The tactical details of the sales process vary from company to company and even from individual to individual, but there are certain universal insights that will help any sales team thrive. Once revealed, these foundational concepts may seem like common sense, but the truth is that many people don’t really learn them without a good deal of hands-on experience.
Mark Roberge, former CRO of HubSpot and Drift advisor, is someone who has had plenty of hands-on experience. After studying mechanical engineering at MIT, Mark worked in computer programming for a while before being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and landing at HubSpot as the company’s fourth hire. After almost a decade building and transforming HubSpot’s sales organization, Mark is now helping shape a new batch of startups as a board member, advisor, and investor. In addition, his position as a senior lecturer at Harvard helps him stay ahead of the curve by constantly exposing him to some of the brightest up-and-coming minds in the industry.
I had the chance to talk with Mark about how he views the ever-changing sales landscape. He feels fortunate to have come up during a time when so many sales teams were transitioning from field to inside sales and reinventing how they worked by approaching their function in a very data-driven way.
You can watch the full interview between Mark and Sean below and be sure to read on for additional insights and tactical tips and strategies for scaling your own sales team.
Data – A Powerful Sales Advantage
Unlike with certain roles, the sales function provides an opportunity to quantify success and failure in a very clear and accurate way. “You can’t easily identify one engineer to be 7% better than the others,” Mark says. “But, with sales, you can get pretty close.”
When Mark was at HubSpot, he took a data-driven approach to every aspect of building his sales organization.
“We looked at sales as having four pillars—how we hired, how we trained, how we coached our people, and how we generated demand. I set up a data-driven way to approach each of those areas. For hiring, I tried to quantify how we assessed candidates. For coaching, I looked at the data that related to curiosity and intelligence. And, of course, we quantified the monthly demand gen.”
The advantage of such exercises is the ability to use statistical correlations to predict success as you scale a business. It’s almost like having a crystal ball.
While he’s a passionate proponent of getting the most out of any data set, Mark does caution against putting too many systems, processes, and measurement tactics in place too quickly or without enough explanation.
“There always has to be a really clear ‘what’s in it for me’ perspective from the rep’s standpoint. You don’t want to create more work for your salespeople. A successful system implementation is one that makes the salesperson’s job three times easier and collects the data you need behind the scenes.”
Sales and Marketing Alignment – Not Just a Nice-to-Have
Sales versus Marketing. It’s an age-old battle with deep roots and a complicated history. “The old trope says that marketing people think salespeople are overpaid, spoiled brats and salespeople think marketing people just do arts and crafts all day,” Mark says.
“That was fine in the 80s and 90s, but today—when so many buyer journeys start in a domain owned by marketing (the website, social media, etc.) and then migrate to a domain owned by sales, strong alignment between these two functional areas is a major competitive advantage. And, if you don’t have it, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”
The key to creating genuine marketing/sales collaboration is to work with the leadership teams to develop a crystal clear SLA between the two groups. “The cornerstone to our success at HubSpot was sitting down with marketing at the leadership level and getting really precise about how we defined a qualified lead,” Mark says. “That definition is the foundation for a really clear SLA that helps assign accountability more accurately.”
A clear and detailed SLA helps to build understanding and trust between sales and marketing, not just at the leadership level, but down through the ranks to the individual contributors.
The Art and Science of Sales – It’s Never Just About the Numbers
There has always been (and may always be) a debate about whether it’s better to engage a smaller number of prospects in a more personalized way, or to reach a larger number of prospects in a less personal but more efficient way. While Mark is, for obvious reasons, a champion for CRM, he does acknowledge that it’s possible to over-script and over-codify the sales process.
“There is still art in the sales process. When you think about developing a training guide for a discovery call, it’s not about developing a standard script. It’s about teaching salespeople how to really listen and react and find ways to drive the conversation forward.”
Mark advocates for providing a sales team with a solid guide or blueprint, but leaving a lot of flexibility for salespeople to “be human” in their interactions.
“Oftentimes, when you evaluate the two sales options, you’re just looking at numbers without considering the brand impact of the customer experience. But it’s important to understand how your sales approach is shifting customer perception. Say you reached 200 prospects in a day with a non-human scripted approach, and landed ten appointments. That’s great, but what about the other 190 people?”
As Mark points out, they have had an arguably “fishy” experience with your brand, one that might affect their future relationship with your company. It’s worth it to go beyond the data and do some qualitative research about why certain prospects don’t buy.
Product-market Fit – A Smarter Growth Strategy in Three Steps
The final piece of advice Mark offered was to avoid developing an unhealthy relationship with revenue growth.
“So many companies fall apart because they pursue premature revenue growth. These companies raise five million dollars, hire twenty reps the next month, and then a year later have to fire those reps because they didn’t appreciate the role of go-to-market fit as a critical part of the foundation that you need in place before you can successfully scale a company.”
Mark outlines three steps that can help ensure long-term success:
Step 1: Create Customer Value
Instead of focusing on getting to $5 million in revenue in year one, focus on signing up twenty or thirty or forty customers who love your product and have experienced the ROI your salespeople promised. Make sure you can deliver this kind of value consistently and that the majority of your customers remain deeply engaged with your product over time.
Step 2: Prove the Economics
Once you’ve established a solid track record of creating customer success, the next step is to leverage codified sales programs and other strategies to ensure that you can deliver the experience profitably.
Step 3: Grow in a Measured Way
After you’ve worked out how to profitably deliver value over long-term customer relationships, then it’s time to focus on growth, but in a smart and sustainable way. “Add one rep each month, spend more in marketing, keep an eye on your numbers and if something breaks, stop and fix it,” Mark says. “And if it doesn’t break, you can take the next step and go a little faster.”
Sales has come a long way from the days when Mark was starting out at HubSpot and field sales teams were made up of expensive and experienced salespeople who were leveraging their yacht club and golf course memberships to land multimillion enterprise deals. Today’s top sales organizations use a variety of tools and strategies to tailor their approach to their resources, audience, and product; but each and every one of them can benefit from thinking about how data, alignment, the human touch, and product-market fit can help them be even more successful.