Building a Best-In-Class SaaS Sales Team

This article was written by Antal Managing Partner Peter Wharton. Find out more about Peter Wharton and the Geneva, Switzerland office here.

Critical considerations when building a first-class SaaS sales team

There are obviously many key criteria for hiring high performance sales people, but I’d like to share some of the most consistently critical considerations I’ve experienced when helping build best-in-class sales teams.

  1. Ensure your team is capable of delivering your strategy
    First you need to know your direction, define a sales strategy and then look for people that will understand and perform to your strategy. If you have a complex, high value solution where up-sell is critical, ensure your sales team are good at consultative selling – ideally familiar with Challenger or Spin sales methodology, and that that they can add value to every interaction with the client, leveraging the micro moments that lead to new opportunities.
  2. Profiling skills
    The account manager must be able to profile the client and it’s organisation, identify key stake holders and influencers and determine who are really the ultimate decision makers. If it is for low value, low touch standard offerings then look for an aggressive hustler able to make multiple calls and visits daily. 
  3. Appropriate level of technical knowledge
    When it comes to technical knowledge ensure that they have the right level.  All of the sales roles I hire for require tech savvy account managers for sure and all need to be capable of being Subject Matter Experts, but to what level depends on the complexity of the solution and the size of the company and its resources. For example, for my clients offering hybrid storage and back-up solutions a working knowledge of cloud services and on-premise servers is a given while the detailed technical issues will be handled by pre-sales but for a company highly specialised in AI data management predictive analytics,  the account manager needs themselves to come with an ultra-strong software engineering background that allows them to immediately delve into very complex technical details on the fly with their clients. 
  4. Hunters or farmers…..or both
    The need to manage long term client relationships is especially key as SaaS is usually sold on a subscription basis, but the ability to nurture and grow accounts overtime is not usually a skill a hunter will have. If not done already you may need to investigate splitting the sales role in two – Business Development for closing leads and acquiring news clients and Customer Success to maintain and grow existing accounts. You also should split the business development role with junior sales reps to manage inbound and create outbound leads and bring them through the pipeline to a level that a senior account manager with closing skills to finalise acquiring the new client and business.
  5. Check the track record
    Insisting on a proven track record is obviously key but ensure you check the candidates claims as they are easy to make on CV by following-up directly with referees, or even better have your recruitment agency do it.
  6. Dedication to process
    Salespeople, especially hunters can be frustratingly difficult to work diligently with CRM, especially hunters, for both new client acquisition and upselling to existing customers, but with long, complex sales cycles complete transparency on forecasting and pipeline management makes or breaks a sales organisation. A low respect for process despite strong sales skills is no longer acceptable or desirable today.

Peter Wharton is Managing Partner of Antal International Geneva and specialises in search and recruitment in two key areas – eCommerce and digital marketing roles cross industry and exec management, sales, product management and marketing for international software tech companies. Prior to starting his headhunting business Peter was a senior international marketing and sales executive in the tech industry.