Career Growth: From BDR to AE

career growth - bdr to ae

The traditional path for a SaaS sales

The career path in SaaS sales is generally BDR to AE to Manager and/or Director of Sales to CRO (if your desire is to get that high in a sales org).

Like any other career path, there are steps and milestones for each along the way. Today, we’re going to focus on the first two steps in the lineage as this is the most desired route for many.

When I first started out in SaaS, I started as a BDR (Business Development Representative). 

You can look at this role as the “first line of defense” for a sales team as BDRs are setting meetings for the Account Executives (aka the closers). 

There are a couple of types of BDR roles as well, Inbound vs. Outbound. Depending on the type of role you are in, you can expect a couple of different daily activities.

Daily activities for successful BDRs

For Inbound BDRs, your main objective is to qualify leads who are coming to your company with expressed interest to learn more.

What separates you from the pack:

  • Get in touch with new leads as quickly as possible in order to further qualify them to set a meeting or disqualify them. 
  • An important phrase to remember here if you are an Inbound BDR is “Speed To Lead”. Most likely when folks come to your company as an inbound lead, they are also looking around at your competitors. You want to make sure you stand out to them over your competitors and the best way to do that upon first interaction is to call them ASAP. 

Based on my experience, most leads will be impressed with your speediness. I often would call leads a minute after they submitted a demo request and most of the time the prospect would say “Wow, that was really quick”. Another great skill to have if looking to move from a BDR to AE.

If you can catch the prospect while they are thinking about your company specifically, there is a high likelihood of setting a quality first meeting.

For Outbound BDRs, you will be still qualifying leads for the closers. 

The main difference here is you will be reaching out to various leads that you and your marketing team feel like are good fits. 

  • These leads have not come to your company asking for a demo or pricing. 
  • Your job is to identify leads that you want to reach out to in order to peak their interest as to why they should take a meeting with you. 

Looking to learn how to be a top 1% sales rep? See how Greg Reffner, CEO & Founder of Abstrakt, hit quota 32 out of his 34 quarters in sales.

Learn more

Outbound BDR strategies

There are many great outbound strategies out there. I wanted to share the ones that have helped me become a top-producing outbound BDR. Keep in mind that this is a great opportunity to help with the transition of BDR to AE.

1. Tailor your messaging toward the specific role of the person you’re reaching out to 

Show them you can relate to their pain points. You should narrow down outbound prospects by using your customers as peers of theirs in their specific industry. 

We call this social proof. It’s compelling because it shows the prospect you have successfully solved similar problems that relate to them.

2. Daily activity

While I may sound like your manager, this is the truth. Numbers matter in a BDR role regardless of what you’re reading out there on LinkedIn.

There are many things you can’t control. Such as who answers your call or who responds to your email. 

The things you can control are how much effort you put into each day. 

Setting realistic goals for how many dials you make or how many new prospects you identify each day are things you can control.

3. Work with marketing

Sales and marketing is always a highly debated topic. But rest assured that those BDRs who work well with their marketing team will be strides ahead of those who refuse. 

In the SaaS world, it’s more and more common to see SDR and BDR teams report to marketing leaders instead of sales leaders. This creates more synergy within the messaging for teams who focus on both outbound and inbound strategies.

Fueling the sales engine

Whether an inbound or outbound BDR, this is one of the core functions of a sales organization. 

This is what fuels new revenue and grows the pipeline consistently. This is also a great way to enter into an organization and learn the business from the ground up. 

SaaS organizations depend on BDRs to source opportunities, but also to grow in their career so they can one day become “a closer” if that is the desired next step.

Hint hint… the transition from BDR to AE.

The main driver for most sales folks to take a BDR position is to become an AE due to the earning and continued growth potential. 

A function of an AE is to win new business for the organization and drive net new revenue from closed won deals. They are the ones that are either qualifying or disqualifying leads that come in from the BDR team.

From BDR to AE

When I took the leap from a BDR position into an AE position, there were a couple of things that I wished I’d known that I know now. 

I always have and always will have a soft spot for BDRs as I know how much of a grind the position is. You are constantly getting told no and a handful of other colorful phrases, so I will always have high respect for this.

When I first became an AE, I did not have a pipeline simply because I was a new AE. There wasn’t a list of deals that I was going to work on right off the bat. 

I had to wait for new inbound and outbound leads to come through the BDRs in order to grow my working pipeline. 

The first thing I wish I had known was even though you’re an AE, you still need to prospect.

I learned this a few months into the role, but you need to always be finding new prospects whether it’s closed lost deals or even like-minded individuals to your current customer base. 

Just because you are closing deals doesn’t mean the cold calling should stop. This is an easy way to continue growing your pipeline so you are not reliant solely on inbound leads. One thing I loved doing was working alongside my BDRs.

I would ask what accounts they were going after and I would go find a few contacts to call alongside them. 

It is a win-win, you are going to get more deals to work and your BDRs will get more wins towards their number.

One other thing I learned pretty quickly was to be picky about what opportunities to spend time on. 

Back to my previous point, when you first start out as an AE you don’t have a pipeline. New leads become shiny objects for the first few months because they are deals to work. 

When I was about 6 months into the AE role, I had a 1:1 with my manager. 

We were looking through my pipeline and I remember him saying “Man, you have a lot of chunky deals in here. Which ones are closing soon.” The answer to that was “not many” for various reasons. 

I qualified and accepted most leads that came my way when I started because I wanted to have a pipeline to work. 

I was time on 30-40 deals sending “checking in” emails to prospects that I knew very well would have no chance of closing. 

My manager and I sat down for 3 hours and went through every deal in the pipeline in order to get rid of all of the fluff. 

We came up with a process I called my “hit list”.

This was a spreadsheet with my top 5 deals and all of the info about the deal which an outsider could read and know it was going to close. Becoming hyper-focused on a select number of REAL deals is a much better use of time than trying to send 40 deals a weekly “checking in” email.


Control the controllables. 

Daily output is the easiest thing to control and will bring you success. 

Prospecting never stops no matter what position you are in. 

Become hyper-focused on a strategic number of targets.

If you do all of those things above, your transition from BDR to AE will be smooth sailing. If you have more questions about moving up the sales ladder, let’s connect and chat on LinkedIn. Building relationships will be one of those skills that you’ll never regret having.

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