- The Five Pillars of High Growth Go-to-market Success: Rich Liu’s Playbook
We were fortunate to sit down with Rich Liu to download some of his learnings from ~15 years building effective sales teams at high growth start-ups.
Rich has had a perfect career for this topic: he started as a sales rep at Fisher Investments, learning how to directly land business over the phone. He eventually led ⅓ of the field sales force, responsible for acquiring over a billion dollars of AUM annually. Rich then worked at one of the highest scale sales orgs in the world — Facebook — where he led strategy and go-to-market teams for several industry verticals. Then, he had two home runs in a row: MuleSoft, where he led corporate sales through their IPO and then SFDC acquisition, and TripActions, where he grew the go-to-market team from 40 to 300+ people and scaled run rate by over 30x.
Along the way, he has developed a playbook for go-to-market scaling, organized under 5 pillars
Quotes below are edited for clarity
Rich explains how a fundamental task for startup sales leaders is to evaluate the executive-level vision for what problem the product is solving, what type of customers have that problem, and what needs to be done to realize that vision.
“At an early stage, the revenue leader needs to come in and be more of an experimenter. Can someone translate what the founder’s vision is, what their idea of product market fit is and challenge it a little bit? And then also translate that into answers around what kind of buyer do I need to reach for this, what type of use cases there are, and the ways that I’m framing value to that buyer.”
Early sales leaders should sit down with the founders, product development, and marketing agenda-setters to identify what problems the product solves, and what narratives can be created from those solutions. As the company grows and more data is gathered, they must continuously evaluate their narrative.
“ This includes seeing if we can broaden the scope, who to go sell to and what stories to tell them, and then asking how you get other people doing it effectively at some kind of reasonable scale and efficiency.”
One of the most important things that founders, especially very technical and product-focused ones, can do to build a scalable foundation for their company is to hire strong go-to-market leaders. Instead of focusing on seniority or big logos, early stage founders should instead search for sales leaders who have a history of scaling up small organizations.
“I’m not by default pulling people out of the mature legacy companies in my space, and instead generally picking people who have a track record of successfully helping to figure out that early stage at a company and how to transition from a few deals that the founders were leading. Were they just there for the ride, or can they give you very tangible examples of how they helped build from first principles: ‘we were in X situation, this is how we approached it, the specific steps we took, and the impact’?”
In turn, sales leaders should establish clear hiring standards that focus on promoting objective goals and cultures of excellence. These hiring guidelines should be standardized and communicated clearly to all individuals involved in the hiring process. Rich describes the values that he implemented to manage hiring at Mulesoft and TripActions:
“We invested the time to go and create a very robust hiring framework based on role defined scope. For every single interview, the interview is hard-mapped to one or two hiring attributes identified, and you document the responses in the ATS over time so that you can well calibrate what good or bad looks like. Investing to get that alignment up front around the candidate profile was really valuable to be able to hire at scale, while maintaining caliber, culture, and consistency across teams/offices — reproducibility.”
Rich doesn’t necessarily advocate for a super heavy hiring process in early stage startups, because of the large operational weight. However, he cautions that in his experience, most startups tend to prioritize speed over quality when building capacity-driven teams such as AE’s, SDR’s, and CSM’s during the scale-up phase given the pressures of covering quotas to meet the business plan. This can lead to a false sense of comfort, poor rep attainment, low efficiency, and a team of more Bs than As, which is hard to come back from. Investing early to maintain objective expectations for new hires is crucial to maximizing the impact of every new employee on company growth.
“Once they get here, how do we know that they get good at their job?”
New employees can only succeed when given proper onboarding and a clear understanding of their roles and duties in the company. Leaders should invest the time to set up organized modules for both new hire onboarding and job performance evaluation, even after creating proper hiring guidelines. These steps are important to evolve the transfer of knowledge from the company’s founders to new employees not just through passive “osmosis”, but into formal processes that will allow the company to continue to scale sustainably in the future.
“When you have five reps sitting around a conference table, you don’t need to do anything; you just listen to people and ask questions and you’re going to learn. But when you get scaling into two rooms, there are more steps. For example, the evolution of 1) saving something in a Google Docs folder and building a basic content base, to 2) translating that content base to a content/knowledge base like Guru or Highspot to complement a basic onboarding course, to 3) building robust modules for in person onboarding and asynchronously through tools like Workramp becomes critical.”
Early hires and top-down leadership can also have a large impact in influencing the company’s ability to master this pillar. Having existing leadership make serious efforts to streamline the transfer of knowledge from old to new employees can have large ramifications for the future of the company. Rich describes his own process for scaling and creating effective enablement mechanisms at TripActions:
“At TripActions, over the course of 1.5 years, we went from osmosis learning to packaging key resources in one spot to having a power user monitor that packaging and lead some onboarding classes. Then, we assembled a small enablement team before eventually hiring the head of the former VP of enablement from DocuSign to go build out a robust machine to onboard and ensure success of each employee across functions. But the real key was to build ahead of the growth instead of behind it and try to play catch up. ”
An operational stack consists of all the tools, systems, and frameworks needed for every role to function at their full potential. Part of this pillar includes using outside tools such as Salesforce for customer relations management or LeadIQ and Salesloft to manage and streamline selling opportunities. However, internally developed tools such as clear dashboarding and metrics analysis are also key components of a useful operational stack.
Capturing and visualizing key metrics is especially important for growing startups, because they allow the company to understand important questions such as where sales are coming from or where employee performance is faltering. Similar to enablement mechanisms, early hires can have a large impact on the company’s ability to scale the pillar easily. Rich advises founders and sales leaders to look for heads of business analytics to create and maintain the measurement across all levels and users, from sales reps to executives, to company and board, and to rigorously define what metrics they are tracking and for what purpose.
“You have to make the right data architecture to capture all of the right metrics. What should the quotas be? Are reps ramping? What should the plan be, and what’s your demand engine look like? By putting the stake in the ground and building a cadence around it, you can then start to better monitor and quickly identify the root cause behind why a piece of the business is not performing relative to the success model. A poor analytics stack means you’re flying blind and missing opportunities to learn how to run your business better over time, and then you ultimately rate-limit how fast you can scale up intelligently.”
Investments into creating comprehensive operational stacks and capturing all useful metrics are resource- and time-intensive, but will greatly improve your company’s scale and efficiency. At TripActions, Rich recruited people who had previous experience running operations at metrics-intensive companies such as Dropbox, Stripe, Square, Google, and Facebook, and considered resourcing that team as one of the most important investments the company made.
Establishing a clear plan for your company’s demand/pipeline engine involves analyzing your product narrative and what sales strategies would best support it. For example: should your sales efforts focus on inbound or outbound, or can outbound reps be outsourced at an early stage? How quickly should the company try to scale, or what type of potential customer should the sales team be targeting, and through what channels?
After identifying those key questions, decision-makers should build a demand plan based on key factors such as verticals, use cases, and how much pipeline is available from each source: inbound, sales development representatives and account executive outbound, or channel partners. Rich describes his own experience at TripActions ensuring the demand engine and business were properly calibrated:
“We were hiring fast but we froze hiring three times in various parts of the organization, because productivity was not hitting our model and we needed to figure out why. That problem solving involves careful measurement of the demand and sales funnel against a planned success model, and a regular cadence with each stakeholder to dig into each potential root cause.”
The answers to your growth problems will differ greatly based on your company’s stage and industry and should be closely monitored both leadership and sales reps to gain as much perspective as possible.
“Often the solution is not purely black and white, but a combination of multiple factors. So for example in one situation, we recut the territories and invested more in sales development to compensate for inbound not scaling as quickly as originally modeled. In another case, we needed to temporarily pause hiring while we built out enablement capability. Building a strong demand engine requires problem solving while course correcting and learning as we go.”
Building an effective sales funnel in particular emphasizes the fact that all five GTM pillars are part of a balanced and collaborative strategy. Identifying what problem the product solves and what narratives can be created about that problem will influence our GTM strategy and how we implement it, which in turn may affect the type and number of employees that scaling companies need to hire. Different GTM approaches also need different enablement mechanisms to create onboarding modules for a specific sales strategy and require metrics to evaluate if a chosen sales strategy is effective.
- Date of publication:
- Wed, 10/13/2021 - 12:00
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