You’re Hired to Lead a Startup, What’s First?


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A few weeks back, I came across this scenario on LinkedIn (slightly anonymized to protect identities).

The CEO of a growth-focused company has hired you to oversee Sales & Marketing.

Her company is doing north of $10M in revenue and just took a Series A round of funding to “aggressively grow its sales and marketing activity.”

She has been focused like a laser beam on product and delivery. Marketing efforts consist mostly of tradeshows and webinars, generating leads for their Field team of 6.

There isn’t great consistency in terms of how Sales is talking about the product or who they are targeting. She is concerned that the lack of a cohesive prospecting strategy won’t allow them to scale to hit new revenue targets.

What are your top three priorities for the first 90 days?

Great question right? Recently I’ve been talking with the folks at PR 20/20, an inbound marketing agency, about doing something around “Sales said / Marketing said” – trying to see where our approaches overlapped and where they diverged.

When I saw this scenario, I thought I’d take up the Sales side and Laurel Miltner (AVP at PR 20/20) could take up the Marketing angle. I wanted to highlight a piece from Laurel’s response that I thought was especially relevant:

Define and Prioritize Buyer Personas, Hone Messaging

Create clear buyer personas, and prioritize them. Hone your messaging for each target audience, and understand what resonates with them along the entire purchase path. Both marketing and sales will need to understand these archetypes and their key needs/desires, but speak to them in different ways.

I think this is spot on. It is surprising that more companies don’t understand the value of buyer-based messaging. (Make sure to check out Laurel’s entire response)

I’m currently reading The Challenger Sale and the authors talk about the ‘layers of tailoring’ which Reps needs to master: Industry -> Company -> Role -> Individual.

They argue “as a starting point, marketing can add a tremendous amount of value simply by helping sales reps to tailor at the industry and company levels…When a rep comes in not just with a sales pitch, but with a sense of what’s going on in that customer’s company and industry, you’ve got the beginnings of a tailored message.”

This segues nicely to my “top three priorities” as a new Sales Exec.

#1: Understand our type of sale to determine approach

In a new role, the new Sales Leader has one distinct advantage – they get to ask the dumb questions. Often, companies will describe their sale in terms of:

  • Who they are (we’re a startup)
  • What they sell (widgets in the cloud is the future)
  • Who their buyers are (we sell to forward thinking CIOs / we target leading consumer brands)

These are important questions – but they don’t answer where your solution sits in the technology adoption life cycle.

I’ve always used the language in Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm to talk about this problem, but have found that language no longer resonates as strongly as it once did with CEOs and VPs of Sales or Marketing. That’s why we have transitioned to referencing SiriusDecisions’ “Demand Spectrum“.

In a nutshell, it segments into three categories:

  • New concept – buyers don’t know they have a solvable problem, we are a disruptive product, “evangelical” sale,
  • New paradigm – buyers are solving the problem with inefficient/legacy methods, we are a more effective solution, “quantifiable reason to change” sale,
  • Established Market – well-defined space, “differentiation” sale

Our approach should be based on where we fall in the spectrum. The entire model should be dictated by the answer to this question!

#2: Remember, those who focus are those who win

When I ask an Exec about their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and they answer “Fortune 500” or “we’re a horizontal play,” I know I’m in trouble. Growing companies will often argue they can sell to anybody. But to scale, you need to know where you’ll find repeatable & profitable success.

Defining our ICP isn’t about creating a named account list, but it is about identifying where our optimal buyers reside. Including:

  • Embracing the philosophy that not all prospects are equal
  • Focusing outbound activity towards the accounts with the highest likelihood of success
  • Triaging inbound activity – by aligning effort to opportunity
  • Identifying market segments with future potential

The ICP should be central to a host of sales and marketing discussions and decisions.

How do we create territories? (Think: how many accounts fit our ICP in a given region) Who is the hero in our content marketing? (Think: it better be within our ICP)

You get where I’m going, but let me say it one more time: those who focus are those who win.

#3: Leave our baggage at the door

A common pitfall I see Execs grappling with is treating past success as an indicator of future performance.

We are all guilty of wanting to stick within our comfort zone. All too often we’ll say – “This model worked really well at my last role/for our competitors/at a Board member’s other company. I’m just going to create that same model here.”

Unless you have the exact same type of sale and ICP – don’t do it! If success was so programmatic, algorithms would run Sales – not people.

Scaling is about developing a cohesive go-to-market strategy that answers the hard questions first. Then we need to take that knowledge and combine it with our experience, expertise and people to craft something that is right for the NOW.

I’m very interested in how you would respond to this scenario. Please share a thought or two in the comments.

(Photo credit: R/DV/RS)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Trish Bertuzzi
I founded The Bridge Group with a mission to help technology companies build highly successful inside sales teams. Since 1998, we have worked with over 190 technology clients, helping them increase productivity, drive higher conversion from leads to revenue and maximize Inside Sales performance.


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