The 4 Essentials to Building Your Startup Sales Force
Scaling up is an exciting process for any startup. If you’re at the point where you have achieved a level of initial success and are ready to amplify your idea by starting a sales force, that means your hunch about the market has been validated, and your hard work is paying off.
This is no time to relax, though. Creating a sales force is a crucial step to becoming a bigger company. Ideally, you want to hire new people and create a self-sustaining system that, if done right, will take you largely out of the equation. If you find that you are still using a hands-on approach as you hire your fifth salesperson, you’re doing it wrong.
As Bill Gates once said, “The first rule of any technology used in business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” In other words, when it comes to creating a template for scaling up your sales force, cut once and measure twice, or maybe five times.
Here’s how you can set up a system that you can automate to scale from one salesperson to 100:
1. Get the right technology and tools.
Entrepreneurs in 2016 are fortunate to have an array of cheap (or free), web-based tools that are designed to help get startups off the ground. For instance, if you’re small, you probably won’t want to jump right into Salesforce, because it’s expensive. Though the official prices ranges from $25 to $300 a month per user, the Sales Cloud’s implementation can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $80,000, depending on your industry. If you’re not ready for Salesforce, there are lots of cheaper alternatives, including Pipedrive, Nimble, Nutshell and Really Simple Systems. If you find these lacking, you can always jump to Salesforce later, if the outlay makes sense.
To close those orders, there’s Hello Sign, DocuSign, Adobe Sign and CudaSign, among others. Prices for these services can go from $40 monthly for one to five senders using Hello Sign to $30 per user using Adobe Sign. For videoconferencing, meanwhile, there’s Google Hangouts, which is free — at least in the U.S. — or UberConference, which is free for up to 10 participants, and $15 a month or $120 a year past that. Speakeasy, another option, provides PIN-less call in numbers for prices ranging from $10 to $30 per user per month.
2. Train your sales force to offer consistent messaging.
If you’re running a company, you’ve discovered what messaging resonates best with your core customer. The best way to impart this messaging to your burgeoning sales force is to get this in written form. A short document explaining the company’s positioning, mission and unique selling proposition will ensure that everyone is hitting the same points in their pitches.
Such a guiding document, often called a mission statement, should answer the following four questions:
- “What do we do?”
- “How do we do it?”
- “Whom do we do it for?”
- “What value are we bringing?”
Here is another short guide to creating a mission statement.
You might even want to consider shooting a short video in which you explain this messaging (shoot for less than five minutes), so your sales people can see how you do it. Little things like your tone and choice of words will help fill in any gaps not addressed in writing. Remember, the idea is to make this scalable and limit your direct hands-on involvement as much as possible.
3. Set clear goals and expectations.
Every business has two operating modes, the stated and the real. If you profess to be stringent about quotas, but let them slide more often than not, then your sales team will know that the quotas you set were unrealistic, and you don’t expect them to be met. If, however, there are consequences to not meeting goals, then the sales force will internalize that.
It’s important to state clearly what’s expected and follow through, or have a manager do it. This is important to do early on. If you are lax about goals in the beginning but become vigilant about them all of the sudden, then your team will sense that you’re reacting to pressure and creating arbitrary goals, which can undercut your credibility.
4. Keep your eye on the goal, but be flexible and adapt as needed.
The idea is to automate the process. You are looking to create the best sales force possible, but you also want to add new people to the system easily and not rely heavily on any one sales person. If, along the way, you discover that a new message is working with customers, adapt your pitch to reflect that. The best way to determine this is by looking at the metrics. Attribution models have evolved from so-called “last touch attribution” to the point where you can tell if a particular ad campaign or content marketing approach is resonating. Companies providing such attribution for B2B firms include Bizible, Marketo and Ironpaper, among others.
Flexibility is crucial to success. For this reason, it’s a good idea to reexamine your automated system every month or so to make sure it’s up to date. You want to hire the best people, and arm them with the most effective messaging.
For entrepreneurs, building your sales force isn’t easy, but it is easier than starting a company from scratch. If you’ve been able to get to this point, you can surely get to the next level. Following these four essential steps will help you to build a strong foundation for a growing sales force to support your startup’s growing business.
This piece was originally published in Entrepreneur.