Growing a start-up, you typically start doing sales yourself, as a founder. But at some point you want to hire your first sales people, and that transition can be rough. Kim shares some advice to help the process.
The light bulb moment happened for me in a small meeting room in our office. For years we had worked hard on growing our sales with new products, exciting marketing campaigns, and both junior and experienced hires. This morning, the sales team met in our little meeting room. After asking them about progress, four pairs of big eyes were trained on me and one blurted out “we have no idea what we are doing”. That’s when I knew something had to change. Dramatically, and immediately.
Wind back. When we started our company I was initially the main sales person in the company. For a while, that was enough, but then came the point when we felt that our product was ready for more users, and that there was more market to cover than what I could handle on my own. That is when we started on the journey to try to go from founder-led sales, to a sales team selling, and oh boy did I underestimate how difficult that would be.
Before I go on to share the important learning I made on how to scale your sales efforts, I want to say that there are many reasons why a founder should not let go of the sales function prematurely. One key reason is that, as a founder, you are one of the most passionate advocates of your product. Very few others will run through walls for the success of your business but you. You also possess unique knowledge; the history of the company/product, the product features and why you built them, and the experience of hundreds of sales pitches in the past. These assets are hard to recreate in anyone else, which is why you need a great process.
As a founder, you often feel that defining a process and telling your team to stick by it is pointless, or even damaging. You tend to think that the dynamic environment you are in is better served by people who can ‘play it by ear’. Truth is, without a defined sales process your team ends up confused and the work often lacks professionalism. It also does not allow for learning what really works, and what doesn’t.
Defining a good process consists of making lots of small decisions around ‘how we do sales in our organisation’. For example, what’s our elevator pitch? When do we e-mail leads, and with what content? When do we send which proposals? How do we respond to the question “how do you compare with competitor X?”? How do we agree to use the CRM?
As the founder, you probably have answers to all of these questions, but you have to write them down and share them with your new team. Only then can they feel empowered to sell as well as you!
For most organisation, part of the answer is to write a Sales Playbook. This is a document, or collection of documents, that answers all the questions, and documents your progress towards a more replicable sales process. The Sales Playbook serves a few key purposes; to support onboarding and training of new staff, to support existing employees to sell more, faster, and to gather the knowledge in the organisation. It is a fall back when there are disagreements on procedure. It is a step-by-step manual for new hires how to become successful, which helps motivate them, and highlights the importance to follow the process. It is the Bible of Sales in your organisation.
Getting that first set of rules and procedures written down is critical, but don’t sweat the details. It is more important to get something written, then to spend time perfecting it. This is because once you do have a first playbook, it is time to experiment, improve, and learn. As one part of the organisation that is always receiving “input” from the outside world, the founder and the sales team are constantly learning.
Don’t write the playbook once and leave it gathering digital dust in a folder, work with your team to capture new learning. Think about areas of the process that could be improved, brainstorm ways to test changes, analyse your data, gather feedback, and level up. This way you are not just creating a scalable sales team, you are also optimising it’s efficiency and success rate, leading to steadily growing sales. Who doesn’t want that?
After that meeting with my sales team, we took a time out from the hamster deal wheel. I read up on what a playbook should contain, and we set aside several half-day workshop slots for working on it together. The build our playbook, and get to a point where it delivered clear results took months. It is not a magic switch, but it is the first step on a journey towards a scalable, predictable, and efficient sales team and process.
With PeripherAi, we want to make this whole process as easy as pie; with a tool that guides you through the creation of your playbook, integrates with your data sources to give suggestions for improvements, and pulls it all together in a workspace that supports your sales team members in their daily activities. If you resonate with a need for this tool, we’d love to talk!
Dr Kim Nilsson is a PhD Astrophysicist turned serial entrepreneur. Her first business is a data science marketplace and AI-as-a-Service provider. She is the CEO and co-founder of PeripherAi, a SaaS platform to turn sales into a scalable and predictable process in small businesses by integrating human knowledge with data insights. She has been named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in IT in the UK 2018–2021.