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How a Sales Team in a Start-up Can Be a Learning Organisation

by Jan Frommann
Wednesday, April 6 2022

#BusinessInsider

startup

If you think about how a company learns, and especially how a startup learns its way to Product-Market-Fit, it can help to think about what are the “eyes and ears” of the company. 

I would argue, that while Operations (more precisely, Customer Support & Success) are the “Eyes of the Company”, Sales is the “Ears of the Company”. Many people think about the sales forces as some sort of frontline. But it’s also a learning organisation, with crucial input to shape the product, positioning and even pivoting decisions. The earlier you are in a company’s life, the more important this data is.

A good sales team is largely listening. To prospect’s pain points, their needs, how they currently do things, and what they want to achieve. In fact, it is their job to ask the right questions to learn this, and then the sales team can build a relationship with the prospect centred around their pain point and offer a product that fits their needs.

By doing that, the Sales team learns about how prospects think, how they see the world and most importantly, what they want to buy to achieve their goals. This is key to defining your company’s value proposition, creating your positioning in the market and deciding which features to build next.

However, it is also biased:it is only what prospects say they want. And there is a big difference between what prospects (and people) say they want and the reality behind. Using your sales learnings will be useful, but it is also necessary to triangulate these inputs with other sources. This is where the “Eyes of the Company” comes in.

Finding the balance with cross-team collaboration

Customer-facing operations teams such as integration, success & support teams have the chance to actually see what the customer is doing and wants to achieve. Usually, the hard way, because the system that sounded so easy to integrate during the sales calls might just not be when you look at it. 

In this way, it is crucial to have teams talking to each other, to understand what’s happening on each side of the business and get better over time with using sales data and matching it with operational reality. 

Sales teams in remote-first organisations

At receeve, we try very hard to get this right. As a B2B Startup working with large enterprises, we have the chance to collaborate with an incredible variety of businesses. Each one represents a unique situation that our platform has to address. So there is a lot of learnings being gathered – but what do we do with that?

We are certainly not perfect. But we always aspire to get better at sharing information. We have regular meetings with the different teams to discuss recent deals and integration projects. As a remote-first company, we primarily share learnings asynchronously via different tools such as Slack and Confluence and we do so in a decentralised manner. Everyone can and is expected to contribute.  Even product decisions are not siloed – the whole sales team can weigh in on what features are required, and how to best address customer needs going forward.

Ultimately, the lines of communication come together in the product team, which prioritises and leverages the information to steer product development in the right direction — always keeping in mind the learnings gathered right at the beginning of the buyer’s journey thanks to the Sales team’s input. 

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