4 Creative Ways to Navigate a Career That Starts in Sales


In the world of sales, an SDR is a foundational role that offers a kind of sanity check for aspiring salespeople to see if they have what it takes to make it in a high-stakes sales environment.

SDRs and BDRs are often young and ambitious, and their investment in these entry-level positions is formative to developing their sales style and shaping the career paths they will choose.

While many SDRs and BDRs look to standard closing roles as the next step in their career paths, a growing number of young sales professionals are looking beyond account management as they plan out their career.

But for those who don’t necessarily aspire to become account executives, their professional futures may seem murky and unclear. What else is out there? What can they do with the foundation of an SDR?

Less obvious career outcomes for sales professionals

Once we’ve agreed that not all SDRs and BDRs aspire to make a career in sales, let’s look past the average 15-month tenure of a starting SDR at some career opportunities that veer away from sales executive roles and the questions young sales professionals should be asking themselves ahead of their next move.

1. SDRs can make excellent customer success reps

How good are you at relationship building and flexing that listening muscle?

Sales development and customer success have in common a customer-facing approach. The skills developed as an SDR will therefore translate almost seamlessly over to CSM roles.

Customer success managers are the first ones to interact with the client once the deal is closed. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that former SDRs – those responsible for the initial qualifying of the lead and its early-stage progression to customer status – will lead this communication.

Depending on the structure of the sales org at your company, CSMs may have a chance to use the sales skills honed as an SDR across renewals, upsells, and other expansion opportunities.

SDRs get a front-row seat to the pain points of their leads as well as to the company and industry they are in. This bird’s eye view allows SDRs-turn-CSMs to utilize their understanding of client needs when tailoring a solution and an outreach program.

But before utilizing your early-days-in-sales experience to make this move, an SDR must first answer the question: how passionate am I about listening to clients? And equally importantly, am I a problem solver and a proactive individual in the workplace? A resounding “yes” to these questions will take you a long way towards succeeding in a CS role. It’s worthwhile, alongside self-assessment, to get your Head of SDRs to weigh in.

Keep in mind that many companies have their sales managers listen in on SDR and BDR calls and document what they’re doing right and where they’re going wrong. Asking your managers about your strong suits and what makes you good at what you do, will give you insights into your performance which you can then utilize in upcoming roles.

2. SDR experience can be useful for professional services roles

Can you strike that delicate balance between customer-facing empathy and business development strategy?

Within the go-to-market world, CS and PS can overlap. The distinction between the two roles is often made by the company itself and the industry in which it operates. In SaaS platforms where the business model is self-serve and the product is more plug-and-play, a short call with a customer success manager may be the only human touchpoint needed to onboard a customer.

Conversely, in cases where the solution is more technologically complex like implementing a CRM or service desk, or integrating the product with the company’s existing software, a level of expertise is needed that is found in an organization’s professional service teams.

No matter how simple or complex a product is, the customer is more likely to get the full value of the service when helped along by a professional services rep. This is where an SDR’s customer-facing experience comes in most handy.

Having interacted with customers even before they became qualified leads, an SDR has the advantage of having researched them; their company, industry, their pains, and the solution they expect to receive. This is invaluable information for professionals services teams who help clients make use of the product to their fullest advantage.

If you’re thinking about trying your hand at a PS role, consider first your technical background. This doesn’t mean you have to come to the table with an engineering degree, but it does mean you have to be somewhat tech-savvy and familiar with the product.

Professional services roles are closely linked to the product, its integrations, and features – and you’ll find it more challenging to resolve issues with a technological barrier. Alongside a level of tech-savvy, ask yourself if you possess a problem-solving mindset. PS teams are faced with issues that require out-of-the-box solutions on a regular basis, and being solution-oriented is a must in this line of work.

Consider spending a day shadowing one of your PS managers to get an inkling for the amount of interaction they have with the product. However, if your company has a technologically complex solution which you may find hard to navigate, this does not mean you have to set aside your dreams of joining a professional services team. You may be willing to opt out of your current company in favor of a company that offers a simpler product and that prides itself on simplicity and a plug-and-play attitude to technology.

3. SDR roles are a great training ground for budding marketers

Can you pull what you know about customer needs into how you frame customer messaging?

There is a clear cross-over in the skillset the SDR possesses that is needed to succeed in marketing. From all that customer-facing experience, an SDR is armed with the right dose of empathy and a customer-centric approach – two values at the heart of marketing’s asset creation.

Marketers must know how to create content that speaks to clients and prospective clients in a way that engages and resonates with them. A marketing team’s KPIs are focused on bringing in MQLs and SQLs, developing stickiness, and building a relationship therein. These targets can only be met through a deep understanding of the customer base, its pains, and solution expectations.

Finally, most SDRs are already familiar with much of the collateral developed by marketing such as case studies, white papers, and webinars, and have used the decks the marketing team has prepared in their sales pitches. This familiarity with marketing collateral puts SDRs in a great position to contribute to the creation of marketing collateral.

Making the shift from SDR to a marketing role is a big one as it pulls you out of the sales and GTM spheres into something slightly different. Before you make this change, ask yourself if you are passionate about content creation and advertising? Consider whether or not you notice advertising and whether you can point out if it’s good or bad.

While these are subjective questions, they point to a natural knack for assessing what people find engaging.

Don’t be shy to step into your marketing team’s office and ask to hang out there for a day or two. See if the ideas that get thrown around there resonate with you. If they get your creative juices going, or rather if you feel lost and confused. This will be a good testing ground for your natural inclination toward marketing roles.

4. SDRs can be a shoo-in for RevOps roles

How capable are you of adopting a big-picture view that encompasses the full customer journey?

RevOps managers are tasked with integrating the efforts of the sales, marketing, and service departments to allow better end-to-end view of a company’s revenue-producing cycles. In many ways, the role of an SDR and that of a RevOps manager complete one another. While RevOps look at the end result of having the clients, SDRs come with the experience of creating the potential for the qualified lead to turn into a client.

As the very first researchers of a customer’s background, organizational structure, and industry positioning, SDRs sit at the pinnacle of all three. Their first order of business: really getting to know their clients. It goes without saying, then, that an SDR’s training in researching a client will be useful when manning a RevOps role.

RevOps roles are manned by workers from diverse and eclectic backgrounds. Their roles are similar in many ways to that of PMs. Like Project Managers, RevOps managers need to own processes from end-to-end, aligning the needs of several departments, and being on top of many details.

Ask yourself: are you a PM at heart? Do you like tying up loose ends, dealing with details, aligning processes, workflows, and people? Conversely, do you find that you are more focused on a single job and better at hands-on doing than overseeing? If you are of the former variety, RevOps could be an interesting direction for you.

A final word

When promoted out of an SDR or BDR role, many will opt to continue in traditional sales positions. This is certainly a logical leap and may prove a fruitful and exciting career move. However, it is by no means the only career move and young sales professionals should be open-minded to explore other career opportunities throughout the organization.

Sales professionals and the companies that hire them should be serious about taking advantage of SDR talent in other areas of go-to-market and beyond.

Ultimately, good SDRs and quality BDRs are not so easy to come by. When they do come along they are poised, ambitious, intent on success, and ready to learn. These are prime candidates to play many important roles in an organization.

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