I was reminded this week of how competitive and yet how exciting it is to be a Tech CEO today in the B2B marketplace. One of my key observations was that too often we overlook the smaller things for the greater vision. Although this sense of pushing the norm, having great ideas and wanting to be the thought-leader and the go-to partner are all ideas and goals I fully support, this should not take away focus from the day-to-day operations.
This reminds me of Marshall Goldsmith’s book – What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
If as CEOs we are setting the standards for what accuracy and precision for our team, then we foster a culture of precision and accuracy. A sense of accountability and rigorous ambition. In the early days of startup or as some refer to it as “dream up”, even in its two years not having this exact nature won’t harm you massively as it’s often about relationships, persuasion, hard graft and selling your vision.
The second phase of your development is when you are moving from a “dream up” to a “startup”. At this point you have some big wins under your belt, more employees, maybe even heads of divisions now as you start to scale with improved business development results and often seed funding. This is the time where often the attributes and skills of the early members of the team are exposed and normally need improving.
The team are not using to making exact calculations, it’s not usual to have to sign contracts or terms in order to gain pay rises, commissions, or getting even your bonus early not alone a proper performance review. It’s done on trust. This works well in the early phase when you have a super small team and the CEO doesn’t have as many people to manage but now with the complexity of the product increasing, client demands coming in left right and centre, hiring decisions and recruitment to sit in on and trying to now build a business rather than traction around an idea – this model comes under strain.
This is where the role of the CEO is to foster a new standard for the team and bring a level of accuracy and precision to the company. This is no small task. Often this is where new hires, new leaders within the company need to provide support to the CEO to make this company great and to build a fact-based decision making model that is fair and transparent to all.
One of the greatest opportunities is in the hiring cycle where the CEO can hire people that are better than his current team and maybe even better than he/she in specific areas. These new hires need to bring a strong sense of accuracy to shift the focus to uptake and traction into continuous momentum and improvement. It’s this weekly and bi-weekly progress that over a quarter has mind-boggling results. We often talk about 2-week sprints in our consultancy and I believe it is a very good yardstick and methodology to implement in any company.
2-week sprints foster the need for evaluation, review of metrics, progress and improvement rather than maybe a disdain for not reaching your overarching and long-term goal. And it also allows all of the team to tackle big projects by taking a chunk out of them one bite at a time.
Some of the areas that as a Tech CEO you might want to bring more precision to:
- Financial forecasting
- Sales forecasting
- Sales commissions
- Marketing evaluations
- Product usage per customer
- Recruitment process
- Onboarding new hires
- Account management strategy
Of course there are many more but I certainly don’t want to give you an extraordinarily long to-do list. Just pick one area and maybe add it to your next 2-week sprint.
I’ve always been interested by the topic of onboarding. And still amazed 10 years after starting my career how wrong people still get employee onboarding.
In times gone by employee onboarding was simply about getting you access to the right documents, meeting your colleagues and knowing where the fire exits and lavatories were. Hate to say it, but it was!
I’ve seen 24 point checklists with another 4 bullet points per category – have you ever completed 96 items on a checklist given to you and felt fulfilled in your first 3 months? I’ve also experienced the old school Sales induction, which is where they say here’s your laptop, your phone, the excel pricing document and our solution pack, you’ll shadow your colleague today and then tomorrow you sell. Don’t worry you’re not on full target this month – it’s a ramp period in your first month. Great earning potential.
N.B. this example below is a company that has over 100,000 employees!
My point here is not to explicitly tell you all the poor induction and onboarding stories but tell you that there are some core disciplines that even as a Tech CEO of a small company you can install to have a large impact.
I often summarise onboarding into four phases:
- First Week
- First Month
- Ramp Up
Let’s discuss each of these areas in a little more detail so at least you have a framework after reading this article.
Pre-joining – Ok so you’ve got a verbal offer accepted. Great. It’s worth putting some time in NOW to this onboarding plan and strategy. Think of this like a journey. So the candidate accepts the verbal offer, you now need to get a summary email to follow up your conversation. And then you need to get across a contract and offer letter to the candidate for them to commit to and sign. Worth asking yourself, do we have a template contract per role type?
Then we need to coach the candidate through their own resignation/exit interview – as this can certainly throw some curveballs. Once this is completed we can confirm a start date and start building a plan. This could be thought of “T – 4” (4 weeks before start date) for example. So first we probably want to give the candidate some light reading that is broadly related to our industry, our story, a winning induction, our profession, our skill type or an inspirational leader who we look up to as a business. As the weeks progress this reading would increase to be more role-related and more specific to the role that your new hire is stepping into shortly.
Then about 1 week before the start date, could we get all the technical tasks completed? Could we get them all their logins, computer and hardware ordered, their first team lunch arranged??
First Week – Our intention with our first week is to give our new hire an excellent high-level overview of our company, our history, our mission, our product/service and meet the team.
First Month – normally concentrated on product/service knowledge, market orientation, existing clients/customers, role orientation which might include process flows or working models connected to the role.
Ramp Up – after your new hire impressing in the first month with their knowledge absorption, i.e. being an absolute sponge, prepping for each meeting and constantly asking questions and sometimes even subtlety making you think twice about certain and spotting some improvements that can be made to the company. They are now ready to be tested in their new role. This can include doing the core duties of the role, part-leading on new areas, meeting customers, shadowing on certain initiatives, creating new materials or guides to help the team increase their effectiveness and productivity. By about Week 10 you’ll know whether this person is cut out for the job. This is normally more a cultural evaluation, output evaluation and the underlying attitude of the individual you’ve just hired.
I hope this helps when thinking about onboarding. Of course as a CEO your role is to review and guide the team into creating, making and installing the best onboarding process possible. This is a constant area of improvement. Start monitoring and measuring and then you can start improving.
Even just noting down the process to start with is incredibly helpful. As well as creating a list of the most asked questions by new starters. You could even encourage your new starter to use your internal chat or communication channel to capture all their learns. Often these are mobile-enabled so they can capture all of their thoughts, ideas, observations and questions in the moment and come back and review them each morning. This is really important in the first 8-10 weeks as there is a lot of demand on the individual to perform, to impress, to settle and more importantly to add value to the organisation.
I thought it maybe worth summarising what I have learned in the last year not only building a company of my own Sales for Startups but also other technology businesses too.
From the last year, I have learned a lot from creating my own company and building out a team to support our clients and me as the Founder and CEO.
A couple of key observations from the last year:
- Measure bi-weekly and monthly improvement rather than hit or miss yearly goals.
- Get a bookkeeper early on and setup a workflow and set bookkeeping expectations for your new team member.
- Really understand business finances, cashflow and the core fundamentals of business bookkeeping and accounting.
- Reviewing the ROI on your expenses at least quarterly, especially in software, consultancy fees, personal development and client entertainment.
- Some partners just want your clients rather than to truly partner with you – immediate commercial gain takes over for many business owners.
- Really understanding your customer’s needs, wants, problems/issues, causes and big why.
- Build an inbound marketing engine as early as physically possible, you will improve it as you go along.
- Have themed focused days of the week on ‘Sales’, ‘Marketing’ or ‘Partnerships’ for example.
- Employing a Virtual Assistant to take care of all the ancillary and necessary business and client admin.
- Focus on delivering on 2-week projects and the associated tasks – we call these 2-week sprints at Sales for Startups.
- Spend time really understanding a new field or function, for example if you are not a marketer, really understand a marketing framework/methodology and apply it.
- True and valuable partnerships take at least 10x the effort, time and resources you think it will.
- Having weekly and rotating improvement meetings on Sales, Product, Marketing and Partnerships in the startup phase is seriously important = making progress.
Once you reach the year mark and you’ve won multiple clients, learned a lot, built a team, have some partners or associates – now you must employ a mentor.
You want a mentor who has already succeeded in the type of business that you are growing. It does not have to be in the exact market niche or area that you are focused on currently. For example, if you are running a SaaS business, you want a mentor who has built and potentially sold a SaaS business before. If you are Management Consulting business, you want a mentor who has built and sold a consulting firm.
This mentor will be able to take you from where you are today and shortcut your development time in getting to the next point both professionally and personally.
Building a business is not only an intellectual challenge but also a mental and emotional one. You have to change your mindset from one of certainty, to uncertainty, from being a master of a specific trade to wearing many hats and ultimately thousands of people campaigning for your attention.
Even if you have low points, you will have the possibility to quickly bounce back if you are measuring improvement and performance on a regular basis. Not just, how much revenue did we make this month? And thinking it’s only a 20% increase month-on-month and we wanted 50%! I know I’ve said this many times before!
This is much easier to do if you are aiming to complete projects in 2-weeks rather than just focusing on a quarterly or yearly revenue target. You will always have a quarterly goal that remains fixed, until you achieve it but the projects underneath may change each 2-weeks.
I look forward to sharing more of our learns both as a company and with our Tech CEOs and the highlights of the journey, as we progress from a 1-man band a year ago to now a team of 5 and rising…
I wanted to write this article for fledgling Salespeople who are perhaps starting out in their career or have already been in the job for a little while.
I was inspired to write this article when a young salesperson came up to me while we were consulting at a B2B tech startup and asked me whether they should read The Challenger Sale. I was a little confused as in front of me was a young salesperson in their first real role as a Sales Development Representative (SDR).
I thought to myself…what is your reasoning for reading the Challenger Sale? Currently you need to learn the craft of Sales. You need to get your activity levels up, your mindset up, find out the needs of your customer, understand corporate hierarchies, what a steering committee is, the list goes on…
While mentoring 16-18 year olds on finance, my advice is the same. Why would you read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham before you’ve even understood what income/expenses and assets and liabilities are. Or even what compound interest is? I’ve found that these people who try and find the immediate gain or silver bullet, don’t even know what the four asset classes are for them to choose from.
Therefore in Sales, my recommendation is that you build strong foundations first. There is a shortcut, if you’re looking for one. It’s in essence not wasting time reading the wrong things at the wrong time. All of these books have incredible value contained with them but like business you can the right idea at the wrong time.
My suggestion is to start with some foundational
books on the art of selling, particular ones would be:
- Sell or Be Sold by Grant Cardone
- Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy
- Power of Ambition by Jim Rohn
- 10x Rule by Grant Cardone
After laying some solid foundations and getting the right mindset, I recommend that you start with matching books to the Sales Process, for example with prospecting:
- Fanatical Prospecting by Jeb Blount
- If You’re Not First You’re Last by Grant Cardone
- The Prospecting Game by Wes Linden
Then you can move onto learning about qualification and start digesting the relevant materials for that part of the Sales process. The challenge for many is that they certainly don’t verify that you have learned the fundamentals when joining a new company. And secondly there is no common test that is carried out to verify and validate your understanding.
If you want to develop your own prowess in the field then you have to create a structured learning path to get you there. This means laying the foundations before you add in the nice-to-haves, the marginal tips and tricks and advanced learning techniques.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic and how our consultancy, Sales for Startups, helps B2B tech startups and Professional Services firms achieve their annual revenue targets in 6 months. Then please comment below.
We’d love to hear your feedback and see what you’re doing to create a structured learning path for your Salespeople.
I’m currently going through a hiring cycle for one of our clients and it reminded me of how challenging hiring a successful salesperson can be at times.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve come across in our time reviewing technology firms and startups is that you want someone who is methodical yet intuitive.
What do you mean by a “methodical salesperson”?
Definition – A methodical salesperson is an individual that can follow a Sales process from start to finish and that can review and complete the necessary steps to achieve the greatest probability of success.
This diligent nature is increasingly important when you are selling SaaS software to large enterprise companies. There are multiple stakeholders, budget holders, processes and teams to negotiate your way through to closing a sale. This means that the desire and skill to review at each stage of the process against a Sales process with a checklist to ensure that you haven’t missed anything is deeply important.
If Warren Buffet has an investment checklist for making his investment, see page 30 of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Report
My experience tells me that there are so many considerations, variables and movements in an enterprise sales cycle that not all of them can be remembered ‘off the top of your head’. Especially when you are reviewing 30 deals at one time per quarter, with 5-7 stakeholders in each deal, and each deal maybe at a different stage of the Sales process.
I’m completely shocked to see some reps not recognising the magnitude of the task and underestimating the amount of diligence and concentration needed to sign a FTSE250 client.
This sense of methodical nature can extend to be not only analytical and an informed salesperson at each stage of the process but also with their metrics. For example, are you tracking your movements in deal volume, every 2-4 weeks, comparing and contrasting the numbers and understanding the trends.
Are you looking at your average deal value month-on-month at each stage of the process? Are you reviewing your average close time per quarter and making improvements on that number each month to decrease average close time?
Are you reviewing your success rate at each stage of the process? What percentage of my deals moved from ‘Qualification’ to ‘Proposal’ this month? What’s my success rate for my ‘Discovery Calls’?
Often salespeople are berated for not winning a deal, or given an absolute hero’s welcome for winning a key deal. This is not a true working model. This comes from a ‘fixed mindset’ rather than a ‘growth mindset’ standpoint (Carol Dweck, Mindset).
We are looking for continuous and incremental improvement as a salesperson not a feast or famine salesperson. How can we build better tech businesses on reps that hit their targets only 2/4 quarters?
What do you mean by an “intuitive” salesperson?
This is the second part of the dilemma when hiring salespeople. We want the analytical and methodical nature of a salesperson but we want them to be a people’s person, charismatic and have great emotional intelligence.
These soft skills are very different from being analytical and methodical but absolutely key to whether a SaaS salesperson will be successful.
Even in the largest deals, corporate buyers are still buying from people. Often the job titles and prestigious company names can confuse and distract salespeople from understanding that they are trying to form a relationship with another person, where they see value in your product or service. Sometimes this distraction or almost mirage can seem to desensitise the buying and selling experience for both parties respectively.
This is a mistake.
Amateurs take the emotion out of the buying process. Professionals recognise the emotional buying motives and use them timely in the sales process.
How do you test for the attributes of “methodical” and “intuitive” in a Sales hiring process?
The two core parts to testing these two traits are:
- Process – “methodical” nature – understanding the Sales process of a potential sales hire, how clear are they on their numbers, ratios and quota attainment.
- Listening skills – “intuitive” nature – how do they respond to questions, how do they listen intently and ask open questions, how do they respond to objections, how effective are they in building rapport?
If you are able to hire a salesperson that has a methodical edge and yet is intuitive and emotionally intelligent, you will see them clearly outperform those who don’t have these attributes.
This is certainly hard to acquire as salespeople are not properly taught how to use social media, how to use CRM reporting, which ratios to review and don’t clearly know what needs to be done at each stage of the Sales process. This implementation of sales structure and a sales culture that fosters this type of behaviour is one that we commonly see within tech startups and which stunts their growth