Hey SaaS sales leaders: 6 steps to drive adoption among Account Executives.

Author bio: Kaitlyn Buckheit has managed SDRs at tech companies of all sizes, from early-stage startup to mid-market to enterprise. Currently, she is responsible for Sales Effectiveness & Execution at Lever, and also runs her own career coaching business.

In order to arm your Account Executives with the tools to improve their performance, you can’t just tell them what to do. I learned that the hard way.

On one end I had my Sales Executives, Directors, and Managers telling me to create resources and sales plays for my AEs, but on the other end I could see that only a handful of people were using what I created.

When a new sales process was rolled out, my AEs would say “this is great, thanks,” but on the backend I could see that no one had even accessed it.

So what did I do to drive adoption?

First and foremost, I set a goal to meet with every single AE over the course of a few months and personally ask them about what wasn’t working, what would make them go faster/slower, and how they want to receive information, training, and updates.

I discovered that the stuff they actually needed wasn’t even on the radar of the sales leaders or the enablement team. Instead of the sales plays and resources I’d been instructed to create, my AEs needed more training on how to better use Outreach, our sales engagement tool. They needed to be able to show product snippets instead of having to constantly jump on demos. Instead of the email/Slack updates we were sending out, they preferred in-person discussions.

This was progress. I had my foot in the door. So how did I bust it wide open?  

6 steps to get your Account Executives to listen to you.

1. Sit in on team meetings with your AEs.

Team meetings were a great place to hear what was on the minds of the AEs and to ask questions like these:

  • What do you all need? What will you use? What will make you go faster?
  • How will you use this tool/strategy? (ask multiple people because you’ll get different responses)
  • Who can I partner with on this team that will give me input & feedback?

2. Strategically build relationships with the most vocal AEs. 

Take note of the AEs who appear the least engaged with your work. They are likely the ones who are most willing to share strong opinions. While it might be your gut instinct to avoid working with these AEs, these are actually the people who will tell you how it is. So get real and start utilizing them.

3. Find the influencers.

If you were an AE, who would you listen to… the trainer, or the person who has the same job as you but is more successful? Before you start on a new project, figure out who these power users are and gut check your ideas with them individually. Remember: you’ll get different feedback when their managers are there vs when they aren’t.

4. Give your AEs the credit they deserve.

Instead of building sales resources on your own, work with your AEs and acknowledge their contributions. For example, “Here’s a sales play I worked on with Emma and Mark. Why don’t you guys talk about how you leveraged this?”

The other AEs will pay more attention when it’s coming from their peers vs when it’s coming from a trainer.

5. Run a regular “show and tell.”

Similar to the step 4 above, make a habit of getting your AEs to talk about the results of using the strategies you came up with together. Find people with recent successes (closed deals, cracking into new accounts, etc.) and get them to talk about how they scored that win and what they learned.

This is a great way to repeatedly remind AEs about the different tools at their disposal, so that they’re top of mind when they actually need them. Now might not be the right time for a certain tactic… but two months down the track might be a different story.

6. Send out weekly updates that highlight what the AEs are doing.

In your updates, feature strategies & ideas that come from your team. Shed some light on what different AEs are up to.

This creates a culture of sharing where your AEs will want to be featured in your updates. If you’ve built personal relationships with them, they’ll start to DM you with ideas without you having to ask. So instead of creating resources that don't get used, now you have an ecosystem of useful stuff coming in that people on the front lines are finding useful.

In your weekly updates, mention all the things that were flagged by the team and what you’ve done with them, so that the rest of the team can leverage them.

Build trust to break down the walls.

Sales is an isolated role. AEs tend to operate independently so they don’t always think to share their insights with each other. It can also be seen as a competitive role in some organizations, so it’s not always super natural for them to give away their secrets. But if you lead by example and make it okay, your AEs will follow.

Saying “I need all of you to fill out this survey” is not going to work. You need to build genuine relationships with your AEs by using their ideas. Only then will they reciprocate by using yours. If one AE starts sharing, the others will start to share, and everyone moves forward faster.

So, if your job as a sales trainer feels like it’s mostly centered around building sales resources, I wonder if you could shift it to being centered around building relationships instead. The best way to drive adoption is to make sure your AEs feel listened to and understood.

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