Steli Efti is the Co-Founder/CEO of ElasticSales and Close.io.

Learning how to sell effectively is a major hurdle for growing businesses. Steli has run large scale campaigns with over 200 venture-backed startups to build and scale their sales processes.

Close.io is a sales communication platform which allows salespeople to spend less time entering data and more time closing deals. Seamless voice integration with Pilvo makes Close.io a unique offering in the CRM world.

 

What is Close.io and how does it differ from other sales tools?

Close.io is a sales communication platform that makes helps you to focus on the core activity that drives revenue: communicating with prospects and customers. Send more emails, make more and better calls.

There are a lot of sales CRMs that are made for management – but Close.io is made for the individual sales rep. Less manual data entry, minimum number of clicks, simple interfaces.

The cool thing is it’s good for management as well. Since we don’t rely on humans telling us when they made calls or sent emails but use our software to track all sales activities we don’t just have more data but more accurate and useful data for management.

We’ve build a pretty unbelievable search engine on top of Close.io that will blow your socks off accessing amazing data sets, but at the end of the day, none of that matters to us if we don’t empower our sales users to crush it everyday by helping them make more sales and close more deals.

 

What does your average small to medium-size business need to know about sales as we head into 2015?

A targeted, focused, high-quality approach is a lot better than casting a wide net and reaching out to a high quantity of prospects. Go deep into one vertical rather than spreading yourself too thin horizontally. There are a lot of shiny new objects and fancy theories out there, but if you focus on getting the fundamentals right, you’ll achieve so much more.

Sales is simple. Show up. Follow up & follow through. Go for the close! Keep your promises and take risks. If you can do that consistently, every day, you’re going to crush it in 2015!

 

When should salespeople work from a script?

Salespeople should always have a script and know it by heart. That doesn’t mean they read from it or just recite it by memory but rather that they have designed their sales conversations to be effective and have a roadmap that progresses the conversation to a desired outcome.

Most sales people don’t like to use scripts because they feel like it stops their creativity and individualism. That’s BS. You can always deviate from it whenever you feel like you have something better to offer. But having a script will make sure that everyone on the team, even on bad days, performs at a specific standard of professionalism.

Think of athletes practicing certain plays and routines. That doesn’t mean that on the field that’s all they will do. But it prepares them to perform at the highest level and builds “muscle memory”. You want to do the same in your sales team.

[Tweet “”Salespeople should always have a script and know it by heart.” – @Steli”]

 

What’s the biggest mistake startups make when it comes to sales?

They try to find “a sales guy” to close deals for them. There’s too little involvement from the top. You really don’t want to delegate the responsibility for getting customers to a sales professional if you haven’t yourself developed a working sales model yet.

As a founder or CEO, you should be the one in charge of bringing in your first sales and creating your first sales process – and once you’ve figured out the basics, once you’ve got your sales machine running somewhat smoothly and predictably, then you bring in a sales pro who can refine, optimize and scale based upon what you’ve already built.

 

What is The Unscalable Startup?

It’s based on an idea Paul Graham conveys in one of his essays “Do things that don’t scale”. It’s actually common sense advice if you really look at it. There aren’t any genius growth hacks, viral marketing blitzkriegs or amazing marketing stunts in this book. Instead, it’s really focused on fundamentals. A lot of it seems so obvious that most people overlook it.

It’s funny that someone has to write a book on that, but I see so many startups getting lost in fancy highfalutin ideas when they really should go back to the basics – because that’s how they gain traction, that’s how they’ll grow, that’s how they’ll get to product market fit and scale. It’s very tempting to go for the shiny new object, and especially because many startup founders are highly intelligent, they fall in love with clever ideas and complex schemes – and these things are beautiful in theory, they’re beautiful as a mental construct, but they’re terrible in the real world where you have to execute fast and get things done. Too much friction, not enough speed.

Unscalable Startup tactics include “shocking” things like visiting your customers/users, having everyone on the team do support and do things manually until they are proven to be worthy of automation and scale 🙂

 

How do you go about scaling your sales team internationally?

There’s a lot of complexity involved in doing this, and it’s a lot harder than people anticipate. So you want to do this gradually, kind of like in small concentric circles that are then becoming wider and wider.

Take little steps, not giant leaps:

Start expanding into countries that speak the same language and ideally are culturally somewhat similar. Start by expanding into them from your current offices, rather than setting up offices there. Start by having your current sales people sell into those markets.

When you sell into foreign language markets, do the same: find people who speak the foreign language, but have them sell from your office in your own language first for a month or so. Then have them reach out into the country, but still from within your office, so you can experience first hand what’s happening.

Visit the foreign country together with your sales person to start networking and understanding the environment you’ll be operating in. Then establish an “office” in that country. It can first be a virtual office where your core team is doing this from their homes, and once they bring in the numbers you provide them with the budget to open a real office.

I’ve written a blog post about scaling international sales teams that includes details and with examples from various companies.

 

What are the most important things to look for when hiring a new salesperson?

The most important thing for a salesperson is to be consistent. This is a tough one, because it’s not something you can immediately see when you’re hiring. It takes some time to tell whether they are able to deliver sales consistently. Day in and day out. No matter how they feel, what the economy is like or whether there’s rain or sunshine. They just do the work, day after day after day.

A lot of companies hire charismatic people – but it’s important to distinguish between someone who is really great at selling themselves versus someone who will be great at selling your product. So when you hire, always hire on probation first, and see how consistent they perform over time.

Some of the best sales people I’ve met aren’t the good-looking, smooth-talking, mesmerizing people you might think of when imagining top producers. Which is great, because it shows that no matter what body you were born into, if you’re willing to put in the consistent hard work, you can become very successful practicing the craft of sales.

What’s the best sales advice you ever received?

One of the most powerful lessons I’ve ever learned in sales was actually one of the very first lessons I learned in the trade when I was just 18 years old.

I was taken under the wing of one of the most successful sales directors in my area and one day he decide to do a little sales training session with me. The setup was simple. I was to role-play a hyper critical customer. He would be the salesman. My task was to throw as many objections his way as possible.

For every hypothetical objection I raised, he turned the question back on me: What would you propose would be a solution to this dilemma? When I proposed a solution, he put the onus on me to find an acceptable solution.

The sales director told me,

“He who asks all the questions is controlling the direction of the conversation. Sales is all about asking questions and actively listening and very little about talking.”

That was probably the most profound advice I have ever gotten regarding sales and it triggered a major mindshift in me on what good communication is really all about.

[Tweet “He who asks the questions controls the conversation. – @Steli”]

 

What is the best sales advice you ever received? Tell us in the comments.

 

For more from Steli, check out Close.io’s Free Startup Sales Success Email Course or watch his Pioneers Festival talk on startup sales.


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