How to Own the Full Sales Cycle

As an AE, your job is fundamentally different from that of an SDR. When you were an SDR, your primary responsibility was to handle the top of the sales pipeline. Now, you’re in charge of taking a deal from the first conversation to a contract. You are expected to be a leader throughout the process by coordinating with internal and external stakeholders

AEs must take ownership of the full sales cycle. This means you must understand the entire process—and take on a range of new responsibilities.

1) Managing a full pipeline

As an SDR, lead generation was your primary activity. But most AEs are responsible for managing sales activity at all points in the process, from prospecting to nurturing to closing the deal (and beyond). This will require you to hone your time management skills. You will need to develop a sense for what needs to happen at each point in the sales cycle and how best to accomplish that.

If you’re not already fluent with your CRM and other sales enablement tools, now is a good time to improve your skills. You want to be able to automate tasks so that you can accomplish more and devote the bulk of your time towards strategizing.

Successful pipeline management also requires knowing how to prioritize opportunities. Establish a routine of regularly reviewing your pipeline and removing, or at least de-prioritizing, cold prospects and poor leads. In the future, these prospects may be worth another look, but you have to prioritize the deals with the highest chance of closing.

The goal of pipeline management is ultimately to shorten the sales cycle and close more quality deals. If this isn’t happening as well as you’d like based on our company’s sales motion, you need to examine the process and diagnose any failure points.

2) The SDR-AE handoff

When you were an SDR, you passed off leads to AEs. Now you need to learn how to manage the handoff from the other end of it—and help deals smoothly progress from that point. To own the full sales cycle, you need to adopt a mentality of ownership after the handoff.

Some tips for nailing the handoff as an SDR:

  • Familiarize yourself with your explicit responsibilities versus the SDR’s. This is a good time to review your company’s sales playbook so you understand the differences between both roles and how to be effective in yours. Ultimately, you need to know what you’re responsible for delivering.
  • Learn how to read the SDR’s notes to uncover useful information about the prospect. In some cases, it’s helpful to review audio recordings of calls. This helps you to figure out how the prospect communicates and what their biggest pain points are.
  • Whenever possible, ask the SDR to be on your first call with the prospect. This helps to establish continuity.
  • If you notice persistent problems with the qualification process, raise the issue with the SDR in a way that’s professional and avoids personal accusations. In many circumstances, it’s useful to have a manager present during these difficult conversations.

3) Mid-funnel nurturing

Nurturing leads in the middle of the funnel is critical for AEs. Oftentimes, this means talking to multiple stakeholders and figuring out the best way to reach people with different roles. Some of the people you can expect to talk with include executives, managers, IT staff, end-users and more. You’ll need to build relationships with all of them and provide value through your conversations with them.

Content often plays a critical role in mid-funnel nurturing. But you’ll need to cater your content to the stakeholder. At this stage in the process, stakeholders have fundamentally different questions as compared to the beginning of the sale. They’re not asking, “do I need this product?” so much as “is this product the right choice and how can I build a business case for it?”

Providing useful content is only one part of the mid-funnel nurturing game. You will also need to become adept at crafting call-to-actions that move the sales process along. Handling objections often becomes important during this stage, and as you gain experience, you’ll learn about common roadblocks to a sale and tactics to deploy.

4) Collaborating with customer success and product development

For many deals, it’s helpful to bring in other teams—customer service, product development—at the end of the deal to help to close it. This makes the prospect feel like they’re getting VIP treatment and gives them a taste of what they might expect as customers. You should direct this process and work collaboratively with customer service.

Remember: You still have ownership over the deal. When you bring other teams on board, it’s your responsibility to provide them with the information they need and orchestrate the entire experience. Don’t waste your colleagues’ time, or your prospects’—establish clear goals for every collaboration. Always be thinking about what you want the prospect to gain from the touchpoint.

5) Account management and maintaining relationships

Once the deal closes, your job as an AE still isn’t done. You are responsible for ensuring that the customer is happy. More importantly, the customer should be making full use of the product. To ensure that your customers will renew and continue to use your product, you have to prioritize nurturing that relationship. That means setting aside time on your calendar to make contact with customers on a regular basis. When you do contact an existing customer, it’s not just to chitchat. You want to learn about how their business is developing, how they’re using the product, and what new needs they might have. Nurturing the relationship on a human level is still important, but ultimately it should tie back to the product.

You should always be on the lookout for opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. It’s generally easier to sell to an existing customer, so upselling and cross-selling can become a great source of additional business for you.

By being thoughtful about checking in with your customers, ensuring their satisfaction and getting to know them as people, the customer will have a more positive experience and be more likely to refer you to others.

AEs’ responsibilities are extensive. By developing a strong understanding of the entire sales cycle and taking ownership of it, you can succeed as an AE.