A key result that many Founders are keen to achieve is a shorter sales cycle or an efficient sales cycle. Many are unaware of the critical drivers required to effect a change, from a long drawn out sales process to one that is militant with all unnecessary fat shaved off. The following three ways could easily help achieve these coveted results.

1. Sticking to your sales methodology

Your sales pipeline are the stages that a prospective buyer goes through, your methodology is what you do within each stage. To take Pareto’s principle, the 80% is the process, the 20% is the methodology. Using pre-prepared scripts, arranging your line of questioning ahead of calls, and be absolutely clear on the pain points of this buyer persona you will be speaking to. This will encourage a more robust and institutionalized approach to the meeting cadences.

2. Next Steps on the call

At Sales for Startups, we researched 103 B2B sales opportunities and noticed that 67% of deals were closed lost if next steps were not agreed on the call. This may sound strange, but having those concrete next steps in the calendar is crucial. This could be by way of another meeting/phone call or agreement that a Proposal was going to be created. As an aside, if a Proposal is being sent, you have to set a Proposal Review Call before you send anything, but more on this in a future article! This could also be a tour around your facilities etc., anything really provided that the next steps are in there.

3. Map out the sales process upfront

As a Sales rep, if you are speaking to a prospective customer and they are top of the funnel, but there is a good fit and your discovery is going well, you would be strongly advised to outline what the sales process looks like from here. This is so the buyer understands not only the steps that happen but what they are going to have to do to procure your software. Making the purchasing of your software incredibly easy is a critical process to map out and have plumbed into your overall process. That way the whole customer experience is a great one.

Bonus: 4. Handle any objections early

Face the objections head on to immunise their impact when (not if!) they come up. This could be by saying to the prospect that you’re not the cheapest solution, or that it has an 8-week implementation cycle to get them up running. You would be well advised to raise these early and not stick your head in the sand, hoping they won’t appear. Because they will, with vengeance. Qualify prospects properly, book next steps and tell a prospect what happens from here. D that and see your sales cycle creep down in days, while more deals come through the door.

There are many conflicting views on sales forecasting. I read an article in quite a well known online publication that used phrases like “easy to get right” and “guess, art, assume, one person doing it” – all terrible words, suggesting that writing a sales forecast for your business is easy. It’s not, it’s tough but manageable and there are a few considerations.

A sales forecast is a map of where your company aspires to be. It is best reverse engineered, starting with your company goals (ARR, net new logos, products sold, renewals, etc.) and then this plots how you are going to get there. It needs to be thought of as a collaborative document, including those departments who are indirectly affected, like Operations, HR, Finance, etc. because they will use a sales forecast for different reasons.

One person can do a forecast, but better done as part of a team because there are always things even the best CRO/VP of Sales will miss. Everyone needs to buy into this document as well, not just front-line salespeople; there are other considerations like seasonality one should be aware of like December being a short month, the summer being quiet, the tax year in the UK ending in April, etc.

One thing is for sure, your forecast, where possible, needs to use available historical data. Therefore, it is a critical point for those using your CRM to input the correct data on a day/week/month basis. I recommend having data hygiene as a target for each rep going as far as suggesting commission will be held back if data hygiene drops below a certain level – see behaviour change then!

Once you feel you have the data available (if you don’t and it’s a new startup then don’t worry), there are 6 methods of sales forecasting you could choose, most pertinent to your company:

  1. Opportunity stage forecasting – this is where you focus on the percentage likelihood of opportunities closing. Top of the Funnel deals will attract a lower percentage (i.e. 10% likelihood), whereas bottom of funnel deals will attract close to 85-90% chance of closing so your forecast can reflect this
  2. Length of sales cycle forecasting – this looks at the age of the opportunity. So, if you know it typically takes a company 6 months to buy, and the opportunity is 3 months old, it has a 50% chance of closing.
  3. Intuitive forecasting – this is more gut feel and whilst subjective can be a good way of forecasting if your startup is very new.
  4. Historical forecasting – this is where you look at previous months or quarters and assume you are going to match that amount but may add a little bit on top as an aspiration.
  5. Multivariable Analysis forecasting – this is the best way, but the most complicated with the requirement of an advanced analytics system
  6. Pipeline forecasting – this looks at the win rate against the opportunity value per deal, which does work but does take some time.

A sales forecast is important and it takes time. If your new company year starts in April for example, I would start considering this forecasting at the beginning of March to give you time to assess your data set, draw in colleagues and go through some drafts of it before you present it to your board at the start of the new year.

Some may argue that these are different terms for the same role. They are not. To define them, a VP of Sales is a master executor. They are fanatical about win rates, deal velocity and winning the deal. They live and breathe in this high-pressure environment. They are master operators of the sales process and can introduce tactics into the sales team and sales process that ensures that win rate is consistent or. in some cases, increases.

A CRO is a person who is more of a sales strategist and can oversee the whole customer acquisition process from Marketing to Customer Success. They are a person who is adept at the sales process (often having come from this background) but takes an active interest in where leads are sourced from, to how they are retained.

These two roles, therefore, are not to be thought of as one then the other. You need to consider what challenges the business is facing, which then should dictate your order. If your business is requiring customer acquisition and has a well-defined segment that it serves, and you simply want to throw kerosene on this activity, then a VP of Sales could be the way to go.

However, as a CEO, if you notice that a business unit evolves and begins to compete with several products, then this could be the time to look for a CRO. Equally, if a business unit’s growth under-performs expectations, market and competition and you start hearing phrases like ‘Not enough lead and awareness’, ‘Customer churn increases’, ‘Sales cycle length increases’ as excuses then you need a CRO to take control of this whole customer acquisition process.

Our view at Sales for Startups is that the optimum structure includes a VP of Marketing, VP of Sales, VP of Customer Success all reporting into the CRO, you will have a well thought out revenue operation. In terms of what hire you should make, let the data tell you what to do, not emotion.

Sales goals and their objectives are critical because they instill a culture of accountability and achievement across the team, which drives productivity. This feeds directly into revenue growth which is what we all want.

Sales goals and their underlying objectives are used by management to help outline how these goals align directly with the overall company initiatives. If positioned correctly, the sales team will be able to see a direct link between the activity they do and its effect on the bottom line.

The structuring of these goals should take the SMART approach. It is a tested system standing for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. Using this framework, a business (and an individual) can start to structure their day with these goals in mind.

If one starts with a goal, this can then be broken down into objectives in order to hit that goal. One step further than this is to outline the daily, tactical activities that will hit these objectives which in turn will achieve these goals. A framework we use at Sales for Startups is called the G.O.A. framework:

  • Goal
  • Objective
  • Activity

To build upon this idea, one can group one’s goals often into three different categories:

  • Activity Goals
  • Annual Goals
  • Team Goals

Clearly, Activity Goals are those that one can directly influence, but the biggest and best goals can only be achieved if the whole team works together and works in the same timescale. A good way of considering this would be to start with the Annual Goals, and then break it down into quarters, asking yourself questions of what strategies can I employ to hit these objectives? What resources will I need and what outside influences should I be aware of that may be able to help me?

Sales goals differ from company to company and from person to person. What I have outlined below are those goals which are good, but then their revision to make them more specific and therefore more achievable;

  1. ‘Reduce sales cycle’ revised to ‘Reduce sales cycle by 7 days in the next quarter
  2. ‘Increase conversations’ revised to ‘Increase the number of discovery calls per week from 2 to 4
  3. ‘Increase leads’ revised to ‘Increase lead acquisitions by 5% across all social channels for next quarter
  4. ‘Upsell to current customers’ revised to ‘In the next 6 months, upsell to at least 50% of current customers
  5. ‘Make more revenue’ revised to ‘Bring in 5% more revenue each month considering both increasing the average customer value (ACV) or obtaining more customers

The Sales enablement space is growing all the time with new entrants coming into the market, snapping at the heels of the bigger, more established players in the market. I am going to discuss 4 here, trying to offer some guidance on which are best depending on your type of business.

If you’re an SMB, try HubSpot Sales Hub 

HubSpot started life as inbound specialists. They have grown to such an extent that they have managed to take some market share off the bigger CRM juggernauts, Salesforce and Microsoft. They have designed their UX so that you can very often find what you need and their Academy is stacked full of great content for how to be more effective in sales. If you need a helping hand in how to create content, how to schedule its release and the types of content you should be publishing to help drive traffic into your funnels, HubSpot should be your go-to option. One particular feature I like is the Customer Service/post-sales support you get, being replied to very quickly and efficiently.

If you’re MM, try Outreach or Mindtickle

Both great tools, and both have the feature of live presentations i.e. if a new figure was released by the company and you wanted to update all decks of all your field reps, a marketeer at central HQ could update the main document and this change would propagate to all field reps. Both softwares have a slightly different, slightly clunky website but once you are over this slight issue from a CX point of view, both platforms are very good.

If you’re an Enterprise, try Seismic

Seismic are one of the bigger players in this sales enablement space and have attained impressive market capture. Their big thing is being able to produce sales enablement strategies at scale, ensuring that all content is updated and circulated to enable reps to concentrate on selling.

There are other softwares one could have a look at but the decision should be made taking note of the type of companies the above work with and what works for you and your business. Another important aspect is to check the software you selected integrates with your CRM via open API or if you have to use an integrator like Tray.io.

Sales enablement and its associated technologies is here to stay which I only see as a positive. The more reps can do (i.e. close more deals) with less content, or needing to search for the right content but are unable to stumble across it is a pain point that all of these vendors are looking to solve and your decision on which vendor to go with should revolve around how large of a business are you and what strategic initiative you are trying to achieve.

There are going to be different conversations occurring between C-level when figuring out how to structure and align sales teams. I am going to focus on 3 different but very common sales organisations, a number of which I have seen all work very effectively, not just at the startup level but up to Enterprise too.

Account Based 

This is where you split your team into those serving SMB, Mid-Market and Enterprise customers

Pros: there is a clear definition of who looks after what and you are not limited by industry. You are able to cross-pollinate between industries and are not hindered by one salesperson looking after Financial Services, the other looking after Utilities for example.

Cons: it can get hard to manage resources and it requires a lot of communication and collaboration between all team members which is tough to manage.

Product Based 

This is where you split your team into focussing on particular products for your business and they sell those products into business regardless of size or industry

Pros: the expertise in each product is adopted very quickly and deeply because the salespeople understand the product inside and out.

Cons: with this, there is the danger of salespeople focusing on features and benefits as opposed to the best solution for the customer so it has to be managed very carefully.

Territory/Geography Based 

This is where you split your respective country into different territories or regions and assign a rep to each territory.

Pros: the reps gain a very good rapport with their territory because they spend a lot of time there and understand the nuances of the region as well as being very accustomed at how to get around/accents etc

Cons: the danger is that this structure can encourage working in silos which is something you don’t want. There is also the very highly likely incident where some areas are more profitable than others (if you are in the UK, consider comparing the South East and the North East for example) which makes it harder to manage.

Like everything, the sales organisation that you choose has to represent what your overarching sales strategy is and how you want to take your product or service to market. Also, just because you have tried one organisational structure, doesn’t mean you can’t try another – after all, startups are agile and nimble!

Sales technology grows at a rate of knots. There are some serious standalone applications and services that can transform your business and can automate your whole operation. I have broken down what I feel are some useful tech’s to consider into 4 major categories: Prospecting, Opportunity Management, Proposals and Customer Success – or the whole customer journey if you will.

Prospecting

Perhaps the salespersons least favourite part of the job but right now, even more necessary. Let us assume that you have nailed your ICP and you have some customers, then look at ocean.io as a way to unlock data from your CRM. It will use its algo to group similar companies together based on what that company says they do on their website. Next up, LinkedIn Sales Navigator is clearly a great resource. It really does help your efforts.

Opportunity Management

Video is a great way to engage prospects. Vidyard enables you to incorporate video into your prospecting efforts, be hyper personalised and humanise you in the eyes of your prospect. Next up is Hubspot Sales Hub which creates a great kanban interface for you to maintain deal velocity by understanding where deals are stalling and the ability to diagnose where problems and their solutions may lie to keep deals moving.

Proposals

Betterproposals.io is a great service that has recently undergone a facelift. An easy way to create nice looking proposals that integrate with Hubspot and keep everything up to date. Panda Doc is also a good option for those wanting to create great looking proposals that can be hyper personalised which is what we all want.

Customer Success 

Grid is an Icelandic company that helps you create beautiful (their words!) web documents from Excel spreadsheets; let’s face it, Excel spreadsheets are dull to look at but the info is interesting. This is a way of making it less dull to go through. Asana is a great project management tool which can be used in place of an Account Plan. If you have QBRs with your customer or End of Year reviews this is a great way of tracking your customers goals and helping them break them down into actionable steps at how they are going to achieve their goals.

Bonus Category – Integration

Some of these techs stack together to create your workflow. However, some don’t. This is where you are going to need a few tools to help. Zapier links everything together without the need of an API. Very cool and great for automation. Tray.io also does something similar but is a little more techy and for architects who really want to get under the hood, this is something to consider.

Your sales technology stack is going to be limited by how each piece of technology communicates with each other. If they are not open API based, try an integrator. A relatively inexpensive way to get you that coveted process of all mundane and manual processes automated with only a peppering of human interaction when required.

You may have heard of Sales Operations before. Perhaps uttered in the same breath as Sales Enablement which focuses on the tech and equipment salespeople need to help them sell better? Great companies like Seismic are crushing it in the sales enablement space, as are many others. But what about its slightly more mysterious cousin, Revenue Operations? Why is this important and how is it different?

Sales Ops considers CRM engagement and other sales tech stacks to make the salesperson’s job easier. But RevOps looks at the whole customer journey and looks at ways that efficiency and effectiveness can be achieved across Marketing, Sales and Customer Success. From the Awareness stage all the way through to the Renewal stage, RevOps purpose is to increase pipeline throughput and sales velocity by taking a data-drive approach.

RevOps is there to de-silo these 3 departments and in a world where businesses are always striving to be better and offer a great customer experience, RevOps can give you this intelligence into the real value of a customer from when they first visited your site, to what content they engaged with, to how many activities it took to close them, how happy they are, to what other products did they buy from you etc, etc. The clear advantage of this function is that it enables strategic decisions around Go-To-Market to be made with a data underpin which in today’s competitive landscape is an absolute must.

There are some similarities between Sales Ops and RevOps. What is right for your company is going to depend on the size, lifecycle and age of the company but let me put it this way. RevOps gives you full visibility across your entire business and it brings together Marketing, Sales and Customer Success in order to reduce friction, increase collaboration and ultimately, increase revenue. According to Hubspot, 78% of B2B tech companies struggle with the problem of consistent revenue growth. Get this RevOps in place, you could be one of the 22% that really make it!

The Sales technology domain has rocketed with new entrants in the last few years; so many different propositions all solving unique challenges, with healthy competition coming in amongst vendors. A trap that many of us, whether you are rep or leader, fall into is getting a demo or being wowed by a new vendor with their new features and so you want to shoe horn this into your stack because it’s cool! However, do you need it? Consider these 3 areas before you purchase anything new:

  1. What is it that you need this tech to do for you? Oftentimes, defining the problem you are trying to solve is the hardest bit. Finding the solution is relatively easy once the challenge has been identified and framed appropriately.
  2. Try and pick technology that works together. A lot of tech is open API anyway but technologies that have been designed to work together often can save you serious headaches in the long run. For example, if you use Salesforce and need a conversational intelligence platform, Salesloft would certainly be one to consider.
  3. Finally, don’t buy something that is promised, or is “on the roadmap” or “will be ready once we get you set up”. It won’t be and this is what we call being sold vapour-ware. Only buy the tech once it exists.

To give this a worked example, let us consider a category of sales technology products: conversational intelligence. My view is that this is one of the most important tools for sales leaders. How to create a contact, a company, a new deal and other CRM processes are important, but to be able to judge the effectiveness of your reps questions, how they respond, their objection handling skills and the questions the prospect is asking, moves you from what you think would be useful to coach the rep on, to having the insight on areas of development they need to be coached on based on data.

A CRM is often your most important tool for any sales organisation. There are lots of processes that more detailed articles can offer on how best to do this, but once this is in place, really consider conversational intelligence platforms like Salesloft, Gong or Refract. Your job as a leader is to increase the effectiveness of your reps/team. Use this sales technology to help you do this.

Pricing is one of the hardest things to get right in the B2B sales. There are three main types: Cost based, Competitor based and Value based. To take each one in turn.

  • Cost based is where you have figured how much it takes to make your product and have put 20-30% on top of this as margin and this is your cost. It works for a bit, but then you start to realise that you are selling it too cheap, so now where do you go?
  • Competitor based is where you have looked at what your competitors are doing and in an attempt to win business from them, you have undercut them by an amount just large enough for your customers to go with you based on price. Again, it works for a bit but then it becomes a race to the bottom and you will be in a place where you have to give the product away for free to get the business!
  • Finally, value based. This is where you want to try and get yourselves if you are to survive. It is the optimal strategy but the hardest to figure out because there are so many variables.

How do I arrive at a value based pricing model? Follow these 4 steps:

  1. Focus on a single segment – don’t focus on multiple segments, just the one
  2. Compare with the next best alternative – compare with the solutions a buyer could purchase instead of yours. If no alternatives exist in your market, value based pricing wont’ work very well
  3. Understand differentiated worth – figure out what feature is unique to the competitor’s
  4. Place a £ amount on this differentiator. This is the hardest step and so most marketers use conjoint analysis or qualitative customer interviews to help them.

Value-based pricing is an effective method to price products. It is a hard thing to do and once you have done it once, does not mean you won’t have to revisit. With a stronger grasp of how this method works, marketers will be able to make smarter pricing decisions, and employ value-based pricing to increase profits.

Want to learn more about pricing and sales strategy? Book a consultation with Sales for Startups today.