ZoomInfo’s Guide to SDR-AE Pairing & Alignment

Two is better than one. 

This was true for duos such as Calvin and Hobbes, Bert and Ernie, and Frodo and Sam, and it’s true for sales development reps (SDRs) and account executives (AEs).  

Based on years of experience, ZoomInfo has built a world-class SDR team that fuels growth and provides an internal pipeline of talent. But we go one step further: We pair SDRs and AEs to promote specialization and optimization, and ensure that everyone is mentored for success from the very beginning of their tenure on the sales team. 

So, What Do SDRs and AEs Do? 

At ZoomInfo, SDRs are mainly responsible for pipeline building and prospecting, both inbound and outbound. AEs, on the other hand, focus on the first prospect meeting and then work the sales cycle until the first transaction takes place.

“This is different from the way a lot of other companies do it,” says Steve Bryerton, vice president of sales at ZoomInfo.  “At a lot of companies, account executives are responsible for all of it. We find the more specialized we can be, and the more narrowly focused the reps are, the better off we are.”

Companies with SDR-specific teams convert leads at a much higher rate than organizations that don’t have them, according to Gartner.

The research company cites an example where two SaaS companies sold competitive solutions to the same type of buyer. The company with an SDR team converted leads at a rate of 40% but the one without an SDR team converted at a rate of less than 5%. 

AE-SDR Pairings: Why Do it This Way?

SDR positions shouldn’t exist as silos. Rather, SDRs should be exposed to the entire sales cycle and to multiple vertical markets in order to successfully make the transition to AE.  

ZoomInfo’s  SDR and AE pairing program went through trial and error to reach the perfect balance of training and performance. 

“Initially we didn’t do it this way. We had some mistakes early on, and we hired reps and told them they were going to be a hybrid,” Bryerton says. “We wanted them to self-source their own opportunities, prospect, and get good-fit meetings. Then, they needed to work the sales cycle and close them. So they were doing both the SDR and AE jobs.” 

When reps do both jobs, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for specialization — which is what ZoomInfo’s sales team strategy is all about. The hybrid model proved that people earned more revenue when focused on the tasks they do best.

The Evolution of the AE/SDR Relationship

Our SDRs initially start out doing inbound prospecting, mainly because it’s simpler, less time-consuming, and they deal with less rejection at the very beginning of their careers. Once they develop a skill set in inbound, they are moved to outbound prospecting. 

“We break up SDRs into inbound versus outbound because outbound is slower, more strategic, and it’s more research and time consuming,” Breyerton says. “Inbound, I need them to be responding to the leads in 90 seconds, so they can’t really be focused on doing research.” 

The Reward of a One-to-One Relationship

Think of the one-to-one pairing as the ultimate reward for mastering your craft. 

“The top 10 to 20% of our AEs are rewarded with a one-to-one SDR relationship,” Bryerton says. “And the SDR, same thing: As they’re progressing in their careers, and they’re maybe getting closer to becoming an AE, they get paired with our best AE.”

This is where the SDR-AE relationship becomes all about mentorship, and the two parties begin to understand that they are dependent on each other for their own success. 

For example, SDRs get compensated for closed deals with leads they sourced. This incentivizes them to not just prospect but to really consider what distinguishes a good lead from a bad one. In other words, who is more likely to close? The AE is dependent on the SDR to source quality leads and therefore wants to ensure the SDR is equipped to do so. 

Good Vs. Bad AE-SDR Pairings

Once an SDR and AE hit the top of their leader boards and get a one-to-one pairing, they then have to master the art of working together. 

“I’ll put most of it on the AE’s shoulders with the one-on-one pairing,” Bryerton says.

The great pairs are the ones where the AEs know they have a responsibility to grow their SDRs, he says. He describes the end goal as: “How do I get my SDR promoted and make them a successful account executive?” 

The best pairs are successful because they are in regular communication, Bryerton says. Ultimately SDRs learn to prioritize the quality of leads over quantity.

“The ones that don’t work out don’t have weekly sit downs and pipeline reviews together. They don’t see which accounts each other is going after,” he says. 

SDRs should drive these weekly meetings, accepting constructive criticism and constantly learning what their AEs are looking for in demos and prospect meetings.

Creating an Internal Talent Pipeline  

The goal of this process is to create a talented pool of SDRs who can be promoted to AEs. Internal promotions are crucial to maintaining cohesion and encouraging high performance, and they also help to solidify and ingrain your selling strategy. Think about it this way: Nobody knows your sales strategy and the value of your products as well as the people who are already immersed in your specific sales culture. 

“Our SDRs perform so much better as AEs — and so much quicker — than when we hire an external AE because they’ve had a year’s worth of handling objections and going against competitors and convincing people there’s value in taking a meeting with us,” says Bryerton. “The learning curve is so much less.”