Why this $15M revenue startup trains all their Account Managers with Close.io’s Product Demo book

by Ramin Assemi

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This is a guest post by Claudio Santori, who’s doing Business Development at Smartly.io.

Smartly.io is a fast-growing Facebook ad optimization solution for agencies and performance marketers. I joined them as employee #32 in the summer of 2015. A few months later, our team had grown to double that size. Now, we’re almost 120 people, and we’re looking to hire 80 more.

We’ve made $15.2 million in revenue in 2016 and there are plenty of opportunities to grow. We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved as a team. But we’ve also made—and learned from—plenty of mistakes along the way.

Product demos that put prospects to sleep

When I first joined as a Business Developer, a big part of my job was demoing our tool to potential customers. The challenge was that there was no formal onboarding process in place when I joined, and my assigned mentor was on holiday. I basically had to onboard myself. Welcome to the startup world.

Back then our typical product demo was an extensive one-hour product training session. Our reps were spending an hour telling the prospect how to use all the different features of our product … without qualifying the prospect or asking what they wanted to learn.

We’re all very proud of the product, and we just loved to talk about how amazing our platform was and all the cool features it had. I remember when once I asked a question in the middle of a demo and the assistant told me that her boss had left to take another phone call ... oops!

Fortunately, our product has always created a lot of value for our customers, and most of our leads came through referrals. Typically, they were experienced Facebook marketers that could easily recognize the benefits (despite our terrible demos). This meant it was relatively easy to close new customers, no matter how bad our demos were.

However, that would soon change. By the end of 2015, our headcount had doubled. We now had offices in Europe, Asia, and North America, and we were expanding into new verticals.

Our demo close rates went down, and we realized something needed to change.

Product demos that sell

I remembered a training session I had with Steli while working at another startup. I knew he had written a book on product demos and was now properly motivated to read it.

I started with Chapter 1: The Seven Deadly Sins of Demoing.

We committed every single one of them. Literally. We made every mistake he laid out in the first chapter of that book. It’s as if it was written for us.

I kept reading and started changing the way I conducted my product demos. I asked more questions, qualified properly, made the demos shorter, focused on value instead of features, ended with a strong close and followed the other advice from the book.

My demo close rates skyrocketed. Other reps got their hands on the book. Their close rates also went up, up, up. But that’s just the beginning.

Our 10X sales hiring & onboarding hack

One of the challenges we faced now was scaling the team. We were growing fast, and we needed a lot more people. But recruiting all these people, screening all these applications and interviewing all these prospects took a lot of time.

Oftentimes, we had a candidate go through a lengthy recruiting process, only to fail at the final stage: they had to give us a demo of Smartly. Many otherwise promising candidates failed at this, after both we and they had invested a substantial amount of time into the recruiting process.

Here’s what our hiring process looks like:

  1. An initial discussion to understand values and culture fit.
  2. A homework assignment, where we ask you to give advice to a fictional German e-commerce website. We’ll give you an excel file with the e-commerce’s current results and you need to tell us what and how to improve.
  3. If the homework is good, we go deeper into Facebook marketing, asking questions about bidding, lookalike audiences, the mobile app, tracking and so on.
  4. If everything goes well, we want to see a Smartly demo, during which you (the recruitment candidate) simulate a sales call where we are the German e-commerce website and you try to sell us our tool.

It’s phase four where many candidates faltered.

One day, a promising recruit was giving us a demo of the platform and we had to stop him halfway. The demo wasn’t just bad. It was terrible. He committed all the 7 deadly demo sins. “Stop right there. This is a waste of time, this demo is not going well. But I’d hate to lose you. You seem to be a great fit, but you need to learn how to give a great demo. There’s a book that I can recommend for you. If you’re still interested in working with us, you can read it and then try to demo us again.”

He was interested and read the book. We got on another call and he absolutely nailed it! We hired him on the spot. Next thing we did? We ordered 60 copies of Product Demos That Sell from Amazon and gave away free copies to all our promising new candidates.

We’re now giving the book to all new candidates. Our recruiting process is much more effective, and we’re able to grow the team faster. New hires get onboarded much better than when I joined. Even the ones we don’t hire often thank us for the things they learned in the recruiting process.

Interested in joining us?

To work at Smartly.io you don't need to have a deep background in online advertising or Facebook marketing. All we want to see is that you are a fast learner. Being Humble Hungry Hunters is part of our culture, and a big part of that is learning. So we’re curious to see how fast you go from where you are to 10x. And then to 10x again.

Right now, we’re hiring across all departments: sales, engineering, marketing and so on. Check out our open positions.

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