We caught up with Mark Leslie, Principal of Leslie Ventures in Silicon Valley, Lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and author of "The Sales Learning Curve," and asked him the most important things to consider in understanding your sales process and cycle.
Almost a decade ago, Mark Leslie and Charles Holloway wrote a Harvard Business Review article entitled, "The Sales Learning Curve." That piece, written as the SaaS industry was just beginning to emerge from the womb, prognosticated the realities of technology sales that, here in 2015, are now indisputable.
The article's point: There's a learning curve for getting every emerging product to market maturation. The learning curve is both internal and external.
The world has changed substantially in the nine years since Leslie wrote the article, so we reached out to him and asked to take a few minutes, revisit his original article, and discuss some of the major ways technology, marketing automation, and Millennials are impacting his findings from 2006.
Mark Leslie Talks All Things "Sales Learning Curve"
What factors go into your sales cycle? How do you figure out the right buyer profile of your product? How do you know when to switch from onboarding a new Sales Rep to putting him out in the wild?
These are all critical questions every sales team faces, especially those in growing companies that have yet to achieve full maturation within their market. They're part of the so-called learning curve every growing business, B2B or B2C, faces in scaling out its sales team and reaching full market penetration.
There's always a learning curve in sales. Not just for new Sales reps you're looking to onboard, but for managers and all members of the leadership executive team. Which is why we asked Mark Leslie to join us and answer three key questions we had about what's impacting sales curves in 2015.
Ambition: What is the impact of technology on the Sales Curve?
Mark: Technology is an enabler, on both the consumer and the sales end. We now have the internet consumer and things of that nature. A lot of tech companies, SaaS companies as an example, have a much lighter weight sales model or marketing model than the companies that follow the classic enterprise model. So if you go into world of SaaS applications as an example you might find that there is more demand-driven model and inside sales transaction model, rather than the enterprise model.
If you go to the B2C, you'll find that it's all marketing. However, the lessons of the paper remain true. Once you believe it's time to turn a switch and say this is my product and it's in the market, you have to go thru a learning curve. And the progress of the learning curve can be measured and show your maturation within the market. For the inside sales guy with the light touch high transaction rate, the yield curve could be return on your marketing efforts.
Ambition: Inbound marketing has taken on much more prominence. How much more of an emphasis should sales teams be placing on inbound marketing vs outbound sales efforts versus what they were doing in 2006?
Completely depends on the product and strategy of the company. As an example, if you're building a product that's going to be sold B2B, that's expensive, a long-term solution, and complicated, and you're selling into a market that's very competitive with a smaller number of potential customers, you have high touch sale that's going to require outbound and require an end-user sales model. An extreme example of that would be General Electric selling jet engines to airplane manufacturers, which it can only sell to a 100 companies in the world and hits all of the above.
An example of the other extreme, on the B2B end, would be Proctor and Gamble selling toothpaste. Many users, B2C, very low cost, very simple sale, et cetera. So the Proctor and Gamble is all Proctor all marketing and no sale, and the General Electric example is the opposite. An as you look at your product, questions like how complicated is it, how much does it cost, how difficult is the sale, how many users am I trying to reach, how long is my sales cycle -- that all informs you where you belong in this model.
Ambition: When you wrote your first article, that was just prior to an influx of Millennials into the learning force? What is the impact of them into the Sales Curve?
I wouldn't say that the generational differences matter as much. It's driven by the product. If Millennials are the people who can't do execute, then they're not the right ones for the business.
But I don't think generations matter in terms of the ability to get the job done. Not every job is the right thing for every person, and that remains true regardless of generation.
Understanding Your Sales Learning Curve in 2015
Mark's answers are revealing in a somewhat surprising sense: At its core, very little about the sales learning curve has changed over the past ten years.
Questions like -- who are my ideal buyers, how big is my potential market, how competitive is my industry -- still play an important role in determining the best courses of action. The same goes for questions like, what is my ideal sales cycle, what is the proper balance between inbound marketing and outbound in my sales process what is the appropriate time for onboarding a new sales rep.
In creating a scalable sales model, organizations now have more tools at their disposal to help them ramp up faster. But they still must go through the learning curve, make mistakes, and use buyer feedback to continuously refine and improve their process. Special thanks to Mark Leslie for being gracious enough to appear and for his valuable insights.