Request Demo

Subscribe To Our Blog

Subscribe To Our Blog

Talent Hub   | 4 Min Read

Sales Strategy

Written By Srijan Sharma

So, when you think of the arcane sales executive, what comes into your mind? A smooth talker with words made out of silk and closures made out of steel.


Come 2017, my views have changed, and so have my peers. I have evolved through process and operation, but the problem is – so have my competitors.

If I had to summarise this whole document in a line, it would be that “Sales is not about brass balls, it is about steel minds”, but you don’t get anything from that. So, let’s delve and fight more. Sales lessons, from a sales exec to another sales exec. Heart to heart. We are going to talk about

Hiring the Best People

Structuring Your Sales Department

Disciplined Tracking of Your Key Metrics

The Integration and Interaction with Marketing (They are your best friends, or should be)

Hygiene, Sound Processes, and Churn Reduction

And last but certainly not the least, Spreading Love and Affection Among The Team

Let’s get started without delay on one of the most valuable lessons about managing sales in a start-up environment – Hire. The. Best.

“Sales is not about brass balls, it is about steel minds”

Hire The Best People

When looking to hire a salesperson, what you’re looking for first is grit and determination. It’s hard to gauge such qualities just by looking at a resume or conducting an interview. After all, there is one lion in the jungle as opposed to a million sheep.

The Competency Factor

Think hard and firm as to what is/are that/those core competencies for successful sales personnel.  You will realize that your first salesperson person should have different attributes than a VP of sales at a seasoned organization. Another important factor and something which misses out on a lot of occasions are ‘to upgrade continuously’.

Stagnancy by design kills the efficiency as well as the creativity of the predicted show-stopper by making him complacent to the ambiance.Another important factor and something which misses out on a lot of occasions is ‘to upgrade continuously’. Stagnancy by design kills the efficiency as well as the creativity of the predicted show-stopper by making him complacent to the ambiance.

The Wonder Workers

The third crucial thing to keep in mind would be the tussle between your dependency on knowledge and smartness. Knowledge is the collection of skills and metrics your respective hire has acquired through experience. Intelligence, on the other, stronger hand is the ability to apply knowledge.

Personally, in my company, I have given smartness a much larger weight. At least in the initial stages, and it has worked wonders.Intelligence, on the other, stronger hand is the ability to apply knowledge. Personally, in my company, I have given smartness a much larger weight. At least in the initial stages, and it has worked wonders.

Kill Attrition Before It Breeds

With increased employee mobility combining with the advent of social media, employees have not only become better informed about your company’s standing as an employer of choice, but they are also now much abler (and likely) to apply for a job elsewhere as soon as they become aware and/or decide that it is worth switching.

What should you do in this situation? The answer is simple. Make them think long term. Allowing and nurturing your workforce to develop sustainably will drive growth in your company over and above the feeling of belonging to the company in your workforce. And let me tell you one thing, sales guys are the most successful after the 1st year. Give them time; you will not repent on your Return on Investment.

Better Stronger Equals Better Sales People

If you take any growing organizations into a microscopic view, you will know that 80% of the sales are done by 20% of the workforce. The game here is to increase that shoddy 20% metric. I sincerely believe in out-pricing the competition in the hunt for the leader of the wolf-pack.

As a sales head, I know how difficult it is to devise the sweet spot for strong variable pay plan for your workforce. But strong offenses often die weak. One failure which I faced while scaling was when my organization offered direct co-relation of incentives to a certain percentage of the revenue.

Trust me; things will slip out like sand when you are closing your first. Another value addition which is brought upon by experience is to ‘incentivize disproportionately for top performers’. Yes, the age-old carrot in front of a rabbit story.

The Stock(y) Story

How ESOP plans for your veterans can help grow your business potentials is a tried and tested thumb rule. Albeit, it is hated by the bystanders and novice entries. Period. Giving them goals to achieve in the back of their heads can turn the perilous tides of your organization. Sharing your wealth is the key here.

The Infusion of Talent

You know what’s more efficient than an electric car? It’s the new hire from your nascent campus. They will burn the midnight oil just to ‘rise to the occasion’, all the more you might find your diamond in the rough.

We have all heard ‘old-dog-new-tricks’ story, on similar lines – infusing fresh talent at various levels might just give you the spark to light the wildfire. But enough of stories and euphemisms, let’s get down to the brass tacks now.

The Disruptive Structure

Going deeper into the science of sales, segmenting your workforce in accordance with the size of key accounts/ demographic regions can be your key to unravel the chaos. Structuring your workforce in accordance with their strengths and more so often – their weaknesses can be a very efficient and feasible way to increase your outputs while actuating your bottom-line. Inside sales, another ardent cog in the scalability of any organization.

As a leader, I am wired to be the 10th man who refutes any and every result with a question ‘how’, and you should do it too. Trust me; it works wonders. Asking the question, ‘How are you selling this ‘might just be the key to finding the next Sachin Tendulkar for your team.

The Addition of Product

Involving product in the active discussions of sales can be the defining niche needed to conquer all your target achievement woes. Picture this, if the person making the product does not have an active take away from the whole sales process, how is he going to make the product better equipped?

Nurturing Nursery kids, as researchers suggest is the most tiring and arduous jobs of all times. Doesn’t necessarily mean that you put in teachers at every point. Same scenario, different ambiance. Letting your workforce manage its mistakes is the key takeaway here.

Discipline in Tracking Metrics

How accurately can you forecast the onset of any disaster, proves the Mettl(e) of any and every leader? Setting targets which are aggressive, yet realistic is another key ammo in your arsenal to win the battle. Don’t worry, things do go wrong, and they go down fast – the key is to have a solid fallback action plan.

The Strategic Advantage

Devising disruptive strategies for those big players is something which in personal experience has been articulately beneficial to my organization. Barring the reflection of reality onto your projects, pipelining stages to give you a systematized process can more often than never be your USP in this growing market.

Setting expectation and minimal benchmarks to developmental deadlines and strategies can be the key differentiator of your team.

The I/O Stigma

Trust and numbers, being the two sides of the same coin can be your weapon of destruction or self-destruction depending on how you use them. I have long believed that humans (myself included) err on the side of overconfidence in their abilities and thoughts. Thus one of my favorite sayings is

“Strong opinions, weakly held.”

Decode the metrics of your workforce’s input and set realistic benchmarks so that they adhere to particular framework hence holding the bottom-line together. Your rock-star sales pupil might be getting all the revenue from his old business, all the while ignoring new businesses outrightly.

Money Matter

Analyzing costs of your team over a certain tenure is mostly ignored, but when the losses hit a surmountable level, it is often frowned back upon.

Why not do it from the start then, is my ardent question. Optimizing yours spends across the team can not only help your revenues, but it can also very well bump up the potential for rising.

Spreading The Love Around

Through personal experiences, I have learned that saving the hides of your workforce on the battlefield always pay handsomely in the longer run, especially in the initial stages of their learning the ropes. And this becomes all the more important when you have your battlefields spread across different geographies.

Think of it this way - a part of your workforce is materializing a deal in Mumbai, and you are sitting in Delhi. In this situation, however bright you may be, you have to take the backseat and act as a support to the front-line force in the impending battlefield.

Ideas can come from anywhere; the question is if you are welcoming them or not.

Getting involved and having an open-ended conversation while being an interactive and fun way of engaging your employees, can also give you that defining niche to propel you ahead of the competition.

The flow of information is the most crucial building block in any organization. An open looped interaction where anyone can contribute is the best thing that technologies have given us today. Period.

The Celebration Never Ends

Whenever there is a closure, client size immaterial, there is a circular forwarded to the entire organization. How does it help? It gives the incentive of bragging rights to your workforce, ultimately helping your bottom line.

The Bendy Rate Card

When the ownership of a certain project lies in the hands of the perpetrator, so should the veto in the pricing. You aren’t there on the battlefield, your platoon is. Would you let them choose the right arsenal for the war, or send them with axes in a nuclear war?

Having a flexible rate card can operationally lower their dependency on you while making them feel empowered for something which ultimately belongs to you.

The Marketing Fight Strategy

You’d think that marketing and sales teams, whose work is also deeply interconnected, would have discovered something similar.

As a rule, though, they’re separate functions within an organization, and, when they do work together, they don’t always get along. When sales are disappointing, Marketing blames the sales force for its poor execution of an otherwise brilliant rollout plan.

The sales team, in turn, claims that Marketing sets prices too high and uses too much of the budget, which instead should go toward hiring more salespeople or paying the sales reps higher commissions.

Brothers in Arms

As your functions become better aligned, it’s important to create opportunities for marketers and salespeople to work together. It’s useful for marketers, particularly brand managers and researchers, to occasionally go along on sales calls.

They should get involved with developing alternate solutions for customers, early in the sales process. And they should also sit in on important account planning sessions.

The Sales Quagmire

Salespeople, in turn, should help to develop marketing plans and should sit in on product-planning reviews. They should preview ad and sales promotion campaigns. They should share their in-depth knowledge about customers’ purchasing habits.

Jointly, marketers and salespeople should generate a playbook for expanding business with the top ten accounts in each market segment. They should also plan events and conferences together.

Cleanliness in Function

As the platoon commander to your force, you should understand that cash is the only commodity bringing sanity to an unenforced structure. To wit, a collection of money should be a sound process cordoned off from every leak. Especially in India, as the best case is money upfront.

Focusing on Churn, and how to drive out this humongous impediment to growth in your organization. And foremost, do business with utmost honesty and integrity. Having a co-founder who has done sales for the first 3-4 years always help. Yes, I am a bit narcissist as well.

Today, the savviest sales leaders are dramatically changing the way they run their workforces. They are reinventing their sales approaches to respond to new market environments. They are expanding their lists of target customers beyond what anyone had previously construed.

They are boosting their sales reps’ productivity not by hiring the most gifted individuals but by helping existing reps sell more.

Hire the best people

  • Choose the perceptive best out a huge lot. One lion out a million sheep.
  • Think about the core and background competencies for any sales guy.
    • Upgrade with every opportunity.
    • Find your sweet spot between experience & inherent talent
      • Smartness in the initial stages always work.
    • Minimize attrition; don't hire and fire;
      • Make your workforce think long term.
      • Sales guys are most productive after the 1st year. Through experience.
    • Have a strong variable pay plan for salespeople;
      • Good salespeople should always be out priced
      • Don’t link it directly to % of revenues
      • Challenges would occur when you scale your organization.
      • Have variable incentive plans for top performers.
    • Share wealth - have an ESOP plan for Senior people;
      • Even if the stakeholders do not care. Do it.
    • Campus hiring can be a great source of talent and keep costs in check.
    • Keep infusing new talent at all levels; it's difficult to teach old people new tricks
    • Keep on the lookout for the people who are disruptors in their fields.

Structuring

  • Structure your workforce accordingly by Geography / by the size of accounts / by product category
  • Inside sales is a great way to scale with efficiency and feasibility.
  • But it should be done with the customer in mind-
    • Keep asking the question “how” are you selling
  • Involve product and put target achievement as a portion of their KRAs
  • Continuously improve; have a structured training plan
    • Training should also be an important part of the Sales leaders KRA
    • Get in the Sales Leader at the appropriate and analyzed time.

Disciplined Tracking

  • Forecast
    • How accurately can you predict the movement and opportunities?
    • Set targets that are aggressive, but realistic.
    • Things will go wrong; they are bound to. Just make sure that you always have a backup plan.
    • Have a separate strategy for large deals.
    • Pipe stages
      • Should be reflective of reality in the current situation.
    • Set expectations for every sales guy in terms of minimal and expected performance
  • Inputs
    • Decide whether you should track input metrics
      • In terms of a number of meetings, adhering to targets and such.
      • Have your sweet spot between trust based vs number based inputs.
    • Typically salespeople overachieve targets from existing accounts and underachieve from new business. Do not let that happen.
      • Introduce hunting vs. farming segmentation at the right time and at the correct level.
    • Costs
      • Track costs of sales and EBITDA margins.
      • Keep expanding if they are in control. More inputs the better.

 So I ask you again. Where are you in this race?

GodSpeed.

Spread your love and affection

  • Founders should be out there on the battlefield at least a few times every week, especially in the initial stages of introduction to certain demographics.
    • Becomes more important if the teams are distributed across geographies.
    • It’s the person on the spot who matters; No matter how bright you are, you can’t do somebody else’s job in Mumbai sitting out of Delhi. Simple.
    • Get involved with your people;
      • That’s how they get trained and that’s how they stay. Train and retain.
    • Have an open culture; Open lines of communications.
      • Ideas can come from anywhere
      • Sales guys are closest to the action and hence can give the best feedback (how you filter their inputs is also an art)
    • Celebrate sales closures across the organizational board.
    • Experiment with pricing
      • Give flexibility (especially early on) to sales teams around pricing.

Interaction with marketing

  • For SaaS businesses, marketing’s role is to
    • Generate Leads
    • Create awareness
  • Do everything in-house in the initial stages
    • Focus on a lesser amount of things, but doing them perfectly. As they say, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • A little tussle between sales and marketing is healthy and imperative for the development of both the departments.

Hygiene

  • Ensure sound collection processes; cash is sanity at the end of the day.
    • In India, best case is to get the money upfront.
  • Focus on Churn - single biggest impediment to growth.
  • One of the founders would have to do sales in the first 3-4 years to get a fluid motion in place.
  • Do business with honesty and integrity.

To summarize these sales intricacies into concise points. Here’s the cheat sheet for your sales recruitment woes.

  1. Choose the perceptive best out of a huge lot. One lion >> million sheep.
  2. Think about the core and background competencies for any sales guy.
    • Upgrade with every opportunity.
    • Find your sweet spot between experience & inherent talent. 
  3. Minimize attrition; don't hire and fire
    • Smartness in the initial stages always wins over experience
    • Make your workforce think long term.
  4. Sales guys are most productive after the 1st year. Through experience.
  5. Have a strong variable pay plan for salespeople; 
    • Good salespeople should always be out priced
    • Don’t link it directly to % of revenues
    • Challenges would occur when you scale your organization.
    • Have variable incentive plans for top performers.
  6. Share wealth - have an ESOP plan for Senior people; 
    • Even if the stakeholders do not care. Do it.
  7. Campus hiring can be a great source of talent and keep costs in check.
  8. Keep infusing new talent at all levels; it's difficult to teach old people new tricks
  9. Keep on the lookout for the people who are disruptors in their fields.
  1. Structure your workforce accordingly by Geography/size of accounts/product category
  2. Inside sales is a great way to scale with efficiency and feasibility.
  3. But it should be done with the customer in mind
    • Keep asking the question “how” are you selling
  4. Involve product and put target achievement as a portion of their KRAs
  5. Continuously improve; have a structured training plan 
    • Training should also be an important part of the Sales leaders KRA
    • Get in the Sales Leader at the appropriate time.
  1. Forecast
    • How accurately can you predict the movement and opportunities?
    • Set targets that are aggressive, but realistic.
    • Things will go wrong; they are bound to. Just make sure that you always have a backup plan.
    • Have a separate strategy for large deals.
    • Pipe stages
      • Should be reflective of reality in the current situation.
    • Set expectations for every sales guy in terms of minimal and expected performance 
  2. Inputs
    • Decide whether you should track input metrics
      • In terms of a number of meetings, adhering to targets and such.
      • Have your sweet spot between trust based vs number based inputs.
    • Typically salespeople overachieve targets from existing accounts and underachieve from new business. Do not let that happen.
      • Introduce hunting vs. farming segmentation at the right time and at the correct level. 
  3. Costs
    • Track costs of sales and EBITDA margins.
    • Keep expanding if they are in control. More inputs the better.
  1. Founders should be out there on the battlefield at least a few times every week, especially in the initial stages of introduction to certain demographics.
    • This becomes more important if the teams are distributed across geographies. It’s the person on the spot who matters
    • It’s the person on the spot who matters; No matter how bright you are, you can’t do somebody else’s job in Mumbai sitting out of Delhi. Simple.
    • Get involved with your people; That’s how they get trained and that’s how they stay. Train and retain.
  2. Have an open culture; Open lines of communications.
    • Ideas can come from anywhere
    • Sales guys are closest to the action and hence can give the best feedback (how you filter their inputs is also an art)
  3. Celebrate sales closures across the organizational board.
  4. Experiment with pricing
    • Give flexibility (especially early on) to sales teams around pricing.
  1. For SaaS businesses, marketing’s role is to
    • Generate leads
    • Create awareness
  2. Do everything in-house in the initial stages
    • Focus on a lesser amount of things, but doing them perfectly. As they say, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  3. A little tussle between sales and marketing is healthy and imperative for the development of both the departments.
  1. Ensure sound collection processes; cash is sanity at the end of the day.
    • In India, best case is to get the money upfront.
  2. Focus on Churn - single biggest impediment to growth.
  3. One of the founders would have to do sales in the first 3-4 years to get a fluid motion in place.
  4. Do business with honesty and integrity.

Ketan Kapoor, one of the co-founders and CEO of Mettl, is part of a growing breed of highly qualified entrepreneurs. An IIT-IIM alumnus, he has the unusual distinction of having spent most of his career at startups.

Want new articles before they get published?
Subscribe to our Awesome Newsletter.

Read More in this Topic

So, when you think of the arcane sales executive, what comes into your mind?

Suppose, for a moment, that you are an aggregator of X component. You may