Designing a Sales Org for a High-velocity Sale

Lori Harmon is currently Vice President of Global Cloud Digital Sales & Customer Success at NetApp. She has built high-velocity sales teams at companies across the growth spectrum, from joining early startups as the first sales hire to helping public companies achieve revenue targets of $1B. In this guide she outlines how high-velocity sales teams should design their sales org, set up their processes and leverage tech tools to drive efficiency and productivity.

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Questions covered in this guide

What’s different when it comes to a high-velocity sale (vs. traditional field sales)?

More prescriptive sales processes – you might have a certain cadence, or certain activities that you consistently perform.
  • For renewals – you could have a high-velocity renewals team with a set process: I need to contact customers 90 days in advance of the renewal, followed by a set of actions leading up to the renewal date. 
  • For prospecting – you might have prescriptive prospecting before you identify the actual lead for a new sale.
  • For closing new sales – you can’t be as prescriptive with opportunities because you can’t control the buyer, but if you sell something that is a one-call-close, you can probably make that formulaic. For larger deals, you can be prescriptive about performing a certain amount of specific activities to get to your number, because you’ve proven over time that that activity leads to results.

More tools to automate, track, and measure – you’re going to be tracking activities that lead to results, and you want as much automation in the system as possible. You typically have the ability to justify and implement more tools for a high velocity model than you do for a field sales model. It’s easier for management to coach high-velicity sellers if they’re actually using tools, because we can see where we need to help them.

What are the roles that make up the high-velocity go-to-market org? 

Lead researcher – a more junior role, researches contact information and builds contact lists of leads for outbound calling.

Sales development – sometimes known as digital sales depending on your team’s primary focus (sales development and digital sales could be the same team or two teams, depending upon org structure). Sales development’s job is to:
  • Qualify inbound leads that are generated by marketing
  • Drive outbound sales campaigns that are driven by sales and very targeted
  • Assist online sales – the team can insert themselves and in a digital purchase process walk the buyer through the process or answer any questions or hesitations when buying a product. The goal is to get the prospect to conclude the online purchase vs. abandoning their cart and maybe not making the purchase.
Closers – sometimes both new logo and upsell fall under one role, sometimes there are multiple teams.
  • Inside sales reps – responsible for closing new logo business
  • Account management – responsible for renewals and upselling
Ops and enablement – ops and enablement support sellers to help the team scale.
  • Sales Ops – responsible for implementing the tools in the sales tech stack, managing the CRM, and conducting data analytics.
  • Sales Enablement – responsible for creating training materials and training sellers and making sure the adoption rate of sales tools is high. Enablement should also analyze the reports that come out of the tools to make sure you’re constantly optimizing the usage and taking advantage of new features.

At what stage should you start to add each role?

Start with sales development along with some type of seller – you probably need a combination of closers and sales development. Choose one of inside or outside AEs first (depending on if you’re selling to SMB or not) – then bring in the other sales team around $2M ARR. 

Get a sales ops specialist by the time you have 20 people in sales – early on a generalist at the company will take on sales ops, but once you have 20 people in sales, you’re going to want to separate the sales operations from the other operations.

You can start with a contract lead researcher – don’t skip the lead researcher, because otherwise you’re effectively paying a lot more to have your sales team do that job. Outsourced lead researchers are inexpensive and you can hire them offshore. They don’t have to be a permanent employee, so you have a lot more flexibility with that role. 

What are the key responsibilities of the sales leader (or founder pre-sales leader)?

The founder needs to set the go-to-market strategy – they need to be able to know the product-market fit, be able to go and talk to customers, and need to close the first few sales because they have got to determine who is the right target market.

Your first VP of sales is the first SDR, inside seller, and field seller, all in one person – they’re going to help the CEO flesh that out to another level of detail before they want to expand. The CEO has to start the initial setup, and then you can bring someone in who wants to do that multi-role job. They’ll have historically come into smaller companies and been able to build a team to a certain size. 

As the team grows the sales leader should own:
  • Hiring
  • Coaching & mentoring
  • Selling – opportunistic, stay involved with the front line because things change quickly, and they need to adjust accordingly.
  • Hone go-to-market strategy

High-velocity sales leaders are responsible for establishing process & automation – the leader needs to have a vision for what processes they want to create and automate (that can’t all be outsourced to ops). It’s important that they reinforce usage – tools may not get used if the leader is not reinforcing their usage. 

Operations advises the leader on the technical side – operations should ask how the leader wants a process to work, notify them about functionalities that can be taken advantage of, and ask what functions will be used now or later. 

What does a high-velocity sales cycle look like (stages, length)? 

You want consistent stages across sales teams – if you have both inside and outside teams, both should use the same set of stages for consistent tracking and analysis across the company. High-velocity teams don’t need stages that are radically different, but there’s a chance you’d skip some stages that a field sales team has. No need to depart from standard stages, like:
  1. Prospect
  2. Qualification
  3. Proof of Concept
  4. Negotiate
  5. Close

For inbound, how should you score or qualify inbound leads to spend time in the right places? 

Use a bot to get the qualification process started – the bot can have the initial conversation with the customers who come in online on email or chat. Pick one that can automatically transcribe and log info into the CRM.

Sort leads by propensity score via AI – you want to start working leads with a high score and go down from there. AI tools can also give you information on what’s the best time of day to make calls. 

For outbound, how can you systematically help reps be more productive and effective? 

Reps should have a daily schedule – make calls in the morning (typically when they’re more likely to be answered). After lunch, answer emails, send out LinkedIn messages, and set meetings. 

Automate as much as possible – set programmatic email sequences and transcribe and track calls, emails, and voicemails.

Learn what helps reps be successful and replicate that – use a tool like Chorus or Gong to track effective keywords, or if you don’t have a tool (or can’t record in your industry) you can just listen to calls to seek out patterns.

Use profile tools to get the prospect to engage – tools that append profile data to contacts can help get a conversation started from cold outreach (this is less necessary for inbound leads, as they’re already showing engagement).

Coach to reps to help them draw information effectively – give them practice scenarios or redo a call where they needed help in a role play. 

What are valuable tools in the tech stack of a high velocity team? 

CRM – e.g. Salesforce – even very early on you need a CRM with well-defined sales stages for good tracking and measuring

Chatbots and AI qualification – e.g. Drift (for chat on your site), Conversica (to set up AI-based email auto responders)

Lead research and enrichment tools – e.g. HG Insights (to compile your initial account list), ZoomInfo or Uplead (to round out prospect profiles for better connection and personalization)

Prospecting tools – e.g. Outreach, Salesloft, XANT to automate email cadences for more consistently successful outreach with less effort from the salesperson

Call review and coaching tools – e.g. Gong, Chorus, Aviso, MindTickle to identify and replicate patterns that work

Forecasting tools – e.g. Aviso, Clari to help crunch data to predict bookings performance

What meetings or activities should a high-velocity sales leader conduct regularly with their team? 

1:1’s with reps – have these in the afternoons to avoid taking up the morning calling window

Open office hours – offer open hours for quick questions and coaching in real time; this is especially valuable if you’re remote and can’t walk the floor.

Weekly performance or forecast calls – this could be with individuals or the whole team depending on number of people and how much detail you want to go into. For closers, this could cover pipeline; for sales development, it might be a look back at the leads generated last week and the plan to improve this week.

Regular training – incorporate little pieces of training into regular meetings (e.g. product training, process training). If you only do training in big lumps quarterly or annually, people don’t remember.

What should you consider when assigning territories or market segments to different reps or teams? 

For sales development, run a queue – think about timezones and languages, but have a competitive queue that prioritizes efficiency.

Assign equal territories for closers – you can break down territories by geography (time zones and languages matter) or by vertical if you have enough people to have specialists (which helps reps develop relevant expertise). However you slice them, size territories based on potential business. It’s simplest if you give each person the same opportunity and the same quota. Differentiated quotas and territories is a more complicated setup.

Inbound closers might have a round robin – if it’s more of a closing job and territories don’t make sense, you could allocate leads equally.

When you hire AEs for a high-velocity team, what should you look for (and where)? 

Ideally someone who’s done phone-based selling before – start with people from relevant companies and a similar market. Then look for sellers outside tech (e.g. financial services products) with 2-5 years experience.

What should ramp and onboarding look like for high-velocity AEs? 

3-month ramp is standard – if you’re hiring experienced salespeople, you don’t need to teach them to sell. Train reps on the things that are unique to your company: your products, your methodology vs. basic selling, and how to use systems. 

Incorporate certification where you can – especially in product training, it can be harder to do certifications for operational training and sales methodology training.

Listen and role play – make sure you know what they sound like before they start calling prospects and have them listen to other people’s calls.

What should comp look like for high velocity sellers?

For sales development – typical comp mix would be 70:30 or 80:20 base:variable, with bonus based on sales qualified leads or opportunities generated. Typical on target earnings (OTE) would be $75-100K.

For sales people – typical comp mix would be 60:40 or 50:50 base: variable, with a quota of $600K-$1M in ARR (quota would be different if you based it on total contract value (TCV)). Typical OTE would be $125-150K.

What metrics do you measure on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis?

Bookings or ARR – find the best metric depending upon what the team is selling (new vs. upsell, ARR vs. TCV).

Pipeline – current quarter pipeline and total pipeline, for each quarter run a forecast that incorporates what you’ve closed, what’s in commit, what’s best case. Usually you need 3x+ pipeline coverage, and it could be that you need  4x or 4.5x.

Deal velocity – how long is the whole sales cycle, along with length of each stage.

Activities – track dials, emails, customer engagement (e.g. response rate, phone conversations), conversation length, quality conversations. Use activity tracking to diagnose problems, for instance if somebody’s making a ton of dials and sending a ton of emails, but they’re not connecting, maybe your messaging is wrong.

Average deal size – look at this in combination with other metrics (e.g. forecasting by average deal size, activities by deal size).

How long and how big can high-velocity deals be? 

As long as 9 months and as big as 6 figures – big deals are being more easily closed by inside teams today.

What are the most important pieces to get right? 

Always start with strategy – until you have your strategy, you don’t know what kind of high velocity team you need to hire and what the characteristics are of the people that you want to bring in. Then you need to determine what teams you need. What is the profile? What experience level?

What are the common pitfalls? 

Don’t hire ahead of strategy – don’t scale the team until you have focus: clearly decide what market you’re targeting and what your top priorities are. Otherwise, you’ll just have people all over the place.

Don’t track metrics in Excel – don’t wait and don’t do it in Excel. Excel won’t be scalable after about two days.

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