In early 2007, I took on the role of head of sales for the Eastern region at a tech startup in Boston. At the time, this sales organization was failing: sales reps weren’t hitting their marks and the pressure was undeniably weighing down on the team. Since we were a tech startup with minimal resources, I had to figure out how to turn the sales organization around without bringing on additional help.
Over the course of that year and after a few experiments, the performance began to increasingly pick up. Fast forward 12 months later and my team had increased sales by more than 750 percent without adding any additional team members.
As I look back on that experience, here are the four key lessons I learned on turning around my sales team.
1. Changing the sales model
In my first few weeks at the company, I switched up the sales model. Prior to me joining the company, the sales model was very technical-focused, meaning the team would sell based on the technical components of the product to customers (i.e. speeds of the product) and this just wasn’t that interesting. I shifted tactics and had the team sell based on the business value of the product instead of the technicalities. Keep in mind, a business-value sale does not focus on the product itself but rather the dollar impact the solution provides the customer.
Changing how my sales team sold was a major game changer for the company, as it created intimacy with the customer. The engagement was also meaningful because reps were able to talk with customers about the business challenges they were facing. Plus, it allowed the company to understand the true drivers of the buying decisions of our customers, which increased our win rates. As an added and unexpected bonus, once customers understood the value of our product in that way, it was harder for them to negotiate the price point down.
Entrepreneurs should always sell based on the business value of their service or product. Once customers understand the benefits of your product or service and the value to them, it’s much easier to make a sale, and you will also find that the customer is less likely to try to negotiate the price down.
2. Fixing a people issue
When I took over sales at the startup, the sales organization was not made up of the right mix of people. I decided who stayed and swapped in people already in the company who had the right DNA for sales and deep expertise in our market. By having people who are made for their roles, your sales team will excel and be so much more powerful.
While this isn’t easy for an entrepreneur, it is imperative. A few characteristics that I’ve found that most great salespeople possess are optimism, empathy, and focus. Empathy is important for salespeople because they need to be able to identify with customers and understand their point of view. Optimism is a critical trait as all salespeople experience a pretty high frequency of rejection. Also, optimistic people are persistent and when they are faced with rejection, they are resilient and think of other solutions and alternatives to the situation. And lastly, find someone who is personally driven to achieve their goals and self-motivated.
3. Shrinking territories
Once I had the right people in place, I shrunk each person’s sales territory and turned their responsibilities into a manageable list. This was a game changer. I found when you decrease a sales employee’s responsibilities, you actually get higher productivity, because they take ownership of their assigned territories and are much more accountable.
Once I assigned a manageable list of places, I allocated leads outside of defined territories as they came in. I did not have a fair approach to assigned leads: I assigned leads to individual people where I thought we had the best chances for success. I considered the experience of the individual, the prospect’s industry and the particular selling challenges that might arise. Founders may also want to consider this strategy as salespeople need direction. A well-defined territory provides built-in focus.
4. Developing true experts
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to go with a vertical focus for one or two individuals who excel in a particular area. The value of this strategy is that you get salespeople who start to understand all the players in one area, as well as all the jargon and business drivers for their specific market. I employed this strategy with a few of our salespeople, and we had a 90 percent win rate against competitors with a very similar product while also selling our product for significantly higher prices than our competitors. Our only advantage was that our salespeople were able to walk into sales meetings with domain expertise. Once we got a couple of wins, we were then able to reference those wins within that marketplace.
For entrepreneurs, having a domain expert for verticals that matter most to your business will prove to give you a huge upper hand. By having an expert on your team, you’ll know your customers and understand their language and pain points, which will make you a much more empathetic, trustworthy and credible partner.
If you’re looking to your boost sales performance, be sure to think about how you’re selling, if you have the right mix of people on your team, how you should focus your team and how your team can become domain experts for the verticals that matter most for your business.
by: Amit Mukherjee