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An Interview With Richard Harris: How to Ensure a Seamless Handoff Between SDRs and AEs

By: Teresa Weirich

April 2, 2018

Richard Harris, owner of The Harris Consulting Group, got his start in sales back in the mid 1980’s when he landed his first sales job at the GAP during high school. It was while selling clothes that he learned his first sales process, which GAP referred to as “GAPACT” in which sales associates would Greet, Approach, Share Product Knowledge, Add-On, Close, and Thank the customer.

Ever since, Richard has always held positions in sales. After college, he worked for an inside sales group selling classified newspaper ads and from there, he found himself working in a variety of industries such as computer software, hardware, and SaaS companies and performed in roles including Inside Sales Representative, Sales Manager, Sales Director, VP of Sales, and even spent time as a Director of Sales Operations. After years of moving through the ranks, Richard likes to say that he has a “liberal arts degree in sales experience”. To this day, he enjoys teaching more than closing, which is why consulting and management have been such a good fit for him.

5 years ago, Richard started The Harris Consulting Group and has since gained a portfolio of highly reputable B2B SaaS companies including Gainsight, Zoom, LevelEleven, PagerDuty, and PandaDoc. In addition to owning and operating his own consulting company, Richard is also Sales Hacker’s Director of Training and Consulting Services.

Richard’s Sales Qualification Methodology

As Richard has a first row seat to the ever-changing sales landscape, he has developed his own qualification methodology to replace BANT, the commonly used (but outdated) qualification criteria method. To accommodate the changes he’s identified, he developed “N.E.A.T.™”, his own proprietary method which stands for determining:

  • Need
  • Economic Impact to Need
  • Access to authority
  • Timeline

Richard teaches the sales professions at his clients’ companies how to earn the right to ask questions and also helps instruct them on what to say, how to say it, and most importantly, how his approach works psychologically in terms of buyer decision-making.

Ensure a Seamless Handoff Between SDRs and AEs

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Richard about the mechanics of sales and, in particular, the handoff between the Sales Development Rep (SDR) and the Account Executive (AE). While establishing the handoff may sound simple, Richard finds that too often, companies face 3 challenges:

  • They don’t define the process specifically step-by-step
  • Team members don’t adhere to the process (either the SDR or AE)
  • The company doesn’t track meeting show-up rates to determine issues that may be occuring with personas or gaps

Define What The Handoff Process Entails

In order to ensure a seamless handoff between the SDR and the AE, Richard shared that the process must start at a management level and work its way down to individual team members. He emphasized that sales leaders—both the SDR manager and the AE manager—need to define the process together and enforce it within their teams. Defining the process should seek to answer important questions such as:

  • What is the minimum criteria or information that the SDR needs to determine in order to pass along the opportunity?
  • What will the agenda items of the first call include?
  • Who should attend the first call (the SDR or just the AE and prospects)?
  • Should additional workflows be created in order to support the process (for example, a trigger to send the CRM record to the AE)?
  • What is the appropriate meeting length for the first call?

When the SDR has gathered enough information according to the process set by the management teams, the SDR should create a meeting invite which includes the AE and those that will attend from the prospect’s company. While it may seem like an insignificant detail, the SDR should clearly indicate in the invite who is calling who, or whether a conference line will be used.

While including an agenda is a best practice, Richard feels it’s not specifically necessary in most cases:

  • Often times people accept meeting invites without reading the agenda
  • The agenda isn’t viewed again until 10 minutes prior to the conversation

Once the calendar invitation has been sent, the SDR should then send an email to the prospect and thank them for their time and also introduce the AE who will be working with the prospect moving forward. In addition, the SDR should include 3 relevant pain points that were discussed on the introductory call, as well as the agenda for the upcoming meeting (sample provided below):

Basic agenda for every first call:

  • Introductions (Purpose: to identify who is on the call and to determine if any additional participants should be included in following meetings)
  • Mutual frame of reference (Purpose: to explore if the prospect and AE have a mutual interest in continuing discussions)
  • Opportunity to ask questions (Purpose: for the prospect to ask questions of the selling company)
  • Next steps (Purpose: to close the loop on action items and to determine how or if the conversation will move forward)

Finally, once the meeting invite and email have gone out, the AE should take the time to close the loop via email, resulting in improved show-up rates. The email can be as simple as “Jerry, I look forward to learning more about [company] on our call on [date / time]. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions.”

While it’s not necessary, it can be beneficial for the SDR to sit in on the first call between the prospect and the AE. Not only does this establish continuity for the prospect, but it also serves as an incredible training opportunity for the SDR: she gains insight into the early stages of the sales process, learns firsthand how the AE guides the conversation, and observes how to handle first call objections. Once again, whether or not the SDR joins the meeting, this should be determined by the management team—and adhered to diligently.

Richard’s Advice to Sales Leaders: Process, Process, Process

As Richard works with many top enterprise technology companies, he sees (and hears) it all. When it comes to establishing a successful SDR to AE handoff, he believes it all comes down to process, buy-in, execution, and coaching from management. His simple parting advice for sales leaders? “Define the process and advocate for yourself with logic and reason”.


  • Teresa Weirich's Headshot
    Teresa Weirich

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