Touchpoints 15.03.2023

The SDR AE Duo: The Ultimate Product-Led Partnership

Struggling to find a place for your SDRs and AEs in your PLG motion? Let’s turn these essential salespeople into your product-led champions.

Breyta cover image with green and gold circles and waves with "SDR AE" written in the center.

You might have noticed that the general sales rep position has taken much heat from product-led growth-related publications and strategies.

The popular rhetoric promotes strategies like:

  • Minimal sales involvement in the product-led sales (PLS) model.
  • Irresistible products that sell themselves.
  • Whittling your sales teams to a few highly specialized senior people.

Account Executives (AEs) and Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) haven’t been spared the product-led inquisition.

Many PLG icons like Slack, Dropbox, and Zendesk made the big time with small sales teams.

At least, that was the modus operandi during “the golden age” of PLG.

The sales-free fervor has ended.

Look at PeerSignal’s PLG dataset for proof.

20% of Slack’s workforce comprises salespeople, and 28% of Zoom’s thousands of employees are in sales.

Even Zendesk, which launched its hyper-growth model without any sales involvement, has 21% of its staff dedicated to consultative sales.

Before you follow suit with the 58% of companies switching teams and replacing their outbound setups with self-serve ones, let me provide you with some food for thought:

  • Just 17% of respondents to Gainsight’s report are tracking time-to-value (TTV).
  • Only 26% monitor their activation rate.
  • Less than a quarter are interested in product-qualified leads.

You may be curious about the strategies these companies employ, as they appear to overlook the vital aspects of product-led sales.

Perhaps an increased focus on SDRs and AEs, who diligently monitor key metrics and leads, could help them overcome this challenge.

However, we don’t want you to have bloated sales teams stereotypical of sales-led teams.

The point is to have a lean and highly specialized group of salespeople working in tandem for fast and highly productive cycles.

Let’s ensure the vital members of your sales team know what they’re doing in your PLS model.

I’ll provide you with an effective approach for both SDRs and AEs, and how they can continue to support one another and your business goals indefinitely.

The functions of AEs and SDRs in a traditional sales-led model

You know what your sales team does well, so I won’t go into too much detail regarding your Sales Development Reps and Account Executive’s functions and roles.

Let's underline what doesn't work in your current sales process, and why your talented sales executives are underutilized in a traditional sales-led model.

The traditional AE

In a standard sales-led model, the role of your AE is to generate revenue by closing deals with potential customers.

Simple enough.

Or is it?

You might have heard of (or employ) “The Bowtie Model” in your own AE-centred sales funnel. This nifty process starts with a fan-shaped bucket of leads generated through cold calling.

Your sales pipeline starts off broad, like the left wing of a bowtie, and steadily shrinks toward its knot into a lucrative, tight cluster of converted outbound leads.

Then, the bowtie opens up again on the other side, where your AEs now busy themselves with further potential solutions, upselling, and CS.

Your AE focuses on identifying prospects, reaching out to them, and persuading them to buy the product or service.

Like its real-life counterpart, the bowtie model is outdated and severely simplifies the modern sales process. It uses a one-size-fits-all approach that overlooks the many specialized needs of your potential customers.

The traditional SDR

On the other hand, the role of your Sales Development Representative (SDR) is to prospect for potential customers by identifying leads, conducting outreach, and qualifying prospects before handing them off to the AE.

The daily activity of a classic SDR involves scouring your target market for hidden opportunities and arranging a qualified meeting with carefully crafted sales messaging.

While this model used to work perfectly fine in the good old days, it’s insufficient for a product-led growth (PLG) model.

In a product-led sales (PLS) model, your product is designed to sell itself and drive user adoption and expansion.

This means that heavy sales efforts aren’t required, and the focus is on providing value to the customer through your product.

New business opportunities are rarely suggested to cold leads that know little of your product.

So, what does that mean for your dedicated sales agents?

Why traditional SDR and AE roles just don’t make the PLG cut

The shift towards PLG requires a significant change in your sales team’s structure and operation, regardless of your company size.

Traditional sales-led roles like AEs and SDRs need some finetuning if you want to adopt a PLG model.

Here are some of the key reasons why.

A skewed focus on quotas and targets

In a sales-led model, your AEs and SDRs are typically incentivized to close deals and hit sales targets to boost their sales compensation plan.

While this approach works in a traditional sales environment, it clashes with the goals of a PLG business.

In the PLG world, potential customers can simply connect their credit cards and purchase a subscription in under a minute. Provided they’ve found their “Aha moment.”

You’re fast-tracking compared to the traditional sales process, which is often inundated with several meetings followed by a proof of concept.

But that doesn’t mean your preferred firmographic members will simply slide down your sales funnel to activation. Despite being able to buy something in the time it takes to punch in their credit card number, your leads might take a non-sequential buying path.

They’ll hop about the various pages on your website and always compare you to your competitors. You must identify your product-qualified leads (PQLs) and guide these valuable potential customers through the sales process.

It’s all about selling with customer retention underpinning every decision you make.

You’re likely to have a monthly subscription model as a PLG company instead of sales-led’s long-term commitments.

So, selling to anyone and everyone who might buy your product is a bad idea and a surefire way to hike your churn rate.

A PLG company is focused on delivering a great user experience and building long-term relationships with customers. Hitting quotas and targets can distract from your objectives and lead to a transactional, short-term approach to selling with little customer success potential.

Lack of product expertise

As your product is the primary driver of customer acquisition and retention in a PLG motion, your sales representatives must deeply understand your product and communicate its value effectively.

A high-touch sales model depends on your reps’ clear articulation of your value and responding to often complex customer needs.

Unfortunately, many old-school AEs and SDRs focus on closing deals and generating leads rather than truly understanding the product.

This lack of knowledge can easily scare off the decision makers in an account, who are likely to grill your sales leaders with a laundry list of highly technical demands.

You’ll not only hike your customer acquisition cost (CAC) but needlessly prolong the customer journey to sales qualified.

These faults cause a disconnect between your sales team and the rest of the organization and elicit a lack of trust from potential customers.

Inability to scale

Sales-led AEs and SDRs are responsible for identifying, qualifying, and closing deals.

And while you might have specific qualification criteria, this lead scoring model only works if your company is small and focused on a specific market.

PLG is synonymous with rapid growth.

As your company expands into new markets, you might find that your ideal customer profile (ICP) doesn’t fairly reflect the variety of high-opportunity deals your free trial practices open.

Your AEs and SDRs may not have the time or expertise to handle a wide range of customer needs and use cases.

All resulting in a messy situation where:

  • The qualification process is convoluted.
  • The relationship between SDRs and AEs is strained and inefficient.
  • Your conversion rate is tanking.
  • The slow handoff process to CS heightens your post-promotion failure rate.

Your target accounts are slipping away, you don’t have a single source of truth for scoring, and team morale is crumbling.

Before you fire anyone, check out our PLS AE and SDR revamp.

Redefine your AEs and SDRs for Product-Led Sales

It’s clear your AEs are no longer solely responsible for generating revenue through traditional sales efforts.

They need to focus on:

  • Building strong relationships with customers.
  • Helping them onboard and adopt the product.
  • Driving expansion opportunities.

Similarly, your SDRs need to evolve from traditional lead generation to driving user adoption and engagement.

The PLG partnership between AEs and SDRs

In a product-led growth model, your AEs and SDRs need to work closely together to ensure that users are successfully onboarded, activated, and continue to derive value from the product over time.

SDRs can help AEs by identifying potential users likely to be a good fit for your product and providing valuable insights about user behavior and engagement.

This invaluable information lets AE tailor their approach and provide a more personalized experience for each of your users.

Let’s take the land and expand strategy as an example of how AEs and SDRs can collaborate in a PLG motion:

  1. Identify potential customers: Your SDRs identify potential customers who fit your product well. Once they find them, SDRs then pass them along to the AEs.
  2. Land the customer: Your AEs then work to "land" the customer by closing a small sale or subscription. This could be a free trial, a low-cost subscription, or a one-time purchase.
  3. Expand the customer: Once the customer is onboard, it's up to both your AEs and SDRs to work together to "expand" the customer.

This last step entails identifying opportunities for upselling, cross-selling, or even referring the customer to other products or services within the company.

In a product-led sales model, your AEs and SDRs need to adapt their roles to focus on driving user adoption and expansion throughout the customer lifecycle, rather than traditional sales efforts.

By working together to provide value to customers through the product, AEs and SDRs drive long-term customer success and revenue growth.

Provided they’ve activated their product data.

How SDRs and AEs can become data-driven

Ranking users can be a burdensome task for your SDRs and AEs if they have to sift through your CRM data.

Luckily for any PLG specialist, there are numerous tools to ensure you get every vital tracking and scoring necessity nailed.

We’ve already written a piece on the essential PLG tech stack for modern SaaS businesses, but let’s take a more SDR/AE-driven approach to your toolset.

You need a single source of truth to streamline your SDR/AE efforts

Especially if you’re struggling with multiple data sources and miscommunication in your sales environment.

We understand how frustrating and debilitating data silos are. Breyta helps lets you streamline your sources and create a master data management system.

Establishing your customer health scoring and creating realistic customer profiles is crucial for increasing sales effectiveness and optimizing sales and CS efficiency.

Our tool allows you to easily file your CRM data and integrate custom objects and data points from contact management services, creating comprehensive profiles for your customers that you can trust.

We know how important it is to have a single view of your customer. We're passionate about providing a tool that ensures everyone is on the same page.

With Breyta, you can identify your ICP champions and focus on the most appropriately matched users and those who rely most on your product.

Breyta tool dashboard showing user activity

Our Customer Fit and User Engagement scores are designed to help you manage your product-qualified lead playbook by creating a highly enriched collection of leads that will take your sales game to the next level.

We're passionate about data and customers and want to help your SDRs and AEs create their ideal sales environment.

The definitive SDR and AE roles for product-led sales

Now that your SDRs and AEs have consolidated and activated their data, they can truly begin working and selling in a product-led sales motion.

Let’s discuss the typical roles and responsibilities of each pivotal sales role.

What a product-led AE looks like

Your AEs are the primary drivers of ICP user acquisition, adoption, and expansion.

If you’re an Account Executive, your role is critical in ensuring that users are successfully onboarded, activated, and continue to derive value from the product over time.

Your strategy must be customer-centric, empathetic, and value-driven. Focus on building trust and establishing a strong foundation for ongoing customer success.

Let's dive into your main roles.

1. Customer-centric approach

You’re responsible for understanding the customer's problems and ensuring that the product fits their needs well.

Speak to customers in an empathetic, consultative, and value-driven way. This approach helps to build trust and establish a strong foundation for ongoing customer success.

2. Seamless onboarding

The onboarding process is critical to ensuring your users' success with the product.

You’re responsible for guiding users through the onboarding process, answering questions, and helping to remove any barriers to adoption.

This requires a deep understanding of the product and the customer's use case.

3. Proactive customer success

Once a user is onboarded, proactively engage with the customer to ensure ongoing success.

Monitor usage, identify areas where customers could benefit from additional features or functionality, and work with them to expand their product use over time.

You will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, leading to expansion opportunities and referrals.

4. Revenue growth

Revenue growth is tied to user adoption and expansion.

You are critical in identifying opportunities for upsells, cross-sells, and renewals.

By ensuring that customers derive value from the product and that their needs are being met, you can help drive revenue growth over time.

What a product-led SDR looks like and how they support AEs

Now let’s talk to your SDRs.

Your role is to identify potential customers and help qualify them for the AEs team.

Breyta dashboard showing full account details and activity

You’re responsible for the initial stages of the sales cycle and play a critical role in ensuring that the right customers are brought on board.

Here are some key responsibilities of SDRs in a product-led growth company.

  • Prospecting: You will be responsible for identifying potential customers who could benefit from the product. This involves researching, using various tools and techniques to find leads, and contacting them via email or other channels.
  • Qualifying: Once you have identified a potential customer, you will need to qualify them to ensure they are a good fit for the product. This involves asking questions, understanding their needs, and assessing whether they have the budget and authority to purchase.
  • Scheduling: Following the qualification process, you can work with the AE to schedule a demo or other sales call. You will need to ensure that the lead is prepared for the call and that they understand what to expect.
  • Following up: After the call, you must follow up with the lead to ensure they received the needed information and answer any additional questions. You may also need to help the AE with post-call follow-up activities, such as sending additional information or setting up a trial.

Here are some leading ways to support the AE team and maintain your sales strategy:

1. Providing insights

As an SDR, you’re on the front lines of customer engagement.

You can learn about customer pain points, objections, and questions. By sharing this information with the AE team, you can help them better understand the customer's needs and tailor their approach accordingly.

2. Building relationships

SDRs often have more frequent customer touchpoints than AEs.

By building solid relationships with customers early on, you can help to develop trust and increase the likelihood of a successful sale.

3. Driving engagement

Enhance the customer experience by sharing product updates, best practices, and other information to help your customers get the most out of the product.

As an SDR in a product-led growth company, you play a critical role in driving revenue growth and customer success in every time block.

By identifying potential customers, qualifying them, and helping to schedule demos and sales calls, you can help ensure that the right customers are on board.

And by supporting the AE team with insights, relationship building, and customer engagement, you can help to ensure that customers are successful over the long term.

Every pivotal salesperson, exactly where they need to be

Your SDRs and AEs are pivotal members of your PLG model.

Working together, you can achieve long-term customer success and revenue growth by driving user adoption and expansion throughout the customer lifecycle.

To do so, you need to be data-driven and make informed decisions.

Breyta streamlines data sources and creates comprehensive customer profiles, giving you the insights you need to succeed.

With Breyta, your AEs can take the lead in customer acquisition, adoption, and expansion, while SDRs provide valuable insights about user behavior and engagement.

Adopting a customer-centric, empathetic, and value-driven approach can establish strong foundations for ongoing customer success, build trust, and drive revenue growth.

In short, Breyta is essential for SDRs and AEs in a product-led growth environment. By leveraging this tool, you can optimize your sales and customer success efforts and achieve your goals.

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