How to make your first cohort of sales reps successful
Most founder CEOs are great at sales, be they raising money, recruiting talent or winning their initial customers. But when they start to hire sales reps the results are usually mixed, which inevitably leads to disappointment.
When compared to founder CEOs, sales reps tend to bring in smaller deals and surface more buyer objections. CEOs end up getting frustrated with their reps inability to sell as effectively as they believe they are doing themselves and end up either firing their reps or using them as glorified meeting bookers so that they can step in and do the sale themselves.
Experienced CEOs realize the root cause is not that their reps are bad at selling; it’s that they are selling two different things. CEOs are able to sell the future, while their sales reps have to sell the present.
Let’s face it, every CEO makes shit up in sales pitches knowing they have the power to add it into the product later on. But the knock-on effect of this is that it leads you to believe your target market is larger than it really is. Left unchecked, you will end up supporting a disparate group of customers with disparate use cases and a bunch of one-off, custom IP that has no enterprise value.
Instead create a process for your team to sell the product you have and, if you get involved in a sale, follow the process yourself. If you are bad at following process, get your finance or ops head to enforce it. This will ground you in reality and help you empathize with your reps.
The keys to a great sales process are:
Process stages that are aligned to the buyer journey rather than to seller tasks. For example, “Discovery” is a stage during which you are trying to understand the buyer’s situation, pain, desired impact and their commitment to addressing it in a reasonable timeframe — whereas “First meeting held” or “Proposal Sent” are tasks.
Defined exit criteria for each stage. For example, the exit criteria for Discovery would be that the buyer’s situation, pain, desired impact and commitment to addressing the the problem are all documented and validated with the buyer — and in the case of multi-stakeholder sale, these same data points would need to be validated by all stakeholders before moving into the next stage. This prevents the common issue of rushing into the demo and proposal only to realize that the buyer has a problem you don’t actually solve (cue the CEO making shit up).
Clear handoffs to others involved in the sales process. For example, when a salesperson closes a deal, there should already be a mutual success plan in place with the customer outlining the customer’s situation, pain, desired impact and a timeline for getting there. This makes the the intro and handoff a seamless experience for not only the the customer success manager but for the customer too.
A good process forces you to sell the product you have vs the dream product you’d like to have, or may have in 6 months’ time. As a result, your path to repeatable revenue is always faster because you can deliver faster and with fewer issues.