3 Lessons in Sales and Scale from a Founder Who Sold His Company for $225 Million
No doubt, competition in the business world is fierce. New and experienced entrepreneurs must be willing to do everything in their power to achieve success and meet their sales targets. Not every B2B business has a product that sells like IHOP flapjacks. Even if you have a product in hot demand, founders still need to have effective strategies to scale their businesses, optimize systems, and reach sales revenue targets.
Scaling a sales team is one thing and scaling a successful sales team is quite another. I recently had the opportunity to interview AJ Bruno, founder and CEO of QuotaPath, who sold TrendKite, one of his previous companies, for $225 million.
Sales also must start at ground zero. As AJ explained to me, “From day one, we knew we wanted to have sales traction and thus hired sales interns while we went through the accelerator DreamIt Ventures. There were 9 of us on a shoestring budget and we spent our time in the Capital Factory making cold calls for a product that didn’t even exist. Eventually, the other companies in the coworking space grew tired of hearing us make outbound calls and forced us to put up cubicle walls. It was known as the TrendKite Fort.”
As AJ explained to me, the key lessons he learned from scaling and selling that he shares when mentoring other founders are all interrelated and says that the three most important parts of building a successful business are: deliberate hiring, carefully planned onboarding, and continuous training.
During my interview, AJ gave a deep dive into these three tips on how to drive hyper-growth, from his experience and success selling his past company for $225 million.
1. Start with deliberate hiring
Bruno recommends having all the A-grade players on your side. He has an interesting approach to hiring and suggested other entrepreneurs have a similar methodology prepared going into the hiring process. With Trend Kite, first, instead of letting someone else screen and interview candidates, he did it himself. Bruno took the pain of interviewing his first 80 sales hires.
Second, craft your hiring criteria. Don't solely pick a candidate based on experience or a specific skill set. Bruno's approach is unique. At the time when he was building his team for TrendKite, Elon Musk was being mentioned in the news, often. It was back in 2013 when Tesla was still the new kid on the block. Bruno would ask the candidate if he or she knew who Musk was. If someone had heard of SpaceX or Tesla, he would follow up with more questions to see what level of knowledge they had in these new companies and how much research they had done. This was an indication of how thorough and detail-oriented the potential candidate was, which was a hiring signal he sought.
Your strategy could revolve around something of this type. A team of top performers is key to your explosive growth, so come up with a unique and non-traditional approach to screen candidates and handpick the best ones.
2. Plan the new-hire onboarding
Okay, so let's say you’ve recruited your A-team. The next critical step is a smoothly designed new-hire onboarding process. Bruno strongly recommends having a 3-month boot camp to make the new hires familiar with all the ropes and set the right expectations from their roles.
New employee onboarding needs to be carefully planned. Make a checklist of what you need to convey to your new hires, what needs to be achieved, and an action plan for achieving those goals. Orientation, making the employee familiar with the service or product they’re selling, mentorship, compliance training, and introducing them to the company culture are a few ways to quickly assimilate the new hire to the company.
Through Bruno's boot camp, his new hires at TrendKite were closing deals in their second month. This was a huge achievement in what would typically be a much longer sales cycle (6-12 months). With top performers who, have a passion for learning and growing, your goal is to accelerate the sales cycle, and onboarding is a critical step in accomplishing that goal.
3. Continuous training
Another important lesson in scaling any business is to provide continuous training to your team so that they can constantly level-up their skills. Bruno says, “nobody on your team should be stagnant. Give them training opportunities they can't resist. Training must be an ongoing part of any role.”
To instill a learning culture within his team, Bruno hired Winning By Design, a company that trains and coaches businesses to scale up their sales revenue. Bruno would bring this team in twice per year to do training and coaching.
Educational opportunities like these ensure that your team will continue to grow and be equipped for the future, of your company and beyond. When a company invests in the learning and development of its team, employees stay loyal and you create leaders that can scale with your growth. This investment boosts retention and hinders you from having to hire outside the organization, creating a strong and growing company culture. As the company leader, this will help you focus on growing your business instead of worrying about retaining your team of top players.
It took TrendKite 5 years of consistent effort to earn $30 million in annual recurring revenue. QuotaPath is a freemium commission tracking tool that allows companies the option to try before they buy and AJ thinks the opportunity he has with Quota dwarfs what he was able to accomplish with TrendKite. It’s a Product-Led Growth (PLG) engine where the product drives acquisition and retention, effectively selling itself. Pair that with his A-team and they’re unstoppable.
There's no cookie-cutter approach to success, but by following the right sales and scale strategies, and hiring a team with a strong desire to succeed, anything is possible. And, who better to learn from than someone who’s $225 million exit pales in comparison to the vision of his current company.