How to scale beyond founder-led sales
As they grow from $1 million to $100 million in revenue, we typically see start-ups transition through three stages: Start, Build, Scale. And this framework comes with two key observations: each stage of growth is distinct, and businesses tend to get stuck as they move from one stage to the next.
The most common sticking point? The transition from product-market fit to go-to-market fit.
As a business moves beyond founder-led sales it must establish a repeatable, predictable engine of growth. Choosing the right go-to-market motions, setting the right structure and hiring the right people are all part of the answer. But an often overlooked piece of the puzzle is how you drive focus and consistency in the way you sell.
Agility or consistency? You need both
Optimising your engine of growth is part science, part manufacturing. The science comes as you look for impact through experimentation. The manufacturing is all about trying to achieve low variance in output, given your inputs.
In other words, to find the market opportunities that generate the greatest impact, you need agility. And to drive predictable quota attainment as you deploy capital into your go-to-market functions, you need consistency in your selling approach.
“Agility without consistency scales up into chaos” - Rowland Barran, Federal Consulting
Getting this right is critical as you add sales headcount. Trying to scale without consistency – in who you’re selling to and how you’re selling to them – will lead to missed quotas and higher burn multiples. At the same time, scaling your go-to-market function when you don’t have a consistent process is a sure-fire way to burn VC funding – with nothing in return.
What are sales plays?
Federal Consulting are leaders in the development of sales plays. They define them as an agile way to build multiple, consistently articulated propositions around dynamic, timely market opportunities. Put another way, sales plays are a repeatable means of achieving the right message for the right opportunity at the right time.
Sales plays take the form of a set of assets that all follow a consistent sales methodology. This set of assets is created for a specific sales campaign. As Bain puts it, a sales play is “a coordinated set of actions to create and win an opportunity at a specific customer or prospect, driven by data”.
The 7 key benefits of sales plays
According to Bain, top-performing teams attribute more than 60% of pipeline to sales plays. So how do they work, and what are the main benefits they achieve?
Building a sales play factory
Sales plays allow you to build a repeatable system for growth. Think of it as a factory: first, you identify and prioritise market opportunities, then you create campaigns to go after those opportunities, and then you track, iterate and optimise based on market feedback.
Some plays won’t work out as expected, so you’ll eliminate them. Others will show promise, and you’ll expand and improve them.
Getting started with sales plays
So how do sales plays work in practice? How do you make them happen?
Beginning with the design phase, you bring together the right stakeholders and supporting data to pick what you believe to be the highest-impact opportunities. Next, you build the right enablement material to help sellers sell and buyers buy. Finally, you activate your play, nudging sales behaviour through competition and recognition.
Like any manufacturing process, there are a few steps involved. So the best way to get started is to run the entire process against one market opportunity. Don’t worry if it seems imperfect at first – the point is that you’ll optimise it over time.
Creating your propositions
This is an introduction to sales plays, so we won’t explore every element of the factory here. But before we wrap up, it’s worthwhile spending a moment on how to sharpen your value propositions, as it’s such a fundamental challenge for start-ups.
Rowland recommends taking a ‘painting by numbers’ approach: working to a framework, like the one below, when messaging your proposition. The weighting between each element will vary depending on your business, but top-quartile performers tend to include personal recommendations, articulate the impact for the champion, and prescribe a solution and next steps.