Sales leaders often spent a lot of time talking about how to scale your sales team and move away from founder-led sales as quickly as possible but in reality, those founder-led months are an important phase of scaling your company.
Harpaul Sambhi is the Founder and CEO of productivity software Magical, as well as the Founder and former CEO of Careerify recruiting software, which sold to LinkedIn in 2015. Harpaul joined the Predictable Revenue podcast to discuss the importance of founder-led sales to scale a startup predictably.
The role of founder-led scales in creating predictable revenue
Harpaul learned the importance of founder-led sales firsthand while building his company Careerify. After four years of making $0 in sales, the recruiting software company scaled very quickly to over $5 million in annual recurring revenue, and eventually sold to LinkedIn.
In this period of rapid growth, Harpaul learned what it meant to sell as a founder and the intricacies of hiring Careerify’s first salespeople.
Founders often fall into the trap of believing that hiring more salespeople will automatically result in more sales. But if they haven’t gone through a repeatable process and haven’t reached product-market fit, it’s very difficult for salespeople to sell without the founder.
Prospects often need to hear from the founder in order to see the company’s vision. This leads to frustration because the founder brought on salespeople to free up time for other areas, but their presence is still required to close deals.
How to set your sales team up for success
The first step founders need to take in this stage is to sell the quota they want their salespeople to sell. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a much better idea of the process and how realistic the quota truly is.
It’s also important for founders to understand the average rep ramp time (which varies depending on your industry). Make sure your targets are realistic and allow enough time for salespeople to familiarize themselves with the company.
One of the primary goals during this founder-led sales stage is to create predictable revenue, which requires documenting the process in a playbook. Laying out each stage of the sales cycle will go a long way to creating repeatable revenue.
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The power of vulnerability in founder-led sales
In addition to ironing out your process, building a strong founder-led sales team requires transparency, both with your reps and with clients.
Harpaul shares a story of how he once called a prospect who worked in HR to ask for her advice on managing his team. Rather than selling, he was open about the issues they were having, and showed his human side. That vulnerability created a real bond with the prospect, who eventually became a customer.
On a founder-led sales team, transparency is hugely important. Salespeople won’t understand how to replicate your process if you don’t share the details with them. Be open about how you speak to prospects, any challenges your company is facing, and why each account matters.
Prospects are often won over by the founder’s vision and authenticity, but that can be replicated across the entire founding sales team–if the founder shares and documents their process.
When is the right time to transition out of founder-led sales?
A good rule of thumb is when you start to see more inbound than outbound, it could be time to start hiring reps. Keep track of how many existing customers are willing to refer you to new ones and be intentional about that process.
Marketing should grow alongside outbound so when you do transition out of founder-led sales, your reps have enough leads in the pipeline. Above all else, Harpaul stresses the importance of building a pipeline that someone else can successfully take over. It’s very difficult to build a pipeline from scratch, and you want to set your first sales hires up for success.
How to prepare for the next stage
Before transitioning out of founder-led sales, you’ll want to make sure your systems are solid. A small amount of technology and enablement tools can go a long way. Remember that you’re hiring to reclaim time, so make sure your sales process is as efficient as possible.
The main process to dial in is getting prospects to a decision point. If you can get them to say yes or no quickly, rather than a long, drawn-out process, that will create much more predictable revenue. This process should be codified in your playbook for future salespeople to replicate.
Lastly, make use of your rejections. Reach out to prospects who ended up falling through on deals, and see what went wrong. Learn from your mistakes, understand how to correct them, and then create proactive material so you can do better next time. Take what you learn and–you guessed it–add it to your playbook!
Tips for prospecting on LinkedIn
Having worked in LinkedIn’s Product Management department, Harpaul shared his best tips for what salespeople could be doing better on the platform.
The first thing to understand is whether or not your ideal customer is even on LinkedIn. If you browse many different profiles and all of them are out of date, that could be a sign that your audience is better found on another platform.
If they are on LinkedIn, try using groups–an underleveraged prospecting tool, niche groups and can be used to find an entire community of your ideal clients. Find the most active groups in your industry and send a request to join.
Establishing strong foundations in the founder-led sales stage is key to scaling
Founder-led sales is an important step of the scaling journey, often overlooked in favor of hiring sales leaders as soon as possible. But there is a lot to be learned during this stage, and if you establish a strong playbook early on, it will make it much easier to scale predictably.
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