3 Reasons Internal Relationships are Critical to Startup Sales Success
For years, as a sales leader at a growing startup, I had a similar routine on days I was in the office. In the early afternoon, I usually got up from my desk and made what our GM came to know as my 'social lap' through the office. I would loop through each department in our office, casually saying hello to team members and chatting on just about any topic.
Plenty has been written about Management by Wandering Around. However, I wasn't actually managing those individuals, I was looking to build relationships. In startup sales, it's incredibly important to understand all the 'levers' your sales team can pull when engaging with a prospect. Given the state of your product, the limited resources and materials you might have to work with, you likely will be pulling in team members from various departments to help win business.
Understanding this, there were 3 main reasons I felt that engaging other departments on a daily basis was a critical activity for our sales team.
Probably the primary reason for my daily lap through the office was relationship building with the departmental leaders that my team could interact with on any given opportunity.
As I mentioned in a previous post, selling at a software startup is much more than just a 'sales' function. It's typically a team effort that can involve departments that may or may not be customer facing roles. For example, it was important for me to understand how the engineering team wanted to engage if their involvement was required. What they were and were not comfortable discussing with a prospect, how best to engage them in customer facing discussions, etc.
Sales owns the relationship with the prospect, but if you are going to bring in other departments like engineering, you better be damn sure your sales team and your engineering team are on the same page. You need to be comfortable with your roles so you can present a unified message to the prospect. In order to do this with internal resources, and do it in a timely manner, you need to have an open communcation channel so you can candidly talk through any challenges the opportunity may present. And to do that, you better have good relationships in place with those individuals.
Streamlined Sales Environment
Startup sales are a race every month. Leveraging your sales agility is an aspect you need to take advantage of as a startup. If we needed to pull the product team in to talk product roadmap or the services team in to quote a last minute engagement, it was important for the sales team that time was not wasted waiting for people to respond.
I viewed one of my core functions as a sales leader as building an environment where sales reps felt they had all the tools they needed to succeed. And part of that is ensuring that resources from ANY department were available to engage and help get a prospect across the goal line.
Obviously, this ties directly into #1 above. I've always felt it was much easier to engage and ask other departments for help in sales cycles when there is a personal connection in place.
Looking for a Win/Win
Finally, and perhaps most important for the long term, is that I was engaging with various departments regularly because I really wanted to get to know their teams better. I wanted to understand how their teams worked, and most importantly, what their goals were. Because, for this collaboration between sales and internal resources to truly work, and for the relationships you built in #1 to actually last, the sales team just can't always take, take, take from other departments. This can obviously be a challenge, given sales is laser focused on revenue targets.
However, I always tried to understand what really mattered to each department. In doing so, when our sales team would ask for something from an internal department, it was easier to then understand the impact our sales asks had on them, whether it be time, resources or margin. Again, going back to making it as much a win/win as possible. As an example, if our sales team was consistently asking for services concessions to win business, and services is measured on keeping a certain bill rate...then our goals conflicted and likely would result in friction on just about every deal.
However, understanding this services team goal up front would allow us to reduce that friction by working proactively with the services team. That might mean working together on how to better align our departmental goals or maybe provide the sales team air time with the services leader on the value the services team provides. The point is, without understanding what was important to the services team, unnecessary friction could potentially disrupt or kill a sales cycle.
So, for those of you working in startup sales, be sure to spend time on your internal relationships as well. For a startup, a good, open relationship with your internal resources will result in a competitive advantage that just might be the difference in your next sales cycle.