A Ten-Point Sales Management Framework for Enterprise SaaS Startups

In this post, I’ll present what I view as the minimum sales management framework for an enterprise SaaS startup — i.e., the basics you should have covered as you seek to build and scale your sales organization [1].

  1. Weekly sheet
  2. Pipeline management rules, with an optional stage matrix
  3. Forecasting rules
  4. Weekly forecast calls
  5. Thrice-quarterly pipeline scrubs
  6. Deal reviews
  7. Hiring profiles
  8. Onboarding program
  9. Quarterly metrics
  10. Gong

Weekly Sheet
A weekly sheet, such as the one used here, that allows you to track, communicate, and intelligently converse about the forecast and its evolution.  Note this is the sheet I’d use for the CEO’s weekly staff meeting.  The CRO will have their own, different one for the sales team’s weekly forecast call.

Pipeline Management Rules with Optional Stage Matrix
This is a 2-3 page document that defines a sales opportunity and the key fields associated with one, including:

  • Close date (e.g., natural vs. pulled-forward)
  • Value (e.g., socialized, placeholder, aspiration, upside)
  • Stage (e.g., solution fit, deep dive, demo, vendor of choice)
  • Forecast category (e.g., upside, forecast, commit)

Without these definitions in place and actively enforced, all the numbers in the weekly sheet are gobbledygook.  Some sales managers additionally create a one-page stage matrix that typically has the following rows:

  • Stage name (I like including numbers in stage names to accelerate conversations, e.g., s2+ pipeline or s4 conversion rate)
  • Definition
  • Mandatory actions (i.e., you can be fired for not doing these)
  • Recommended actions (i.e., to win deals we think you should be doing these)
  • Exit criteria

If your stage definitions are sufficiently simple and clear you may not need a stage matrix.  If you choose to create one, avoid these traps:  not enforcing mandatory actions (just downgrade them to recommended) and multiple and/or confusing exit criteria.  I’ve seen stage matrices where you could win the deal before completing all six of the stage-three exit criteria!

Forecasting Rules
A one-page document that defines how the company expects reps to forecast.  For example, I’d include:

  • Confidence level (i.e., the percent of the time you are expected to hit your forecast)
  • Cut rules (e.g., if you cut your forecast, cut it enough so the next move is up — aka, the always-be-upsloping rule.)
  • Timing rules (e.g., if you can forecast next-quarter deals in this quarter’s forecast)
  • Management rules (e.g., whether managers should bludgeon reps into increasing their forecast)

Weekly Forecast Calls
A weekly call with the salesreps to discuss their forecasts.  Much to my horror, I often need to remind sales managers that these calls should be focused on the numbers — because many salespeople seem to love to talk about everything but.

For accountability reasons, I like people saying things that are already in Salesforce and that I could theoretically just read myself.  Thus, I think these calls should sound like:

Manager:  Kelly, what are you calling for the quarter?
Kelly:  $450K
Manager:  What’s that composed of?
Kelly:  Three deals.  A at $150K, B at $200K, and C at $100K.
Manager:  Do you have any upside?
Kelly:  $150K.  I might be able to pull deal D forward.

I dislike storytelling on forecast calls (e.g., stories about what happened at the account last week).  If you want to focus on how to win a given deal, let’s do that in a deal review.  If we want to examine the state of a rep’s pipeline, let’s do that in a pipeline scrub.  On a forecast call, let’s forecast.

I cannot overstate the importance of separating these three types of meetings. Pipeline scrubs are about scrubbing, deal reviews are about winning, and forecast calls are about forecasting.  Blend them at your peril.

Thrice-Quarterly Pipeline Scrubs
A call focused solely on reviewing all the opportunities in the sales pipeline.  The focus should be on verification:

  • Are all the opportunities actually valid in accordance with our definition of a sales opportunity?
  • Are the four key fields (close date, value, stage, forecast category) properly and accurately completed?
  • All means all.  While we can put more focus on this-quarter and next-quarter pipeline, we need to review the entire thing to ensure that reps aren’t dumping losses in out-quarters or using fake oppties to squat on accountants.

I like when these calls are done in small groups (e.g., regions) with each rep taking their turn in the hot seat.  Too large a group wastes everyone’s time.  Too small forgoes a learning opportunity, where reps can learn by watching the scrubs of other reps.

As a non-believer in alleged continuous scrubbing, I like doing these scrubs in weeks 2, 5, and 8 so the data presented to the executive staff is clean in weeks 3, 6, and 9.  See this threepart series for more.

Deal Reviews
As a huge fan of Selling Through Curiosity, I believe a salesperson’s job is to ask great questions that both reveal what’s happening in the account and lead the customer in our direction.  Accordingly, I believe that a sales manager’s job is to ask great questions that help salesreps win deals.  That is the role of deal review.

A deal review is a separate meeting from a pipeline scrub or a forecast call, and focused on one thing:  winning.  What do we need to learn or do to win a given deal?  As such,

  • It’s a typically a two-hour meeting
  • Run by sales management, but in a peer-to-peer format (meaning multiple reps attend and reps ask each other questions)
  • Where a handful of reps volunteer to present their deals and be questioned about them
  • And the focus is on asking reps (open-ended) questions that will help them win their deals

Examples:

  • What questions can you ask that will reveal more about the evaluation process?
  • Why do you think we are vendor of choice?
  • What are the top reasons the customer wouldn’t select us and how are we proactively addressing them?
  • How would we know if we were actually in first place in the evaluation process?

Hiring Profiles
A key part of building an enterprise SaaS company is proving the repeatability of your sales process.  While I have also written a threepost series on that topic, the TLDR summary is that proving repeatability begins with answering this question:

Can you hire a standard rep and onboard them in a standard way to reliably produce a standard result?

The first step is defining a hiring profile, a one-page document that outlines what we’re looking for when we hire new salesreps.  While I like this expressed in a specific form, the key points are that:

  • It’s specific and clear — so we can know when we’ve found one and can tell recruiters if they’re producing pears when we asked for apples.
  • There’s a big enough “TAM” so we can scale — e.g., if the ideal salesrep worked at some niche firm that only had 10 salespeople, then we’re going to have trouble scaling our organization.

Onboarding Program
The second key element of repeatability is onboarding.  Startups should invest early in building and refining a standard onboarding program that ideally includes:

  • Pre-work (e.g., a reading list, videos)
  • Class time (e.g., a 3-5 day live program with a mix of speakers)
  • Homework (e.g., exercises to reinforce learnings)
  • Assessment (e.g., a final exam, group exercise)
  • Mentoring (e.g., an assigned mentor for 3-6 months)
  • Reinforcement (e.g., quarterly update training)

In determining whether all this demonstrates a standard result, this chart can be helpful.

Quarterly Metrics
Like all functions, sales should participate in an estaff-level quarterly business review (QBR), presenting an update with a high-quality metrics section, presented in a consistent format.  Those metrics should typically include:

  • Performance by segment (e.g., region, market)
  • Average sales cycle (ASC) and average sales price (ASP) analysis
  • Pipeline conversion analysis, by segment
  • Next-quarter pipeline analysis, by segment
  • Customer expansion analysis
  • Win/loss analysis off the CRM system, often complemented by a separate quarterly third-party study of won and lost deals
  • Rep ramping and productivity-capacity analysis (e.g., RREs)

Gong
As someone who prides himself on never giving blanket advice: everybody should use Gong.

I think it’s an effective and surprisingly broad tool that helps companies in ways both tactical and strategic from note-taking to coaching to messaging to sales enablement to alerting to management to forecasting to generally just connecting the executive staff to what actually happens in the trenches — Gong is an amazing tool that I think can benefit literally every SaaS sales organization.

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Notes
[1] This post assumes the existence of functioning upstream work and processes, including (a) an agreement about goals for percentage of pipeline from the four pipeline sources (marketing, SDR/out, sales/out, and partners), (b) a philosophically aligned marketing department, (c) good marketing planning, such as the use of an inverted funnel model, (d) good sales planning, such as the use of a bookings capacity model, and (e) proper pipeline management as discussed in this threepart series.

2 responses to “A Ten-Point Sales Management Framework for Enterprise SaaS Startups

  1. Standardized , repeatable and predicable sales process is the key to operational success. But spreadsheets suck and that’s an understatement . IMO, It’s better to automated the entire thing (I used to outsource it, but in hindsight I would have hired a dedicated person for that). I wanted to measure our progress and most importantly if we’re getting better over time. BI systems (such as sisense or metabase) can help with that.

  2. Pingback: How To Be A Good Independent Board Member | Kellblog

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