Do Better AEs Deserve Better Leads? Yes, Here’s Why

Keyboards were set ablaze (metaphorically) when an executive at investment firm Insight Partners recently posted a detailed formula for ranking account executives on a B2B sales team.

The short version: overperform your peers by 20%, you move up a level. Underperform by 20%, you move down. Given stack-ranking’s fraught history, a thread full of questions about fairness, upward mobility, and teamwork immediately followed. 

At ZoomInfo, we definitely have a few things to say about the topic — company founder and CEO Henry Schuck was the original source of the ranking program at issue. He cites stack ranking and lead distribution as key factors in our go-to-market efficiency, including sub 30-day sales cycles and a lifetime customer value more than 10 times its customer acquisition cost. 

So, yes, it’s true that ZoomInfo AEs get better quality leads based on their ranking. Here’s why yours should, too. 

Your Customers Deserve The Best Available Account Executive — For Them 

Prospects come to you with a business problem. The best AE is the one who can guide them to solving that problem with your product or service. 

Popular lead-routing methods include round-robin assignments, where leads go to the next available AE; cherry-picking scenarios, where AEs snag the leads they want; or leads being assigned by geographical territory. But none of these methods put the customer’s needs first. 

At ZoomInfo, we stack-rank our account executives based on their likelihood to convert a prospect into a closed-won opportunity. Instead of a single raw number metric such as number of deals closed, we define what “best” means for AEs using five weighted metrics from trailing three-month performance. 

This gives us a holistic view of each AE’s ability to match a solution to a prospect. From this pool of ranked AEs, a prospect is routed to the next best one available — they’re not left waiting.

“Above all else, this system prioritizes the customer,” says Matt Balaschi, a senior sales director at ZoomInfo. “Imagine a lead comes in from a region ‘owned’ by an AE, but that AE is in a meeting or on vacation. Why should the customer have to wait because one person is busy or away? At ZoomInfo, we route our leads based on the time that works best for our customer and book it with the best available AE for them at that time.”

Keep Your Best Performing AEs Motivated

This motivation is pretty self-explanatory, especially if you’re at the top. 

“The people who are learning, practicing, and self-sourcing deals are rewarded in lead quality,” Balaschi says. “I think that’s important. As they continue to drive revenue and customer experience, they have the ability to double down on their success. Hard workers have the opportunity to immediately get better leads.” 

Plus, the opportunity cost of giving your best leads to lower performers is too high — both from a customer experience and a revenue perspective. 

“If you have an AE who isn’t putting in the prep work or studying up before sales calls, you don’t want your best leads going to that person,” Balaschi says.

Push Excellence For Everyone

Instituting stack-ranking means that everyone in your sales organization has to strive. But it’s important to note that this system isn’t designed to punish lower-performing AEs with lesser leads. Nor does it mean that lower-performing AEs should use their leads as low-stakes batting practice. 

“Every lead is important. Your low-level leads still need your product and can buy your product,” Balaschi says. “You can’t treat them like you can swing and miss.” 

When an AE is just beginning, working on lower-tier leads means that mistakes are less costly. By the time they’ve fully ramped up, they’re getting better leads, which rewards their improvement.

Build Efficiency And Predictability Into Your Go-To-Market Motion

There’s a lot of thought and science that goes into the way we generate, route, and close new leads. Quantifying AE performance plays a key part in this process. 

“We work hard to drive a predictable business, so we need a consistent sales team that converts on leads at a specific clip,” Balaschi says. “When we know that our best team converts at a certain rate, it removes unexpected chaos by having a predictable revenue stream.” 

Moving away from routing leads by industry specialization or geographic territory also benefits AEs — now they won’t have to weather an industry or territory going through a downturn. 

“Instead of AEs getting lucky with a territory that’s hot or AEs who are working hard getting stuck with a territory that’s cold, we are focused on rewarding continuous improvement,” Balaschi says. 

Getting Started with Stack Ranking in Your Sales Organization

Ready to try ZoomInfo’s go-to-market lead-routing strategy in your own sales organization? Before you introduce a stack-ranking system, you’ll need to implement a few GTM motions to support your AEs and prospects before, during, and after the sales call. 

  1. Enhance your lead generation and capture ability with automation. Using our FormComplete application, we can seamlessly extract the information we need about a lead without bogging down the prospect with endless data fields to fill out. These additional data points boost our understanding of an incoming prospect, which creates more accurate lead scoring and more efficient lead routing. But none of this can happen without systems and processes in place that are automated, working correctly, and iterated on over time. 
  2. Set clear expectations. Build your AE or sales rep scorecards according to your business’ unique priorities, such as average customer value, deal win rate, or a weighted combination of factors. This is also a chance to build transparency and accountability into your sales organization. At ZoomInfo, scorecards are shared monthly with AEs and reviewed together with a manager. 

    “AEs can see what’s working well and what they need to do. Knowing where they stand allows them to put a plan in place, instead of coming off of a bad month and not knowing where to even start,” Balaschi says. 
  3. Foster a team selling environment. “Before we go into coaching, we tell our AEs and sales reps that we don’t lose alone. If you’re having a tough time, have someone else hop on the line. Everyone is expected to be able to roll up their sleeves to help sell. Nobody is left alone on an island on the bottom tier,” Balaschi says. 
  4. Build a system that values consistency and incremental improvement. Our AE performance scorecards aren’t tallied weekly or monthly. Instead, we use the trailing three-month period. This makes room for AEs to schedule meetings on different days, take time off, or have the occasional bad day. Hey, it happens to the best of us. 

    “Our goal is to get 1% better every day. Even if you have one great call, it won’t take you to that next level. Just like having a few bad calls won’t drop you down. It’s about being consistently better over time,” Balaschi says. 
  5. Offer opportunities and support for continuous improvement. At ZoomInfo, sales leaders leverage the Chorus platform for call coaching sessions and every AE can listen to their peers’ calls. Using the scorecard, they can identify which peers are doing well on a particular metric and zero in on facets of their sales presentation. It’s also helpful to remind your AEs in the bottom tier that improvement happens in stages. 

    “Don’t think about going from tier 3 to tier 1. Think about going from 3 to 2, and then your quality of leads increases,” Balaschi says.