Growing Sustainably: How to Manage your Team While Expanding Your Venture
When building your venture, it’s not uncommon to be focused on just surviving, and not growth. For too many founders, the idea of managing growth comes after too many hiring missteps and turnover. Starting out, it might not have been your dream to manage and grow a team, but it’s a reality that comes along with a successful business.
As you consider adding to your team, keep these common lessons front of mind.
Don’t scale until you know your metrics
Think of growing your team like stretching a rubber band--wait until you’ve stretched your band as far as it can go, close to snapping, to start hiring. You don’t want to scale until you’ve stretched as far as you can, because you’ll see exactly where your band is about to snap. You’ll know exactly where you need to grow.
That means having a clear idea of your sales metrics and projected growth. While your sales process is constantly in flux, you need to know where you’re headed before finding someone to take you there. Have a good sense of your product-market fit, understand where your sales strategy is going, and think about how quickly you’ll continue to grow.
Growing too fast has its own consequences. You might hire a talented team but with no understanding of growth, you have no choice but to let them go when you underestimate the rate of growth. Aim for sustainable growth through an understanding of your sales metrics.
Growing sales is tricky
When your business begins to grow, the first shoes you’ll be pressured to fill is a solid sales team. Growing your sales team can be the biggest value creator in your venture. However, your sales representatives are also the most difficult hires to keep; in other words, they are the employees with the highest turnover. A 2018 study found that the average tenure of a sales rep at a company is a measly 1.5 years. In today’s competitive sales landscape, this might not sound too horrible, but when you consider it takes close to 3 months on average to train a sales rep, this becomes an issue.
As you grow and hire, keep in mind what will make your company appealing to potential sales hires. What makes your business unique and engaging? Is it the product, culture, benefits, or other unique traits? That, in conjunction with keeping employees engaged (using tools like continuous learning), could assist in retention rates.
The only drawback is, you won’t really know until you start to grow. Being aware of the challenge in hiring sales can help inform your process, but you’ll also need to continuously engage with your team and evaluate growth, retention, what’s working, and what’s not.
Stay focused on the customer experience
Internal growing pains shouldn’t be reflected externally. The only thing worse than having no customer is a dissatisfied customer. As you grow and put more effort into hiring, don’t lose sight of the customer experience.
Of course, when you’re busy running a company, it can be challenging for you to continue to focus on customer experience. That’s why you need to start delegating early. Alongside sales, customer service/customer success roles should be filled early on after an understanding of sales strategy. These roles will interact with customers daily, and will in some ways, serve as the face of your team. Hiring strong candidates will ensure positive and enduring relationships with existing customers.
In his Lean Launchpad class, taught at Columbia and Stanford, Steve Blank recommends starting weekly meetings with the results of two customer interviews per person. Staying customer focused isn’t just relevant at the beginning of the startup process. It’s important all the way through.
Hiring might feel like an afterthought when all your energy is focused on fundraising, product, or sales, but, bad hires will quickly backfire and can lead to a toxic company atmosphere. Have a strong idea of growth, as well as a plan to attract and retain talent, especially on the sales team. Finally, prioritize hiring customer service roles so you can delegate the work out to your team and focus on sustainable growth.