Growing Technology Sales: Setting the Sales Foundation in an Early Stage Venture

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dt_twitter_pictureWritten by Daniel Tautges @danieltautges

CEO Pinpoint Worldwide

In my twenty-year career I have had the opportunity to build and head sales in early stage, mid stage, and large organizations leading to $100’s of millions in global sales.  Each companies stage presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. This blog will address the key elements in creating a high functioning sales engine in the early stage venture.  In getting started there are three things that have to be done in the early stage that if not done correctly could break the sales car before leaving the garage.  In early stage is it critical that Sales Leadership 1.  Personally engage prospects and the market,  2.  Build-out a sales engine (CRM, Process & Measurements), and 3.  Document and share the sales playbook.

The New Venture

The profile of the early stage venture is typically a revenue starting point of under $1 million, with limited sales resources (people), little or no channel, low product/service market awareness, with limited marketing budget, lightly seeded or boot strapped, limited engineering resources, and no or just a few clients.  Really, who would want to start a sales organization with this?  Ah, but in the challenge lies the accomplishment.  The new venture is a stage that is really exciting and really fun.  The company has a newness and is pressed to move forward at a high rate of speed.  There is little bureaucracy or past baggage and sales is truly the engine that is pushing the company race car.  Fun…fun.. fun.  I have always felt that my actions had major impact on winning deals and it was never truer than in the new venture.  Winning here is imperative.  There are not many second chances.

Personally engage prospects – as many as humanly possible

This seems like a “no-brainer” but the funny thing is I have been in organizations where the executive team only worked with a few “key” prospects and didn’t really have a feel for the total market place.  It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to understand your customer.  Early communication leads to the right play book and early selling opportunities. I have several stories of how and why this works but here is one.

True Story

I had the opportunity to launch an early stage UK software company into the US market.  The leadership team had spent a great deal of time with a few key local clients but they just didn’t have a feel for why they were not selling more in the US.  I spent the first month speaking with global prospects, about 30 of them, and gathered intel on the perception of the company and how the product matched their requirements.  What I found out was that their largest competitor had done their homework on the company.  They knew where the product and company had holes and were broadcasting to the market.  Armed with this information I changed our global approach, the sales playbook, and implemented how we attacked the US.

Early conversations with prospects allows sales leadership to build a working playbook that can be templated for the sales organization.  This interaction leads to early company sales even if the product is not quite at the commercial stage.  Prospects appreciate a consultative approach and often, since the product is still in development, features can be tailored to fit a market gap and take advantage of an incumbants weakness.

Systems, Processes, & Measurements

Every successful sales organization, regardless of size or stage, has to incorporate Systems, Sales Processes and Measurements.  Typically in the early stage, there hasn’t been a lot of this foundation laid so this is an opportunity to create a modern, “world-class”, selling engine.

CRM

The Customer Relationship Management platform is a critical piece in the sales engine.  I have worked with just about every CRM platform, including home grown, and lean in the direction of Salesforce.com.  With Salesforce, I have been able to build-up from a blank shell the necessary infrastructure to manage sales from Early stage-to-Late, from US-to-Global, and from Direct-to-Channel.  It also provides the foundation necessary to build out a manageable sales process, task based and stage based tracking, and KPI measurements.  It doesn’t have to be Salesforce, but the foundation of a measurable process, progress management, reliable forecasting, client/sales engagement history, rep/channel accountability are the injectors, pistons and transmission of a “world-class” sales engine.

Document the Playbook

Now that you have spoken to the market and the tools are being implemented,  it is time to build the sales playbook.  The sales playbook’s objective is to get those great plays that you (sales leadership) knows will work as a resource for the team.  At a minimum, the sales playbook outlines what we are selling, to whom (personas), our selling process, our strengths/risks, pricing/packaging, handling objections, our selling collateral and our competition.  The playbook should be written and communicated so that everyone in the organization can understand it.  It is very important for the team (especially in early stage) to be on-board with the approach.  When resources are limited, everyone is on the sales team.

In early stage ventures it is important to build a solid foundation for growth.  It offers the unique opportunity to do-it-right the first time.  So engage the marketplace.  Talk to customers, analysts, domain experts.  Get that first hand intel to lead the selection of the right tools and build an executable sales plan for success.  Do it right.  Build the right engine.  Hit the throttle and enjoy the ride!

To learn more about Pinpoint Worldwide and how we have solved company growth problems, helped penetrate new markets, and launched innovative technology to a global marketplace, please visit us at  http://www.pinpointworldwide.com or contact me at daniel@pinpointworldwide.com

 

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