In thinking about my interview with Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer of HubSpot Sales Products my intention was to focus on HubSpot’s all in one sales and marketing solution designed to transform businesses. But as I learned that Mark increased revenue over 6,000% and expanded his sales and services team from 1 to 450 team members from 2007 to 2013, I couldn’t bypass how he achieved such results. Knowing Mark’s background in mechanical engineering and his MBA from Sloan School of Management I knew we wouldn’t get a string of platitudes.
Because of his background in engineering Mark describes himself as a quant (short for quantative analysis) who had not even been in sales before the HubSpot journey. As such he viewed the world through a lens of metrics, data, and process as any engineer would. And many people attribute HubSpot’s achieving great scale in sales so quickly to leaning on metrics, data, and process. When he accepted his role at HubSpot his self imposed mission was clear: predictable, scalable revenue growth.
To build the HubSpot sales machine Mark crafted and executed four tactics:
- how to hire the same successful salesperson predictably every time
- how to train salespeople in the same way to key them for success
- how to provide salespeople with the same quality and quantity of leads and demand every single month
- how to ensure that salespeople work leads using the same process to maximize success.
Organizations that can accomplish all four certainly are on their way to scaling and predictably growing revenue. Mark shared key take-aways for each of these spokes in HubSpot’s sales machine.
Hire the Same Successful Salesperson Predictably Every Time
In the first year Mark hired 10 new salespeople, averaging about one per month. All of them were the top performers from their past environments. However, not all of them evolved to be top performers within the HubSpot environment. The lesson learned was the importance of the context and the buying journey of HubSpot to the type of salesperson who would succeed there. Mark tags general questions like “What do you look for in a salesperson?” as irrelevant because the right salesperson for one company at a particular time is not the same for another company. The complexity of the sale, buyer, and buying journey are different. They yield differences in who is the right salesperson for an organization.
Fortunately there is a process for uncovering the ideal salesperson criteria adaptable for any organization. Mark’s first step was to establish a theory of 10 criteria that he thought would correlate with success in the HubSpot environment. He documented the criteria with definitions, scores, and what scores translated into. For every interview he scored against each criteria. After six months he had working examples of hires that he could observe and reflect on to see who were the rock stars and who were average. From that he began to define the pattern that predicted success, what didn’t seem to matter, and what was missing from the formula. His analysis provided him with data points for a regression analysis that his friend at MIT repeated every few months.
Based on the results Mark defined five criteria that worked well in the HubSpot environment: coachability, curiosity, intelligence, prior success, and work ethic. While ever company’s context is different, Mark pointed out the he felt these criteria would work well for most early-stage software companies. For companies that don’t have large sale forces or the resources for to conduct analysis Mark recommends Sidekick (www.getsidekick.com)
When asked if “prior success” meant industry experience not only was the answer no, but with later hires in some situations sales backgrounds wasn’t even a criteria. While the number of salespeople on the team and where the candidate ranked is important, “prior success” is not limited to that but includes people who did exceptional things in what they attempted in life, for example, they brought on board an Olympic Gold Medalist, a professional comic who made it all the way to Comedy Central, and MIT and Harvard grads seeking a career change.
The takeaways for large and small companies are to be aware of your own sales context because the ideal hire is different for your company and to develop a consistent process to select and on-board your company’s ideal hires.
Train Salespeople in the Same Way to Key Them for Success
Rather than use a shadowing or ride-along training program which lacks the predictability element, Mark put together a one month long formal, primarily classroom setting, training curriculum with the expected product knowledge, sales process/sales certification, and skill training. His innovation was to add a cutting edge inbound marketing component designed to prepare salespeople for the demands of the new empowered buyers with data their fingertips.
He discussed how in this new sales context salespeople have to step up their game. To help salespeople understand the buyer’s context, the buyer’s role, and what the job is like, the new training component element places salespeople as close as possible into the buyer’s life. To feel what it is like to be a marketer every salesperson sets up his/her own website and blog using the HubSpot software. Salespeople must rank in Google, write blogs (one module in the training is what is a blog, how to write one…), generate a following, run an e-mail campaign and so on. The goal is to help them master the best practices around in- bound marketing to become consultants and trusted advisors to their customers who usually have not had this intense training.
Provide the Same Quality and Quantity of Leads Every Single Month
The responsibility for the inbound marketing journey was Mark’s counterpart and partner Mike Volpe, HubSpot’s CMO. Mark explained how the demand generation techniques that companies have used for the past few decades have declined significantly in effectiveness. He expressed amazement that many business plans and marketing budgets continue to dedicate so much money to advertising, cold calling, direct mail, and e-mail spam. To underscore the change in how buyers buy and how to access them, he shared that at HubSpot he has neither a phone nor a desk. Our call was from a HubSpot “phone booth” which he reserved.
Rather than trying to reach customers with yesterday’s outbound strategies, Mark believes that the most effective way to generate demand is to win the Google and social media discussions where buyers are starting their buying journey, for example, in Google Search or asking a question in LinkedIn. He advises “You do not need to bet the whole farm on inbound marketing but you really need re-think the whole demand generation investment you are making and pull away some of the outbound efforts that may not be working.” The take away here is to “triple down” on Inbound Marketing by creating educational content for your buyer on a consistent basis and participating in buyers’ on-line conversations.
Additionally Mark discussed how few companies recognize the need to staff Inbound Marketing efforts. Today he sees the journalist as the “golden nugget” to navigate the demand strategy and bring quality content. Clearly HubSpot practices what it preaches: The second hire for the HubSpot team was a journalist from the New York Times charged with creating a high quality and predictable lead flow to the team.
Ensure Salespeople Work Leads Using the Same Sales Process
The role of the sales manager is key to working leads on a predictable basis. At HubSpot the primary role of the sales manager is coaching and developing salespeople, not running forecasts or pushing pipeline. Mark described the best coaches as the ones that can step back and know where a salesperson needs coaching rather than overwhelming the person with multiple points of feedback. To take the mystery out of how to do this Mark leans again on metrics in what he describes as Metric-driven Sales Coaching that enable sales managers to hone in on the one area that will have the biggest impact on results.
To practice Metric-driven Coaching measure the entire funnel for the team, for the individual on a month to month basis to see how they are doing on the prospecting side compared to their peers. Look at the number of discovery calls, how many have moved to presentation stage, the negotiation stage, how many have closed, what the percentages between those are, and how does this salesperson’s numbers compare to his/her peers. By identifying a salesperson’s biggest deficiency a sales manager can best move the needle where it counts the most.
When I asked Mark to wrap-up with a few words of advice he immediately responded with two words: “Context and Metrics—Organizations need to appreciate the importance of understanding their context and what is unique about their buyer and not be afraid to innovate and do something unique to their context. And use data to scale their organizations. There is an explosion of opportunities to refine sales process with data.” For Mark sales is not only about stats. He ended the conversation by saying that his aim is to earn the trust of his customers so they share with him their deepest goals and desires.
Mark Roberge is Chief Revenue Officer of HubSpot Sales Products.. Find out more by visiting here.