Getting Sales Right at a Young Company

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This week, I helped a young entrepreneur at a “stealth startup” evaluate his progress on the sales front.  His small team is moving rapidly thanks to the thoughtful approach he’s taking.  There are lessons here for all of us.

The critical foundation:

  1. Research- He networked to find friends or their contacts who had successfully built sales teams, and interviewed them in detail to pick up their best, field-tested ideas.   He took full advantage of our experiences to avoid “reinventing the wheel”.
  2. Hiring- He interviewed candidates that had been recommended by various contacts, rather than advertising an opening.   This gave him an initial filter to screen candidates.  He also interviewed a significant number of individuals to establish his own benchmarks for the specific traits he needed in a sales staff.  Interestingly, he concluded that a successful sales track record was more important than subject matter expertise.
  3. Compensation- The compensation plan focuses on aligning the interests of the salesman and company.  Since the company aims for a long-term, growing relationship with each client, the salesman gets a percentage of revenues for a specific time period.  Everyone is focused on driving revenue.
  4. Salesforce Automation- The company immediately implemented to track pipelines, daily activity, and lead sources.

Defining success:

We evaluated the team’s progress on multiple fronts:

  1. Pipeline Growth- The new team started work in early January.  Given a month to learn the business and sales pitch, we had about 6 weeks effort to evaluate.  The pipeline had grown nicely over that period, with a consistently growing lead base.
  2. Lead Generation- The team started with a “lead list” and quickly shifted to self-generated leads.  This is critical for two reasons: 1) it validates that there is a broad, reachable market, and 2) points to a strong work ethic among the sales team.  They are focused on closing, and are self-starters.
  3. Closed Deals- The team has already closed a handful of contracts.  The sales cycle is only about 30 days, and there do not seem to be any serious impediments to completing transactions.

What are the next steps?  More closing.  Continuous activity monitoring. Further expansion of the pipeline.

This is a great example of a young company quickly establishing sales team and building a sustainable process for the future.


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