PODCAST 27: How Former HubSpot CRO Built a Predictable Sales Machine w/ Mark Roberge

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we interview famous CRO, thought leader, and author, Mark Roberge.  

Mark was the first sales hire at Hubspot and helped scale that business from $0 to $100M.  During his time, he developed the key concepts that would lead to the “The Sales Acceleration Formula”, the foundational factors that help a company deliver predictable consistent revenue growth.

Mark walks us through his time at Hubspot, provides detailed insights into the factors driving predictable revenue growth, and breaks down the essence of his new framework centering around go-to-market fit.  

If you missed episode 26, check it out here: PODCAST 26: The IPO Process From a Former Big Company and Startup to an IPO w/ Andrea Gellert

What You’ll Learn

  • How to build a predictable revenue machine
  • The 5 most important qualities Hubspot used to identify top sales talent
  • How to measure and evaluate coachability
  • The key concepts behind go-to-market fit
  • Using data to drive improved sales decision making
  • The difference between buyer training and product training

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    • Show Agenda and Timestamps

      1. Show Introduction [0:09]
      2. About Mark Roberge: An Introduction [2:07]
      3. Predictable, Scalable Revenue Growth Strategy [7:11]
      4. The Hiring Component of Mark’s Sales Machine [9:00]
      5. Measuring and Evaluating Coachability During An Interview [14:20]
      6. How to Leverage Time in a Rapidly Growing Business [27:22]
      7. What is a Moat and How Does It Affect the Final Sales Growth Stage [35:11]

      Sales Hacker Podcast—Sponsored by Aircall and Outreach

      Sam Jacobs: Hi, everybody. This is Sam Jacobs. This week on The Sales Hacker Podcast, it’s going to be an incredible episode. We’ve got Mark Roberge, the author of The Sales Acceleration Formula, and, of course, the first CRO for HubSpot who helped scale that business to over 100 million dollars in annual recurring revenue.

      Mark’s going to talk to us about the four key elements that go into a predictable sales model.

      But first, I want to thank our sponsors. We’ve got Aircall. Aircall is a phone system designed for the modern sales team. They seamlessly integrate into your CRM, eliminating data entry for your reps and providing you with greater visibility into your team’s performance through advanced reporting. 

      Our second sponsor is Outreach.io, the leading sales engagement platform. Outreach triples the productivity of sales teams and empowers them to drive predictable and measurable revenue growth.

      And now, on with the interview.

      About Mark Roberge: An Introduction

      Sam Jacobs: Hi folks, and welcome back to The Sales Hacker Podcast. Today, we’re gonna have a very well-known, noteworthy, heralded thought leader and revenue leader within the start-up community, none other than Mark Roberge.

      Mark is a senior lecturer in the entrepreneurial management unit at Harvard Business School. Prior to his work at Harvard, he served as the SVP of Global Sales and Service at HubSpot, where he scaled revenue from zero to 100 million. Mark was ranked number 19 in Forbes Top 30 Social Sellers in the World. Welcome, Mark. We’re excited to have you.

      Mark Roberge: Hey, Sam. Thank you.

      Sam Jacobs: Give us a little bit about your background–tell us how you ended up in sales and give us some of the details from the amazing ride that you had at HubSpot.

      Mark Roberge: For sure. I ended up at MIT for business school because I loved their entrepreneurial program, and eventually found my way into HubSpot, which was three people at the time.

      That’s how I ended up in sales. And I was very lucky that when I jumped into sales, we were going through a pivotal moment for the field in general. That was really my good fortune I was able to stumble into a field at a time where my unique advantages in terms of process data and science were for the first time really well leveraged in the industry.

      Predictable, Scalable Revenue Growth Strategy

      Sam Jacobs: There’s a lot of times that folks, they are viewed as the builder from zero to 10, but it’s really rare to see somebody that can follow the entire trajectory all the way past 100 million. What are the elements that you describe in the book that helped you put a model and a plan together that enabled that growth?

      Mark Roberge: I always joke that the mission I had for myself was predictable, scalable revenue growth. Put those four words at the beginning of your sales and marketing strategy and it will work with the investors.

      What’s more telling is the double-click of the four tactics behind that strategy. And that was really the blueprint for my sales machine that I wanted to build.

      Those four elements were:

      1. Hiring the same successful salesperson every time.
      2. Onboarding them in a very standard way that controlled the output of those reps coming out of onboarding.
      3. Providing them with the same quality and quantity of lead flow and demand gen each month.
      4. Holding those reps accountable to the same sales process against those leads.

      That was the logical machine and the components of the machine that I wanted to focus on.

      The Hiring Component of Mark’s Sales Machine

      Sam Jacobs: Let’s unpack the elements a little bit one by one.

      Mark Roberge: Of the four things I listed, the most difficult is the first one around hiring. Even with the detailed discipline that I brought to that, after hundreds of hires, I still got it wrong 10 to 20% of the time.

      I realized it is really dangerous to go to a conference and meet a sales leader from a different company and say “hey, what are you looking for in a salesperson?” and copy that. Because the ideal answer to that question is so correlated to your context. The stage of your business, the category maturity in which you’re selling, the complexity of your product. All these things define your context and give you insight into your optimal sales hire.

      I took a step back and said “Knowing what I know about our context, what would be the 10 criteria that I think would be optimal for us?” And let me clearly define what each one is.

      Sam Jacobs: How many of the qualities were superficial and how many of them were character driven qualities, like courage or ambition?

      Mark Roberge: Pretty much all of them were character driven. The five that surfaced for us were:

      • Coachability
      • Curiosity
      • Intelligence
      • Prior success
      • Work ethic

      Measuring and Evaluating Coachability During An Interview

      Sam Jacobs: How do you test for coachability?

      Mark Roberge: Let me just walk through the interview. My interview starts in the lobby when I shake your hand. Do they recognize me? Have they done their homework? It’s not a showstopper, but it’s an opportunity.

      Then, I get into the room with them and warm them up with “Why are you interested in HubSpot? Where are you headed in your career?”

      Then, we get into the meat and potatoes around coachability. I’ll say “Sam, let’s role play on a HubSpot example. Let’s pretend like a VP of marketing came to the website last night, downloaded an eBook and it’s your lead you’re gonna follow up. Let’s do it–I’ll play the buyer.” And so, I watch.

      I test them hard on SCO or in-bound marketing to see if they did their research and learned.

      And then, most importantly, I stop the role play five minutes in and say “hey, Sam. How do you think you did? Self assess.”

      And then I sit there and coach you. I tell you one good thing you did well and one area of improvement. I’ll coach you for a few minutes and I’ll have you redo the role play.

      That’s really a quick summary of the process I use with the big asterisk that those five criteria were unique to HubSpot at that time and think about the iterative process you should go through to develop your own unique hiring formula.

      How to Leverage Time in a Rapidly Growing Business

      Sam Jacobs: One of the things that I think about as I read your book, and listen to you speak, is time. You establish the hypothesis on what you think the qualities are, but then you need time. You need time to evaluate whether you were right or not and then adjust and that takes time. Was that a problem?

      Mark Roberge: Yeah. It’s a huge problem. As an entrepreneur, we’re constantly trying to figure out “How can I learn faster and more accurately with less time and less money?” And Sam, you’re poking at one of the more difficult areas where just that learning curve around hiring. Even years into it where my managers would be like “That hire I made? It’s not working out.” And then a year later, they’re one of our top reps.

      Sam Jacobs: That happens all the time.

      Mark Roberge: I would tell those managers to be very prescriptive about what specific skill you want develop that you think will be most helpful to them. Craft a great coaching exercise around that skill and work on them for two or three weeks on it. Then ask, “Did they improve and was the improvement sustained?”

      If the answers are “no” to those questions, then we probably need to move on. But if we are able to improve them and sustain it, it might take longer, but we’ll get there over time.

      What is a Moat and How Does It Affect the Final Sales Growth Stage

      Sam Jacobs: Tell us about the key parts of the last stage, which is growth and moat. Walk us through what the concept of a moat means for a business.

      Mark Roberge: It’s a barrier to entry. As I reflect on different businesses that I’ve met that got to 10 million, 20 million, and then completely flat lined–a lot of times it was because of a lack of moat development.

      What that means is you figured out customer value. You found product market fit. You’re doing it in a profitable way with great unit economics. Guess what? Copy cats are coming. You have to ask yourself, “why do new prospects still buy what you have and not what they have?”

      It could be anything from a network effect to, in HubSpot’s case, the creation of category inbound marketing and the association that we were the best and you should come with us.

      There’s just ways to develop that barrier to entry that are very difficult for people to copy and it serves a sustainable advantage. That’s what I mean by moat. Oftentimes, it means looking at multiple segments within your business and running those in slightly different motions.

      Sam Jacobs: That’s awesome. Mark, thanks so much for your time. It was great speaking with you.

      Mark Roberge: Thank you, Sam.

      Sam’s Corner

      Sam Jacobs:  Hi, folks. It’s Sam’s Corner. Mark Roberge dropping knowledge on the Sales Hacker podcast. The great thing about talking to Mark is just the specifics and the details.

      A couple of things jumped out at me. One of them is around the interview process. What Mark mentioned is that he specifically deploys a coachability module into the interview by jumping into a role play. That’s one mechanism to demonstrate coachability. If they can react positively and moderate and adjust their behavior, in the context of that interview, then there’s a high likelihood that they will be successful at other points in their career.

      Don’t Miss Episode 28

      Sam Jacobs: We also want to thank our sponsors. If you’re interested in learning more about the show itself, see upcoming guests, play more episodes from our lineup of sales leaders, go to gtmnow.com/podcast-subscribe.

      You can also find the Sales Hacking podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

      If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your peers on LinkedIn or Twitter.

      And then, finally, a huge shout out to our sponsors, Outreach and Aircall. If you want to get in touch with me, find my social handles in my bio below.

      I will see you next time.

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