Want to get a handle on your company’s growth?
You need a repeatable sales process. It’s the only way to create predictable revenue and long-term growth.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the 16-step process we use to create scalable sales systems for our clients in a wide range of different industries.
It also applies to the two main scenarios we come across:
Scenario A: You have a team that isn’t meeting your expectations
If you have a sales team of SDRs (appointment setters) and AEs (closers) this guide will help you identify the bottlenecks that are holding your team back (and walk you through how to fix them).
Scenario B: You are about to build your first sales team
If you plan of building your first sales team, this guide will help you understand how to overcome and/or avoid the obstacles you’ll likely face in the future.
Why listen to me?
I’ve worked with over 45 sales organizations using this exact playbook. Everything you’re about to read has been tested on multiple teams, in multiple markets, and during multiple market conditions.
I define strategy with the following three descriptors.
The concept here is that you must understand everything about your target market, how it’s segmented, and how you help them. With knowledge of the market, you must decide on how to acquire as many customers in that market as possible. Finally, who will you trust to do what’s necessary to acquire those customers?
Let’s discuss how to develop a strategy that will get you to a repeatable sales process.
Step 1: Define Your Total Addressable Market (TAM)
Your Total Addressable Market (TAM) is the overall revenue opportunity that is available to a product or service if 100% market share was achieved.
In other words, it’s absolute maximum revenue you can generate for your business in an ideal world. Figuring this out can help you decide which vertical/persona to pursue.
You’ll often see TAM defined as a formula like this:
TAM = (annual revenue per customer/contract) x (number of total possible customers/contracts).
But for our purposes, a simpler way to look at your market is to define the total market size.
This is specifically
- Q1: “What problem you are solving”
- Q2: “Who are you solving it for?”
Action Step: Write out every industry that experiences the problem that your product or service solves.
Next to each industry, write how many companies exist in the region you are targeting.
Here is an example.
Companies in the USA
Chiropractic -- 90,000
Dental -- 167,000
Private Practice MD -- 120,000
Optometry -- 111,000
Step 2: Decide on Your Target Vertical
Every market can be chunked down into segments, or verticals.
Each vertical has pros and cons of targeting.
Let’s continue with the verticals in the example from Step 1:
- Private Practice MD
These are all licensed medical service providers.
Your target market might be all licensed medical service providers, but if you never segment that market into verticals it will be nearly impossible to build a repeatable sales process.
Even the companies that have broad markets typically start in one vertical and move adjacently (Read Crossing the Chasm for more on this topic).
We shouldn’t target all 4 of the verticals in the market of medical service providers, so how do we choose?
First, we narrow it down to three segments.
Here is how I prioritize what vertical to target first.
Which vertical do you have the most traction in?
If 70% of your customers are Chiropractors, pick that.
Which vertical do you have the most experience with?
If your Mom was an optometrist, pick that.
Which vertical logically makes the most sense?
If Dentists are most impacted by the challenge that you solve, pick that.
Now, list the 3 verticals from this exercise. For example…
Vertical #1: Chiropractic
Vertical #2: Dental
Vertical #3: Optometry
Now you want to consider what size companies we should be targeting. For example…
- Chiropractic clinics with 10-30 employees
- Dental offices with 3-20 employees
- Optometrists with 15-50 employees
Now, answer the following questions for each vertical…
- Why is your solution good fit for this vertical specifically?
- Why should a company in this vertical invest in your solution now?
- How does document exchange help solve a vertical specific challenge?
- How does visibility help solve a vertical specific challenge?
- How does workflow automation help solve a vertical specific challenge?
Action Step: After doing all of the tasks outlined in this section, one vertical should stand out to you. If not, choose one randomly and just move forward. You will be testing so if you struggle with your first choice, you can change it based on what the data tells you.
Step 3: Define Your Buyer Personas
Now that you have the first vertical you are targeting, let me point out an obvious fact:
You don’t sell to businesses, you sell to people.
You’re ultimately going to be selling to a specific human. It might be the owner, a non-owner decision maker, or an industry influencer.
So, your next step is to build out the buyer personas for the vertical you are choosing to target.
For example, if we decide to sell to dental offices with 3-20 employees we may only have 1-2 personas - maybe the owner and the office manager.
If you are targeting B2B software companies with 100-500 employees, you may have 3-5 buyer personas (including those who influence the deal but don’t make the final decision). The CEO, VP of Marketing, Marketing Director, and CFO, for example.
Action Step: Make a list of all the buyers and stakeholders who work at the companies you target. For example:
- VP of Marketing
- Marketing Director
Once you have your list of buyers, answer these questions about them.
- What is their unique challenge
- How they are trying to solve it today
- How our solution can help
- How our solution is different from the alternative
- Their goals (how do they look good to their boss?)
- How can we help them hit their goals or overcome their challenges?
- What is the best way to explain the value of your solution to this buyer?
Finally, decide which buyer is the highest priority to target (typically the person with the most decision-making authority). Choose only one.
If you target a vertical with few companies in it, you can have more than one. But, as a general rule, you want one persona to start with. This simplifies your messaging and allows you to iterate.
Step 4: Clarify Your Go-To-Market Approach
There are a lot of Go-To-Market approaches, and it can be overwhelming to figure out exactly what to do.
I’m going to simplify it for this guide and say there are really two:
GTM Approach #1: Marketing-led.
GTM Approach #2: Sales-led.
Even companies that claim to be “product-led” are really marketing-led. They also inevitably run into issues as they scale (for example, Slack is considered the poster child of product-led growth, yet it has ~200 salespeople).
Here is the difference between marketing-led and sales-led.
Organic social, SEO, paid advertising, etc. -> Marketing qualified action (fills out a form, signs up for a webinar, demo request, etc.) -> Sales books meeting -> Sales cycle -> deal closed won or lost
Outbound prospects (cold call, cold email, etc.) -> sales books meeting -> Sales cycle -> deal closed won or lost
Now, how do you choose between the two?
Well, you typically don’t want to choose.
It’s a matter of resources. If you raised capital and you have the capacity to do both, do both!.
But, in general, either a sales-led or marketing-led strategy will stand out.
For example, we worked with a company that sells project management software. They had someone on their founding team that was a strong marketer so they were 100% marketing led when they reached out to us. They have no intention of doing outbound prospecting because they had enough sales leads.
Well, scaling their marketing efforts with their growth proved challenging. So after 9 months, they hired outbound SDRs. This exploded their business.
In contrast, we worked with a company that sold a marketing automation tool. They were 100% outbound. The founder hired a bunch of agencies and could never get their marketing to work. While working with them, the founder hired a VP of marketing who figured out how to generate leads through marketing. We helped them fold the new marketing engine into their sales team and they had a ton of success.
My point is, you should do what you are comfortable with. Stop doing what isn’t working and double down on what does.
Choosing how you want to approach the market is dependent on the market, your product, the problem you solve, and who you sell to.
My general advice is to start with outbound because it’s quick. You can change the outbound team's focus on a dime and you’ll get market data very quickly.
While you have an outbound team, you can always experiment with paid ads and spend time building up your organic marketing channels (like social or SEO).
Action Step: Choose the go-to-market approach that you feel best matches your skillset.
Step 5: Decide on your team composition.
Now that you have decided on your approach to customer acquisition, it’s time to decide which roles to hire and how many of each position (SDRs and AEs).
This is another “it depends” section but let me give you a few categories.
- You are a founder trying to get out of sales and have limited capital.
- You are a founder trying to get out of sales and raised capital in order to do so.
- You have a team and want to make sure you have the right ratio of SDRs to AEs.
Getting out of sales with limited capital
The main thing to think about is the amount of time you have to dedicate to sales.
If you have enough new deals coming in that you are struggling to keep up with them all, hire an AE and take a step back from sales calls.
If you don’t have enough new deals coming in to keep you busy, hire an SDR to generate more deals for you.
The reason why is that you have limited capital, and your personal close rate (as the founder) will be higher than someone new.
Because of that, you should prioritize closing new deals so you can pay for the first sales hire, and then generate enough cash to hire the second sales role (which will allow you to step out of selling).
Getting out of sales after you’ve raised capital
In this scenario, you want to build out the team based on the revenue target you need to hit.
For most venture-backed startups I suggest hiring 2 AEs if they’re marketing-led or 2 full cycle AEs if they’re sales-led (full-cycle AEs are salespeople who find their own deals and close them).
You have a team and want to make sure you have the right ratio of SDRs to AEs.
This comes down to the math. Here is my general rule.
Large TAM + short sales cycle (less than 30 days) = more SDRs than AEs
Large or medium TAM + medium length sales cycle (2-6 months) = 1:1 SDR to AE ratio
Small TAM + medium to long sales cycle (2-12+ months) = More AEs than SDRs
This is basically tied to capacity. The shorter the sales cycle, the more deals reps can manage, which puts the burden on pipeline generation.
The longer the sales cycle, reps get busy managing existing deals, which puts the burden on pipeline management over deal creation. It doesn’t mean that deal creation isn’t important, you just don't have the same volume as you would with short sales cycles.
Action Step: Decide on your team composition and identify the role you’re going to hire for next.
Step 6: Hire the right people
Hiring the right people is very important when you’re building a performance-oriented team. But, It’s also challenging because hiring sales reps is tricky - salespeople are typically good at selling themselves!
I’ll split this into two parts - Account Executives (AEs) and Sales Development Representatives (SDRs).
Account Executives: The Deal Closers
This will be a very simple step but you will be tempted to ignore it because a charming salesperson got you excited.
Here’s what you should do:
Hire an AE who has experience selling a similar product or service into a similar market as the one you’re targeting.
It is really that simple.
Can someone from another market (or with no experience) still succeed? Of course.
But you’re going to significantly cut your risk by hiring a proven professional with relevant experience.
Sales Development Representatives: The Meeting Bookers
SDRs are a little bit more difficult.
I do not like hiring SDRs with experience - instead, I prefer to train new reps from the ground up. But, I also know that most CEOs don’t have the capacity to do that.
Consider hiring an SDR who has experience booking meetings with your buyer (for outbound). For marketing/inbound based go-to-market approaches, experience isn’t required.
Action Step: Use our hiring guide to prepare for your recruiting (and don’t get swayed by charming salespeople!).
“Tactics” are the activities and messaging your reps will use to engage with your potential customers.
This is everything from developing effective call scripts, emails, LinkedIn DMs, and any other communication you send out to prospects.
I won’t get into actually how to write cold call scripts or cold email templates in this sections, we have other resources for that.see here, here, and here style
In this section you will walk away knowing how to systematically stop doing the things that don’t work and double down on the things that do.
Step 7: Understand the world of your buyers
Here’s my golden rule when it comes to engaging with potential customers:
The only thing that matters is your buyer.
I hate to tell you, but your product/service doesn’t matter.
The buyer only cares about the result, not how you get there.
Your job is to understand your buyers’ problems so well that you are able to show how your product or service will generate the result they are looking for.
That’s why you need a strong understanding of your buyer personas (see step 3).
Create an outline of all of the problems that your buyers face, what impact each problem has, and what causes those problems.
I call this a P.I.C. chart.
Customer retention is dropping
Their customer acquisition costs stayed the same which is making the new customers they sign not profitable for the company.
Customers don’t fully utilize the feature set of the tool so they are not seeing the return on investment they expected.
LINK to PIC chart
After doing this, write out how the buyer is trying to solve each one of these problems today. Let's continue with the same example…
How they are trying to solve.
Customer retention is dropping
By calling customers and educating them.
This will give you a focal point as you create scripts and templates for your reps. You must speak about how you help your buyers solve their problems, not how great your product or service is.
Step 8: Create Scripts, Templates, and Frameworks
Yes, you should create scripts, templates, and frameworks for your reps to follow in order to be successful.
That’s because your team needs a clear messaging source. If everyone on the team is creating their own material, you’ll end up with a mess of different ideas.
Even if some of these assets work, it’ll be next to impossible to test, replicate, or iterate in a repeatable manner. And that’s ultimately the goal here, right?
Here are a few resources you can use to build your messaging assets and frameworks.
Here is a short list of the first messaging you need to create.
- Cold call script (or inbound call script)
- Cold email templates (or inbound emails)
- Discovery framework (or just a list of questions)
- Demo/presentation script
Make sure you create at least these 4 assets. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be done. Once you have them, you’ll be able to move on to the next step and test!.
Step 9: Test your messaging
Your messaging will not be fantastic at first, even if you’re a copywriting wizard and a cold call ninja.
Even if it’s really good, it’s still only a first draft. You absolutely must use real market feedback to improve what your team’s using.
Start by quantifying as much as possible.
For example, with calls, you should track the following data points.
- Intro-to-Conversation Rate (the % of intros that lead to a conversation).
- Conversation-to-Ask Rate (% of conversations that led to the rep asking for a meeting).
- Ask-to-Bbooking Rate (% of asks for a meeting that led to a meeting being booked).
By looking at the above data points, you will be able to find out where your messaging is struggling so you can improve it.
If you want our cold call analyzer tool, get it here.
This applies to all other channels as well. Break it down into measurable pieces.
For things that cannot be measured quantitatively (like your cold call stats), you still need to get anecdotal feedback from the team.
For example, with the demo script, you’ll want to listen to call recordings and ask the rep, “did this section resonate with the prospect? How did they react?”
You want to track as much data, both qualitative and quantitative, as possible. This data will allow you to iterate your messaging until you have something that works.
Step 10: Iterate your messaging
Now that you have data, it’s time to iterate your messaging until it’s working.
Here is how you do that:
Look at all the data you collected from the previous step and ask yourself, “What needs the most work?”
Try to choose a big domino - something that, if changed, would have a significant impact.
For example, let’s say that you’re looking at your cold calls and you notice that both your Intro-to-Conversation Rate and your Ask-to-Meeting Rate seem low.
In this case, I’d recommend starting with the Intro-to-Conversation rate because it will increase the number of times your rep(s) gets to ask for meetings. In other words, it’s the bigger domino.
Action Step: The main thing I want you to take away from this is that you must only change one thing at a time.
Find something specific that’s underperforming, make it better, and measure the results.
Repeat that until your messaging is resonating and converting at a rate that gets your team to its goals.
Now we are getting to the advanced stuff. I hope you’re excited!
Operations covers everything from setting expectations and tracking performance to managing leads and analyzing sales data.
It’s the difference between a successful sales organization and a mediocre one.
Seriously. Given all the same tools, assets, and strategies, only the team with strong operations will be able to *truly* scale.
Let’s dive deep into Operations so you can do things right from the beginning.
Step 11: Set clear expectations for the tea
Your team needs to know exactly what’s expected of them, both at a team level and individually.
So, how do you set good targets?
It can be a bit complicated, so I made a spreadsheet to make it easy.
Download it here and follow along.
First, fill out the following information (I have sample data so you can see what it should look like).
A few things about the setup.
- I typically expect 70-100 activities (call, email, etc.) per SDR per day, depending on how much time they need to spend researching.
- For AEs, I expect 30-50 based on how much bandwidth they have to prospect (working more deals = less time to do activities).
- Average attempts per account is how many times you expect your team to reach out to each company they have in their list before moving on.
- Activity to demo is the % of activities that turn into a demo. If you don’t have data for this, here is my general benchmarks based on the size of companies you target (you can beat these, but I like to use conservative estimates).
- SMB: 1% - 2%
- Mid-market: .75% - 1%
- Enterprise: .5%
- Show rate (% of booked meetings that show up) benchmarks based on size of companies you target.
- SMB: 70%
- Mid-market & enterprise: 80%
- Qualify rate (% of meetings that show up that meet your qualifications) based on size of companies you target
- SMB: 90% - 100%
- Mid-market: 70% - 80%
- Enterprise: 60% - 70%
- Close rate (% of qualified meetings that result in a closed won deal) based on size of companies you target.
- SMB: 25% - 30%
- Mid-market: 15% - 25%
- Enterprise: 10% - 15%
Now that you have this part of the sheet complete, let's look at what the math says our annual revenue target should be (assuming you made the timeframe section 12 months).
In this example, you see that the sheet says the revenue target should be $1,440,000. What this means is that, assuming the numbers you put in the setup section are true, this team will hit that revenue over 12 months.
One thing to note, this is not taking into account your sales cycle. Think of this as a matured 12-month cohort.
Next, take a look at the next section of the sheet.
The right side will give you how many demos each SDR and AE need to book/close to hit the team number. These should be the individual targets for the reps.
Step 12: Develop your list of qualifications and secondary intel
The next step for you is to develop a list of qualifications and secondary intel. Let me define each for you.
Qualifications are objective criteria that are required for you to sell to the company. Here are some common examples.
- Their company size.
- They use a tool you integrate with.
- They have a specific department you target.
- Their company structure.
- The person taking the meeting has decision-making authority.
- They sell to a specific industry.
- They have a specific average deal size.
The point I want to stress here is that these need to be objective. Not based on how the Account Executive “feels” about the opportunity.
Next, you want to create a list of something I call secondary intel.
These are questions that you cannot get the answer to from a data provider or on their website.
Your team will learn these from doing outreach to your buyers. Here are some examples.
- Which software do they use? (if unable to find from a data provider)
- What is the relevant contract’s end date?
- How is their company structured?
Secondary intel is useful because it’s information that your reps can use on their calls and emails. It’ll help guide their conversations and also position them as better-informed and better-prepared than the other reps your prospects speak to.
Prepare your list of qualifications and secondary intel (and make sure you are tracking this all in your CRM).
Step 13: Create your target list
I cannot overstate the value of having a great list. The thing is, most sales organizations get this part totally wrong.
Here’s how to get started:
First, you need to find a data provider. You have two options.
Option #1: Buy a database that you can use to find your own leads whenever you need to.
- Pro: You have more flexibility because you search for leads yourself.
- Con: Targeting the right people can be tough depending on your industry.
Option #2: Buy individual leads lists from a vendor (like someone on Upwork).
- Pro: Typically you are paying for leads that meet specific criteria that require the vendor to do some kind of manual review.
- Con: There are a ton of scammy vendors and it can be tough to judge the quality of the list you receive before using it.
Let me share with you what I typically like to do.
- Hire someone on Upwork to get me a list of companies that meet my specific criteria.
- I take that company list and match the website in our database provider to find contacts myself.
This gives me the best of both worlds. I can pay for someone to manually check every company and make sure they meet my criteria, and I get the flexibility to change the targeting for the people that work at those companies.
Once you have your initial list - I call it the master list - it’s time to segment.
The aim is to learn how effective each segment is (or isn’t).
Segment the list based on the data points you find the most important. Here are a few examples.
- CEOs with a mobile phone number.
- CEOs with a valid work email.
- CEOs with both a mobile phone number and a work email.
- CEOs at companies that use software A.
- CEOs at companies that use software B.
You’ll want to segment these lists in a few ways so you can test which list leads to the best conversations.
Do not put the burden of list creation on your reps, it’s not their job. They should be working the leads that you want them to work.
Select one segment to start with and give it to your reps to begin outreach.
Step 14: Implement a lead management process
Correctly managing your leads will allow you to consistently improve your team’s efforts. The results will compound over time as you learn what works for each persona and vertical.
Your reps should be organizing their leads based on their interactions, so they can improve their outreach over time.
This’ll help you improve your lead list over time.
That’s because, in any lead list, there is a percentage that is actually connectable.
For example, if you have 100 leads, maybe 30 will actually answer their phone, and maybe another 30 will respond to an email. The remaining 40 won’t answer or reply.
If you organize your leads and update the list, you’ll know who’s reachable and who’s not. That means your reps will use their time effectively and avoid wasting time on the contacts who won’t respond.
We keep things clean by using lead statuses.
Here are the categories I use:
- Open: Leads that have not been worked by the owner of the lead.
- Working: Leads being actively worked but the rep has not made contact.
- Prospect: Leads that the rep has connected with but did not book a meeting with.
- Disqualified: Leads that the rep has disqualified, meaning they are not a good fit for your solution. This should be coupled with a “disqualified reason” field where the rep selects why it was disqualified.
- Bad Data: Leads that have incorrect contact information.
- Nurture: Leads that the rep has failed to make contact with. These are removed from their pipeline.
- Open Deal: Leads that a demo has been booked with.
Here is how the leads move between lead statuses:
What this allows your team to do is prioritize their day’s activities by lead status.
Here’s an example:
- First, your rep follows up with leads who have connected but didn’t book. (Connected)
- Next, they’ll reach out to the new leads they have never called. (Open)
- Finally, they’ll reach out to the leads they have tried to get a hold of but have yet to reach. (Working)
Most of the stages can be automatically applied based on triggers in your CRM. See why it’s important to stay proactive and keep your list organized?
Over time, this process will improve your reps’ workflow. Plus, if you ever need to move leads around, you can prioritize the leads that a rep has made contact with before.
Action Step: Set up your lead statuses and give your reps clear criteria on how to label each lead.
Step 15: Clarify your deal stages
Deal stages are critical for getting information from your sales process and quickly identifying bottlenecks.
Many sales organizations keep their deal stages ambiguous - big mistake!
For example, they’ll use general terms like:
- Closed Won / Closed lost
The problem is, this doesn’t give us the information you need to improve your sales process. You won’t know how many demos result in a contract being sent, or even if there are more meetings after the demo.
You need to put a lot of thought into your deal stages and make sure they represent your actual sales cycle.
Here is what every deal stage should include:
- Stage name: The name of the stage.
- Description: What the stage means about the deals that are in it.
- Exit criteria: What has to have taken place for the deal to be moved to the next stage.
This is an example of what it should look like:
The first stage of the sales process. The salesperson meets with the prospect and learns about their challenges and figures out if they qualify as a sellable opportunity.
Qualification/discovery call conducted.
The second stage of the process. The sales rep does a demonstration of the solution and shows how it will solve the prospect's challenges.
Prospect indicates that your solution meets their needs.
Next step scheduled.
Evaluating [Optional: remove if not applicable]
This stage is for when the prospect has indicated that they are evaluating you as a potential vendor but have more to evaluate before going into pricing.
Technical requirements agreed upon.
Meeting to discuss pricing scheduled.
This is the stage where you and the prospect will be discussing pricing and potentially negotiating.
Pricing agreed upon.
This is the stage where deals go when the contract has been sent and you are awaiting signature.
Prospect Signs the contract.
Onboarding process initiated.
This is the stage for deals that have signed the contract and are now paying customers.
This stage is where deals go when the prospect indicated that they will not be moving forward or they go dark for an extended period of time.
Step 16: Use data and analysis to optimize your process
Data analytics is a deep topic that I won't be able to go into full detail on in this section.
But I will give you an actionable next step to collect data and start analyzing it.
First, you need to track your team's outreach.
Track the following…
- Activity - cold calls, personalized emails, personalized LinkedIn messages (do this per channel)
- Engagements - Prospects who answer the phone, email replies, LinkedIn replies (do this per channel)
- Appointments - Prospects who commit to an appointment (do this per channel)
- Deal stage 1 - Deals that made it to Deal stage 1
- Deal stage 2 - Deals that made it to Deal stage 2
- Deal stage 3 - Deals that made it to Deal stage 3
- Closed won - Deals that closed
As you track this information, you will need to analyze the data to identify where to focus to improve your team's performance.
To do that you’ll need to do a cohort analysis.
Take a group of data from one sales cycle in the past (for example: if your sales cycle is 60 days and today is February 1st, look at data from November).
Calculate the percentage between each metric for that data set. It should look like this:
Identify which percentage needs to be improved and focus there. See the example above for inspiration on how to improve each specific area.
Repeat this process as often as you can so you can iterate your sales process consistently. This is how you reach repeatability.
What to do next
Now that you have clarity on the steps of building a repeatable sales process, go and do it!