The 4-Step Process for Building a Scalable Sales Machine
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Mark Roberge has helped Hubspot become one of the real darlings of the SaaS industry.
He’s one of the first employees, and currently serves as the Chief Revenue Officer. With this role, he’s created the revenue (over $100 million ARR) and customer acquisition (10,000+ customers) machine that has gotten Hubspot where they are today. If you’re a startup in the SaaS business, it’s hard not to admire what they’ve done.
Luckily for us, Roberge recently gave a talk where he outlined the system he used to produce one of the top-notch sales teams in the SaaS industry. And in this post, we’re going to examine that system.
The Four-Step Process
When he started at Hubspot, he had the mission of creating predictable, scalable revenue growth. What helps get him there is this process:
- Hire the same type of salesperson.
- Put them through the same sales training, so you have similar output.
- Provide them with the same quality and quantity of leads.
- Hold them accountable to the same sales process.
If this machine works, Roberge knew he’d be successful. Below are each of his steps, in specific detail.
1. What to Look For When Hiring a Salesperson
Buyer context is different for each company. Therefore, the ideal salesperson for each company is slightly different. The process to figuring it out is the interesting part. Here’s the system Roberge used:
When he was first hired, he wrote down about 10 criteria that he could interview for. These criteria are things he believed correlated with success as a salesperson. He then developed a 10-point scoring system, where he wrote down how important each criteria point was.
He interviewed thousands of salespeople – only hiring a couple dozen.
After a year, he looked his top 40% of salespeople and went back and looked their interview scores, looking for patterns. Then he looked at his bottom 20%, and saw the patterns with these people. He also reflected on what was missing – what wasn’t on his criteria?
As more data came in, he eventually hired a data scientist to run a regression analysis to see if anything was predictable. Turns out it was:
One criterion he found to correlate with success was coach-ability. This became a big part of his interview process for future hires. They do role-play, where the interviewee has to sell a product to Roberge and his team. After the interviewee finishes his sales pitch (usually 5-10 minutes), Roberge asks how he/she thinks they did. This provides insights into how they self-assess. Then Roberge beings coaching them – telling them one thing they did well and one thing they can improve. He watches them as he teaches. Are they glassy eyed, or are they taking notes? Then they redo it, and depending on how much they improve, that tells Roberge a lot about their coach-ability. If he can improve them in just an interview, there’s a good chance they’ll improve a lot in one day or more of coaching.
In a separate article, Roberge lists prior success, intelligence, and work ethic as other criteria that are correlated with success.
Finding Quality Salespeople
A good salesperson never has to create a resume. They never have to interview, and are always being recruited. You’ll never be successful in going after active sales candidates – the good ones are always passive.
So how do you recruit these top-notch sales folks?
Roberge has built a recruiting agency within Hubspot. He tried hiring outside agencies, but ended up just hiring those people and bringing them into Hubspot.
The best channel they’ve found is called the force referral. Here’s how it works:
About a month or two of a new sales hire, a recruiter for Hubspot will schedule a 15-minute meeting. The recruiter will be a connection on LinkedIn. The night before the interview, they recruiter will go through the new hires connections, and look for the few people that match a criteria – live in Boston (where Hubspot is located), work in sales, come from good schools, and might be a good fit.
They’ll come to the meeting with the list of people and ask the new hire about each person on the list. They’ll get feedback on each and the new hire will intro them to the recruiter.
2. Training Salespeople
Most sales training work by partnering a new hire with the best salesperson on the team. This shadowing is not effective for most companies. Top performing salespeople perform in their own unique way, and forcing a new hire to shadow with a salesperson with different strengths is a bad match. People are great at different things, so no one can teach them the whole package.
Roberge has created a “predictable factory”. New hires first go through classroom style training. This takes a month, and at the end of it they take a 150-question exam, and become certified in areas like the Hubspot product, the sales methodology, and inbound marketing. This exposes them to the blueprint, and gives them the flexibility to add their art.
The other thing Roberge pushes in the training is making his hires think about how much sales has changed since the internet. People can now try products for free, so what is the point of sales?
Salespeople need to be a trusted adviser, a consultant, and be able to understand the unique pains and challenges of the buyers, and associate them with the marketing message that your company puts out.
The more you can put salespeople in the seat of your prospects and feel the pain that they go through, the better chance you’re giving them of becoming a consultant.
There are no sales calls during a new hire’s first three weeks. During this time they work in the Hubspot product, creating the things you can do with the tool. This makes them prepared to handle a call and empathize with the client, because they know more about solving pain points with Hubspot, because they’ve done it themselves.
3. Generating the Same Quality and Quantity of Leads
Most companies take too long on demand gen. The get to it after the product has launched.
The Hubspot blog launched nine months before the product. By the time they launched, they had 700 subscribers to their blog, which helped funnel people into the funnel. They ranked #2 (behind Wikipedia) for the search term internet marketing software. This helped them secure their Series A funding.
Roberge recommends a similar tactic for startups:
Find a 20-something year old studying journalism or english. Don’t look for someone that knows your space, blogging or social media. They can tap into your head and learn it.
Look for someone who can sit down with a person totally unrelated to them (i.e. a PhD in Chemical Engineering) for an hour and be able to crank out great content. Find them, and reward them. Pay them, give them school credit, etc. Keep them on a part time basis. Something like every Friday from 9AM-1PM.
From 9-10AM they sit down with a thought leader in your company. The thought leader can come from any department, doesn’t matter if it’s engineering, sales, product, marketing, etc. They pick the thought leader’s brain on a niche topic. Then they go and write a 3-5 page eBook, a couple short blog posts, and create a few tweets containing stats or quotes that were mentioned. The tweets point back to the blog posts, and at the end of the post there is a CTA linking to the eBook. They click the CTA and are brought to a landing page, which asks for the name, title, phone number, and email address.
The posts and tweets should be spread out over a month.
This process will help create leads, bring a social following, and improve rankings. It provides a great start to your demand generation efforts.
4. Holding the Salespeople Accountable to the Same Process
Here’s the basic sales process Hubspot started with:
Sales has changed a lot in the past decade, and this process is more adapted to the modern world. It focuses on “Always Be Helping” instead of the old adage “Always Be Closing”. Roberge breaks down the first three steps:
- Research: Stats show that prospects are 57% of the way through the buying process by the time they talk to a salesperson. Take the time to do research on them. Look them up on LinkedIn. What department do they work in? How long have they been at the company? Are they a VP or intern? Who is their boss? Do they know anyone at your company? Do you know anyone at his or her company? Spend this time to learn about them.
- Prospecting: This is about the context that the prospects are coming to you from. Equip your sales team with the information on how the prospects are engaging with you. How and when did they first hear about you? What pages on your site did they visit? Do they receive email from you? Do they open it? This context can help set the sales messages. The other important part is to listen. If the prospect is sending buying signals (i.e. opening email, visiting website, mentioning the product on social media, etc) you need to know about them and react.
- Connect: This is not leading with the elevator pitch; it’s leveraging lead intelligence and advising. Did they just download your Facebook marketing guide? Call them up, tell them who you are, and give them additional tips on Facebook marketing. They may not like to talk to salesperson, but when they realize that you’re helping them and not reading off a script, they’ll be much more engaged. A good signal of engagement is a real conversation – where they’re asking questions. Eventually the call may get into the prospects product. From there you can set up a meeting to see how your product will work for them. It’s important to train salespeople to live their prospects life, and advise them. They downloaded the Facebook marketing guide because they wanted more leads/engagement on Facebook. The company helped them by providing an eBook, and the salesperson goes further by providing more tips. When done correctly, it feels more like a doctor and patient than a salesperson and a patient.
Metrics-Driven Sales Coaching
Roberge likes his managers to maximize the time they spend coaching. Yes, they tasks like forecasting, but the time spent doing that should be limited.
New managers often struggle with coaching. They’re overwhelmed with the gap of where the rep is today and where they want them to be. Great sales coaching relies on finding the one thing will make the biggest difference in bringing the salesperson to the next level.
Roberge uses metrics to help give him guidance:
This is basically a funnel for salespeople. It shows how many leads they got, how many of those they worked, how many got to the demo stage, and how many of them closed. He looks at the conversion rates for step, and that helps him isolate how the new hires that are struggling are different from the top salespeople. Based on where they’re struggling in the funnel, they can prescribe the right coaching for that skill.
The more Roberge can isolate the data, the better he’ll be able to diagnose and provide better coaching. For example, if Roberge finds that they’re working a lot of leads but not getting any demos, then he’ll try to learn more from the data. Is the problem that they’re not getting any connects? Or is it that they’re getting on the phone, but not getting a demo? The coaching depends on the answer.
Video & Slides
Q&A begins at 25 minutes, 20 seconds.