How to scale a team to 25 reps in just 3 years and learn from the mistakes along the way with Spendesk’s Nicolas Marchais

Collin Stewart, CEO

12 June 2019

Let’s face it, scaling a sales team is what we’re all chasing.

Your sales process is worked out, pipeline is being generated month over month, and you’re looking for where all the new desks are going to fit – it’s a thing of beauty. Of course, getting there can be less beautiful at times. Scaling a team is hard and, no matter how you slice it, you are going to learn some tough lessons on the way.

Nicolas Marchais, Head of Sales at rapidly-growing spend management platform Spendesk, is no exception to this rule. Sure, they’ve grown their sales team to 25 reps in just three years and the company has seen international success. But when you’re a small team still figuring out how to get your first handful of customers, mistakes are just a part of the gig.

“Some of the mistakes we made, we knew going in wasn’t the best thing to do. It’s funny – you can even read about the very mistakes you made before you made them,” says Marchais, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“But you still have to learn.”

The mistakes made along the way

According to Marchais, there are three phases in the maturity of every company: growing from 0 – 100 customers, then from 100 – 1,000 customers, and, finally, from 1,000 – 10,000 customers. And each of them brings a distinct set of challenges and potential pitfalls.

For example, when Spendesk was on the hunt for their first 100 customers, Marchais said their biggest mistake was actually over-planning, over-resourcing, and acting as if they were chasing their first 1,000 clients.

“We made a mistake thinking we needed more than 100 customers – so, we thought we needed all of the tools. But, after some reflection, we realized that all we needed was 100 customers,” says Marchais.

“So the lesson there was you don’t need to scale as dramatically as you think you do.”

Taking the time to focus and outline that first goal paid dividends: not only did Spendesk close their first 100 customers, but they were able to pinpoint their ICP during this time and perfect their messaging.

“We looked at our first 40 customers and really worked to understand how they were using the product. This is how we realized what the right size of company we needed to go after was,” says Marchais.

“And that helped us specialize our messaging as well. At first, we went very general, but it didn’t work. So, we went more nuanced and saw better results.”

(Editor’s note: we had SalesSource’s Karan Singh on the podcast a little while ago to discuss the importance of taking a data driven approach to go-to-market planning. You can read about our in-depth chat here, or listen to the whole podcast here)

Content is king

Of course, your content strategy extends far beyond your email copy. To become an authority in your space, your content has to be top-notch – through your content, you become trusted leaders. But, early on, Marchais says Spendesk fell into the trap of producing lots of content, not unique content. In our over-messaged world, it’s an easy mistake. Everyone is producing content – and everyone is vying for the attention of the buying public.

To cut through the noise, though, what you need is memorable content, content that stays with the reader, long after they’ve closed their laptop for the day.

At Spendesk, that meant adding more data in their e-books, partnering with outside organizations to publish their content (which extends the reach of your content), and launched the CFO Connect community of modern finance leaders that connects finance professionals through events in different cities.

“We realized the real value was to bring expertise in your community – not just produce loads of content. So we talked with our clients, found out what they were reading and what they liked to learn,” says Marchais.

“This gives our reps the right weapons when they enter a client meeting. It shows that we are the experts – and we want to make sure our customers see that. Customers need to trust your opinions, and content helps with that.”

The importance of finding the right people

To execute on all of these initiatives, you need to hire the right people. In fact, Marhcais believes hiring the right team is so important that it actually is the “first solution” to many of the problems you’ll face.

For example, when you’re a small team, the reps you bring on will have to wear many hats depending on what’s needed of them. After all, you don’t have years of company success to lean on, or endless case studies to prove your product’s value. But that’s part of the startup ride – you never know what will come up, but when it does, you have to be ready.

“When you’re growing, you don’t need reps that are used to working in an ecosystem full of sales engineers and other support, you need builders and people who can sell based on their convictions because you don’t have all of the important data at first.”

“You need builders and people who can sell based on their convictions, because you don’t have all of the important data at first.”

That’s why incentivizing your team in a smart way early on is critical, adds Marchais. You want goals that are achievable, but still ambitious.

“I believe that you need to align your comp with the behaviour you want your sales team to adapt. In the early days, it was 100% team bonus,” says Marchais.

But, as we grew and built out our growth team we gave people more tools to use in their selling. So, we started to change that and moved to a 50/50 split between the individual and the team.”

For more on Marchais’ thoughts on growing a team and learning along the way, check out the rest of his interview of The Predictable Revenue Podcast. And stay tuned for a follow up post where we discuss Spendesk’s truly innovative sales pod structure. Trust us, you will not want to miss that!