reps just checking boxes because they are scared of finger pointing and blame if they don’t.
Meet Your Buyers Where They Are
Sales leaders must document and reinforce process, but allow the flexibility for their team to meet the buyer where they are. Alignment occurs when everyone can acknowledge and understand that working with prospects is sometimes messy, it won’t always fit into a perfect conversational box. There will be hot prospects who come over without a key qualification. There will be a prospect who meets the qualification criteria on the phone with the SDR and then changes their tune when they get on thedemo with the salesperson.
Buyers are human, and humans have gray areas and nuance.
Success lays in building empathy in both the SDRs and the AEs—for their buyers, as well as for each other. While all the boxes might not be checked every time, everyone is working towards the same goal: closed deals. SDRs want to hand off the best opportunities so they close. And sales reps want that too.
As long as leadership, sales reps, and SDRs remember that everyone is on the same team, you’ll be fine. It’s okay for sales teams to adjust as they go, but there needs to be strong sales leaders in place to manage this process.
It Takes a Village
So, yes, I do believe in having a documented process for the handoff. But, if I am being honest, I think it’s less about the process and more about making sure that everyone in an organization has the skills needed to meet the buyer wherever they are in the purchase process. When both SDRs and sales reps know how to do this, sales teams are so incredibly elegant in their process that prospects never even realize there is a handoff. When the entire sales team collaborates to create great buyer experience, they know what to look for or ask for without having to make the customer feel like they are taking conversational steps back or answering annoying, irrelevant qualifying questions.
As sales leaders, we must constantly review playbooks, listen to calls, evaluate reps, and monitor conversations between SDRs and AEs. Then, managers can determine whether they like the way information is being shared and passed or what should be changed. Sales leaders need to observe and know what’s happening on their sales floor. Another part of this coaching is roleplay. Run through new scenarios with SDRs and AEs alike to determine great questions to ask, the best responses to buyer questions, and more. It’s all about constant reinforcement and training.