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how to ace your first closing role in Sales

Making the leap: Insider advice on how to ace your first closing role in Sales

Main illustration: Olenka Malarecka

A typical career path in Sales, particularly in SaaS companies usually begins in a Sales Development Representative (SDR) role, learning the fundamentals of the profession, before progressing into a closing role such as Account Executive and hopefully moving up the ladder.

I recently wrote about the virtue of patience for SDRs and the unique challenges they face as they transition into closing roles, and the piece struck a chord.

The top takeaways from that post were:

  • SDRs should ask themselves if their approach generates more and better qualified leads that ultimately drive more revenue and shorten deal cycles.
  • Hitting your quota isn’t the end goal; becoming the consistent top-performing SDR on your team is.
  • Most SDRs aren’t ready to be successful in closing roles with less than fifteen months of experience. SDRs are better served by focusing on skill development and maximizing their business impact than their “promotion timeline.”
  • There’s more to achieving success in a closing role than qualifying opportunities; identifying these skills and shadowing closing reps sets qualified SDRs apart from other candidates.

This mainly drew from my experience transitioning from an SDR to a closing role, which was more than seven years ago now – and I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps it could do with a more… contemporary outlook.

Advice from the real experts

To add a more recent perspective, I asked some of Intercom’s most promising sales professionals for the top lessons they learned from having successfully made the transition from SDR into closing roles.

For context, the SDR function at Intercom is roughly five years old and today is a critical and vibrant part of our broader sales team. This global team is comprised of more than 20 SDRs located in Dublin, Chicago, San Francisco, and Sydney.

“I’ve been the beneficiary of hiring some of these former SDRs into their first closing roles”

We’ve celebrated career path wins for dozens of SDRs who’ve transitioned into closing roles and advanced their careers at Intercom in this time. I’ve been the beneficiary of hiring some of these former SDRs into their first closing roles and helping them grow into their new responsibilities – I am always so thankful to work with such qualified and driven people.

So here are some words of wisdom from former SDRs who’ve successfully transitioned into closing roles on our Account Executive or Relationship Manager teams, in their own words:

Paddy O'Neill

Paddy O’Neill, SMB Relationship Manager (Dublin):

“In your first few weeks in a closing role, you’ll have an ‘oh wow, this is real’ moment that only having a revenue target over your head brings. When it happens, don’t panic and be sure to reach out to your peers. We’ve all been through it, have faith that you’ll come out the other side!”

Marianne Quiray, Emerging and Small Business (ESB) Relationship Manager (San Francisco):

“Know your business. As an SDR, it’s important for you to know your competitors, products, opportunity stages, and how many will close. Building this understanding early will help you in a closing role since it’s important to know both your business and your customer’s business. Who are your customer’s competitors? How do they make money? What problems are they trying to solve? This knowledge will help you become a powerful value-based seller.”

Selam Degefu, ESB Relationship Manager (San Francisco):

“Start by understanding customer buying stages. When you speak with a prospect make sure you understand what stage of the buying cycle they’re in. Are they just researching, are they actively evaluating solutions, or are they ready to buy? Establishing this understanding early in deals helps me establish mutual close plans and a working timeline, and helps me close deals close faster.”

Katie Mueller, SMB Account Executive (San Francisco):

“Build relationships with your customers! The SDR role is all about finding interest and moving on to the next opportunity. In order to close, it’s important to understand your customer’s needs and earn their trust, which takes patience and time.”

Kate O’Hanlon, SMB Account Executive, Intercom

Kate O’Hanlon, SMB Account Executive (Dublin):

“Feedback is a gift. When moving into a closing role take every opportunity you can to ask for feedback – from your team, your manager and even your prospects. Although it’s not always easy to digest, you’ll identify improvement areas and, when taken onboard, you’ll grow as a sales professional.”

Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes, SMB Account Executive (Dublin):

“Look to build trust and rapport with your prospects/customers early on. If you genuinely take an interest in their business, then working with them to solve a particular business problem becomes a lot of fun!”

Tommy Dunton, MME Account Executive (Dublin):

“Staying curious will help you get to the root of a customer’s problem. Remember your prospect likely doesn’t know as much about your product as you, so stay confident knowing that there will likely be mistakes made during an evaluation and that’s okay.”

Megan Hunting, Senior Sales Enablement Specialist, former ESB Account Executive (San Francisco):

“Staying extremely organized is a critical skill that’s often overlooked in Sales. Maintaining a consistent, tight process for managing your pipeline and being ruthless about time prioritization will help you quickly respond to leads and focus on needle-moving activities.”

For any SDRs reading this, we hope there are a few nuggets to apply to your own journey. If you are interested in learning more about the Intercom SDR program and starting a career in tech sales, please visit our careers page to learn more.

Careers at Intercom – 2019 updated images