Submitted by Mike Sellberg, chief of product and staff at Coviance

Mike Sellberg

One of the most challenging aspects of running an early-stage company is determining how to scale the business quickly and sustainably. This is a process that requires alignment across company leaders, sales professionals, marketing and product teams at every stage of growth, as well as a constant focus on building a customer-first culture that prioritizes user experience, product performance and reliability.

A company’s sales strategy is integral for growth – from getting the first sales meetings right to expanding new logo acquisition. As the sales team lands new customers, to expand with a customer means that product teams need to produce new features, innovative apps and integrations that will continue to add value. Product development has to evolve in tandem with sales growth – from the initial product sprint to a scalable product organization informed by customer feedback and continuously updated by the marketing, sales and customer success teams. These evolutions must be supported with aggressive sales and engineering hiring.

A successful growth strategy requires coordination between sales, product marketing and product teams, a relentless focus on user experience, a customer-first culture, and company leaders who have a coherent vision capable of earning stakeholder support at every level of the organization.

Always put customers first
There’s no higher priority for early-stage companies than obtaining and retaining customers. It isn’t enough for customers to be loyal – they should also be raving fans and advocates for your business. This is how customers become referrals. Beyond a top-tier customer success team that offers front-line support, it’s vital for everyone in the company – from back-end product developers to marketing professionals – to focus on earning and maintaining customer trust.

Consider an example from the banking and financial services industry: According to a 2022 Ipsos/Forbes survey, 78% of Americans prefer digital banking. To meet the demands from a growing and increasingly digitally oriented customer base, companies need to expand their engineering teams. Product and sales managers must then scale alongside the growing engineering team, though they should always remember that there’s a balance to be struck with technological development.

Digital innovation can’t outpace the needs and concerns of customers – 63% of whom prefer personal conversations with bank representatives, versus 37% who prefer chatbot interactions or SMS messages.

User experience, product performance and reliability, and empathetic product discovery play huge factors in customer satisfaction – everyone plays a part.

Effectively scale your sales operation
From the first sales meetings to market segmentation, demand generation and customer referrals, there are several critical principles that early-stage companies have to observe as they scale their sales operations. Companies have to achieve “product-market fit,” develop a “sales playbook,” and scale sales rapidly with the “land and expand” business model. The “expand phase” requires continuous product innovation and improvement, which requires engineering hiring to accelerate with sales hiring.

Company leaders, product developers and sales teams have to be aligned on key performance metrics in the initial sales scaling phase. While there’s no one-size-fits-all meeting playbook for SaaS companies, salespeople need to build credibility, understand customer goals and pain points, highlight their unique value proposition, and deliver proof points such as demos and customer testimonials. 

Most SaaS companies want to acquire new customer logos as fast as they can. You can’t do this without a meetings pipeline, which ultimately means hiring more salespeople and also sales development representatives to assist with meeting-setting. However, a company should also have the parallel goals of improving the efficiency of meeting-setting and improving the first meeting. This is why marketing needs to be scaled in parallel to support these goals with programs for demand generation to help provide sales with “warm leads.”

Companies can’t afford to overlook training – it takes time and resources for salespeople to become effective at selling your product. The “ramp to quota” refers to how quickly salespeople can start meeting performance and sales targets, a process that can take several quarters. Every stage of this process has to be customer-centric: the sales playbook, product development and the marketing plan.

Adapt to evolving markets and customer needs
Although it’s crucial for early-stage companies to establish a growth strategy and sales playbook that can bring all stakeholders together around the same set of key performance indicators, companies also need the flexibility to keep pace with shifting customer demands and market conditions. The “land and expand” business model requires product and sales teams to increase user numbers and improve utilization with new features, platform levels, API access and other offerings.

Companies may also have to update their pricing models as product-market fit is achieved.
Founders and other company leaders have a clear role to play in the creation of the product vision and strategy, so they should be engaged with product teams. While this can mean making larger investments in certain products or areas of research and development, it also sometimes means moving on from products that aren’t working. This sort of judgment is essential for sales teams as well – if a sales prospect isn’t a good fit, it’s important to move on as quickly based on the first sales meeting.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, around half of new businesses fail within the first five years of their creation. Scaling an early-stage company is a difficult and delicate process, but founders will have a much greater chance of success if they make the right investments in their sales and engineering teams, remain agile enough to respond to shifting markets and consumer demands, and most importantly, put the customer first.