In a company's early stages, the heavy lifting of sales often falls to the founder and core team. They step into multiple roles, from finding opportunities to qualifying leads to managing the customer after the sale. Driven by passion for the product and vision for the company, founders often enjoy astronomically high conversion rates—thriving on their deep expertise and experience to close deals.
But as sales grow, a new set of business challenges emerges; and the founder-driven, individual approach to selling simply doesn't scale. Not only is it unrealistic for a founder to continue to fill this role, it's also unsustainable and constraining to the organization’s growth. For example, a sales process that relies on a few individuals means that knowledge of what works and what doesn't cannot be measured, recorded and taught to others, making the company’s successful deals impossible to replicate. It also means client relationships rely on these individuals and may be more likely to leave the company with them.
To achieve the next level of growth, it's critical to switch gears; to turn sales into a team effort, where the goal is driving volume. In other words, a scalable sales process is not about winning every single deal (or close to it) but getting in front of more of the right opportunities, and winning your fair share. This is easier said than done, especially in start-ups where founders are the heart and soul of their ventures, and may be the only effective closer.
It's hard for founders to dilute control over any aspect of their company; in fact, it's such a well-documented condition it's earned the title Founderitis or Founder's Syndrome. As a founder, I understand the frustration of watching deals fall through—especially deals that I could have closed myself. It's crucial to understand the trade-off, because the team now has many more opportunities—and a far greater number of deals—than I ever would have had individually. Overall our win rate may go down, but we win more overall deals. That's the nature of a growing sales team.
However, you can minimize the risk of deals lost due to factors within the organization's control by building a formal sales process. To drive a repeatable, scalable sales organization, founders must implement these essential steps:
1. Make full use of customer relationship management systems (CRM)
A formal CRM is essential to capture critical information and ensure that knowledge, client relationships and even vendor relationships stay within the company as opposed to particular individuals. Such systems can document customer needs, track the sales pipeline, and guarantee that deals and relationships are not stalled if employees leave.
2. Deploy formal pipeline methodologies
Equally important is formal pipeline methodologies so that all members of the sales team use the same objective data to forecast the deals that they're working on—and provide predictability to future revenue. This allows investors and leadership to make better decisions for the growth of the organization.
3. Deploy formal pipeline methodologies
Sales enablement tools involve anything that helps salespeople close the deal, including technology, skills and resources such as sales playbooks, presentation material, email templates, etc. Equipping your salespeople with enablement tools ensures consistency to how the company represents itself, regardless of who is delivering the message.
4. Deploy formal pipeline methodologies
Sales is the ultimate meritocracy, and a formal process for compensation review ensures a fair pay structure that rewards performance. This keeps employees motivated and aligns their goals to those of the sales organization. Without an objective system to manage and measure performance, it's impossible for your sales team to meet expectations. For the founder, having an objective compensation process works to build trust in your team to deliver results. A formal system in place allows you to step back and assess your sales numbers from a higher vantage point, instead of being involved in every deal.
Ultimately, building a scalable sales process involves a philosophical change in the way you approach the market. It involves a degree of trust and professionalism, as well a willingness to dilute centralized control over the sales process in exchange for a greater number of opportunities. It's essential to recognize this early on to be able to scale effectively.