Trust me, they do exist. 

Teem discussing project kanban board

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a 3-hour-long conversation with a startup founder friend, who was really, really struggling to get his sales game on. This person, while a brilliant product guy, has always thought of sales as his Achilles heel. Long story short, he's in the process of building his sales team, but can't seem to be able to hold on to these sales reps long enough to make them productive. 

I found that strange. He is a genuinely likeable person, and I have worked with him long enough to know that he's a fantastic boss. So… what was the problem here? Turns out, my friend's tech stack was deplorable. His teams were spending too much time doing busy work, too much time in training for tools that didn't work for them, too much time finding workarounds, too many spreadsheets, too many shared files, and too much clutter. 

There was a high degree of frustration with the tools (and the lack thereof), and the sales reps weren't feeling supported enough to achieve the sales targets he'd set for them. They had been making recommendations to him, of course, but he just hadn't had the headspace to evaluate these suggestions, or to act on them. 

Of course, he isn't alone in this. When I asked around in my startup communities, I got responses from several other entrepreneurs who were in similar boats. Entrepreneurs who don't have a background in sales often struggle with creating their sales process and sales tech stack. There is plenty of information out there, sure, but it can be hard to parse through it to get at what's needed. 

So, in the service of my peers who don't have the background, and definitely don't have the time to do the research involved, I've written a series of posts about the key tools that must be a part of the Sales process and sales tech stack. 

Let's dive into it. 

Video Conferencing tools

The most expensive is rarely the best. 

Your sales reps are spending increasing amounts of time on video product demos, video meetings, and so on. Your video conferencing tool is one of the main workhorses of your sales process. The last thing you want to do is be stuck with a tool that doesn't give your sales reps the right presenter options, or participant controls, and has performance issues. You also don't want conferencing tools that force your clients to have to download apps and clients. You want something that is seamless and intuitive and easy. 

I evaluated seven different video conferencing tools, and of course, my sales team picked Zoom. The internal lot like using Google meet for brainstorming sessions, sure. But the sales team swear by Zoom because of the presenter tools. Honestly, they're a class apart. My team even spends time seeking out training, and that tells me everything I need to know. 

Email Tracking Tools 

If you aren't using an email tracking tool, you're missing out on a goldmine of information about what is working with your email campaigns and what isn't. What you're also missing out on are massive time savings. Email tracking tools give us invaluable metrics like email open rates, the volume of clicks on links in emails, and the number of downloads of email attachments. 

What this means is your team can not only send out personalized emails en masse using templates that are customized to the buyer persona, industry, and whatever way you slice your leads data, but they can also set up rules for intelligent follow-up. Now, your team can follow up only with those folks that have opened your email. A slightly different follow-up strategy for those who have opened your email and downloaded the attachment or clicked through certain links, a slightly different follow-up strategy for those who haven't read your email, and so on. 

What this also means is that your team can work out which email campaigns are performing better than others. They can even do A/B testing to fine-tune their email campaigns. 

I evaluated 6 different email tracking tools and while my team and I salivated over Reply, what we finally went with is MixMax. It's a really, really intelligent product. There are a bunch of time-saving features my team loves. My favorite is the reminders feature which is highly customisable - I can be alerted when someone hasn't read my email in 3 days, or read it and not responded, or read it x number of times and so on. It's just beautiful. 

Sales Intelligence Tools 

The top-of-the-mind question for any novice sales rep is: where do I start? Where do I find my customers? How do I build my client/prospect list? The answer: sales intelligence tools. 

Sales intelligence software works by continuously crawling millions of publicly available websites, gathering relevant data, and matching it to profiles in its database. This means that with the right tool, basis your criteria, you have verified lists of customers with up-to-date contact information (often, with preferences!). The really good sales intelligence tools don't stop there - they help you narrow this list to those customers who are ready to buy. See how that would give you greater returns on sales rep effort and a much shorter sales cycle? 

I evaluated 5 tools, and while there were cheaper options, we sprung for LinkedIn Sales Navigator. It is, hands down, one of the best out there. It delivers on its promise. The UI is uncluttered and really easy to use, and it allows my team to filter down to a really granular level. Moreover, it doesn't wait for you to run the search again and again. Once you've set criteria, it'll keep adding people to it. It's sort of like the gift that keeps on giving. 

CPQ and Proposal Software 

This is probably one of the biggest time sinks for your team: it takes time to get a quote right, of course. Your salespeople have to make sure they're promising the right configurations, consulting the right people, using the latest pricing information, and applying the right discounts… all before they even get approvals sorted out. Of course, things change right up till the last minute, causing mountains of rework. 

Now, there are two ways to do proposals - one is by using CPQ software which, honestly, you don't need when you're a small startup. It's overkill at this stage, but good to know about for when you grow to that size down the line. The other way to do it is by using proposal software. It automates the bulk of the work involved, and lets all stakeholders collaborate in real-time. By and large, the first version of the proposal these tools generate is much more professional looking than what your team would do, unaided. 

I evaluated two CPQ tools and two proposal tools. When SmartCue scales to that level, the CPQ I want is DealHub. The UI is clean and user-friendly, and performance and offering-wise, it can go toe-to-toe with much more expensive tools and still come out on top. For Proposal tools, my team and I love Proposify. The UI is intuitive, there are lots of custom templates, and it comes with a number of automation that will save us a lot of time.

Sales Enablement Tools 

Sales enablement tools, as their name suggests, make sales and engagement easier. The bigger, holistic tools cover every step of your sales process and add value to each. These tools are cross-functional, and unite product marketing, content creators, sales ops and training into one large, aligned ecosystem. 

Of course, if you're an early-stage startup like SmartCue in 2022, that's a sword when you need a knife. The other kind of sales enablement tool is point solutions that zero in on specific problems that need focused (yet flexible!) solutions. 

I evaluated two holistic tools and three-point solutions, and for us, the clear winner is Guru. It is perfect for startups - it makes it very easy to create compelling content, works as a company-wide wiki, has powerful search functions, and my team and I love the organizing principle of Guru cards. 

Live Chat Solutions 

If you don't have a live chat solution yet, you're missing out on a key source of good leads. In-context chat on your website can greatly improve engagement - if they have a question, they can ask a person. If they are looking for a salesperson, one is available to chat with them in real time. It's a great start to the relationship. 

Much of the work involved can also be automated with chatbots, and honestly, the best ones out there are indistinguishable from human beings. Once you've trained your chatbot, your sales team have access to a stream of qualified, nurtured leads. 

I researched three great live chat solutions. They each have a lot to offer, but Intercom edged out as a winner because of not just its strong live chat functionality (which allows me to communicate with my website visitors with targeted content, behaviour-driven messages, and conversational support), but because of how easy it is to use. Plus, it lets me integrate all my messaging into one platform. Win, win, win, win! 

Demo Automation Solutions 

Your demo is where the rubber meets the road. The client needs to see the product in action, and they need to see it solve their problems. This means customisation. This means your sales engineer is going to spend a huge chunk of his time making demos, as opposed to participating in discovery, working with the sales reps to fine-tune positioning, and of course, with technical teams during implementation. 

That's a waste of a good sales engineer. Moreover, custom demos mean that sales reps need to be absolutely on point with their product knowledge, in the context of the client's needs. That takes a lot of practice - something that a rep rarely has time for, given that they're also attending meetings, building relationships, running email campaigns, etc. etc. 

This is why you need SmartCue. Not only does SmartCue make demo creation easy and fast, it also makes it really easy on the sales rep too. You see, SmartCue lets Sales Engineers build in contextual, smart 'cues' based on where the mouse pointer is. This way, your sales reps don't need scripts - no more memorization, no more tripping over jargon, and no more panic when the prospect wants to explore a part of the screen the sales rep isn't familiar with. As long as your sales reps have made other demos on that unknown screen, SmartCue can pull cues from there. 

Moreover, SmartCue manages the agenda. So, your sales rep doesn't need to skip a beat when the prospect wants to break the sequence and go explore functionality as it suits them. Your sales reps can let them lead, and when they return, SmartCue cues them right back to the agenda, making sure nothing gets missed out. 

The result? Smooth demos. Confident reps. Well-rested and much more productive sales engineers. More customers, and happier customers. 


Isometric people working with technology

Of course, you don't need to build your stack all at once. Prioritize according to your biggest pain points. Get your team on board (please, don't do this alone!) and let them evaluate all the tools I've mentioned here. In fact, if you have the time, treat this list as a jumping-off point and do your research. Reach out to your community and get their recommendations. 

But ultimately, let your team have the final say. The best tool in the world is useless if your team doesn't use it. When your team picks their own tools, it's a triple win: they appreciate being given the additional responsibility, and they feel like a part of the business when you let them decide, and you know they'll use it. In my world, that's worth everything.