Build a Sales Machine in 5 Steps

The modern sales machine, it is an appealing metaphor. Sales can feel unpredictable, a collection of one-off relationships we slog through, but a sales machine, that can be understood, the parts come together, interact, and produce the same result over and over again.

What is under the hood of a “Modern Sales Machine”

I love this metaphor, it inspires me, but I also know it obscures the very straightforward reality of what a sales machine looks like in practice. The “machine” is really just a set of very granularly articulated processes that your team enthusiastically follows from lead generation to close. These processes can be rigid or flexible, but they are always very detailed. A rigid process might be used for prospecting new leads, and a set of flexible processes might be used by your AE to get a contract signed.

So to build one of these sales machines for our own company we need detailed processes and a team that is excited to follow them. Here are five steps to get you started.

  1. Understand how customers think about your product
  2. Imagine the perfect buying experience
  3. Design a sales process
  4. Get really really granular with actions
  5. Build your machine to scale

Step 1: Understand how customers think about you

The first step is to ask what role do you play at your customer’s organization. Who at the organization uses your product, who has the most to gain, who has the most to lose, who will need to be involved with implementation, who will make the final decision? How will the product be evaluated, how long will it take to evaluate, how will it be discussed internally?

Those are a lot of questions, and there are so many more, but the point is simply to understand the customer and the product. That way when we start to build a sales machine we are building it for them and not because we just read about this cool new sales machine in a hip sales blog.


Step 2: Imagine the perfect buying experience

Think back to all the people you identified in step one and ask yourself “what do they all need to hear and how do they want to hear it?” There are as many buying experiences as there are products. This is a great place to get inspired by other companies with similar price points, customers, level of decision maker, etc.

If you are selling simple productivity software, maybe you go freemium download with a quick product tour. If you need the signoff of executives with a lot to lose, maybe a steak dinner will be in order. Most likely you will be somewhere in between with an experience customized to your situation.


Step 3: Design a sales process

In step two we have imagined an ideal buying experience, now it is time to translate that into a process. There are endless resources on creating processes, but for me nothing is simpler or more effective than thinking about stages and gates. A stage is where all the work happens, it could be something like qualifying, or scheduling a demo. A gate is the criteria that an account must fulfill before it can move out of the current stage.

Here is an example. The stage is qualifying, the gate is that the account has values for “# of employees” and “revenue” or those values are unavailable. With the gate criteria satisfied the account moves on to a new stage.

Step 4: Get really really granular

Let’s continue with our example of the qualifying stage. We need to get values for “# of employees” and “revenue” but how? We can work with our best prospector to determine the right data source to check first, and maybe even the best way to search those source. Then what source do we check second, do we eventually call the company and ask, when do we determine the information is just not worth pursuing. Don’t be afraid to get very granular, even if you are not 100% sure of the best actions to take.

We are creating a standardized process, but not a static one. Start with a first best guess for the optimal way to get to the gate (complete the process), and then get your team involved and constantly make the process better. Only when we standardize can we start to systematically improve.

Step 5: Build your machine to scale

The best part of investing in a machine up front is that it scales easily. The secret magic of your best salesperson doesn’t scale until you can articulate it and share it with the rest of the team. So don’t stop once your machine is humming along nicely. Invest in an equally granular processes for adding new contributors to your machine.

When you hire a new development rep don’t just have them shadow someone and hope for the best, invest in the documentation and training that will incorporate them into your process and will give them every chance to succeed.