In any early stage startups, we always have two main teams – the Product team and the Sales team. The chefs and restaurants service operators; the civil engineers and property sales reps; the factory engineers and chemical sales reps. The team that builds the product and the team that sells it. You get the idea. Without either team, the startup will not survive. No product -> no sales -> no fund for product development. 

Last week over a dinner a close mate of mine, who is a Product Designer, and I discussed on the dynamics between Sales and Tech Team. This really prompted me to think further and started to reflect on my experiences.

In the context of tech startups, we have Tech and Sales team. For the benefit of discussion, the sales team that I refer to consists of the marketing, sales and BD folks – to be fair, in the early stage of sub 20 employees, startups don’t really get the luxury of having a very defined Sales Team structure. Everyone does a bit of everything from chasing sales to setting up tracking analytics. The tech team will be the folks that work on the product directly, from frontend to backend.

Reflecting on my two recent startups involvement as part of the Sales team, below are the lessons that I think will be useful as you scale the company.

  1. Do as much as possible without having to involve the Tech Team.

Whenever possible, Take over dependencies so that you don’t have to rely on the Tech Team. This is why there are a lot of tools/software out there that provide out-of-the-box SaaS for sales/marketing. For example, Hubspot/Wordpress for blogging, Unbounce/Hubspot for building landing pages, Intercom/Drift for customer services. If you want to implement a tracking script on Google Analytics, make sure you scour the internet for all possible method before you ask the tech team to do it. It can get a little confusing sometimes and it’s tempting to just pass the ball to the tech team. However, this is imperative because any time spent on helping the Sales team will come at the expense of customer experience (Fewer features built, fewer bug fixed). It’s better to be strategic when it comes to asking for help.

  1. If that’s impossible, once you decide that you need the tech team to help – be clear and direct about why, how and what.

Remember the last time your colleague asked for your help without any contexts? I bet this has happened to all of us at some point of our career and no one wants to be at the receiving end. Make sure if you are asking the tech team for a favour to implement a tracking script, explain to them the business impacts (revenue, cost, customer experience) and why this matters to the company. Do extensive research and recommend the engineers on the best way to do it in your opinion with links/articles/guides attached. Unambiguously indicate the outcome that you’d like to get. Negotiate and manage clear commitments from others.

  1. Form internal Service Level Agreement (SLA) between Sales and Tech Team that is backed by performance metrics.

Do this when there have been interactions between the teams as a benchmark. Diagnose what has been working and what hasn’t been working. Get a highly-disciplined Product/Project Manager to sit in between the Sales and Tech teams to bridge the gap. It could be the COO, CPO at the beginning, then a designated PM should be hired as the startup grows. Make sure Sales team doesn’t ask for help before thoroughly researching alternatives. Make sure Tech team doesn’t push back unreasonably. Then implement, measure and refine the SLAs as the company scales to ensure relevance and effectiveness.

  1. Create contingency plan, always.

For every dependency, always create a backup plan. If they are your deliverables, then own it. 

As Jeff Bezos once famously said, “Good process is absolutely essential. Without defined processes, you can’t scale, you can’t put metrics and instrumentation in place, you can’t manage. But avoiding bureaucracy is essential. Bureaucracy is process run amok.” This is a chasm that many startups don’t manage to cross: transitioning from a small team to larger team whilst ensuring effective internal communication and collaboration.

Well-defined formal processes enable startups to scale methodically and manage dependencies effectively, ensuring relevant stakeholders are measured against actionable performance metrics.

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