How to Engineer Your Way to Predictable, Repeatable Sales
If I told you you could hire an engineer to hack the sales process to create a predictable model for growth, would you do it? That’s exactly what one company did. They hired an MIT alum with an engineering background to rethink the sales and marketing process. Then they went on to build a $100 million company using data technology, processes for predictable hiring, sales and marketing SLAs, inbound marketing and selling. Mark Roberge is that guy. He’s the Chief Revenue Officer for a little software company called HubSpot, where in the first 6 years there he helped increase revenue over 6,000% and expanded the team from 1 to 450 employees.
I’ve always thought there was a blueprint for success, but everyone seems to talk about sales as an art form, rather than a science. You can’t major in sales in college and there’s lots of fantastic sales people didn’t even go to college. But the formula is real.
We get to explore this and more during the in-depth episode of the Craft of Marketing, during which I pick Mark’s brain to learn how he got where he is today, why creating a repeatable hiring process is the lynch-pin for rapid growth, and what it takes to build predictable, repeatable results.
Listen in for an honest account of what marketing is all about. The tips, hacks and strategies that professionals share with each other but rarely talk about in public.
- How to hire the same successful salesperson every time
- Setup consistent training processes for every salesperson to insure repeatable results
- Hold salespeople accountable to the same sales process
- Focus on demand generation to provide salespeople with the same quality and quantity of leads every month
- Leverage technology to enable better buying for customers and faster selling for salespeople
How did you get started in startups?
Mark: I met the founders at MIT way back in 2005, joined on and had like three or four employee range to build out the sales team. Did that for the first seven years of the business. I actually took over services after that journey as well and scaled the organization to 100 million in run rate during that tenure and developed 450 employees in the sales and services team.
How did you choose the right opportunity or did it choose you?
Mark: I did the MBA program at MIT, and it was really a passion for entrepreneurship that I was pursuing. I’d done some startups prior to it, and that was my goal was to kinda solidify my place in that ecosystem, and I was trying to figure out while I was there what my functional contribution would be. Part of me was really attracted to marketing because I just feel like that was a more classic fit for an MBA. It was going more of an analytical function, which is a strength of mine. But what I didn’t like about it was I love talking to people, and I love doing deals, and that sorta attracted me to the sales side. It was just a nontraditional path for an MBA. When the opportunity at HubSpot, when it was presented to me, it was kinda the best of both worlds to be running sales and really mastering that function but also, staying relevant with the world of marketing. The way it came to be was I really started at the company as sort of a consultant one day a week when they were just trying to figure this thing out, and when Brian came on to be CEO, he’s more of a sales guy, and was like, “Listen, if I’m gonna have you for one day a week, I want you to bring in customers. We just need a bunch of customers to validate this thesis.” I had no idea if I could do it, I don’t think he had any idea, but for one day a week for eight months, or whatever it was, it brought in a bunch of customers, and that gave me confidence I could do it and it gave him confidence that he could sign me up for the first part of this at least.
Aim high, Ask for the world, and you just might get it – Seth Price
What was your business education like at MIT?
Mark: You really get to craft your own journey, when you go to these programs, and my journey was very much in the startup world, which was kinda unique at the time because it was still close enough to the bubble burst that more and more people were pursuing banking and consulting routes, but I took every entrepreneurship class possible there. I actually purposely took the minimum class load just so I could help a startup every semester and match the academic work with real-time stuff that was actually going on.
I had this New Enterprises course, a class that your father in law Howard Anderson taught It was an excellent example of the different types of exposure you can get. This is a class where you go in and you try to start your own business, 10 the students are actually selected to run this Business Plan Development exercise with the help of the other students in there. And every single class, which occurs twice a week, they bring in an active entrepreneur to kinda talk about how their journey’s unfolded so far, what are the challenges that are happening in their start up. Those are the type of classes where you just take a lot of learnings away from. It’s great to get the fundamentals down from the text book, but you take a ton of learnings away from those types of classes. Another one that Howard also taught was CEO-perspective, and he brought in CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Every Tuesday night we would meet, and man, to get into their heads as to the type of stuff they’re working on and to have access to those people just to ask whatever questions you want, there’s tons of learnings there.
Seth: I think it’s so critical to surround yourself with people that… Well, one have at least forged a path. It may not be identical to where you’re going, but at least have been through it because then you can go, “Oh, they’re a real human, and oh, they’re dealing with this stuff that is way beyond my mindset, but at least I know it exists.”
How did you apply engineering concepts to the sales process?
Mark: Prior to HubSpot, I was an engineer undergrad. I’d started my career actually writing code. And then obviously, the MIT MBA is a pretty quant-oriented MBA, so I’ve had this professional foundation that’s very quant-oriented. And to be quite frank, bringing that foundation to the world of sales leadership was not an attempt I made to kinda like write a book or craft a story. It was really just a “How I survive”. In parallel with getting out of MIT and then joining HubSpot, I had a lot of good but stressful, personal responsibilities happening. My wife and I had our first baby, we got pregnant again shortly thereafter, we needed to buy a house to put this growing family in. And so, all these awesome things were happening to me personally, but they were raising the bar as to my responsibility.
Why are metrics so important to you?
Mark: When I’m under stress like that, I lean into the numbers and because I need the predictability just so I could sleep at night. And fortunately, the world of sales was hitting a time where that was a very useful application. The world of sales has largely been moving inside from outside. It’s becoming a little bit more transactional and fast-paced in its processes. It’s easier to capture data, it’s easier to integrate the CRM into the world of the salesperson today. And all these factors allow us to think about sales as a little bit more of a science, something that can be more predictable and really, when it’s rested on the foundation of analytics and process, it can be a very powerful thing.
What can you tell us about the book you wrote describing this framework?
Mark: It’s called “The Sales Acceleration Formula”, and I’m very fortunate that it’s hit number one Amazon bestseller.
When I took the role my mission was “Predictable Scalable Revenue Growth”. And as I reflected on that mission, there was really four attributes that I was focused on. The first was, how can I hire the same successful salesperson every single time. The second was, how can I train these new salespeople in a very predictable way to be ready for success in the funnel. The third was, how can I provide them with the same quality and quantity of leads and demand gen every single month. And the fourth was, how can I hold the team accountable to work in those leads with the same process. And that really is the foundation of the book, of just driving into those four pillars and on how we scale things up.
What made you think that hiring was the thing, that was the first action you should do?
I think that most entrepreneurs can relate to the fact that when you’re very overwhelmed with all the early stage stuff, and as I looked at my mission and my journey, to be quite frank, I had a sense of what an A-plus job would be on hiring and training and managing the team. But as a sole individual with no resources, it really was probably a 200-hour work week to do that A-plus job, and I was willing to give it 80, because there’s only so many hours in a day. So, you’ve got to cut corners in some places and you’ve got to choose where you’re really gonna crush it. And as I reflect on that scenario, the bet I wanted to make was, “Listen, I got to crush hiring, and if I do an above average job on training and managing and an exceptional job on hiring, that’s my most likely way to win, because if I don’t crush hiring and I have some B and C players squeezing in here, it’s gonna be an uphill battle.” Versus… If you can get A-players in, even if you’re not that exceptional at training and management on the early goings, A players find a way to win. And it was that reflection that caused me to just really crush recruitment out of the gate.
How did you figure out how to work with marketing?
Mark: The sales and marketing relationship is really critical these days with so many of the early stages of the buying journey starting online. It’s really critical that these rules (processes) are in place and there’s a smooth handoff from marketing to sales and then sales back to marketing if necessary. So, there’s not a ton of rocket science here. We just clearly defined what a qualified lead was and then put Mike’s team on what we call SLA, a Service Level Agreement, as to how many are necessary, and then for sales to be accountable, too, once these qualified leads are created, what behaviors against those leads are we signing up to as well. And so initially, it was really just a raw number of this many mid-market leads is necessary for the month, which is fine. I mean if the organizations can get there, that’s like top 5% or 10%. But we got it so far that the best way to do it is really, think about the different types of qualified leads. You could have executive downloading ebooks. You can have mid-market managers requesting demos, being active in trials.
These are all really good leads that sales should be calling on. However, some are even better than others. And so what we did was we defined those different segments of leads that we’d be passing the team and over time calculated what their average close rates are and how much they spend when they do a close. And when you multiply those two numbers together, like if these leads close 2% of the time and they typically spend $100,000 well, each one of those leads is worth $2,000. You’ve essentially engineered a lead value for yourself, and once you have these lead values, you can then put marketing on a revenue quota, which is a really cool concept, to have them share the burden of sales of driving the revenue of the organization. And you also perfectly align their incentives to drive qualified lead flow, ’cause the more qualified they can drive that lead volume, the more they’re credited from the lead value score. And then sales really, we did a lot of analytics around what’s the ideal call pattern. So it’s obvious you got to call the lead right away when it comes in and you should do that within minutes. But if you do get a voicemail, when you try it again, like this afternoon or tomorrow, and how often do you call the lead.
Do you call it once or five or ten times? So those studies led to us knowing what the ideal call patterns were against that and being able to essentially program that into the CRM so that it got to the sales reps, which they love. They don’t wanna be thinking about which lead to call next and how often to call. They wanna be thinking about how to break the ice with this prospect and how to build trust with them on a connect call. So this is a really great way for us to manage the daily cadence around our sales and marketing alignment.
When did you start creating marketing and sales quotas?
Mark: To be quite frank, we did this from day one. So there probably wasn’t as big of an opportunity. I will say that we had some iterations in there. One of the major ones was moving from just a pure, “This is how many leads we need to that revenue,” approach. We probably did that two years into the business, or so. And, for sure, we saw a nice spike from that. I don’t remember the amount but literally, at that point, if you’re just counting leads. The easiest way for a marketing team to convert a qualified lead is to get them to download an ebook. But, unfortunately, that is further back in the buying journey than, say, a demo request or a trial. And when we moved toward this more revenue approach to counting lead flow, you saw a dramatic shift in the density of calls-to-actions around demos and free trials on both the website and the lead nurturing campaign, etcetera. And you saw a lot more leads entering the sales pipeline that were further down the buying journey, thanks to marketing. So that definitely had a dramatic shift.
Where does customer service come in?
Mark: Appreciation of the importance of the end-to-end customer success and customer attention in the world of SaaS. The concept of SaaS, Software as a Service, where it’s more of a subscription revenue base. It changes a lot of a traditional sales model, or a traditional software model and the key metrics that you measure, and how you compensate your sales people, and how you facilitate strong hand-offs between marketing, sales and services. Sort of a traditional front office experience for that customer. And I think the trigger for the company really was, this isn’t just a new revenue game. This is a net revenue game. And churn and retention are just as important, if not more important as you scale, than the new revenue coming in. And they really wanted strong alignment there and decided that they kinda, as Brian put it, “We’ll have one neck to choke,” [chuckle] “on that metric,” and I was the chosen one on that. So that was really… The driver was an appreciation of how important alignment is between those two teams and making sure that that started with the org structure.
Seth: I really appreciate your time, and I’d love for you to let people know where they can find out more about you, and where they can find your book?
Mark: Two things I’d love to mention, Seth. On the book, you can get that at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, “The Sales Acceleration Formula.” The things I wanna mention on it and HubSpot is: Number one, a 100% of the proceeds on the book go to build.org, which is an awesome nonprofit that started a couple years ago. And what they do is, basically, they find some of the poorest neighborhoods in some of these major cities, kids who just have not been dealt the deck that you and I have been dealt, Seth, and go in there, and take these kids who have a really low graduation rate, and a low matriculation rate, and get involved with them in their freshman year, and help them find a passion for entrepreneurship, and get ’em to start a business.
They’ve done this for many, many years. And, yeah, the graduation rate, I think, is like 99% of the kids that actually get into the program, and a huge number of them go off to college and finish college, more importantly. So, a 100% of the proceeds go to that. Check out that organization, if you’re an entrepreneur, and get involved in that.
The second thing is more of the business side of HubSpot. Just so the listeners know, we have two free products in our sales product line. We launched a free CRM, so if you’re interested in checking that out, we’ve had 60,000 companies now using our sales product. So please check that out. And then we’ve got a really cool product called Sidekick, at getsidekick.com, that basically tells you when someone opens up their email.
Seth: I love it! Another time I’ll have you on to talk about apps as a marketing tool, because there’s a lot of meat on the bones there. Mark, thank you so much for your time, and we’ll be in touch soon.
Mark: Great. Thanks, Seth.