How to scale beyond founder-led sales

Leveraging sales plays to create a repeatable engine of growth

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. 

That’s why we spent time talking to Rowland Barran of Federal Consulting and Kunal Mehta of Bain, who outlined a powerful tool for scaling beyond founder-led sales: sales plays.

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?

  1. Agile identification of shorter-term opportunities. Ongoing data analysis means you identify the optimal targets for your proposition at any moment in time. These targets are selected according to criteria that go beyond long-term product-market-fit – to assess shorter-term attractiveness not only to the seller, but to buyers in any given niche.
  2. Agile speed of build. Sales plays allow you to create a systematic factory: an agile machine to design, launch and test campaigns. This factory works at the pace of a sprint, so you build propositions to reach targets within weeks, testing and iterating as you go.
  3. Consistent DNA for all propositions. Sales plays systematise the way you build propositions. They improve quality while reducing effort. This gives you a robust, repeatable template, with top quartile methods built-in. And it results in a proposition that helps buyer champions overcome internal indecision.
  4. Trial and track multiple propositions and campaigns. A cross-functional command centre team tracks multiple plays and then prioritises or relegates them. This cycle of selection, creation and activation of multiple campaigns for multiple opportunities is ongoing, so you’re always running the right plays at the right time, and for the right target.
  5. A simpler, stronger recommendation. Most buyers today are overwhelmed and indecisive. So sales plays create simpler, stronger propositions. They avoid the trap of thinking decision makers need more information and more options, recognising the danger that the paradox of choice will kill your deal – especially on new, higher-value technology purchases. A simpler, stronger recommendation, with reduced discovery, increases speed and ease of purchase.
  6. Personal appeal for your champion. Sales play propositions show a buyer champion what’s in it for them – for their workflow, their job, their profile, their career. This personal-level impact is a bigger accelerator of purchase speed and value than any differentiation of you or your product, despite common consensus. 
  7. Systematic adoption, across teams. With sales plays, a systematic approach to adoption and execution brings together sales, marketing, product and enablement. It aligns them in a cross-functional team, immersing them in the play through consistent coaching and embedding it in their day-to-day operations.

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.


  • Going beyond founder-led sales is tough, but it’s critical to achieving go-to-market fit.
  • Scaling your sales team before you have a scalable process is a quick way to burn through VC funding with nothing to show.
  • Developing both agility and consistency is critical to both effectiveness and efficiency – and this can be achieved with sales plays.
  • Building a sales play factory allows you to design, build and activate campaigns systematically.
  • Sharpening your value proposition with personal recommendations, appealing to the champion and prescribing solutions and next steps are typical quick wins.

Our thanks to Federal Consulting and Bain for introducing us to the power of sales plays – a critical capability for growth as a business scales beyond founder-led sales.

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