How to Build Out a Solid Sales Team for your SaaS Business

Selecting the right salespeople for your company at such a critical moment in your business's growth cycle is a challenging, stressful and incredibly important undertaking. We've compiled some thoughts to help you in your efforts in building a strong sales team for your SaaS business.

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By Thomas Smale Originally published

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As anyone who has tried to scale any business knows, building a team to boost sales and expand market presence is far from a perfect science. Selecting the right salespeople for your company at such a critical moment in your business's growth cycle is a challenging, stressful and incredibly important undertaking. Without a strong sales team, businesses flounder, morale crumbles and the foundation necessary for sustained, strategic growth never gets established.

In many SaaS businesses, scaling a sales team also means moving away from founder-driven sales to a much broader, more diverse model aimed at increasing net revenues as well as growing market share and optimizing reputational currency. A sustainable sales model is, in several ways, the antithesis of founder-driven sales, which are often passionate, unstructured and necessitate excessively long hours (and little sleep). We've collected some useful ideas that can help you build out a strong sales team for your SaaS business.

Related: 4 Ways to Crack the Code for SaaS Sales

Process matters

Building out an effective sales team for your SaaS business means flipping the script — replacing the unstructured with highly structured and replicable sales processes. As the Harvard Business Review noted in an article dedicated to "What Top Sales Teams Have in Common," the data is compelling:

  • 50 percent of high-performing sales teams had processes that "were closely monitored, strictly enforced or automated" compared to only 28 percent of underperforming sales teams

  • 48 percent of underperforming sales teams self-reported having "nonexistent or informal structured sales processes" compared to only 29 percent of high-performing teams.

This is not to say that your sales team sacrifices its creative edge in favor of standardized scripts. It means that your salespeople have evidence-based metrics and checkpoints that tell them how things are working (or not); where efficiencies are being gained (or lost); and how to maximize every lead's revenue as effectively as possible.

Remember: Your sales process must integrate seamlessly with your sales strategy, whether that is inbound- or outbound-focused, driven by direct marketing and so forth. Build your process carefully and iterate as often as data generates insights into what is working and what needs to be adjusted.

One size does not fit all

Whether you are considering how to organize your sales team or to introduce "timeboxing" to keep the deep work of sales front and center every day, make your decisions with one critical truth in mind: There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. If there were, there would be no such thing as an under-performing sales team.

But you do need some type of organization to keep your sales team productive while maintaining control over your business's brand and core messages. There is no shortage of sales-focused models and playbooks to choose from, including those that share the predictive philosophies and practices of a successful SaaS business like Salesforce. According to a recent Salesforce study, for instance, the typical salesperson "only spend[s] one-third of their time selling. The majority of their day gets bogged down by housekeeping duties, such as logging customer information and manually putting together quotes and contracts."

The key message: Take time to consider each sales structure's strengths and limitations and choose one that gives your sales professionals time to do what they do best, which is closing deals.

Related: How To Develop a SaaS Financial Model

Focus on aptitude and fit

Ask yourself some basic questions when building your SaaS sales team. For example, are you looking for someone with a technical or growth orientation? Depending on your team's structure, does the new addition focus on the entire SaaS sales cycle or on farming for new clients?

SaaS sales cycles tend to be driven by three key variables: price, target market and complexity of the product. Generally, the more expensive or complicated the product, the longer (and slower) the sales cycle becomes. A few additional factors might also slow down your sales process:

  • If your SaaS company is scaling sales primarily through entry into new markets, you need to hire salespeople who understand the importance of educating the market about the value proposition of your product and the return-on-investment they can realize by integrating it into their business. Not every salesperson has this skill set, so be sure to choose carefully.

  • If your scale-up plan focuses primarily on selling to enterprise-level companies (with hundreds or even thousands of employees), be aware with size comes more red tape, more stakeholders, more signatures needed and more time to move from initial contact to closing the deal.

  • Does your sales process involve offering a free trial of your SaaS product? If so, your sales team will need the skills or training to convert a trial into a paying customer. Again, this is not a situation that every SaaS salesperson is naturally comfortable with, so be sure to hire accordingly or provide the training necessary.

Another consideration to ensure that you are bringing the right SaaS sales team onboard is to have a clear picture of the SaaS sales model you will engage to support scale-up. If you are a low price/high volume, for example, you might want to engage a robust self-service model rather than full sales team. A transactional sales model is more appropriate for a SaaS product that is most applicable to small- and medium-sized businesses, while a longer-cycle enterprise sales model requires a SaaS sales team willing to spend months working closely with customers and meeting with executive stakeholders.

Once you have the right people identified for your SaaS sales team, onboard them with an eye to long-term success. This process means ensuring their product knowledge is thorough and complete, as is their understanding of the structured sales process. Knowledge of the product, customer personas, competitive advantages and disadvantages is paramount to the success of a sales team. Make sure they know your typical sales cycle and how to manage it most effectively.

Holding feet to the fire

With your processes honed to sharpness and your team in place, the time arrives to develop a SaaS sales culture that thrives on performance, engages data thoughtfully and is committed to perpetual improvement. Here are three keys to ensure that your SaaS sales team performs at a high level for years to come.

Accountability works, so ensure that you measure your salespeople against their quotas and keep them accountable for their results. More than twice as many salespeople from high-performing teams agree with being held accountable for their performance than those associated with underperforming teams.

Be aggressive in setting year-over-year quotas, knowing that a full 75 percent of high-performing sales teams raise annual targets by 10 percent or more, while only 14 percent left them the same or set them lower than the previous year.

The one-year rule applies, which means if a member of your sales team is not performing after the first year, it is unlikely that trend will reverse. A full 78 percent of high-performing sales teams do not hesitate to terminate a weak performer within that year, while 18 percent are willing to do so after only one quarter of poor performance.

Your SaaS company has a great product. Your technical and administrative staff is dedicated, hard-working and engaged. Then you hand the future of your business to a team of sales professionals, hoping that they can grow it with the same passion and commitment that you have. A checklist of action items to help guide your hiring of the perfect SaaS sales team while avoiding some of the most common pitfalls:

  • Build a formal sales process that includes evidence-based metrics, rigorous stage gates and feedback that allows every salesperson to maximize every lead's revenue as effectively as possible.

  • Streamline your internal procedures to ensure that your sales team spends most of its time selling not tending to redundant or unrelated housekeeping duties.

  • Determine the SaaS sales model that best suits your product and scale-up plans, and gauge your sales needs accordingly.

  • Hire sales people whose skills best fit your sales model and whose personalities are best aligned for your typical sales cycle; remember, one size does not fit all solutions, so finding the right fit is as (or more) important than an impressive resume.

  • Make accountability a core value of your SaaS sales team, not just a priority.

Building a high-performing SaaS sales team will be your strategic advantage and the next step to the future that you imagine.

Related: Here's How SaaS Startups Can Manage Their Sales and Marketing

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010. He has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

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