One of the most popular questions I get from early-stage B2B SaaS founders and sales leaders is “How to build a Go To Market team that delivers high growth rates”.
The keyword I often find missing in the above question is “predictable”. Unfortunately, a lot of SaaS businesses struggle with lumpy phases of growth as they start scaling mostly due to a lack of GTM muscle and adequate sales capacity.
Once a product is built, one of the most important factors to keep in mind for any business that wants to grow fast is to have a strong GTM team. A 10X GTM team backed by the right processes and tools can put your SaaS business onto a rocketship while a poorly built non-functioning GTM team can more often than not sink your ship.
So, how does one go about building and scaling a GTM team that can deliver predictable growth, and what is contextually right once you hit 1Mn+ ARR?
The Team Composition
Sales funnel for SaaS is more like a bow tie and can be visualised below.
The above model can be broken down by function and stage of the funnel for the GTM teams.
This function plays at the very beginning of the sales process and is responsible for generating demand and building inbound traction. Though at an early stage most revenue can come from references or friends and family networks but building a demand generation function alongside building your product can really take away the burden from your sales team, when you need to push the growth pedal.
Most startups have a marketing generalist who can be Jack of all trades as their first hire.
But as you grow post-product-market fit, you must now be ready to invest in an experienced resource to manage the function and also specialize the marketing sub-roles under that to include Content Marketing, Social Marketing and Events as dedicated roles.
Done well and ahead of time, demand generation can create a constant influx of leads that will create a healthy pipeline for your sales team to close.
The function of Sales development was originally inspired by Henry Ford’s idea of ‘specialization of labor’. As a result of that, the responsibilities that were earlier handled by a single salesperson are now broken down into specialized sales roles as below.
BDR – Business Development Rep. Focused on inbound leads, this role primarily deals with the marketing side of the sales process by working on the inbound leads to qualify them into MQL’s (Marketing Qualified leads) and passes on to sales for acceptance. They will typically work on website form fills, demo requests, webinars and tradeshow confirmations and request a trial. This role generally reports to marketing.
SDR – Sales Development Rep. This role is all about outbound sales motion and focuses on verticals or geography from where new leads get generated. This role would ideally report into Sales. They will typically make calls, send emails, reach out to key prospects on Linkedin and nudge them for a conversation and finally schedule a meeting for the account executives.
AE – Account Executives This is a highly specialized role and focuses on closing the active sales pipeline, working on named accounts and growing relationships. They bring in net new business and thus are responsible for new logos and revenue. They need to follow a winning sales methodology and should be well versed with the sales playbook of the organization.
CSE – Channel Sales Executive. This role focuses on partners and channels for generating qualified leads and would provide support to the partner GTM team and the processes. Some examples include AWS or Azure, Salesforce App Exchange, regional SI’s and consulting partners.
SaaS is fundamentally all about lifetime value from customers and delivering value to the customer. Customer Success function is synonymous with SaaS and no company can ignore this function unless they don’t care about churn. The key roles under this team include:
Onboarding Manager: After selling to a new customer successfully, they need to be onboarded seamlessly by the implementation team. In some organizations, a Customer Success Manager doubles up as an implementation manager while some high-performing SaaS businesses would typically have a dedicated team to onboard and take the customer to live before they are handed over to Customer Success or Account Manager.
CSM: Customer Success Manager: This role focuses on ensuring that the customer is happy with the use and value of the product and maintains a relationship to renew. In some organizations, this is also called as Account Manager and the core KPI’s are around the logo and revenue retention, contract renewals, identifying Cross-Sell and Up-sell opportunities.
Other GTM Teams
Sales Enablement: This is an emerging role but an extremely important role. The key responsibilities include documenting and collating the best practices, sales playbook, winning content, case studies, training, and ramping the sales teams.
Sales Operations: This role is all about ensuring the right sales tools are there in the arsenal for sales teams, ensuring CRM implementation and maintenance, sales planning and forecasting, management dashboards, commissions calculation, and deal tracking.
Pre Sales or Sales Engineer: This role is very key in high-value consultative SaaS Sales where the product has a higher level of complexity. It is responsible for providing all the sales support before the client commits including validation of the right solution to the customer’s pain point and use cases. Integration of the software with clients tech ecosystem, ROI calculation for the client, and RFP assistance. A seasoned presales professional can modify and articulate the product and it’s offering to solve a client’s pain point. They are generally the most qualified resource on the call and both buyers and sellers tend to depend on the presales person the most in the buying cycle. They might stay involved with the Customer Success team beyond the deal closure and early stages of implementation.
Hiring and Ramping the GTM Teams
The first rule of sales is always be hiring. You don’t want to get caught reacting to sales attrition. It can set the company’s growth rate back by an average of 12 months given hiring, onboarding, and ramp cycles. Here are some points to keep in mind as one builds a SaaS GTM team.
- Key traits to keep in mind when hiring include drive, grit, confidence, integrity, coachability, adaptability, problem-solving ability and passion.
- Define and document your hiring process for sales teams early on as you launch your product and stick to it.
- Hire the Same type of successful person for traits that you see in most successful sales reps in your organization.
- Train each person the same way, have a standard sales enablement process.
- Post onboarding, make sure that every sales rep is provided with the same quality and quantity of leads.
- Ensure that salespeople work with the leads using a standardized sales process or playbook.
Where to look for talent?
- Competitor talent – The most common way to hire good GTM talent is from the competition as they know your market, buyer, and product or service. Hire for the attitude and cultural fit though and not for Rolodex. Big logos might not fit into your culture or stage of the company so always look for contextuality when hiring from competition or big logos.
- Generalist salespeople – The generalist sales rep is someone who has sales experience, but not in your market or industry. For example, a rep who has worked in professional services sales for 7-8 years. In this candidate pool, you’re looking to hire reps who have excellent “sales acumen” that, with a little enablement, can be applied to your product or market. They will typically know how to sell no matter who the buyer is or what the product is.
- Freshers – There is always a large pool of college graduates available to hire, although hiring inexperienced reps comes with risk. If you have a great sales enablement team and process in place this risk gets mitigated. An ideal growth path for these candidates starts with being sales development reps (SDRs) and then growing into AE’s over 2-3 years.
- Domain experts– You can also consider hiring salespeople from the industry that you sell to. It’s especially helpful in situations where deep industry and product knowledge are required. The buyer community would have a large pool of attractive candidates to choose from. While these people might know a great deal about the product, buyer and market but might lack generic sales acumen and need a great deal of coaching and enablement.
Metrics to track
Once you have a GTM team in place, you need to run a strong cadence around metrics and leading indicators. A mistake lots of startups make early on is tracking lagging indicators like closed deals or revenue and not focusing enough on leading indicators like # of meetings, playbook adherence, relationship mapping, etc. Some common leading indicators to track as per TOPO are:
- Calls – connect – conversations – qualified leads
- Attempts (social/Email) – connects – conversations – qualified leads
- Email open rates and response rates
- Lead source effectiveness to determine which lead sources are working or not
- Qualified leads to sales accepted leads
- Percentage of pipeline sourced by role
- Closed business from qualified leads
- Number of qualified leads per month
A Sales enablement and Sales operations team can be really helpful in being the right support to help Sales teams excel, collaborate and follow winning sales plays and provide the right visibility to managers and leaders on rep ramp-up risks and alerts on the pipeline.
Building a high performing GTM team takes time and needs specialization as your SaaS business scales. Sales is a team sport and not an individual game and thus one needs to invest in an all-round all-star GTM team, foundations of which are built right from the time you launch your product and gear up for the growth. One must ensure that making the GTM team productive is the number one focus as you gear up for your growth phase.
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