Sales is the lifeblood of any business. Beating the plan yields optimism. Missing the number could mean a scramble for survival. Without sales, your business literally has nothing.
For this reason, I want sales to be scalable and predictable for our companies. And yet, “art form” is often a phrase used to describe sales. Art is neither scalable, nor predictable. Science is. When it comes to adding science to my sales team, I turn to my friend and advisor Mark Roberge, sales scientist, Chief Revenue Officer at HubSpot, and author of the new book, The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to Go from $0 to $100M.
Here are the nine mistakes Mark sees many businesses make when scaling sales:
Mistake #1: Hiring salespeople with your gut
Hiring rock star sales people is the most important aspect to sales success. Yet, so many organizations “wing” the entire hiring process. Every sales context is different and, thus, every company has a different ideal hiring profile. Appreciate the uniqueness of your sales context, establish a theory of the hiring criteria that will work for you, and be disciplined about scoring every candidate against that criteria. As you bring on salespeople, this process enables you to learn from your mistakes, iterate, and hone in on the perfect hiring profile.
Mistake #2: Under-utilizing the sales compensation plan
The sales compensation plan is the most under-appreciated tool in the CEO’s toolkit. In thinking back to the major strategic re-directions we navigated at HubSpot, many of them were instigated by aligning the sales compensation plan with the desired strategic change. Whether looking to enter a new industry, gain market share with a particular product line, or expand into a new geography, the sales compensation plan will be the most effective driver of change.
Mistake #3: Mis-aligning sales and marketing
Traditionally, sales and marketing are two groups that have not gotten along. Marketing perceives sales as a bunch of over-paid spoiled brats. Sales feels marketing sits around doing arts and crafts all day. In an age with the majority of buying journey’s starting online, this dysfunctional relationship is the kiss of death for a company.
A properly aligned sales and marketing team is a pre-requisite to a healthy business. Quantify the deliverables that marketing and sales should commit to one another. At HubSpot, we call this agreement the Sales and Marketing Service Level Agreement, or SMarketing SLA. For example, marketing will deliver 1,500 leads per quarter that are contacts from Fortune 5000 companies within the retail, manufacturing, or technology industries. Sales will call these leads within 2 hours and convert 20% of them into sales pipeline within 30 days. Measure the SLA progress and share the report daily with the entire team. You are now empowered to manage your sales and marketing funnel every day!
Mistake #4: Not planning far enough in advance
It takes 2 months to hire a new sales person, 3 months to ramp them to full productivity, and a 4 month sales cycle to close a deal. This situation is not uncommon for a business. If anything, these timeframes may be on the aggressive side. Yet, even with these assumptions, it takes 9 months from the decision to hire a new salesperson to the time when they are fully productive. If you are a sales driven organization, your 2015 results are largely baked with the team on board in Q1. Most of the hiring you are doing now is driving your 2016 results. Plan ahead.
Mistake #5: Making forecasting, rather than coaching, the sales manager’s primary focus
Many sales managers spend the majority of their time managing the sales forecast and pipeline. This is a lost opportunity. Managers should spend the majority of their time coaching and developing their sales people. Effective sales coaching increases sales productivity. The best coaches diagnose the one or two skills that will make the biggest difference in a salesperson’s performance and customize a coaching plan to that skill. They use metrics to conduct the diagnosis. I call this process “metrics-driven sales coaching”.
Mistake #6: Motivating through fear rather than metrics
I always ask candidates why they want to move on from their current employer. Many of them complain about the fear-based, micro-management of their current environment. This type of militant management style does not motivate sales people, especially today’s millennial generation. Instead, automate a daily dashboard stack ranking the team on total dials, total connects, total discovery calls, total demos, total sales, etc. Send the dashboard out every day to the entire sales and marketing team and include the CEO. As a result, salespeople will be able to understand where they are gravitating from the “success blue-print” and self-diagnosis the areas in the funnel where they need work. At the end of the day, the salesperson, sales manager, and the company are on the same team. Enabling everyone with the daily metrics will provide the motivation and discipline you desire.
Mistake #7: Letting new salespeople shadow top performers
“Welcome to our company Bob. Do you remember our top salesperson, Sue? For your training, you are going to shadow her for two months.”
The shadowing approach to sales training is neither scalable nor predictable. In my experience, top salespeople are at the top for different reasons. They all bring a unique “super-power” to the table and lean into it heavily. A ride-along sales training strategy may dissuade sales people from leaning into their super-power. It may also encourage them to pick up bad habits from their peers. Instead, create a sales process. Certify salespeople by quantifying their aptitude with each stage of the sales process. Provide enough detail in the sales process to guide the salesperson but don’t make it too constraining that the salesperson cannot apply their “super-power”.
Mistake #8: Buying technology for management rather than the front-line salespeople
The majority of sales technology purchased over the last few decades has been purchased for the sales leader to conduct pipeline reviews and manage forecasts. The end result? The front-line salespeople do not use the software. Data integrity suffers and the original utility of the purchase is never realized.
In the last year, we have seen an explosion in sales technology that actually benefits the salesperson. It helps the salesperson sell faster by removing admin tasks and streamlines the processes they conduct dozens of times per day. It helps sales people sell better by illustrating the full buyer context to the salesperson at all times. Furthermore, technology that benefits salespeople is the best path toward capturing the data that sales leaders need to run the business.
Mistake #9: Not experimenting enough
Every sales context is unique. Who do you sell your product to? How complicated is your product? How expensive is it? Is your product sold direct or through partners? Do most sales originate from inbound leads or outbound calls? Is it 1995 or 2005 or 2015? Varying answers to these questions call for varying approaches to the sale. Establish a baseline funnel. Form some theories on how the funnel can be improved. Devise and execute experiments. Iterate and improve.
If you ensure that these 9 mistakes do not occur on your team, your company will reap the benefits of a productive and effective sales strategy. After all, the success of your sales team directly relates to the success of the company as a whole.