Account Executive Professional Development: Modern Performance Expert Roundup
A prerequisite to advancement, professional development is one of the most important aspects of performance management. At its core professional development is the art of investing in employees, of encouraging them to grow in skill and ability—and like any investment, professional development can be either a benefit or a liability. It all depends on instrumentation.
Modern Performance asked managers at top firms like Affirm, Lending Club, Mode Analytics, Care Message, Logz.io, and Lever to weigh in on how they achieve positive professional development outcomes. Their advice ranges from chunking goals, to creating an explicit and progressive career path, to focusing on growth outside of the office. However, despite their differences, our experts agree on the great importance of helping staff to develop professionally towards a goal, so that when the time comes for a promotion, there are no surprises.
“Professional development is so important. It can run anywhere from honing their craft to helping them develop new skills. It’s motivating, it shows that you care deeply about their growth, and that you’re investing in them.”
It’s super important. Also, professional development is not the same as a promotion. Professional development is working with them so they’re constantly improving, constantly learning. Once they’re hitting their goals, then you can kind of go down that path of asking, ‘Are they ready for that next challenge?’
I encourage reps to focus on their own growth. Even though initially it can seem like a really selfish thing, you actually transform everyone you come into contact with. By working on your own growth, whether it’s improving your health, improving your relationships, improving your finances, improving your spirituality or really taking charge of your career path, you become a different person. You transform yourself, and in the process of transforming yourself, you actually influence your colleagues in a whole different way than you might be influencing them right now.
“We’re not just trying to create great sales people or great customer service people, we’re trying to create great people.”
Reps that are focusing on growth serve as a model for the people around them. They serve as an example of how others can create that kind of change in their lives. We’re trying to incorporate a lot of that type of modeling and learning into our team meetings.
Both at AdRoll and Mode I have noticed that this is a top priority for many of my team members. It comes with the territory if you’re hiring high performers. You expect them to be looking for opportunities to learn, grow, take on more responsibility, and eventually move up the ladder. Professional development is about giving them the tools and the skill set to do just that. If you have ways to engage team members it’s going to benefit the company as well. They’ll perform better and stick around longer because they know you’re invested in them. They’ll invest time and effort back into the company. I include professional goals in ongoing conversations. Quarterly check-ins are great mileposts around those goals.
“To put career development goals into action start at the highest level and begin breaking them down into smaller and smaller chunks, until you get good, bite-size chunks—which translate into quarterly goals.”
Sometimes I can help with development in a direct way, whether it’s moral support or financial support. Perhaps I can get them a budget to buy some books or go to a conference. Or we get lunch off campus once a quarter to talk about broader professional goals. Other times, to really support team members, you have to look outside of your own company, go into your network, and set them up in mentoring relationships.
Big or small, every company and every team struggles with this. For sales teams, it’s a little easier because the picture is clearer. Over time, you’ve either been able to successfully hit your number or you haven’t.
“Some managers develop very clear career paths and progressions with team members, mapping how you get from one rung to the next. I both like and dislike that.”
It’s effective in that everyone has an understanding of how they get to the next level. But, particularly in startups, it’s difficult to predict what the company itself will look like in three, six, or twelve months. So I’ve tried to find evidence of skills they’d be using at the next level in tasks they’re already performing.
I also look for opportunities to insert an SCR into AE-type tasks in a way that’s not disruptive. You can pair them with AEs by territory or industry type, so they gain a more complete understanding of a particular space. The salesperson could have them qualify deals or leads on their own, or at the very least have them participate in the call. Not just listen in, but perhaps even kick off the call to get a sense for what it’s like. Basically put them in the role before they’re actually in it, and get feedback from their peers.
Don’t just leave it to an annual review. In every one-on-one, I try to discuss professional development. How am I doing, as a manager, in helping you get to where you want professionally?
“I don’t always have positions available at the time when top performers feel ready to move up. So we talk about other things they can be doing to expand their professional horizons.”
Sometimes, I can have them do an informal team lead or help with coaching of new reps. I may ask them to take on a project that’s Salesforce- and metrics-oriented, helping track conversions and help team members improve conversion from demo to POC. I may ask them to run the weekly forecasting meetings or have them talk to another team within the company on different skill areas that they’re interested in. I’ve encouraged team members to send papers to conferences where, if the papers were selected, that they would be asked to present.
On every team, you have individual contributors and people who want to become managers.
“Individual contributors don’t make great managers and great managers don’t make great individual contributors, so determining their strengths and vision for their future is helpful in trying to align goals and prepare them for professional development.”
First you have to identify the path they want to take because the skill sets can be very different. One involves honing a skill set and the other means learning a completely new skill set. If I have a team member who’s doing really great work, shows consistency in their work, is up for a new challenge, and has the right attitude, I will always try to promote from within.
From a management point of view, promoting someone is the best part of my job. Hands down. Bar none. First off, you want the high performer to demonstrate consistency and predictability. Are they hitting quota over and over? Are they already performing to some level above the role they’re currently in?
“If a high-performing SDR is trying to figure out what the AE’s next steps are after he or she hands them a lead, then that’s great! Because that’s what they’re going to be doing soon.”
Someone is likely to be ready for promotion if they are already showing some of the characteristics found in the job that’s a level above them.
It should be pretty clear. They shouldn’t have to tell you and you shouldn’t have to ask. They’ve done the kind of things over time that qualitatively or quantitatively you’ve asked them to.
“If you’ve set up expectations from the beginning on milestones they need to hit and associated timelines, then promotion timing becomes very natural.”
Hopefully if you set up the system well enough and you have a tight-knit, manageably sized team, you’ve been able to witness tasks that they’ve taken on themselves, and done really effectively. You’ve had enough chances to listen to them on calls. You’ve had enough chances to see their impact on the team. You can even surprise them with a promotion that they might not have expected.
“Someone who’s ready for a promotion has demonstrated excellence over a period of time.”
They’ve got the respect of their peers. They’ve also probably expressed some interest in moving up, and it’s something that we’ve talked about. I don’t want them to be surprised or feel that I’m off track. Their attitude is positive and they’re a solid team player. Their peers go to them for guidance. When you’re seeing these signs, it’s worthwhile to promote.
We know at some point everyone is going to want to be promoted. Rather than waiting until they are restless in their role, we try to set proper expectations at the very beginning,
“We identify, as early as possible, specific metrics and criteria that the new rep will need to meet to move up in the organization. That way, every day that they come in, they know that they’re building toward a goal.”
If you wait ’til they feel like they’re ready to make the promotion, that’s usually too late. Whether it’s an SCR moving to AE, or an AE moving from a small business role to a mid-market role, we really try to outline numbers that they need to hit, leadership opportunities that they need to rise to when working with the rest of the team, and other metrics that show us they’ve mastered key skills.
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Learn more from our experts, and see full profiles, here:
Justin Roberts, VP of Sales at Lever:
Mike Haylon, VP of Sales at Care Message:
Annelies Husmann, Director of Sales at Mode Analytics:
Jeff Rothenberg, Sr. Sales Manager, Personal Loans at Lending Club:
Alexis Zhu, Director of Revenue at Affirm:
Bridget Gleason, VP of Sales at Logz.io: