How an inside sales team can help your startup accelerate growth

by Ramin Assemi
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Growth hacks. Organic Growth. Backlinks. Earned Media. Virality!

These concepts are like royalty when it comes to generating traction in the startup world. Hundreds of blog posts, ebooks and infographics have been created over the years to talk about the importance of all of these marketing buzzwords.

While we’re not going to downplay the importance of marketing and communications, we have to address the elephant in the room. We have to address the fact that far too many startups are afraid of the word sales.

And that’s deadly.

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It’s deadly because while we live in a world where warm intros are great, inbound leads are awesome and the virality effect is delightful, we also live in a world where sales rules the day when it comes to converting enterprise clients.

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Selling to the enterprise isn’t always straightforward

When you target enterprise organizations, the steps you have to take between finding a prospect and closing a deal might feel like a marathon. It’s not going to happen overnight. When it comes to high-ticket products, sales isn’t just about demonstrating value to an individual prospect—it’s part of a much more complex system.

Mark Cranney, knows a thing or two about growth as the former field operations lead at Opsware, where he grew the company’s headcount from a handful to 350 people and revenue from $15 million to $150 million in just under four years. In a blog post for Andreessen Horowitz, where he worked for more than six years, he describes the unfamiliar waters that many startups find themselves in when selling to large organizations:

Decision-making in large organizations is a long, tortuous process due to legacy technology deployments, internal politics, entrenched homegrown solutions, sunk cost of integrations, account control by incumbent vendors, and the sheer size and scale involved. In many ways, the purpose of enterprise sales is about helping customers get through their own internal buying processes. Even the best and most popular product can’t make a typical enterprise buyer change the way it does procurement.

In light of this complex reality, having a sales team reduces the chances that you’ll be twiddling your thumbs or chasing unqualified leads. A sales team will help you stay focused on the right prospects and understand how important it is to get those prospects through their own internal buying processes.

A sales team will help you close clients without credit cards

Wait... What prospects aren’t allowed to use credit cards these days?

As it turns out, a lot of organizations don’t give their team members the power to buy internet services using a company card. In fact, some organizations view it as an offense that could actually cost employees their jobs. Why do these organizations put up roadblocks like this? There’s actually some real logic behind what many startup founders mistakenly assume is madness. Here are four insights from Ben Horowitz into why many enterprise organizations don’t allow it:

  1. The employee may not know what’s appropriate in the context of the larger organization.
  2. The company may already own the technology or a similar technology.
  3. The employee may be corrupted by side incentives.
  4. Public companies must comply with Sarbanes-Oxley compliant expense controls.

Makes sense, right?

When you build a sales team, you inherently redefine your processes for closing these types of clients. You’re more likely to invest the necessary time and energy to support enterprise clients and provide for the financial and legal processes required to close a deal. It’s a win-win, as these are the clients that will help you reach the next level.  

A sales team can uncover issues you may not see

In a blog post titled “Why Startups Need to Focus on Sales, Not Marketing,” Jessica Livingston, co-founder of Y-Combinator, offers some great advice about the importance of investing in sales—including the importance of feedback:

Sales gives you a kind of harsh feedback that ‘marketing’ doesn't. You try to convince someone to use what you've built, and they won't… I suspect from my experience that founders who want to remain in denial about the inadequacy of their product and/or the difficulty of starting a startup subconsciously prefer the broad and shallow “marketing” approach precisely because they can’t face the work and unpleasant truths they’ll find if they talk to users.

Ouch.

Her words might hurt some feelings, but why wouldn’t you want to hear from your customers? Why wouldn’t you want to hear the reasons your audience is reluctant to buy? You should want to know!

As a startup, it’s your job to reach product-market fit as soon as possible, and that’s only possible by iterating and having tough conversations. As Tim Ferriss once put it:

A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.

Sales professionals embrace these uncomfortable conversations on the regular. If you build an inside sales team and empower them to connect with potential customers, there’s no question that you’re going to learn a lot. These lessons will ultimately provide you with insights on how to improve your product and deliver the value that your prospects are looking for.

Wrapping things up

I hope you realize the value that an inside sales team can offer in driving growth for your startup. One of the major misconceptions among startup founders is thinking they can do everything on their own, without a sales team.

Big mistake.

Remember: There are only so many hours in a day. Double down on your strengths—whether that’s tech savvy or product design—and embrace the idea of hiring a great sales team that can take your startup to the next level. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few great resources that I’ve sent to founders all over the world:

The ultimate sales hiring guide for B2B startup founders

Hire a Head of Sales – What you should know before you do

Build an Inbound Sales Machine

The Ultimate Sales Resource Bundle


Want to take your startup sales skills to the next level? Get Steli Efti's free Startup Sales Success Course:

Join the free Startup Sales Success Course today