Looking beyond the first-in-class sales organization model: what’s wrong when growth is not up?

For this second episode of B2B Rocks, we focused on the  “sales” vertical. Intense growth phases are both exciting and challenging for the founding and the executives teams, however scaling implies many questions, hard decisions to make across the entire organization - and this is especially true when it comes to the sales organization. In this context, fast-growing startups are tempted to implement a standard sales organization by optimizing roles and responsibilities, expecting a strong revenue acceleration. However, growth may not be as promising as it should. may wonder how to hit revenue objectives by optimizing the roles and responsibilities in the sales organization.

With the help of cherry-picked experts, we’ve identified a few pitfalls in many startups that can explain why something, despite a structured sales team, revenue hit a plateau and growth is not up. During an inspiring discussion, we have gathered Amélie Veron @Amazon Web Services, Caroline Franczia @Uppercut, Renaud Sibel @iAdvize, and Andreï Sochala @Aircall. They shared their experience from their current organizations and actionable tips that may apply to your own business.

1. Segmenting & prioritizing in a fast-growing area: how to overtake opportunistic ways of selling?

On a daily basis, when startups have to manage a sudden influx of growth, sales teams can face a lot of issues, especially regarding segmentation and prioritization. According to Caroline Franczia founder @Uppercut First, it is really important to exclude very soon the market that you don’t want to target. To stay in the race, it is better to create a clear segmentation according to your startup’s level of maturity:

Try to identify who are your early adopters that support your solution's value. As an early-stage startup you may have a good attraction with your products, and it is natural to adopt an opportunistic way of selling. To do so, start building a standard sales process to keep your customers in your pipe.”
Caroline Franczia, Author, Popcorn for the new CEO

Similarly, Renaud Sibel, CRO @iAdvize stresses the importance of finding out what makes your first cold calls successful. The lessons learned from it will be used to build an evolving sales strategy:

Try to identify who are your early adopters that support your solution's value. As an early-stage startup, you may have a good attraction with your products, and it is natural to adopt an opportunistic way of selling. But don’t forget that you need to slow down before accelerating. To do so, start building a standard sales process to keep your customers in your pipe.”
Renaud Sibel, CRO, @iAdvize

Both Caroline and Renaud reinforced that segmentation should definitely be an iterative process, fine-tuning the segmentation is important at every milestone of the company, along the way with the Ideal Customer Profile, the Value Proposition, and all other assets that form the foundations of a startup.

2. Sales processes: how to make sure your company stays aligned while growing fast especially in the sales team?

As time goes by, it is really hard for founders to be sure that all their sales reps stay aligned while growing fast. Andrei Sochala Senior Sales Director @Aircall has known hyper-growth trends within the past few years in his own company. To him, growth is sometimes slowed as long as processes are not clearly set up within the sales team. The latter should adopt a long-term vision of their sales processes since they can be (re)used by product teams, leadership teams...

To stay efficient, you have to define with the sales representatives your own involvement. While they are supposed to enter concrete data in your CRM (which is a time-consuming process), they also have to secure enough time to exchange with their prospects and stay focused on their core business.
Andrei Sochala, Director of Sales @Aircall

Andrei Sochala emphasizes the importance of hiring a dedicated Sales Operations Representative in the early days. Sales Operations’ role is often under-estimated for young companies while they handle most of the CRM management and add some rationale and intelligence that will make the company save precious time at a more mature scale. No doubt that they will influence a lot the future of the company.

From Amélie Veron’s point of view (Startup Sales Leader @ Amazon Web Services), staying aligned when you’re about to scale is more a matter of culture. She recommends a  3-folded approach to overcome this situation:  

  • Establish very strong leadership principles that drive all the decisions in the company starting with recruitment. As a result it is easier to delegate the decision-making process at the lower level of the company ;
  • Get a very clear mission. This implies “being the most Customer-centric”; with 3 pillars: increase selection, lower the cost, get the best customer experience.
  • Design a realistic flywheel: AWS designs their products in a way customers can be autonomous in using them. The sales team is more in a consulting approach. As we are on a pay-as-you-go mode, businesses can scale faster than the sales team.

3. Leadership: What is the role of founders in the sales maturity process?

As a young startup, staffing the sales organization is also a source of challenges. For Renaud Sibel, startup’s CEOs never stop selling. They always put the value of their products in the spotlight and sometimes it can be hard to delegate these tasks. According to him, the hiring process of the sales teams should be based on complementarity criteria. To make the most of your business, it is essential to build an interdependent team while identifying agile people:

If the founder’s personality is more analytical, try to find someone with more emotional character. On the otherhand, an outgoing CEO will look for a data-oriented employee that will be able to drive the sales process and promote it. Finally, hiring “promoters” seems to be very beneficial when your business grows very fast.

Renaud Sibel, CRO @iAdvize

How marketing and sales can work together?

Scaling the sales organization also means building a strong lead engine. When hitting the plateau effect, the core of the issue often remains at the beginning of the funnel (i.e lead generation). As a consequence, friction may appear over time between sales and marketing teams.

In the opinion of Amélie Veron, sharing common goals is paramount to a good collaboration. AWS sets up mechanisms to review marketing and sales performance. One of those is the WBR, a weekly meeting involving all the teams to revise a set of KPI and to see the entire funnel all at once. On top of that, their managers organize quarterly global campaigns to align all sales and marketing motions around a singular priority. The goal here is to ensure that target lists are not constructed in silos so that prospects can be engaged through the right channel, at the right time. share customers anecdotes, 

To avoid those frictions, Andrei Sochala outlines the benefits of a team spirit approach which will encourage spontaneous teamwork between marketing and sales reps - one being an expert on how to amplify a message on a variety of channels, the other being the expert of what message does resonate to the customer. This is just the perfect mix for a great lead generation campaign.

Conclusion

Fast-growing startups have built such a structured sales organization - now heading to the scaling highway! At some point, they may hit the plateau effect. With the rise of fast-growing businesses, segmentation, processes, and leadership are more than ever heckled and must be consequently redesigned. Here are 4 takeaways to keep in mind if you want to (re)connect with growth in your sales organization:

  • Define a clear segmentation that will evolve with your startup’s level of maturity. Start building a standard sales process to keep your customers in your pipe from the early days.
  • Don’t be reluctant to give control to your sales teams and try to identify together with your respective involvements. In very fast-growing areas, it is impossible to be involved in every single decision you make. 
  • Base your sales hiring process on complementary criteria. Get support from Sales Operation Analysts as soon as possible to ensure stable business growth.
  • Implement transparency and a team-spirit approach to avoid marketing and sales frictions on segmentation, tracking, and process matters.

To experience again this tremendous panel, watch the replay on Youtube!

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