SDR to AE Handoff

How to Implement a Smooth SDR to AE Handoff

The handoff of a client between SDR and AE is like a baton in a relay race — but all too often, this handoff goes poorly. While several issues come into play, they tend to center around 3 things: blame, process, and compensation

Before we dive into how to solve these problems, create a smooth solution to your current process, and list best practices, let’s break those 3 things down a bit more. 

Core issues

Underlying the 3 major problems that cause rough handoffs is one larger problem: finger-pointing. This is especially poignant in a pod system where SDRs are paired with specific AEs — but it can happen in any team, regardless of the system:

  • SDRs complain that AEs aren’t handling the demos as well as other AEs.
  • AEs complain that SDRs are sending them unqualified demos, which knocks them off track to achieve their quotas. 

But what’s really going on here? It essentially stems in 3 places: the pipeline structure, how AEs qualify prospects, and the “dead zone.” 

The pipeline

In many outbound setups, a data provider is used to get accounts for the SDR. The SDR spends hours each week sorting through these accounts, researching contacts, and creating sequences. Spending all this time on these steps means SDRs have little time to execute these sequences. 

Then, they’re trying to secure meetings that need to be performed/held. And this is the point where SDRs actually hand the account off to the AE. Once that happens, the AE has to qualify the meeting as a valid one, then move it to their pipeline. If that meeting doesn’t move to the pipeline, the SDR doesn’t get paid. 

AE qualifying

The “real” handoff, on paper, doesn’t happen until the meeting between the AE and the prospect starts — but the responsibility doesn’t change until the AE decides the prospect is “qualified.” 

So the SDR has done all the work up to this point, but the AE gets to decide whether to qualify the meeting. This is a serious power imbalance. 

The “dead zone”

That leads us to the “dead zone.” The SDR can’t do anything to move the opportunity forward and the AE has no incentive to do so. Both teams now blame each other. 

Best practices for creating a smooth SDR AE handoff

So if that’s how things commonly go wrong, how do you fix it? 

1. Before all else — Create and complete your SLA

Before you do anything else to make the SDR -> AE transition smoother, create a Service Level Agreement. The SLA clearly defines the responsibilities of the SDR and AE within the sales cycle. The first point of it is to hold both parties accountable for providing and accepting the information that pushes a sale to the next step

The SLA should have specific terms set for handoff, including the exact info needed and how much of it is needed for the lead to be considered qualified. The criteria for a qualified lead should be specific and objective, like 

  • They use Salesforce
  • ≥ 500 employees
  • They’re a B2B SaaS company
  • The meeting will be with a Director or higher

By making the criteria black and white, you remove the subjective guesswork and power imbalance. Either the meeting is qualified, or it isn’t. This alone should solve many problems. The rest of the items on this list are just details to keep things going smoothly. 

2. SDR — Send that calendar invite fast

SDRs, you want to stay top-of-mind. Many things can happen between your call with a lead and them receiving the calendar invite. It’s great to set up your demos, but if the prospect doesn’t show up — then it’s all for naught. 

When you’re getting a demo over the phone, there’s a great and simple way to ensure that they get the calendar invite: send it while you’re still on the phone. After sending it, just confirm that they got it before hanging up. That way, it doesn’t get lost in the inbox flood. Plus, when the AE listens to the call recording, they’ll know the lead got the invite and will show up. 

3. SDR — Introduce the AE + provide notes

Here’s how the handoff typically works: the SDR sets the calendar appointment between the prospect and the AE, and in many cases that’s it — and the SDR moves on. What usually happens is that the prospect and AE make the call; or, the prospect misses the call and is a lost opportunity. 

Here’s what to do instead, regardless of whether the handoff occurs by email or at the first meeting: put together an introductory email. In that email, thank the prospect for their time and ask them to review the notes you’ll include ensuring accuracy. Then, turn to 4 W’s: who, what, when, and why? For some examples: 

  • Who’s going to be on the call? Who’s going to be the main point of the contact: the SDR or the AE? 
  • What/Why: Is this lead a rep vetting options for a decision-maker, or a decision-maker themselves? What are their pain points? What are the next steps, potential solutions to those pain points, resources, or other interesting notes? 
  • When is the date and time for the meeting? 

Again, thank them for their time. For everyone involved, including direct numbers in case the conference line has a problem. 

4. AE — Study the opportunity notes

Now it’s the AE’s turn. Thanks to your SDR, every new opportunity will come with notes that qualify them according to the guidelines of your SLA. Take a good look at those, and dig into any additional notes your SLA may have left you and any other resources related to the prospect. Some examples include: 

  • Call recordings — get to actually hear the person speak about pain points and goals;
  • Any previously logged contact (like you may find with sales engagement platforms) — Can find out how often communication occurred, if they’re fast with replies, if they have a lot of questions, etc;
  • Any other opportunity notes

By listening to call recordings, digging through previous contacts, and any other notes your SDR made, you can gain crucial details that were mentioned in earlier correspondence that can help you lay real building blocks to make the sale. 

5. SDR + AE — Have the SDR attend the meeting

In many cases, the lead has spoken to the SDR multiple times. They’ve forged a basic, early-stage relationship. Switching suddenly to the AE — even with an email introduction — can be jarring. The solution: start the call with the SDR present. 

The SDR doesn’t have to stay for the whole call; and in many cases, that may be impractical or impossible. Rather, simply have them handle the front-end of the call: confirming the time, introducing everyone present (the AE), the purpose of the call, its agenda, and possible outcomes. 

Once this is all done and agreed upon, the SDR can politely confirm that the AE will be taking over. If possible, let the SDR sit in and listen — but again, that’s not always possible. Taking care of the frontend of the call should only occupy 5-10 minutes of the SDR’s time, then they can return to their work having smoothed the handoff to the AE. 

Conclusion

The handoff of an SQL from SDR to AE can be rough and cause a lot of friction between the reps occupying the two roles. But by understanding how and why this friction occurs, you can better implement a smoother process. 

After that, the foundation for smoothing the handoff is in creating a clear, quantifiable Service Level Agreement. When the SDR knows what specific information constitutes an SQL, and the AE has the information in hand that says the prospect checks every required box, the handoff can be completed, the issues resolved, and the meeting made. 

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James Meincke

Director of Marketing @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.