I really believe there are two kinds of founders in a time of crisis. There’s the one who feels threatened, minimises costs and switches to the survival modus. And there’s the one trying to translate a crisis into an opportunity to enlarge market share, enter new markets or diversify his/her product or proposition.
Here in The Netherlands (where Equalture is located) we have some highly successful tech companies who have been able to transition from startup to scaleup and can today call themselves disruptions and market leaders. And you know what most of them have in common? They started or successfully grew their company during the last crisis.
I have the pleasure to chat with lots of founders these days, of which most of them are this turning-a-crisis-into-an-opportunity type of founder, having big plans to grow this year. And they also have one more thing in common, besides their crisis mindset: They are aware of the fact that their growth depends on the success of their Sales team, especially now, while this is also the one team that a lot of founders struggle with building. Therefore, their (future) Sales Team is either their accelerator or the heaviest brake on their growth. In this blog I will provide you with the four key tips to help you build your crisis-proof Sales Team.
Tip 1. Shift away from generalists to specialists
Sales has significantly changed over the years. The 21st century digitisation enables us to easily sell our products to companies from all over the world – resulting in competitors from all over the world as well. And then there’s also a change in attracting potential customers, now that we have both offline and dozens of online channels, while growth hacking has become the new buzzword. So mastering the entire sales cycle has almost become science.
Especially in smaller teams, the most ‘logical’ move from a founder-perspective is to start hiring one or two people who can do it all. Finding product-market fit. Defining the value proposition. Attracting prospects. And closing deals.
I fully understand why founders start building their Sales team this way and think it’s the smartest move. In fact, we did that as well, because we wanted to start with just one or two team members on Sales instead of three different people, all handling one stage of the sales cycle.
Experience from dozens of scaleups, however, has proven that this isn’t the approach that gets your sales operations up and running. In fact, most scaleups have spent a lot of money on building a sales team with generalists, find out one or two years later that this has only costed money, making them realise the importance of specialists instead of generalists. And that’s because filling a pipeline of leads requires completely different skills than closing these leads. You simply can’t master both. Well, maybe a founder can, but I don’t take them into consideration here.
In other words: splitting up the functions in your sales team in different stages of the sales cycle to help people focus is key. The most logical one is (1) a Business Developer (responsible for spotting market trends, the product-market fit and Ideal Customer Profile – in startups this is often the role of founders), (2) a Sales Development Representative (responsible for booking meetings i.e. filling the pipeline) and (3) a Sales Executive (responsible for closing deals). Something you could consider is combining 1 and 3 – that’s what we do here at Equalture as well, since 1 isn’t a full-time job here yet.
And believe me, you will earn more revenue by hiring these two/three specialist instead of hiring three team members you hope they can all close deals. Because they won’t.
Tip 2. Search for skills, not for track record
There are skills that have proven to be crucial for the two/three different sales focusses in scaleups. And not every Sales Development Representative or Business Developer will master them all. It’s therefore highly important to be aware of (i) the skills and personality traits required for a function and (ii) the representation of these skills and personality traits in your current team. This blog post explains the key skills and personality traits you should be looking for in your Sales team.
The mistake that many founders are making here is hiring people based on their previous job. The reason why this is so dangerous is because many scaleups are using different job titles for the same functions, or even mix up these job titles. In scaleup X, a Business Developer can actually be a Sales Development Representative. And besides, a Sales Development Representative might be performing average in scaleup X, but might perform excellent in a Business Development or Sales Executive position. Therefore it’s important to focus on skills you need for the different stages of the sales cycle rather than focusing on previous jobs based on job titles. You could introduce for instance assessments during the hiring process to assess these skills.
So, when taking tip 1 and 2 into consideration, the ideal Sales team basically masters two dimensions:
- Focus (filling the pipeline vs. closing the deals);
- Skills for these two focus areas.
And as I mentioned before, in most scaleups the founders are responsible for product-market fit, but if you decide to hire someone for that as well, you add both an additional focus and additional skill set to these dimensions.
Tip 3. Focus on the mix of people rather than the sum of people
Let’s say you’ve found yourself the nearly perfect team member in the Sales team to fill your pipeline – because this team member masters 80% of the skills that you were looking for. It’s very tempting to search for a look-alike when hiring a new team member for the same position, because this first team member has proven to be successful.
Keep hiring for the same person, however, will result in an overload of the 80% skills that you were looking for, but that 20% that’s missing gets more and more painful once the team is growing. It’s therefore highly important to be aware of the total skill set you need and to know to what extent your team is now collectively representing this total skill set.
Tip 4. Benchmark your team
Finally, I meet a lot of founders reinventing the wheel in many different situations, including building a Sales team. But why finding out everything yourself if there are thousands of successful scaleups to learn from? Believe me, having a successful Sales team is all about actually ‘just’ the two dimensions described above right if you as a founder have made your proposition crystal clear. It has nothing to do with luck, it’s just a proven business case.
And that’s basically it. Split focus, identify the required skills (here’s the list of skills again) and try to keep track of the gap between your current team and your desired team. And in case you would like to learn more about how Equalture’s Team Composition Technology can be of any help, you know where to find me.