The Sales Settler
Before scaling, you need a team that can refine the sales process
Exactly 400 years ago, a group of settlers gathered together for a feast. The year before had been a year of exploration, discovery, and hardship. These intrepid settlers had suffered a great deal in adjusting to their new home, but they overcame their struggles to celebrate the fruits of their hard work with new friends.
Of course, I am speaking of the story of the Pilgrims, the English religious separatists that sought the New World to seek freedom. The route to America was laid over a decade earlier by the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia. For the Pilgrims that veered hundreds of miles off course however, there was still much to learn about living and thriving in a strange and dangerous land.
Last week, I talked about the type of sales needed at the very earliest stages of the product evolution. We usually think startups, it can also be sales for a completely new product or new market from an existing company. Success in sales at these early stages requires a salesperson that is more of an entrepreneur that can move fast without process or playbook.
The Sales Explorer is a critical piece in the puzzle that is early stage selling. You are filling in the gaps in knowledge about the messaging, the personas, the markets, and the sales motion. A true explorer helps to accelerate the acquisition of the knowledge so that a company can migrate from founder-led sales to a repeatable sales model.
At some point however, it is important to build structure to the sales process. A team of only sales explorers is like having a team of only scorers in soccer or hockey. Sure, you score a lot, but your defense is non-existent. There is no coordination or collaboration. The whole thing is a gigantic mess. In short, you do not have a team.
To take the next step in scaling sales, you need to apply all the things learned from your explorers. With these insights, you can begin to formulate a model that others can repeat and refine. There is no great unknown anymore in how to find and win deals, the work at this stage is about working out the kinks in the process.
These are your “Sales Settlers”. They are figuring it out and comfortable in not having all the answers. For these sellers, they enjoy some of the aspects of the puzzle, but they also need some evidence that there is upside. They will not take the risks that Sales Explorers will in evaluating roles. Settlers want and need some sort of sales process validated by others. If they are convinced the sales process is legit and it is possible to crush their numbers, they will come on board. As the business accelerates, the best of these sellers will bring in the bulk of the revenue and eventually rise up to become the future sales leaders.
What are some traits of the Sales Settlers? There are five key characteristics you want to look for to ensure your building a winning team:
Curiosity - Not everything is figured out about the sales process by the sales explorers. This means the sales rep needs to be able to pause, investigate, and dive deep to unlock new discoveries about the sales process. Without curiosity, important nuances in the sales process will go unnoticed. This is the type of learning that is so critical in the early days to open new revenue opportunities and stay ahead competitively.
Agency - This stage of sales has a lot of ambiguity. Marketing is still learning, the brand is non-existent, and the product is still early in achieving initial product-market fit. This means sales reps have to be willing and embrace the freedom to build or arrange assets, events, and programs needed to win deals. A sales rep that is not self-reliant, or conversely a company that limits the their reps to try things, will result in deal killing time delays, avoidable roadblocks, and frustrated reps.
Problem Solving - It is not enough to simply be curious and identify problems, someone still has to solve the problem. Sales reps are not going to start opening up code editors or design product features, but they can muster the resources that can. Sales reps should not simply pass the buck or say it’s not their job. The best sales reps take ownership when it comes to helping customers, their team, and their company.
Collaborative - Explorers tend to go their own way. That is the nature of explorers to go out into the world, figure things out, and eventually report back. There is some collaboration, but it is not inherent for the success of the company at this stage. When the sales process is evolving and starting to coalesce into a highly repeatable process, collaboration is essential. Your sales settlers are openly sharing the knowledge and collectively the whole team is getting smarter.
Process orientation - While the sales process is still fluid, that does not mean that the process does not exist. This phase of scaling your sales efforts is all about fast, iterative learning. In order to learn, sales reps need to adhere to some core elements of the process. This included using CRM regularly and capturing key information like personas, qualification questions, deal stages, win-loss reasons, etc. Without this information and adherence to process, you cannot make any informed data-driven decisions about how to scale sales.
There are plenty of other characteristics that will be critical based on your situation and company culture. From startups to enterprises though, these five specific characteristics in particular were the biggest differences between settlers and other types of sales reps. Without having these traits in abundance on your sales team in this important transitional phase, your startup and product will flounder.
The Pilgrims understood the importance of these traits since their survival depended on it. They banded together after some initial dissent about how to proceed after landing so far off-course from the Virginia settlement. They collaborated, solved the challenges of establishing their settlement at Plymouth Rock, and established rules and processes for managing their new home. They learned all they could from the local Native American peoples about the local agriculture and figured how to provide for their needs under enormous stress and ambiguity.
If you are considering a role with a startup in this transitional phase or a company launching a new product, do you have the right traits to succeed? Most explorers bristle under the weight of more structure. The prospectors will get lost with any ambiguity and become impatient figuring anything out. You do not have to have all the traits in abundance, but you should exhibit most of these in your work.
What about your experience in a similar situation where the sales process is still evolving? Are there traits that you have found valuable that I did not touch upon here? I would love to hear from you on your thoughts, so do comment on the post or email me.
For my US friends, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and for everyone else have an awesome rest of your week!
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.