Credit to InsideSales.com for the graphic.
This post is intended for B2B SaaS founders.
“Companies fail for one of two reasons: spending too much money before achieving product/market fit, and not spending money fast enough after achieving product/market fit.” — Marc Andreesen
The first reason is intuitive: the company couldn’t build the right product, or find the right customer acquisition channels, or the market just wasn’t there. These are all obvious reasons why companies fail.
The second reason is less intuitive. After you’ve really, truly found product/market fit, failing feels a lot less acceptable. After all, if you’ve built something that solves a real problem, you’ve got word-of-mouth growth, you’ve established customer acquisitions channels, then why would your company fail if everything is working?
Competition. The more successful you are, the more competition you’ll beget. If you don’t out-execute them, they’ll out-execute you.
This leads us to sales ops. It is one of the most under-appreciated forms of “execution.” Sales ops processes can lead to improvements across all fronts: more lead volume, higher conversion rates through the funnel, shorter sales cycles, higher ACVs, and longer customer life cycles.
Once you’ve found product/market fit, you need to scale marketing, sales, customer success, product, and back office (finance, HR, etc) organizations. There are lots of operational best practices to employ in each area.
A VC once told me “sales is sloppy.” By this, he meant that, in general, sales professionals tend towards entropy. Without specific boundaries and guidance, they do whatever they want, and not what’s necessarily in the best interest of the company. They want to do things their own way. They generally have little regard for how their activities impact others (eg finance for forecasting, customer success, engineering, etc),
Sales ops is fundamentally about automating every aspect of the sales process that can be automated: building sales training materials, figuring out lead assignment, and all the way through sending out contracts, signing them, and receiving payment. By automating these functions, the entire customer lifecycle becomes more predictable: deals close on time and for the forecasted amount; customer success doesn’t have to over-deliver; and engineering doesn’t have to perform miracles to make customers happy.
It’s not intuitive for many VPs of Sales to think “how can I design a series of processes using software that prevent my reps from making any mistakes in our otherwise well-known and established sales process?” VPs of Sales think in terms of people, not how to systematically reduce the number of decisions their people make. In other words, many VPs of Sales haven’t fully digested the magnitude of the statement “software is eating the world.”
Most founders don’t recognize just how much of the sales process can be automated, and the enormous value that derives from automation. In the best run sales organizations, virtually no value exists at the “edge” of the network — the sales people. Instead, all of the value lies in the infrastructure itself — all of the processes. Every path through the sales cycle has been considered, and the best response is known. The fewer decisions that that sales professionals have to make, the more scalable, repeatable, and successful the sales organization will be.
Most importantly, sales professionals lose leverage against the organization as sales ops matures. As training new sales professionals becomes more clear, concise, and automated, it’s easier to hire and train new sales professionals. It’s also easier to assess which ones aren’t going to make the cut. And by automating the daily sales functions, sales people require less training to get through the daily logistics (finding documents, setting pricing, sending proposals, etc) of their jobs. This leads to faster ramp ups / sales professional, more efficiency / sales professional as they’ll make fewer mistakes, and larger deals as they don’t make stupid pricing mistakes that force the company to leave money on the table. The multiplier of good sales ops on sales efficiency, CAC, and LTV can be enormous.
A Simple Example
For example, in the early days, startups are typically building sales collateral as it’s needed. After achieving Initial Scale — $1–1.5M ARR — the startup will amass 10–30 different pieces of sales collateral that can be used throughout the sales cycle. Those PDFs will be organized and stored in a folder somewhere. Since the marketing team probably made the collateral, the documents will probably be in the Marketing folder somewhere. Hopefully they’re all in 1 folder, and not spread out across 5 folders.
There’s nothing particularly difficult about grabbing a file, attaching it to an email, and getting it out to a customer. Even if it’s in the marketing folder, it shouldn’t be a big deal for a sales professional to grab it, right?
Wrong. This seemingly trivial process is fraught with opportunities for error:
When you onboard new sales people, they will not read all 15 pieces of marketing collateral you have. They will read 2, maybe 3. So they don’t even know what content is available.
Even if they knew all of the content that was available, each piece of content is designed with a specific audience in mind, and designed to be shared at a particular stage in the sales cycle. Sales professionals definitely won’t remember when to share what piece of content with whom.
At some point, marketing will start archiving old iterations of documents, and names of particular files will change. This will befuddle the sales professionals as their cherished documents are seemingly gone.
There are probably 10 other stupid logistical problems that can arise from this trivial process of attaching a PDF to an email. Instead, the right approach is to implement a tool like Showpad that automates all of the “thinking” so that sales professionals can’t make these kind of mistakes or run into these problems. With Showpad, it’s virtually impossible to make any of the mistakes outlined above.
Another Example: Repeatable Outbound Cold Outreach
Managing cold out reach is incredibly challenging for humans. Even with just a few sales development reps (SDRs) reaching out to 50+ leads / day on a standard 7x7 touch schedule, knowing who you should reach out to on what day can be a huge pain. SalesForce in no way provides infrastructure to do this correctly.
Then imagine compounding this problem by layering in A/B testing of various messages.
It’s pretty much impossible to know: how much work each SDR is doing, who each SDR should contact on each day, what messages are actually effective, and how each SDR is actually doing. There are just too many intertwined variables. Enter SalesLoft, which solves all of these problems, and more. SalesLoft is the purest expression of sales ops: design the system, and plug people into it, and let them focus on pure execution.
Sales Ops: How You Scale Your Brain
Another way to think of sales ops: as you scale an organization, you can’t make every decision. But what if you could? If you had the time, wouldn’t you? As founder, you can synthesize far more variables, draw on more experience, and understand customers better than your sales professionals. Other than time constraints, you are the best person to make many decisions. Sales ops is an awesome way to multiply your decision-making ability by codifying your decisions into software that everyone else can follow and learn from.
Sales ops is literally a multiplier of your brain. If you and your leadership really understand the best things to do at each stage of the sales process, in consideration of every know-able variable, you can automate that process. Every automation is worth investing in. As you get past Initial Scale — $10M ARR — you’ll find that every marginal improvement in sales ops has a huge impact downstream on ramping up new employees, close rates, revenue growth, and customer success.