Coordinating an enterprise sales cycle can be a little bit like conducting a symphony: Each movement of music has to transfer smoothly into the next, without losing the attention of the audience.
Lauren Pufpaf is the conductor at Feed.FM, a business-to-business music platform that helps brands share music legally with their customers. Her sales team has found a niche with fitness companies, with customers like ClassPass, Tonal, and Daily Burn. Those brands use Feed.FM to handle the curation, licensing, and royalty payments for copyrighted music played during classes or within their app.
“It’s incredibly difficult to work with labels, and get major label music,” Pufpaf explains.
Refining the sales process has been key for the success of the 15-person, San Francisco-based startup, Pufpaf tells Ali at Rho. Here are Pufpaf’s top four strategies to create and improve your sales cycle.
1. Capture data and customize
Sales cycles usually follow a common pattern: “Each company does something a little bit unique, but typically it starts with a lead and then goes through to discovery — some conversation to see if there’s a fit, if there’s interest, if they have the budget, etc. — and then into validation,” Pufpaf says. “That’s typically when you get the other buyers on board, like IT, finance, and product. Then it goes to a proposal, and then it’s hopefully closed and won.”
If gathered correctly, data from early sales calls can be a key indicator of product market fit, she explains. Feed.FM, which experimented with selling into a variety of industries before defining a focus in fitness, used feedback from sales to determine the course of the business.
“We had our hypothesis about who our buyers would be, and went out vertical by vertical and approached it similarly to a [marketing] campaign,” she says. “We worked with folks in the mobile gaming space, but that wasn’t really our winner. We’ve worked with a lot of retail companies, but retail is a very challenging space right now.”
“We methodically went through until we found product market fit,” she continues. “The interesting thing about product market fit that everyone will tell you, is, ‘You know it when you have it, and you know it when you don’t, but you can’t define it.’ That’s not helpful advice at all. So one of our ‘ah ha’ moments was realizing we’ve got to find ways to measure our sales cycles and our response from the market more methodically, so we can say ‘This is it.’”
When your sales team is just getting started, it’s critically important to collect data on how clients move through that funnel, she advises.
“Whether you’re using Salesforce or any other tool, be really disciplined about recording and entering everything in so that you can measure,” she says. That way, you’re able to learn from early efforts, and customize the funnel using what you’ve learned.
“We went through a few different iterations of how we think about our sales cycle, what the different stages are, before we landed on what really works for us,” Pufpaf adds. Early on, one thing she noticed was that the validation phase — when potential clients “kick the tires” on the technical elements of the product — was taking longer than other phases.
“We had to really break down that validation phase into different subphases,” she says. “Really getting much more methodical about every substep, because we were finding we’d get pretty far in the process, and then when it came time to push through the deeper technical elements and get the various buyers onboard, it was a little mushy.”
By spending more time with clients in the validation phase, Pufpaf was able to increase sales conversions and keep the funnel flowing.
“Breaking down each of the phases of your sales cycle into subphases can be super helpful,” she says.
2. Create a strategy for flexible pricing
Another lever at your disposal during the sales cycle is pricing. “As you’re figuring out each new vertical and refining your product offering, it’s really important to be flexible around pricing and pricing models,” Pufpaf says.
Pricing can be a tool to move the sales conversation forward when you need to regain footing.
“It matters when you have momentum, and when you have confidence,” she explains. “When things are slow, and you kind of lose that momentum, sometimes you just need something to get unstuck.”
But you need guidelines for your sales team on when to discount, and when to stand firm.
“We’re managing both to top line revenue growth and also to margin. If there’s room to play with margin a little bit on a particular deal, and the sales team just wants to push it through, we say, ‘Fine, that’s great go for it,’” she says. “But if we’re starting to get into territory that we’re just not comfortable with in terms of margin then those are good guardrails for pushing back.”
Pricing should be more than just a tool for discounts, Pufpaf advises: “It’s about figuring out how best you can align your pricing model with how customers are thinking about the expense.”
“We tend to focus really heavily on the ROI of music, not as a cost center, but as something that is going to impact your business in a positive way,” she explains. “Most of the companies we’re working with are also SaaS companies, so they’re looking to drive ongoing user retention and engagement. So for every customer we can help them keep for one month longer, that’s an extra, let’s say $20 to $50 a month. So we spend a lot of time upfront talking about ROI, and their business model, and making sure we can positively impact that.”
3. Provide ‘freedom within a framework’
One challenge in managing an enterprise sales team can be creating consistent messaging. You want to ensure potential clients all receive the same information, while leaving room for creativity.
Pufpaf says her approach is about giving her team “freedom within a framework.”
“Everybody delivers their pitch in a slightly different way, and that’s a good thing. You want it to be authentic to you as a salesperson,” she says. “We try to make sure that the value messaging is clear for everyone, and then beyond that, it’s up to you. You tell the story that works best for you.”
Pufpaf provides her team sales templates, with messaging and one-sheets updated on a monthly or quarterly basis. “Beyond that, it’s get out there and do your thing,” she says.
In addition to the content delivered during sales calls, your marketing team should be aligned to the same value messaging.
“[Enterprise] is a little bit harder than consumer in some ways, because you’re thinking about moving somebody through a sales cycle that is way more complex than, ‘click and buy these shoes,’” Pufpaf says. “So from a marketing perspective, being really thoughtful about the content you produce, and making sure it maps to various stages of the buying journey is really important.”
At Feed.FM, top of funnel content to drive awareness for the brand is about copyright laws and education on infringement. Lower in the funnel, content features client use cases, and more insights into the art and science of music curation.
4. Communication on the team is critical
For messaging to clients and prospects to be clear, communication internally needs to be clear. Pufpaf has a few tips to keep the lines of communication open.
First, she suggests spending time fully together as a group, even if you have remote employees.
“We are a distributed team, most of us are in the Bay area but not all,” she says. “We do a lot of video calls, and record things for folks who can’t attend, but we also try to be together a couple of days a week. You tend to be able to make decisions more quickly when you have time together.”
But instead of spending too much time in group wide meetings, she suggests adopting a standup structure. “I have 15 minute meetings with my curation team every Monday morning to make sure we all are clear on deliverables, any customer issues, any new customers that have come on board,” she explains. That way everyone can voice their questions, ideas and issues quickly.
And little tricks help: “Set your Google calendar settings so that the default is 30 minutes instead of an hour, because most of the time you don’t need an hour,” she says. “You end up filling it because it’s on the calendar but you don’t need it.”
Her last piece of advice is to create a culture that’s open and trusting.
“One thing that’s top of mind for me right now is the idea of creating an environment for your team where they are held accountable, but you also trust them to be adults and do the right thing,” she says. “It’s about building a team of mature and accountable experts who have the freedom and the ability to admit if something doesn’t go well, but then learn from it and move really quickly.”