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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology And Inbound Selling to Go From $0 to $100 Million
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Mark Roberge is undoubtedly one of the most influential sales managers in the world today. He was the first sales VP for Hubspot, one of the largest marketing automation companies in the world and took the company from zero to $ 100 million in revenue and an IPO that valued the company at more than $1 billion. In his book, Sales Acceleration Formula, he tells how he achieved this feat, showing his learnings about culture, technology, metrics, management, and compensation of the commercial team. Do you have a company and are you setting up your first business team? If so, this is a must-read.
Roberge was the number 4 employee at Hubspot, and his main challenge was to scale the sales force during the first 7 years of the company. The team went from 1 employee in sales (himself) to more than 450 people among areas like sales, services, and support. Most interesting of all is that, when Roberge started, he had no sales experience and that, to a certain extent, was an advantage. Roberge is a software engineer by training who later migrated to the business area getting an MBA at MIT which allowed him to see sales through a point of view focused on technology and data analysis.
That was the mission that Roberge set for himself. To do this, he created 4 tactics that could help him achieve this goal:
Always hire the same archetype of successful seller;
Train all salespeople in the same way;
Give them the same amount and quality of leads;
Ensure that they work all leads with the same process;
These are some of the key points that allowed Mark's acceleration strategies to succeed. Let's take a closer look at them.
To build a scalable and predictable sales team, the first step is to hire the right people. For Mark, there is no single vendor background that works for every business. Each company is unique and relies on its own context. Roberge tried and managed to hire more experienced sellers from other well-known companies, but they did not stand out as much as he hoped. Selling a product from a known company is simpler than the product of a newly founded startup. The Hubspot sale was evangelistic, consultative, and unlike the other sales companies that had big teams. So Mark had to learn, in a way, in his own way. Although each company has its unique candidate profile and its own hiring process, it has chosen to create a standard method, such as an engineer, to hire and evaluate candidates in sales. He started by listing 10 attributes he sought from the candidates and believed to be the ones that would correlate most with success in sales. Based on this, each candidate interviewed, and each candidate that was joining the company received a grade for each of these 10 criteria. After 6 months using this process, he hired half a dozen people. Some stood out, others not so much. To understand this, he came back to analyze the performance of the best and try to understand what was consistent with his ideas of success attributes and what attributes were missing by reviewing his list of criteria. Two years later, he already had dozens of vendors and enough data to do a regression analysis to understand, from the attributes he imagined correlated to success and which actually had the most significant impact on each candidate. Mark was surprised analyzing the results. His list had attributes constantly associated with sales professionals, such as "ability to close deals," "Objection Management," and "Persuasion," and incredible as it may seem, they did not correlate successfully with sales at Hubspot. In fact, in some cases, these attributes hurt the candidates. The attributes that had a correlation with success were characteristics such as "Preparation", "Knowledge in the area", "Intelligence", that is, characteristics of people with traits of consultants, counselors. And that made Roberge understand that there was a difference in the buyer's expectation as to precisely what a seller was. The new buyer has much more control over the buying process, and so they seek out someone who understands it and manages real value for their decision making. In Mark's case (and he points out that this may not work for other companies), the criteria for predicting a candidate's success were, in order:
Coachability: The seller's ability to learn more about the process, product, and through the monitoring of the most experienced professionals;
Curiosity: His interest in genuinely understanding the buyer's challenges and where the industry is moving;
Intelligence: Yes, the seller's analytical ability was crucial to selling more;
Work ethics: The commitment and the desire to be a qualified professional;
Previous Successes: Have participated in something and have been successful, whether in sales, sports, arts, etc.
And from that analysis, Mark ensured he knew exactly who he would like to hire for his commercial team and succeed at all times.
Once we have the right candidate, the next step is to ensure that the training is the same for all of them. The market standard for training new salespeople at the time was simple. Commercial directors hired new candidates and asked them to "stick" to the best-performing salespeople to learn by watching the other vendors sell. For Mark, this did not seem scalable, and he noticed it early. Although the sellers had the same set of characteristics, they were different. Some focused on performing many activities at high speed. Others were terrific in rapport and connecting emotionally with their customers. These different skills were not easy to pass from seller to seller because each seller succeeds in his unique way. Therefore, he chose to create a standard training that went through the client's buying journey, the sales process and a qualification matrix. Mark and his team spent a month building their own methodology and ensuring that their vendors understood how the new buyer has more control over the new buying process. The seller's role is to help you in an advisory fashion to reach the end. From there, he decided that at Hubspot, every salesperson should go through 30 days of training. In this training, he needed to use the company's software, know its functionality, and understand precisely what the company's customers were doing with their product. When these salespeople got on the phone to talk to their customers, they were actually able to explain how the product could help them, after all, they had actually put themselves in their place. Another important point was that the sellers would participate in the digital communities where the buyers met. Blogs, social networks, Linkedin groups, Twitter profiles, etc.
With hired and trained salespeople, it's time for action and for that they need leads. And the challenge is to ensure that salespeople have a predictable flow of leads coming in so they can work. The digital consumer is already online researching solutions to solve their problems on the internet. Therefore, it is crucial that the company does marketing on this channel and offers solutions for customers who are seeking to solve these issues and this is something that depends on the production of content. Ideally, hire a journalist or someone with experience in the field. The person does not necessarily need to know everything about their company or area of expertise. She needs to be able to talk to her team, her executives, and turn that knowledge into content for the end consumer. The idea is that he interviews these people and, from that, he creates a free ebook, 1 landing page, 4 blog posts and posts for social networks. The content of the blog and social networks lead people to download the free ebook, and in this process, the company can collect information from people who really have the problem you are looking for. Leads! Another important point is to align the marketing and sales teams. To avoid the sales team from complaining about the quality of leads, volume, and abstract criteria, a more considerable alignment is required. Roberge created with the marketing team an SLA (service level agreement) so that there was no abstraction when evaluating performance between teams. With this, each lead generated by the marketing becomes a monetary value based on the conversion rate of that lead. With SLA marketing, marketing and sales learn that, for example, if they give 100 leads that downloaded an ebook to a sales professional, he can connect with 30 of them, make 15 statements and close 5 contracts of $1000, making it clear that every lead that marketing is worth $50 in revenue. Of course, different types of leads have different conversion rates, a user who downloads an ebook is less likely to buy than one who requests a product test. To understand each type of lead, Hubspot created a matrix of lead education and from it, it was clear to understand the value of each lead and what conversion rate was expected for it. Still, it is possible to model how much each lead is worth and what monetary value in leads marketing needs to deliver for the sales team to meet its goal. In addition to marketing within an SLA, the sales team must also follow a predictable standard procedure. Once the lead is received, how many contact attempts are required to be made until it closes or is discarded? To do this, again Mark turned to statistical analysis and clearly defined how many tries had to be made for each type of lead. In the end, he came to the conclusion that for small businesses, the ideal number was 5, for averages, 8 were needed, and 12 for large companies. With that done, everything was automated in CRM and people came to follow this new model, making the valuable leads generated by the marketing were being treated with the attention deserved. From then on, this SLA between both teams is tracked daily, and the results are visible to all.
The primary task of the sales manager is not to keep the pipeline up to date or to make sales forecasts. The most important thing is to ensure that all the vendors are adopting the process and understand how they can use it, their challenges and work with them to overcome them. To promote someone to management and ensure that the person will succeed, they need to be able to train a salesperson, see how things are going and give continuous feedback so that he can overcome his challenges, one or two things at a time. That is a coaching approach based entirely on metrics. If you have a team of competent salespeople, a constant volume of leads, and a clear process, your biggest challenge is to help people improve at the points of difficulty in that process. Observed conversion rates at each stage of the funnel, you can do this. If a salesperson is great in the first phase of the connection, but not so good at presentation or closing, the manager must work that particular point with him weekly until the performance is corrected. If another salesperson is excellent at demonstrations and closings but has difficulty connecting with leads, it is important that he be able to develop this skill with the help of his manager. It is essential to know how to ask the right questions to find the professional's difficulties. Besides, listening to leads together and analyzing the cadence of emails helps the person to learn and improve their rates at every stage of the business process.
The use of competitions in sales can help the company as a whole to sell more. Which seller does not want an additional bonus on stocks or financial? As Hubspot grew, Roberge was able to use these competitions/campaigns to ensure the team upped its performance. He would make small monthly competitions to solve challenges such as reinforcing desired behaviors, achieving short-term goals and enhancing team integration. To make a successful sales competition, you need to:
Align the goal of the competition with the desired short-term behavior change for the team.
Adopt a team competition;
Give the prize to the winning team;
Send competition rankings by email, every night;
Choose the right time;
Avoid competition fever while keeping the weather friendly;
Use mastery competitions, and you will be able to direct your team to the desired goals.
Traditional Role Playing used to be a common sales training tactic. On the other hand, it is challenging to use this interpretation as a training tool because it is difficult to measure its results. Therefore, Roberge created a Role-Playing model, which has a fixed curriculum, structured and based on real sales situations. Training included testing, certifications, and helping candidates identify areas for improvement and strengths. These evaluations were passed on to the seller's manager, who used them to ensure that they focused on opportunities for growth. That allowed each team member always to know their strengths and also had a clear path to evolve.
At Hubspot, most of the sales innovations came from the team and not from the managers. Ideas began to emerge, and Roberge created a model to ensure that experiments would be sources of learning. To have a new experiment in progress, it was necessary: To be clear to all what would be success or failure before implementing it; Find the smallest possible investment to take this test without compromising the team's performance; Select the best possible people to perform the test. This environment, which is prone to experimentation, has allowed Hubspot to create its channel sales team, which currently accounts for almost 40% of the company's sales.
In order to have a successful team, it is necessary that the company's compensation plan is aligned with the objectives of the business. However, many companies do not evolve their compensation plans as the company grows. As Hubspot evolved, the compensation plan went through several phases. Up to the first 1000 customers, the strategy was focused entirely on bringing new customers to the company. So the compensation plan was based only on closing new customers and did not include retention bonuses. As the company grew, the plan was adjusted to ensure that the company brought customers and these customers were retained, thus maximizing the value captured by the organization and focusing on the sellers in bringing the right customers. In this compensation plan, the seller received commissions for being able to better retain the customers he sold, and that made him sell to customers with the most appropriate profile. Another incentive was to commission more aggressively sellers who were able to receive the value of the annual advance contract and thereby improve the company's cash flow.
"The Sales Acceleration Formula" is a fantastic book because it allows us to look at how one of the best sales teams in the world works and how they managed to scale and become a billionaire company in such a short time. If you have a startup and want to set up your sales team, this reading is essential, and we recommend that you stop everything now and buy the whole book! Mark Roberge's lessons can help revolutionize any business that relies on a commercial team.
12min tip: How about checking our microbook “Selling is Human”?
Mark Roberge is a full professor of the Business Management Unit at Harvard Business School and teaches sales and business marketing in the MBA program. Before HBS, Mark served as SVP Global Sales and Services at HubSpot, where he scaled annual revenue of $ 0 to $ 100 million and expanded his team from 1 to 450 employees. Mark ranked 19th in the Top 5 of Forbes social sellers around the world. He was also awarded as Salesman of the Year in 2010 at the MIT Sales Conference. He is active in many startups as a board member, me... (Read more)
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