by Ryan Bozeman
March 11, 2018

As a founder, you’re probably comfortable with sales. When you live and breathe your product, selling it comes naturally.

However, many founders struggle when it comes time to let go of the reins and bring on a sales team to help them scale and expand. There are a few reasons why that is the case.

First and foremost, founders of growing SaaS companies often have never had experience hiring a sales team before. You can’t expect someone to be great at something they’ve never done. Also, putting together an effective sales team isn’t easy. It’s a competitive market. You don’t just have to identify talented salespeople, you have to sell them on your product and company. They have to see a future in it.

To put together a SaaS sales team that facilitates serious growth, it requires planning. You have to know what you want and hire with intention. You’ll need a plan in place that resembles something that your prospects recognize as a functioning sales department that gives them the ladder they need to sales commissions they are chasing.

In short, it’s time to get serious about your sales.

You might have gotten away with rudimentary lead gen and sales processes when you were the one taking the calls, but a functioning sales team needs the operation to run like a well-oiled machine. If you don’t have the lead velocity or tools that they need to do the job well, you’re going to have a hard time attracting good candidates that stick around.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, 50 percent of high-performing sales teams have a thorough sales processes in place for their teams to follow. Among the underachieving sales teams in that study, only 28 percent have detailed processes. This isn’t a coincidence.

The first step you should take in putting together your sales team is ensuring that your marketing and sales efforts are aligned and working toward the same goal.

Creating Marketing and Sales Alignment

Sales and marketing teams might technically be two different departments, but they should, in many ways, function as a cohesive unit. Marketing drives your sales team. They’re responsible for capturing and nurturing leads before passing them forward to close the deal.

A lack of communication between the two directly affects a sales team’s ability to do their job. When leads have a different set of expectations about the product than your sales reps are used to encountering, they are going to have a hard time closing the sale.

Luckily, creating this long-lasting partnership between marketing and sales isn’t difficult with a little foresight. It just requires some communication and planning to make sure that you are finding the right balance between what each team wants and needs your leads to learn throughout the nurturing process.

Here are the core principles of marketing and sales teams that find alignment:

Consistent Strategies and Targeting

By their definition, marketing and sales teams often have different objectives. Marketing teams seek out new sources for leads to build awareness with, while sales teams generally work with current personas to sharpen and refine their ability to turn those leads into customers.

As marketing teams seek out new ways to connect with new audiences, their messaging will change. While a new source of leads is a great thing for a sales team, having a flood of new leads with new expectations and a different understanding of the product will lead to fewer conversions and actually hurt their productivity. Your sales team may see these as missed opportunities.

Instead, sales and marketing teams should work together to ensure that your sales team is up to date with current messaging. They should have a deep understanding of what each prospect knows, what they still need to learn, and how the product has been positioned.

Using Marketing Collateral in the Sales Process

Your marketing team will create huge amounts of collateral and resources for prospects throughout the nurturing process. While most content lends itself well to the top of the funnel, your marketing team should work closely with your sales team to create collateral for the bottom of the funnel as well.

A good SaaS sales team is armed with the documents and information that they need to answer objections, make connections to the features that the prospect considers important, and ultimately close the sale. The two teams should work together to make sure your sales team has the right resources to aid them.

Better Qualified SaaS Leads

Alignment between your marketing and sales teams will always result in better (and more) qualified leads. SaaS marketing often sees higher prospect abandonment rates than other industries, so ensuring that you are doing a good job of qualifying your leads is important for closing sales.

Often, leads that reach your SaaS sales team may need to re-enter the nurturing stage of the process and receive additional information from your marketing team. By ensuring that both teams are in agreement on prospect qualifications, it creates a smoother, more effective process for each lead.

What to Look for In SaaS Sales Professionals

Once you feel you have a strong alignment between your marketing and sales teams, you can begin looking at what you want out of the SaaS sales reps that you hire.

It’s important to remember that a small scrappy SaaS startup won’t be attracting sales leaders from Fortune 500 companies. Unless you have a huge budget, you’ll probably be looking for sales pros that mirror the traits of your company — upstart, scrappy, and motivated.

There are a few unique traits that SaaS sales professionals need to possess to be a good fit for the market:

  • A technical background. While industry-specific experience would be ideal, any salesmen that you hire should at least have some background in tech. At least enough to speak about it and understand the product in full. They could be the world’s greatest shoe salesman, but that doesn’t mean they are a good fit for your product. They have to be able to relate to prospects, and without some technical experience that will be very difficult.
  • A track record that speaks for itself. As a startup, you might look at hiring salespeople that are still young in their career. That doesn’t mean that you should hire someone that is one-hundred percent green though. You are ultimately hiring this person to drive sales, and they should have a track-record and examples on hand that proves their ability to do so.
  • Places value in long-term customer success. Most SaaS companies drive revenue through a monthly subscription. It’s an industry where churn is perhaps the biggest barrier between failure and success. It isn’t the sort of product where the closing of the sale ends the conversation. It’s just the beginning of a hopefully long engagement with each customer. This is why qualification is so important in SaaS — so your sales team isn’t wasting time on leads that will cancel their subscription after a single month.
  • Understands your customer profiles. Perhaps more than any other trait, a good SaaS salesperson will know and deeply understand the customers that they are selling to. Often, this requires some previous industry experience. But, with the right research materials and hand-holding, you can help develop that familiarity over time.

Sales in the SaaS industry will always have some unique considerations. It attracts a specific type of sales professional, and SaaS companies have their own unique considerations when hiring.

Defining Your SaaS Sales Process

Inevitably during the hiring process, your interviewees will want to learn more about your sales processes — and you better have something to show them if you want to position yourself as a worthwhile employer.

The truth is that while every company does have some unique processes in their approach, the general process for SaaS companies remains fairly consistent between companies. There will always be a few standard steps in the process of making a SaaS sale.

Your typical SaaS sales process usually follows a pattern like this:

  • Prepare for the sales process. Get to know and understand the prospect.
  • Reach out and introduce yourself. They may have interacted with people on your marketing team during the qualification process, but you still want them to know that they are talking to a real person.
  • Answer any questions and provide any baseline materials you have for them so they can come into the call with an understanding of the product.
  • Make sure that they are a good fit for your product and willing to listen to the product demo.
  • Provide a demo that demonstrates the value of your product.
  • Deal with objections. Answer questions. Get them to sign on the dotted line.

This process may be handled by one or several reps, depending on the structure that you use for your sales team. It’s a good idea to have a process outlined when you begin to interview candidates.

Creating a SaaS Sales Script from Previous Conversations

There is nothing more valuable to designing a sales process than the previous conversations that you, as the founder, have had about your product. You know all of the objections, phrases that connect with your customers, and ways of explaining things that hit home.

This is valuable information for your sales team, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a sales professional.

Most sales leaders recommend that you have a sales script on hand from the moment that you begin interviewing candidates. Now, how fleshed out the script is, really depends on your product and personal preference. Your sales reps won’t want to act or sound robotic, so give them leeway to inject their own style into any script that you create.

But there needs to be at least a general outline for your team to follow and checkpoints to hit. Your sales script should follow an interaction that you would expect for an ideal customer, with plenty of stop points to answer objections and explain concepts.

Having a replicable sales process is important for a number of reasons:

  • It provides direction to new members of your sales team. They won’t instinctively know how to sell your product, and having a script gives them direction from day one.
  • A script can be refined and optimized, while a free-flowing conversation can’t. Over time, your team will be able to identify ways to improve your sales script through trial and error. Track and test your script’s performance.
  • Your salespeople will improve over time. Practice makes perfect. The more familiar they become with a SaaS sales script, the more adept they become at executing it.
  • It just leads to more sales. Having a script reliably leads to more sales across industries and companies.

All SaaS sales teams should have a script for their team to execute. That script could be a general outline, or a word-for-word recreation of your own sales calls, depending on preference.

Types of SaaS Sales Team Structures

There are several types of sales team structures that are commonly used within the SaaS industry. Each has their own pros and cons. The structure that your company uses should depend on your own preference, your current staffing structure, and the number of sales reps that you ultimately plan on hiring.

It can be difficult to switch designs once you’ve already put your initial team together, so take some time to consider the options before making a commitment.

Let’s take a look at some of the more popular SaaS Sales Team models:

Island

 

The Island sales structure is a good fit for startups that are making their first hires in sales. It also lends itself well to changes later on as the team grows. For companies that want to take it slow and organically grow their sales team, the Island is a good fit.

In the Island structure, all sales reps report directly to a manager that is responsible for the team as a whole. In SaaS startups, this is generally the founder, as hiring a sales manager is an expensive step that usually comes a bit later in the process.

Each rep is responsible for handling the entire sales process on their own. They may generate leads or have leads provided to them by your marketing team. Then, they are responsible for qualifying, demoing, and closing each lead themselves.

This structure is seen in many industries and is the most straightforward way to hire salespeople, but may not be the right choice for every company.

Assembly Line

 

The Assembly Line is another popular sales team structure among SaaS companies. It is best suited for growing sales teams that want their employees to specialize in specific parts of the sales process. In the Assembly Line, instead of each rep being responsible for the whole process, different teams handle individual elements of the sales cycle.

One team generates leads. This may be handled solely by your marketing team, or you may have a separate part of your sales team dedicated to generating their own outbound leads. Then, a Sales Development team qualifies the leads. Once qualified, your closers come in and close the sale. When the prospect becomes a customer, your Customer Success team is responsible for ensuring they successfully engage with the product and upselling them when the opportunity arises.

Pods

 

The Pod structure is essentially a different take on the Assembly Line. Instead of your entire sales team being a part of one large team, the Pod breaks your teams up into individual smaller teams, where they each have their own “assembly line” for qualifying leads and closing sales. Each member of the team still specializes in a different aspect of the sales process.

Most companies keep each pod to about five or six people. Each pod works with the other members of their group, and not with the other pods on the team. This helps to facilitate a competitive environment while letting each individual pod grow closer.

Onboarding & Scaling Your New SaaS Sales Team

Usually, the process for onboarding new SaaS salespeople involves a lot of studying of your product and sales process, and slowly being dipped into the fire that is hands-on experience. The process varies from company to company, but typically takes between eight and twelve weeks, which is a large investment for any company. This can make scaling difficult, but improving that time period requires experience and data.

For growing SaaS companies without a lot of experience, there are things that you should keep in mind as you develop your sales onboarding processes:

Take Things Slow

Yes, you do want to improve the average amount of time that it takes you to onboard a new sales rep, and you will over time. But in the beginning, be willing to take things slow and get a feel for the process. You’re likely to overlook things. Take feedback from your first hires into account and work closely with them to fill gaps where they present themselves.

Provide Plenty of Research Material

Before you hire your first sales rep, you should have all of the research material that they’ll need at the ready. In their first weeks, new reps will spend a lot of time sifting through information about your product, industry, and customers. The more material you can give them, the more quickly they will be able to begin selling.

After hiring your first SaaS sales reps, take note of what questions they ask and prepare new materials that answer those questions. It might feel like you are dumping a lot on them at once, but if you give them plenty of time to go over the materials and work with them to understand them, you put them in a position for success.

Alter Processes with Data and Experience

Don’t be afraid to change things or shift gears if you find that onboarding isn’t going the way that you’d hoped. Use feedback from new hires to optimize the process. Keep track of key metrics to determine how your changes are affecting new hires, and use that data to pinpoint areas for improvement. If it is your first time hiring for SaaS sales positions, nothing should be set in stone.

Turn Them Loose and Track Improvement

At a certain point in the onboarding process, there is nothing left but to turn them loose and see how they do. Not every new hire will work out. But the first few that you bring on board should be used to set expectations for other new hires. Track each rep’s improvement over time along with the performance of your new hires as a group to evaluate whether your hiring processes are driving improvement.

Putting It All Together

Hiring people for positions that you’re used to handling yourself is never easy. But it is a necessary step for long-term growth and scaling.

You give yourself the best chance at success by going into hiring your first SaaS sales reps with a plan in place and having all of your training materials ready.

A solid system for hiring sales professionals will always deliver better results than simply looking for candidates with the most talent.

Start slow and refine your processes over time, and you can put together an effective SaaS sales team piece-by-piece.

 

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