The points we covered are:
You can listen to the full interview with Iman here.
Good sales people are valuable and hard to come by. Therefore, finding the right timing for them to be able to bring the most value to your company is crucial. If you hire a sales team too early — before there is anything tangible to sell — they will be unable to perform which leads to frustration and high turnover rates. You should also consider that while you as a founder may be able to sell your product solely based on your visionary conviction, your sales people will have to be able to show real use cases and results in order to convince your potential clients.
Once you do hire the team, you should ideally have at least one person with ample experience in the field. B2B sales are complex and a lot of time can get lost for building up this expertise. If you cannot hire an expert, try to organise coaching for your team on a regular basis.
B2B sales are more complex and time intensive than your average B2C sales. To manage the complexity, it is vital to set up a robust process which will determine the interactions with your (prospective) client from lead generation to full-scale rollout.
The skills needed along the different stages of your sales process will vary. Therefore, it is advisable to divide your sales team into sub-teams with a particular specialisation and task in the overall process. One possible division is into
These three sub-teams work together to funnel your prospective clients into and guide them through the three roll-out stages:
Practically, the interplay of the different sub-teams and roll-out stages could work as follows: The sales development team produces new leads through either research and cold calling/ emailing or through their presence at industry events. After a first successful email exchange with the potential client, the sales development team sets up a discovery meeting between the client and the account manager. The account manager should have a clear process to evaluate whether a specific lead can be classified as an opportunity with the potential to be closed within 3 to 6 months. If a lead develops into an opportunity, it makes sense to support account managers with so called „C-level sponsors“, that is people from the management who help to open doors at the prospective client company. If you are selling a highly complex product, it may also be beneficial to have a dedicated solutions consulting team which helps to determine the customers specific needs.
If this first part of the sales process is successful, it will be followed by an implementation phase. Again, in the case of highly complex products with sizeable upfront investments, it is likely that you will decide together with the client to follow a staged implementation process. This usually consists of an initial proof of value, sometimes also referred to as proof of concept, pilot project or similar. The key element of this early phase is usually to demonstrate the potential return on investment (ROI) of the project. If deemed successful, it will likely be followed by smaller rollouts which eventually lead into a large-scale rollout. This entire process may easily take 2 to 3 years, depending on the decision making cycles in your client company.
Securing that first client is extremely important, particularly when you are selling a „high risk“ product, since it will give your prospective clients an external source of validation and confidence. At the end of the day it is important to remember, that although you are in the B2B business, the person you are selling to is a human with their own experiences, ambitions and fears. Taking this into consideration and knowing how to respond to the human element of the sales process will be an important factor for success.
Your sales team should, like any other team in your company, align with and contribute to the company’s overall vision and strategy. In order to assure this, your sales strategy should be derived from your go-to-market strategy which in turn should pay into your midterm OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). One way to ensure that your sales team is aligned is by defining success metrics which meaningfully contribute to the company’s strategy. An example could be annual recurring revenue from purchases of your technology. It is important to define these metrics carefully because they will determine the priorities of the entire sales effort.
When selling a complex product with a strong visionary component, it will likely take some time until you are able to determine the most promising industry or use case for yourself. One way to test this systematically is by implementing sales sprints, where the entire sales team focuses on one industry or use case for a specified amount of time and thereby determines whether this particular area shows potential for future exploration. Finding the right market for your product is a delicate balancing act between open exploration and pragmatic focus which will constantly have to be fine tuned and justified to your team and most likely to your investors as well.