What does it mean to run sales?

A friend asked me to explain what I do on a day to day basis. My official title is Director of Sales, NALA. Tell this to an average person – and they will probably imagine anything on the range from a sleazy used car salesman to a high-powered jet-setting suit penning power deals. So, what does it really mean to run sales?

The spectrum of the day-to-day activities for any specific job is immense (just check the job requirements for a few), so let’s narrow our situation down to a very specific example. Here’s what we have: a young company Innotech has an idea, a prototype B2B (Business to Business) product that has gained initial traction and a talented team of engineers, but they don’t know how to break out onto the market.

They reached out to investors, and in general, everyone likes the idea, but nobody is willing to put in money until they reach a certain level of sales. They have heard about you, Captain Enterprise Sales, a man who can bootstrap them and launch them into stratosphere. You have all the necessary components: product, talent team, interest from the market. How do you do it?

Aside from the barebones team we mentioned, there isn’t anyone else, so it’s up to you, a superhero Sales Director, to build a well-executing sales machine and hire everyone else to help you on the way.

In your quest you will need three branches helping you out:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Product Management

In a well-running company all three interact in perfect harmony, executing in parallel, but in our example we’ll tackle them one at a time (doing circular references to each other, sometimes).

Step 1. Initial Analysis

First, as a new Sales Director, you need to sit down with the team and understand why their product has gained traction, what makes them unique in the field, what the competition does differently, and why any previous deals worked or failed.

For the successful deals – you need to extract common attributes and amplify them. These will drive your marketing campaign, your case studies, white paper, slide deck for presentation and, most importantly, your sales pitch for your SDRs (Sales Development Reps) and AEs (Account Execs) that you will hire later.

For the failed deals – you need to understand what was the reason for failure. For the product shortcomings – you will need to compile a list of where you fall short of competition, how to mitigate this, and present this list to the head of Product Management. For pricing, this is now a task for marketing to understand the competitive landscape, what the others are charging, what the market will bear, and how you can command the premium. With this data in hand and the average sales cycle length extracted from done deals you can now start forecasting and make sales projections.

At the end of Step 1 you have the following tasks:

  • Marketing:
    • Perform landscape analysis
    • What is competition charging for similar solutions
    • Create case studies with existing customers
    • White papers about your solution
  • Product Management:
    • Triage feature requests
    • Present product roadmap for these FERs (Feature Enhancement Requests)
  • Sales:
    • Create an elevator pitch
    • Create 15 minute slide deck
    • Create 1-hour full engagement slide deck and demo flow

Step 2: Generating Pipeline

Now that you have performed initial analysis of where the company is and assigned the tasks to each team, it is time to start growing your pipeline. A healthy pipeline relies on multiple sources of leads:

  • Networking: you and your reps open up rolodex and start calling connections
  • Outbound marketing campaigns: AdWords, LinkedIn drip campaigns
  • Dial for dollars: you purchase lists and subscriptions of your target audience and start calling
  • Inbound lead generation: publishing case studies, white papers, writing a blog will eventually start driving search engine traffic to you
  • Partners: you engage large resellers and distributors and their immense salesforce to amplify your direct effort

As a lean and mean company with just a few people at your disposition, you first and foremost attention is to tactical growth as opposed to strategic marketing of your company. You need results fast, and you need them now. Rule of thumb is that you need to have your pipeline at least 3x of what you intend to close. So, let others do the work for you in generating and qualifying the leads while you focus on the execution of first deals and honing the message until you polish your approach and are able to replicate it and scale with other reps.

Unless you have a fully staffed marketing department and not just one person who will be busy with the tasks you assigned to them in Step 1, here’s the approach I recommend:

Website and AdWords: hire an outside consulting company (for example, Core and More Technologies) that will create and maintain your website and the campaigns for you. Run weekly syncs with the team to understand what works and what does not. AdWords come with extremely deep analytics, so you can measure (or, rather, the company you hired) will measure and present to you click rates, and, most importantly, conversions: how many people looking for a product like yours came to your website and interacted with it. From there you can see what drives traffic the most: case studies, white papers, certain aspects of your solution. What you are looking at the end of it all are leads: name, phone number, email, title and the company that got interested enough to leave their details in your contact form.

LinkedIn drip campaign: same idea as with AdWords – unless you have a LinkedIn marketing whiz in the house, find an outside contractor who will set up a drip campaign for you targeting a highly precise segment of people – for example, all Chief Procurement Officers and heads of procurement departments in engineering firms. LinkedIn allows for a variety of methods and actions at every step, you can read more about them here.

Lists of names and phone numbers: dialing for dollars is a true and tried strategy that you can leverage while you are building up your lead flow. No doubt, your inbox soon will be flooded with offers to purchases lists from random companies claiming to be the most accurate and comprehensive, but be wary of internet strangers offering you things. There are several well-known sources you can leverage, such as Discover.org or HIMMS (if you are selling to a medical/healthcare industry).

Now that you have purchased lists or subscriptions, who is going to pick up the phone and start calling? If you have an army of SDRs, throw the list at them, divide and conquer, and watch your campaign progress. But what if you only have several AEs, whose time is too valuable to do cold calling when they should be hunting major enterprise deals? Outsource this function as well. There are many companies out there, like Memory Blue or EIMS who can take on this function. You will need to provide the lists of who to call, train the SDRs on the value proposition of your product and give them a cold-calling pitch.

These agencies will run the campaigns for you qualifying the leads and starting the conversations to the point where skilled AEs from your team can take over. You will need to analyze metrics, such as number of calls placed to leads converted, the feedback from SDRs and the accuracy of your purchased lists to understand the effectiveness of your campaign, pitch, response from your target audience and the overall validation of your go-to-market strategy.

Partners: finally, when you have your SDR to AE to close process working, it is time to think about partners. Partners are a great way to exponentially multiply the number of salespeople working for you – by paying them a percentage of sales.

Partners, however, work best if your product can be sold as SKUs: large organizations, such as CDW, Carahsoft, Longview, and others – have throngs of salespeople who have thousands of products to sell. Your job will be to get the resellers interested and show them initial wins. Salespeople are coin-operated, and unless you can bring them deals that have high potential to close, retire their monthly quota and put bread on the table, they will simply move on to another product, and your solution will be forever buried in the grave of SKUs that nobody sells.

The rewards of having a good reseller, however, are immense: resellers sway influence over their accounts, selling them everything from paper clips to disaster recovery solutions, so customers tend to view them as SMEs (subject matter experts) and tend to buy whatever the reseller recommends. Additionally, many resellers have established “buy off the book” prices set up where the customer can purchase any SKU without having to go through RFP process, multiple vendor selection, contract negotiation or any other red tape. It is well worth your time and effort to set up a healthy relationship with resellers, and more than likely you will need a dedicated channel manager for this position.

So, how do you get them interested? Usually, you set up several levels of rewards for resellers: for example, if they sell a deal on their paper, acting purely as a passthrough (saving you a headache of negotiating the contract), and your AEs do all the work, they get 5%. If they actively participate in the deal (whether it’s an RFP or pitching to their accounts), which you identified, they can get higher percentage. And finally, they get the most reward if they identify the lead themselves, register it with you (through a CRM) and drive the deal – they can get the highest percentage (subject to your negotiation).

Partners also play an important role in generating your pipeline through “Lunch and Learn” initiatives – you split the costs with the partner for an education lunch (or breakfast – I’ve seen amazing attendance in Australia where people come extra early to listen to an interesting conversation, have breakfast – and then head off to work), and you process all the leads from the event through the partner.