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At Shopify, we've increased our sales by 10x in three years: 

shopify_case_study

We succeed in sales by breaking traditional rules for recruiting and hiring, prospecting, sales process, onboarding, and account management. We don’t want to use someone else’s playbook -- we want to write a new book about what amazing looks like.

Take control of your sales process with HubSpot's free CRM software. Get it here.

There are a ton of directions you can be pulled in managing a sales organization, especially a high-growth, publicly-traded one such as Shopify. Here are the things we are doing that are helping power our rocket ship.

1) Stop selling, start helping. 

The way customers buy, in both B2B and B2C markets, has changed in the last five years.

Today, when a customer wants information on your products, a customer reference, or your pricing, they can find it all on the web, all by themselves. For sales teams to be effective, they need to stop selling ... and start helping.

They need to help their customers find answers to their problems and help them make the right decisions on what solutions to choose. Research shows that companies that help and educate their customers (not pitch them) make 47% larger purchases.

Helping a customer make the right decision is better for the sales rep, better for the buyer, and better for everyone.

Action Step: Learn more about Inbound Sales

The inbound sales methodology is a consultative selling approach that follows the same principle I've highlighted here: stop selling, start helping. 

2) Build a smart technological foundation.

Our reps spend 95% of their day taking one of three actions: 

  1. Making phone calls
  2. Writing and answering emails 
  3. Logging data into the CRM 

All three of these things need to be optimized to ensure no time is wasted, because time is money. It’s critical we leverage technology which helps our team's sales productivity, not hurt it.

The biggest change I made to our sales technology when I came to Shopify was to switch from the CRM solution we were using to the free HubSpot CRM. The impact has been dramatic. The HubSpot CRM helps our reps:

  • Stop manually logging phone calls and emails into the CRM. This alone has probably saved each rep five hours a week. At 26 reps total, that's 130 hours per week. At a $30/hour wage (far less than we pay our reps), that's a savings of $3,900
  • Receive notifications when prospects open their emails. HubSpot Sales allows reps to see when prospects open their emails, click links, and view their sales attachments (such as decks, PDFs, etc).
  • Obtain prospecting information at the click of a button. With the prospecting tool, reps can get mutual connections at that company, potential email addresses, estimated revenue, etc. ... all with one click. Traditionally, our sales reps would have to hunt for that material, but now it's instantly available. 

Here's a quick video of myself (do I really look like that?) explaining further: 

Action Step: Evaluate your current technology

Are your reps manually logging data into the CRM? If so, they're wasting time. And wasted time is wasted money. 

I realize switching CRMs is a big decision. Traditionally, switching takes time and money and any new system takes a lot of time to adopt. Or at least that is what I thought before moving to HubSpot.

But our experience was the opposite. Our sales team picked up HubSpot CRM in about an hour and never looked back. It was simply the fastest I've ever seen any sales organization adopt anything. And what’s even more insane is they actually like it and use it -- a lot!

HubSpot CRM and HubSpot Sales are at the core of our sales process. Everything we do flows in and out of those two systems. And without them, I actually don't know how we'd manage sales at Shopify.

3) Sales is a science, not an art.

When I first started my career, sales felt like magic. I'd go out there and sales "just happened." So I chalked it up to being an artist with a talent which could not be understood.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Sales is less about magic and more about science. With the advent of new technology and the availability of data, you can now track and understand what is happening in your sales process. As a result, we can now explain success in sales using cold hard facts, not stories and opinions.

Instead of hoping or guessing about what your quarter or year will look like, you could plug the numbers into sales equations and boom -- near predictable revenue. No more crap forecasting meetings. No more shocks to the company system when numbers were missed. Just simple, cold math.

Sales metrics can be broken down like a pro athlete breaks down their game. For the athlete, it's a series of tiny steps (hand position, angles of impact, individual muscle strength, etc.) to understand the impact of each variable at a detailed level. This allows the athlete to spot weaknesses and fix specific areas, thus improving the overall result. 

The science of sales, which I write about on my personal blog, is identical. You can break down smaller subcomponents that feed into a larger outcome: revenue.

Action Step: Break down your metrics 

My advice for people new to the science of selling is start simple. Start tracking metrics like:

  • Average Deal Size
  • Average Sales Cycle Length
  • Lead to Deal Conversion Rate
  • Calls Per Day Per Rep
  • Number of Deals in Pipeline

As you get a handle on the basics you can start looking at more advanced metrics. But these will start to build a picture of how your sales machine operates. 

4) Stop chasing the mythical sales superstar. 

Hiring great salespeople is by far the topic people ask me about the most. And here is what I tell them: You don’t hire great salespeople; you hire great people and build them into great salespeople.

The myth of the sales superstar is just that -- a myth. People are not born endowed with the skills to be amazing at sales. They learn them. In my life I have met three “Michael Jordan” level salespeople whose skills defied logic (I am not one of them) and even they are continually learning and working their butts off to stay on top of their game.

I believe there are six key personality traits of a successful salesperson.  

  1. Intelligence: Not necessarily book smarts (although those are good too), but general intelligence. 
  2. Work ethic: Sales is a 24x7x365 career. If candidates are not ready to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes, whenever it needs to be done, then I pass.
  3. History of success: For this one, I don't particularly look for sales success, rather success at any level. For example, varsity or pro athlete, concert pianist, professional artist ... you get the picture.
  4. Creative: I need people who can help invent novel solutions for complex problems. 
  5. Entrepreneurial: Sales is like running your own company.
  6. Competitive: Sales is a competition. With yourself, your teammates, and the industry as a whole. I look for people who hate to lose and won't stop until they win. 

Just as Mark Roberge, HubSpot's Chief Revenue Officer, grew their sales team from $0 to $100 million by focusing on hiring ... I believe the same principles. 

Just like the sales process in general, sales hiring is a science ... not an art. 

Action Step: Read The Sales Acceleration Formula

Looking to grow your sales team? 

I highly suggest reading Mark Roberge's Sales Acceleration Formula. Outside of the perfect 5-star reviews on Amazon, it has received praises from the VP of Sales at Dropbox, the Sales Director at TripAdvisor, and even Tony Robbins. 

Here's a two-chapter preview of the book if you'd like to try before you buy. 

5) Get the prospect to say NO, not yes.

In most sales companies there is way too much emphasis on convincing a customer to say "yes" or trying to “close” the deal. As a result these companies actually put their salespeople at a disadvantage ... and have made their lives more difficult.

So much time and effort is wasted trying to get to yes because the salesperson failed to properly qualify the prospect in the first place. So instead of walking away from a deal which will never happen, they burn time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Simply put, the reason some prospects are so hard to “close” (or never close for that matter) is that they should have never been opened in the first place.

Reps would have an easier life if we just taught them to ask tougher questions at the start of the sales process. This would eliminate unqualified prospects, instead of struggling at the end to convince them to sign.

Action Step: Use "The 4/5 Threshold"

When helping reps eliminate unqualified leads, I use "The 4/5 Threshold." That means if a prospect doesn't have a firm answer to four of these five variables, then I consider them unqualified and move on. 

     Pain – Is there an issue the customer has which is big enough to drive the need to make a change? No pain, no deal.

     Power – Who makes the call on if they change or not? If you don’t know, good luck getting a deal done.

     Money – Do they have the budget? Can they get budget? How? 

     Process – How do they buy things? Do you understand their entire buying process?

     Timeline – Just seeing what's out there, without intent? Awesome -- let's talk when you're ready to purchase. 

By having our sales team spend their time on better deal qualification, our sales cycles and close ratios have drastically improved.

6) Create a  big  meaningful sales pipeline.

I'd rather have 100 extremely qualified prospects in our pipeline than 10,000 unqualified ones. Don't create a big sales pipeline; create a meaningful one. 

When I do consulting gigs the first thing I do is take the sales team through a pipeline exercise where we examine their deals under the microscope, evaluated by the criteria in the above "Action Step" blue box.

Before this happens, everyone swears they have strong deals and a strong pipeline. You know what happens? In one pipeline review meeting I remove 87% of the companies' pipelines by simply asking harder questions about why they think they have a deal. 

Don't worry, on average those same companies go on to sell 52% more the same year I do that.

You don’t necessarily want a big pipeline if it’s full of crap. What you want is a real one full of diamonds. If you have a well qualified pipeline but it’s not big enough to hit your goals, then one or maybe all of the following is true:

  1. Your goals are misaligned with reality. 
  2. Your people and/or process needs work. 
  3. You need to make more calls.

Don’t accept crap deals just because you need your pipeline to look bigger. Stay focused on a quality pipeline, quality process, and quality qualification and you will always be better off. 

Action Step: Conduct a pipeline audit

Run an 80/20 analysis on your pipeline. What are the common characteristics of your 20% of prospects that lead to 80% of your revenue? 

Identify that 20% and help them as much as humanly possible. Take the remaining 80% and remove them from your pipeline. 

I've done it plenty of times. And it's never failed to drastically increase sales at every single company I've helped. 

7) There is no silver bullet. 

Finally, there is no magical silver bullet for sales success. I am going to say that again ... THERE IS NO SILVER BULLET! Trust me, since the start of my career I have been looking for it. People ask me about it. Sales rep yearn for it.

When I say "silver bullet," I mean that thing which makes sales easy. The perfect lead list, elevator pitch, answer to any customer question, email template, or any number of things which will turn an action into a sale.

Reality: silver bullets simply don’t exist in sales. There is no magic thing which makes everything easier. To scale a sales organization you have to create great processes and then work your a** off.

The bottom line is simple: Sales is a grand experiment. You have to work hard, try things, fail, and try other things. It's about the optimization (and experimentation) of people and processes, not about quota or revenue. Revenue is simply the final output of an optimized process.

If you know the math, watch and tweak your processes, and look at sales as a science ... you can start getting very close to being able to predict revenue. And that has been the secret to our success at Shopify.

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Originally published Nov 24, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

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Entrepreneurship