How to Scale Past Founder-led Sales for Agencies & B2B

Sales. It can be the most exhilarating ride or crushing low point in your growth strategy.

And one of the biggest challenges to overcome in the incessant quest for new revenue and expanding pipeline opportunity is the huge challenge that is moving away from founder led sales.

Founder-led sales

To understand this problem we must first start by covering what ‘founder sales’ is and why it’s important. And it all comes from a positive place. The challenge, of course, is that ‘what got you here won’t get you there.’

Most successful B2B businesses – and this is especially true for agencies and consultancies – are ground into life through pure determination and skill from a particularly sales-orientated founder. That doesn’t mean they are someone who would do well selling double glazing, far from it, but they will quite often be high EQ consultative sales experts who can convince those they work with to trust them to deliver expertise and results.

For some time in their growth process this is not only very effective but is also necessary; businesses buying B2B services particularly want to see the founder involved. They want to feel like they are getting the attention from the top and will often buy for that very reason.

The problem, of course, is that this becomes limiting in the medium term and once a business reaches a certain level – be that in head count and/or revenue – it is an imperative that the business moves away from this and into the scale-up era.

Scaling sales

So, how do you make such a change? How do you move from reliance on a founder to sell and close most deals and opportunities?

The answer is relatively straightforward, but equally very difficult to execute.

The answer? Process.

Extracting Knowledge

In order to start the process of moving to an enterprise sales process you must start by understanding everything the founder does in order to effectively create and close sales opportunities.

Often this means understanding this on multiple layers as the approach will look different depending on the stage of the business and the stage and source of the opportunity.

Adapting Sales Strategies for Different Growth Stages

As a company evolves, so must its sales strategies. According to Bryan and Sangram’s 3P model from their book MOVE, different stages require different approaches:

Problem-Market Fit

In the early stages, founder-led sales are crucial. There’s no substitute for the founder’s direct involvement.

However, complementary sales efforts can ease this burden. Employ less expensive reps who can follow the founder’s style and manage follow-ups and nurturing while the founder focuses on high-impact meetings.

Technical founders and those with sales/marketing backgrounds will require different kinds of support.

Product-Market Fit

Once you reach product-market fit, it’s time to introduce a layer of sales leadership. This leadership should manage a small team of skilled sellers while the founder remains heavily involved in training and closing key deals. Segmenting sales by capabilities, such as BDRs, SMB, mid-market, and enterprise reps, becomes essential at this stage.

Platform-Market Fit

At this stage, formalise and scale your sales operations. Prematurely attempting this approach can lead to failure. Develop formal sales training, tracking, and enablement programs. Hire diverse sales talents to create a well-rounded team. The founder should focus on large enterprise deals and team motivation at Sales Kick-Offs (SKOs).

Founder-Led Pipeline Development

Founders typically develop pipelines in one of four ways:

1. Leveraging the Founder’s Network and Personal Brand

   – Current Approach: The founder uses their network to find market-ready individuals who trust their expertise.

   – Scaling Strategy: Build partnerships with key allies, land influential brands to drive engagement, and create an active thought leadership program. Formalise social media strategies and ensure the founder maintains active engagement.

   – Pitfall: The founder should avoid disengaging too quickly and must remain involved in prospect engagement.

2. Custom Builds for Specific Clients or Industries

   – Current Approach: The founder creates a custom solution for a major client with hopes of scaling it.

   – Scaling Strategy: Identify standardizable components and develop segmentation and value structures for campaigns. Build a reputation in the initial industry with testimonials and case studies.

   – Pitfall: Ensure testimonials highlight scalable attributes rather than one-off skills.

3. Traditional Inbound and Outbound

   – Current Approach: Founders with a strong product but less personal branding rely on traditional lead generation methods.

   – Scaling Strategy: Evaluate pipeline fit and adjust to target high-value customers. Use partners to gain traction with the right audiences.

   – Pitfall: Avoid targeting an overly broad market. Focus on the Total Relevant Market (TRM) rather than the Total Addressable Market (TAM).

4. Events and Community

   – Current Approach: The founder attends numerous industry events to generate leads and build the brand.

   – Scaling Strategy: Train thought leaders to represent the company, expand into new verticals or locations, and develop consistent thought leadership for events. Hire people comfortable with events for various roles.

   – Pitfall: Avoid spreading the founder too thin. Be selective with events and ensure consistency in messaging.

Closing the Deal

Founders play a pivotal role in closing deals, even as the company scales. They often remain involved in closing large enterprise deals, even in billion-dollar public companies.

1. Founder’s Reputation and Network

   – Current Approach: The founder impresses buyers with knowledge and experience.

   – Scaling Strategy: Teach sellers key triggers for decision-making, share founder knowledge through scalable content, and elevate other executives as public figures.

   – Pitfall: Avoid creating an expectation for the founder to close all deals. Provide group interactions if needed.

2. Flexible Pricing

   – Current Approach: Founders offer pricing flexibility to close deals, relying on lifetime value.

   – Scaling Strategy: Develop guidelines for flexible pricing and fast approval processes. Implement modular pricing and foster a culture of forgiveness for overselling.

   – Pitfall: Ensure the entire go-to-market (GTM) team is aligned with flexible pricing strategies.

3. Flexible Product

   – Current Approach: Founders quickly adapt products to meet buyer needs.

   – Scaling Strategy: Establish guidelines for product customizations during sales cycles and align product teams with sales goals.

   – Pitfall: Recognize the product team’s efforts in closing deals driven by product enhancements.

4. Referrals and Customer Passion

   – Current Approach: Deals come from partner and customer referrals, driven by the founder’s passion.

   – Scaling Strategy: Develop scalable referral programs and ambassador networks. Encourage customer stories and make it rewarding for others to promote your solution.

In summary, founders are integral to both pipeline development and deal closing, but strategies must evolve to accommodate growth. Founders can gradually extricate themselves from day-to-day sales as the company scales, focusing on high-value engagements and strategic oversight.

We will dive into the exact process senior teams should follow in building out that strategy from ground zero in a future guide, where we will dive into everything from organisational structure and resourcing to tech stacks, incentives and how that plays into customer success and upsell/cross sell.