What it’s about
After starting his company, ElasticSales, in 2012, Steli Efti was on the hunt for a tool that could help his salespeople sell more successfully. Through research and testing, it was pretty clear that most of the existing solutions out there focused on turning salespeople into data entry specialists. Rather than settling, Steli decided to build a solution of his own; a CRM now called Close.io.
In this interview, Steli talks about how being authentic makes you attractive, outlines three different sales models, and why you shouldn’t be afraid to make a change when it’s needed.
Build what you know
Scaling a business successfully can be challenging, but starting with a good base can give you a strong advantage.
To begin with, you really need to own your industry. You can’t build a successful company as an outsider because there are so many other people out there competing in the same space that have expertise in what they do.
“The further you are away from understanding your customer, the less your chances are to successfully build something that hits a nerve and serves the customer.”
Being authentic makes you attractive to customers
Setting yourself apart from the competition can be done in many ways, but Steli says the number one thing he believes sets you apart from the crowd is your authenticity.
No one likes a fake, no one likes gimmicks, and feeling like they’ve been made empty promises. When you come across someone that is authentic, it stands out. In business, it’s an attractive quality to have, and it can help break down walls between you and a potential customer.
Being truly authentic, whether it be how you speak to customers or the product or service you’re selling, allows people to feel like you understand them. It builds trust, and not only does that make a difference in your growth overall, but it makes a powerful statement about who you are.
Learn what your customers do and have the guts to walk away from a bad deal
When it comes to converting leads to customers, rather than just pitching them blind in hopes to convert as many as possible, Steli suggests learning what your potential customers do first.
Knowing what your customers are doing, what their sales process is, and what their team is like allows you to get a better sense of how they can use your product or service. If they can convince you that they need your product or service, half the work is done.
Allowing a customer to have control over you, and bending over backwards saying yes to everything they want will set you up to be used, and sets your customer up for failure. Ask questions about what they do, ensure they are a fit, then work with them as if they are a partner rather than acting like their servant.
“I would rather not have you as a customer, than have you as a customer in a relationship that’s abusive to me, where you have all the power, and I have no power whatsoever.”
Pick a sales model and scale
There are three main sales models to follow when you’re looking to scale your sales team.
Every salesperson for themselves
In this model think of every salesperson as being dropped on an island alone. To survive, they have to prospect, do lead generation, qualify and close all on their own. When you have a whole team of salespeople working within this model, they’re all basically in competition with each other.
Rather than getting every salesperson to cover everything sales related, the assembly line model breaks down each task in the sales funnel and assigns it to different teams to cover.
Teams are broken down into lead generation, prospecting, qualifying, and closers. This streamlines the funnel and allows closers to spend more time speaking to warm leads. This model also helps sales managers identify where issues are happening, or forecast issues that could happen.
No model is without its issues though, and this one is no exception. Segmenting the sales funnel into tasks that are covered by different teams creates some groupthink, and can lead to teams blaming other teams for sales falling through or leads being weak.
In the pod model you assign maybe two people to do lead generation, two people to qualify leads and set appointments, two people who are closers, and one or two people to cover account management or client success.
You put them together in a pod as one team and they own the entire lifecycle of a customer. This pod grows a customer base that they all have ownership over, generates leads, sets appointments, closes deals, manages the success of their customers, and all sit in an area of the office together as a team.
The advantage of the pod model, is that the people on your pods all understand each other's jobs, they have high empathy for one another, and there’s clear communication between those different functions.
If all of a sudden everybody you’re trying to close is telling you something that stops them from accepting, the lead generation person will instantly know about it, and adjust who they’re going after. The same can be said for making calls based on set appointments.
This model creates a better customer experience because everyone is working more hand-in-hand, together, for the customer.
Don’t be afraid to change your sales model
As you scale your business, you will likely need to make drastic changes. One of those might be the sales model you’re following as you continue to build your sales team. Which model you follow all depends on what you want the foundation of your sales team to be.
You can switch from one model to the other, but it comes at a painful cost, and that cost might be people. Steli says when it comes to sales teams, especially in a startup, you have to think about it just like a product, and to think in versions, not in absolutes.
"Keep it simple, focus on right now, and think in versions."
In the beginning, you’re not going to have the perfect team structure, the perfect compensation structure, salespeople, or sales script. These things are going to be updated, and every time you do, there’s going to be a cost, but the cost of not changing is much greater.
Steli’s advice is to do whatever is best for you right now because there might not be a tomorrow.