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How to Create a Successful Sales Culture in a B2B Startup


How to Create a Successful Sales Culture in a B2B Startup

In theory, building a ROI-driving sales culture seems easy but in reality, it’s one of the most difficult challenges a B2B startup will face. As Director of Marketing for Ambition, I’ve spent the past 30 months actively involved in that challenge.

At Ambition, we know firsthand 3 things to be true: The opportunity will never be greater, the stakes will never be higher, and the ability to cross the thin lines that separate failure from success will depend on a healthy sales culture. We’ve navigated countless setbacks and challenges with a tightly-knit crew and skeletal budget.

Sounds daunting, right? It sure is. But you’re up to the challenge. We’re a 9 person SaaS company based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We’ve made just about every mistake we could in building out growth strategy. And we’re closing out 2016 with record growth metrics, a passionate client base, and $1M+ in annual recurring revenue.

The big reason: Our culture. Managing a startup sales team is not for the faint of heart, especially when you’re B2B. These are the top 5 principles I advise implementing in a young B2B sales team. Follow these rules and create the healthy culture that will spur your sales team on to greatness.

Rule #1 of B2B Sales Culture: Recruit passionate talent.

I’m not much for sage quotes, but even I have to bow down out of respect to this one: “Customers will never love your company until your employees love it first.”

In a hiring decision between two candidates with equal skill-set, experience and base compensation, hire the candidate who comes closest to demonstrating 360 degree passion toward the opportunity. To do so, break the opportunity into six components:

  1. Role
  2. Company
  3. Industry
  4. Startup
  5. Mission
  6. Product.

Then ask yourself: How passionate is a candidate towards each component? And which ones is he or she the most and least passionate about? The components descend in order of need for passion. If candidate 1’s passion skews towards 1-3, he or she is more likely a safer bet than a candidate who skews towards 4-6.

Rule #2 of B2B Sales Culture: Embrace volatility.

It is pivotal to let your team know, from day one, what the realities of life as a B2B Startup Sales rep are. Simply put, you have to set proper expectations.

What happens when your company loses a huge account? When a core member of your business team leaves for a cushier position? When you switch softwares mid-horse and have to adapt on the fly?

Those have all happened here at Ambition and, though they were unexpected, we didn’t lose our cool because our executives have instilled the right mentality in us — volatility is just a hazard of the job. It’s a far cry from working in corporate America, where there’s a greater feeling of insulation from potential job loss and company disintegration. You need to be a certain type of person to thrive in a B2B startup, especially during the more tumultuous times.

In our experience, we’ve done well sourcing new talent from more stable, secure and lucrative positions to take on a higher-risk position at Ambition. The more your sales team accepts and even embraces volatility, the better.

Rule #3 of B2B Sales Culture: ABC — Always Be Communicating.

Communication tools, like Slack and HipChat, are great for building camaraderie and encouraging strategic team discussion. You can set up different channels to have conversations specifically focused on those topics. Additionally, the platform allows you to search through old conversations to recall important information shared by your team.

It may seem counterintuitive, but ongoing, consistent communication has actually been crucial to our sales team success here at Ambition and will likely be just as important to your B2B startup sales team as well.

Why? Because during the early stages of building a sales team, there’s a constant influx of new information into a young B2B sales team — leadership are establishing processes, reps are getting competitor intelligence from prospects, and so forth. Sharing this information is crucial to getting your team on the same page and making sure everyone is aware of new discoveries that can optimize their performance.

Bottom line: You need sweet, silky coordination between your reps.

And you’d be surprised how much our sales, marketing and customer success members here at Ambition talk all day — most of it is business, but a lot of it is loose banter that adds to the feeling of team camaraderie. While you may think this level of communication can be detrimental to our work, it actually enhances our focus.

Rule #4 of B2B Sales Culture: Self-Reliance. Self-Direction. Team-Accountability.

The high mortality rate for SaaS startups — coupled with scarcer marketing and training resources than the typical Mid-Market or Enterprise company — requires a proactive, resourceful and naturally self-accountable sales team.

In terms of evaluation, taking a qualitative approach at the individual level is a must, as you’re still ironing out your process and discerning the proper expectations for your team. Everyone’s still figuring things out.

From a quantitative standpoint, I would advise focusing on team benchmarks (e.g. month-over-month growth). Making team benchmarks a heavy point of emphasis in our sales operations at Ambition led to dramatic improvements in team continuity. They’re good for culture and make a lot of sense for B2B startups up against a high burn rate.

Rule #5 of B2B Sales Culture: Promote Personal Growth.

The professional opportunities that come with selling for a young SaaS company are bigger than most realize. Just look at Mark RobergeAaron Ross and others who got in early, helped scale billion dollar companies, and are now industry legends.

To put it in perspective, Roberge might be the most respected Sales Executive in all of SaaS. And he became an industry legend in the same time it takes a first year medical student to become licensed and actually practice medicine.

Granted, you don’t have to become an industry legend to get uniquely valuable professional experience, a massive income, and frequent leadership opportunities from your sales role at a B2B startup. My younger brother graduated with a communications degree from the University of Tennessee and, three years later, he’s making his way into the six figures selling enterprise SaaS software.

The opportunity is yours for the taking. As Jason Lemkin once said, if you can get 10 unaffiliated, paying customers for your B2B startup, you can get 10,000. Share that message with your team and let them know that the opportunity before them goes beyond making big commission checks. I recommend watching Simon Sinek’s Start with Why video, which is actually a codified part of our onboarding process here at Ambition.

So much of B2B sales success is about believing in yourself. Celebrate wins with your team and push them to succeed not just for the company, but also for themselves, and you’ll have a healthy sales culture.

Building your B2B Sales Culture

With these five tips under your belt, you can take on the challenge of building a B2B sales culture. Best of luck to your B2B startup, from the Ambition Team to yours.

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