Simon, give us an overview of your previous work in sales to get us started. Which clients have you worked with?
Simon: I have spent the last few years helping to build up various companies such as Fab.com or Vade, partly as co-founder and partly as sales manager. The biggest success so far has certainly been Doctolib. I was there in Germany from the very beginning and helped to ramp up the German market. From 0 to just under 100 employees. I then retired operationally at the end of 2018. The interesting thing about Doctolib from a business perspective is that as a SaaS company it brings a high level of complexity, for example in the onboarding of physicians.
Many teams have tried to crack the German physician market. Then you and Doctolib came along and you did it. What was the secret of your success?
Simon: The others didn’t do much wrong. We just worked a little harder. For example, we have provided a tremendous amount of service to medical practices that software companies in particular are not classically willing to provide. For example, when practices have had problems with their printer driver, we’ve helped them, and we’ve helped them on the spot. We were only able to do that in this way because we were very heavily financed from France. That being said, we have built a sales organization with a strong team culture and a sports winning culture. Out of this strong cohesion and ambition, we have connected city by city to Doctolib. Timing always plays a role, of course, but in the end, I think we simply provided the better service.
Timing always plays a role, of course, but in the end, I think we simply provided the better service.
What experiences have you had as an investor entering a new market, with regard to building the necessary sales organization?
Christoph: Sales is incredibly difficult and is underestimated by most investors. Many business plans that we see present it so simply: You just want to go to Sweden or England now. We are then skeptical at first. There are many boxes to be checked off before we support these plans. One of the most important prerequisites is that companies have a top sales executive who is on fire for the topic and then builds a powerful sales organization.
What did you look for when hiring employees?
Simon: What we didn’t realize at the beginning is that there are no ready-made sales people on the market that you can hire like that. Especially with SaaS companies in a field that is still relatively young, you have almost no opportunities to draw on experienced people.
Then you are faced with the question: Do you hire career starters or do you rely on experienced sales people from other industries? The boys are very motivated and work hard, but you have to teach them a lot. It takes 6 to 12 months for them to wear. The more experienced ones want a lot of money and often do not perform well. This is a fundamental sales problem: 99 percent of salespeople actually do account management, and only a few are capable of making real cold calls. We therefore had to invest a lot to train young people and could not scale as quickly as originally planned.
There are no ready-made sales people on the market that you can hire like that. Especially with SaaS companies in a field that is still relatively young, you have almost no opportunities to draw on experienced people.
I have observed two approaches in sales: Some companies divide organizationally into Hunting and Farming, the customer has contact with multiple sales people, and others take the opposite approach with “one face to the customer.” How did you do it?
Simon: We have divided into Hunting, Closing, Training and Farming, but each salesperson is responsible for all steps in his or her area as an entrepreneur. That is, the person who made the appointment with the doctor convinces the doctor, onboards the practice, and then follows up after six months to see if the practice is running.
It’s complex and demanding, and there are very few sales people who have the different skills needed to do it. But I think this approach was crucial to our success. Because that’s how excellent service is created. With many other players, I have observed that service was done by the book. Then it’s much harder to convince doctors to listen to you.
Because of the high level of complexity, onboarding is housed in account management, but the sales person does not hand over completely, but is liable for six months to see whether the doctor is still there. In this way, we counteract a hit-and-run mentality that otherwise often prevails in sales and that does not work in SaaS. With SaaS, the customer tests you and you have gained nothing, but only had enormous effort if he leaves after two weeks dissatisfied.
We have divided into Hunting, Closing, Training and Farming, but each salesperson is responsible for all the steps in his or her territory as an entrepreneur.
Let’s talk about sales force selection. What are you paying attention to and what was your success rate? I have often been wrong about a third. The employees could not and had to leave again. Another third can and are poached and a third are good and stay.
Simon: In my operational days, it tended to divide into one-third that left and two-thirds that stayed. Our strong team culture and strong growth prevented the final third from going. But the main problem is finding people who have the basic passion for sales. Because what we do is hard work. We worked door to door at the beginning. In snow and rain. If you’re not up for it, you’ll burn out after six to eight months. The second important factor is self-confidence. This must be true. Unfortunately, it’s often only after six months that you can tell whether an employee brings both to the table.
If you were to receive another offer from a SaaS company as Managing Director for Germany with a focus on sales: What would you look for? What does the company need to bring?
Simon: There’s nothing stronger than a growth story with the traction to match. Especially in startups and smaller companies, executives are equity driven. It was always very important for me not only to have ownership in the matter, but also to actually have it, or at least to be able to have it. If I invest years of my life and put my heart and soul into regularly working 100 hours a week, then I also want the company to become more than just an averagely successful company. My impression is that many good sales people feel this way.
In the end, you want to be successful. It’s like sports. At the end of the day, I want to reach the Champions League and win. So I have to be up for the industry and I have to believe in the product, in the company, and in the leadership of that company, which I then become part of. If I play for Borussia Dortmund and another club wants to poach me, I also ask myself: Will it be better there? What can we achieve together? In my view, too little emphasis is currently placed on the corporate story in scouting. What is the vision? Where can we go and how can we do it? If you don’t communicate that clearly, you can’t sell the product.
In the end, you want to be successful. It’s like sports. At the end of the day, I want to reach the Champions League and win. If I play for Borussia Dortmund and another club wants to poach me, I also ask myself: Will it be better there? What can we achieve together?
What qualities do you think a perfect sales manager needs to possess?
Christoph: He has to be like another shareholder for the company. He should have done good due diligence, understand what vision you are working on, be smart and be on fire for sales. The latter is the core challenge. It’s hard to find someone who is passionate about sales as an entrepreneurial endeavor. If we have such a person, then as partners and investors we also dare to venture into new markets.