This week we are featuring sales leader Max Bergen. Max has recently scaled a sales team that contributed to record ARR growth at Austin based SaaS startup TrendKite.
Max – Welcome to The Sales Coach column. You went from being the first sales hire at TrendKite to scaling the team to 50+ in just a couple of years. Tell us a bit about that journey.?
Being a part of the the growth of a company where you’re the only person making cold calls while sitting next to the CEO, to scaling a sales force of 50+ people, was an invaluable experience. The early days were tough; they required a “win at all cost” mentality to put in long hours and hear “No” a lot, but continue persevering because I believed in the value our product would provide customers. When it’s just a few people in the room, everyone is a generalist and takes on as much responsibility to get the job done. Once we started to hone in on our messaging and close more deals, we were able to grow the team, have more victories to celebrate, galvanizing our winning culture. From there, it was a lesson in “letting go of your Legos” as the team continued to grow and people’s roles became more specialized. This offered a phenomenal opportunity to push myself to learn new, specialized ways to continue adding value to the team while growing my skill set on a daily basis.
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make when transitioning from a producer of one (you) to leading a team of many high-performance sales members?
Success in sales is black and white; you know where you stand at all times. This transparency is what initially attracted me (I used to work in the opaque world of asset management) to sales. As an individual contributor, you have the ability to “control” your own destiny by the attitude, focus and quality of work you bring everyday. The biggest adjustment I had to make was giving up the feeling of directly controlling my sales and success. Scaling a team is all about leading by example and understanding who your new “customers” are. If you’re making the transition from individual contributor to leader/coach, it’s probably because you hold yourself accountable to a high standard. Instead of thinking about how to inspire my customers to buy from me, I had to figure out how to inspire my teammates to hold themselves accountable to the same high standards I held for myself.
You’ve worked in other sales roles at other startups and large companies. What differentiates the sales approach at a hyper-growth startup from the others?
There are 3 key cultural traits that distinguish a hyper-growth team from others: 1) Data driven decision making, 2) Transparency to create a positive and competitive environment, 3) Celebrating every victory and discussing every setback or loss. However, merely talking about “data” or “culture” isn’t enough. A successful culture requires a lead by example mentality that needs to come from the VP and the front line managers. It’s easy to lead from the front when things are going well and deals are closing, but how do your managers respond when things AREN’T going well? All the data in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t have the right people inspiring those around them to continually raise their standards and produce the best work they can.
What metrics are important for a B2B SaaS sales manager that has a near mix of both inbound and outbound lead generation?
Every stage of the sales and buying process needs to be tracked, ie accounts added per outbound activity, calls/outgoing emails per demo, demos per trials, trials per closed won, qualified pipeline vs quota, etc. This is why it’s critical to have a data stack to automatically track both sales related activities AND customer buying stages.
Should sales team members at that stage (0-1M) be prospecting on their own or depend on Market Dev/Demand/Lead Gen for all their business? What is your personal view and experience on this?
110% yes! In my experience, a sales person always has a better understanding of the value their company/solution will provide if they developed the “sales thesis” (ie, pitch) themselves. I believe ramping reps should spend more time prospecting and doing outbound compared to mores senior and seasoned reps. This requires new reps to speak with more customers, allowing them to hone their pitch and better understand their target markets challenges and problems. To make this model scale, use data to understand each individual reps conversion rates across their funnel, so once they are ready to receive leads from SDR/MDR, they only receive as many as they need to hit their personal targets.
When a team member doesn’t meet their quota, how do you manage for that?
When I wear my sales coach hat, I believe the best practice is to establish clear expectations at the beginning of each month, which include mutually agreed upon objectives and activities required of each team member in order to accomplish their daily/weekly/monthly goals. One of the most crucial ways to communicate these expectations is to arrange weekly 1 on 1 meetings with each team member in order to review daily activity goals and discuss the impact of their progress towards their weekly and monthly goals. This transparent and cooperative approach sets up a successful coach-team member relationship, while helping avoid any negative surprises. That said, if a team member does miss their quota, both parties have weeks worth of data and conversations to understand why this happened and can move forward with necessary changes to both the sales process and coaching methods.
What is your number 1 sales coaching tip for new sales team managers?
New managers are typically eager to “manage” and have a tendency to “over coach” and overwhelm their team members with excessive feedback at once. It’s important to have empathy and understand how people best receive and implement feedback. My personal mantra, and advice I give to any new sales manager, is: “observe, observe, describe, then prescribe.” This is a powerful framework to help managers a) make sure they understand the behavior/problems they’re observing and want to change, b) ensure they clearly describe what they are witnessing and the negative impact it’s having, and c) prescribe ONLY one solution to effect a more positive outcome. Give people one thing to improve and when they’re successful implementing your feedback, suggest a new area to improve upon. This is a key difference between a micro-manager and a successful coach!
That’s it for this week folks. In our next edition we will be interviewing yet another sales leader that scaled sales growth.