Arguably the most important hiring trait across the board for sales is coachability. Start-ups run cultures that have a high pace of change, addressing the need for an adaptive sales force.
Mark Roberge, senior lecturer at Harvard, former CRO of HubSpot and best-selling author of The Sales Acceleration Formula, joined us last week for an Ask Me Anything session on sales success. In 2007, Mark joined a three-person marketing software start-up called HubSpot as its first sales person. Over the next 7 years, their ARR grew from $0 to $100 million and the customer base from 0 to 10,000+ customers. With no sales experience at the outset, Mark shows that any mechanical engineer with MBA from MIT can become a sales success overnight.
The full AMA session can be watched here and the main take-aways are summarised below.
Founded in 2007, Hubspot began its operations in an industry on the brink of two transformational shifts:
- the use of the Internet in B2B buying, and
- the abundance of data (e.g. from CRM systems).
The former disintermediated the role of the traditional salesperson, as customers conducted their own research (via peer reviews, free trials, etc) to arrive at an independent decision. The latter, meanwhile, meant that companies possessed a wealth of data which they could analyse to refine their sales strategies. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) could be monitored with greater precision and adjusted if necessary to help achieve sales objectives.
It was these trends that prompted Mark to re-think the increasingly outdated field sales approach, and develop a new paradigm based on four key pillars:
- The Sales Hiring Formula or “Hire a successful salesperson every time”
Start by identifying the ideal characteristics that a sales rep should possess, including those unique to your start-up (e.g. domain expertise). Arguably the most important hiring trait across the board for sales is coachability. Start-ups are evangelising a new product and run cultures that have a high pace of change, addressing the need for an adaptive sales force.
Next, score the candidates against these characteristics and hire based on the highest score. Six months later, document the characteristics of your best sales reps and adapt the scoring system. This creates a ‘flywheel learning cadence’ in hiring sales success continuously.
- The Sales Training Approach or “Train every salesperson in the same way”
Set up a structured training programme for new reps with focus on the buyer. Buyers today expect more than is readily available on the Internet, therefore building a deep relationship with the buyer is vital. HubSpot had all its new sales reps create a blog on the HubSpot software, build a social media presence, convert leads and run analytics over the training process. By the end of the training, they had lived the gain of marketing software and could build the connection with the buyer. In this way, HubSpot disrupted the traditional ‘ride-along’ or ‘shadow’ approach to training.
- The Sales Management Formula or “Address areas of weakness, step by step
Effective sales coaching by sales managers is the most important lever when start-ups start to scale. Coaching starts by identifying the blueprint of ideal behaviour through funnel metrics. Skill development areas of each sales rep are identified by analysing conversion metrics through the sales cycle: from “leads created” to “leads worked” to “demos” to “signed contract”. A common sales management mistake is to overwhelm the salesperson by attempting to implement improvement across too many areas simultaneously. Rather, pick one skill and focus.
- The Demand Generation Formula – Provide salespeople with the same quality and quantity of leads every month
The backdrop to sales is becoming ever more challenging: Cold calls are met with scepticism, advertising is getting cluttered and buyers demand better service. Yet, companies don’t know how to deliver. HubSpot’s approach was to a hire a former New York Times reporter as the second person in the marketing department. This person was surrounded with thought leadership that resulted in high-quality content (blogs and whitepapers). As a consequence, the volume of inbound leads rose.
This, though, presents one issue that should not be overlooked: the natural tension between Sales and Marketing. To overcome the friction, set up a Service Level Agreement between the two departments that articulates congruent goals. To make the SLA work for repetitive deals, specify a monthly lead value target for Marketing. In turn, set targets for Sales on how fast leads should be contacted and how often. Every night, distribute both target charts “naming and shaming” individuals who didn’t reach the daily target. This approach helped HubSpot create a tighter framework and sense of direction for the teams. In today’s environment, the buyer journey starts with marketing and ends with sales, which makes their symbiotic relationship more important than ever.
For more interviews with the world’s leading SaaS pioneers you can subscribe the Notion podcast, The Pain of Scale, here.