Grow Sales Faster and Smarter
Build a Stronger Sales Program: Best Practices, Systems, and Processes
The process of systemically growing sales can frustrate and mystify startup founders and business owners. That’s especially true for companies that have spent their precious time and money creating a product they believe in and want to see used all over the world. The solution: planned growth via a process known as sales enablement.
Hiring the first sales director at a startup is a huge commitment; make the wrong choice, and you can hamstring your company’s growth while increasing cash burn. Scaleups often try to hire their way out of a revenue slump by scaling the sales team without addressing gaps in sales systems and processes first.
We’ve all heard the familiar refrain, “Sales is a numbers game.” The old, “spray and pray” concept of sales makes an uninformed introduction of your business to potential buyers and treats your best prospects in the same way as your worst prospects. There is another familiar refrain that says, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
To improve your sales process, do your homework in advance so you can connect with your best prospects, provide a solution they want and need, and guide them through the sales lifecycle. You’ll increase your sales revenues, build valuable customer relationships, and generate lasting value in your business. You can be far more successful in sales if you understand and implement the secrets of a successful sales program for your business.
Is it easy? Not necessarily. Does it take discipline? Absolutely. Can it make your revenues grow to build your business faster and more efficiently than ever before? Quite possibly, yes!
The best way to grow sales is to build a reliable and repeatable system that consistently delivers high-quality leads and prospects to a company. This must be coupled with an efficient and effective sales management process to keep contacts engaged and moving through the sales process to completion with a purchase.
And all of this needs to be repeatable, reliable, and scalable. While sales isn’t just a numbers game, volume does matter. If you’re only bringing in a small drip of potential customers on any given day, week, or month the results are going to be underwhelming. This means setting goals for a defined number of outreaches, touch points, and conversations is a must-have for building a successful sales machine. With the following systems and best practices, you can scale up the right way, maximizing your reach and results.
When you do this right, your revenue forecasting becomes more predictable and accurate, and you can set and achieve goals with confidence. But putting a sales program in place is easier said than done, especially for companies that are just getting on their feet and don’t have an engaged, loyal audience to rely on. What follows are the basic pieces of systematic, scalable sales process broken down into actionable steps. It’s your starting guide to getting that first customer and then quickly adding many more.
Be Well-Prepared Before You Engage Buyers
There’s no doubt that sales is a numbers game, and that if you’re only bringing in a small drip of potential customers on any given day, week or month the results are going to be underwhelming.
So we’ll allow that setting goals for a defined number of outreaches, touchpoints and conversations is a must-have for building a successful sales machine.
Today’s buyers have more access to information than ever before. Because of this, savvy buyers do not react well to being “sold.” However, they still need to buy goods and services that solve their business issues. They want to work with an expert who understands their issues and how to solve them. They want transparency and trust, as well as solution fit.
They are buying what they need to solve their business issues and not necessarily what you are selling. They are selective about who they engage with, based on the value they believe they will get from their investment of time and attention. If you can’t bring value to the conversation, there likely won’t be a conversation.
Your role is to first determine a fit. Next, demonstrate how your solution meets their needs in a way that creates enough value for them to trade their financial resources in exchange for your solution. Then, facilitate that exchange in a way that benefits everyone involved. Their role is to get the best deal they can for the best solution to their issue. They are looking for advice and consultation, with data points and information to make a more informed decision. They don’t want to be sold to, but instead, they want to be in control of their buying process with the right partners who provide value for their business. And, the truth is that they are in control!
Don’t waste their time and yours by trying to sell without first doing your homework. Unless your sales are commodity or transactional, dialing for dollars doesn’t work anymore. Even if you are selling a commodity or transactional product, it will likely be difficult to find anyone who will listen to you. In that case, you may find your sales can be better served through automation, so you don’t burn out by spending all day just trying to get the attention of your market. The value you bring in the sales role is in the understanding and ability to solve a specific problem for a specific buyer. This means you should be spending as much of your time as possible actually having conversations with the right people.
There’s no doubt that sales is a numbers game, and that if you’re only bringing in a small drip of potential customers on any given day, week or month the results are going to be underwhelming. So we’ll allow that setting goals for a defined number of outreaches, touch points and conversations is a must-have for building a successful sales machine.
Who are your best target prospects?
To find the right prospects, start by asking the right questions. Knowing the answers will help you focus on prospects who can become buyers.
What does your buyer persona look like?
What problem do they have?
Who fits your buyer profile?
What issues are blocking their results?
Where can you contact the prospect?
Why would they want to hear from you?
Until you can answer these questions, or have a reasonable assumption of the answers, don’t start the conversation. You need to bring a level of understanding and professionalism for their industry and business to demonstrate that you have done your homework and already invested in the relationship. Once you have the answers, you can be better informed and better prepared to have a conversation about “if” and “how” you might be able to help a company solve their business issues.
This is one of the secrets to successful sales: Do your homework to understand what a buyer wants!
Deeply understand a narrowly defined target market.
Focus on high-value prospects who can benefit the most from your solution.
Engage in each business opportunity as a mutually beneficial relationship.
Gather more information and feedback about the opportunity and the buyers.
Establish better credibility through targeted knowledge, understanding and domain expertise.
Create relationships rather than transactions.
Use a simple approach to doing your prospecting homework. To initially screen and find the right prospects, personify, probe and pinpoint potential contacts using specific personas, profiles, problems that your solution addresses as an initial screen for finding the right prospects. By better understanding the business issues and desired outcomes that buyers face, you can be a better partner in helping those buyers solve their business issues.
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By putting in the work upfront, you understand more about a buyer’s business and needs, how you might be a better fit, and how the sales lifecycle may look, so that you can focus on building a relationship rather than just focus on getting a meeting or demo. The traditional attitude to sales as simply a numbers game based on meetings is no longer valid. In fact, this approach can alienate your best potential customers. Instead, create a customer relationship based on fit and credibility, and you will provide a better customer experience and create a more valuable customer.
Start developing in-depth buyer personas to inform your sales outreach. Use this buyer persona questionnaire to document what you know about your typical target prospects.
Find the fit with alignment and validation
To determine the fit and move the relationship forward, understand how well your solution is aligned with a buyer’s needs, and then validate that they are ready and able to buy.
You want to make sure you spend your time talking to the right person who can make a decision, or at least influence one and connect you to the right person. You also want to make sure that you really can help them. By avoiding “sales talk” and understanding their issues, their language and the magnitude of solving their issues, you can become a trusted advisor helping them solve their problems. That’s much better than being a “salesperson” just trying to close deals.
To find fit, the two primary questions you need to resolve are:
- Are you talking to the right people?
- Is their problem aligned with what we can do to help them?
To determine if you are talking with the right people, you need to understand roles in the buying cycle.
A Gatekeeper is an associate who works closely with the decision-maker.
An Influencer is someone who does not have budget authority to make the purchase, yet is very involved in the final decision to buy or not to buy.
A Decision Maker is often a more senior-level person who has the authority and accountability for the purchase.
A Blocker is an influencer who stops the deal cold.
A Champion is your primary sponsor inside the company.
There is an interwoven relationship between Gatekeepers, Influencers, Decision Makers and Blockers that you need to understand within each company. That relationship is unique to the players involved. Use your Champion to understand the intricacies and relationships of a specific company to help you to know if you are talking to the right people. Identify and learn about each person in the buying process to be more effective and efficient in reaching a buying decision.
Ask introductory questions.
“How are you executing the decision process in your company?”
“What is your primary contribution to the evaluation and decision process?”
Your influence in the buying process is usually connected to an inside Champion. Your Champion can have any role in the buying process, but they offer credibility connections, company intelligence, and motivation for helping you make the deal happen. If you are not yet talking to the right people, use your Champion for introductions inside the organization so that you are talking to the right people. Knowing how to identify your Champion inside the company and what role they play in the buying process is essential to getting accurate alignment and fit.
Before the conversation moves too far along the buying process, you need to make sure that the problem they are trying to solve is aligned with the solution you provide. Alignment is a fit in the utility of your solution to solve the buyer’s problem. To find out if your solution is aligned, lead the conversation about them, their company, and their issues using their terminology with an understanding of their industry.
Guide the buyer so that they can “self-assess” that you are a solution for them. When they make the decision for themselves based on the information they already know combined with the information you provide, they are in control of the buying process. Pushing your solution on them leaves a bad impression for your brand and makes the buyer feel like they are being sold. Higher quality conversations at every step enable better outcomes in the buying process.
Follow a Sales Process for More Effective and Consistent Results
Having an operating system is essential to optimize sales efforts for your business.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of technology designed to help implement and optimize your sales process.
Before you get caught up in purchasing software that will make your business grow, however, you need to understand, document, and implement your approach to selling. A structured sales process is instrumental in creating a consistent, scalable and repeatable methodology that you can use to teach your team to sell and to improve sales performance.
While there is no single “right way” to sell, every sales process should be developed to align with the buying process. Ask questions. Listen and learn. Take a genuine interest in the person on the other end of your conversation. Create conversation points based on listening and understanding, rather than on a sales script. Develop sales processes for each persona and each solution, as the needs and motivations will be unique to each combination of buyer and solution. Each sales process is a distinctive and dynamic work in progress.
STEP 1: Research
The anatomy of a sales process can be unique, but follow a simple and repeatable path for success:
Research before you engage with your contact by gathering as much knowledge about the industry, the market, the company and the individual as you can. Make sure you know who you are talking with as an individual and where they fit into the buying process. You may need to make some presumptions to start, then use your conversation to ask questions and learn more. Make sure you are educated and informed enough to have a valuable conversation.
- Who are you talking to?
What do you already know about your contact?
What is the purpose of the conversation
Why should they participate?
What is the call to action (next step) we want them to follow?
STEP 2: Introduce
Introduce yourself and your business with authenticity and transparency to establish trust and credibility from the beginning.
Anything less than honesty in your opening salvo will cast a shadow on the relationship moving forward. It’s better to be honest and let the cards fall where they may than to be viewed as deceitful or lacking integrity as you try to build a relationship.
Make the conversation about them – not about you. Be the expert at what you do—and respect that they are the expert at what they do. The following is not a script, but a framework for having effective sales discovery conversations.
State why you are calling with a presumptive statement. This shows that you have a good understanding of what they are going through and that you “get them.”
Find out about their role and their needs based on a goal or problem point.
Ask what they are doing to improve their situation? Be curious.
Demonstrate industry expertise and understanding with your questions.
Make the conversation about them to build interest in continuing the conversation.
STEP 3: Qualify
Qualify your contact through alignment and validation of solution fit, based on what you’ve heard in the conversation.
During this conversation, you will also ask questions that help you learn more about the issues they are facing and how they frame those. Use reflective listening to confirm what you are hearing and obtain more detail.
Make sure the contact is a part of the buying process.
Understand how their business issues are aligned with the utility of your solution.
Determine how the contact can help the process move to a “Yes, No, or Later and why” decision point.
Gather information about current solutions and where they see room for improvement.
Understand their timeline and budget to ensure alignment with what you can deliver.
STEP 4: Learn
Learn about your contact, about their organization and their operations.
Open-ended questions provide far more information than one-word answers or simple “yes-no” replies. Throughout the process, listen for verbal and tonal cues that help reveal how your contact is reacting to the conversation. With video calling, you can also tap into facial expressions and body language.
Ask the “Who, What, How, and When” to identify goals, issues, opportunities, and risks.
Ask the “Why” to understand true motivations that will drive decisions. What makes solving this particular problem a priority right now?
STEP 5: Present
Share the value proposition, presenting it to decision-makers and key stakeholders, showcasing your solution and how it solves their business issues.
Connect with your customers as a partner for their business who understands their needs, challenges, and desired outcomes and who has the ability to deliver unique value for their business. Don’t make yourself the savior in the story. Instead, make your customer the hero of the story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Make your solution the tool they use to resolve the issues uncovered in the discovery process of the sales conversation.
Clearly state the value they gain from your solution that other solutions won’t provide (your unique value proposition and key differentiators).
Beginning: They are facing a challenge or opportunity.
Middle: They find the right solution or make the most of the opportunity (with help from a trusted guide).
End: They and their business are positively transformed as a result.
Present a compelling story with simplified information so it can be easily absorbed and shared.
- Use a presentation style that fits your objectives.
STEP 6: Propose
Propose an offer that directly addresses the needs, motivations, and challenges that you have uncovered up to this point in the sales process.
Open-ended questions provide far more information than one-word answers or simple “yes-no” replies. Throughout the process, listen for verbal and tonal cues that help reveal how your contact is reacting to the conversation. With video calling, you can also tap into facial expressions and body language.
Focus on their issues with a path to help them reach their desired outcome.
Highlight the features and benefits of your solution that they have indicated the most interest in.
Explain the value you bring as a partner to their business.
Offer terms, conditions, and a contract that works for their business operations as well as yours, focusing on a clear win-win.
Lead the conversation toward a “Yes, No, Later and Why” resolution.
STEP 7: Resolve
What if they hesitate? Resolve any issues or objections with honesty, authenticity, and transparency.
No single solution is right for everyone. But listening to the concerns and motivations of your buyer makes it easier to find a fit that creates value from your solution. When issues are raised, the buyer is engaged and letting you know they want more information and guidance. Keep the buyer engaged by resolving concerns.
Answer any questions about your solution.
Address any concerns about your solution.
Offer a scenario that will lead them to use your solution to solve their issue.
Create the potential for a positive outcome.
STEP 8: Agree
Agree to the next steps before finishing the conversation. Schedule your next meeting and let your buyer know what you will do between now and then to move the conversation forward.
Also, get agreement from your buyer for their participation and any commitments you need from them to be ready for the next meeting. If they are not willing to agree, you need to find out what concerns they have about moving the relationship forward. When you uncover concerns, return to the resolve stage of the sales process and work through it to completion.
Manage expectations about “when and what” next steps will look like for both you and the buyer.
Get a firm commitment to follow up.
Keep the Buyer Moving Along the Customer Journey
The deal stage occurs after the qualification and continues to cycle from learn to resolve to agree until the deal is done. After the deal is reached, the buyer journey continues with delivery, support, and service. This may not be a sales responsibility, but the handoff between sales and support is critical to serving the customer. Great service creates great customer retention and new revenue opportunities.
A sales process helps you follow a structured path toward turning a contact into a customer. It is a buyer-centric framework that allows for consistency, scalability, and repeatability. It provides checkpoints at each step to ensure that you are getting the information you need while providing the information the buyer needs to move the relationship forward. It also identifies points where alignment and agreement may be missing so you can resolve any issues in the buying process and get the deal back on track. Finally, it enables you to measure progress and success so you can better understand and optimize your sales process, moving forward.
Are you missing steps in the Sales process?
Create Efficiency with Technology Tools for Your Business
Create Efficiency with Technology Tools for Your Business
Selling is a human-to-human interaction. Your ultimate goal is to reach and convert a “market of one” to build a customer relationship.
The right technology can support your relationship and make you more effective than you can be on your own. It’s not a replacement for your skills and abilities, but rather an augmentation to make your skills and abilities better. You need to choose and use effective tools to create a better one-to-one conversation and build a better customer relationship.
A technology stack can help you become more efficient in executing your sales process. But be judicious in determining what you need and what you don’t. There is a fine line between building for scale and overbuilding with too many tools or tools that are too complex for the stage of your business. Make sure your tech stack is scalable, easy to use and aligned with your sales process.
Awareness, Promotion, and Interest Generation
Customer Relationship Management
Customer Capture, Lead Management, and Insights
Domain hosting and Content Management
Workflow and Communication
Your tech stack should include, from the bottom up:
- Business Operations tools
- Personal Communication tools
Web Infrastructure tools
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform
Marketing Automation platform
Seamless integration between your applications is essential to optimize your technology stack. An integrated growth platform like HubSpot lets your entire company work together, from marketing to sales, to customer service, while integrating with communication platforms, web infrastructure, and other business operation tools. HubSpot provides a unified view of your customers and is a flexible and scalable solution that serves as a single source of data and information to power your CRM and marketing automation.
Pick the Right Tools for Business Operations
Workflow and communication tools refer to the productivity and functionality tools used for administrative and business operations. (Sales and marketing tools are addressed in their own parts of the technology stack.) It is important to have consistency in back-office tools to create better system interoperability, user training, and system maintenance. These tools help you run your business more effectively and efficiently, and may include:
Email service provider (Gmail, Outlook, and others)
Office suite (G Suite, Office365, and others)
Team collaboration (Slack, Hangouts, and others)
Video conferencing (Zoom, Skype, and others)
Phone system (Line2 and others)
Growth platform (HubSpot)
Project management (Trello and others)
Criteria should include ease of use, integration with other tools, scalability, and cost. Start small and scale your workflow and communication tools as your business grows.
Implement a Dynamic CRM
An effective customer relationship management (CRM) system is essential to building and operating your sales operations with speed, optimization, and insights. The right sales CRM should be scalable, extensible and flexible to meet your needs. The CRM is the foundational layer in the technology tools you need for integrated sales and marketing acceleration. It should integrate seamlessly with your marketing automation, customer success platform, and business management platform to support the entire customer lifecycle from end to end. The way you customize your CRM system will provide consistency, reflect your sales process and give easy access to the insights you need to grow your business.
Add Marketing Automation
Marketing automation tools enhance your ability to develop a personalized customer relationship by planning, coordinating, managing and measuring your touchpoints across the customer journey. Marketing automation tools should be fully integrated into your CRM so that you can capture, coordinate, use and share customer data for better insights. This unified approach to customer data ensures consistency, enhances connections and engages each customer to meet them where they are at along the customer journey.
Did you know? HubSpot offers an integrated CRM and Marketing Automation Platform that works well for startups and scaleups. Contact us for a free audit of your HubSpot implementation.
As a final note on technology tools, know that “app sprawl” is real. Be careful not to overbuy or overbuild your technology. Tools should have a mission-critical purpose that produces value for your business. Otherwise, you probably don’t need them yet (or maybe ever). Tool consistency is important so that everyone operates from the same platform to create cohesiveness, save time and money and avoid silos and outliers. Online tools are a great solution for small and medium-sized businesses.
They provide better security and accessibility than an SMB can reasonably develop on their own
They are more scalable both up and down for rightsizing to business needs
They are usually more cost effective than procuring the software, hardware and support required for “on premises” tools
Remember, the right operating system is essential to optimize sales and marketing for your business.
Measure Progress with Sales KPIs that Matter
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are the measures that demonstrate progress toward business objectives.
Using data-driven analysis takes bias out of critical evaluation toward reaching intended results and enables better informed decision making.
However, quantitative data alone is not the only set of measures that should drive decision making and determine progress. Soft skills can be very important, especially in the sales process. People tend to buy on emotion that is supported by data. Therefore, taking qualitative consideration into an overall analysis can be an important part of performance measurement. Consider both qualitative and quantitative indicators when measuring performance for your sales process.
What should you measure?
When developing sales KPIs, make sure that what you are measuring is relevant to the business objectives you are working to achieve. Measures of your sales process may include:
How many people do you engage with?
How many touchpoints are required to reach a conversation?
How many conversations does it take to reach a “Yes, No, or Later and Why”?
How long is the sales cycle from first contact to decision (time to revenue)?
What drives the decision?
Why is a contact engaged?
Why is a contact not engaged?
Some of these measures that ask “how many” or “how long” are easier to quantify, while other measures that ask “what” or “why” are more qualitative and result in open-ended answers or a series of quantified answers to reach a qualified finding. While not being able to assign a numeric value or a count defies the definition of a quantified measure, a qualitative measure provides valuable insight into analyzing the sales process and determining progress with useful information gathered.
Start by gathering information about your sales activities to use as an input source for developing your KPIs. Collecting information will better document progress along the customer journey and allow you to use data-driven analysis to make decisions on the best paths forward to reach your business objectives.
Define your target market prospects
How many can you find each month
Name, title, phone, email, LinkedIn
Needs to match your target personas
Track your outbound attempts
Map “attempts” to “connects” to “outcomes”
Attempts are measurable activities like calls, voicemails, emails, and texts
Connects are two-way conversations
Yes, No, Later, Why
Measures tracked over time create trends that provide insights you can use to continue along a strategic path or to pivot in other directions that better optimize your effort, energy, time and resources. Trying to start with too much information and too many KPIs can be overwhelming, so start small and grow accordingly. Your KPIs should measure the critical factors toward reaching your business goals, as more than just serving as an all-inclusive data warehouse.
Implement Sales Enablement for More Sales
In a world where buyers are in control, the selling process has become more complex and challenging than ever before.
The goal is to streamline and optimize the buyer journey throughout the sales process to maximize each sales opportunity.
Sales enablement can often be grouped into:
Sales orchestration: sales process optimization, coaching and training, and client onboarding.
Sales communication: content, collateral and other client-facing and non-facing assets
Sales collaboration: people, tools, and technology that support the sales process.
To implement sales enablement, determine what you have and what you need to better support the people involved in your sales process with the goal of moving a buyer along the buyer journey.
Audit existing sales documents for usefulness and relevance to the sales process.
Align existing documents to stages of the sales process and the buyer journey.
Identify content gaps in the alignment, including customer-facing and non-facing documents.
Create and optimize content to complete the sales process alignment.
Store and share files as searchable, with usage documentation for easy access.
Employ “push” and “pull” file distribution to get the right information to the right person at the right time.
Provide coaching and training on the systems, processes, and assets available.
Track the buyer journey with integrated workflow automation for CRM and marketing tools.
Review each completed buyer journey to continually optimize the sales process.
Effective sales enablement should significantly reduce the amount of time a salesperson spends on building or finding content to help a buyer advance toward a sale. It should equip a salesperson with the information and tools to be more efficient and more effective at moving a buyer toward a sale. It should increase the sales conversion rate and enable a better correlation between sales actions and revenues. The results are greater scalability, better relationships, and more sales.
Understand the Symbiotic Nature of Inbound and Outbound Sales
Inbound is still about sales, in the end. But along the way there’s a premium placed on creating value…
…that makes a visitor’s life easier while building knowledge that will make a memorable positive impact on their professional life.
Nature has a funny way of working itself into the business environment. Natural ebbs and flows are apparent in many aspects of business, and especially obvious in the relationship between inbound and outbound business to business sales.
While outbound sales is often compared to hunting by engaging in an active pursuit of an identified target, inbound sales is sometimes compared to fishing by using content to attract someone into the sales process. The truth is that there is a symbiotic nature between push and pull strategies that works well in most B2B businesses, based on your current situation, your strengths, your market, and your results.
Outbound offers distinct advantages over inbound.
Target your market based on personas to access leads that match your best buyers.
Control your customer engagement, including how many, how quickly and how you reach out.
Create personal, two-way engagement with real-time feedback and learning.
Validate your solution and your message for a better market fit.
Inbound offers distinct advantages over outbound
Attract warm leads who find interest in your content, your solution and your company.
Extend customer engagement with “always open” availability and unfettered scalability.
Enable a buyer-centric sales process that electively fills the top of the conversion funnel.
- Your Content Goes Here
Cast a wider net at a lower cost, with a data-driven optimization and measurable ROI.
Startups vs. Scaleups: Balancing Outbound and Inbound
Startups should focus more heavily on outbound sales for many reasons. When you are just starting out, there are fewer buyers, if any, knocking down your door to buy your solution. In many cases, you haven’t even validated your initial assumptions about market needs, target markets, and pricing, among other factors. Creating content without validation can be costly and time-consuming, especially if your assumptions are not accurate. Startups can use outbound sales as a way to get market validation and inform the best path forward so your business can scale, pivot or even fail with less cost, burden, and risk. And, if you do close sales at this stage, that is the icing on the cake.
By the time a company reaches the scaleup stage, it should already have solutions validated in the market with data and insights from evolving sales processes, existing customers, and expanding revenues.
With more information, you can create more valuable and more targeted content for your target audiences. Better content used as the foundation of your inbound sales leads to attracting better leads with better engagement.
You should also have more time and budget available to develop a continual stream of high-value content to feed the inbound machine that attracts and engages interested leads into the customer journey.
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An inverse relationship between outbound and inbound should intersect along a path of maturity for most B2B businesses.
Use outbound conversations to validate your business and your solutions, and accelerate the lower part of the conversion funnel. Use inbound “give to get” expertise to attract, engage and enable customers to join the funnel at the stage they choose. Outbound may have a shorter time to disposition (Yes, No, Later, and Why), while inbound may have a long tail. Sacrificing either approach completely is not likely the best strategy for your business. Instead, focusing on a stage-aligned and budget-aligned approach to the complementary nature of inbound and outbound can be the best strategy to accelerate your business growth.
Build Your Sales Team with the Right People at the Right Time
The sales function is core to every successful business. And the foundation of every successful sales organization is knowing who to hire, when to hire, and how to hire the right talent to build your sales team.
It can make or break your business. Hiring the wrong person can cost your business in compensation, resources, training, and time. It can also cost you in lost reputation, lost revenues, and lost opportunities.
Building the team the right way can create new relationship opportunities, improve your company’s reputation, accelerate your revenue growth, and “put you on the map” as a legitimate business. It all sounds so basic, but there are strategic and tactical decisions around building your sales team.
Even if you don’t have any salespeople on your team, understand that every founder and every company leader bears responsibility for sales. If you start or lead a company, you must be able to explain the benefits of your solution, the reasons why someone should choose your solution, and the value in your expertise to solve customer issues. Company leaders should be thought leaders who can build valuable relationships and share the vision of the company to others. (So should salespeople!)
Starting Up: Validating Product/Market Fit Comes Before Selling
Don’t hire salespeople into your organization until after you have a working solution that solves a specific problem for a targeted decision-maker. Get validation of the solution, the market, the demand, and the value proposition first.
Too many startups have burned through too much capital trying to convince too many people to buy a solution that has not been proven to solve a problem for a buyer. It doesn’t matter if your company is in the idea stage or has spent years perfecting a solution, with the hopes of “build it, and they will come.” If you don’t have market validation, you are too early to take on the expenses associated with hiring salespeople.
Think of market validation as a “pre-sales” activity. You can develop a process that employs the same exploration and qualification as sales. However, the information you gain from your efforts is the payout at this stage. Talk to prospects and key influencers in your target market to get their perspectives. While you are gathering valuable information about your solution, they are getting an introduction to your business. Sometimes, market validation can end up in a sale, but that is not the primary goal of early stage engagement.
Market validation is a great time to “test, measure, and learn”. If you don’t have the internal capacity to do this market validation, consider contracting an outside organization for a short period of time to help you through the process. They should specialize in working with startups and scaleups to align with your business stage. They should provide clearly defined deliverables over a specific period of time that gives you the insights you need to be confident and ready to scale, pivot, or fail faster, with less cost, burden, and risk. This type of engagement will prepare you to launch with greater certainty.
Once you have market validation and proof of concept with a critical mass of customers that use your solution (and are willing to share their stories with other customers), you should:
Map out customer buying behaviors and the detailed steps of the sales processes.
Put a structure in place to support your salespeople, with clear performance expectations.
Make sure your hiring plan is aligned with your business strategy and actual company growth.
Provide a documented training and coaching program for sales success.
Reaching this stage of business readiness just to hire a salesperson is a big investment of time, money, and resources. If that sounds painful, consider the alternative of not preparing appropriately, and simply hiring a salesperson too early. You’ll have recruiting costs, hiring costs, salary, taxes, benefits, equipment, office space, onboarding costs, and training costs, all before you are even sure what that salesperson needs to do to be successful. If that salesperson doesn’t meet expectations, you will need to let them go. Then, you will start all over again with another investment of time, money and resources to get someone new in the door.
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Scaling Up: Make the Right Choice for Key Sales Roles
Because the role of a salesperson is such a multi-faceted mix of hard skills and soft skills, companies often use a predictive assessment as an early step of the hiring process. This can help quantify attitudes, traits, behaviors, and values so you can determine how that person may fit into the role. In addition to previous experience and a proven track record of sales success, the right fit will need to become a part of the company culture, adapt to the style and approach that your buyers want to engage with, and be willing to work for a compensation package that makes sense for both the company and the salesperson. The addition of a new salesperson to the team can be a big influence not only in revenue growth, but in overall company success. Getting that fit right is essential to hiring the right salesperson.
The final step for making an effective sales hire is to create a review process with clear and measurable performance evaluation criteria. Include sales KPIs to ensure alignment with company goals. Factor in soft skills like communication and cooperation as a part of the value your new salesperson brings to the company. In a time when “Hire slow and fire fast” has become commonplace, make sure to have a formal improvement plan in place that uses measurable criteria for data-driven performance decisions.
Use a systematic approach to building a better sales organization.
What’s the secret to building a successful sales program for startups and scaleups?
Make sure you have alignment and validation for market fit of your solution.
Build and follow a defined sales process for repeatable and scalable results.
Utilize technology tools to extend the capability and personalization of your sales process.
Measure progress with the most important KPIs for transparency and clarity.
Implement sales enablement to improve your efficiency and effectiveness.
Use both outbound and inbound strategies to achieve better results.
Plan, validate and evaluate your business readiness before hiring your next salesperson.