Building a Successful Sales Machine with Steli Efti and Steven Broudy
As we wrapped up SaaStock17 and said goodbye to SaaS friends and mentors, it's time to make sense of all that was said and taught. We will be posting write-ups from many of the sessions in the months to come. First, we kick off with the lessons and advice Steli Efti and Steven Broudy gave during the SaaS.City Sales bootcamp.
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Steli Efti, CEO and co-founder of Close.io, gave it straight: there is no easy answer or life hack to building a successful sales machine. Most people avoid doing the hard and boring things, but there is no way around them. Those are the things that actually work.
We know the solution to our problems, we just don’t LIKE the solution to our problems. We try to find a more convenient answer.
The solution begins by understanding when is the time to explore and when is the time to execute sales. Think of sales as a product that needs to continuously evolve. No matter what your sales looks like today, it’s just one version of a living, working product — and you will always strive to get to the next better version of that.
SaaS companies often face problems because they try to scale something that’s not working yet. However, you should not be afraid to stay in the Sales Exploration phase.
You’ll know you are ready for the Execution phase when things are predictable. Can you accurately predict your sales for next month, next quarter? Can you teach other people, your organization, to get repeating and similar results? Then you’re ready to scale. Before that, you need to do your homework.
3 Steps to Sales Epiphanies
Before you are ready to execute you need to do the hard work on three key aspects.
1. Customer profile
When it comes to the customer you have to search for the answer to these two key questions:
- Who is our ideal customer?
- How do we qualify them?
The customer profile should be super specific. Start small, ridiculously small if you have to - a small circle of potential clients. It could be only four. Your only goal is to get those four companies. Then expand a little bit more to other companies, as closely related to that original circle as possible. Could be competitors for example. Keep adding layers until you’ve captured the whole market. But remember to keep revisiting all customers and who they are today. Because if you know your customer as they were two years ago, you don’t know them as of today. You should fear losing touch with your customers. The only way to negate that is by VISITING YOUR CUSTOMERS. It’s not scalable, eats up a ton of time, but you have to do it.
I’ve never left a customer visit without thanking God that I visited them, without a feeling of ‘oh shit, this is what is actually happening…
2. Lead Sources
Do you have scalable sources for high-quality leads? Most people focus on closing tactics, negotiation hacks…the sexy part of selling. But that’s end of the funnel. You need to have a healthy and full top of the funnel to do anything. You can’t scale with poor lead sources.
3. Sales Process
No one-size fits all, so you have to figure out the most successful way to sell to your market. You could go with inbound/outbound, emails, calls, demos, outside/inside. Each has its place with different products or markets.
The reality is that even if you have a “shitty” sales team, but have a crystal clear idea of your customer and reliable, qualified leads, you can still succeed.
How to build your sales organisation
1. The first person in the sales organisation must be the founder.
I don’t care if you don’t like humans. I don’t care if you’re a shitty salesperson. Be a shitty salesperson, but you’re going to sell. You’re the expert on your product, you need to hear from these customers first hand.
2. Every following role should be hired in three. Hire three different people for the same job so you can see who thrives in that specific role. People thrive in different markets. “One person will outperform the other two; better to find out all at once than to go through three separate recruitment campaigns and hires.”
3. The first Junior Sales Leader should be someone who was at a company that was at your current stage two years ago. A person who had the time to become truly great at their previous sales team. They moved up into management and grew the company 10–15x. They’ve learned from their mistakes. This person will help build a team of reps, grow the company a bit, improve some processes. Once you have a team at that stage, then you can bring in the next vital role.
4. The Senior Sales Leader, who is the person that builds a hiring and training machine, figures a compensation commission structure and expands sales operations into more offices. Don’t hire them earlier! It should be hard for you to get this kind of candidate. In his eyes, if the person is worth hiring, they shouldn’t be available; they shouldn’t be in the market for the job because they should be killing it somewhere else. “If they come to you and say they really want this position at your company, you should run.”
Sales Team Structures
There are three main types of structures you can create for your sales organisation. Some are more fitting for the customer-centric SaaS organisation. Others are more fit for the nature of the sales closers.
- Island - every person for themselves, figuring things like leads and presentations out on their own. You give them the commission, and let them go. This model is not common in SaaS because it’s an aggressive, competitive model. You see it more in traditional (or old-fashioned) sales organizations.
- Assembly Line - functional teams that focus on each stage, step by step, from beginning to end. This model can create a lot of friction between roles and finger-pointing. Each is solely focused on their own team and objectives — rather than the overall goal of a happy customer.
- Pod - lead gen, SDR, closers, and account manager put on one team that represents the entire customer lifecycle.” The pod model encourages knowledge sharing and teamwork. It’s also better for the customer because the sales team has empathy for each other, and for how the customer has moved through the funnel. Closers might dislike this model because there is less competition and less recognition.
When it comes to outbound metrics, it's best to keep it simple and focus on the most important thing which is conversions. Follow them all throughout the funnel. That's your “AQC.”
- Activity- Reach rate. Of your total calls, how many actually answer?
- Quality- How many of those answers do we qualify?
- Conversion- Of those qualified, how many did we close?
Once you know the customer, have a process and structure in place how should you approach your sales calls. According to Steven Broudy, Director of Inside Sales at Mulesoft, you have to earn the right to talk to your customers. That happens when instead of a "sales call" you have an actual conversation. It's where the power lays.
Tenets of a meaningful sales conversation
Steven laid out key tenets of a successful sales conversation. Each is important separately and can also be followed in sequence.
1. Pattern interrupt
People get used to saying “no” to salespeople. Break this pattern by asking questions they can’t help but say “yes” to. The worst answer of all is: Maybe. People say “maybe” because they don’t want to say no. You want to break that pattern, too.
2. Establish credibility
Establishing credibility isn't about saying how great you are. When you run off a list of results or of your company’s accomplishments, the customer doesn’t believe you. You establish credibility by showing that you understand the person's needs and pain.
3. Surface pain
Bring up the pain points that you know. Stay aware that there are more you haven’t even thought about.
4. Check for resonances
Take a moment and just listen. Have you gotten through to them? Can you hear in their voice that they have received what you’ve said and are open to you? If not…
5. Restate POV
Restate your perspective. Or try a new one. Keep doing this until you’ve reached them.
A great conversation relies on a great story
In your conversation with the potential customer, you should tell them a compelling story about their business. About their business without your product, and their business once they have your product. A sample narrative structure you can follow:
1. “This is your current state.”
2. “Your current approach will get you marginally better with a little more success.”
3. “But here are some unexpected pitfalls. You don’t see these coming, but they are...”
4. Constantly reframe what they are and what they may bring.
5. “Your company will get to a dark place where you are really struggling to find that success again.”
6. Here you can introduce your product, and how your unique differentiators will help them, their business specifically, grow again.
7. If you have followed the narrative, you are onto success!
How to handle customers who don’t want to admit they are headed to a dark place?
According to Steven, you have to depersonalise the dark place. You don’t tell them it’s what THEY specifically are doing. You tell a story about another company and what you’ve observed there. It’s part of “commercial teaching” — telling an effective story about a competitor or some industry leader, how they dealt with the same problem. That said, many customers want to see that you’ve spoken to people on their team and looked at the data and have quantifiable evidence, analysis, and insights that they are headed to that dark place. People want that information; they want that consultation.
Don't be tempted to skip ahead and say too early how great you are.
Who should you tell your story to
Once you know how to have a meaningful sales conversation, where should you focus it? Build an effective framework for organizing your outreach. Start with tiering your contacts and accounts.
- Tier 1 is the C-level executives. You want to spend the bulk of your time preparing here.
- Tier 2 is the VPs. These folks potentially are decision makers or buyers. This can sometimes be a discovery call, with the objective of an intro meeting to a C-Level. You should spend half as much time preparing here as for tier 1.
- Tier 3 is Directors. These are project owners, leads, and people who could personally feel the acute pain you’re trying to solve. You want an intro meeting with a decision maker. Here you can spend slightly less time than tier 2.
Should the same person handle communications with all three tiers?
The same person could contact all three tiers if you trust them to handle all levels of contacts. It's what Mulesoft does. Some organizations limit who their reps can contact. But according to Steven, if you’re doing enterprise, and you’re selling on these broad cycles, you should trust your team to speak to anyone from a potential account. Train them accordingly.
In conclusion, the most important tenet to follow when it comes to sales is:
Do the hard work and keep being atypical. Reinvent what you are doing and monitor where your customer is at each point. If you don't do it, you will be tempted to replicate success, which will make you stiff. When people hear the typical sales approach, they will shut down.
These take-outs originally appeared as part of the Medium Live Blog during Saastock17.