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10 Secrets From Leading Sales Execs

Effective sales teams are the product of the culture within the team, across the company and including customers.
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Ever wonder why some company’s sales programs are more successful than others?

During a recent forum at  Emergence Capital  that included Bill Binch,  Marketo ’s EVP of Worldwide Sales, followed by panels dedicated to sales efficiency and growth strategies with speakers from  ServiceMax InsideSales Zendesk Fuze, and  InsideView, I compiled 10 “sales secrets” based on their experiences.

1. Give sales reps transactions quotas, not revenue quotas. Binch joined Marketo in May 2008. To make a difference in the first 90 days and remove hurdles to closing deals, he changed quota metrics from revenues to transactions. Six months later Binch put some rules around business and discounts, but it initially gave sales reps confidence to close deals, regardless of the deal size or customer brand.

Related: The Secret to Closing More Sales: Talk Less

2. Partner with marketing from the beginning. Scott Berg, COO at ServiceMax commented, “Sales starts with a demand generation pipeline model, but ultimately, it comes down to the conversion from the leads.  That requires constant communication between sales and marketing.  We don’t incent on leads, we focus on closed business.”

3. Select your quotas with care. Match your quota timeframe to the sales cycle. Marketo was initially focused on SMB customers with sales cycles under 30 days. Rather than using quarterly quotas, Binch converted to monthly quotas to establish a monthly cadence that improved each month. The sales team pushed for closes 12 times a year rather than four, which helped sales velocity. 

4. Selling is math, not magic. Michael Critchfield, VP Sales at InsideSales, explained the importance of specialization and metrics in selling.

“We have ‘business development setters’ that work on hourly cadence. Very fast. They focus on appointments today and tomorrow,'' he said. "They turn over qualified opportunities to a highly structured inside sales group. The key is getting the data in the system. Our view is that selling is more math than art, sales can be broken down into a DNA sequence.”

5. Transparency helps erode competition. When Binch started, there were only a few small players, including Eloqua and Silverpop. There was not even a Gartner Grid at the time. His team made four key decisions to help them compete and accelerate sales cycles, the first of which was to show pricing on web. It was edgy to enable self-service back in 2008. Competitors were angry, but the transparency helped us compete.

The second move was to 15-day free trials that gave customers enough time to launch a campaign. No competitors offered trials at the time. They converted 96 percent to paying customers. Third, to establish trust, Binch’s team had to pre-empt the “uptime” question and customers wanted to know what percentage of emails hit in-boxes. They decided to post answers to these kinds of questions on a webpage,

Related: 25 Super Sales Secrets

Fourth, they wanted customers to interact with each other and build community, so they helped them create “how to” videos and provided customer-generated suggestions. Marketo also gave customers the option to vote on new features.

6. Don’t expect instant success when moving up market. Jim Cyb, VP Sales/Americas at Zendesk, noted that Zendesk was built on a foundation of five-seat deals but wanted to expand into the mid-market and enterprise. This required adjusting the teams and tactics of the company, while staying true to its mission.

“We needed executive sponsors for deals, swat teams for competition, and service capabilities for bigger deals,” he said.

7. Successful sales cultures have pace and urgency. Create stretch goals and offer fantastic incentives for meeting them. Marketo has always had an incentive-based culture and Binch hires people who want to work in that environment. Deal speed is important.

Binch worked with legal so that business leaders were empowered to make 99 percent of the standard contract decisions. Marketo strives to keep the rep-to-manager ratio low so that managers, who’ve been hired for their deal skills, can be actively involved. Managers and reps use a common scorecard to ensure that everyone is on the same page with respect to qualifying leads. This provides an objective way to measure that a deal is progressing.

8. Do whatever it takes to make your first five partners successful. According to Heidi Tucker, VP Global Alliances at InsideView, “A company needs to focus on no more than five partners. Do whatever it takes to make those successful. How can you make a partner’s “day job” better? If you can do that, the partnership has a good chance of succeeding.''

9. Get the whole company behind the sales team. Starting on the first day of December during Marketo’s first year (and every year since then), Binch brought in thousands of dollars of merchandise to be given away to employees across the company when sales closes deals. The whole company could feel the sales energy and was happier to pitch in during December when they needed all hands on deck to close deals. 

10. Nurture your freemium customers. Mary Pecka, chief customer officer at Fuze, spoke to the importance of staying close to your freemium customers from the beginning. She noted, “If you have a seed-and-grow strategy, don’t wait till renewal to add fertilizer.  You need to create a strategy of engagement right away. Expanding a deal is the responsibility of the original sales rep.”

Related: 5 Secrets to Winning More Sales