When to say no to the sale

say no to the sale

As a startup founder, you inevitably learn many lessons the hard way. Perhaps one of the hardest I have had to learn was when to say no to the sale.

The situation

At the time of receiving this lesson, we were at just over $10K MRR. We had raised $200K from an angel investor. Our average deal size was around $3500/yr, LTV was $20,000, CAC was $1200. And, we had a good flow of inbound demo bookings.

With metrics like this it’s easy to attract salespeople. One “rockstar” on our team was a national lead at Linkedin for the previous six years, who wanted to be our VP of Sales. And, I was feeling pretty good about myself for having a company that could attract that level of talent.

But here’s the thing. When someone with an amazing resume sits down with you it’s really easy to move too quickly. I didn’t understand where his real sweet spot was along the array of deal size.

Time for some references

There is a book that I read after learning this lesson that might have helped me avoid some pain. The book is Rethinking The Sales Force. The author is Neil Rackham who also wrote what I consider to be the essential book on sales, SPIN SELLING. But it’s the former that had the key takeaway, which had I understood earlier, would have been nice.

Most businesses in their early stage should focus on one type of customer and solve one kind of problem. While that might seem obvious, what surprised me is how important it is to build your sales team people that excel at selling a solution of your size.

Long story short, this rockstar salesman was not great, or frankly, even interested, in selling $3,500 solutions, rather, his real talent was taking a $3,500 sale and turning it into a $100,000 partnership. Notice the word partnership.

It wasn’t until I read Rethinking The Sales Force that I understood the real difference in the mind of the prospect when you are selling a small B2B SaaS subscription as opposed to an enterprise deal. Mind you, I had a sense of it given the absolute mountain of stress that this deal had caused me for months.

Yes, I’m human too

Don’t get me wrong, the moment I heard about this deal, I was beyond excited and did not even consider to say no to the sale. And when it closed, oh man did I celebrate! But three weeks later, when I learned what this customer expected, I started to see the challenges we had created.

He wanted customizations, he wanted a dedicated account manager, he wanted my personal time on a regular basis. All of which are fair expectations at that price point, none the less, we cannot accommodate.

We were set up and only somewhat optimized (at that point) for an SMB SaaS on-boarding experience, and that was leaving enough to be desired as it was. And, when we tried to support him (“him” being a gentleman who is not afraid to yell and swear at his vendors until he gets his way) through that process, guess what happened… Well, let’s say I became accustomed to having a scotch or two every night for the next few months.

The resolution

Thankfully, now two years later, he is still a customer, albeit on a very different package. And with many tense conversations, and flying across the country to meet him face to face, we maintain a mutually beneficial relationship without having to provide a refund that could have bankrupted us.

So in summary, this was a sale that I should have said no to, and today, our sales people knows that if a prospect is looking for a different kind of solution than we offer, to try to qualify them as a prospect for what we do, and send them elsewhere for what we don’t.

Tips for building a SaaS sales team

building a saas sales team

Building a SaaS sales team is an art

Now trust me, I’m no Picasso but I have been around the block a few times with this task and I have enough bumps and bruises to offer some level of valuable information.

After being a sales rep for an internet company on and off for 5 years, in 2009 I was put in charge (rather somehow convinced the CEO that I was the guy to make this company grow) as the Director of Sales and Marketing of a niche LMS and eLearning company called Expert Online Training. This was back in the days when you might still use a locally hosted CRM like ACT and you would have never heard of SDR’s or Customer Success reps.

We also didn’t have access to tools like Join.me or GotoMeeting, instead we would simply cold call prospects, get them to open up their browser and guide them through the site like a seeing eye dog. And it worked!

Fast forward to today where I am the CEO/CTO/CMO/CFO and founder of a currently quasi-bootstrapped SaaS company called Hubbli when I am going to share some lessons I’ve learnt along the way.

So let’s talk about recruiting

I don’t know what exactly has shifted but thankfully I have been having a much easier time finding solid sales candidates then ever before. In fact they are finding me, literally on a daily basis I have sales people reaching out to me telling me they are interested in a position.

I’m going to chalk it up to SaaS sales positions becoming really sexy and that we are a startup so a lot of people understand that in a sales role they can join a new company, make great money in the short term, and actually see some benefit when and if the company has a successful equity event.

I would say that if you are a SaaS startup that is selling something with a price tag of at least $500/mo your best bet for recruiting sales candidates are places like Angel.co, or anywhere else startups hangout online.

Get the bonus content: SaaS Sales Hiring Checklist

Don’t do what I just did

So here’s a painful lesson I just learned. If you are a founder and are trying to build your initial sales team DO NOT even think about hiring inexperienced sales people. I don’t know what I was smoking but I actually thought that since I was able to hire, train and coach large sales teams successfully in the past as a “Director of Sales” that I could also do it today as a Founder.

Well I was wrong, very wrong and it almost killed my business. After experiencing great growth for 5 months we lost our amazing sales guy and I was so busy maintaining the roadmap, managing developers, supporting customers, paying bills, etc etc etc I had no plan to onboard any more sales people to ensure continuity. Not only that, I was approached by a couple of hungry, motivated, capable but inexperienced sales candidates and I actually thought I could teach them how to close.

That was a stupid and egotistical thing to do. And there began our 3 months of no growth. Well, to be fair, these guys did a great job of booking and doing demos, but they had no sense as to when to drop a lead or when to push for a credit card.

Compare that to the new sales guy we have that just took a 5k deal and turned it into a 100K deal on a 3 year contract… ya, he knows how to do that and could write a book on the subject. That is who you want to hire, someone who can teach you how to close a deal and turn it into a front-loaded 6 figure whale.

Oh and we’re on-boarding a cohort of two more experienced sales guys every quarter so we’ll never get caught with our pants down. The way we are doing this is dedicating one day a week to continuously running new candidates through a well thought out and rather long hiring process.

I picked Friday as my interview day which means every Friday we meet, interview, test, hangout with new candidates. Now we can always be relaxed and know that at any point in time we can pull the trigger and hire the best one or two candidates in our pipeline.

The Interview Process

Here’s my process and I’m sure it could be better but it’s working well. Each one of these steps is done a no less than a week apart.

Step 1: 15 minute phone interview

This is just to see if they are worth meeting with. You should approach them the same way you might do a short discovery call before deciding if a prospect is worth a demo. You don’t owe anyone 30-60 minutes of your precious time. One thing I like to see is if they candidate ask me questions and gets me to go over the 15 minutes without noticing it.

Step 2: 30 minutes in person interview

So this one is perhaps the hardest one to do right. It’s really easy to fall in love with a candidate way to quickly without knowing nearly as much as you need to. You simply can’t learn enough about someone in one sitting so don’t even try. This is the time when you want to ask them how they handle different situations and try to get enough of a gut feeling as to whether they have what it takes.

Step 3: Mock demo

There are many ways to make this happen but I like to have them come back into the office after a week of preparing a demo of our product. They job is to sell us our product in the same way we sell it ourselves. We aren’t expecting them to nail all the features or value propositions, rather we want to see if they know how to handle a demo and secure the next goal of the pipeline.

If they do happen to nail the features and value props then you know they did their homework. In fact the two guys we just hired in our most recent cohort did such a good job learning the product that we could have literally had them start that day.

Step 4: Reference Check

Do not skip this step, it’s really easy to drop the ball on references once someone kills it in the interview and mock demos but I think this is crucial and I simply won’t hire someone unless I speak to 2 appropriate references.

Step 5: The Offer Meeting

At this point you have hopefully already discussed the way you structure your employment agreements so there are no surprises and this offer should align with that. I like taking another week before making the offer while letting them know they are in the final stages and that we are making a decision between them and other good candidates.

If they are solid candidates out in the market then they are probably fielding other offers and this gives them the chance to make a decision to go with you. Again, this was the case with both guys in our most recent cohort and it’s comforting to know that we have to new sales guys that picked us as much as we picked them.

Get the bonus content: SaaS Sales Hiring Checklist

Well I think that will do for this post but if you want to be notified when I write more then make sure you sign up for my newsletter. My next post will probably be something like ‘How to structure expectations for the first three months’

If you have other questions about building a SaaS sales team please use the comment section below.

When a startup should hire a product manager

As as a product manager in Toronto who often acts as a strategic advisor to startups I often have conversations about when a startup should hire a product manager.  I have noticed a common inflection point at which I think startups need to make a strategic HR decision to hire a product manager.

I want to take a step back for a moment and talk about what a product manager does in an organization.  A PM is often described as the CEO of the product.  This is fairly accurate because the product is the central point of the business to which everyone is connected.  Similarly, the product manager is the person responsible to strategically manage the product, acting as the connection point between the product and every part of the business internally and externally.  Even if a company is built in silos, the product manager has to take the product and cut through all departments to ensure it’s success.

When a startup is just getting off the ground with a founder or two and perhaps a few additional team members, everyone is having a massive impact on the product.  These are the developers, designers and marketing people making version 1.0 in a totally flat and cross-functional organization.  It’s super easy to be collaborative and people are really excited and passionately taking ownership over the product.  I’ve been there a few times and I know how sensational it is.

If the team does a good job and creates something interesting, after three, six or nine months there will be some initial movement. This could take the form of investment capital or maybe some decent early adoption, perhaps some media buzz.  Inevitably people start to get pulled into their areas of specialty.  The founders are having more meetings with investors, the developers are squashing more and more bugs as early adopters start breaking things, marketing people are writing more copy, designers are making more landing pages, etc.  And all of a sudden the product, which is the whole reason for all this effort starts to get less attention.

What generally happens next is a resource decision to add people to the existing areas of specialty.  Another designer over here, a junior developer over there, and on the surface this makes sense.  It’s math right, like more cores in a processor… But I humbly disagree. What I suggest is making the next hire a product manager.  Why? because someone needs to be focused full time on the product.  This isn’t about taking ownership away from everyone else, rather allowing the whole team to do their respective jobs they specialize in while ensuring that the product is getting the strategic attention it needs.

A good product manager makes sure that all team members have their input on the product and understand the “why” and the “what”.  They should also be able to relieve bottle necks in different areas of operations to help everyone put their respective fires out until the business is doing well enough to hire more people.

If you’re a startup founder and you’re feeling the pain of growth then congratulations,  you’re off to a good start.  I hope this blog post gives you something to think about and helps guide you to the right resourcing decision for your team.

How To Hire And Keep Web Developers

In this blog post I write about some key lessons I’ve learned regarding how to hire and keep web developers.


If you are in the same position I am, you spend a lot of time hiring and keeping web developers.  If you have done this for any length of time you know just how hard it is.   I don’t think there is a tougher industry to be recruiting and leading in today.

The demand for web developers is extremely high and it just keeps growing.  I’ve tried every strategy I can think of to find talent and I’ve come up with some realizations that I’d like to share with you.

Before I move forward, I have to suggest that you read ‘Good To Great’ by Jim Collins. Pay particular attention to chapter 3 where he writes about putting the right people on the bus.

Don’t hire the smartest people you can find.  Yeah, that’s right, I said it.  The success of your business will not depend on the collective IQ if your team.  Where’s the proof?   Think about 95% of startups that fail even though they are filled to the brim with ridiculously over paid geniuses.  Of course your team members need to be smart (enough).   But, as long as the are in the  intellectual ball park you should focus your hiring decisions on personality, attitude and motivations.

Take more time than you want to.  It takes more money and more time to build something when you have to keep re-hiring in the build process.  I personally don’t make an offer unless I’ve had at least 4 calculated interactions with a candidate.  The last meeting I have is social.  I take them out for dinner, and if they are married I invite their spouse.  Some people are surprised by this but I don’t want someone whose spouse doesn’t support them working for me.  I got this idea from Dave Ramsey’s latest book ‘Entreleadership’

Test all of your candidates… all of them!  After my first interview I have them do a hand-written test of the programming languages in which they will be developing.  In addition to that, after a follow-up hour long interview I have everyone perform a whole day of coding.  We give everyone the same task so we can compare all our candidates on the same base line.   When I tell recruiters this they generally cringe but since I’m not in the business of making recruiters lives easier, I don’t really care.  Which brings me to my next point.

Be cautious with recruiting firms.  The allure of recruiters is strong and I do use them but in limited doses.  Before signing with any recruitment company I ask them for blind resumes of candidates that I will have the chance to meet if I sign with them.  Their concern is for their business, which is getting people hired.  They are not concerned about the success of your business.

Do not pay top dollar.  Sorry guys, if you want to be part of my team you’re going to have to show me that it’s not just about the money.  I do strongly advocate paying people fairly according to their market value.   Still, if you think you can win the best people by buying them you’re going to end up with turn-over.   Nothing costs more than re-hiring.  A great way to measure someone’s market value is by using Payscale.com.  Remember, if they are only in it for the money they will leave the minute someone offers them more.  Someone will always offer them more.

Treat people the way you want to be treated.  OK, this is a huge topic and it needs to be part of every interaction you have with everyone in your life.  Thus, if you want a motivated team that is loyal to the company and its mission, DO NOT say or do things that you would not like directed at yourself.  For a great podcast on this topic listen to this Entreleadership podcast titled ‘The Golden Rule In Business’.

Well I hope these tactics help you figure out how to hire and keep web developers.  The right team members make all the difference.  If you have other suggestions or insights from your own experiences please leave them in the comments below.

Happy hunting!

How To Create A WOW Experience


In this post I hope to shed some light on how to create a wow experience for your customers.

Many companies and business leaders talk about the concept of WOW but few, unfortunately, actually take the time to teach their customers or their staff what it means.  It really is more than just a word that sounds good and when you break it down a little you start to see how vital it really is.
One company that strives to master WOW is Zappos.  They define WOW as the following…

“WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.

Whether internally with co-workers or externally with our customers and partners, delivering WOW results in word of mouth. Our philosophy at Zappos is to WOW with service and experience, not with anything that relates directly to monetary compensation (for example, we don’t offer blanket discounts or promotions to customers).

We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.”

Zappos have really hit the nail on the head with this description and I especially love how they talk about creating an internal culture of WOW.  For them, it’s not just about their customers, but they include vendors and co-workers.  Wouldn’t you love to work at a company that teaches your team members how to create WOW experiences for each other?… (now take 30 seconds to day dream about that… yeah that’s nice…)
So, I think this company is saying that the essence of WOW is that gap between expectation and experience.  Here is a simple process you can use to make sure that whatever you are creating strives to exceed expectations.
Make something you would use yourself.  
Take a look at Mint.com.  When you use this website you get the ense that the people making this amazing personal finance tool use it themselves and love it.   Their numerous accolades speak for themselves.
Solve a problem in an unexpected way.
The first example that comes to my mind is a great book by the guys at ’37signals’ entitled Rework.  These guys produced a business leadership book that deals with chapters a completely novel way.  That alone made me want to read it and I’m glad I did because I gained valuable ideas that I have implemented at my own workplace.
Excede expectations.
I would say that the master of this trait is Apple.  There is a reason that I’m writing this post on an expensive Macbook Pro and that I make all my calls from an iPhone.  I appreciate that Apple puts the time into the finishing touches like no other tech company I have seen.  It also explains why they have been setting all the trends since 2005.
So if you’re asking yourself, “how do I do this?” Try answering the following three  questions :

  1. What does a user expect when they encounter my product?
  2. What does failing to meet the users expectations look like?
  3. What does exceeding the users expectations look like?

For a great podcast on this subject check out MichaelHyatt.com

Well I hope this post helps shed some light on the concept of WOW, making it more that just a new trendy word in the business leadership world.  Now keep in mind, it’s probably not possible to make everything a WOW experience, but it should certainly be the norm within the main value offerings of any business.

Please let me know about any WOW experiences you have encountered in the comments below!

3 Ways To Let Your Team Members Know How To Succeed

Ask any business leaders if they believe it’s their job to make sure their team members are equipped with the necessary tools to perform their jobs, they would answer yes, of course.

So why is it that emplyees who get all the new office equipment still often feel they don’t get the support they need, while others work in much less attractive settings but are able to perform with success and enthusiasm?

Well the truth is, the tools that really help someone accomplish their work and feel motivated are the intangibles that are much harder to foster.   Thankfully, like everything else, the harder something is, the more benefit that comes.

From my experience managing teams, these are the most important 3 ways to let your team members know how to succeed.

  1. Communication.

    How are you communicating with the individual members of your team?  Do you speak to them all the same way? Have you ever considered what their personal communication needs are? Some of your team members need to be spoken to in a short and direct form, whereas others need to be suggested things in a more conversational way.

    The challenging part is finding out what ways each person operates and a very useful resource is Dan Millers website 48days.com where you can access personality assessments for your whole team. He offer tools that help you figure out exactly who you are dealing with and what their personality strengths are. This is also essential in order to put them in the positions in which they shine.  It’s about getting the right people in the right seats and communicating with them so they know how to shine.

  2. Key Result Areas.

    Do your team members know exactly what they need to do in order to win every day? If your answer is no, then you have a problem. As a business leader, one of the most important things to do is make sure your team members feel confident they know how to be successful.

    Think about it, who is more motivated, someone who is running toward a goal they can see, or someone who is running with no idea why? Every person you lead should know exactly what their KRA’s are so they can be motivated, and very importantly, accountable.  For a great explanation of KRA’s check out Dave Ramsey’s book titled Entreleadership.

  3. Regular Engagement.

    So let’s say your have your staff take personality assessments and you’ve read them over.  You’ve also sat with each one of them and detailed their Key Result Areas and each person you lead knows exactly how to win each and every day.  What do you do now? Well, now you take all this information and engage them regularly.

    I think daily engagement is probably the right amount for most roles, but of course there are cases where it might not be practical or it may even be detrimental.  The point is, it needs to be regular, and of high quality. I start every day off with a meeting with my team in which we go over what we accomplished the previous day, and we set the priorities for that day.  This keeps things moving and keeps people actively engaged in their KRA’s.

These are just a few tools/practices that help me keep my team productive and I can assure you there is much more to write on these topics.   Along with the resources I’ve mentioned above, I suggest reading books by Jim Collins.  These are mandatory readings for my team members.