I’ve been running sales at RightHello for over 2 years now. I finally found some time to share the story of building our startup sales process from the ground up. It’s a typical blood, sweat and hustle story (hustlers don’t cry). It seems like a good time to write about it, since we’ve just had 5 record-performance months in a row.
Let me give you a bit of context, and I’ll move on to describe how we set-up a sales process that has generated 80k $ of new revenue last month only (this month prognosis is 87.5k $). I know, to some folks in the SF bay area that’s pocket money, nevertheless it’s a huge success.
From 0 to idea
It all started when I shared an apartament with Piotr, an entrepreneur I knew from having shots with after several conferences that we happened to attend together. I was working as a new business developer in an e-commerce dev company, Divante, at the time.
Piotr would sit in the kitchen, figuring stuff out and I just started asking around – turned out his idea was to build something for people like me, an easy lead generation solution. I felt the pain of lead generation every single day so I immediately became interested.
I had to beat some ideas out of his head – he didn’t know what the market really needed yet, and wanted to build something fancy and complicated, with sophisticated algorithms and AI. I didn’t know shit about building software at the time, but I knew that complicated is a recipe for bankruptcy.
I told him to start simple, get initial clients and revenue, sell quickly to validate the idea and move up in the market. An idea tha’s part of Eric Ries’s Lean Startup methodology. It boiled down to a 3-person team that started offering a non-automated lead generation service, just to see if there’s buy-in.
Piotr ran 30 customer interviews. That got us 2 first clients – Cloud Your Car and Shelly Cloud. I got Divante on-board as Piotr’s third client and handled the process from Divante’s side as well.
I could see if he knew what he’s doing from a client’s perspective – and I gave him a lot of honest, brutal feedback.
I saw the potential first-hand, so I wanted in. I offered to join as a co-founder for an equity share and a salary smaller than at Divante. I was willing to make that gamble (I wrote about making this decision on Quora).
The sales process at this point was intuitive. I would just hustle my ass off to get clients – any type of client, for any type of deal, one at a time. We sent cold emails with CTAs for calls (not meetings, we didn’t have cash nor time for travelling – learn how generation leads from email).
The same thing that we offered to our clients. Suprisingly a lot people responded – yet more validation of our process.
The process was – cold email → response -> schedule call ASAP (preferrably on Skype) -> if interested, fill-out contract data and send contract -> wait for signed contract to come back.
Clients couldn’t even pay by PayPal or card, buying from us was very inconvenient. That’s why a lot of them dropped out at this final stage. But this was the prototype of our startup sales.
Even with this amount of friction in the process we still managed to get first clients through the door.
As soon as we’ve passed 10 client mark we’ve increased our prices, and after a few iterations our standard plan ended up being 3×800 USD /300 contacts a month.
We were all working hard, I would go day after day just emailing and calling people and we managed to get the company off the ground and running. All this bore impactful changes – apart from increasing prices, we also widened the scope of our services (just started giving much more value).
Another one was that we got our first case studies. The one that’s opened the most new doors for us was – you guessed it – Divante. Up to today they’ve made 285k$ in new revenue thanks to working with us.
At this point, sales performance was up and down. We’ve made experiments – some months were good, some worse, but all in all it was about getting first adopters – not increasing revenue by any means necessary. We closed the year with about 80k$ in generated revenue. I was 26. It was a good year. We even made a fancy infographic at the time, a bit grandiose when you think of it now (infographic here).
We hired the first sales rep after 10 months, in october 2014. Having 2 people execute the startup sales process was like switching gears in a sports car. Things started to happen fast – but not as fast as we’d expected.
We had to make some changes to the process, and our ver 2.0 was:
we cut out smaller projects, focused on longer ones because we could add more value over time
we started focusing on larger deals for the same reason
implementation of new tools and scripting the process. We started using calendly (love it!), tweaked pipedrive and started to standardize our process to gain more predictability in results
We didn’t have a strong marketing ploy at that point, and managerial decisions were getting out of hand. We switched offers multiple times, which hit the sales team badly each time it happened (clients get confused, there’s much more explaining, etc.).
Then my first hire got offered a better job at a different company for much more money than we were paying him. It was heartbreaking but I understand why he chose to go. Nevertheless, his move caused a huge storm of shit for me. At the worst point I worked 100 hour weeks. I had to audit all my clients and put aside any deal that wasn’t a priority to save time for screening new candidates for my team.
I knew that once I hired someone, I’d have to train them and motivate them – meaning I’d have to be on my A-game just to make sure they would be willing to work with me for longer than a few months.
That meant that i need to support myself with everything short from cocaine to get energy in the short term. Energy drinks, coca cola, running, bourbon thursdays – you name it. I wrote an e-mail to the team in which I asked them to handle everything they could themselves – that helped too.
I did everything just to make sure my startup sales team gets stronger and I can start delegating more and more (more information about managing a sales team).
I hired 2 new people, and almost lost one of them (he wanted to quit to go to a large corporation) – luckily he stayed to become the best earner.
The pressure was high, their training was short – but intensive, and I could finally catch a moment to breathe. I’ve gotta say – there are many arguments for or against frequently taking vacations when you are heads down in a startup, but if I hadn’t taken 10 days off just before this whole situation – I would’ve broken down at some point.
Which only goes to tell – make yourself a favor and take a week off every now and then. You’ll thank yourself when the shit hits the fan – and you’re all well-rested and ready to fight. Over 2015 we’ve managed to close 130 new clients, and bring in about 200k$. 300% jump in comparison with 2014.
Getting better at this
We had first performance bumps in october 2015 thanks partly to our new deal-signing process which shortened our sales cycle significantly in the critical part. The shorter it was – the more people were willing to buy.
I was starting to slowly back off, stop actively selling and become a proper manager. That was scary for the rest of the sales team – but in the end paid off, because I had much more time to look at what my team was doing, improve their work, teach them exactly what they needed, and hire new people to keep expanding the team.
I’m taking care of client issues, my team’s issues, helping the marketing team, analysing (and actually using) data to make better decisions, all the managerial stuff I never had time to do when I was handling clients all the time. When I was actively selling, saying “no” to almost everything was critical.
At the same time about half a year’s worth of our content marketing efforts were starting to pay off, increasing the number of quality leads that my team had access to. Our inbound marketing was built from scratch and now it felt like switching gears in a sports car again. That meant sales records.
November, December, January, February and, most probably, March as well (so far we’ve generated 170k $ in 2016 alone).
Our goal for 2016 is to make 10x more than in 2015 – from about 200k$ to 2mln$.
My biggest struggle is going to be maintaining this level of performance, at this point I wish I could clone myself. Simple fuels for growth – like “work harder” – don’t do it for us anymore. We need to work a lot smarter, experiment, analyse, create simple and repeatable processes.
It’s an interesting point to be in, our whole team now counts 55 people. We’re hiring all the time – salespeople, developers, marketers, anyone with proper skills can get on board. I think we can be a team of 100 by the end of the year. 55 will be outdated by the end of this week.
A lot of new challenges are waiting for us. I’m going to have a lot of new responsibilities as I’m starting to do consulting gigs to help entrepreneurs set-up efficient sales departments in their companies – very excited for this and looking forward to it!
Originally posted as a thread on Reddit /r/ Entrepreneur – go to the original version.