By Dave Barrett, Partner, Polaris Partners
I was at an early-stage SaaS company’s BoD meeting the other day.
The company is doing really well. Strong, elegant, simple to use product. Addresses a hard-to-solve, important, urgent customer problem, lots of free users, strong early conversion to paid usage. Subscription service with a high volume transactions.
Customers love them. In a relatively short period, over 2K customers have been acquired solely as a result of inbound interest and assisted self-service. They have a very effective inbound machine. Sales are growing nicely. There’s much underway in all other functions of the company to prepare for the move to the next level.
Two discussion threads emerged:
- When’s the right time to turn up the heat to proactively drive outbound web marketing & selling efforts?
- Marketing mandate is clear. But on the sales end, do we start now by hiring the uber Sales exec? Or do we begin by bringing on a director-level “player-coach” while we learn and iterate to develop the most effective, repeatable inside selling model?
The easy one. The team has done an exemplary job of building a great first product, has iterated around improving customer experience. It’s safe to say that that a B2B SaaS product is ready to turn the corner towards building out a proactive selling effort when it’s experienced profound inbound interest. Interest that’s proven to be compelling enough to convert to early paying customers. When prospects hear about you, search on you, call or email you, request join.me meetings – or best of all, are referred by paying customers or customers who delightfully blog about the company’s product — well, we’re ready for Prime Time.
Time to aggressively start the journey to arrive at a repeatable outbound, high-velocity selling model.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. Only a pattern that’s hard to refute.
The perfect recruiting & selection scenario begins with finding a sales leader that has deep success in building & leading a model that’s most directly-analogous to the starting thesis for our outbound sales model. But this much we know — the model will change. One size rarely fits all in the brave new world of SMB & enterprise sales.
Rare is the high-velocity selling model that gets it completely right from the jump. Constant iteration is the not-so-new normal.
The first-in sales leader will need to come in with a thesis, a bit of a playbook from the the past, hopefully a passion for fine-grained analytics and process. But most importantly — she/he will need to come in with the flexibility & agility needed to refine & refine again until the selling effort is truly repeatable, measurable & predictable. The only way it do it right is to spend time up front on the phone and with prospects and customers. Playing before coaching. No hiring beyond a “pod” of 1-3 to start.
Over-generalization perhaps, but almost always best to start with a director-level player-coach.
Unless lightning strikes in finding all of the above in a VP who can balance the short and long views and strap on the headset in the early going to experience it all first-hand. It’s rare but certainly not impossible to learn around the more-senior guy who is driven to do the above first. And then build out process, infrastructure and team second.
Instrumenting and hiring a team around the wrong model is a momentum killer at best. A company killer at worst.
Getting there to quickly arrive at the right high velocity model fit is a beautiful thing. Scaling is the fun part, but the part that has got to take a back seat to rapid learning.
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