If doing is the best way of learning, then learning from who has already done it might as well be the second-best way. In this post, Zuzana Kudelova will share her top tips to run sales the right way in a startup.
Are you the CEO of a growing B2B startup? Do your sales numbers need a boost? We know what it feels like, and we know how important is to do sales right in a startup. Along the journey of entrepreneurship, we learned a few things. One of them is that in a startup it’s a lot better to have people that know stuff. They have successfully done it before, and now they can teach it to you.
Given that these people are difficult to find, it’s generally good advice to listen to what some of these special “done-it-before” ones might have to say. Zuzana Kudelova – founder of Salesmic and currently working with great startups like TravelSuit, Sli.do, Happeo, and OrbitalAds among the others – is one of those special people.
Zuzana was the VP of New Business & Growth at GetApp, a Barcelona based startup acquired by Gartner in 2015. Over the years she had led the company to triple-digit revenue growth while constantly overachieving the company targets. As previously stated now Zuzana owns her own business “Salesmic“, a next-generation SAAS Sales consultancy focused on startups. Our personal advice, if you need help growing Sales at your startup, is to get in touch with her. (If you want to learn more about Zuzana and “Salesmic” look at the end of our blogpost for more information).
We asked Zuzana for her top practical tips to do sales right in a startup. Curious? Here you go.
1. Never underestimate the power of psychology in sales
A few years ago when sales automation and powerful CRMs emerged, everyone thought that it would drastically improve sales numbers. Even more so with the onset of AI. The truth is that while a good app stack will help you be very analytical and spot number issues faster as well as have a much better insight into the whole sales funnel, it will never improve the human element of sales per se.
Most of the work I do once I start coaching sales teams is around the psychology of sales. From how you sell in order for the clients to want more, to how you get over your own blockers while being true to your values. It is crucial to being relevant and doing sales “right” in a startup or any other company.
2. Don’t work hard, work smart
One of my former bosses shared this advice that he got from his dad: ‘Don’t work hard, work smart’. I have been trying to constantly apply this principle. While I believe that what you put in comes back, I also recognise that proper prioritisation, organisation and use of the right software tools are necessary to stay sane.
‘Don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good’
Connected to this is the basic ‘startup’ principle ‘Don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good’. The typical hard workers are trying to do it all, but, oftentimes, running a good cost/benefit analysis and re-focusing where you really need to is the smartest way of running through tasks.
3. Listening is a critical Sales skill
I am a huge believer in the emotional aspect of human behaviour. We are rational but emotions often override rationality. If you look at the negotiation techniques used by the world’s secret agencies for hostage & conflict situations, it’s very much rooted in addressing the emotional and communicational parts, instead of the rational.
Over the years, I have learned about many forms of communication. I have learned from mistakes made in the past, and, today, I mostly practice ‘Active listening’ and ‘Non-violent communication’. With each client, I need to understand their psyche in order to solve their issues in a way they will be comfortable with. That does not mean I don’t push them out of their comfort zones when I have to. But, I do it in a way that is acceptable to them and allows them to learn.
4. The best people will not apply to your job openings. You need to go looking for them.
Nothing beats the good old network and incentivising the team to bring in their connections to build your own team. However, often times when I help scale teams I have to say that it’s hard to do it through connections alone. For sales hiring, I have had really good experiences with LinkedIn sponsored job ads combined with any local tech job platforms. You can’t do sales in a startup purely on your own once the company is scaling. You’ll need to put a great team together sooner or later.
5. If in doubt, don’t hire.
I am a huge fan of behavioural-based interviewing and having multiple people from the team talk to the candidate while maintaining a clear scorecard for reference.
Here are three key recommendations everybody should follow.
- Always be hiring: I think you should be hiring all the time. It’s a nightmare if you need a candidate, cannot find a good one, and then settle because you didn’t have a pipeline.
- Be prepared: If you have a recruiter in place, assess really well what they can discover for you and what is best to do by yourself. Remember that you are the person who really has the most expertise in a particular area. The best combination for me is to really sit down with my recruiter and walk through the scorecard. I’ll ask them to do the sourcing, initial screening, and to assess motivation to join the company. After that it’s all on me.
- Don’t rush: One of the most painful mistakes was to get pushed by management/investors to settle for a candidate that you had doubts about. Exiting people from organisations is costly and disruptive. Double/triple check before hiring and stand your ground.
Oh, did I say don’t ever forget to call for references? If you’re obliged to work with a recruiter, always ask for details on 2 reference calls. It’s better to be surprised on the reference call then once the new hire is with you 😉
6. Look for these key traits when hiring new sales reps
As you have read in our previous post “The 3 top traits to predict future sales reps performance” we love this topic. So here are Zuzana’s top traits as to what makes a successful sales rep:
- Endurance: being in sales, in general, is comparable to a long-term professional sport commitment. You train hard, you need to get through many obstacles. You also need to get to the finishing line (the end of your sales cycle), and then repeat. If you want to stay at the top for years, you cannot burn out in the middle.
- Conviction: First, let’s start with the product you are selling. It’s important because you have to ooze knowledge and natural confidence, and be the reference point where people go to learn something new. Second, you also need great conviction about the company mission. The best salespeople have “CEO-like” mentality and really own the product and the vision.
- Ingenuity: quota gets harder, some clients require a completely different approach, and you might not have all the ‘basic’ tools especially if you join a true startup. If you want to hit your quota, you need to ‘hack’ things sometimes. Many times you’ll need to keep coming up with MacGyver-like ideas to make ends meet 😉
7. Have fun
You spend a hell of a lot of time at work so make sure you’re true to yourself and pick something that you enjoy. You will most likely never enjoy every little part of the job but you really want to wake up in the morning and be stoked to start the day.
Don’t follow the majority, carve your own path and do what you enjoy.
A bonus tip from Zuzana!
I have to say discovering Fluttr helped me scale my hiring efforts and it’s also much better at predicting candidate performance on the job. Today, I only look at CVs after I see the challenge results. It saves time!
Fluttr showed me that the candidates with the best looking CVs do not always perform as well with the on-the-job challenges such as a sample cold email etc., as those with imperfect CVs (that you would typically single out during the screening process).
As we have seen in this post, selling is an art that involves psychology, active listening, smart decision making, and, when scaling, the ability to put together a great sales team. Given the hardship required to be successful in sales, Zuzana strongly recommends ensuring you have fun in the process too.
Following all these tips should enable you to do sales right in a startup. Reading our blog should help too!
I studied terrorism and international relations so lots of conflict negotiation and prevention – related subjects and practice so soon I started realising that it is very related to business. Moving to sales was a good fit for my love of psychology and the desire to help. Except my first real sales gig which gave me a solid foundation for bootstrapping and running lean operations, I only ever worked with products that I truly believed in and as such, I really look at sales being a means of providing help, just in the business sector. I am competitive and I like the game that sales bring.
My achievements, I think, are twofold:
- I have many hit quota behind me (and yes, sometimes even a top salesperson misses the goal if it’s not properly set or life brings some obstacles. Thankfully I didn’t have many such instances yet, it might still come).
- The second achievement, in my opinion, is that a lot of the clients or former clients have become more than clients and follow me through my various professional journeys. I take it as proof that they believe in my skills and advice. Good salespeople, in my opinion, go beyond their quota.
I started my own gig since its something I wanted to try since I left GetApp. When a few professional friends reached out, I thought it was good timing to do it.
Salesmic is a next generation SAAS Sales consultancy that focuses on startups. Their help comes in invaluable forms… from analysing sales inefficiencies, helping with forecasting to training sales teams, and everything sales-related in between.