5 Tips for Building and Managing a World Class Sales Organization

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TL;DR: In order to build and run a world class sales org:

  1. It all starts with Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

  2. Hire with your ICP in mind

  3. Ruthlessly disqualify bad deals

  4. Arm your sales managers

  5. Invest in your people, and help them carve career paths based on their strengths

5 Tips for Building and Managing a World Class Sales Organization

Do you need a sales team in order for your business to compete? 

One of my least favorite apocryphal corporate stories is the one about how Atlassian built a >$30B company without having to “sell” their product. It was just that good. 

This simply did not happen. Atlassian did rely on salespeople to grow. They just adopted a less traditional model of selling by leaning heavily on the channel for revenue. So instead of having internal Atlassian employees sell the product, third parties did. Other companies, like Dropbox and Slack, had their “no sales teams necessary” phases early on. But when competition heated up, and they began to notice competitors beating them into strategic accounts, each company changed its tune and invested in sales. 

The fact is, most companies need sales. Maybe not straight away. Maybe your product is that good, or the price is low enough to gain traction without the need for a high touch sales cycle. But if your company is lucky enough to begin selling into the market majority, and/or if your price point increases beyond a few hundred dollars a month, you will eventually need a sales team.

So how do build your charter sales team? And how do you structure and manage it so that it becomes a competitive force for your business? Below we’ll take a look at a few tips for building and managing a world class sales organization. 

1/ It all starts with Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

We’ll talk a lot more about this in future posts, but ICP is the star at the center of the go-to-market solar system. Everything must orbit it. Ideal Customer Profile describes the types of companies you should target. Which industries are they in? How many employees do they have and how much do they earn? What are their business models? How do they monetize? What is their level of technological sophistication?

You need a clear understanding of what companies you will be selling to in order to make the right operational decisions. For example, you need ICP clarity in order to build functioning models that consider things like deal length, deal size, CAC, and other metrics. From there, you have a baseline to compare performance against; a hard requirement for any business that wants to be data-driven. 

Last, many otherwise strong companies struggle if their sales, marketing, customer success and product teams aren’t aligned on ICP. If you have different teams working hard but going in different directions, you’re in for a brutal journey. 

2/ Hire with your ICP in mind

An extension of point 1, having clarity as to what companies you’ll be selling to informs what the talent at your organization should look like. While important, this goes beyond simply hiring people who have domain experience. This has to do with the economics of the operation itself. 

For example, if you take a look at the sales team at Yelp, it should come as no surprise that it looks very different from the sales team at Workday. AEs at Yelp are running a ton of transactional, one-call-close deals in parallel and pounding the phones. You don’t get your own personal SDR to help out at Yelp. A Solutions Engineer isn’t riding shotgun screaming “Ride or die” with you. On the other hand,  AEs at Workday need a tremendous amount of support from sales development teams to break into their accounts, and due to the technical nature of the sale and audience, an SE is critical on the majority of (if not all) deals. 

Beyond this, your hiring team should be asking questions like “does the person seem to have authentic affinity for the market we’re selling into?” That sort of passion is palpable in a sales cycle. So is a lack of passion.

3/ Ruthlessly disqualify bad deals

A big pet peeve of sales leaders is inflated pipeline. Aside from making it difficult to forecast with accuracy, inflated pipeline is usually indicative of underlying bad habits. It’s one thing for a rep to be overly optimistic (in my experience, time-in-seat solves this problem naturally by turning salespeople into cynics), but it’s an entirely different thing if reps consistently lose or push “great” deals. The root cause of this is often either lack of qualification or poor qualification of deals. 

You can surface lack of qualification by asking your rep tough questions. “Is your champion really a champion? If so, what has he done to prove it?” 

Or, “Is your decision maker really the decision maker? If so, why can she not explain how a product like this is purchased or who is involved in the process?”

But poor qualification can be a bit trickier, and as a result more difficult to spot. You could have a very interested buyer who has jumped through the hoops you’ve put her through and done all the homework. She has introduced you to all the right people typically involved in a process like this. The boxes are checked, so we should feel good about the deal, right? This is where ICP clarity and the idea of customer pain + economic impact (we’ll discuss these topics in a future post about discovery and sales mechanics) come into play. If there is not a strong use case that’s been commonly solved with your product at similar companies, the need may not be strong. A new CFO could come in at the 11th hour and scrap the whole 12 month deal because the TL;DR of it wasn’t compelling.

In short, reps need that acute understanding of ICP and the willingness to ask tough questions to determine whether the deal is qualified. And, what’s more difficult, reps must be comfortable disqualifying bad deals early and often. Lean pipelines with high conversion rates and are the hallmark of stellar sales organizations.

4/ Arm your sales managers

There is no shortage of sales technology out there. However, the majority of it serves the actual act of selling. Lead/account enrichment, prospecting automation, CRM, forecasting, e-signatures… This should come as no surprise. First, what better way for software to make sales teams better than to make the process of selling easier/better/faster? Second, the size of the market of sales managers is relatively small, so founders are incentivized to build products that cater to individual contributors instead. 

In my experience, technology that empowers sales managers is scant (though if you know of great software that proves me wrong, I’d love to hear about it). The currency that powers sales leadership is visibility, as it’s important to know the state of the union at all times but impossible to maintain intimate knowledge of every one of your reps’ deals. Therefore, the tools that were most useful to me were the ones that granted that visibility and made it easy for everyone, especially the reps, to keep deal data up-to-date. 

As a sales leader, I found Datahug to be incredibly powerful. Its coaching functionality was particularly useful, which gave me visibility into how engaged reps were with their deals, how multi-threaded their deals were, whether next steps were set, and other useful signals. 

In recent years, I’ve taken a liking to Troops. I love that it syncs Salesforce to Slack. Through that integration, they’ve generally done a great job of making data easily accessible by not only sales managers but the overall company through things like natural language commands, customized alerting and workflows. 

A product I haven’t used personally but have been hearing great things about recently is Pathlight. It’s described as a sales manager intelligence hub, and what seems particularly compelling to me is how they make their deal analysis actionable (example below).


5/ Invest in your people, and help them carve career paths based on their strengths

Losing great people sucks. I personally found it to be the worst part of the job. People leave jobs for a variety of reasons, some of which are out of leadership’s control. Obviously, sales managers should be attentive and available and treat their people well -- after all, most people quit their bosses and not their companies

But even that is not enough in our hyper-competitive world. Beyond loving their company and liking their managers, salespeople should feel valued. They should have a sense of where they (might) be heading in their careers. 

Investing in your people is a no-brainer. Aside from the obvious benefits of making reps feel appreciated as knowledge workers, this is great for your bottom line as good training can improve all your KPIs. Products like Saleshood make training and enablement highly accessible to everyone. For more custom training program development, firms like TOPO (now a part of Gartner) run custom programs that I’ve found to be exceptional. 

Carving out the time to help your reps think about career path is not something I’ve personally relied on a tool for. It’s just something you have to take the time to do as a sales leader. These conversations can be fun and rewarding, and I have found that having a sense of where an employee wants to go is useful in giving them feedback. As a sales rep, some of my fondest memories are of conversations with managers who took the time to help me think about my future.

New Zealand Sales and Marketing Jam


by Ash Alhashim

I'm honored to be speaking at my second KLP Jam in New Zealand’s key markets this April. I had an amazing time speaking with sales and marketing Kiwis last time around, and I'm thrilled to do this again.

More information, including speaker lineup, dates, and the ability to register can be found here.

And if you'd like a glimpse into the content from last time, here's a short video from last time, in which I talk about sales and inside sales.

WEBINAR: 5 Steps to Running ABM and ABP in Your Organization

A full and healthy pipeline is the closest thing we've got to a "cure-all" in sales. The processes, tools, and way of thinking behind 'Account Based Marketing and Sales' is how top organizations are getting to that state.

We've teamed up with Sendbloom to show aspiring sales and marketing teams how to run ABM and ABP in a few easy steps.

Please join us thus Thursday, March 3rd at 10am as we dive into how sales leaders can kickstart this modern predictable revenue framework. 

To register, click here.

The event will show you:

  • How B2B founders and sales leaders define their market
  • How to identify the right buyer at the right moment
  • The role of sales triggers in the account based prospecting framework
  • Tips and tactics on orchestrating outreach

And so much more…

If you can’t join on Thursday, sign up here and we’ll send out a recording.

When Selling in Uncharted Territory: BANT is Dead; GROW-ROI Instead

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Editor's note: This post originally appeared on the VorsightBP blog and was also published on SalesHacker

by Ash Alhashim

I’d like to take a trip down memory lane with you. All the way back to 2005.


You’re walking down the street, texting on your new Blackberry Electron. You jokingly text your friend back, “You shut your mouth when you’re talking to me!” one of the many lines you shamelessly recycle from Wedding Crashers. What a great film. That Owen Wilson guy’s on fire. It can only get better for him from here.

As you reminisce about more great 2005 movie quotes, you realize you’re across the street from an Apple Store. Maybe you should go inside and check out one of those new iPods your friend keeps yammering on about? You decide it’s worth a shot, and you walk in the door–blinded by the array of shiny Apple products.

Okay, we’re back in 2015 now. [Thank goodness; I wasn’t sure how much more Kelly Clarkson I could take]. What happens next in our collective hypothetical memory is the subject I’d like to dive into in the following article. The question I’m posing is:

“What is the best way for an Apple Sales Rep to facilitate the sale of an iPod to our curious, but apathetic, prospect?”

BANT is Dead

When you think about BANT [qualifying sales prospects by inquiring about Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe] as it relates to this B2C sales scenario, you realize pretty quickly how ineffective it is in galvanizing a prospect like this one into action.


Apple Rep: Hi sir, how can I help you?

You: I wanted to learn more about this iPod thing I keep hearing about.

Apple Rep: Sure thing! The iPod is our best-selling item right now, happy to tell you more. But before I do that, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?

You: Uhh, sure.

Apple Rep: Do you have budget?

You: What?

Apple Rep: Do you have $300-$400 set aside for an MP3 player?

You: I mean, I do have money, but I didn’t think—

Apple Rep: Well do you have buying power?

You: *blank stare*

Apple Rep: What is your need for an MP3 player?

You: Well, I don’t need one, I just thought—

Apple Rep: Do you have a pain caused by listening to music on a portable CD player? What is it about listening to CDs that keeps you up at night?

You: Dude. You must’ve sipped too much sizzurp. I’m outtie.

The point of that hyperbolic conversation was to show how ineffective BANT is when it comes to selling products in nascent markets. The iPod was a new technology. It changed the way we consume media. Therefore, Apple was “selling into uncharted territory.” Because of this, the Law of Diffusion of Innovation applied to iPod sales. This theory, presented by Everett Rogers in the early 1960s, suggests that the rate at which new technologies are adopted is a standard distribution.

The Law of Diffusion of Innovation, visualized.

The Law of Diffusion of Innovation, visualized.

Rogers broke up the curve into five distinct audience segments, that anyone who has read Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm should recognize: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The early + late majority segments make up almost 70% of the market (moving forward I’ll refer to these two segments simply as the “market majority”).

It’s safe to say that if a new technology or idea doesn’t “cross the chasm” and gain majority market share, companies selling products in that space won’t last. Note that I am talking about category adoption, not product adoption. In other words, I’m not saying that if Salesforce’s CRM product doesn’t capture the market majority, Salesforce will fail. I am saying that if CRMs don’t gain widespread adoption, the idea of CRM will fail.

BANT works when you’re selling to nerdy innovators and early adopters who can’t wait to be the first person in their social groups to adopt this tech. These folks might even buy in spite of BANT. I was an early adopter of the iPod and iPhone, and I would have let the sales reps flip through my high school yearbook and ridicule my hemp necklaces and JNCO jeans just so that I could get my hands on those devices first.

But an interesting thing happens when you start selling to early majority folk: the customer’s desire to change their own behavior dissipates. People, on average, become more cautious and pragmatic. The attitude of the buyer goes from “man, I can’t wait to trash that stupid Discman,” to considering how to get the most from that stupid Discman. In other words, people in the early majority are still annoyed with the limitations of the incumbent technology, but they believe that incremental improvements to that technology will suffice. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

The biggest problem with BANT, though, is that it assumes that the customer not only has budget, a need, and a timeline for evaluating and purchasing software in place: as a prerequisite, it assumes that the customer is aware of the fact that they should be buying a product like yours in the first place.

I wouldn’t be doing you much good, though, if I just wrote this to let you know that BANT sucks. The purpose of this article is to offer saleshumans selling disruptive, game-changing products a new sales discovery framework that is better suited for the type of conversation you will be having with prospects who are in the “unconscious incompetence” stage of learning [in other words, individuals who not only don’t know about what you do, but do not recognize the learning deficit].

The model I’m referring to is GROW-ROI.

GROW-ROI stands for:



GROW-ROI puts discovery at the top of the sales funnel, instead of qualifying and disqualifying. It is an attitude change: instead of looking for reasons to disqualify a prospect for not having budget, need, or timeline established, you’re trying to find common ground so that you can push the opportunity through. [I’d argue that authority is always relevant, because you always want to be talking to the right person].

GROW-ROI makes the middle of your funnel, the shaky ground where the SDR hands off the buyer to the Account Executive, much fatter than it was with BANT.

But enough with the GROW-ROI ad. Let’s explore it in detail.


In order to have intelligent and meaningful conversations with prospects, you need to understand what they are trying to accomplish. Now, this doesn’t mean interrogating them for 45 minutes so that you can hand off a “qualified lead” over to an AE. It means building rapport.

Consider what your product helps companies do. Now ask yourself “why does that matter?” When you have an answer, ask yourself why that answer matters. Keep doing this until you hit a wall. You’re [hopefully] landed at “helps companies make more money” or “helps companies save money” or some combination of the two. “Goals” questions should be focused on the big picture, and how much money or savings they want to see within a set timeframe.

Note, that goals should be quantifiable, measurable gains. If you get fuzzy answers here, dig in deeper. How much additional revenue do you need to make this year? How many more marketing qualified leads do you need in order to meet your goals? The best way to do this is to start off by learning what’s going on today. Hint: this part of the conversation has nothing to do with your product, and often has little to do with what your product directly solves.


Roadmap questions are ones that help you understand how your prospect plans on accomplishing their goals. What is your plan of attack for making more money from your website? Do you plan on spending more on AdWords to drive more traffic to your site? Retargeting? Do you plan on doing more with your social media presence? There are so many ways to make more money online.

A majority of the time, especially when you’re selling to a prospect that is squarely in the market majority, their answer as to how they’re going to accomplish their goal will have little to do with the solution you’re selling. This is okay!

At Optimizely, we sell a product that helps companies improve the digital experiences they deliver to their customers—and increase online revenue as a result—through A/B testing and personalization. But, when we ask prospects how they plan on making more money from their websites, one answer we don’t often get from early majority prospects is “through optimization.”

That’s because most companies aren’t doing it today, and going back to the unconscious incompetence point from earlier, don’t even know that they should be testing. They want to do more of the “tried and true” stuff that has typically worked in the past. The problem is, what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. This is where “teaching, tailoring, and taking control” lessons of The Challenger Sale really become important. You’re in the process of learning about your prospect’s business. Soon, the time will come to teach and take control.


What challenges does your prospect anticipate she might face in trying to accomplish her goals? What could prevent her from getting to the finish line? Chances are she’s tried to accomplish similar goals in the past. What went wrong then, and how is she ensuring that history doesn’t repeat itself?


In Matt Dixon’s The Challenger Sale, this is referred to as “reframing.” What you are essentially doing here is helping the prospect realize that the goals and challenges she is speaking about is not the entire picture. There is more to it.

Marketers will often tell us at Optimizely, with the very best of intentions, that their goals are to run A/B tests in order to increase conversion rates.

Why does that matter? And, is that the whole picture?

The reason websites care about increasing conversion rates is that, all other variables held constant, higher conversion rates equal more revenue. So it’s not about increasing conversion rates; it’s about making more money.

On top of that, many of our prospects don’t realize what Optimizely can do around personalization, particularly if they have a lot of first or third party data about their website visitors. We do a lot more than just A/B testing. This is where we help the buyer realize that.


Now is the time to teach through storytelling. The time to juxtapose the buyer’s limited understanding of how your product might be able to help with a clear, mind-blowing example of the effect your product was able to have on one of your existing customers.

When you give a reference, go big. Don’t match the buyer up with a case study of a company that did the thing they think they can do with your product. Show them what’s possible if they start doing the thing your product gets them doing.

Try to be as specific and relatable as possible (by vertical, by buyer persona, or by use-case] as that will help make your story resonate. But, most importantly, offer a great narrative!


What did your product do for the customer you just referenced? There are two directions you can generally go here:

Person: What were the benefits that person reaped? Did she get promoted? A raise? A big ol’ bonus? This is a great way to generate excitement with your buyer.

Organization: What were the positive implications for the business line? What did that mean for the business as a whole?


This is the part where you wake them up. That daydream with the big wins was nice, but now is the time to bring them back to reality. Here, you will introduce them to the account executive who will manage their evaluation cycle.

Introduction also means stands for introducing the buyer to the evaluation and purchasing plan. It’s important to remember, after all, that you are a saleshuman: you specialize in selling software for a living. Your buyer is likely not a professional procurer of technology. Be professional but firm, and set expectations for what your sales process looks like. Let them also know what all all involved parties--this includes them--will have to do along the path towards wild success.


I hope this was helpful. It has been for us at Optimizely. Crossing the chasm is never easy, and we struggled to figure out how to get out of our sales funk as we grew past the early adopters stage [MISS U GUYZZZZ!].

The Tao Te Ching teaches us:

“When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don't know,
people can find their own way.”

Lao Tzu couldn’t have been more correct.

When it comes to selling products in the early majority of emerging markets, there is an order of operations. First, you must make the buyer aware of his learning deficit. Do this by reframing the conversation, and then persuade him through storytelling. Once you you’ve done these things, set expectations as to what he’ll need to do in order to be able to actually use the product. From there, the selling process gets much easier.

Just don’t screw up the demo. 

The Directly Responsible Individual in the Social Enterprise Age


by Ash Alhashim

–This entry is an edited version of an article I published on the Clarizen Blog in August 2012. You can access the original here. All views and opinions are my own. 

In the business world, it's often said that execution is everything. What most commonly separates successful organizations from those that lag behind or, oftentimes those who fail altogether, are not great ideas, but great delivery. To be sure, a great idea or product can make you and your organization initially successful. However, without solid execution, you will find yourself climbing up a proverbial mudslide of operational and competitive challenges, where eventual failure is all but certain. Without naming names, one does not have to search far in Silicon Valley to find evidence of tech giants getting upstaged by small, no-name competitors who outperform them in just about every measure.

If it's accepted that great execution is critical for business success, the follow-up question becomes, “How do I ensure great execution in my organization?” To find our answer, let us look at a Silicon Valley great that defies the concept of “large organization = ineffective organization”, and not coincidentally, one of the wealthiest and most profitable companies in the world. Apple.

Particularly for a company of its size, Apple is exceptionally agile and mind-bogglingly effective at execution. The agility and efficiencies that characterize it are no doubt due to a wide variety of factors ranging from lean principles, to innovative management, to effective hiring. But a key characteristic that has been credited for a large portion of its tremendous success, are often traced back to one specific distinction for how things work in Cupertino: Apple holds individuals responsible for each and every action item that exists.

This concept is such a staple of its culture, that Apple even has an acronym for it: DRI, which stands for “directly responsible individual”. In Adam Lashinsky’s book, “Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–and Secretive–Company Really Works,” he explores this concept, as well as others, in detail. What he finds is that Apple’s success is largely due to its ability to know who is working on what tasks, and who will be “called on the carpet if something isn’t done right…”

When shown in this perhaps negative light, this framework can initially sound harsh and unforgiving. However, keep in mind that the opposite story also holds: When ideas, projects, or strategies succeed, the DRI is rewarded for his or her work in a way that motivates employees far better than financial incentives. In Frederick Herzberg’s timeless “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees,” he elaborates as to how intrinsically motivating employees in such a fashion leads to much longer term job enrichment and organizational success than attempting to motivate by affecting hygiene (also dubbed “extrinsic”) factors such as pay or work hours.

Also, it’s not just executives who need to know who is accountable for action items: one of the biggest reasons for poor execution in an organization is that individuals are often not aware of what they are responsible for themselves! In a 2008 article published by Harvard Business Review, titled “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution,” Gary Nielson et al write about a company they examined that had all the familiar symptoms of an inefficient, bureaucratic monolith struggling with execution due to lack of accountability:

“Managers didn’t have a clear sense of their respective roles and responsibilities. They did not intuitively understand which decisions were theirs to make. Moreover, the link between performance and rewards was weak. This was a company long on micromanaging and second-guessing, and short on accountability. Middle managers spent 40% of their time justifying and reporting upward or questioning the tactical decisions of their direct reports.”

So, great, the notion of the DRI sounds solid. According to the evidence presented, it seems logical to assume that holding individuals accountable for executable items is a good thing. The problem though, is that it is much harder to apply this concept in practice.

Oftentimes, management is disengaged from the processes that are happening on the ground floor, and processes that allow accountability to be enforced are not put in place. Holding individuals accountable is not an easy “one-time-fix,” but rather, an ongoing management challenge. And the question remains, how do we address this problem exactly? Certainly not through micromanagement, which is not only terribly inefficient, but also leaves employees disgruntled and oftentimes less motivated than before.


The good news is that we live in a time where tools exist that allow management to remain engaged in the execution framework, as well as understand what action items they are responsible for at any given time. A decade into the Web 2.0 world, collaborative tools exist that allow transparency in across teams and groups, and help facilitate communication much more effectively than through the antiquated “spreadsheets and status meetings” model. Tools such as Clarizen, Asana, and Salesforce do a fantastic job of creating transparency around responsibility and fostering collaborative cultures within organizations.

If you're not already using a collaboration tool in your organization, we highly recommend it. Slack and Asana are two of our favorites for communicating, collaborating and tracking performance against initiatives. Depending on the size of your organization, these may be the right tools for the job, and they may not be. If you're interested in evaluating tools that boost productivity and collaboration, we can help. Fill out a contact request form here, or shoot us an email: ash@brownflag.io.