How to Get Six Promotions in Two Years: BDR Model for In-Role Progression

No one wants to work for me, at least not for long. And that’s exactly what I want. If they do, either I’m doing something wrong or they are. I’ll explain:

For more than 10 years, I have managed inside sales teams of all kinds. In that time, I’ve had the unique privilege of managing hundreds of aspiring sales people. Almost every one of them had ambitions beyond the role they were hired into. They wanted to grow in the organization and be in field sales, alliances, ops or enablement.

My wife reminded me that everything is not about me. As usual, she’s right. These were talented, driven professionals typically early in their career and they wanted to conquer the world one deal at a time. The problem was that as they produced and grew to be top performers they all wanted to know when they would be promoted. Sound familiar?

Two common issues persisted in these situations:

  1. At that moment, there were no roles open in the broader organization for which they were a fit.
  2. I had no progression path for them within my own organization.

Over time, if those things didn’t change, the rep would generally begin to lose motivation and oftentimes leave the organization for a role with another company that could meet their need.

We had spent significant time and resources to hire, train and manage this person. We got meaningful contributions from them as a top performer only to see them leave because we couldn’t figure out how to satisfy their need to advance.

When I joined Seal Software, I shared these experiences with my boss and proposed a progression path for the Business Development Reps that would get us out in front of this issue. The result is a six-tier progression path within the BDR role. When a BDR joins our organization, they are a baby Seal and not yet on one of our six Seal Teams. After they have set their first five meetings, complete new hire training and demonstrate proficiency in Salesforce.com, they get their first promotion to Seal Team 1. Each promotion has three primary means of reward:

  1. Monetary – For Seal Team 1 it is a $50 gift card. The rewards are built to graduate in size and meaning.
  2. Recognition – For Seal Team 1 this comes in the form of an email to our immediate team.
  3. Title change – They now become a BDR 1.

Because our North American BDR team is all in one location, we have six magnetic boards in our office representing each Seal Team. We have a picture of each person’s face along with their name that they move to the appropriate board as they progress. This is a significant moment when it happens and serves as a constant visual reminder of the stack ranking on the team.

As reps progress through the teams, the requirements get more significant, as do the rewards. Quota expectations increase, and they must contribute in more meaningful ways to the team and broader organization.

The progression is designed to take 18-24 months for the very best BDRs and is also designed to equip them for opportunities beyond this role. I tell our new hires that I don’t want them to want to be a BDR. I want them to aspire to great things.

This progression path is not only a meaningful early-career roadmap for the BDRs on the team, it’s a powerful recruiting tool. It is rare that I don’t get asked in an interview about the opportunity for advancement. When I can point to the boards on the wall and explain in detail what is required, candidates know that our system is more than lip service. It has also served as a very simple mechanism for identifying the people that should be considered when new roles open outside of our department.

Michael Scott once asked, “Is it better to be loved or feared?” and answered, “I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”

I’m not that narcissistic, but I do hope people love the thought of not working for me forever because they know exactly what they need to do to get where they want to go next.