Moving on from Founder Led Sales

Moving on from founder-led sales to a more repeatable and scalable process is a common challenge in software and SaaS but vital to the long term success of a business. Here’s how Autobooks made the leap from founder-led sales.

If you can relate to the situation, read on.

The Situation

Autobooks had just received venture funding and needed to transition away from founder-led sales. They had 17 financial institutions under contract and venture funding means scaling.

They needed to achieve the right unit economics and develop codified sales and marketing processes that would free Steve Robert, CEO and co-founder, to enable the growth of the business.

Moving on from founder-led sales – the great leap

Moving from founder-led sales is a big transition and often boards will recommend hiring experienced VPs of sales and marketing to execute. Autobooks interviewed potential senior hires but while they were highly accomplished, they felt they weren’t seeing people who demonstrated enough understanding of the context and stage of their business. (Remember Jason Cohen’s experience at Smart Bear when he felt he had to hire a veteran enterprise sales guy?). Their reliance on established sales and marketing playbooks worried Steve.

He had hired Kyle Bazzy and Derik Sutton into sales and marketing roles and he felt the work they had done could offer significant differentiation in the market.

They were given his support to do something different.

Moving on from Founder Led Sales at Autobooks

Rethink everything and build the Autobooks way

To make the jump, Kyle and Derik felt they needed to rethink the traditional business processes and make sales and marketing functions much more closely aligned.

They wanted to develop an approach to marketing and sales with a more strategic approach than they had been using previously. They wanted to be able to bring in mid or even senior-level salespeople and point them to the Autobooks’s way. If that wasn’t in place, sales people would just drown. When you’re in founder-led sales, there’s no process there. It doesn’t scale.

Moving from supply side thinking to demand side thinking

They both felt making sure marketing wasn’t a standalone function was key. Marketing and sales begin and end together and they found common ground in Bob Moesta’s concept of demand side sales.

They started to transition away from supply side thinking – drive MQLs, drive SQLs.

As a marketer, you think about measuring site traffic, SEO optimization, downloads of white papers. When marketing’s key metrics go up, you pat yourself on the back.

The sales team however, complain that the pipeline isn’t generating revenue.

By rethinking the challenge from the perspective of customer progress, not the company’s, they built from there.

Demos are not a stage

Bob Moesta’s very famous for saying, demos are not a stage in a pipeline.

Kyle and Derik wanted to turn demo from a noun into a verb. MQL, SQL, Conversation, Demo, Contract are supply side.

We wanted to figure out how we could get leading indicators from marketing to a salesperson that had a much higher probability of becoming not just a signed contract, but a successful Autobooks customer.

The demand side sales timeline

In the demand side timeline, you have first thought, passive looking, active looking, deciding first use and ongoing use.

To start, customers are figuring out and asking questions to get introduced to this idea that they didn’t know about. Then they move into paths of looking where they’re learning how they’re trying to figure out like is this would this fit in our organization. Will this help me? Will this help my department? My business unit? Then they move into deciding and start to make trade offs. At that point in time, they’ve got to commit company resources, dollars. Then when they start, you’ve got first and ongoing use.

Pipelines, implementation and compensation at Autobooks

Autobooks’ pipeline stages mirror the progress of the customer timeline. It is more rich, because it’s focused on customers, not the internal metrics on a CRM dashboard.

It’s also created a common language amongst the teams, not just sales and marketing but product and engineering.

Autobooks even changed the way salespeople are compensated from signing deals to customer utilization. Every salesperson that’s had a decent career has been in the spot where you made just Gangbuster commission one year. Next year, what does the company do? Change the structure. The Autobooks structure is more predictable for sales people and there is much less misalignment between sales and company success. For Autobooks, this was a fundamental first principle kind of approach. Despite fears this would be controversial, every sales rep stayed and new hires have found they have a simpler, more repeatable approach to sales.

The Results

Autobooks started seeing positive results within 3 months of the new plan being put in place and have gone from 17 financial institutions under contract to close to 1500.

When should a company move on from founder-led sales?

From Autobooks’ perspective, they believe there are a couple of key inflection points where it makes sense to start this process.

First full time sales person

  • If you’re a founder, you found product market fit your hire hiring your first sales executive. That should start the discovery journey and understanding the principles of demand side sales and determine if that fits your culture and like what you want to build. If you hire a sales executive, that’s used to a rigid process, and the way that they’ve always done things, then you at least have to offer them a clear different process.

Scaling sales and marketing teams

  • Whenever you’re scaling and start to bring in mid-level talent or even entry level talent. When you start to scale the marketing team. You need a process that isn’t based upon the charisma or ability of an individual to communicate a message effectively.

You can hear more from Kyle and Derik discussing the transition from founder-led sales at Autobooks in this podcast episode.

They’ll also be digging deep into the change along with Bob Moesta at Business of Software Conference USA, Raleigh NC, October 2-4 2023. Join them.

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