Congratulations, you have built an amazing company! In the beginning, the sky was the limit. You personally won several clients year after year, and client feedback helped you improve your products and services. Sales grew rapidly, and your biggest headache was keeping up with demand, hiring enough staff, implementing processes, and finding the right people so you could confidently delegate tasks you once had to do.
But then your growth slowed. You began to experience turnover in your sales team, and you started losing early adopters and formerly loyal customers. After more than a decade in business, your once-thriving software technology company had become stagnant; with sales flat or falling for several consecutive years. Suddenly, the reality was impossible to ignore: things were spinning out of control and the downward spiral would soon become irreversible. Clearly, what got you where you are is not going to get you where you want to be.
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. CEOs and founders of technology businesses often have enormous success selling their products and services in the early years because that’s when they best understood customer pain points. Like you, they saw a need in the market and filled that need – cured that pain – with a responsive solution.
But time marches on and market needs tend to shift; and no matter how many sales reps you hire, you just can’t seem to replicate your early success, let alone sustain year-over-year growth. Simply put, you are stuck inside a bottle of your own making, a bottle whose contents are stagnating from their own containment. And because you are stuck in that muck, you can no longer clearly see what lies beyond the bottle, to what your marketplace wants and needs – nor do you have the perspective necessary to effectively respond to those wants and needs.
Beyond the Bottle: Common Challenges and How to Fix Them
Part of your challenge is effectively transferring your knowledge and experience to your sales team.
Data collected from 3,000+ business leaders we have worked with, combined with our experience in helping them accelerate their sales, have highlighted the four most critical challenges technology companies face today. Those challenges, in order, are:
- Sales methodology
- Sales analysis
- Growth/sales strategy
- The sales organization
Yes, that is correct – our data and experience show that problems with the makeup and performance of the sales organization itself, while crucial, tend to be the last item company leaders should address when time is limited for a substantial turnaround. With that in mind, let’s focus on the top two growth barriers – sales methodology and sales analysis:
Sales methodology could include your coverage, sales process, and how you track sales data. Let’s look at one example – coverage – and how that challenge can be addressed:
Coverage – An Example:
A software company’s sales team pursued just over three thousand prospective customers while supporting more than 200 existing customers. However, they did not categorize existing and prospective customers by potential revenue and, as a result, saw sales growth weaken. This happened A) because they started losing existing large customers due to ineffective customer service; and B) due to the opportunity cost of treating all prospective customers the same.
Unless your revenue model is based on a simple per-user fee, you might think it can’t possibly be this clear-cut. Nonetheless, we have found that younger and less experienced sales professionals usually lack both the knowledge to accurately estimate potential revenue of a particular customer and the insight necessary to act on that information.
- Take steps to improve customer service by appointing Account Executives, focused only on driving customer success and satisfaction. This will help reduce customer churn and empower your sales team to focus on new client acquisition only. Don’t just tell your team to pay more attention to your larger customers and perform QBRs. Rather, show them how to do those QBRs. This is especially important if you have a younger or less experienced sales team.
- Customers with higher revenue potential should be prioritized, but in our experience, a larger percentage of the sales teams in technology companies do not do so effectively. Conduct a hands-on workshop with your team in which you demonstrate how to estimate potential revenue of a prospective customer.
Sales Analysis challenges facing technology companies often stem from ineffective or poorly understood goals, quotas, metrics, or other related items; but the most critical sales analysis growth barriers tend to be ineffective compensation plans and the lack of clearly understood and mutually agreed-upon sales metrics.
Sales Compensation – An Example:
Fair and motivating compensation is a key driver for sales success. Unfortunately, too many company leaders don’t know how to strategically structure sales comp to maximize results. For example, in a competitive labor market, technology companies often feel pressure to pay higher base salaries to attract sales professionals. That’s why more than half of the companies we have surveyed pay only a base salary or pay a high base salary with a low commission. However, the best results tend to be a pay mix of 50% base salary and 50% commission. This gives the sales rep a level of security needed to be able to focus on the job along with an incentive to perform at a high level. While sales compensation best practices can vary by industry, this 50/50 mix is a good rule-of-thumb starting point across the board.
Although you might initially need to offer a high base salary to attract top candidates, consider transitioning within 12 months to a more balanced base vs commission plan according to role responsibility. That way, if you have a long sales cycle, commissions for your first quarter or two could be built on leading indicators that define success and sales. (It is important, of course, to be clear on which leading and lagging indicators you associate with success.) Also, implement a process to review the preceding quarter’s results that includes a discussion of performance enhancements to implement in the coming reporting period.
The Bottom Line:
It is easy for technology companies to become stuck in the muck of doing the same things over and over, hoping that what worked in the beginning will continue to sustain growth and success. It seldom works that way, but by the time many business leaders recognize the depth of the problem it could be too late to act.
Take inspiration from other successful long-term technology companies. They certainly needed to “adapt or die,” to implement new growth strategies and processes, to reinvent themselves, to innovate – as tech companies are supposed to do! Follow their lead and break out of that container that is keeping your sales success and growth potential “bottled up.”
Co-author: Daniel Steyn