3 sales habits to form now — before your startup gets too big to change

July 10, 2017

Startups often think they’re too small and too stretched to establish a formal sales process for their teams.

“A big challenge when I’m sitting in front of a technology organization is that the revenue-generating systems they’re developing on the back end do not exist on the front end,” said David Mattson, President and CEO of Sandler Training. “They’re victims of circumstance—running a thousand miles a minute, managing sales, doing product development—but the faster they adopt sales processes, the faster they’ll have income growth and relevance in the marketplace.”

When their business has grown to about $100 million in funding, startup founders often reach out to Mattson, and to Jim Mattei, a Sandler Training sales development specialist of tech companies.

“Their world comes to a screeching halt because they can’t get to the next level,” Mattson said. “They think it’s product innovation, but sometimes it’s not. I just had this conversation with a major social networking company, who said, ‘We’re growing like crazy; we can’t have JV players on our sales team. We need to go pro.’”

Mattson and Mattei help such organizations regroup, by applying brief and actionable management principles that are featured in Mattson’s book, “The Sandler Rules for Sales Leaders.”

These three rules are especially crucial for sales teams in a startup environment.

1. Use a common process. “In every other part of an organization, people speak a common language, using the same terminology,” Mattei said.

That’s less true in sales, particularly in a startup, where some mistake “common process” for a script. Mattson views it more as GPS.

“It’s about having steps in place to systematize the sales process across an organization,” Mattson said. “There are a million ways to get there, but this enhances that process. And if someone is off track, this gives me, as a sales leader, the ability to get him back on track.”

If a startup has a chance to hire a sales superstar or two, Mattei said, “they’re assessing you as much as you’re assessing them. They’re looking to see if you have your processes in place.”

When you do, it helps to expedite onboarding of any new hire—yet another value add. Mattei says he often hears, “I don’t have two years to see if my new salesperson is going to thrive; I have months.”

2. Manage behavior, not results. Startups are hyper-focused on results: revenue. The problem there is that you can’t manage what you can’t control, according to Mattson. By telling your team they must hit a $10 million sales number, they know the what, but they don’t know the how.

"Help your people invert the sales funnel," said Mattson. "If they know they have to reach a personal quota of $1 million, break it down for them: how many presentations is that; how many sales do they need to make; how many conversations do they need to have; how many referral requests should they send. Explain how they can reach that number instead of just saying, ‘Go get it.’”

That’s especially important in a startup where non-sales people may be acting in a sales role, he said. A beneficial side effect is that leaders can identify where they need to coach.

“Let’s say Jim is comfortable calling new customers, so that’s what he’s gravitating to. But that might not be good for a startup,” Mattson said. “Instead, encourage him to talk to five prospects, plus two existing customers per week. Now you’ve identified what you want and when. The what and the frequency should equal your result. The people who follow this ‘cookbook’ usually hit their quota 90 days ahead of when they schedule it.”

3. Role play creates muscle memory, and the best way to practice sales pitches is in front of sales managers or teammates.

“The first time you do anything, it’s not pretty,” Mattson said. “So why do it in front of a customer?”

Mattson encourages sales managers to role play with their team in an effective way. Many don't.

“Let’s say you watch Mike do a 30-second elevator pitch for your company, and he doesn’t do a good job. Back at the office, you say, ‘Mike, let’s role play. You play the sales person and I’ll play the prospect.’ Why repeat what he didn’t do a good job on?” Mattson said. “Instead, say, ‘Mike, I thought you ended well. Let me show you how others do their 30-second commercial.’ "

Actually show him what it should look like. In other words, show excellence. 

This ties back to a common process: “You could decide, these are the top 10 things the team should role play as a company to become absolute machines,” Mattson said, and then embed test-drives into the process.

“Back to the 30-second commercial: Tell Mike that you’re going to call this Friday so he can recite his 30-second commercial. If Mike knows you’re calling him, he’s going to practice—which, by the way, is awesome. So now it’s Friday; you call and say, ‘Mike, let’s hear it.’ And he does a great job. He’s pumped, we’re moving on to the next topic, he’s building his skill, and he’s winning.”

Ultimately, so is the startup.


Photo via Shutterstock 

Sandler offers leading-edge sales training and sales management training to help you maximize your prospecting and avoid missing opportunities to generate new referrals and sales. Learn more.