Test, Iterate, and Scale: How to Evolve Your Sales Process as You Grow from 10 to 100 Customers

Collin Stewart, CEO
25 July 2018

When scaling a company (if you’re lucky enough to, of course), it’s easy to ignore establishing critical sales processes. After all, you’re just trying to grow. You need leads, you need meetings, you need to negotiate, and you need to close.

And you need it all now.

But running too fast – without any concern for testing, learning, and iterating – will produce its own set of problems. And those problems, if ignored, will stunt the growth of your company down the line. Scaling effectively, then, is finding the right mix of rocket-fuelled sales, and foundation-building processes. Too much of either, and that much-needed, although razor-thin, balance will be off.

“My role at Techstars is helping companies make this leap,” says Sean Higgins, Entrepreneur In Residence at Techstars, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“Whether they are trying to land their first 10 customers, or more often than not, they have some early traction and they are trying to move to early scale.”

From 10 to 100

Getting those first 10 customers, regardless of how you close them or how much they end up paying you, is a huge accomplishment.

Your company is helping people – just as you knew it could. And you have a group of people that believe in you.

So…how do you harness that success and that trust and grow from those first 10 customers to 100 (and beyond)?

According to Higgins, that growth comes from an intimate understanding of why people use your product.

“To get to 100 customers, you really need to understand three things: Why anything? Why us? And, why now?,” says Higgins. “What that means is an understanding of why your product category matters [why anything?], why people are buying your product [why us?], and why they are buying at this specific point in time [why now?]. I love using those questions as my framework.”

Uncovering answers to each of these questions, adds Wiggins, comes from running a few different tests. For example, if you find you have to educate prospects on why software like yours will transform a traditional business process, you are likely selling to a vertical that isn’t used to implementing software.

As such, consistent education is key.

This is a “why anything?” test. For a “why us?” test, you have to develop strong messaging that sets you apart from your competitors. If you find you are routinely losing deals to the competition, your messaging, likely, isn’t establishing why your product is better than the rest. You need to differentiate yourself.  

Finally, a “why now?” test could be comprised of different offers such as throwing in various features or integrations at no extra cost. What you’re trying to learn here is what elements of a deal help get a prospect to close as quick as possible, and give you the sales velocity you want. Another test in this area is trying different pricing models.

Companies have different internal policies related to spending, so if you’re software subscription is less than, say, $5,000 per year, than a prospect could simply put the bill on the company credit card without having to seek approval.

“It’s your job to figure out your story,” says Higgins. “Most startups think they have an answer to these questions by the time they reach 10 customers, but it’s much more clear by the time they reach 100.”

The importance of conversations – lots and lots of conversations

Like most things in business (and in life, for that matter), there is no quick way of gathering these answers. It takes conversations – lots and lots of conversations.

Depending on the size of your team, those conversations are likely being had by your SDRs. Sure, product managers are tasked with gathering this type of information as well, but the volume SDRs work at make them a fountain of knowledge in this realm.

They are the ones on the frontlines, asking these questions everyday. And what they are learning must be shared and understood. It’s a key, and unavoidable component to growth.

“For the rest of the company, we need to know that information,” says Higgins. “And we’ll act on it.” Helping those conversations take place, adds Higgins, is some level of sales automation.

Again, depending on the size of your company, and the resources available, the amount of automation implemented will vary. But, software such as SalesLoft or Outreach, for instance, will help your prospectors follow up with hundreds of leads and book those meetings.

(Editor’s note: we talked with Bregal Sagemount’s Cole Fox a few months back on how to use LinkedIn to prospect and book meetings. Read about our chat with Fox here, or listen to the podcast here.)

“If you can go from 10 clicks to 2, do it. There are lots of tools to use for automation,” says Higgins. “You need to build up that candece of touchpoints. You need to make those follow ups, and you need those at bats. You need to gather that information.”

Knowing the difference between a killer salesperson and a killer product

This is an interesting question, and one not often discussed when analyzing growth. But, it’s important to understand whether it’s your rockstar salespeople or your product that is, ultimately, closing deals. Why? Well, the answer is simple – you want to know how good a fit your product is with your market, not just how good your sales team is.

To test this, says Higgins, he like to run two different sales models: one with a free 14-day trial and minimal connection with the sales team, and one with a more traditional sales process and no free trial.

“Run the tests and see which one comes out with the right velocity and the right close rate,” says Higgins.  

“That tells you a lot about your market.” And learning about your market is the foundation for growth. At its best, going from 10 customers to 100 (and beyond!) takes a lot of work.

But without that intimate understanding – that detailed grasp of why anything, why us, and why now – navigating the always choppy waters of scaling a company will be that much harder.

For more on Higgins’ methods and tactics for scaling an early-stage company – including tips on building lists, outsourcing tasks, and hiring – check out his full interview on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.