What Founders Need To Know About Sales

So you spoke to a few dozen prospects and got a handful as customers. Sounds easy and you think anyone can do that, right?

Wrong!

Assuming you want to build a fast growing company, maybe even a venture backed one, codifying your sales process is key. You’ll need to hire a few AEs, which means teaching someone else, that doesn’t necessarily have your background, your understanding of the need and breath of product knowledge, how to sales. It’s about identifying the type of sales people you want to hire and, the right companies and problems you solve and the ones you don’t.

20 years ago sales was about pitching your product and features. These days, with so many solutions and priorities, it’s about consulting your customer, understanding their need, showing empathy, qualifying, creating a sense of urgency to act now and framing the need in a way that positions your solution as the best fit.

I like to think of scale in two phases:

  1. Build the sales playbook
  2. Scale your top of the funnel

The reason I prioritize sales over lead-gen has to do with the fact that generating leads without converting them is expensive but it really depends on the type of company and priorities.

Building the sales playbook

Your sales playbook should ideally be, well, a book (online doc, presentation etc.) that describes the following:

  • Target market (e.g company size, location, industry)
  • Their need and how it impacts their business
    • Why now – Arguments creating a sense of urgency
    • What is key to solving the need effectively – This is where you start framing the discussion
  • Buyer persona and influencers and what each care about – Sales often involves multiple people.
  • The sales process
    • I like to be very detailed, define key milestones in the process (discovery, POC kickoff, POC summary, onsite workshop etc.), describe the questions you want to ask in each meeting, the topics you want to address, the goals and ways to wrap up such meetings. I like to record those meetings so that new reps can listen in and learn.
  • How to handle objections and competition
    • Objections can range from “we’re good for now and don’t really need this” to “we’ll do that internally” – Arguments for addressing those are key
  • Pipeline management – Description of what it takes to move a deal from one stage to another. Ideally you want to enforce that through your CRM.
  • Any case studies, supporting documents or even just stories from existing customers. You prospect will need help selling this internally so you need to provide him with the tools to do so.

While you do that, think about the type of AEs you are looking to hire down the road. Should they have domain expertise, experience selling to a specific persona, should they be hunters or growers, what about technical experience etc.

Assuming you’re starting to see some consistency in your sales process you want to start hiring AEs and shift your attention to lead generation.

By the way, as you hire AEs, hiring them in pairs is helpful. They will learn from one another and work through challenges together.

Building the marketing playbook

Marketing is about finding scalable and efficient ways to get leads in the door. The end goal is to develop a formula: cost per lead x conversion rate across the process = # of customers.

The challenge: Cost per lead and conversion varies by channel.

The approach I like to take here is – try everything. My experience is what works for one company might not work for another for various reasons: brand, stage of the company, different sales process, price point, urgency, therefore the best way to narrow down the various acquisition channels in to experiment.

One piece of advice: stay focused. Find channels that are super focused on your domain and buyers (e.g Kafka user forum as opposed to big data forums).

Content is big these days so high quality content placed in the right channels should produce solids results. Discussion groups, Reddit, individual influencers and meetups are some of the less common channels that I found to work well.

Bringing it all together

Now it’s time to connect it all, figure out the composition of the team (Marketing, SDR and AEs) and who’s doing what. What the SDRs pitch for, what do they qualify for, what the AEs pitch and what do they qualify, what is the handover criteria etc.

 

Update:

I was asked about where channel partners fit into the playbook. Generally I recommend building the playbook for direct sales before doing channel sales. It’s challenging to develop a playbook and create a feedback loop on pricing, product, messaging etc. when you’re not leading the sales process. How would you enable a channel partner when you haven’t enabled a single AE internally. Channel partners require pricing and clear positioning. There are not likely to be the ones to figure out the sales process but rather replicate one. Finally it takes a few months of nurturing and ongoing support to agree on the terms, sign a contract and enable the partner. Usually you are looking at 9-12 months cycle from introduction to first deal. How many prospects can you engage and sell to during that time-frame?

By the way channel partner are a great way to scale down the road.

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About shanishoham

Shani is an entrepreneur, investor and business leader with technical background and deep understanding of dev tools. He is currently the President and COO of Testim.io. He built the business from inception to over 100 customers, increasing ARR x4 YoY, ACV x7 YoY, growing its lead base to over 50K/year, hiring over 20 team members and leading 2 round of financing. Prior background: scaling 5 B2B technology ventures and one VC fund to signifiant size. I’m an alumnus of the Stanford Graduate School of business - Sloan Master in Management program, a 10 months intensive program for 57 carefully selected experienced Executives and leaders from all around the world.

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