What's the Difference Between an SDR & an AE?

How to differentiate between these two sales roles.
sdr ae cover photo
Sales roles often need clarification or clarification regarding responsibilities and titles.

We've created this handy guide to ensure you're asking the right person to do the right thing.

Let's discover the difference between an SDR and an AE!

Read on!

What is an SDR (Sales Development Representative)?

An SDR or Sales Development Representative is a salesperson who is focused on lead generation and lead qualification. Involved in top-of-the-funnel opportunity-generating activities, SDRs will typically act as the first point of contact between an inbound or outbound lead and your company.

They will be the face, name, and voice that prospects will first respond to and associate with your business.

Most of an SDR's time is spent prospecting, cold emailing, cold calling, responding to inbound leads, or qualifying leads they've successfully moved down the pipeline to assure they're worth the AE's time.

What is an AE (Account Executive)?

An AE or Account Executive is a sales professional who is responsible for managing and expanding relationships with existing customers, as well as acquiring new customers for the SaaS company, from the SDR.

They typically get introduced to prospects during a discovery call after the SDR has successfully qualified them, or a product demo, and will typically take over negotiations from there. It's an AE who becomes responsible for ensuring a deal is closed successfully and pursues prospects to ensure this happens.

AE's also typically remain involved with relationship management after the deal has closed successfully, as they seek to expand the company's accounts with referrals or by upselling to the customers they've closed with.

SDR vs AE - Main Contrasts

Roles & Responsibilities

An SDR is focused on tasks such as cold emailing, cold calling, lead qualification, social selling, researching, and prospecting. Most of their day is spent trying out different strategies, and the majority of the time they are told no.

AEs focus on what comes after. Their day is spent managing clients, checking up on existing deals, and obtaining more and more information so that the deal can be closed. Contracts are constantly being sent back and forth between AEs and clients, as negotiations take place.

If an SDR needs to generate trust and empathy in prospects, AEs have to balance being just as trustworthy while remaining firm and loyal in regard to what their company should receive from the negotiations.

Prospecting & Lead Generation

SDRs are constantly prospecting for new customers and generating leads via a variety of strategies, most likely through an omnichannel sales approach to be as successful as possible. This means they are utilizing as many tools as possible to automate the more manual tasks and concentrating their efforts on messaging, approaches, and experimenting with strategies.

AEs may also prospect and generate leads, it's not solely the SDR's purview. But their time is typically taken up by other duties. Instead, AEs are able to prospect and generate leads through existing clients. They can ask for referrals or upsell product improvements or new products to existing clients. Or reach out to previous clients and see if they'd be interested in coming back.

Qualification & Discovery

SDRs can help qualify leads. Inbound leads with suspicious emails, marketing messages, or that never respond can all be disqualified before they even reach an AE. Additionally, SDRs can also make lead qualifying calls for leads that may be a fit. With the right framework and questions to ask, an SDR can quickly determine whether or not a prospect is a good fit, saving both the prospect and their company time and money.

They move them onto discovery if they determine that a lead is a good fit. An AE usually leads a discovery call and is a more in-depth qualifying call to understand the needs the prospect has and to see how best your business can serve them. It is possible for a lead to make it through to this part of the process and still not be a fit, but that is why a discovery call takes place before making any agreements.

An AE typically has some additional knowledge regarding what is currently possible and the best fit.

Sales Cycle & Deal Closure

As we mentioned previously, SDRs and AEs work on opposite ends of the sales cycle. SDRs generate opportunities and AEs close deals.

While the metrics for this vary depending on the industry, an SDR can generate a ridiculous number of opportunities, that only end up in a few closed deals. Especially in the world of B2B sales, where a small number of high-quality, high-ticket deals are the focus of AEs.

SDRS must produce that many opportunities so that AEs can get those top deals. SDRs work at the entrance of the funnel by focusing on quantity for a particular profile, and AEs then wade through what's left after qualifying to get the best quality deals from that at the bottom of the funnel.

As you can imagine, sales work best when AEs and SDRs are on the same page and work as a team.

Relationship Management & Account Expansion

SDRs are not typically involved in relationship management outside of making an excellent first impression on leads. It's that first impression that can convince a lead to continue the conversation, so it's instrumental at that stage for the relationship to be positive if an SDR is to move that lead to the next stage successfully.

Similarly, if they're doing any qualifying calls, they want to keep a positive attitude and inspire confidence in prospects. But that's as far as they go when it comes to relationship management.

AEs take over the brunt of this side of the equation. They keep prospects interested and the conversation flowing to be more likely to reach an agreement that will result in a deal closing. And the more they can inspire confidence in the company, the likelier it is for a prospect to recommend them to a colleague or to be convinced to expand the order or request, thereby expanding the account.

Both SDRs and AEs, however, use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools to accomplish their tasks. In this vein, they both impact relationship management. Examples of CRMs include HubSpot, Salesforce, Pipedrive, and more. When used correctly, they are a great boon to any team. When misused, they can be considered an unnecessary headache, and that's the last thing you want.

CRMs help you keep an eye on customer relationships and how they're doing, the next steps, and predict what's most likely to close at any given time.


Both SDRs and AEs play a pivotal role in a sales strategy. And you will see the most success when they are working together as a true team.

Pitting them against each other makes no sense, as they are working at two completely different ends of the spectrum when it comes to sales. You want them to work together and complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.

Pairing the right SDR with the right AE may seem like a daunting task at first, but it's truly not that difficult. Professional, accomplished salespeople will be able to work together to achieve success every time. By our very nature, salespeople are flexible and adaptable, and you will find the teams that succeed will have these qualities.

If you've got a stellar AE but are struggling to find an SDR that will fit your lead generation needs, reach out to us at SalesPipe for access to our roster of top talent in the market right now.

Dedicated, outsourced SDRs are sure to bring you success quickly as they bring with them their expertise and commitment to your business. Not to mention, they'll be easier on your wallet as well! What are you waiting for to get in touch with us?
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