Today’s article was contributed by Tim Nguyen. Tim is the Co-Founder & CEO at BeSmartee, a new way of getting a home loan that’s as easy as booking a plane ticket online. Visit their website to sign up for their exclusive private launch.
Within companies there seems to be a rift between sales and everyone else. There’s a recurring mindset I’ve seen across companies of all sizes that goes something like this…
Sales people come in at 11 AM and leave at 3 PM. All they do is put on a nice smile, make a few phone calls and voila, six figures a year! They’re overpaid while the real work is being done by the rest of the company.
What a horrible way to look at your revenue generating teammates!
There was a time when the hunters were worshiped. But, along the way the people who created the weapons started becoming more important. Hunting became easier and the inventors became worshiped. That’s a mindset that exists today.
But truth is, despite advancements in technology, the terrain has changed and prey has become harder to hunt. Today, potential customers have a barrage of choices coming from a complex network of channels. You’re no longer competing against local and even national companies.
Especially in SaaS, the sales game has changed.
Every Department & Role Matters
A past advisor of mine who was running a company on target for $1 billion in annual sales always told me something I didn’t quite understand at the time; that every role and department is important. Whether you were the janitor or the CFO, the entire organization needed to work together.
From development to marketing; all people contribute to the success of an organization. If you look at a company like a human body, who’s to say the arms are any more important than the legs?
The entire system must work together, or else risk failing all together.
You’re going to need to truly embrace the fact that all departments and roles are equally as important. This was a characteristic that made Jack Welch such a highly effective business leader.
Why Integrate Sales Into Your Organization?
Sales people have their feet on the street. They use all 5 of their sensory gifts when roaming the playing field. They meet your customers, they get to know them on a personal level, they understand what keeps them up at night, and they have a pulse on the industries your company serves.
Good sales people are your number one source for understanding where market demand is, where it’s heading and when it’ll go there.
Today, I’ll be expanding on this idea in seven short sections:
1. Making Leadership Aware
First, management’s philosophy on the topic is critical. Everything you do sends a cue to everyone else. Your actions influence your team heavily – they send a message as to how people should behave, what is important and what is not.
If you’re a founder who leans heavy towards the technical side or sales, you may have a skewed perspective to begin with. If that’s the case, you’ll need to deliberately work towards embracing this philosophy and make it be known in every interaction and policy you have at your company.
For example, do you mandate that remote sales people work in the office each month? Do you even provide dedicated office space, or are they treated as a separate part of the company with little thought? Take a careful look at your decisions, and ask yourself, am I promoting teamwork or separation?
2. Sales Should Be a Part of Product Development
All product development should start with sales people as soon as possible. Why? Because they know what customers will buy and what they will not. This doesn’t mean you should take what sales people say as truth. This simply means that if you plan on building a product for customers, get as close to your customers as possible. Short of bringing your customers into the process, sales people are the next best option.
Sales should also be there through the entire process. What happens is, when sales leaves a product development meeting they go and talk to customers, they ask questions and they come back with new ideas, insight or validation.
By integrating sales into the creative process, you’ll have a higher chance of building software with customers who are already in line and ready to pay. Unless you hear God telling you to “Build it and they will come,” bring in sales people to tell you what customers want built.
Check out this great Quora response by Indy Guha, SaaS VC at Bain Capital.
3. Don’t Build Phantom Software
As defined by the dictionary, phantom is “a ghost,” or “a figment of the imagination,” and that’s exactly what building software nobody uses is. Because even though it’s there, if no one cares, it may as well be a phantom.
Unfortunately, in many SaaS companies, new features and products are developed inside a black box. An initial idea sparks the direction and then it gets handed over to development who designs it and starts coding. You close the doors and months later, really “cool” software is released. Everything looks great until you go to market and no one wants to pay for it.
Involve sales to identify features people are talking about and asking for. Showcase your iterations to sales so they can provide immediate feedback earlier in the process when changes are easier and less costly.
Now don’t go and build every feature sales asks for. All I’m saying is that it is important to keep the feedback loop going so that you understand your customer’s needs.
4. Bring Technical Resources Into the Field
Sales people don’t like bringing in technical people to sales meetings. They want to control the value proposition and are afraid that technical people don’t know how to. In many cases it’s true, but that shouldn’t stop you from including technology into the sales process.
A great example of this is Silanis, a SaaS company that provides e-signing technology and counts 8 of the top 20 banks in North America as customers. They don’t get as much press as DocuSign, but I suspect from my rough math that their revenues exceed that of DocuSign.
Silanis uses pseudo sales/technical people who can sell with the best of them and even write code. These people are able to support sales people in sales meetings, and in particular describe customer feedback from a technical perspective. In your own company, find or develop that person(s) who can play that role.
5. Sales Has Something to Say to Marketing
If the goal of marketing is to sell, include sales people in the marketing process!
Your marketing department needs to understand their target market, what their pain points are and what the call-to-action should be. Metrics and demographics data is not enough. Sales people are the ones who can give you the real insight into what metrics mean and why that’s actually the case.
Vice a versa, marketing can help quantify the sales persons assumptions with metrics and share insight into what potential customers are reading and what messages are resonating. For example, if sales people were told that landing page X has skyrocketed in conversions, then the sales team can help identify the industry driver and put action behind it.
Integrate your sales and marketing teams to reduce sales cycles, lower cost of sales and enter markets quicker.
6. Departments Are Not Silos
On a farm, silos work really well if you want to separate the storage of different raw materials, but inside your company, there should be no place for silos. Departments naturally silo themselves however, but that’s only human nature.
Your challenge is to bring the silos down so that all departments are cooperative. Tear down the silos and integrate your sales people into your organization and let that synergy grow your business.
In the words of the great Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
7. Sales Can Also Support Operations
In your SaaS business, operations are your customer support people. They’re in a unique position as they work with your customers very closely and often times hear about issues and opportunities before even sales people do. While the sell may happen with management and sales, the retention of customers happens with operations.
This means that operations can offer information that sales cannot see. For example, operations may hear of a new feature set that comes directly from end users and enhance user satisfaction. This information in the hands of sales people is an opportunity to integrate deeper with customers and set course on a solution that makes a customer stay with you for life.
That last thing you want is for users of your software complaining on a regular basis. Once the complaining builds momentum, your sales people become busy putting out fires (trying to save an account), whereas if the information was presented earlier your sales people would be capitalizing on new opportunities.
Have you successfully integrated sales at your company? Let us know all about it in the comments!
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