July 17, 2023

Mastering full lifecycle sales: strategies for success in start-ups

15 min read
In the fast-paced and dynamic world of start-ups, sales professionals are not just confined to traditional sales roles. They wear multiple hats, encompassing prospecting, discovery calls, demos, closing contracts, and account management. However, their involvement goes beyond these core responsibilities, extending to areas such as marketing, customer success, and channel model building. This level of participation reflects the reality of sales in start-ups, where individuals take on various touch points to maximise value and drive the company's growth.

In a recent episode of The Sales Syndicate Podcast, we explored the daily operations of full lifecycle sales in start-ups. Featuring Jamie Pagan, Marketing Director at Selligence, and Luke Willett, Account Executive at Virti, we cover the challenges of prospecting and business development, finding the delicate balance between automation and personalisation in sales outreach, the importance of project management skills, the power of a cohesive sales-to-customer success relationship, and the significance of upselling, cross-selling, and renewals in the SaaS industry.

In this article:
  1. Exploring the daily operations of full lifecycle sales in start-ups
  2. Navigating the complexities of prospecting and business development as an AE
  3. The need for project management skills in sales professionals
  4. The power of a cohesive sales to customer success relationship
  5. Why upselling, cross-selling, and renewals are key in SaaS
  6. The advantages of collaboration between sales and marketing
  7. Transitioning from sales in big companies to the world of start-ups

Exploring the daily operations of full lifecycle sales in start-ups

Luke's role at Virti involves wearing multiple hats, including prospecting, conducting discovery calls and demos, closing contracts, and account management. Beyond these core responsibilities, he also actively participates in marketing, customer success, and building a channel model. This level of involvement reflects the reality of sales in a start-up, where individuals often tackle various touch points to maximise value.

Working in a small business environment offers unique advantages compared to larger organisations. Luke and Jamie both highlighted how individuals in start-ups have more visibility and can witness the direct impact of their work. In a start-up, sales professionals have the opportunity to see how their efforts contribute to the overall growth and success of the company. This level of involvement and ownership is often absent in larger organisations, where employees may feel like mere "cogs in a machine."

The concept of full lifecycle sales encompasses all aspects of the sales process, from prospecting and lead generation to account management and post-sale activities. By embracing the full lifecycle, start-ups aim to provide a seamless customer experience, from the initial contact to long-term success. This comprehensive approach ensures that customers receive the support and attention they need throughout their journey with the company.

While the role can be extremely rewarding, it’s not without difficulties. The resource constraints commonly found in start-ups, such as limited budgets and smaller teams, can make the sales process more challenging. However, the variety and breadth of responsibilities provide an exciting and dynamic work environment that keeps Luke engaged and motivated.

Navigating the complexities of prospecting and business development as an AE

One significant challenge that Luke addresses is the diminishing effectiveness of cold outreach. With the ever-increasing volume of generic and impersonal cold emails, the practice has lost its impact and become a time-consuming endeavour. Luke emphasised the importance of finding a balance between automation and personalisation. While automation can save time, it should never come at the expense of irritating potential customers with irrelevant or unnecessary messages. Maintaining a thoughtful and targeted approach is crucial for preserving brand reputation and fostering meaningful connections.

"Spend a lot of time thinking about how you can automate some of that to save some time, but also not automating it to the point where it's just kind of like guff going out there and kind of needless cold emails, which just actually annoy people and can be bad for your brand.."

Events have proven to be fruitful avenues for lead generation and closing deals. However, Luke acknowledges that they can be costly for small businesses. To make the most of event opportunities, careful selection and thorough preparation are essential. Luke suggests being selective about which events to attend, ensuring alignment with the target audience and industry. Additionally, investing time in comprehensive pre-event preparation helps maximise the return on investment and establishes a strong foundation for successful interactions.

In the absence of dedicated resources, external lead generation organisations can offer valuable assistance. However, Luke stresses the importance of spending time educating and coaching these organisations on the product's unique value proposition. By equipping them with the necessary knowledge and understanding, the effectiveness of their selling efforts can be significantly enhanced.

Regularly reviewing and testing lead generation strategies is critical for sustainable growth. The evolving business landscape demands a constant evaluation of tactics to identify what works best for a specific industry or target audience. By staying agile and adaptive, sales professionals can refine their approaches and drive better results.

The need for project management skills in sales professionals

In Luke's view, sales professionals in today's landscape must possess project management skills and be organised in their pipeline management. The integration of project management principles brings clarity and structure to the sales cycle, improving efficiency and increasing the likelihood of successful conversions. Here’s how:

  1. Complex sales processes: sales cycles have become more complex, involving multiple stakeholders, longer decision-making timelines, and intricate processes. Project management skills help sales reps effectively navigate these complexities, ensuring tasks are coordinated, timelines are managed, and resources are allocated efficiently.
  2. Pipeline management: project management skills enable sales reps to effectively manage their pipelines. They can prioritise leads, track progress, and forecast accurately, ensuring a steady flow of opportunities and maximising conversion rates.
  3. Time and resource management: project management skills help sales reps prioritise tasks, allocate resources effectively, and manage their time efficiently. This enables them to focus on high-value opportunities and avoid wasting efforts on low-potential leads.
  4. Collaboration and communication: sales reps often need to collaborate with cross-functional teams, including marketing, product, and customer support. Project management skills facilitate effective communication, coordination, and collaboration, ensuring all team members are aligned and working towards the same goals.
  5. Customer relationship management: project management skills help sales reps in managing customer relationships throughout the sales process. They can set clear expectations, provide regular updates, and ensure smooth transitions from one stage to another, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  6. Scalability and growth: as businesses grow, sales operations become more complex. Project management skills enable sales reps to handle larger volumes of leads, deals, and customers, ensuring scalability without sacrificing quality.
  7. Metrics and analytics: project management skills involve tracking and analysing key metrics and performance indicators. Sales reps can use data-driven insights to identify bottlenecks, optimise processes, and make informed decisions to improve sales effectiveness.

Drawing from his background in project management, Luke introduces a project charter as a valuable tool for POCs. This charter provides a clear roadmap, mapping out the goals, objectives, roles, responsibilities, risks, and dependencies associated with each POC.

"When we get a customer who wants to go through a POC, we basically set up a project charter which maps everything from the goals and objectives of what the POC is to the roles and responsibilities, the risks and dependencies. And since we've introduced that, we've had every single one of our POCs convert so far."

The introduction of this project charter has yielded impressive results, as every single POC at Virti has successfully converted. The project charter promotes transparency, enabling all stakeholders involved to have a shared understanding of expectations, timelines, and deliverables.

Additionally, he shared the concept of MEDDPICC, an acronym that stands for 'Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Paper process, Implications of pain, Champion, and Competition'. This process emphasises better customer qualification—in other words, determining whether you should expend effort getting a customer into your sales funnel. By understanding factors such as budget, authority, need, and timeline, sales professionals can qualify deals more effectively and focus on opportunities that align with their offerings.

The power of a cohesive sales to customer success relationship

Synergy between sales and CS teams has far-reaching implications for both customer retention and acquisition. By fostering collaboration and effective communication between these two departments, companies can optimise their sales processes, cultivate a positive company culture, and avoid potential pitfalls during the onboarding phase.

Customer acquisition costs are often substantial, making customer retention a critical factor for sustainable revenue growth. When sales and CS teams work in tandem, the overall customer experience is enhanced. By aligning their efforts and maintaining open lines of communication, companies can ensure a smooth transition from the sales process to post-sale customer success. This collaboration encourages better sales processes and behaviours, which, in turn, positively impact customer satisfaction and long-term retention.

"I notice it now coming up on things like my discovery calls as well. I'll be asking questions that I know further down the line when we've kind of onboarded them and that they might be a potential problem."

Furthermore, a strong sales to CS relationship helps avoid potential problems during the onboarding phase. Salespeople, armed with a deep understanding of the customer's needs and pain points, can ask discovery questions during the sales process. These questions are designed to uncover potential challenges that may arise during the onboarding and implementation stages. By proactively addressing these issues early on, companies can mitigate any potential friction and provide a more seamless onboarding experience.

Involving salespeople in the onboarding process creates a more cohesive team approach. By bridging the gap between sales and CS, companies can foster a collaborative environment where the focus is on the customer's success. This approach promotes cross-functional understanding and enables the sharing of valuable insights and feedback between teams. By working together, sales and CS professionals can align their efforts, provide consistent support, and maximise the value delivered to customers throughout their journey.

Why upselling, cross-selling, and renewals are key in SaaS

While closing a deal marks a significant milestone, the focus shifts to the critical phase of onboarding and ensuring a seamless implementation of the SaaS product or service. This involves setting clear expectations and objectives with the client, working collaboratively to achieve those goals, and providing ongoing support and guidance during the onboarding process. Regular check-ins and open lines of communication play a pivotal role in addressing any issues or concerns that may arise, thus fostering a strong and productive relationship.

Luke emphasised that upselling, cross-selling, and renewals are not to be overlooked; they are just as vital as new sales. These strategies represent an opportunity to expand the customer's usage of the product or service and extract additional value from the relationship. Recognising this, Luke stresses the importance of creating a project charter document for upsells, outlining new objectives and benefits for the client. Regular business reviews are also conducted to track progress, address challenges, and identify opportunities for growth.

Renewals, in particular, are an essential aspect of SaaS business success. Securing renewals is a testament to the company's ability to deliver value and meet customer needs consistently. As Luke pointed out, obtaining a multi-year contract is a significant achievement that validates the company's approach and indicates they are on the right track: "If we do get a customer that has come through the whole process of a POC, maybe they try something out for a year first and then they go for a multi-year contract. It's an enormous indicator, I guess, that actually we're doing the right things”.

In the ever-evolving landscape of the SaaS industry, buyers have become more informed and discerning. They expect continuous value and innovative solutions. Luke highlighted the importance of adapting to these changing buyer behaviours, staying attuned to customer needs, and proactively identifying opportunities for upselling and cross-selling during the initial contract period. By focusing on renewals and expansion opportunities, companies can build long-term customer loyalty and drive sustained growth.

The advantages of collaboration between sales and marketing

A significant portion of an AE's day is dedicated to outreach and prospecting activities, which as we know involves sending cold emails, making cold calls, and reaching out to potential customers on platforms like LinkedIn. However, with the changing dynamics of the market, it becomes crucial for AEs to prioritise their activities and focus on prospects who are more likely to convert into customers. By identifying and targeting the right individuals with intent to buy, AEs can optimise their efforts and increase their chances of success. This is where collaboration between sales and marketing teams is critical.

When sales and marketing teams work together cohesively, it leads to several benefits and enhances overall business performance. Here are key reasons why sales and marketing teams should be aligned:

  1. Unified messaging: alignment ensures consistent communication and branding, creating a cohesive customer experience and reinforcing the value proposition.
  2. Improved lead generation and qualification: aligned teams can define target customer profiles and develop effective strategies, resulting in higher quality leads and improved conversion rates.
  3. Enhanced customer understanding: sharing insights between sales and marketing leads to a deeper understanding of customer needs, enabling tailored messages that resonate with the target audience.
  4. Streamlined sales process: alignment facilitates the creation of a well-defined and efficient sales process, providing sales reps with the necessary tools and resources to engage and convert leads effectively.
  5. Increased revenue and growth: sales and marketing alignment maximises lead conversion rates, improves customer retention, and drives revenue generation, leading to business growth and success.

Luke underscored the importance of building a strong and open relationship between sales and marketing teams. Both teams have unique insights and expertise that can be shared to optimise strategies and achieve common goals. Understanding and respecting the roles and contributions of each team is paramount in creating a collaborative environment where sales and marketing can work hand in hand towards success.

"I actually think it would be interesting to see over the next kind of twelve months, my time is almost better spent on helping marketing, create more demand in the market and targeting the right people who are ultimately in a buying position or have some intent to buy."

Transitioning from sales in big companies to the world of start-ups

Transitioning from sales in big companies to the world of start-ups can be an exciting and challenging endeavour. It requires embracing an entrepreneurial mindset and adapting to a dynamic and fast-paced environment. In a start-up, flexibility and versatility are essential as you may be required to take on multiple roles beyond traditional sales responsibilities. Being open to learning new skills and contributing to diverse areas such as marketing, customer success, or product development will greatly benefit your transition.

That being said, it is important to be prepared for uncertainty when transitioning to a start-up. Start-ups can be inherently unpredictable and subject to rapid changes. The effort required to bring in prospects and build a pipeline is more pronounced, as resources and brand recognition may be limited. However, the sense of reward and fulfilment in a start-up is often greater compared to larger companies where progress can be slower and less tangible. The fast-paced nature of start-ups and the opportunity to witness direct impact fuels personal and professional growth.

Taking on a role in a start-up sets sales professionals apart from their counterparts who have solely worked in big companies. It cultivates a more rounded skill set, as individuals are exposed to various aspects of the business and wear multiple hats. The challenges faced and conquered in a start-up environment serve as a testament to one's adaptability, tenacity, and ability to thrive in diverse settings.

Working for a start-up can also enhance your CV by highlighting your entrepreneurial spirit, versatility, broad skill set, ability to work with limited resources, and resilience. This resilience is a highly valuable trait for sales professionals, and it plays a crucial role in their success. It’s the ability to bounce back from these setbacks and maintain a positive mindset that sets resilient salespeople apart. These qualities and experiences make you an attractive candidate to potential employers who value innovation, adaptability, and a proactive mindset.

Key takeaways

  1. The concept of full lifecycle sales in start-ups encompasses all aspects of the sales process, aiming to provide a seamless customer experience from prospecting to account management.
  2. Balancing automation and personalisation in sales outreach is crucial to avoid irritating potential customers, preserve brand reputation, and foster meaningful connections.
  3. Collaboration between sales and marketing teams leads to unified messaging, improved lead generation and qualification, enhanced customer understanding, streamlined sales processes, and increased revenue and growth.
  4. Working in a start-up environment offers unique advantages, including more visibility and a direct impact on the company's growth. It cultivates a versatile skill set and demonstrates adaptability.
  5. Resilience is a crucial trait for sales professionals, enabling them to handle rejection, navigate challenges, and maintain a positive mindset.

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