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Your Career Path is Your Own: Promote Your Sales Career

It’s the first day of your sales career. You’re ready to take on the world sales, one cold call at a time as a Sales Development Representative (SDR). Your new manager congratulates you and says, “Alright, you’re here. Tell me about your goals.”

How does one uncover what the next step in their sales career should be? (Beyond learning 8539 acronyms, that is.) From everyday best practices to the secrets for finding mentors, a panel of sales rockstars at this year’s Rainmaker inspired us to loft our careers.

The Premise

The traditional career path has started to fade away in recent years. More often, people will change areas of interest, management goals, and even careers. We’re free to explore different opportunities rather than stay with the same company for 50 years and retire with a pension (google it – that used to be a thing). In fact, on average, people change jobs 12 times these days.

Sales careers are no different. An SDR doesn’t HAVE to become an Account Executive (AE). AEs don’t always want to be in management. Many companies even offer opportunities for salespeople to move to different functional areas. You might discover sales enablement is your thing. Or maybe it’s marketing. The possibilities are endless!

The Experts

Your Career Path is Your Own: Promote Your Sales Career

SalesLoft Account Executive Brad Ansley moderated the panel. SalesLoft Sales Executive Blanche Reese, Steve Dinner, Director of Business Development at League, and Jill Horka, Relationship Manager at Honest Buildings joined him on the Rainmaker stage to discuss how to get from where you are to where you want to be.

The Insights

You know you want to move up the ladder, but maybe not in the same division. What are the best ways to get to that next level?

Reese says, “If you don’t have a mentor, find one. You don’t have to actually say, ‘Will you be my mentor?’ They don’t have to know that they are. Just find someone who you admire – the path that they’ve taken, or maybe the way that they’ve taken their path.”

Every manager, mentor, and executive has held an entry-level position. Use the experience of those above you to guide you to your next step, even if it’s an unconventional one.

To find a mentor within your organization, do some internal networking. Ask around to different departments and even conduct interviews. Horka advised, “figure out what people like about their role and what their day to day is like to see how that matches with what you’re looking for.”

As your organization grows, your network grows with it. Introduce yourself when you see someone new. Make an effort to keep in touch with people you might not directly work with. At SalesLoft we use a Slack app, Donut, that connects two employees at random bi-weekly. It facilitates employee networking and community. We call it ‘Coffee with a Lofty.’

What are the things you look for from a leadership team in terms of supporting your growth and helping you get to where you want to be?

Keeping your manager up to date on your personal goals keeps your relationship transparent. If your manager asks you “What’s next?” don’t reply “AE” simply because you think that is what they want to hear. That would be a disservice to yourself and your organization.

Reese advises, “work with your manager and say, ‘These are the things that I want to accomplish. What are the goals that I need to achieve before I can do those things?’”

SDR sales career progression

As a manager, Horka expresses the importance of making sure employees’ voices are being heard. “Asking your employees what they’re hearing every day, and what they think could be better or worse definitely is helpful from my point of view. I feel like my opinion is valued in that you want to hear what I have to say.”

For individual contributors, it is your prerogative to have your voice be heard. Keeping your manager up to date on your thoughts about how to improve the team shows that you’re forward-thinking.

Dinner cautions, “understand and respect that there are certain things that are core to the company’s value proposition or to the way that the company wants to posture themselves, and that feedback is a two-way thing. The manager is there in some sense keep those pillars strong.”

What activities an SDR can do to demonstrate skills beyond cold calls and emails? How can they develop outside of their day-to-day activities to be considered for additional responsibilities or a promotion?

Taking on more responsibilities is a great way to progress in your sales career. A natural next step for SDRs is to stay with the customer longer on their journey. Talk to your manager about having the opportunity to follow through and run a demo yourself, rather than just staying on for the initial discovery call. In Horka’s organization, they have taken it a step further implemented demo certifications.

“We’ve done demo certifications with our SDRs, now they get to move forward past that stage. I think that’s another level that gets you more prepared to be an AE. Then, when you do get there, you just need to learn the closing, pricing, and negotiation.”

We do something similar at SalesLoft. Our SDRs are eligible for mini-promotions to SDR II and SDR III. This progression rewards performance and growth even if a role in the AE department isn’t open.

Most sales directors aren’t concerned that newly-promoted AEs won’t be able to learn to run effective sales meetings or discuss pricing. According to Dinner, “they’re worried that once you get into the seat, that maybe you don’t have the maturity to take on a number and understand what that actually means.”

By taking these smaller steps and proving that you are eager to advance, you give leadership confidence that you are ready for a bigger role. You have shown that you know what it means to deliver a better buying experience for prospects. That is what will set you apart.

The Next Step

Everyone is on their own journey. Your career path is your own. Lean into your own development. Build your tribe of supporters. Learn to be self-aware. When it is time to take the leap, don’t let up.

And always be sure to pay it forward.


Want to learn more about the behaviors that separate top sales performers from their peers? Download research on the Best Practices of Top Performing Sales Reps here!Best Practices of Top Performing Sales Reps