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Sales Enablement for the Lean Startup

I’ve been asked by high tech startups about how they should approach sales training. You’ve raised money, have a great product that is gaining traction in the market, some established customers and have hired a sales team. You may be saying to yourself; “We’ve got to build training for our sales reps!” My advice is to ask yourself 3 questions before investing in sales training:

What is the job you want your sellers to do?
Do you have a job description for each role (account managers, business development executives, etc.) that lays out the specific tasks they need to perform? Do you want some of your reps to focus on creating demand, including cold calling and breaking into new accounts (i.e. hunters)? Will others be charged with growing existing accounts, including developing account plans and deepening relationships with C-level decision-makers (i.e. farmers)? Surprisingly, many firms, big and small, haven’t documented what job they want each selling role to perform. You need to.

What is the sales process you want them to follow?
What are the steps that define your ideal selling process that also reflects how you believe your customers want to buy? Have you defined the crucial activities that sellers must perform to advance the opportunity from prospect to close? Have you mapped the tools and resources that sellers should use at each step? The best companies define a clear and repeatable sales road map that evolves over time as you learn.

How well can they do it?
How capable are your reps in performing these crucial activities? Do they have the knowledge and skills to do them consistently and with confidence? A detailed sales competency assessment may not be practical for the lean start-up but a baseline diagnosis of their current capabilities to execute your model is critical. How to begin? I suggest focusing on three competency areas.
Begin with product knowledge. Do your sellers know what solutions your company is offering and enough about how they work so they can simply explain them?

Second is customer knowledge. Do they understand your target customers, what business they’re in and the problems they face? Knowledge of their business helps your sellers earn the right to talk to your customers.

Finally, do they have the selling skills to convey how your solution addresses your customers’ needs? Can they communicate value in a way that reflects the stage in the sales process? At the start of the sales cycle they’ll need to deliver a compelling value proposition to secure that first appointment. As the opportunity advances, they’ll need to tailor and refine the value proposition to reflect needs uncovered through discovery. Finally, they’ll need to express the value of your solution in financial terms, building the business case to negotiate price, fend off competitors and close the deal.

Once you’ve identified the few, most critical capabilities every seller must possess, do a quick sales skills audit to measure whether they have the skills and knowledge to perform these tasks. Pick a sample of sellers from each sales role and combine observation, sellers’ self-assessment and their managers’ assessments to develop an initial picture of their sales readiness and identify the biggest gaps you need to close.

Armed with a clear target, you can now develop a sales enablement approach that includes focused training and tools to kick start sales growth while you continue to evolve your selling engine.

Douglas Draper