Great tips for building and scaling a sales team: Interview with Mark Roberge
I had the chance recently to talk with Mark Roberge about his experiences building the sales team at HubSpot that drove its rapid growth from start-up to $100 million in revenues.
Mark, who is currently the Chief Revenue Officer for HubSpot’s Sales Division, has also just published a book about that experience titled “The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology and Inbound Selling To Go From $0 to $100M.” It’s a good read. Check it out.
AP: What is the biggest driver of sales success for an organization?
MR: Hiring. Hands down.
AP: What do you look for in a sales hire?
MR: There were five criteria that stood out for us over the years. They were coach-ability, curiosity, work ethic, prior success, and intelligence. I find these criteria to be strong influencers for the ideal salesperson at many early stage technology companies.
AP: How do you screen for “coach-ability”?
MR: I devise a role play where I am a prospective customer for HubSpot and the candidate is the HubSpot salesperson. We role play for 5 to 10 minutes. After completing the role play, I ask the candidate to self-assess. I like people that are introspective. I then provide them with one area where they did well and one area where they can improve. I watch how they respond as I provide feedback. Are they glassy eyed and defensive? Or are they engaged and asking good clarifying questions? Finally, I ask them to re-do the role play and observe how they apply the coaching.
AP: In a hot market for top sales talent, where did you find the best candidates?
MR: Finding great sales people is the biggest driver of sales success. Great sales people never have to pull together a resume. Great salespeople receive phone calls from their former managers every quarter asking if they are happy and inviting them to work for them again. Organization must find a way to engage and entice these top performers before they are in the job market to consider joining their company. In this case, a passive recruiting strategy is critical.
AP: What is a passive recruiting strategy?
MR: There are two passive recruiting techniques that we used quite successfully at HubSpot.
The first I call the “forced referral”. Most organizations attempt to trigger referrals from existing employees by posting a referral bonus. In my experience, this approach fails to generate the continual stream of qualified, passive candidates necessary to scale.
Instead, I scheduled a 15-minute meeting with a new employee about 2 months after they joined the company. The evening before the meeting, I browsed through their 300 or so LinkedIn connections and made a list of potential candidates located in our area that looked like a good fit for our company.
I’d bring the list to the meeting with the new employee. You’lll be surprised how often your new employees simply forgot about highly qualified candidates in their network. I’d review each candidate on the list and have the new employee tell me whether the candidate was worth pursuing and whether they’d provide a warm introduction to instigate a discussion.
The second technique simply leveraged the advanced search capability in LinkedIn. We’d search for people with sales or account executive titles; focusing on people in our area. We’d filter for people working at companies that have a large, well-trained sales team.
Rather than using InMail to reach out to these candidates, we’d try to get into their Inbox by guessing their email. For the subject line, we’d type in their current employer and their undergraduate college. For example, if they work at Yahoo and went to Boston College, we’d make the subject of the email “Yahoo / Boston College”. Almost everyone would open that email. Then we’d make the body of the email short, simple, and enticing.
AP: You’re a big believer in using data and technology to build a sales team. Where did you apply these in building your team at HubSpot?
MR: Hiring. Training. Managing. Generating demand. I tried to create predictable, scalable approaches to each of these categories of building sales using data and technology.
With hiring, I quantified the criteria that we thought would correlate with success in our sales context. We scored candidates, measured success, tested the correlation theory, and iterated over the years. We boiled our training down to a predictable set of product exams and sales process certifications that clearly defined expectations and measured the performance of new hires early in their development.
We managed through metrics-driven coaching, a framework used to continually diagnose each salesperson’s funnel deficiencies and customize coaching plans to address these deficiencies. With demand generation, we define a sales and marketing service-level agreement, or SLA, to quantify the deliverable that marketing would deliver to sales and vise versa.
Not every aspect of scaling a sales team can sit on a foundation of data and technology. However, many can and it is the best place to start.
AP: How did you use data to drive sales productivity?
MR: Effective sales coaching drives sales productivity. Developing salespeople through great coaching is the most important role of the sales manager. To improve our coaching I implemented a process I called “metrics-driven sales coaching”. The best coaches diagnosed the one or two skills that would make the biggest difference in a salesperson’s performance and customized a coaching plan to that skill. They used metrics to conduct this diagnosis.
AP: Give me an example of metrics-driven sales coaching.
MR: At the start of each month, as a manager, I reviewed each of the key conversion metrics within a salesperson’s funnel. Let’s assume that the salesperson I was meeting with had an off month. The metrics may have shown that he had a high number of voice mails and emails relative to the rest of the team. However, he only converted a small percentage of this activity into a qualified appointment. Clearly, he was struggling with this stage of the funnel.
My first step would be to try to learn more from the metrics. In this case, did the salesperson generate a lot of voice mails and emails but struggle to get the prospect on the phone? Or did the salesperson get plenty of people on the phone but fail to peak their interest to get to the next stage of the buying journey? The difference here is critical, as my coaching would vary significantly depending on the diagnosis.