5 Ways Startups Can Increase Their Sales Productivity

Maybe your startup is booming and your product is flying off the shelves. Maybe you are constantly checking the ledger, worried about when your next rent payment is due. Maybe you are somewhere in between.

Regardless of your situation, your startup’s sales performance matters. Time and resources are the most precious thing you can control. It is my belief that, regardless of your startup’s size, measuring and increasing sales productivity should be at the forefront of any leader’s mind.

As an entrepreneur who has built, scaled and sold three successful startups, I’ve learned this the hard way. In every company my co-founders and I have started, we would quickly grow sales teams from a single sales rep to dozens. In some cases, hundreds. Every time, we’d notice that sales productivity would decline as we added more sales executives. It didn’t matter what caliber of sales rep we hired, how we onboarded them or what tools they used. The more we grew, the more the productivity per salesperson would decline.

Here’s what we found out (the hard way)…

When we started our latest startup, Cien, my co-founders and I wanted to figure out if the problem of declining sales productivity was a people, lead, or macro issue. It turns out that it is all three. We realized that when combined, they all created a series of productivity traps. The breakthrough was when you have addressed the productivity traps in your sales processes, you can then grow our business with confidence in a much more profitable way.

But you aren’t going to be able to copy someone else’s sales playbook or rules. You’ll have to develop your own plan, because, in every situation, teams and people are different. The good news however is that thanks to the advances of artificial intelligence (AI), improving your sales performance is not as hard as it used to be. Here are five tips to help you get on your way:

1. Make Sure Your Sales Team Gets Proper Training

For a lot of CEOs of early-stage companies, sales training is an afterthought. But the right training sets up your sales team to win right off the bat. Properly onboarding new sales reps can reduce the amount of time it takes for each rep to break-even from a cash flow standpoint.

The key here is to make training more than an afterthought—and to set up an ongoing sales training program so that what is learned is not forgotten. Particularly for startups that have a rapidly evolving product, it’s important to make sure that your sales reps are always up to speed about your latest product capabilities and its implications in terms of messaging and value proposition.

2. Keep Your Sales People Motivated

Motivation keeps sales reps productive. If they want to succeed, they will, and they will sell more. However, selling can be emotionally draining, so you need to constantly monitor your sales people for motivation and emotional strain.

That means you and your executive team need to be aware of what their day-to-day looks like. You need to understand the challenges they face and obstacles that might hamper productivity. Be positive. Be supportive. Keep your reps prepared and ready to sell. Consider some friendly competition between team members like rewards or bonuses for performance.

3. Give Them the Right Tools Before They Feel the Need

Your sales playbook needs to include the right tools to help your people sell. This is because sales tools can have a huge impact on your team’s productivity, especially when you’re growing fast.

Many sales teams in startups tend to implement CRM systems, communication apps and marketing automation tools only after they feel the need for them. Starting with the right tool set is definitely a big productivity advantage.

The data generated by these systems will help you better understand what your sales team should be focused on. Understanding that can have a dramatic impact on your sales productivity.

4. Communicate and Collaborate

Sales reps face complex tasks on their own and, due to the global nature of modern business environments, often need to deal with overflow and their colleagues’ work as well.

So it is important to maintain lines of communication about what’s expected from a rep as well as their priorities. This encourages more open dialogue – not only between you and your team members, but between the team members themselves.

As a leader, it’s your job to help reps prioritize and effectively allocate their time and resources. You’re there to help with time management and answer questions about prioritizing sales activities. Do not, however, try to assert complete control. Coach the team and guide them, but give your reps enough room to navigate the rough waters on their own.

5. Measure What Matters

In startups, the best performing sales teams know that there’s no magical KPI. They need to measure what matters and make incremental improvements. Because not all leads are created equal, the most effective sales teams spend time and effort to measure the quality of the leads generated by the marketing team. But they don’t stop there. They also measure the quality of their people. They measure the quality of their pipeline. And they track external factors such as competition and seasonality and relate those factors to their sales productivity.

When it comes to making your sales team more productive, be smart and lead from the front lines. At the same time, have faith in your teammates abilities as well. And you’ll be surprised by how productive your sales team can be.

About the author

Rob Käll is CEO of Cien, a new sales productivity app that gives sales leaders an immediate edge by using the power of artificial intelligence to increase the productivity of their teams.