How to Build a High-growth Sales Team
MentorcliQ is a full-featured mentoring software system for recruiting, enrolling, matching, managing, and measuring mentoring program participants. Now in 100 countries and more than 10 languages, MentorcliQ is improving workplace mentoring for more than 2,000,000 and counting.
MentorcliQ Co-founder and CEO Phil George shares tips on how to build a sales pipeline and a sales organization to create this level of startup growth.
REV1: What was your sales experience before becoming an entrepreneur?
PG: I did not have prior sales experience, so it was it was a big learning curve for me. Gaining the understanding of how to go from getting a customer excited about an idea to actually signing a contract with them is a process. Some things that you do on a day-to-day basis, whatever your role is, prepare you in helpful ways. Being genuine with customers is really important. Understanding their problem and then providing a solution to solve that problem is what sales is all about. The things that you would intuit about how you should sell are similar to how you would maintain any relationship in your life. Like checking in with your friends every couple of weeks, in a sales process it’s checking in with the customer—trying to understand where they are in their journey and asking how else you can be helpful.
REV1: How did you know where to start building the MentorcliQ sales pipeline?
PG: The honest answer is we didn’t. We just started thinking about what types of organizations would best benefit from our product. We got it wrong early on. We spent about six months going after a vertical that really didn’t have an appetite for our product. That was a good learning experience for us. It cost us a lot in our early days.
As we tried a few different verticals, we started seeing traction in certain ones. We started to ask, “Okay, why do they care about this product?” We pitched ourselves as, “You could go with another larger provider, but you’re going to have our undivided attention.” This sometimes meant we sent 10 emails to small number of customers, instead of 500. We were very targeted, and our success rate became a lot higher.
As a small company, you don’t have resources. You don’t even know what your messaging should be yet. By doing customer outreach in a very surgical way, you’re able to keep changing your message to see what works. Be very deliberate about it.
What are your early lessons from building a sales process?
PG: Once you have sold your product a dozen times, you’ve sold your product way more times than your customer has bought it. One of the lessons that we learned was that the customers we were selling to didn’t know how to buy and then get started with our product.
We would get stakeholders really excited. We would tell them we could launch in two weeks. Then they would learn that they had to go through IT security, procurement, and more.
Now when a customer gets excited about our product, we guide them. We tell them what the next step is. They appreciate that we are there to walk them through the process, side by side in that journey.
In the beginning, we delayed a lot of sales because we would focus only on the “champion” we were selling to. The customer universe is way bigger than that. Learn about all the customers in that entire universe and be receptive to the environment that you’re selling into. Understand what each customer’s journey is, then guide them through it.
How do you create a repeatable sales process?
PG: By necessity. As we started to scale our sales team we had to figure out how to train the new members of the team and how to bring them up to speed on all the things that we had learned. We had to make that repeatable for them. We had an unconscious competence as the founders of the business in terms of things that we knew intuitively but found hard to explain to someone else. Bringing on new team members forced us to stop and say, “Yeah, but why do we do that?”
People talk a lot about knowledge transfer; it’s the basic premise of mentoring. Someone taking the knowledge that they’ve gained over 20 years of working in the industry or working at a company and then being able to share it with somebody else. The same holds true for a sales process.
What did you learn hiring your first sales team?
PG: When we were coming up with our sales process and the onboarding process for new salespeople, we broke it down into three steps. We called them shadowing, leading, and soloing.
Shadowing: We were hiring experienced salespeople who knew how to sell, but they needed to understand our specific product, our market, and our customers. They would shadow a product expert already on our team. That person would do the demo, but the salesperson would guide the conversation and ask some questions to encourage the customer to talk. They built a relationship and would handle the correspondence with the customer like a normal salesperson. By shadowing the product expert who was demoing our product, the salesperson learned our products, too.
Leading: The salesperson would lead the conversation. They would lead the demo. There would be somebody experienced from our team there to support them, fill in any of the gaps, and answer questions. Whether it was a deep product question or customer story question, with the more experienced “expert” they would have somebody there who could cover both.
Soloing: The salesperson would take the process all the way through, from setting up meetings with the customers to demoing the product, feeling really comfortable with the Q&A, understanding the stories of other customers’ experience with MentorcliQ, and understanding the best places to filter those into the selling process.
Using that three-step process, we really help new salespeople get on board and feel comfortable calling on customers.