Moving from founder-led sales

Graeme Hall

Graeme Hall

28 November 2019

In this four-part series, our Venture Partner Graeme Hall will be exploring the process of moving away from founder-led sales, to a more scalable and sustainable operation that delivers results. This piece will cover everything from codifying a founder’s sales ability, to building the most effective sales process.

Graeme has worked with around 100 venture and private equity-backed businesses to grow revenues by an average of 25% in his 30-year career in sales and sales management. His unique sales methodology has been adopted by numerous fast growth businesses and forms a key part of  the 100-day action plan.

Moving from Founder-led Sales Part One

One of the perennial challenges facing early stage technology businesses is moving from the founder-led sales to the type of scalable, sustainable approach that gives investors confidence in the future revenues and the founders a genuine return on all their hard work over the years.

What we’ve found over the last 15 years is that addressing this problem necessitates exploring several specific issues.

Codifying the founder’s sales ability

In the early days, many founders will try selling their technology into a variety of markets/sectors, almost always with sporadic but not necessarily repeatable success. Anyone willing to pay for the technology can have it, often at a variety of price points and under several different revenue models as the founder tries to work out who wants it most and what they might be willing to pay for it and how?

Moving from this situation to one that is scalable beyond the founder is often fraught as new sales people try to work out what the founder did and the founder tells them ‘just do what I do’ without knowing exactly what it is that works for them.

The solution usually lies in ‘codifying’ the founder’s previous actions and producing a systematic approach based on these outputs. For example, how does the founder decide who to target based on their previous experience and can that thinking be solidified into a set of simple qualification questions? Or is it clear why the founder begins the conversation where they do and the importance of the ‘war stories’ they use? Can those stories be turned into case studies that any sales person can use without having the intimate knowledge of actually being there at the time?

The questions above may just be the start of course but the key is to draw out the specifics of what helps the founder get the sale over the line and then solidify it into a set of sales tools anyone else can use.

Building the sales process

Regardless of the way sales were conducted in the past, any business looking to scale its revenues via a sales team should think carefully about the most appropriate sales process to deliver for the future.

Identifying the steps in the sale (Qualification, Discovery, Solution Definition, Proposal etc.) most likely to lead to a conversion and the activities required at each stage, are key to building a robust, scaleable sales process that any competent sales person can follow. In doing this it is important to remember that you are designing the most effective sales process, not necessarily the most efficient.

As an example, in many businesses, once a proposal has been produced, it is e-mailed to the prospect for their review and then the long process of ‘chasing down a response’ begins. This is efficient in terms of the sales person’s time (assuming the many phone calls/e-mails to the prospect from this point on are short!) but hands control to the other party at a crucial point in the sale – hence the lack of response.

In our experience it is far more effective in terms of converting the sale, to arrange to take the proposal back to the prospect and talk it through with them (if the geography makes this difficult you can at least arrange a video call to go through it together). Not only do you maintain control for that bit longer but you get to see their ‘live’ reaction to your ideas and, crucially the price. It is easier to handle any concerns they may have face-to-face and you can involve other people if they are likely to influence things at the same time.

If this is true for your business, then this key activity and stage in the sales process at which it happens needs to be recognised in the process and built in accordingly, including any associated activity.

Once you have the process defined you can then calculate the number of each activities required for success (in the early days you may have little reliable historical data but a best guess is a good start, and capturing the information going forward will prove an iterative process to reach more reliable data).

From here you can build an activity-based plan for any new sales person to succeed.

Identifying and recruiting for the sales skills you need.

Once you have the process in place and know the steps in the successful sale, you can refine the skill sets required and start to think about where to best find them and ensure that they are present in any new hires. You should also consider exactly where you plan to deploy this resource once it exists. We will explore both of these issues during the next two insights in this series.