In the early days of any SaaS business, the founder is the first (and only) salesperson. But as your startup grows, you’ll start to build out a dedicated sales team, and the founder will step away from front-line sales activities.
According to Steli Efti, founder-driven sales is stage 1 of a 4-stage sales journey that B2B SaaS startups go through as they grow. The founder starts as your only salesperson, but by stage 4 (as you scale-up) you’ll have built out a solid sales team and a repeatable, scaleable sales process.
In this article we’re going to look at how to build up a repeatable sales process – without you, the founder, needing to be involved every step of the way.
The first sales hire
There are two approaches to take when hiring your first dedicated sales person:
- Hire an experienced sales leader, to quickly build out a team around them.
- Hire a junior sales representative, to focus on upping your sales activities.
Both are valid options, but one will be a better fit for your business than the other. If you’re a sales-led organisation, it may be better to bring on a sales leader who will build out a team, so you can scale-up your sales activities faster:
“A more experienced salesperson will prepare the business to scale, with a sales process that is repeatable and produces consistently predictable results.” – Craig Burel
But if you’re a product-led business, or you’re still finding traction, you won’t need to build-out your sales team as quickly, so a junior hire may be a better fit:
“A founder can continue to execute demos and close deals, but allow the junior sales hire to handle outreach and lead generation” – Craig Burel
The right first sales hire will depend on so many different factors:
- The stage your business is at
- Your budget
- Whether you’re focusing on inbound or outbound sales first
- Your company’s growth lever
- Whether you’re selling to SMB or enterprise
- Your ideal customer profile
So when you’re looking to bring on your first sales hire, it’s important that you properly consider all of these factors, as well as your growth goals and targets for your company, to help you choose someone with the right level of experience for your current and future needs.
Training your first sales hires
In most startups, the founder is the first sales person. You will have tried a lot of different approaches to selling your product in the early days, and will have learned a lot about what does (and doesn’t) resonate with prospects.
When you hire your first sales person, your top priority should be training them, and teaching them everything you’ve learned about selling your product. This will help them ramp-up quickly, and will also save them from repeating the same mistakes you made in your early attempts at selling your product.
“Your CEO or one of your founders should be your best salesperson. Once you have hired your head of sales or first sales person it is important to teach them as much as possible of what the CEO and founders know” – David Skok, ForEntrepreneurs
Records and documentation
How easy it is to ramp-up your new sales hires will depend on how much information you’re able to give them.
Start recording sales calls
Do you record sales calls? These will be invaluable for new sales hires to listen to, to start to hear the common questions, objections and challenges you receive from prospects. It’s also useful for them to hear how you, as the founder, respond to these questions. You will be most familiar with the product and the product roadmap, so will know most about its benefits, features and upcoming development.
And if you do record sales calls, don’t just keep them for your sales team. They can also be incredibly useful for your marketing team and customer support representatives, to help them understand the questions you’re being asked, the way they talk about your product, and any concerns that may come up in future support queries.
If you’ve been the only person doing sales for your business up until now, there’s a lot of information that lives in your head. If you’re bringing on a new sales hire, it’s essential that you dedicate time to getting the sales process out of your head and down on paper.
You could start small: write a bullet-point list of the most common objections you’ve heard. Then expand on this list with notes and suggestions to combat those objections.
Once you’ve started documenting the most important things you’ve learned selling your product so far, it’s time to start shaping your sales process.
Developing a sales process
Many startups pride themselves on being flexible, and the very mention of processes elicits a groan from founders and employees alike. But the secret to a successful sales team – even if it’s just one or two people – is your sales process.
Your sales process maps out how you successfully move new prospects down the sales funnel, from merely being aware of your company, to becoming a paying customer.
Having a documented sales process is the secret to scaling up a successful sales team in your startup. Without a process, every new hire is having to figure it out on their own. With a process in place, they can already see what works, and how sales runs within your company.
So what does an effective SaaS sales process look like?
- Identify your ideal customer profile (ICP). Who will use your product? Who is the decision maker for that department? What size company are you selling to? What industry? Are you selling to companies in a specific region, or globally? What is the annual revenue of companies you sell to?
- Lead generation. Once you know who your ICP is, your sales rep(s) can start outbound prospecting to generate new leads at the top-of-funnel. They should also work with your marketing person or team to identify how marketing can support with lead generation.
- Lead scoring, and handover from marketing to sales. When is the right time to hand over a lead from marketing to sales? If you only have one or two sales people, getting this handover right is essential: you don’t have a ton of resource to invest in speaking with poor-fit leads, or leads who aren’t ready for a conversation with a sales rep. Understand how engaged a lead needs to be before you bring in your sales people.
- Initial sales call. This is the time to really discover what this prospect needs, and to understand if they’re a good-fit for your product in reality – not just on paper. In bigger sales teams this will typically be handled by a sales development rep.
- Later-stage sales conversations. Once you’re sure there’s a good fit, now you can start selling. Later-stage conversations may involve more people from the customer’s side: budget holders, key stakeholders, etc. In bigger sales teams this will typically be handled by an account executive – or you may want to get involved as the founder.
- After the sale. The deal is done: now what? Does your sales person onboard their customer, or do they hand over to your customer success team? When does that handover occur?
Of course, this is just an example sales process. Startups with a larger marketing team may invest more in demand generation and lead generation early on, with sales teams getting involved later in the process.
Your company’s process will also vary depending on the length of your typical sales cycle. It could take just a few days to convert a new lead into a sale, or it could take months – or even years.
Learn more: Aircall COO Jonathan Anguelov will be delivering his keynote at SaaStock’s Blueprint event on December 15: Transition from founder-led sales. Building a repeatable sales process.
In every startup, the founder will naturally be the first sales person. But there comes a time where you outgrow that, and you need to take your business – and your sales process – to the next level.
Transitioning from founder-led sales and building out a sales team for the first time is a major milestone for your startup. Your sales team will be the driving force for your company’s growth – the fuel in your rocket ship.
Making that first hire is just the first step. From there, you need to focus on building a repeatable and scalable sales process, so you can bring on, train, and ramp-up new sales hires as your startup outgrows the competition, and you successfully scale-up from $1M to $10M ARR.